Monday, October 25, 2010

Night Nonesense Gravel Grinder Report

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.

That's right, it was the first "Night Nonesense 100", a gravel road race held completely under the cover of darkness. I hadn't heard of anything like it, and gravel road race aficionado, Adam Blake, was putting it on as a free event. I wanted to support that, and along with all of my recent night gravel grinding, I figured it would be fun.

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.

At this point, it was a struggle getting comfortable with becoming wet. I wore an 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.

I had noticed a gravel road turn about a quarter mile back, which should have been our turn, but was un-marked. Adam told us at the start that he had marked every corner with fluorescent painted sticks, and there weren't any on that corner, nor was there a street sign. Well, the pole was there. The sign had been taken. About the same time I noticed that The Foreigners had a support car following them. Hmmm.......not cool! The car had pulled off at the very spot I had decided to turn. Someone in the car on a cell phone jutted their head out the window as I rolled up and asked if that was the road. I motioned that I was going to continue up that road, and without looking back, I sped away, now trying to distance myself from the five going the wrong way and their support car.

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.

Once back on track, I was alone, and the rain intensified. It really was coming down with lots of lightning all around. The wind also picked up. It was raining so hard at one point that I nearly stopped because I couldn't see anything in my lights but streaking rain. Now the gravel had rivulets of water snaking down the hills and spewing rain was flying off my tires seven foot into the air in front and behind me. Quite the spectacle, I'm sure, for cars that were passing me by. After a short while, the rain relented, now back to a fine, drenching downpour, and I was snaking my way north and westward toward where, I did not know.

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.

I was rolling southwards, near Cedar Rapids, when I finally came off some blacktop and back into gravel. I was getting passed suddenly by a car here and there that was flying down the road. I was a bit annoyed by it, and then I found out what was going on. Not too much further up the road, I ran into the first aid station, where they told me some young hooligans had gotten wrecked of their own accord, and tried to take off. Observing that the hooligans were bloodied and battered, the folks there at the checkpoint called in the accident, and the cops were flying around trying to head off the younginz at wherever it was they thought they were going. Meanwhile, a bit further past the aid station, where I had an apple and a PBR, a car was burning. The acrid smell of wires and rubber burnt in the air was nasty. I motored on as fast as I could away from there. Shueyville, Swisher, and a long, busy stretch of blacktop came after the car nonsense and the aid station. Finally, I was back out in the darkness on some lonely stretches of gravel road.

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.

East Amana, then Amana came under my wheels. It was abandoned, asleep, and weird with so many lights on. It seemed a waste of energy. Speaking of which, I was running on short supply of it. I stopped at a corner in Amana, dismounted, and my back gave out and I just about fell over, saving myself from falling by propping myself up on my bike with my arms. It hurt so bad I yelped in pain, and tears came to my eyes. Not good.

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.

So, that was my ride. Approximately 80 miles and 8 hours of ride time. I met up with Mike and Ron and we went home. Robert won, and everyone else did well too. I was worked. I hadn't ridden, or worked so hard on a bike, in such terrible conditions, ever before. Today as I type this report, I am wasted. My body aches! Time for some recovery!

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!


grannygear said...

Crazy man, you are.

Courtney said...

Oh the fun of gravel riding in the rain. I remember the last time I packed it in and called for help on a rainy gravel ride. It get pretty bad but when you look back you only remember how much fun it was.

Doug Idaho said...

Wow....that sounds crazy! I think the couch deal sounds pretty good compared to that but hey you now have some great stories to tell.

Rich said...

All I can FENDERS!!

That would,or might have helped!!

I went for a long loop through George W and there was a thin layer of mud from fixing the trail....made me covered from head to toe. I should have had fenders as well.

Adam said...

By the way, the Quincy sign did have pink posts and at most was .1 mile away from the cue, I double checked it. I don't know what happened to the road sign. Also, I announced pizza was at mile 70 at the prerace. Just clarifying. Thanks for coming Mark, Glad you survived.

Guitar Ted said...

@Adam: As long as you brought it up, I will say that I was not expecting to look for left hand turn markers on the left hand side of the road, and I didn't figure out your system until about mile 30. Once I knew it, I was fine with your marking. I'm not sure anything was said about how that worked at the pre-race. I was expecting all markers on the right hand side, which if I am not mistaken, is how the DK 200 guys did that.

At any rate, great event, and thanks for doing it!

Guitar Ted said...

@Adam: Also, I'm pretty sure that the mile 30 folks told me "pizza at mile 60, or so". So I probably got it in my head that I would see pizza by then, but I blew all the way through the cues for the 60's, and nothing. Just sayin. But I got mine out there in the end, and to be honest, I figured I was so far off the back, it was over with by the time I got there.

It's all good!

Steve Fuller said...

Shades of TI in the fall. Ahh....

B said...

Nice work GT.
How does the Endura jacket go? Does it breath well enough and what model is the WTB seat you have?
Enjoy your recovery.

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: My come uppance, perchance? Maybe.

@B: The Endura jacket has been on several outings with me. I would caution against using it at anything above the temperatures I used it in, (60's F), but not everyone is similar in terms of hot/cold. I find it to be breathable to a certain extent at temps between 40-60F, and layering underneath it has been successful for me.

The WTB saddle is an old, discontinued SST model that WTB made in "bass boat" sparkle colors. Schwinn spec'ed them on various Homegrown models back then. You sometimes can score one off e-bay, but they are getting harder to find in good condition. The good news is that WTB resumed production of the SST last year, and you can get new leather or synthetic covered SST's now. HooRay!

SS:Mtn Biker said...

Ugh...glad you made it back,GT,LOL! AWESOME stories to tell,though,eh? =)