Thursday, January 30, 2014

Going Long On Gravel

Cross Nation Gravel Route? (Image by C. Matthias)
Crossing the nation by bicycle has been a benchmark for many a cyclist ever since bicycles were invented. West to East, North to South, and all manner of crossings by bicycle have been done over the last century plus. There isn't anything new to that idea. But what about an all gravel route?

Since I am connected to a lot of gravel riding folks in one way or another, I hear about a lot of rides and routes that are not necessarily "events", per se', but are impressive none the less. Crossings of Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wisconsin are all things I've heard about in the recent past. All on as much gravel and dirt roads as possible.

However; I am now hearing about a possible route that would go North to South across the Great Plains, all on as much gravel as possible. A veritable "Great Divide route", only gravel centered and made for the gravelist. But wait a minute.........

Isn't that exactly what Adventuire Cycling had in mind for the Great Divide Route? Here's a brief description of the route from their site:

"The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (GDMBR) is Adventure Cycling's premier off-pavement cycling route, crisscrossing the Continental Divide north to south. This route is defined by the word "remote." Its remoteness equates with spectacular terrain and scenery. The entire route is basically dirt-road and mountain-pass riding every day"

(Underlined emphasis is mine)

I'm not trying to be a "Negative Nancy", nor am I saying the route as proposed should not be done, but I am saying it won't be the first of its kind, because it already exists.  You'd be hard pressed to find a more spectacular route, but that isn't the reason I am pointing this out.

Will this old bridge be here in 5-10 yrs? (Image by A Andonopoulous)
 I am pointing out Adventure Cycling because they have the horsepower to take care of a route. One of the things I feel very strongly about is that if anyone wants to draw up a route, publish said route as something anyone might ride, then there is a responsibility on the route creators to make sure the route is, in fact, there and rideable.

I also feel that if someone desires to make sure a route is correct, there is only one way to verify a route, and that is by "putting your eyes on it". A physical recon, is in my opinion, the only way to do a route "right". This means that if you establish a cross-nation route on gravel, it not only becomes a monumental task to recon, it becomes an even larger obstacle to maintain that route to be correct. Again, I am not saying "it cannot be done", I am saying it is a bigger bite to chew than maybe some folks have considered.

For example, there have been adventure routes planned to cross the nation by motorcycle, and these have met with mixed results. There are several cross-state motorcycle routes off pavement, and these are constantly updated by the riders to help those following in their tire tracks to make their rides successful. Could a cross-nation gravel route be done in like manner? This would assume enough riders, and enough that would care to report their findings, would indeed happen to ride said route. Maybe they would, and then again.......

Putting my money where my mouth is, I am going to be reconning a route, (Trans Iowa Masters Program), that will cross the entire state. It will be a big task to recon it to make (mostly) sure it is rideable for three months. What about next year? The year after that? I don't know. That's why either I, or someone else, would necessarily have to check said route on a regular basis to insure there were no truncated roads due to development, no major sections paved, no bridges out, and no damage to roads due to natural events that would make the route impassable. That's for 370 miles. Try thinking about doing that for a route 2-3 times as long!


Jason said...

The idea of a North-South gravel route sounds pretty awesome. It should include NoDak!!

john said...

I hear what you are saying for the bikers looking for a Colorado trail or Appalachian Trail type adventure - and bless those folks who want the huge adventure of finding their own way.

Steve Fuller said...

The key to route maintenance is to have it ridden regularly throughout the "season" and to have caring feet on the ground all over the route that can comment on the state of things.

Adventure Cycling does a good job of taking rider reports, verifying them and maintaining errata. Even then, surprises happen.

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: Exactly- That would be what it would take, but in the early going, one has to wonder exactly how many folks would be on the trail and at what intervals throughout a "season". It might prove less than ideal, say, if you find yourself in Kansas with one road to choose from and it is closed. (Just pulling out an example out of the blue)

I see where this may be billed as a "race", which makes more sense, since then your "season" is limited to a set amount of time and your route only then needs to be reconned and cleared for use for a short time.

But we're talking about 2500-3000 miles of roads. Of course, I also see where the potential organizer is now saying there will be long stretches of pavement involved. ;)

Steve Fuller said...

While it can be done, many of us know how difficult it can be to stretch that much gravel together uninterrupted, especially without a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of each state's roads.

This puts me just that much more in awe of what ACA has accomplished with the GDMBR (and any of their paved routes for that matter).

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: Amen to that!