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Dan Woll's Mammoth Report

Here's the Mammoth Gravel Classic 2016 event report from Dan Woll, the celebrated author of North of Highway 8 (copies available at CyclovaXC). That book is featured in this article on Singletracks by celebrated author Walter Rhein. We're fortunate to have all these celebrated authors around aren't we?

Since everybody else is writing reports about the Mammoth, I'm chipping in before it’s too late. Last year I did my first gravel ride ever at the Heck of the North. My old 26er with 2.1s did fine, so I decided not to ride a cyclocross bike. Also, I do not have one. 

Looking around the parking lot at the start I realized I might have brought a knife to a gun fight. Next to the sleek cc rides, my sixteen year old warhorse looked like the USS Wisconsin. I did have one of those cool bags you hang under your top tube, because my son-in-law who knows gravel, gave it to me. I filled it with many bagels stuffed with big slabs of summer sausage and colby cheese. I was set to ride with Cyclova Ben. He needed to take pictures so I fiddled while the pack left. When it did, it departed at a surprisingly brisk pace. Ben alertly tagged on and I found myself bridging up, and out of breath before the sleep was out of my eyes. When I did catch up, we were moving at road pace. This was because we were on a road, something I did not expect. At this point, an ear worm began that tormented me the whole race—the flute riff from “Spill That Wine” including the line, “but there I was.”

Yes, there I was and it was worth riding on the road during an off-road ride because on the left was the St. Croix River and it was blow your mind beautiful. When we got on to dirt, I became aware that I was far from over my sinus infection. This was brought to my attention by other riders who complained that the snot from constant farmer blows was making the road slippery. It also meant that I was dehydrating at an alarming rate. By the time we pulled into Grantsburg, for some street grubbing I had drained my entire 48oz camelback and two water bottles. I refilled all the water, ate sausage and cheese and bought several red cokes, my go to survival drink.

I met a bunch of people, all of whom were named Greg and we formed into a loose pack of six to ten riders. At this point, for anyone considering the ride, something needs to be said about the sand. It was rideable on my 2.1s but the extra energy motor boating through it cancelled out the advantage I had over the walkers. There is also not much of it. I would recommend skinny tires in the future given the same weather.

Neither Ben or I had much of a base so we were riding from memory which hurt a little bit, but it was a small price to pay to see the Crex Meadows, as beautiful a piece of landscape as I have ever ridden. When it finally ended it was back to ugly reality in the form of the crappiest section of the Gandy—the border of the Siren Airport. Granted, I was never fast, but I’ve ridden much harder terrain, right up to and including Leadville, but for some reason there is no two mile stretch in the world that I hate as much as the weird gravel and permanent windstorm around the airport. My wife and I discovered the cure years ago and I introduced Ben into the world of cycle-cheating by leading him on the hardtop road around the perimeter which got us to the Pourhouse Bar ahead of our group. We hung around and consumed hamburgers, fries and beer until it dawned on us that daylight was burning. By this time, counting the beer, I estimated that I had consumed over 200 ounces of liquid which apparently all came out my nose because I did not pee until 8 pm that evening. Despite the snot and the occasional expelled nasal product that looked like a bloody corn flake, Ben stuck with me and we settled into a threesome with the smallest of the Gregs—apparently a fast runner. He was lean and light, (which came into play later.) He was also sunburned the color of a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

Not wanting to overdo things, I insisted on a cup of coffee at the Wren Cafe where they told us they had had over 200 cyclists that day. It’s hard to get up from Wren coffee and pastry but I reluctantly saddled up as the sun dropped in the afternoon sky. The last of the little towns vanished in the rearview mirror and I was told that we were over mile 90. For reasons that only he can explain Ben relentlessly pushed it up well over 15 mph. This was not my first choice but since he was making a hole in the wind I hopped on. Running Greg followed me. It was around 5:00 o’clock pm when we hit the 100 mile mark. It was also when we hit a hard, deep ATV rut, obscured by the sun glare. Being over 200 pounds each, gravity kept Ben, me, and our butts on the saddles. I was surprised to see Running Greg pass me. I was more surprised that he was not on his bike. We circled back and there was no doubt. HIs collarbone was broken. We wanted to get the truck but he pulled a Tyler Hamilton and insisted he could ride in. Back in my climbing days we would say “this is a good guy to have on the mountain.” We propped him on his bike and headed off until the final descent into the city. I said, “You are NOT going to go down that one-handed.” Trust me. I know a bad idea when I see it. Braking one-handed on that descent was asking for the cycling equivalent of the Hindenburg landing. Greg acceded. We got the truck, checked him into the hospital and the rest is history. (What does that phrase even mean? It’s all history, not just the rest)

I’m very sorry for the accident. It spoiled a perfect day. It did not diminish the beauty of that road, which abides in my cycling dreams.

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