|Chris Locke, founder of the Skull-n-Bones Gravel Challenge, performs a little bike surgery in a "safe" zone|
For the 2014 Mammoth there was enough snow to suffocate a polar bear. What a difference a year makes! Coming out of another wondrous Wisconsin winter, we haven't seen too many 70 degree days. But we had a beautiful one on Saturday, August 18th for the 4th annual running of the Mammoth Gravel Classic. Approximately 200 riders came to participate in the 100, 70, or 35 mile ride that finished up on the beautiful Gandy Dancer Trail.
My initial plan was to do the 70 mile course. I have been "preparing" for the Chippewa 50k and not riding as much as I should ("preparing" is in quotes because I'm just hoping to survive that run...). But my friends Chris (above) and Eric Olson (race director for the Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon) talked me into doing the 100 two days before the event...so I was stuck.
I zip tied my go pro to my seat bag in the hope of getting 2,000 great pictures of everyone riding. I got a little rushed at the start (I'd forgotten my navigation map in my car and had to run back for it), so I slammed the go pro into its case right as Frank finished his presentation. Unfortunately, I must have hit the off button somehow because this is the last picture I took:
I was so angry that I ordered a new camera last night. From now on I'll have three with me at all times (I think that's why professional photographers do that...to minimize their own idiotic acts of self-destruction).
I did take a bunch of pictures with my other camera so that saved the day to some extent. Although, at about mile 70 the act of taking a photo seemed too exhausting to follow through with.
We set out fast, making our way down River Road towards the barrens. The 8 AM start time came with a chill in the air that caused me to overdress, so I stopped and peeled off some layers by Wolf Creek Bar. That's where Eric caught up with me. He'd gone sleeveless because "when the sun's out the guns are out!" Chris caught up too, as did Tod on his fat bike. I thought he was being ambitious attempting to ride that fat bike the whole 100 miles, but when we hit that soft, sandy stuff he had the last laugh. He got ahead of us and we never saw him again.
We stopped to stuff our faces frequently:
It was pretty sandy out there, and there were a few patches where you had to push the bike (assuming you weren't riding a fat bike), but for the most part the trail was in good shape. This is a good early season ride because the course is relatively flat.
We got into Grantsburg where Chris had been hanging out waiting for us, had a delicious gas station sandwich, and headed out to Crex Meadows. We hit some welcome pavement around the 50 mile mark, and cruised along ready to reach the north end of the Gandy Dancer Trail.
I'd been looking forward to the Gandy since that meant you didn't have to think about staying on course. The course was very well marked with pieces of lathe (going out and putting those up represents a lot of hours of hard work, thanks for that Frank!), but it's always easier when you don't have to worry about turning at all.
There has been a lot of chatter about opening up the Gandy to more ATV use, so it was nice to have the public see hundreds of cyclists on the trail. We made all participants buy a trail pass the morning of the event, so that represented a significant influx of cash to Polk county.
Our biggest delay of the day came at Siren where we stopped at the Subway. Unfortunately we hit the place at rush hour, and there was only one poor overworked employee running the assembly line. She did a good job zipping back and forth, apologizing to everyone. I felt bad for her, but I was also starving from 70 miles of riding, so I just stood there waiting helplessly for my sandwich to miraculously descend from the heavens.
She pulled my chicken breast foot long from the toaster oven, set it on the counter, then proceeded to ask the next five people in line what kind of sandwich they wanted. Then she cut the bread and laid them out awaiting the toppings. Ok...the tactic made sense...she was being efficient...but I had to stand there looking at my sandwich for about 10 minutes slowly cooling on the counter--so close and yet so far.
Finally, meal in hand, I sat down and destroyed the first half of the foot long. I was debating whether or not I should eat the second because you never know what's going to happen to you when you get back on the bike with a full stomach. But the first half of that sandwich disappeared so quickly that I eventually concluded I had to go after the second as well. I made an attempt to savor the second half, but it still disappeared almost instantly. I showed remarkable restraint, however, and didn't eat the cookies, and limited myself to four refills on the soda. A couple miles down the road I looked like this:
Still, that sandwich kicked in after a few more miles and got us home.
We took it pretty easy and finished the 100 (actually it was like 104) in right around 8 hours of riding time. That's the way to do it, lots of time to stop, eat, and a slow enough rolling pace to keep up a good conversation. I was in the group that had two guys capable of filling up 8 hours of airtime with constant chatter (I was one of those guys). Anytime people stopped talking, we knew it was time to slow down (Tod said he could hear us the whole way so he thought we were right behind him).
It's always nice when the weather cooperates on an event like this. Everyone I talked to seemed to have a blast. Anyone who is reading this is welcome to come out and ride the courses anytime you want. You can frequently find informal groups doing the course, and it's nice to have a 100 miler "on tap." Here's the course write-ups: 100 miler, 70 miler, 35 miler.
Next up, Chippewa 50k. I know I'll see some of you there, and the rest of you I hope I'll be seeing out on some St. Croix gravel soon! It kind of feels like summer is here doesn't it?