The 2014 Gravel Metric is now over. More than 360 riders this year.
(I’ll have more pictures in a few days).
It was fantastic–a completely different experience for me this year.
My GM started several months ago, as we planned different ideas for the ride. I’ve spent a significant amount of time working with caterers, and working on the myriad of permits and regulatory requirements that one must satisfy in order to have the event itself, and the post-ride party (with libations) in the parking lot by North Central Cyclery. Thanks to the generosity of one of the neighboring businesses, we were able to lease a private lot, fence it off, and have a post-ride reception on-site. It was fantastic being able to have the gathering right there, and be able to cheer riders as they finished. The food and drink was a success–and the atmosphere was perfect. So the efforts to make it happen, from all of the Axletree crew, were well worth it.
That said, there was a period of time during the planning stages where I felt a bit like Dr. Frankenstein, being attacked by my own monster. As someone who is used to dealing with regulatory hurdles and rules, I was nearly overcome by the red tape involved in planning the post-ride event. Fellow Axletree volunteers were very accommodating of my neuroses as we discussed the various rules we had to fit within. In the end, it worked perfectly and nearly all attendees complied with the strictures we had to fit within.
Oh yeah, and there was a bike ride too.
This year’s course was a little over 68 miles; the same course as last year. Unlike last year, the course was better-marked in the State Park, so we did not have as many issues with wrong turns as in years past. That was a definite improvement in the realm of ride planning.
Of course, I rode the Moots. With Shimano Di2 hydro, the 2014 geometry, ENVE 29XC wheels, etc., it was fantastic. I ran 3 bottle cages…and the Moots gave me room for 3 full-size bottles on the bike. There’s even enough clearance to swap out the bottom bottle while riding, without hitting the tire. This bike is fantastic. I literally cannot think of a single thing to change about it–it is amazing. I could go on and on and on, but suffice it to say that after trying a lot of different setups and components, this is the best multi-surface / gravel / whatever bike I’ve ever ridden…and if I threw a set of skinnies on it, I’m pretty sure it would rip on pavement, too. I love my Vaya, and the Vaya has been my steed for the past 3 Gravel Metrics. The Moots is faster. I know that sounds dumb…a bike is only as fast as the rider. But the geometry on the Moots–the shorter chain stays, blah blah blah…it just feels faster and more efficient. It’s an amazing bike. It’s not just hype–there is a difference.
Speaking of 3 past GMs…the first year I rode, there was flash-flooding, hail, lightning and tornadoes. The second year, I bonked and overheated, with ungodly heat and wind. Last year, I rode pretty well and was happy with my finish, albeit with a little rain and wind. This year, the weather was perfect. It started around 70, and got into the low 80s, with wind out of the southwest, switching to the southeast.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what to do for food and water. I wanted some liquid calories, but had a really hard time finding a sports powder, with calories, that was GF/DF. Accordingly, for fluid, I used Skratch, made at about 1.5x the normal mix strength. I drank a bottle in the 15 minutes before the ride, and took 3 bottles with me. My plan was to drink the first bottle by mile 25, the second by 45, and the third by around mile 60. (The last 8 miles are flat into town, and I wanted to use my water on the ride, not at mile 65 where it wouldn’t matter. I wanted to end hungry and thirsty). I stuck to that plan exactly and it worked perfectly. I did bottles this year in lieu of a hydration pack, and felt like I was able to still keep well-hydrated even as the temps rose. 3 bottles was perfect, as I wanted to go light and get done, rather than take more time and need more water.
For food, I had a hearty breakfast, a protein bar and a banana just before the ride, and I took with a protein bar and 3 gels. I ended up using the gels and not the protein bar. I had a gel at mile 20, 35 and 48.
What about the ride? Downside first: my left foot. A couple weeks ago, I did a vacation and one day, found myself carrying a heavy-ish backpack and wearing flip-flops. Since then, I’ve been battling some peroneal tendonitis in my left foot–it is the worst at the insertion point on the side/underside of the foot. It was flared up on Sunday, and as the day went on, it got worse and worse. For the last 20 miles, I couldn’t stand on the pedals because of the pain. For the last 10 miles, I had my left foot balled up in my shoe, with my shoe loosened, to try to finish.
Upside: that’s the only downside.
My ride plan was to stay towards the front-ish at the start (through the B-road), and then ride my race at my pace. I wanted to work with others, but not if it meant pushing beyond what I could sustain. I rode to that plan with precision. Going down Lynch, staying with the front meant riding at 25mph. I hung on and felt good. As we turned onto Harter, another rider hooked into my handlebars and nearly wiped us both out. I backed off to give him some room, and then got back into a rhythm. I lost the front front group at that point, but was still in the first chase group. I rode Harter, took the B-road, and then on the first real stint into the headwind (South on Pritchard), rode a sustainable pace. For the next 20 miles, I felt like a lot of people were riding in a weird way. They would try to hold the same pace all of the time–on the flats, on the hills, etc. I would stay with groups if they were riding my pace (and would make sure to do my pulls). If I couldn’t pull through, or if I didn’t like the pace, I’d break off. My sense was that people were riding too hard, too early.
Through the Park, I had the same experience. There were people riding the park like it was a CX race. There were a lot of matches burned in there. I rode the park conservatively…no brakes (carry as much speed as possible), but not burning myself out, either. On the out-and-back, I started picking up the pace and running people down. I saw one of my fellow Axletree riders–who had looked so ungodly strong at the start–pulled over on the out-and-back. I wanted to pull him back into the race, but he said he needed a few minutes, so I pressed on alone.
As the day continued on, I kept a few matches in the pack. I’ve been fooled into a Gurler Road headwind too many times to hit that road with an empty tank. I rode the next B-road without incident, and made my way to the creek crossing. We had a bake-sale at the creek crossing, and to my chagrin, someone pulled their bike in front of me and told me that I had to spend a dollar at the bake sale. In my head, I was all like, “1) there’s no GF/DF/Oat-free food here; and, 2) a dollar? You think I need to give Axletree a dollar?” What I verbalized was something more along the lines of, “get out of my way.” Whomever that was–sorry. I wasn’t in the mood to stop and have a dialogue about food allergies.
I hit a deep crack in the creek’s concrete bottom, and as I got to the far side, my efforts to pop the front wheel up were not quite enough. I hit the broken concrete lip on the far side of the creek hard enough to generate a loud, audible thump. I, along with everyone watching, figured I had flatted. To my great delight, wheel and tire were both intact and I pressed on.
Elva had been recently graded and was delightfully smooth. This was around the time that my left foot completely fell apart. I stopped for only the second time of the day (the first time being at the out-and-back to get my wristband punched), so I could loosen my shoe and ball-up my foot, and got back on the bike. I had about 12? miles to go, and wanted to get them done. I grabbed the drops, and put the hammer down. When I turned on Gurler, I had a second wind and buried myself. With a mild cornering headwind (~10 mph out of the southeast), I rode due East towards town at 19-22mph. I rode down a lot of folks who just blew up on Gurler–either limping along slowly, or sprawled out under a tree. My strategy of the day worked perfectly, and I rode hard and strong back into town.
I finished with gas in the tank–I could have kept riding. That was a mistake in some ways–and I think I could have trimmed 15 minutes off my time had I ridden a bit harder earlier. But that said, I’ve gone through the Gurler Road burnout myself so many times now that I wanted to make sure I had energy to finish strong. I have learned that lesson and won’t get suckered by Gurler ever again. (I know that by saying this, I’m taunting Gurler into kicking my butt the next time I ride it).
I rode most of the day alone, which seems to happen to me on the GM rides. I wished I had someone to ride with, but couldn’t find anyone riding the same pace–and a lot of the people that ‘dropped’ me in the morning found themselves sucking wind in the afternoon. I rode the best GM of my life and finished feeling good–good about my planning, good about my bike, good about my riding, good physically, and oh-so-good about what an amazing event that Axletree put on. The cherry on top was having my wife and daughter cheer for me at the end–so awesome.
The post-ride gathering was fantastic and fun and well-worth all the planning. And Axletree has some big plans for the future.
This, my fourth GM–it was my best. It was perhaps the best GM ever.