North Woods Gravel Grind - Fun Ride
by Rick Harbison • October 02, 2018
I may have made a rookie parenting mistake on this one! To reassure my wife I wouldn't be gone all day and I'd respect our 2-year old daughter's nap time, I agreed to do the 50-mile fun ride instead of the 68-mile race. Long story short, while I rode she went for a hike with our daughter, which took longer than expected, and I ended up waiting around for her while watching the 68-milers trickle in. Suffice it to say, nap time did not happen.
Parenting blunders aside, the 50-mile fun ride was no joke either. My main motivation for doing this race was to use it as a training ride for the Vermont 50 in late September -- and to have a gravel adventure -- so fun ride or not, I kept the pace up.
Since it was a mass start for all categories at 9am I decided to get near the front and keep up with the lead group as long as I could manage. The race starts with a bang up a steep wall of a climb. The organizers offered $100 to the first person to the top. That wasn't me, but I did push it and I was probably sitting in 4th place or so at that point.
After the first climb, a lead group emerged of about 8-10 riders and I tucked in for the ride. It was a fast pace, for me, averaging around 18-20 mph on cyclocross bikes on a mix of pavement and gravel. At one point I fell off the back after we had to navigate around a gate and I had to really wail on myself to close the gap. Once back in the pack I felt strong, but every time I glanced at my computer my heart rate was in the 170's, probably not ideal.
Right before the 50-mile fun ride we hit a steep downhill on a gravel road which was so washboarded out that one of my water bottles bounced out. Just the act of instinctively hitting the brakes and taking a look back to see where the water bottle went caused me to pop off the back again. This time the struggle to get back on was real!
Fortunately, just a few minutes later, at around mile 20, there was the cutoff for the 50-mile ride. I dialed back my most likely futile effort to get back in the lead group and began going it alone. The organizers also put up $100 for anyone who could get a picture of a moose that day, so being the first person on the 50-mile course I thought if anyone's going to get that picture it would be me. I was on the lookout, but it never materialized.
Since I was doing the race in part to train for the Vermont 50 I kept the pace up even though I was by myself from mile 20 on. In the end, I finished in 2 hours 47 minutes, averaging 18.4 mph, according to Strava, so I'm happy with the effort. Next year, though, I'm doing the long course.