by Chris Locke of the Skull-N-Bones Gravel Adventure
We left the Fareway grocery store at a little after nine in the morning on March 15th. to do our first group gravel ride of the season. Patrick Ross had contacted me the previous weekend to see if I'd be interested in coming to Stewartville, Minnesota to ride the Filthy 50 course with him and his son Declan. We put it out to a few others and ended up with a great group of guys. Tod Griffith was a surprise last minuet entry to the group. He was on the fence all week so I was glad he had shown up. He drove him self but Pat and I had brought 2 riders each with us. I brought Branden Nall and Dustin Marsh with me and pat brought Declan and Alan Swanson with him. We were also joined by Trenton J. Raygor and Drew S Wilson. Trenton is the founder and organizer of the Filthy 50 bike race in the fall.
In 2 short years the Filthy has become one of the premier gravel events in the Midwest and one of my personal favorites. Drew is the owner of Cyclocarbon where he repairs damaged carbon fiber bike frames. We dropped Branden's busted up Giant TCR frame at his shop after the ride and he had a pretty cool set up. We had a pretty eclectic mix of bikes between all of us from Branden on his Raleigh 26r to Trent on his Felt cross bike we had a pretty good spectrum of tires on the gravel. I was riding my Salsa Fargo with aero bars witch came in very handy with the strong headwinds. I truly love this bike for gravel. It has big sturdy tires that grip the gravel well and give you plenty of confidence on the fast down hills and rollers. Nothing is better then bombing down a steep gravel road and picking up enough speed to pass others on the way up the next hill.
The weather was overcast and very windy. The gravel was firm and perfect for riding in my opinion. At some points it was a bit damp but nothing too serious. It was just enough to put a beautiful white coating on your bike frame. The group stayed together pretty well the entire day so nobody got lost. It was interesting to see the wind effect on the bikes in front of you. Sometimes people were leaning at some pretty precarious angles. We all took turns sheltering each other from the winds but Trent and Drew were the undisputed pros in the group. One of them remarked they wouldn't have ridden that day had we not been there because it was so windy. To me it was a great adventure in some of the most beautiful territory in the midwest. I felt fortunate to be able to experience this ride so early in the season. When we got to Fillmore everyone stopped and hung out sheltered from the wind by the church for a bit. We marveled at a great scrap wood bridge built over a creek right next to the church. Someone had a lot of time on their hands and they had put tones of work into that thing.
After eating some bananas and jerkie and downing some fluids we were back in the wind. At this point we were down in a river valley with great vertical walls on either side. Unfortunately there was little relief from the walls. They seemed to be creating a wind-tunnel effect and the only real relief from the wind came from the trees when you were in them. After the ride down the valley comes the biggest climb on the route. You cross a bridge and start a long sustained climb out of the valley. Last time I ended up walking up this climb but this time it would not beat me. The road was as wet as any section we had encountered this far so my biggest fear was sinking in and having to start from a dead stop on the incline. When we got to the top of the climb we picked up a friendly dog that followed us a mile or so down the road. We stopped for a while and he lost interest in following us and eventually someone came looking for him.
From that point we only had about 15 more miles to go to Stewartville and the finish line. We had a lot of wind to contend with from that point on but by that time I think we were all pretty comfortable with it. Not too far down the line Trent and Drew had to leave us behind because they had other obligations but between Dustin on his Phone and Pat and I having a pretty good memory of the course we made it back with relative ease. After the ride we all met at the Pizza Ranch in town to re claim the calories we had burned throughout the day. I had tried to make it a metric century but came up just a bit short but I got done riding knowing I used everything I had in me that day. The clouds had cleared out at the end of the ride but the winds never really died down. After eating we dropped Branden's frame off at Cycle Carbon and headed home. It was a great day with awesome people in a spectacular landscape.