Gravel Conspiracy 2015: You’re Missing Out!

I’m lucky enough to get to do a few long, memorable bike rides in super beautiful areas throughout the year, but because I hate carrying a camera when I ride I usually don’t have any pictures to show off. Last year when I wouldn’t shut up for months about how incredible the Gravel Conspiracy is, people just had to take my word for it. Fortunately, this spring I turned 30, freaked out about not owning any of the material trappings of adulthood, and impulsively bought an iPhone.  I’m still rambling on about how anyone who missed this ride is a chump, but now I can back my claims up with some mediocre photos!

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Stamper gives us a stern reminder about not suing him.

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Drew looking pretty pleased with that paint job.

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Dennis Grelk, ’nuff said.

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Will looks super excited!

This year was my 3rd Gravel Conspiracy (I missed the first one). Each year I finish this event amazed that there aren’t 300 people demanding a spot on the roster. Admittedly, GC is hard to define. It’s not a race, but it attracts some fast riders who like to push themselves. It’s not bikepacking, but the route is as remote as anything you’ve ridden and you have the option of carrying your gear and camping every night if you wish. It’s not a party ride, but you’ll have access to a cooler of beer at some key points throughout the weekend.

 

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Morgan wants YOU to ride GC2016.

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Contemplating a swim to Canada.

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Overlooking the Pigeon River.

  Only a few dozen riders turn out for Gravel Conspiracy each year, but just about all of them come back. It’s one of the highlights of my year, and I’d bet that most other Conspirators would say the same thing. It attracts a diverse group of weirdos, many of whom I now call my friends. Said group of weirdos are also the type of people who host their own events, offer to drive you to races, invite you into their homes before taking you on a multi-day gravel tour of the Midwest, or teach you how to rappel down a frozen waterfall – in other words, the type of weirdos you want in your corner!

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These guys slowed down enough to let me hang with them on day 1.

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Another typical night for Will.

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This went on for miles, I didn’t get tired of it.

  If this sounds like your type of event, take the plunge and make it happen! 200+ rugged miles over three days is a big commitment in comparison to a sanctioned race or gravel century, but Gravel Conspiracy is 100% worth it! It’s also one of the most accessible ways to see this part of Minnesota from your bike. Josh has done such a great job of making this a dirtbag friendly event that even I can afford it!

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This box truck full of snacks was our moving oasis throughout the weekend.

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One of the more memorable sections of day 2 – the drop on the far side of the bridge was huge! Fortunately Tall Dennis helped me get down.

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Dave Gabrys doesn’t let a little beaver activity slow him down.

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Morgan rehydrating.

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Triple D 2014

This weekend marked my fourth trip to Dubuque, Iowa to take part in the Triple D Winter Race, a 100K snow race modeled after events like the Arrowhead 135 and Iditarod Trail Invitational. In addition to the bike event, Triple D also offers running and ski events, and it attracts an eclectic crowd of Ultra weirdos that gives the race a unique, fun vibe.

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Milling around at the start.

 

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Best Dressed, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

 

.The 100K course is made up of a mix of private snowmobile trail, alleged singletrack, and the Heritage Trail – a multi-use rail trail that comprises the bulk of the course. I love this course because although it never takes you that far from civilization, racers are still treated to views of wide open spaces and prime Driftless Region scenery. Finishing the race gives you a feeling of actually having gone somewhere and seen something — a nice alternative to the multitudes of short format fatbike races that are currently exploding in popularity.

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Getting used to this view.

 

This year made for a challenging event, thanks to a combination of fresh snowfall and tropical temperatures in the mid 30s. Long sections of the course were marginally rideable, and I did more pushing off the bike than in any other year I can remember. Fortunately, things never stayed unrideable long enough to be really soul crushing, and I slogged through the rough sections in relatively good spirits

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Alex Oenes and Mike Johnson leaving me in the dust

 

I eventually finished in just over eight hours – the longest day I’ve had on a bike in a number of months. I was satisfied to have finished, and admittedly a  little disappointed about not having been closer to the front. An 8 hour race in the middle of January is a great indicator of how much work is ahead of you to get ready for Spring!

As always, race director Lance Andre and his crew of volunteers did an excellent job of running the event, and the majority of riders who showed up seemed to finish with a smile on their face – an impressive feat given how tough things were this year.

 

Boys with Feelings.

While racing the Tour Divide last summer I spent a lot of time crying. Starting just after crossing into Idaho and lasting until a few miles before the Mexican border, I probably averaged about three episodes a day, for no obvious reasons. I don’t mind admitting that because all my friends already think I’m a wimp, and because crying during the Tour Divide has a certain cachet. Racers I met on the course spoke of their own bouts of crying in a tone that bordered on bragging, which actually isn’t that surprising. Going for a really long bike ride puts a person in a weird position where they feel simultaneously heroic and vulnerable, and the image of a grown-ass adult sobbing as they crest a mountain pass does a nice job of capturing that strange emotional intersection. Plus, its root cause is an emotional and physical exhaustion that few people in the developed world have ever experienced, so you can’t help but feel a little special. After a few days, the crying became just another part of an already weird daily routine, and when the race was over I basically forgot about. I assumed that the next event in my life to elicit that kind of emotion would come during my next multi-day race.

Well, given my behavior over the last twelve or so hours, you would think I had just blown through all of Wyoming and most of Colorado. It’s just as embarrassing as it was during the Tour Divide, but this time its due to something so pedestrian that almost everyone in the world has experienced it. It doesn’t make for a cool story, it doesn’t make you sound resilient or inspiring, and you can’t make it better by pedaling your way through it. I’ll miss you bro!

R.I.P. Ghostface

Snow, kind of.

 

The Twin Cities received a scant couple inches of snow on Friday, which was apparently enough to cause over 500 traffic accidents and basically ruin everyone’s day. I pretended to be bummed until I got home, then started planning where I wanted to ride.

Saturday morning came and I decided to the Sibley House in Mendota, where I hopped on the trails that I first explored while riding with a group of guys earlier this fall. The trail was already covered in Larry and Endo tracks, and I passed more than a dozen fatbikers during the five hours that I was out. As a recent arrival to Minneapolis, I continue to be amazed at the number of like-minded folks I see while on a bike ride in single digit temperatures. 4″ wide tires definitely weren’t necessary to get through the paltry amount of snow on the ground, but I only encountered one guy on a ‘skinny’ tired bike. I have a feeling that the availability and exploding prevalence of fatbikes must be motivating more riders to consider staying outside and off the trainer through the winter, and I think that’s awesome.

 

 

I plan on heading down to Northfield this Tuesday evening for some actual Snowmobile trail riding with friends. 7pm meetup at Goodbye Blue Monday.

 

 

 

Postcard Season

Registration for next spring’s gravel season is slowly starting up, which gives me a chance to show off Northfield-style vigilante justice with my race postcards. I’m looking forward to riding my bike and not getting shot like this asshole in 2012!

Fall River Fat Riding

Last weekend I joined up with Gnat’s River Ramble, a group ride exploring the Minnesota River Bottoms on some fat ass tires. I meant to take some pictures, but I was intimated by the presence of photocyclist powerhouses (I also forgot to charge my camera). For write ups and some banging pictures of that ride, look at:

Gnat’s River Ramble

Riding the Salsa Mukluk

River Ramble

This afternoon I rode the Pugsley to the Sibley House in Mendota, then did some further exploring of the River Bottoms trail. I wanted to make it a bit further south than I was able to last week, so I stuck to the actual trail instead of poking along the beach or crashing through the brush in the wooded areas off of the trail. After motoring to the point where I turned back last week, I crossed the river, and soon was pleasantly surprised when the trail narrowed to sandy singletrack. I lost the trail a few times, but everything was so sandy and messy that it didn’t really matter.

I’m feeling pretty lucky to have this fatbike playground within an easy ride of my house. I plan on riding the Pugsley more or less exclusively for the next few months in order to get ready for the Triple D in January. Having the River Bottoms so close to home should keep me motivated to keep pushing those fat tires until the snow arrives.

 

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Fall gravel riding sweetness

                                                                                               Image shamelessly stolen from Milltown Cycles

I’m excited to see that Milltown Cycles will be sponsoring not one but three group gravel rides over the next month or so. Their announcement of the series states that:

Plans have been finalized for three fall gravel tours this year.  They will be 45-50 miles in length, self supported, group rides.  Bring water and food for yourself, know your ability level, and bring adequate maps or GPS type devices.  We will mark the courses well, and maps and cues can be printed off using links below.  We will not provide maps or cues at the start.  You can ride the routes as fast or slow as you like.  It should be a good time for riders of any skill level.

Check out http://milltowncycles.blogspot.com for further details and route info.  I’m hoping to make it out to at least two of these, and am especially looking forward to the Rawland Route, which was a standard training route for me when I lived in Northfield.

At 50 some miles in length apiece, these rides aren’t as daunting a commitment as those more established gravel races in the state. Because of that, I think they could fill a really important niche, hopefully making gravel road riding a more accessible experience for those who aren’t quite ready to tackle a full hundred mile (or longer) gravel grinder.

Speaking of not being ready for gravel centuries, it looks like I’m waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to drive up to Duluth for the Heck of the North. It promises to be a humbling experience, as its been months since I put in any considerable saddle time.