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A new crazy?

So, I tried a new thing...Gravel racing.


It wasn't really a race. I mean it kinda was? There were timed sectors, but for the most part...it was a just make it the finish line ride. Also, after almost 4 inches of rain the day before, and not being in "race shape", it really was more of a hard workout in a really pretty area of our state.


I did the "Express" route of the Natchaug Epic.

This is something totally out of my wheelhouse.


I've ridden on the roads, and even did a mountain bike ride (on a demo bike), but this was something different.


The Natchaug Epic is in its 5th year (I believe). It has four routes each one a little longer. I did the "Express", which was 35 miles, and is considered perfect for a first-timer or "gravel curious".


The others are the Explorer (53 miles), the Endeavor (68 miles) and the Epic (84) miles.

The Express route had 6 "sectors" of gravel, 2 of which were timed, and over 1700 feet of climbing over the 35 miles.


Now...I'm going to stop here for a second and remind you that the day before the "race", we had 4 inches of rain. FOUR --in less than 24 hours.


Ten days before the race...we had 3 inches of rain, with a little here and there in between. Fortunately, race week was fairly dry and sunny, which probably helped the ground to soak up all the water.


However, that did not mean that there wasn't mud, washed out sections, and even re-routing.


After the rain left late the night before, the temperature plummeted. Like it was 25 degrees when I left the house to go to the event.


The morning of, the race director let us know they were pushing back the start times by 1 hour, to allow for a course recon for safety, and (hopefully) for the air temperature to warm up.


So that meant my event started at noon! Sweet.


Now, that didn't mean I was toasty warm. The temperature may have been 40 at the start...and the winds were blowing 10-20mph. But it was sunny, and I hooked up with several other women who were just as crazy as me.



Boy did we have fun...until we didn't.


The first sector of "gravel" is called the Cuisinart. Yes...like the kitchen appliance. It can spin you up and spit you out. It is 2 miles in the woods on what I can only describe as a very very old two track.


We hit the sector, and the first thing we encountered was a mud puddle covering the entire road. Now by mud puddle, I really mean about 20 yards of muddy water.


Some of us decided to hop off our bikes and walk around it. One woman, who had done the event before, said, "Come on!" and rode right through. She was almost done, when she toppled over and went swimming. The water was probably 6-8 inches deep, and her whole body went in. She was soaked.


And we had only just started.


She decided to continue on, and see how she felt, but she knew that her knee was probably bleeding a little from hitting the ground.


This video was taken from a rider doing the Epic. But we shared several of these sectors.


We waited for her. She thought about her options: go back to the start, or continue on and see how it goes. Onward we went.


Our group rule was "ride your race" on the sectors and hills, and we'd regroup at the end/top. It was a good rule. And we followed it well.


I decided that walking around small ponds in the road was crazy, so I was going to ride. It was actually a pretty good idea. I made it through the 2 miles of gravel, water, mud, etc. only falling once, and that was at the very end just before the pavement. Thick mud covered the entire path, I was going to slow, I got stuck, and fell over. No big deal.


We regrouped -- although we had to wait almost a half hour, as one lady got lost, but we were on our way. The next 20 miles were quite uneventful. We had our own personal "Sag wagon"--a car that follows the group in case of trouble, which was great--since we were basically the last group on the road. He only left us when we hit the old railroad bed, that was converted to a "Rails-to-trails".


Climbing over a tree on the rail trail.

The trail was pretty beat up from the rains and winter (the little we had). Parts were more like riding a river bed, with flowing water, and larger rocks. Twice we climbed over down trees.


And I paid money for this!


At the rest area at mile 23, the lady who had fallen was starting to suffer, and she said she was going to ride on while others stopped for the restroom and food. I and another went with her, because I didn't want her alone, but also, I was supposed to be at a dinner an hour and a half away from the race. Time was ticking!


Our delays for regrouping were starting to add up. What I thought would be a 3 - 3 1/2 hour ride was approaching 4 and I still had 10 miles to go!


We got back on the rail trail at mile 25 for 3 miles. I waited at the end, at mile 28 and decided I just couldn't wait any longer. I let the group know via text I was headed out.


Of course, little did I know the steepest hill was right in front of me--a half mile of up!


Bob needs a bath.

Our last timed sector was the last 2 miles of the ride. It started on gravel, and ended on pavement at the finish line of the event.


I rode straight to the car, changed my clothes, and took off for my dinner.


I missed out on the food, beer, and camaraderie with my fellow riders. But I had a dirty bike, and lots of stories.



As I drove into the sunset--literally...all I could think about is I'd like to do that again.


I don't know if it was the ride, the fellowship, lack of food, hypothermia, windburn or what, but it was an experience that was great!


I've finished triathlons with a feeling of accomplishment. And thinking I'd be ok with not doing that again (which of course, was short-lived).


This time, I thought when is the next event? What can I sign up for next? I need to do more of these rides! Will my bike club have weekly gravel rides?


See...a new kind a crazy.


I looked at my "stats" after the ride. My "moving time" was 3:30, so spot on what I expected. However, my total time was almost 5 hours! Yikes.

Bob is ready for the next gravel ride!

Now I'm looking on line at Bikereg.com to see when the next event is.


Museum Geek Gravel Rider doesn't have the same ring as Museum Geek Triathlete, but I could have a new hobby. Possibly a new BHAG???


I hear there are some pretty awesome gravel events out there. Like unPAved, in Pennsylvania, MidSouth in Oklahoma, UnBound in Kansas. These are epic rides--some have 100 mile options!


In my "home" state of Michigan, there is a whole series!!!! I'm definitely looking into that. The Barry-Roubaix is considered an OG gravel race.


Cool!


But before I jump on that bandwagon, I have a couple other things I need to do this year.


Next weekend I'm going to a "Bikepacking" seminar, to hopefully get some pointers for our bike Erie Canal ride in October. It also includes a gravel ride, of course.


Then is the Tour of Staten Island--not gravel, but a ride with my brother-in-law and niece.


Then 2 weeks after that, my weekly Wednesday Morning Women's rides start up, since my museum work schedule switches from Monday -Friday, to Thursday - Monday.


At the start line.

In October I'll be riding the Erie Canal Trail with friends--putting those bike packing lessons to good use, even though we will be staying in hotels not tents.


So gravel "racing" may have to wait until next year, especially since these take place on weekends...and I work weekends in the season.


Guess I need to save up my vacation time.


And convince my family that this is my new "thing."


I have not given up on triathlon.


I'm swimming every week.


And I've started running again.


But this new style of bike riding is pretty cool.


I'm just "gravel curious".





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