The Skull-N-Bones Gravel Challenge did its second tour of the Blue Hills yesterday, and it couldn't have been better! The weather was perfect, and race organizer Chris Locke did a fantastic job of marking the course and providing a certain amount of trail support (he said he wouldn't do either, but his philosophy with this event is to "promise little and deliver a lot"). For a free event, the Skull-N-Bones is hard to match, and honestly, I think you'd be foolish to shell out $150 bucks for a race if there's a free gravel event going on that weekend.
The story of this year's ride was heavily influenced by the events of the previous night. Eric T. Olson took a break from his pursuit of 100 marathons and decided to do Chris's ride on a Fat Bike (Eric bookended this event with marathons on consecutive weekends before and after). There is apparently free camping in the park in Bruce, so Eric, Micah, Shawn, and Todd all showed up. Well...to make a long story short, by the time the night was over they'd all destroyed any chance that any of them would do the 100 mile course (except for Todd...who bolted out of there early I hear).
Eric texted me the above picture on Friday night and I was kind of bummed I couldn't make it. Honestly, it's the camping and camaraderie I like most about these things (I could do without the bicycling). But if you don't do at least part of the ride, you aren't tuned in to the right frequency for the pre and post race jawing...so I'm stuck riding I guess.
I got up at 5 AM and drove up from Chippewa on Saturday morning...in desperate need of a long day in the saddle. I'd had to take my daughters in to the dentist on Thursday, and I was still stressed out from that. My girls are 5 and 2, and already terrified of the dentist, so having to sit there and watch them be worked on gives me one of those headaches behind the bridge of my nose. The whole time I was there I had to restrain myself from going "grizzly bear" (tossing expensive equipment through the window and then making a break for it with the kids)...anyway, I needed to ride. Doctors don't know what's best for their kids, parents do.
At the race start, Branden Nall was there serving coffee, and Patrick Ross arrived ready to ride. Patrick runs the Solon Springs 100k Soup and Sandwich ride, which I want to make a point of doing this year (because Patrick is awesome). I'd been at the start about 40 minutes when the camping crew came shuffling in like death warmed over.
"Unghhhhh...." they all said, "no way we're doing the 100...no way!"
Perfect! I thought.
We finished our pre-race preparations, got a pep talk from Chris, and did a soft and civilized roll-out. Eric and Shawn were pushing the fat bikes, and dropped back content to take in the scenery and have a fun day. Micah was satisfied to do my casual pace, so the two of us rode along chatting with other riders and making our way through the course. I kept stopping to take pictures only to discover some ridiculous "card read" error on my camera when I got home. I downloaded some software to salvage some images, and this was one of the few that survived:
The roads were really great. You're in dog hunting territory up there, so you go by a couple places where there are packs of howling dogs chained to barrels...but that's cool. It's kind of the border of the frontier, there aren't any gas stations on the 50 mile course, and that's why it's awesome.
I was riding my Warbird which really isn't geared for the hills I encountered. There was no "sit and spin" gear...so I was stuck in "sit and grind" and I was SHOT by the end. Micah and I rolled into the fire hall, then went straight to Glory B's for some burgers and ice water with a twist of lemon (pitcher after pitcher of ice water...you can imagine):
One by one, the others started trickling in and told us their stories of the day. The 50 mile course was a lot harder than I anticipated, and I knew that Shawn and Eric were going to be cooked after riding it on their fat bikes. But they were in good spirits when they arrived.
More and more, these are the kind of events I'm seeking out. You always meet interesting people on rides like this. Anyone willing to do a 5 hr bike ride in unknown territory has enough moxie to make them an interesting table mate while you both enjoy a local burger. It was really a fun day, and, most importantly, I was finally free of that Dentist's office headache by the time it was over. Next up: Birkie Trail Marathon!