Let’s Go Gravel!

Ah, the mid-summer doldrums. DC can’t decide between oppressive heat or destructive thunderstorms. Triathletes have many weeks of training behind them, and nearly just as many ahead of them. In my case, I’m coming off a disappointing Racine 70.3 69.1 and needed something new and fun to recharge [that still helps me prep for the rest of the season].

Enter gravel biking. I bought a gravel bike in May under the logic of “I’ll use it to commute, and maybe I’ll do cyclocross, even though it involves the two things I’m worst at–bike handling and sprinting–and oh maybe this will finally nudge me to bike from Pittsburgh to DC like I’ve been meaning to do and shiny bike is on sale!” n+1, right? Bike in hand basement, I excitedly geared up to commute with it every…twice. Sigh. Combination of work meetings requiring a car, training schedule, travel, etc.

But then I saw a women’s no-drop 100k gravel ride advertised on the DC Women in Biclocross Facebook group. What a combination: learning the gravel roads, finding some mentors, and getting in a nice easy ride for my rest week. After all, 100k is 62 miles, which is on the short side for me these days. Maybe I’d even do a brick run afterward!

Oh, sweet, naive, 8:30 AM Katie. How optimistic you were. Here are some things I learned quickly: 1) gravel biking is slower than road biking 2) having just one chainring in the front of my bike may make shifting more simple, but climbing hills vastly more difficult. And Loudon county has plenty of hills. On the plus side, I did gain a strength workout.

For those of you who are actually thinking this sounds like a perfectly sane idea that you’d like to emulate, here’s the cue sheet + downloadable GPS file. For the rest of you, might I interest you in some BBQ?

Definite upgrade from gas station snax

Over the course of the ride, I was treated to many new experiences and benefited greatly from the advice of the other women. For example, when riding over washboard roads, loosen your grip on the handlebars and hover over the saddle, taking the impact with your legs. Also, when you see this in the road, don’t try to ride through it (nor should you simply push your bike across, oops).

Roads? Where we are going we need…roads

We rode through some nice countryside on lightly traveled gravel roads, meeting some locals such as rabbits, sheep, and a wild turkey. There were also a number of wineries, breweries, and even a distillery, so I suppose the trip could have taken even longer.

Remember what I said about DC’s indecisive weather? We spent most of the day dealing with option a: the humid oven. But in the last few miles, we were treated to option b: torrential downpour–the kind where the rain falls so hard, it bounces off the ground and hits you from below. (So maybe it was a bike-swim brick after all?)

However, all good things must come to an end–in this case, both at once. As soon as I had attached my bike to my bike rack and fumbled with the car keys to escape the deluge, the rain ceased and desisted. Awesome.

Thank you to Coeur for making an incredibly comfortable cycling kit, including bib shorts that don’t require acrobatics to hit the bathroom mid-ride. Also, my ongoing gratitude to Rose Physical Therapy for the glute exercises that have kept me off the injured list this season (knock on wood). 



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