About the “Wildlands Classic”:
Hungryland Back 40 Gravel Grinder & ‘Dillo’s Revenge Individual Time Trial
2015 marked the third year of The Florida Wildlands Classic. The Hungryland Back 40 Gravel Grinder was held Saturday, June 13, and consisted of 40km (25 mile) and 60km (37.5 mile) age group races for men and women, and an “Enduro Epic” 80km (50 mile) ride.
‘Dillo’s Revenge 25km Individual Time Trial took place on Sunday with the same categories and a Dillo’s Revenge tour ride. The race is held within the 16,645 acre Jones/Hungryland Wildlife and Environmental Area near Jupiter, Florida. The organizer describes the course as non-technical and the roads as hard packed double track, jeep road, and fire trails.
The Hungryland Back 40 Gravel Grinder (I was entered for the 60km version) offered me an opportunity for my first “official electronic chip timed” competitive gravel event. Before seizing the day and registering, I conferred with several riders over e-mail, to determine who was in for a road trip. As fate would have it, the Hungryland conflicted with a local road racing event, and only one other rider would commit to attending. As for me, I was able to maintain my current brain cell count, as at no time did I even consider racing locally on the road, when I could drive three and a half hours for a gravel race!
With the course description and terrain knowledge of this area of Florida, I anticipated a fast race. After pre-riding a portion of the course, my anticipation was no longer relevant. Just over half the course traversed grass roads, while the remainder was on either hard packed shell rock or recently laid gravel with fairly recent caterpillar tracks. For my would be trip companion who decided to miss the race, thinking the lack of hills (bumps and lumps) removes any challenge, is allowing their judgement to filter what an actual assessment of the course would return.
The grass sections of the course were made up of what I believe to be Florida gamagrass (Tripsacum Floridanum Poaceae). These clumps of grass were spaced closely together, returning a constant beating akin to riding on a road with widely spaced cobbles, assuming such a road exists.
There was the one section of freshly laid gravel I encountered during my pre-ride. My immediate thought process was I’m finally riding an actual gravel road similar to the ones I read about in western parts of the United States. Then the jarring of the caterpillar tracks came into play. No worries I thought, as I moved off the tracks and immediately noticed a decrease in my speed and an increase in my pedaling effort. For the remainder of the pre-ride, I believed the features of this flat course would make up for any challenge a change in elevation would offer.
I arrive at the parking area to witness and experience one of the qualities that drives me to the gravel scene. It is best described by Beth Morford. “Every day, many of us go about our daily activities unaware of the treasures that exist in our own backyard.”
The start was typical of any other cycling event in that at the drop of the hat, a group formed immediately to create a single file line of riders.
However, the promoter had added a new section the day before that was about one kilometer in length and offered two features I did not experience during my pre-ride. Tall thick grass and a muddy water section that was bottom bracket deep. The tall grass wasn’t too much of a problem so I thought, but the water section allowed for a group of seven riders to immediately distance themselves from everyone else, including yours truly.
After exiting the new section, two things were evident. A few blades of the tall grass had securely wrapped themselves around both of my rear derailleur pulleys and the high gears on my cassette, and the magnificent seven now lay approximately 300 meters ahead. Within approximately three kilometers, I was able to latch on and disband the magnificent seven; now the group contained eight.
My confidence had grown and became stronger when we turned onto the first hard pack section for lap one of two. We then turned on to the first gravel section with the now infamous caterpillar tracks. I immediately had to close a gap that opened as a result of an attack, and my lack of cornering skills on gravel roads.
Things slowed for a bit upon my return to the group, at which time a few riders explored the width of the road seeking the most comfortable line, requiring the least amount of effort. During this interlude one rider drifted to the back and ended up alongside me, but not for long. He promptly launched an attack that impacted the rest of my race.
Off the back, I was now faced with a solo ride.
The gravel section ended and it was time again to experience the pounding of a grassy jeep road. The group lay just ahead, but the single file line of riders made me realize a new goal. Not be caught from behind and pace myself for the opportunity to catch any dropped riders from the group ahead. The route took a turn for another hard pack road, and I was able to shift into the all familiar gravel grinding mode aided by a slight tail wind.
While I enjoyed the change in road conditions, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder how long this pleasure would last, as I had not pre-ridden this part of the course. This section of the course is open and travels alongside several canals. On occasion I would spot the lead riders, made possible by a couple of course U-turns along the way. Behind me, a group of six riders had their heads down in chase mode. Unexpectedly, I experienced a majorly shocking discomfort in my nether region that is the kryptonite equivalent for the male gender – the caterpillar tracks had returned. A notable difference to the previous set of tracks; these were exponentially more jarring and twice as long.
With one lap of this section of the course completed, I began passing slower riders but was concerned about the chasing group behind. After coming out of the first U-turn, I spotted riders I had passed earlier, and two riders I believed to be the remnants of the chasing group. I was correct. The two riders caught and passed me about 1.5 kilometers later, before turning onto the grassy jeep road that leads back to the finish.
The bumpy grass clumps continued to take their toll.
As I came upon slower riders from the 40 kilometer race, I caught one of the duo who had passed me earlier. After latching on to his rear wheel, my plan was to try and return his earlier gesture, by attacking before the finish. As it turned out, with about 750 meters remaining, he pulled over to let me come by and then sat on my wheel. With the finish line drawing close I tried to lift the pace, but was content in knowing he would probably come around me before the finish. I was wrong!
Note from JOM – Rusty is too modest to mention this, but he crossed the line to take second place in the 50+ category for the 60 kilometer event, and 8th or 9th overall! Unfortunately, we have no podium photos to share at this time.
The organizers of this event have brought the gravel scene to their area of Florida, which includes the obligatory opportunities to hang out and socialize with other cyclists post race, and enjoy good food and beverages.
While I have shared my experience, The Florida Wildlands Classic also offers gravel rides for those seeking the unknown “treasures”, that can be found without having to worry about oncoming traffic.
HUNGRYLAND BACK 40 RACE VIDEO COMING SOON.
Read more about Rusty’s race bike HERE.