Gravel Grovel

November 29, 2014

Norman, IN

Tim Taylor was 16th in Masters and 35th overall out of 246!!

44 degrees, 10% pavement, 60% gravel,

30% dirt and single track with a lot of deer hunters.


The Gravel Grovel 60 mile UltraCX race was a unique event in the Hoosier State Park utilizing one lane paved, packed gravel, loose gravel, dirt trails, and mountain bike trails. 240+ riders on mountain bikes, cross bike, and frankenbikes rolled out like a century ride and then as we turned on the one lane paved road the speed accelerated to a good pace for about 3 miles. Then as we turned to some gravel and hills the pace went to warp speed and the field shattered into groups. Our new teammate, Justin Lowe, is a veteran of these races warned about the hard pace to split the field and get the hard core racers to the front. I managed to hold the front group through the first climbs and some gravel, but we hit a long climb and the field split again with me in the second group of about 25. I was maxed and hoping the pace would slack, but the variety of mountain bikers, single speeder, and cross bikes there was no cohesion. We just followed whoever was strong enough or had the bike skills to stay in front on the gravel. Our group stayed together and worked some to keep the speed reasonable catching riders that were dropped off the front. At about mile 10 we jumped a gate into a long section of unmaintained dirt road which had fallen trees, branches, ravines, creeks, and rocks. This started to break our small pack into with me probably being about average with the pace. Now this was a long slog that had some 18% climbs and a lot of wet bottoms to peddle through.
I thought it couldn’t get much worse than these miles and we came out on some hard packed gravel that I was able to make up some positions. Nice, but it was just enough time to eat and drink before plunging into single track MB trail that Daniel Boone must have made when he was drunk. I was totally out of my element in those trees on a skinny, slimey path that went up some bad climbs. Most of the I made over on my 34/30 gear, but a few we just had to hike and hope that it leveled enough to get back on and clip in before the hair raising descents. I went down one section for about 150 yds. with both brakes almost locked sliding on leaves, hitting rocks. The mountain bike guys were hooping and hollering with joy as they blew by me. I was like “I just passed you guys in the gravel climbs now you brush by me at a hundred miles a hour.” Finally we reached the end of the trail and climbed a gate to get on some gravel roads, I was passed by about 50 people in that section. Eat and drink again and try to put some speed back into the ride and wish there was no more single track, but in knew the course map showed two more sections.
We started to regroup and cruise until this 12-20% grade of a gravel hill smacked us in the face. After about a mile of this climb I passed most of the MBers that had went by me and the road switched to pavement for the descent. At the bottom I squeezed for brakes and just had enough to scrub speed, but not make the turn. Time for adjustment and to look at my rear wheel and hub. On one of the descents in the single track a group was stopped with bikes laying on the ground. I couldn’t stop because it was so steep, so I went through the trees, hit a stick that bent a spoke and messed up my hub, so that it was grinding every time I went to lower gears. Jumped back on course with my MB buddies and a few CX guys as they came off the hill. We had a good time riding the gravel to the second to last section of single track. I stayed with them on this short section and popped back out on gravel/pavement and they told me to just go on. I did, with one last single track section and then head to the finish, I slammed as much food and water as I could. I was in the bonk zone and just thought of my Giant road bike with those smooth Zipp wheels cutting the air on smooth pavement.
Getting off the single track we hit a 15 mile section of loose gravel. Very few hard pack wheel tracks to follow, just ride anyplace you could just to move forward. (sometimes the ditch was faster) My buddies caught me again and but no one was talking, just concentration to get to the finish. The loose gravel gave way to packed lanes and I went to the front again for some pulls. One of the CX guys started coming off the back and I let up, then one MB attacked as we started down a wicked descent. (I had rode this descent the day before and knew the turn at the bottom was no brakes.) Going into the turn I was 4th and the 2nd MB could not hold his line in lane one, touched his brakes and slid into lane two, which I had jumped to earlier to go with the attack. Both of us went into the ditch, but with all the other terrain and being so tired, I just stood and pedaled like a mad man going after the attack. It worked and I didn’t crash my brain out, but lost about 100 yds. Now our road switched to pavement and the finish was near, all that I had to do was catch a MB and CXer. They were turning and looking at me coming and started to work together before the last couple barriers. I caught them just as we entered the single track to an old iron bridge. Sub92014-14 Iron Bridge-2At the bridge they put their bike across the guardrail and blocked me from getting over. They ran the bridge length and I hopped on my bike and pedaled after them, caught just as the hit the second guard rail and again blocked. I rolled across it, jumped on the bike and sprinted after them. 20 yard lead at the final creek crossing and finish line, slammed my gears from 52/14 to 34/30 and dove down. I had scouted this out the day before with one of the organizers and he told me how to cross without slipping on the rocks. They were in the water as I started down the bank, turn left and 15 feet straight across the water to the other side. We crossed finish tire to tire just thankful for a safe race and blessed with excellent weather. My time was one hour after the leaders, but it was an good adventure and I learned a lot of bike handling skills the hard way.
Justin Lowe had a great race on his Frankenbike in 5th place and probably finished the UltraCX series on the podium.

by Tim Taylor