Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trans Iowa V7 Update #11: More Gravel Road Riding Tips

More Gravel Road Riding Tips: The last update on Gravel Road Riding Tips can be found here: Update #10

In this update I will continue with a few other thoughts gathered from experiences on the rural gravel and dirt by-ways.

#1: Critters, Varmints, and Pets: Iowa is home to a vast and varied palette of wild creatures, some of which you may encounter on the way during your quest. Most of these won't be a bother, but do be aware of the following...

  • Deer: Iowa has a huge deer population, and during the dusk hours, you may encounter these creatures bounding across your path. 
  • Raccoons: Nightime creatures. You may see one in your headlights, but they are a wary critter and most likely will scurry away before you really know what you saw. They can be the size of a medium sized dog or slightly bigger. If you come across an injured one, steer very far away from it!!! These critters can be quite nasty! Especially if they are injured or threatened.
  • Coyotes: Iowa has a strong population of coyotes. They shouldn't be a bother to you, although you may hear them yippering in the night!
  • Other Rodents and Mammals: Iowa has a fair share of woodchucks, beavers, opossums, fox, and other critters that if you are lucky, you may catch glimpses of. None should be any issues for you.
  • Red Wing Blackbirds: Of all of Iowa's birds, these pesky, determined little black birds with the red shoulder patches may be the most bothersome. They will harry you, and occasionally peck at your helmet to make sure you are headed away from their nesting area, which is typically every ditch along every gravel road in Iowa. A squirt of water usually is all you need to dismay even the most ardent Red Wing Blackbird. 
  • Bobcats and.....Cougars?: Now, I wouldn't get too worried about the following, but cougars have been spotted in Iowa, and the secretive bobcat lives here as well. As I say, it shouldn't be an issue for you, but they are out there......
  • And finally- Dogs: As we say in the T.I.V7 Safety And Supplies section, "be ready to throw down with a mutt". There are lots of dogs in Iowa, and d.p. and I have taken measures to avoid known bad dogs for you, but with well over 300 miles of gravel roads to canvass, we certainly didn't find all of them. Most dogs will bark, many will give chase for a bit, and some will run with you for miles. All of these usually are harmless creatures, but there are a few surly mutts out for a fight, and you will be best served by first getting off your bike. Then placing your rig in between you and the grumpy fur-bag, try to scare it off. Usually, this will result in the dog backing off. But sometimes, it doesn't. You may need to make a decision based on circumstances at the time. Be aware that this is very rare, but a possibility out there. 
A Quick Dog Story: In re-conning T.I.V7, at night, d.p. and I met a surly dog intent on taking us captive. Really! It was trying to herd us, and I don't know if it was a cattle dog, but it showed every trait of a good one. d.p. and I were off the bikes, with our rigs in between us and the furry critter. We were yelling at it in commanding tones. No quarter was being taken or given. Standoff!

Well, I finally resorted to pointing my LED light at its eyes, and in the few moments of momentary blindness that ensued, we were able to get away.

So, there is one story for ya!

#2: Road Conditions: Gravel roads in the area of the event will likely vary quite a bit. Here is a short list of what you can expect to find out there.....
  • "Normal" Conditions: Gravel roads normally have at least a "two rack" of solid, packed "dirt" to ride on, and usually a three track. This is where the fastest, least resistant path for your tires will be. Along the edges and in the middle of the road, the gravel will be deeper, loose, and difficult to ride in. Remember: Ride on the right side!!
  • "Fresh" Gravel: This is something you will see in patches, (repairs to a gravel road), for several hundred feet, or up to several miles. Fresh gravel is loose, chunky crushed rock, (generally limestone, or other native rock), laid across the entire roadway. This will present a much more resistant path for your tires, and skinnier tired, lighter bikes will be most affected by it. You'll want to scan and hunt for the best lines, but "Ride On The Right Side"!!
  • "Damaged" Gravel: This can be anything from frost heaves, (a few inches or a foot of heaved up earth that is the consistency of thick flour), ruts, mud patches, or wash outs. Be very careful to avoid all of these. Depending on the weather, these can be rather prevalent features, (T.I.V4), or not, (T.I.V5).
  • "Peanut Butter" Gravel: This usually occurs if it rains. And it feels just like you might imagine. Sloppy, nasty, and wet. Not much one can do here but grin and bear it. On second thought, do not grin. You'll get a nasty mouthful of gritty stone in there! 
#3: Weather: I've experienced just about everything out there on gravel roads in terms of weather. The worst can be downright nasty. Most of it is survivable. However; there could be an event where your life is in danger. Here is the excerpt from the Race Rules to read here that deals with what we will do in case of severe weather events:

16: Weather Related Stoppage and Time Cut Off Rule: In case of severe weather during the event, we will do the folowing things so you can act accordingly. Remember: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF!! If the sky is falling, or you see Dorothy's house go spinning by your head, you should take appropriate actions to protect yourself. We will not be responsible for ill advised heroics in inclement weather. Be smart, or be pig fodder! This is only given out so that you as an event participant will know what our actions will be in regards to keeping tabs on your progress and what will be done with prizing. Weather related cancellation of the event will be enforced at the checkpoints. All participants will be directed as to where and when any prizing will be distributed at checkpoints by our volunteers. If you pull out before a checkpoint, you will need to contact the Event Director to find out if the event is being terminated. Results will not be tabulated if we have to stop the event. If cut off times to a checkpoint are not met by any event participant then the event will be terminated and all will be considered as DNF's. Prizing will be distributed by raffle to the remaining participants in the event at the time of stoppage or when it becomes clear that the cut off times will not be met. Must be present to win. Decisions of the event directors is final.
So, as you may have noticed, Rule #16 deals mostly with what we do with prizing, and little to do with anything related to you, the rider. That is because you need to use your own best judgment in these matters. As stated in Rule #16, " should take appropriate actions to protect yourself", and we mean it. You Are Responsible For Yourself!! Get in the ditch, knock on a farmers door to ask for shelter, or call in the cavalry, but DO NOT EXPECT TRANS IOWA OR ANYONE CONNECTED TO IT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY! Don't be stupid. Trans Iowa is not worth risking your life for in the instance of severe weather. (Or for any reason, for that matter)

Okay, that's about it from me on the gravel road riding tips. I highly recommend that you get out and try riding on whatever you can that resembles gravel, or actual gravel, with your set up to test, refine, and think through
your bike, gear, handling, and strategy.

Next time: Some event updates and status report......


reverend dick said...

So...when I stop to pet the raccoons trapped in the nut butter, y'all are gonna pick me up?

Do I have that right?

Guitar Ted said...

@reverend dick: Won't be a need to. But the coons will have a good meal that night, at least. Always a silver lining, yada yada yada, and all of that, dont-cha know.

Ari said...

I find it interesting as to the different gravels out there. There is the classic limestone and the feared "river gravel" that we encountered in Grinnell. Once the water hit that stuff it all fell apart. Thanks for the tips G.T. They are helpful to all of us.

Vito said...

"Unruly fur-bags!"That's what a good quality frame pump is for sometimes. They make for damn fine protection.