A year ago this weekend I was in the Pacific Northwest for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. It was my first double century (204.8 miles) and also what will likely be my most productive day ever on the bike. I was thinking about his yesterday as my friend Jason was completing the long grind south to the City of Roses. It was Seattle-to-Portland #4 for him. I saw this morning on Facebook that he made it. There was never any doubt in my mind. Congratulations, Amigo! Next year he becomes an official member of the StP Hall of Fame. How cool is that?
As good as StP made me feel about my cycling ability, I have absolutely no interest in riding it again. There’s a lot of traffic between these two mega-metros, even when you’re out in the back of beyond. The last 50 miles or so along US 30 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River were particularly unnerving. The road was narrow and twisty, posted at 55 mph with logging trucks cutting onto the shoulders at high speeds. I knew it was going to be tough and it was. I was never so happy to get to the St. John’s Bridge and into the city of Portland.
I’ve been living in Jefferson Iowa (pop 4,100) for the last two years now and small town cycling has become my new normal. I rode 40 miles yesterday on a mix of pavement and gravel. I think I might have been passed ten times in total. There’s just not a lot of traffic out here and that makes for great cycling. On the rare occasion when I drive into the city these days, I’m constantly processing the lay of the land and looking at it from a cycling perspective. Even though I’ve cycled through the heart of large cities from coast to coast, I generally don’t like what I see. The whole culture of driving is increasingly about one-upping everyone else on the road and you don’t have to look very hard to see it in play.
And so (for me, at least) a big part of the appeal of gravel is the lack of traffic. All things being equal, less is more. I’m happy to endure the bumps and give up a little speed if that’s the trade off. I cycle both for fun and for transportation, and by choosing bicycles that interface well with gravel (any old mountain bike will do, really), I’ve found that I can have my cake and eat it, too.
I have been looking forward to next weekend all summer long. I plan to go to Prague Nebraska to ride Bohemian Sto Mil. It’s a gravel century through a remote and hilly region of the state affectionately known as the Bohemian Alps. Even though BSM is only three years old, it has already developed some serious street cred in the gravel community. I suspect it is probably a lot like Dirty Kanza was back before it became the “Super Bowl” of gravel.
The problem is that the long term forecast is calling for triple digit heat next weekend. Extreme heat scares me unlike anything else. After SWIGG, I really don’t want to deal with that again. I learned a lesson earlier this year about riding in extreme cold, and although that story had a happy ending I am absolutely certain that I do not want to learn a similar lesson about riding in extreme heat. So we’ll have to wait and see. Seven days out a lot can change. If we’re two days out and still looking at triple digits, I’m going to have to bow out. Better to live to ride another day.
So whether it’s on pavement or gravel, I hope you have the chance to get out and get some miles in today. If you do, please be safe. Have fun, too. Enjoy the ride!