What goes up,…..Just seemed to keep going up.
So it’s been awhile since I’ve contributed to Fat-Bike.Com, I had made a conscious decision to take a little break from hardcore cycling and racing this past year, to take care of bigger issues going on in my life. It was a tough decision earlier in the year, but the cruddy Chicago spring/early summer, with all its rain, made it easier. I did however somewhat fill the cycling void by working part time at a local bike shop turning wrenches, which was very therapeutic.
But anyone who is familiar with the N+1 equation knows it’s only a matter of time that a cyclist, working at a bike store, is going to acquire a new bike. For me that was a 2015 Purple SS Pugsley, which is a little more basic than my previous fat bike (a Ti Mukluk). The intention behind getting this bike was more or less a training tool; since I wasn’t putting on big miles, why not make the miles, that I did get in, count?
Weight was not a concern; I actually wrapped the rims with multiple layers of duct tape to increase the rotating mass (WTF! I know right?) threw on a full size frame bag and loaded with more stuff than I would probably need on any given ride.
So that became my summer commuter, slash mountain bike. And what a fun bike it has been, it’s much more ‘off road moto’ feeling than my Salsa Muk-Luk was. It seemed to be right at home shredding single track. I even made it out to SS USA, not so much to race, but to have fun, and ride some of the best trails in the country. Then it happened, sometime in early September some Facebook postings started to appear about the “10,000” a ride/race I had planned to do back in 2014, but fell through.
Well for those of you, not in the know. The “10,000” is a 125 mile sadistic hill infested gravel race/ride that has over 11,000 feet of elevation gain! So to me that’s got overweight SS Pugsley written all over it! What could be more fun than grinding hill after hill on a 45+ pound fat bike with no gears?
Evil mastermind Chad Ament, and his partner in crime Bailey Gene Newbrey went out of their way to create one of the most brutal traverses of an otherwise beautiful landscape anyone could devise. I can picture them scouting the route, stopping atop each massive climb, and rubbing their hands together, while cackling and laughing like mad scientists! Overlooking the “Driftless Zone” as their crazy laboratory.
Now you’re probably wondering what a Gravel Grind review is doing on Fat-Bike.Com? Well if you haven’t noticed lately fat bikes are turning up at all types of cycling events, and many times challenging the status quo. Gravel Grinders are no exception; I have done quite a few where multiple fat bikes have been in attendance. Although at the 10,000 only one other fat biker showed up, and he was doing the short route (which on a fat bike is still a very tough day on the bike) I however was in for the full 125-mile suffer-fest.
I camped out the night before, to avoid having a two and a half hour drive in the morning to get to the race start, which was great, until I crawled out of my tent to a nice 26 degrees morning chill. I hopped in my car and made the short drive to the race start zone, and proceeded to put on every bit of “warm” riding gear I brought with me. The sentiment was the same amongst most of the riders that morning…..”Where did this weather come from?” at the 7:00am roll out it was 29 degrees as the sun was still just below the horizon.
As the group would crest each hilltop you could hear the collective sigh of, “Aaahhhh warm sunlight”, then disappearing into the shadows again for a chilly high speed downhill bombing run. This was repeated for about the first hour or so, until the sun was up and everyone was able to take in the rays and warm up. Although the highs for the day hovered around 50 degrees, in my opinion perfect riding weather.
I was unprepared in more ways than one, I had very little time on the bike this year, I had no GPS, just cue sheets, maps and a small bare bones cycling computer. I did however have a game plan, and that was to hang with the fastest group I could for as long as I could, and rely on safety in numbers and just focus on pedaling. There were a couple splinter groups that went off the front early, but I hung with the front main pack for about the first 15 to 17 miles and slowly started to fall off the pace. I thought as long as I can keep them in my sights I’m good, as I knew more riders where behind me and would eventually catch me, and become my new riding group. At this point I was probably somewhere in the top 20 out of some 35+ starters, and at about 35 miles in I was finally feeling warmed up and hitting my stride.
We hit a Nasty “B” road section that was all rutted up and rocky, and that’s where the Fat Bike showed its teeth, I blasted down it with reckless abandon, joking with some of the riders afterwards that I had brought the right bike for 0.1% of the course. It was at the first feed zone mile 40 (which by the way was completely set up and funded by one of the riders and his wife! Thanks!!) that I met up with Chase, one of the other mechanic’s at Spokes that I work with, it would be Chase and his buddy John that I would spend the rest of the day riding with.
Somewhere about mile 55/60 we rolled into a small town and met up with the main group refueling at the local gas station, I think a couple riders were surprised to see me rolling up at that point, thinking of “that guy on the fat bike” as a novelty that didn’t know what he was getting into. As the group rolled out I sensed a new kinda respect for “that guy on the fat bike”. As I grinded up climbs out of the saddle pacing if not passing some cross bikes, I would get a “way to go” or “your crazy” comment, either way it felt good, and I put those comments in my back pocket, cause I knew I was gonna need that inspiration later in the day.
I think the partnership I had with Chase and John worked fairly well, although I know they waited up for me occasionally on some of the climbs, likewise I would pull out some crazy climbs that would give them inspiration to push harder when they were tiring. At one point we found a soda machine next to a little shop, and the three of us stopped, and had the “BEST CAN OF SODA EVER” as we took in a much needed rest stop, recalling on what an amazing day it had been so far.
Hopping back on the bikes we headed for the hills; I mentioned that this route was infested with hills, and that was no exaggeration, around every turn lied a new challenge. It got to the point were I could assess the climb from the bottom and know exactly how far I would make it be for having to hop off and hoof it for a bit. Some hills had false summits that would just demoralize you when you thought you had made it to the top, others gradually increased in pitch and made your legs burn.
I’m not ashamed of saying I had to walk a couple of hills, I wasn’t the only one, I knew days before the ride that there would be no one single magic gear ratio that would get me thru everything.
At about the 110-mile mark I think we were all ready for it to be over, but the course said otherwise, as the Big Ass Hills kept coming all the way to the last mile! (Chad and Bailey you guys need some serious help!) Finally we rolled into town at 5:30pm just before sundown, with 10.5 hours of hilly gravel under our wheels.
Did a quick change up and met with some of the other riders at the local restaurant, drinking some well-deserved beers and recounting the great day we all had riding bikes!
A little side note, this ride was conceived by Chad / NCC / and Axletree prior to some unfortunate disbanding of NCC, although no longer associated or funded by NCC, it was word of mouth and a tight knit community of like minded adventure riders that really made this ride come together and happen this year. So hats off to all that attended, this truly was a group effort. Chad, hope you’re back next year to be master of ceremony’s….you sadistic cycling freak.
Bike Tech: Mostly stock – Surly Pugsley, set up as a dingle speed,
36×18 or 33×20 I ran 36×18 all day, 33×20 is my standard single
track off–road gearing, and my bailout gearing if need be. 4 full
water bottles, frame bag with enough food and supplies to last one or
two days. Surly Knard 3.8 tires at 20.5psi front and rear. weight at
start 46+ pounds.