Monday, October 03, 2016

Fat Bike Century Report

My riding partner, Tony, was the instigator of this adventure.
The fat bike century ride happened on Saturday and started out in a bit of a surprising way.

It was raining!

That wasn't supposed to happen! I was a bit dismayed when I noticed that as I was preparing to go on Saturday morning. Tony had to work until 6am at his job as a fireman, so we weren't going to leave until 9:00am. That gave things time to clear up. But would it? The rain wasn't even showing up on radar at all, so there was no easy way to say if we would be starting out in the rain or not.

I threw on a rain jacket as I made final preparations. I had my nutrition packed away, which was the same as I used at Gravel Worlds- Epic Bars and Justin's Almond Butter packets. I had three water bottles aboard, and since we had plenty of water stop opportunities, I felt that was okay. Cues would go on the BarYak, and I had a brand new Banjo Brothers Waterproof Saddle Trunk, the redesigned one, on the back of the bike. I was prepared, and at about 8:50am, I bolted out the door to meet up with Tony.

It was raining very lightly, and I laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of doing a fat bike century, potentially in the rain. This could get real interesting! I made it to the meeting spot right at 9:00am, and Tony showed up right afterward. In the meantime, the rain turned to drizzle. That was a good sign.

Things were drippy and wet as we left town via the Sergeant Road bike path and Ranchero Road. 
We headed South down the Sergeant Road bike path and we were chatting away, happy to be out on our bicycles. In fact, we were so engrossed in our conversation that we completely blew the first turn on to Ranchero Road! I didn't realize it until we came up on to Shaulis Road and remembered we had to turn. Oh well! Bonus miles are better up front than near the end when you are tired and just want the ride to be over.

We found that the rain had completely quit, so before we even got West of Cedar Falls we peeled off our jackets and stowed them away. Then it was on out into the country. Our first town would not be until Dike, Iowa.

Despite the rains, we saw plenty of harvesting activity all day long.
Leaving Dike, Iowa.
Things were going smoothly. My low, 28T main drive cog wasn't slowing me down at all. Of course, I was in the three fastest gears on the cassette most of the time! The gravel was in great shape. No fresh stuff, and it was about as good as it gets to start out with. The skies were mostly overcast with temperatures in the lower 60's, which was fine, but it definitely wasn't a cheery atmosphere. It looked as though it could rain at any given time during the day, all day, while we were out there. We cruised right through Dike, Iowa, not needing to stop there. The next town out was Wellsburg.

Onward toward Wellsburg under grey skies.
You know you are near Wellsburg when you start seeing the wind machines. The town is surrounded by them.
First stop- Wellsburg's Casey's Convenience Store, of course!
We started seeing the wind machines and we knew we were within a few miles of Wellsburg, as it is surrounded by the things. I had been eating and drinking fairly regularly, but I was in need of topping off on water and I was hungry when we got to town.

At the Casey's Convenience Store, I picked up more water, a can of Coca-Cola, and a banana. That banana really hit the spot! With our business done, we saddled up and headed West again toward Eldora, which would be where we were to start going Northward on our giant loop. The roads were still in great shape, but the weather was cheerless. We had a slight quartering tailwind all the way out West as the wind was from the Northeast. It wasn't a big deal, as the wind was maybe only around 12mph or so with no gusts. The gently rolling hills did not present much of a challenge, and as things were remaining the same, mile after mile, and we weren't turning much, it became a test of mental fortitude. Just pushing the pedals round and round in a never changing sea of dried up corn and soybean plants.

Tony and I made the best of it by chatting and trying to figure out the local plant life in the ditches. I learned what "Snake Grass" was! It's always fun to learn new things and see stuff while out on the bike. Eventually we spied the Iowa River Valley off ahead of us and we knew that soon we would be in Eldora.

The Iowa River just North of Eldora
We reached the city and I had to stop a second to use the restroom at a park we had reached on a bicycle path. We ran into a local gent there that insisted we go to see their CCC/Prisoner of War Museum on the county fairgrounds. We politely deferred to when we could get there another time. After a bit of chatting, we set off out of Eldora Northward. You never know who you'll meet when you are out riding. That guy was definitely an "interesting character".

We didn't need food or water in Eldora and we had the option of hitting a small town further up the road if necessary, so since Tony and I were both good on supplies we made our way into our part of the course which would take in the Iowa River Valley. Tony and I have both ridden out this way before and we knew we were in for some big hills now.

The Iowa River Valley did not disappoint. It was beautiful and definitely very hilly. We had at least three big grunts going through there and the last one was a long, winding climb that had to be well over a mile long. Oh yeah......I used some of my cassette I hadn't touched all day yet through here! I will say that the 1 X 11 is a bit of a throwback in that the gearing jumps between shifts are big and it really affects your cadence. Not only that, but the jumps are not evenly gapped either, so it can kind of jar your legs and it throws off your cadence. I ended up gutting it out in maybe too high a gear several times because of the slight momentum losses between shifts just ended up slowing you down more.

A flooded field next to the Iowa River
More harvesting activity East and South of Ackley Iowa. We witnessed similar scenes all day.
West Friesland Presbyterian Church
Once out of the Iowa River Valley the route flattened out a bit with some rollers in place of the steep, long climbs. We skirted the South side of Ackley, but once again, we felt like we were doing well on supplies so we kept rolling. Tony suggested that if we found ourselves in dire straights that we could simply cut off North at the points where we passed Applington and Parkersburg if necessary. That meant we had an 8 mile run to the next corner we had to make. Then it was 13 mile stretch to the Casey's Convenience Store in New Hartford. When we reached the turn after 8 miles, I asked Tony if we could stop so I could swap bottles and take a short break, which we had not done since we left Eldora. He agreed that would be okay, so at a non-descript corner adjacent to a field of goats, we stopped for a bit.

One goat, that I thought looked like a small antelope, was outside the fence.
When we assessed our situation at the corner, we were not very encouraged. Tony drank the last of his water here, and I had one small bottle left. All the work of pushing these fat bikes, now against the wind as well, was taxing our reserves of energy. With 13 miles to go to a resupply, it didn't sound too bad, on the surface of it. However; when you've burnt a lot of matches to get there to that point, it is an entirely different set of circumstances.

This would prove to be the most difficult stretch for both of us. It didn't help that the rollers got bigger, and the gravel was a bit looser through here, but it was what it was. We just kept grinding up every hill and trying to coast when we could, which wasn't often. Mostly it was just pedal-pedal-pedal all the way in to New Hartford.

The long road to New Hartford was the toughest stretch of the 100 mile ride for the both of us.
Mile 88: Casey's Convenience Store at New Hartford
Coming up the last few miles of rollers were making my legs burn. I was out of water a few miles back, and my stomach was screaming for something to eat. I had an almond butter packet and an Epic bar left, but that wasn't going to cut it. I needed "real food" at this point. Tony was in the beginning stages of bonking and he was yo-yo-ing off the back as we approached New Hartford. We finally made it though, and I was really happy to see the place. Tony said it was the best looking Casey's he'd seen. I couldn't have agreed more at that point!

Tony started out with a whole pint of chocolate milk and some chicken fingers. I got my water and a slice of Canadian bacon pizza. I went back and had a small bottle of chocolate milk and a Coca-Cola. After about a half an hour's resting and refueling, we both felt like new men. Tony said, "It's amazing what a few groceries will do for a man." Yes....we were both revived and ready to tackle the last of this course. We fitted our lights before we set off and turned them on, as the overcast conditions were bringing darkness sooner than it would come otherwise. Now, to knock this thing out.....

The Cedar River Valley dead ahead. This was our last stretch of gravel before hitting pavement West of Cedar Falls.
The last miles were not at all easy. We may have felt better, but we still weren't fresh, and the danged road never ceased to climb up and up. At one point we hit a long grade that had to be close to two miles. Nothing steep, but after nearly 100 miles, it wasn't a welcomed incline! We finally hit Union Road and the end of gravel travel. We found the bike path at Union Road and Highway 57 and coasted down into Cedar Falls. At the point where we passed the Little Red Schoolhouse in Cedar Falls near Sturgis Park, we marked 100 miles.

Victory beer was had at Single Speed Brewery
Tony took a picture of his computer and I suggested we go get a beer. Tony was happy I said that so we went down to Single Speed Brewery and we each had a beer to celebrate our accomplishment. 100 miles on gravel using fat bikes is no easy feat, and I have to say that I wasn't sure I could pull that off, but we did. The day was certainly nothing spectacular as far as the weather went, but that didn't hinder us, and it probably helped make the ride a little easier than it could have been. The bikes worked pretty well, and we didn't have any major issues beyond barely escaping bonking out before New Hartford.

I still had to get home, and so did Tony. We finished up our beers and headed out into the night, as the Sun had set by that time. We rode together until Green Hill Road and there we parted ways. I rode the last couple of miles alone and I was thinking back upon what had just happened. I was pleased with how I rode and I am pretty happy about the day we had.

Looking back on it, maybe we should have peeled off in Ackley and rebooted on water, but in the end we were able to overcome that decision and finish strongly after the stop in New Hartford. Other than that and our initial missed turn to start out the day, there was nothing negative to say about the ride. My bike performed well, my tire choice was spot on, and the Bar Yak system afforded me a relieving position when I needed it. My left shoulder was a bit of an issue again though. It hurt from about halfway in and for the rest of the ride. Fortunately some Ibuprofen taken at the "goat field stop" took the edge off the pain. Nutrition was spot on again. Oh, and the flat pedals? Worked perfectly fine.

Fat bike century is now in the books. Now it is time to recover for a few days and get back after it again.


Ari said...

Congratulations on meeting your goal! My fat bike century was a no go. Worked too late at restaurant. Settled for 75 miles on the carbon cheater bike. Maybe next Sunday.

Robert Hingtgen said...

Nice job!

Robert Ellis said...

Great write up and adventure! Great ride! Enjoyed the fall pictures. Our daylight is disappearing quickly!