Once upon a time when I, as in JOM, was a regular roadie type cyclist person, I would cringe at the idea of hopping on my bicycle to knock out a ride greater than 50 miles / 80 kilometres in length. That was circa 1991 when I first discovered the joys of cycling. Twenty five years later, I’ve progressed; now I ride gravel, cross and Monster CX bikes on roads that are dirty, dusty, muddy, bumpy and sludgy for over nine hours at a time. The original roadie cyclist dude inside me never saw this coming…
I’ve mentioned this a couple of times during recent posts to the Gravel Cyclist website. June 4, 2016, K-Dogg, Mrs K-Dogg and I are riding our first Dirty Kanza 200. For the uninitiated, this event is one of the biggest gravel races in the US of A. 200 miles / 320 kilometres of Flint Hills gravel beginning in Emporia, Kansas with about 2,000 other gravel-minded cyclists. Looking in as an observer, an event of this magnitude could be seen as a sign of madness, but to gravel cyclists like K-Dogg and I, we cannot wait! Or… we really signed up for this? Better start training!
We don’t necessarily have 10,000 feet of climbing at our disposal to ride as part of our preparation, but we do have a plethora of dirt and gravel roads close to our front doorstep, and a lot of motivation. I’ve lost count of the number of rides and races we’ve attended in the past, stacked with climbing – and we live in Florida. So, we just show up, chuck the bike into a low gear and chug away.
June 4, 2016 is fast approaching, so I thought it prudent to knock out another mega-ride before a block of gravel races begins happening for me in May. Thus, I coerced K-Dogg and Mrs K-Dogg to join me for a Sunday 160+ mile dirt, gravel, sand, limerock and a wee bit of pavement training ride. It was an easy sell.
- The route is a total masterpiece with copious store stops along the route.
- There’s bugger all vehicular traffic.
- We’ll traverse several new roads.
- I’ll do most of the work.
Point #4 may be a bit of a fabrication, but at nearly 61yo, K-Dogg is a bit gullible
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Revelation of the day – K-Dogg paid his local preferred mechanic to convert his American Classic Race MTB wheels to tubeless, filled with Orange Seal Cycling’s Endurance formula. Thank you kindly sponsors!
The day began at the rather unsavory hour of 7:30amish, although this is nothing compared to Dirty Kanza’s early start time. With Garmins loaded, jersey pockets packed to the gills with food and a positive attitude, our little trio headed north and away from Gainesville, Florida.
I’d designed this route to forgo some of the dirt and gravel roads closer to Gainesville, opting to explore roads further north and west beyond the Florida BFE towns of Wellborn.
I was astride the Parlee Chebacco, a high-end gravel bike I am currently reviewing. I’m not going to give away any spoilers of my long-term review yet, but you can catch a sneak peak of the bike – and me telling you about it, voice over style, at this link.
As the early miles ticked off, it became apparent the meteorologist blokes had the weather forecast spot on. A high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit / 30 degrees Celcius with plenty of cloud cover and light winds. Toasty, but not unbearably so.
One thing that is stellar about the roads in Florida is the miles and miles of gorgeous Live Oak tree cover. Riding through the sheltered canopy keeps one’s body out of the sun and provides a little protection from the wind. Mind you, the entire route isn’t tree covered, but we certainly appreciate the parts that are.
As part of my route planning (see my tips for route planning here), I made mental notes of where every convenience store was along the route. Stops were scheduled at 93 kilometres / 58 miles, 182 kilometres / 113 miles and 238 kilometres / 148 miles. I figured the spaced out stops were a good proof of concept for Dirty Kanza.
K-Dogg wasn’t chuffed with the pace I was setting early on; not overly hard, but steady and consistent. Based on what I learned about myself during my last seriously long solo training ride, I knew I could hold the same speed or slightly higher for most of the day, provided I kept a mindful eye on my calorie intake.
The wind was playing nicely on the way to the first stop of the day, and I was happy with our progress thus far. K-Dogg and Mrs K-Dogg weren’t shirking their turns, and would chip in a solid turn on a regular basis. Having them for company was very motivational and made the effort a lot easier – mentally and physically with the rest I’d take at the back of our three person train.
Rest stop #1 on the southeast side of Lake City soon appeared, prompting us to stop, take an assessment of ourselves and delve into some fine dining. With long races, one has the option of drop bags containing food and goodies along the course. On a mega training ride, convenience stores and petrol stations provide the dining options, which at best, are limiting. I chowed on a stash of salted peanuts and refilled my bottles with Gatorade and water. My compatriots dined on similar fare.
The route between the first and second rest stop contained several roads that are new to the Gravel Cyclist crew. As alluded to earlier, I utilize my course making tips to develop and build a viable route. Sometimes though, even the best of technology cannot tell one if a road is truly passable, despite looking so on a satellite map. Satellite maps may not be up to date, and in past experience, I’ve seen once public thoroughfares become private and gated no ride zones.
But on Sunday, we got lucky. The uncharted areas of the route were among the best, making for the perfect route.
Spring has truly sprung in this neck of the woods, with flowers sprouting, birds, butterflies and all manner of creatures seen flitting about the place.
You know you’re in BFE Florida when… you’re on a quiet dirt road and you spot a bloke astride a golf cart with a couple of four to five year old children following close behind aboard four wheelers… sadly, we have no photographic evidence, but they were shocked seeing us, as we were of them.
Eventually we passed through Wellborn, Florida, a town I’d visited during my most recent solo ride. From here, the route wandered north onto some supremely smooth pavement, heading back to the dirt and gravel again as we headed west, paralleling the railway line and US 90, both of which pass through Live Oak, Florida. However, we weren’t on a 180 mile sojourn meaning Live Oak was off the agenda. Rather, we would travel south towards the blip town of Beachville, another township I’d passed through recently and site of Rest Stop #2.
I was starting to feel the effects of not enough calories. Despite consuming gels, water and Gatorade, there still wasn’t enough calories inbound to support my effort. Clif Bars and most other calorie laden “energy” foodstuffs are of little interest to me when I’m riding big miles. They’re dry in texture, unappetizing and therefore, generally go uneaten. Sometimes I desire a savoury food item… rice and soy sauce would totally hit the spot! Definitely a snack item I’ll be preparing for my next, and possibly final big-mile training ride before Dirty Kanza.
Thankfully, I have plenty of experience at metering my effort, and my body didn’t go into duress or a total calorie deficient meltdown before Rest Stop #2 rolled into sight. Having the Doggs for company today was very beneficial.
Soda, or cool drinks as we call them in some parts of Australia, really hit the spot, along with a refill of bottles, a Snickers ice cream bar and a stack of salted peanuts. Without doubt some of this stuff is a bit dodgy, but with just 50 miles / 80 kilometres remaining and one more stop on tap, it would have to do.
After stuffing our faces, the Doggs and I rolled in a southeasterly direction towards Fort White, High Springs, Alachua and finally, Gainesville. No worries!
Gravel Cyclist teammate Dr. Pain had been enjoying a Sunday of leisure, sleeping in late and watching some Euro pro racing on his computer. He’d also been following our progress, courtesy of the app I was running on my phone, Real-Time GPS Tracker 2. During a brief conversation the day before, Dr. Pain thought it would be fun to meet us along the route, and help tow us home for the final 40 miles. We rendezvoused with the good Doctor somewhere west of Fort White. It was quite apparent he was fresh, but happy to sit at the front and set tempo.
I suspected the Doctor may test the weary legs of our group, but with how I felt, there was no chance he’d be dropping me off his wheel! I felt amazing! In reality, Dr. Pain’s presence was appreciated, and I was stoked he’d made the effort to meet us, and help finish the ride with a bang.
Noticeable was the weariness of almost 61yo K-Dogg, whereas Mrs K-Dogg was looking sharp. Without doubt, she was the most impressive of our group. Due to her relentless work schedule, she hasn’t spent a lot of time on her bike of late, but she is clearly an athlete who excels when an event goes long. No complaining, no whining, just solid riding.
Fort White rolled by, as did High Springs. But it wouldn’t be an epic ride unless the best – or the worst of the dirt, gravel and limerock roads was saved for last. Without doubt, the unpaved stretches between Fort White and Alachua, Florida were rough. They were potholed, washboarded and bumpy as heck. My lower tyre pressure and comfy frame with its carbon fibre accutrements helped a little, but the brutal pounding would send shock waves through my hands, wrists and ultimately into my shoulders.
In my head, I wrote a letter to the respective County Managers…
I am writing to express my displeasure associated with the
JOM – Gravel Cyclist bloke.
Joking of course, but proof that gravel cycling is challenging in so many ways!
With just 24 kilometres / 15 miles remaining, you’d reckon we could go all the way without a third and final stop.
The 86 degree Fahrenheit weather was really kicking in, forcing us to stop for a splash and go at the BP convenience store in Alachua, Florida. A shot of full-strength Coke hit the spot – not ideal nutrition – but perfect for the final miles!
Those final miles flew. The dirt and gravel roads hadn’t improved any, but with home so close, it didn’t matter. We bid Dr. Pain farewell who pulled off somewhere close to the end and turned into his house. Just to mess with K-Dogg psychologically, I faux attacked him along a well-known stretch of Gainesville’s Millhopper Road – a beautiful and scenic paved road laden with tree cover. I believe K-Dogg faux sat up.
Overall, a superb ride with great people and one that provided another valuable lesson in endurance gravel cycling. My nutrition still needs some tweaking, but I’m confident I’m close to sorting that out. For the next lengthy endurance training ride, I’ll be sampling some nutrition goodies that come recommended by friend of the Gravel Cyclist crew, Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Phil Gaimon – he used to kick our arses regularly when he attended the University of Florida here in Gainesville.
Incidentally, I lost seven pounds / 3.2 kilograms of weight during the ride. Amazingly, I felt fantastic when I arrived home, and thoroughly enjoyed regaining most of that weight… nom nom nom as some people would say.
For those so inclined, you’re welcome to check out my Strava data from the ride.
Thanks for reading!