Thursday, February 09, 2023

Ted-terview: Guitar Ted Gets Interviewed; Part 1

 I mentioned in last week's FN&V that I had been interviewed by Haley Hunter-Smith and that it was a rather revealing interview. I have been given the green light to share the interview with you here on the blog.

This was/is a part of a research effort by the Queen's University and was an interview conducted by Haley Hunter-Smith with myself via a Zoom call. The transcript was then sent to me about one week later. 

I don't plan on sharing the entire interview, and this will take a couple posts- at least- to get through. I am going to lightly edit the interview for clarity and readability. 

The research was done in an effort to find out from many different individuals what the "Spirit of Gravel" might entail, why, or if it is important to preserve, and what- if anything- can be gained from that for future race directors, gravel enthusiasts, and more. 

Part One: The Beginnings Of The Modern Gravel Scene:

Haley Hunter-Smith

The first part of the interview covered my introduction to gravel cycling. 

Haley Hunter-Smith: So. To kick things off, I was just wondering if you could tell me how you came to gravel.

Guitar Ted: Okay, well, that would be through well… there’s a couple different things I could say. First of all, I grew up in Iowa and we have upwards of seventy thousand miles of gravel and dirt roads here, so it surrounds you and it’s part of your life whether you want it to be or not. 

Many of my relatives lived on gravel roads, and so growing up when I went to visit them, a lot of our play was on gravel roads and, you know, I’m very familiar with gravel roads from that stand point. So that’s one thing. And the other thing would be that I fell in love with bicycling at a young age, and you know, just exploring and going adventuring and things of that nature were part of it. 

And then the, the thing that really kicked it off probably, was that I worked with another gentleman by the name of Jeff Kerkove in a bicycle shop in this area. We had our boss, and he’d done this stunt with three other gentlemen where they rode across Iowa on road bikes in a day. And he was very proud of that, and he let us know that repeatedly. We became very tired of the story, and after the retelling of it for the umpteenth time, Jeff looked at me and said, “Well, you know we could do something like that with mountain bikes, but we wouldn't want to do it on pavement. Do you think we could do this across Iowa off-pavement?” And I thought for a moment, and knowing, you know, what I knew about gravel roads and maps and things, I said, “Yeah, I think that's possible, I think we could do something across the State of Iowa on gravel roads. And so then he said,” Let's do it!”. And that kicked off the event called Trans Iowa, where we set up an event that went across the state on gravel roads. About 310 miles or so. 

And yeah, just through doing that event, and watching the athletes that we got to come to that first event, ride on gravel roads I was… Suddenly a switch went off, and I well, of course, why haven't I been doing this myself? And so that was when I got involved in putting on events, and participating as an individual, riding on gravel roads. You know, that was 2005, and so I 've been doing that ever since, right?

Jeff Kerkove (L) and GT at the pre-race meeting for Trans Iowa v1 in 2005

HHS: So you really were one of the very, very first, I can’t even call you an adopter… a founder!

GT: Well, uh, I 'm very quick to tell people that we weren't the first people to ride on gravel roads, or to even have an event, a competitive event, on gravel roads. These things were happening here and there, you know, and I could name several examples of that. But we were... What I would say, we were in the right place at the right time with technology, the way things were, and with a new idea of, to most people, for a bicycling event. And those two things combined, set up a lot of dominoes, set off a wave. 

It was like dropping a stone in the middle of a pond, and the influence of what we did went out into the community of cycling and caught on. So you know, I'm just very fortunate that I was in that place at that time, and you know, I like to say that was the moment "the modern gravel scene" started, and what you would know as gravel today was, that was the genesis of it. Back then in 2005.

HHS: Okay, well, thank you very much for starting this (laughs). When you think back to those early experiences, your early renditions of Trans Iowa as an event organizer, and also as a gravel participant, do you have specific emotions that you associate with those experiences?

GT: Yeah, I would say that there were two things that really struck me immediately. One was the camaraderie, and the openness to accepting people that were part of this. So to give you some context to that… I came into this as not really an athlete. I'd done some cross country mountain biking in the 90's, but I was more or less just, you know, a nearly 50 year old, bicycle mechanic that nobody knew, and I went to this event with Jeff Kerkove, who at that time- He was a very well known 24hr mountain biker, solo mountain biker, in the scene, and sponsored you know, and a lot of people knew who he was.

So he attracted all these ultra mountain bikers to our first event, and I was intimidated because I wasn't part of that scene, and nobody knew who I was. Yet, when I went there they were all like, Oh, yeah, this, you know, they're very kind to me, and very open and accepting of me, and complimentary to what we were doing. So I came away from that first event feeling very humble and very much excited, that I was you know, accepted as part of that scene. So that was probably the biggest thing to me that that impressed me at that point in time.

HHS: Okay. And are, are you still involved in gravel in any sort of capacity?

GT: Yeah, I retired from putting on events in 2019. Now I write for my own personal blog, which has been going on since 2005. Then I also am a co-owner of a site called Riding Gravel, where we review and test products for gravel cycling.

HHS: Okay. And so, from that perspective, having been a very early community member, and to what you're witnessing now, do you perceive any changes in the community?

GT: Well, it's become a lot more diverse and a lot bigger (laughs). Obviously, yeah, I, I just think I'm excited, because you know the things that I felt about the gravel scene, coming into it as an outsider, so to speak, and being accepted, I see that still happening. And that people are really pushing for that. I think of several different organizations and people that are really working hard to make sure that everybody's accepted into the gravel scene. And you know we, we talked a little bit about, before we started recording, about the spirit of gravel, and I think that's a really big part of it - That people are accepted for who they are and what they bring to the scene is okay, and that's what I'm really excited about as far as how things look today. I'm being completely blown away by how big it's got though (laughs).


Next- in Part 2 of the Ted-terview: On Saturday the interview will pick up and get into what I think about this whole "Spirit of Gravel" thing. Stay tuned....

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