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Mullin's Gravel Conspiracy Recap

I won't call this one a race recap since it was really a different spin on the event for me this year.

"You are responsible for you".  That was a direct quote and the general gist of Head Conspirator Josh Stamper's pep talk as we gathered around the truck Friday morning just north of Duluth.  My third year of participation had me translating that statement to "You are responsible for you, and anyone you encouraged to also do this crazy thing."

After seeing my report from two years ago, and wishing me luck and listening to the stories last year, Starr was adamant that she was doing the Conspiracy this year.  I really didn't need to be very worried about her.  She had enough fitness to cover the distance, plenty of handling skills to manage the terrain, and a level head to deal with any issues.  My primary concern related to road side bike repairs and any potential navigational errors.  Plus I'm kind of fond of her so I wanted to make sure she had a good time.

So, 3 days, 200+ miles of "roads" with your significant other, what could possible go wrong?


Starr and I left her place after work Thursday afternoon and headed up to Korkki for a night of car camping.  By which I mean we slept in the car.  I had never done that before but it worked out really well.  It was also super handy to be able to just wake up, make some coffee, eat some pastries and be ready to load up.  No pack-up and commute necessary.

Josh gave us the run down, we loaded the bus, stopped for lunch in Grand Marais, and finished rolling up to Grand Portage.  All pretty smooth.

Stamper's "You are responsible for you" speech.

Thus far Starr and I had still pretty much avoided a serious discussion on if I was riding with her or not.  I asked if she was ready to go, she said she was, and said I would see her in Grand Marais and rolled out with the pack.

Day 1 - Grand Portage to Grand Marais

That didn't last very long.  As the group rolled out I figured I should double check to make sure she was set navigationally and drifted back.  Then I got to thinking that this was definitely the most rugged day with the highest likelihood for a mechanical.  Pretty soon (within 2 miles) I decided I should ride with her.

Day 1 - Still smiling

Thus started a 5.5 hour ride with my girl.  It was fantastic.  We enjoyed the scenery, had some good conversations, enjoyed some silence, and meandered our way towards Grand Marais.  This is by far my favorite leg of the GC.  Yes, it is rugged.  Yes it is remote.  Yes it is beautiful.  Yes you should check it out.

The top of Rengo Rd with Canada in the background.  If you only check out one part of the course go to Rengo Rd.
We had no navigational errors, no mechanical issues, no bike handling issues, just a great ride.  It was pleasantly cool for the most part.  I probably could have done with my light armwarmers in the shade.  However, as we climbed Pine Mountain prior to descending back into Grand Marais it was getting on towards sunset and it was getting cooler.

Cheesing out after passing one of the logging trucks on Firebox Road
That rip down Pine Mountain then down the Gunflint into GM, while really fun, was REALLY cold.  When we finally got to the truck at the Muni Starr pretty much dropped her bike and went to stand in the hot shower for 20 minutes.  I wasn't quite that cold and got camp set before enjoying a hot shower myself.

We enjoyed some dinner at the Gun Flint Tavern and then retired for a wonderful night of sleep at the Municipal Campground in Grand Marais.

Day 2 - Grand Marais to Beaver Bay

Day two brings big miles, but better roads.  Starr was game to get going early to get a head start.  Mornings aren't her thing though and instead of an hour head start she got 15 minutes.  My rough plan for the day had been to ride hard until the halfway point at the Trestle Inn and then reconnect with Starr and probably ride the rest of the day with her.

I rolled out with the crew shortly after 9:00 and other than a couple of guys chasing after Drew off the front, I was in the first chase pack.  It was quite a bit of fun riding with Death Rider, Chucker, Best In Schow, and Mark (I'm sure Mark has a better nickname, but I don't know what it is).  We passed Starr after only 7 miles or so well before we got to Mark Lake Road.

Near the end of Mark Lake Road is the beaver damn that rises above the road that I have taken a picture of with my bike the last two years.  This year since I was riding with the big dogs I didn't really feel I had time to stop and take a picture.  Thankfully Frank was there and captured a sweet picture of me clearing the culvert and water hazard.

Trials test by the beaver damn.  Photo Credit: Frank Lundeen
As I was riding with these guys I was feeling like I was probably close to over cooking it.  My goal was to stick with these guys until we reached Sawbill trail since that is a great gradual descent that I was positive we could just rip as a pack.  Unfortunately to get there we had to go up and over Honeymoon Trail.  So while I made it to Sawbill with the guys, I was kinda cooked and made the mental decision to just drift off the back.

When we got to 6 Hundred Rd where the bridge over the Temperance River was under construction we found it plenty passable via bike (with a bit of a bike throw to get your bike off the 5' drop on the other side).  As the guys were about to head up the hill on the other side, Stamper pulled up with the truck.  I decided to go refuel since I wasn't going to hang anymore anyhow.  When I was informed the truck was on its last leg and would likely not be seen again today, I pulled an audible to back track and find Starr now to make sure she had enough for what was going to be a long day without further support.

6 Hundred Rd Bridge under construction.

Bike throw off the far side of the bridge.

As it turns out I didn't have nearly as far to go back as I thought.  I found her already on Sawbill making her way down the hill.  We stopped at the truck and then headed out again together.  After lots and lots of climbing on 6 Hundred, when we were what I thought was about 5 miles out from the Trestle I decided to go on ahead and order up some food for us.  Turns out we were like 2 miles out and she rolled up not too long after I got there.

After a burger and fries we got rolling again.  Three of our Cyclova/Woolly buddies were not too far behind us (they decided to sit down to breakfast at 9:00 when everyone else was leaving), other than that it sounded like everyone else was taking a short cut for the second half of the day so we were soon to be the last two on the road.

Alisa, Dallas, and Micah all fueled up at the Trestle Inn ready to roll as we pulled in.
Things got kind of quiet for a while.  Starr was still pedaling along, but I'm pretty sure she wasn't enjoying herself quite as much as she had before.  I remembered this stretch from last year being very miserable myself so totally got it.  I tried to just keep a cheerful attitude but generally just rode along letting her work it out on her own.

I kept my eyes peeled for moose.  Sadly I never saw any, though Chris Locke did see one towards the end of day 1.
When we got past the pavement on Hwy 1 things picked up again, much as the had for me last year.  We cruised on down until we hit what was the only major reroute from last year.  When we got to the ATV trail we were getting on to within about an hour of sunset.  We had about 12 miles to go so it seemed possible we might make it back before dark.

But it wasn't to be.  The ATV trail was pretty rugged.  I was thankful that I had a gut feeling the trail we were on when it started deviating from the GPX course was the same one we were on last year and I thought we could continue and then get on that route back to the right place.  It worked, but it took us a while.  We also stopped to jacket up at the top of Birdshot since it was starting to get pretty cool and we were about to go downhill for a while.

Part way down Lax Lake road we pulled over again to get out the lights.  Sadly, I had apparently not charged mine and it was dead.  Thankfully I had good company and we were able to share hers.  Traffic was nearly non-existent as we ripped the last couple of very cold miles down into Beaver Bay.

This was my longest ride ever by a 10 mile margin.  With my back track and our little side trip on the ATV trail I totaled just shy of 114 miles on the day.  A cool 6000 feet of climbing accompanied those miles as well.

Day 3 - Beaver Bay to Korkki

In his quest for a Cup-o-Gravel, Dallas did some Google Earth scouting and identified an alternate route for day 3 that pushed the mileage over the metric century and incorporated more gravel.  The standard route spends the first part of the day on the paved Gitchi-Gami trail along Superior before heading inland on gravel.  Even after that it finds a fair share of paved roads.

By now I was very comfortable letting Starr tackle this route on her own and was itching for a little time with the rest of the Cyclova/Woolly crew and maybe burn a few more matches so I joined the small crew tackling the 64 mile gravel reroute.

I felt pretty punchy from the start and by the time we hit the gravel between a few hard pulls by myself and Nate the group was splintering.  Nate, Jason, and myself kept things pretty hot through about mile 25 where we found Stamper with the midmorning buffet set-up.

Nate, Jason, and myself are up the road ahead of Alisa and Micah.  Photo Credit: Dallas Wynne
And thus ended my day of riding with the crew.  As we rolled out, I put my head down and rode pretty hard along the ATV trail for the next 6 or 7 miles.  When I reached the roads again with no one in sight behind me it was now a time trial to see if I could make it the rest of the day riding hard on my own.

A little water hazard towards the end of the ATV trail section.  I didn't try to ride it.
There were a few stretches into the teeth of a pretty hefty wind where I was pretty close to rolling my bike into the ditch and waiting for people.  There was about 6 miles on Fox Farm Road where the gravel was pretty loose and deep and straight into the wind that was just demoralizing.

Eventually I made it past that and pretty soon I was only 10 miles out and turning in the general direction of Korkki on some fire road.  The fire road was really sweet rolling and twisting and turning.  I had a moment where I thought I was coming up on a pack of wolves, sadly it turned out to be a pack of hunting dogs.  I even had a couple chase me down the road for a few minutes.

Then the fire road turned into brand new ATV trail that was ok.  Then the new ATV trail turned into a really over grown ATV trail.  Which turned into a swampy overgrown ATV trail.

Eventually I got spit out onto a gravel road and I sighed in relief, until I noticed that it went straight up a huge hill in about half a mile.  After cresting that I sighed again as I descended the other side and made a left.  And then I really cursed Dallas as I looked up again and saw an even bigger hill.

In the end though I made it over the hills and back to pavement for the last couple of miles in to Korkki.  A while later Starr rolled in and we finished off a successful Gravel Conspiracy with some splashing in the big lake and dinner at the Canal Park Brewing Company.

Some hungry cyclists.


So what could possible go wrong?  I'm not sure, because nothing really did on this trip.  Sure there were a few minor adventures and some quiet miles when not everything was feeling 100%.  On a whole though it was a great weekend.  Rumors are the format is likely to change somewhat next year after pretty much perfecting this one over the last couple.  I'm sure it will be great though and you should definitely consider doing some riding next summer and joining us next fall.

Jason refueling at the finish line with Chef straight from the can.  This picture doesn't quite capture the pure glory as you can't see the sauce streaming down his chin.  I'm not quite sure what happened to Nate here.

I'll be skipping the what's next section this time... I'm already two race reports behind so you'll just have to find out when I write them.

1 comment:

  1. Good write up Ben! This has been on my reading list and I finally got caught up on it. I enjoy the reports... Keep them coming.