I attended and rode in the first Night Nonsense gravel grinder Saturday night/Sunday morning and here are my thoughts on the night.
It is raining cats and dogs while I am riding solo down some waterlogged gravel road in Iowa at night. You could say a lot of things about that statement. You could say I was crazy, you could say I was insane, or you could say it was all just nonsense. You'd be right on all counts. I mean, that is the point here.
Well, as I alluded to in my previous post, the weather was going to be changing, and boy! Did it ever! We'd had days and days of sunny, dry, beautiful weather, and the forecast for the evening was for a 75% chance of rain. They got that right, or you could say, they got it 3/4's of the way right!
On the way down, I tag teamed with Mike Johnson and Ron Saul to get down there. Robert Fry and Jeremy Fry went with us in another vehicle. The trip down was fairly pleasant, but as we approached Iowa City, we could see storm clouds gathering. Still, the overall impression of the group was that we wouldn't see any rain. We were wrong. Oh so wrong!
After some Subway sandwiches, we got kitted up for the event. While we were doing this, it started to lightning, thunder, and sprinkle. We gathered under the two pop up tents at Adam's place waiting to start and the sky opened up with a steady, fine rain. This set the tone for the evening. Lightning and thunder were all around us. Still, we mistakenly assumed that due to a radar report we had seen, it would blow over. The race got underway about 8pm after some short instructions from Adam. We 25 intrepid riders took off in the soaking rain to get out of Iowa City and hit the gravel.
Endura Stealth soft shell rain jacket and their Humvee knickers, and underneath I wore my new Craft PXC Thermal top and my Twin Six Team bib shorts. My shoes were the Bontrager Race models and I wore my War Axe socks. On my head I wore my trusty Bell Helmet and underneath that my fine Walz cycling cap. No gloves, not on this trip. Of course, the bike was my trusty first generation Salsa Cycles Fargo.
My bottom was wet, but warm as the temperatures held in the 60's for the entire evening. So, once I got as wet as I was going to get, I was comfortable. We took off down some bicycle path, and were being led by one of Adam's volunteers until we got to the point where they let us go. It was pouring rain, and pretty miserable, but this looked like an adventure, and like one fellow said to me as we rolled out, "It's better than sitting at home watching something stupid on T.V."
Well, at least I thought so!
The race took off, and I was holding on to the back of the pack until a climb where several of the stronger riders forced the issue to make a selection. Then I thought I saw them in the distance, and I took a right turn at a "Y" corner. It wasn't long before I figured out it was the wrong turn. Hrrrrumph! I should have studied the cues for the opening round better. So, I turn around to find about five cyclists on the corner where I made my mistake. It was, (please excuse me for the lack of a better term here), a group of cyclists I noticed at the start who were speaking a foreign language. I will refer to them as "The Foreigners" for the purposes of this story.
Well, they asked if I had made a wrong turn, and I replied in the affirmative. They immediately turned to their own conversations in their tongue, so I just rolled off down the blacktop in the other direction. I rolled, and I rolled, not seeing any turn offs to gravel. It was raining heavily, and this road was busy with traffic. Not a very comfortable feeling. I checked the cue sheet, "Turn Left At Quincy Ave", and I looked intently at the mileage, trying to calculate my now slightly off total, and make sense of where to turn. By this time, The Foreigners had caught me. They went right on by without a word, and we all hit a "T" intersection where The Foreigners immediately wheeled around and went on back up the road. I followed suit, but I was now at the tail of the line.
Not long up that road, I saw a sign that indicated I was on Quincy. Good! Next turn, Jordan Creek Road. What I didn't know was that there were two Jordan Creek Roads with left turns within a hundred yards of each other. Well, I took the first one, like everyone else did, and before long, I saw the main pack roaring back towards me. As they passed, I heard Mike and Ron yell at me, "Turn around, it's the wrong road!" I was a bit confused, I looked at my cue sheet, and I was off on mileage, of course, but it was within reason that this was the road. I finally decided to wheel around about the time that Adam rolled up in a car and confirmed our mistake. Back the way I came! Now I had about 4.5 extra miles, and I was waaay off on mileage.
I was rolling up some more blacktop, (which there was a ton of in the first third of the event), and I thought I caught a glimpse of a flickering tail light. A cyclist? I was coming up on a small town, and I figured I might catch up to the small red blinker there. As I rolled into the town, I noticed several unsigned streets. Hmm.....might be trouble, as I was to be making a turn soon. Not knowing anything about where I was, it was hard to say what the turn might be trying to accomplish. I knew from putting on these events that normally you try to stay off really busy roads, but this event had us on several already, so I wasn't sure of what to expect.
I ran up on The Foreigners at a busy crossroads. Obviously they passed me while I made my Jordan Creek Road mistake. They didn't know what to do and they were seriously confused. Pointing at the signs and stating the obvious, as though the sign should magically change to match their cue sheets. I blew on by them, not wanting to soak in that vibe, and scouted up the road. All streets were signed up this way, but nothing matched. Back to the intersection, and I noticed The Foreigners were asking directions at a local drive up window for some business. I rolled down to the north on HWY 1, figuring out that my next cue had to cross the highway at some point, which would eliminate the need to find the road missed by me and The Foreigners. I found it, the cues made sense again! I took off into the dark countryside. Rain was spitting, but tolerable now. Lightning could still be seen flashing in the distance. I didn't see The Foreigners again.
Now I was rolling along and feeling okay. There still was a lot of pavement going on here and there. However; the traffic count was low, so I was okay with that. About 25 miles in I noticed my computer was off, as in completely dead. No surprise there with the amount of rain I had seen already. I stopped and fiddled with it a bit, which raised my anxiety level. I then decided I could either freak out about that, or just decide to live without it, since in reality, there wasn't anything I could do about it anyway. So, now I really had to be careful with regards to navigating, which slowed me down a bit.
Out here it was hilly, a bit mushy, and windy. It was still raining softly the entire time as well. I was hoping to find the Mile 60-ish stop where some pizza was promised, and it couldn't come too soon. Riders of these long events will tell you that you fight your demons when it's dark, and you are tired and alone. I was no different. It was tough. I had a bout where I couldn't stay awake, (probably the beer!), and a bout with a terrible headache, (probably due to poor nutrition), but I pedaled through that. Then the one thing that really gets to me started to crop up. My lower back started to seize up due to all the heavy pushing on the pedals against wind and hills. By this time an intermittent south wind had sprung up that would be at gale force, then subside, then come back again. I was headed mostly southwards here, so I was working very hard. I was tired, hungry, and my body wasn't digging it.
And that pizza stop at mile 60-ish? Never materialized. The main group went through and they must have moved on. I didn't see anything. I was resigned to keep moving along. It was three o'clock in the morning, and I figured that maybe some folks had finished by now. I checked my cell phone, which I had turned off to conserve my battery, but I had no messages, so I turned it back off, re-mounted painfully on my Fargo, and rolled out of Amana southwards on HWY 151.
Just south of Amana I turned off the road onto a two mile stretch of clay mire. It was a B Maintenance road, and I walked the entire thing. It was hilly, slick as snot, and it was raining. I felt pretty miserable about this time. As I came out, by a farmstead, I was greeted by snarling dogs and the hollow echoed with the noise. It was as if I pulled an alarm. Crazy! I wouldn't have been surprised if the owner had shot at me with a gun as I rolled away, and by this time, I wouldn't have cared. He would have put me out of my misery!
About this time, after I had remounted and was gingerly pedaling down the road, I noticed a van stop, and turn around, then pull over to the side of the road. Some people got out. "Hey! There you are! We were just about to turn around and head back." Obviously, I was the last guy out, and they were a bit concerned about me! I stopped and grabbed a slice of pizza and another PBR. I looked at the time, 4am, and decided that after hearing the crew I came with was done and waiting on me, that I should pack it in. At the rate I was limping along, I wouldn't have been in until about 6-7am.
My Salsa Cycles Fargo performed flawlessly. No troubles shifting, with the exception of one instance of chainsuck on the B road, not to be wondered at! My gear was good. My lights were marginal. I need to work on my system. My nutrition was.......abysmal! I was stupid there, and maybe had I been on the ball with regard to that, I would have done better. I was too worried about what I was going to wear, and not so much about eating, I guess.
Thank You's: Adam Blake, and his volunteers, for putting on this first time event, and doing pretty well at it. Mike Johnson, for the drive and great company as always. Ron Saul: Likewise, and it's been too long since we chatted! Robert Fry, Jeremy Fry: Good to be with you guys again. All the Night Nonsense riders: It isn't an event without the people. Thanks to: Twin Six, Craft, Salsa Cycles, Walz caps, Edge/Enve Composites, Revelate Designs, WTB, Bontrager, Endura, and Banjo Brothers for making arse kicking cycling products!