I went to Hardin County Iowa yesterday to ride the Gravel Iowa River Greenbelt (GIRG), a pure grass roots gravel race/ride. It was an opportunity to meet new friends and ride new terrain. I had a great time and, as always, I learned some things that will undoubtedly help make gravel even more enjoyable in the future.
Looking back over the four events I’ve completed this summer, I am amazed at just how little I knew going in. I signed up for Mega GIRG with the idea that it would offer me another opportunity to grow, and so even though Saturday brought copious amounts of rain and I’m not a big fan of riding on soft, wet gravel, I loaded up the van before sunup on Sunday and headed northeast to Steamboat Rock.
So what did I learn from GIRG? Here are the three lessons that will stick with me.
Lesson 1: Things Generally Work Out, Even When You’re Lost and Clueless
The day didn’t start well. All that rain made for a dark, foggy drive across Iowa. Nothing like that combined with deer along the road to keep a guy on edge. I needed to stop to use the restroom and so I punched “Casey’s Steamboat Rock” into my phone and followed the directions. Perfect…except the Casey’s was in Eldora, not Steamboat Rock. I didn’t realize it until I drove around the square looking for the start. Stopped and repunched and only then did I discover I was in the wrong town and we were twenty five minutes from starting time.
Lesson 2: Gravel is All About Conditions
As the sun started to rise it was looking like it was going to be a beautiful day. Speaking of beautiful, the first five miles of this course were spectacular. We left Steamboat Rock and headed south through Pine Lake State Park. Shortly after that, we turned onto gravel and headed across a one mile stretch of B road…the only one on the course. Fortunately, it was grass and not dirt. Dirt would have been impassable as the roads were very wet at this early hour. Grass was relatively easy to get across.
After that, it was a mix of graded gravel and pavement. The first fifty miles or so were tire-grabbing wet. I went slower than I would have liked, but I went. The course wasn’t all that hilly, and so in a weird sort of way, the soft roads made up for that. They dried out as the day went on, and the last fifty miles was just delightful. I ended up logging my fastest gravel century time and met my goal of breaking seven hours.
Lesson 3: It Helps to Ride With Someone
I’m a lone wolf. Nobody in Jefferson Iowa is going to get up at 4:30 AM every day to ride with me, and so I almost always ride alone. This is true of these events, too. I am generally very comfortable being out there by myself.
Yesterday, though, was different. There was another rider and even though he was faster than I am we kept bumping into each other and finally at the halfway point he graciously decided to slow down and ride with me so that we could keep each other company. It was truly delightful and made all the difference. The day just flew by.
Special thanks to Ben Petty for putting on GIRG. Also thanks to Casey from Sioux Falls for keeping me company yesterday. It was fun riding with you!
I was listening to a podcast with 2015 DK200 winner Yuri Hauswald last week and he talked about how there’s no right or wrong way to ride gravel. Do what brings you joy, he said. You’ll learn. You’ll grow. So true. Every time out it’s something different. Every time out I find joy in ways I couldn’t imagine going in. Gravel continues to surprise, amaze and delight me.