This year the masterminds behind Lincoln’s increasingly popular gravel-road sufferfest, Gravel Worlds, introduced an option for those of us who are new, under-trained to do 150 miles in a day, or only slightly crazy: the Gravel Worlds Privateer, a 75-mile (officially) noncompetitive gravel ride following much of the same route as the full event.
Last year, with only the 150-miler as an option, I had all of two months of gravel riding experience before I made a clockwise loop around Lincoln from Fallbrook to Malcolm and bailed at mile 83. Not too shabby. I’ve been riding gravel all year, even hitting my first century on my fat bike in May with the Tour of Dirt Roads IX. I signed up for the full 150, but when life caught up with me – when new jobs and moves cut my mileage back to a trickle – I switched to the Privateer. It was perfect: I got to sleep in an extra hour, I had no worries about timed checkpoints, I knew I could do 75 miles, and I could even have some fun riding with friends. When you ride a loaded steel Ice Cream Truck, you have no aspirations of winning, anyway.
Speaking of heavy Ice Cream Trucks, I found a friend at the start who recently took up gravel riding and bought an identical fatty:
I had other friends on “skinnies” that I rode with for various portions of the trip, but for the most part I hung with Chris. It was 75 miles of one rolling hill after another, seemingly bigger all the time, and on the uphills I’d sprint up (being lighter) and on the downhills Chris (having more weight/mass) would speed ahead. It was the rare flat-ish section when we could have a conversation. The “real” Gravel Worlds may have had 11,000 feet of climbing, but they still packed 5,000+ feet of climbing into the Privateer.
I say “It’s a beautiful day to ride bikes every day,” because it’s true, but I think everyone would agree with me that August 19 couldn’t have been a better day for Gravel Worlds. With our hour later start, the sun was already rising, and the morning fog was just burning off in the fields. It was in the 70s and 80s for most of the day, barely windy.
The route, too, was gorgeous. Much of it was lined with chicory and marshy wetland grasses; I saw more butterflies that day than I’ve seen all summer, flitting along the road. We kept a respectable fat-bike pace averaging 12-13 mph, but it was still slow enough to take in all the sights.
Our fellow Privateers were a chatty and generally good-natured bunch, willing to chat or to stop and offer assistance. We met up more than a few times with a couple of guys from Kansas City in matching white Deschutes Brewery jerseys. I didn’t even catch their names (sorry, guys!), but we chatted a bit about fat bikes and hung out at the gas station in Valparaiso. That’s just one of the many awesome parts of being part of the bike tribe, and the gravel tribe, in particular: you just have an instant camaraderie with any rider on the road.
By the time we rounded Valparaiso and headed toward Lincoln, we wondered if maybe the mountain logos on the cue sheets were some sort of strange joke. There were some big ones, but for the most part, it was just more of the same – hill after hill. In Raymond, around mile 65, we fell in to some sort of classic auto parade that was also headed to the Ding-a-Ling. This was exactly the sort of crowd you don’t want to hang around in spandex, but for the most part they seemed to ignore us cyclists.
Any gravel ride of a considerable distance tends to get my mind in a dark place, and this one was no exception. I ran out of gas after about 67 miles, and the last 8 were a struggle. I wanted nothing more than to be done, showering, and drinking a beer, but some of the biggest hills of the day were in those last few miles. I hated riding gravel. I hated bikes. I passed the Deschutes guys, and one of them was on the same page: “I hate everything!”
But when I hit the pavement of Fallbrook and realized I was about to cross through an official finish line for the first time, I couldn’t help myself – I teared up a little. I crossed that finish line. A couple of women walking through Fallbrook saw me and my dirty bike and wondered what it weighed, and if they could pick it up. (“You can try.”) They asked whether I did the full Gravel Worlds, and I said I only did the 75. She corrected me: “Never say you ONLY rode 75 miles!”
I got that well-deserved shower, but I came back to hang out at Schillingbridge and watch my other friends roll in. My Saturday Morning No Drop Fat Bike Ride (SMNDFBR) crew made a strong showing, with many of us doing the 150 and Janelle Gerlach taking 3rd for women in the 75. We stuck around until our last rider rolled in. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive group.
Gravel is a harsh mistress, but I don’t really hate it. I keep coming back for more. Maybe next year I’ll do the full… but I’ve already started daydreaming of lighter bikes!