Monday, May 30, 2011

Riders on the Storm(s) of Gravel and Mud

So a few days ago, my friend Jeff at Main Street Bicycles (shameless plug) suggests I view this video promo of a "gravel" metric century ridden on rural, mostly unpaved roads in DeKalb County, Illinois. Hmm, intriguing.. looks like fun. Here's the first of 2 clips:

Looks like the good folks over at North Central Cyclery have once again teamed up with Chicago's Half Acre Cycling to produce the 2nd annual edition of this soon-to-be-classic event. 

I can't help but ponder the instinct that drives us to revert (regress?) to a more primitive state on two wheels. Perhaps it's the same sort of quirk in human nature that has us argue amongst ourselves about what "is" and "is not" X,Y, or Z. For example, in the recent Keith Richards autobiography Life, there seems to be a whole brew-ha-ha going on about what is or is not jazz, blues, etc. in the evolution of modern music. 
We often see the same battles in other fields of human endeavor and culture, be they the arts, motor sports, or even politics. We want to get back to a simpler time, cut through the baroque embellishments we've created, and get back to basics. 

How primitive will I get today?

We want a more real or authentic experience. It's as though the evolution of our society's modern creature comforts have insulated us from the pains (both physical and psychic) that were in earlier times, simply taken for granted. It might seem a little Fight Club-ish, but I can understand the appeal. Real Simple magazine anyone?

Coupled with this trend toward the essence of things, is a nostalgia for things as they might have been in the past (often, a thoroughly idealized, romanticized past). Besides the obvious good writing and acting, the appeal of the hit show Mad Men seems to hint at a yearning Don Draper himself would be quick to exploit. 

Suddenly the 7 and 8 speed "old school" bike parts we may have not-so-long-ago spurned for 9 and 10 speed upgrades have become "vintage," fetching top-dollar along with all of the other high-buck items to be had on the interwebs.       

Which brings me to the point of this blog posting: riding 100 kilometers, much of it, by design, on *unpaved* rural roads. I'll spare you the references to suffering and what a slog it was, and fun (mostly). That should be obvious... It's why we do this sport, right? What started as an easy roll-out of DeKalb, quickly turned into a complete, no-holds-barred smack-down! As a mass-start (non-competitive) event, it is inevitable that such a gathering that will appeal to a mostly bike racer demographic, will ultimately become VERY COMPETITIVE for the majority of those participating. 

"Ain't no river wide enough"

The increased pace and fragmentation of the field into different groupettos happened before the pavement gave way to gravel. Just as expected. No problem. Tailwind, overcast, we're moving along, the kilometers ticking past. Then the skies darkened, and unleashed an unrelenting Midwestern thunderstorm. This made the already soggy conditions on some parts of the course simply impassable. Gravel is hard enough (oh, did I happen to mention that I rolled with regular 23c tires, and not my cross-tire setup? FAIL) muddy singletrack... miserable. Creek bed turned raging river in flash-flood conditions though? Come on!

Going amphibious, with the wrong tires!

It rained so much, and there was so much water to pedal through, that I contemplated laying the bike down in the ditch, and convincing my cohorts to build an ark where we could load our bikes two at a time for the ensuing great flood. An ark,... or, by the looks of some of the riders, their piercings and tattoos,... a pirate ship (speaking of Keith Richards). Hoist the main sail!!! ... Aaarrggh!!!  (As far as pirates go though, let's stick to the fun Disney kind, not the 19th century Barbary or Somali type.)