I don't blog, so I thought I would share some memories from this mornings gravel ride. I'm hoping others have writings they can share...
I leave my house on ďroot beerĒ, my Masi gravel grinder touring bike named after her colour. The roads are all pavedÖI feel sluggish at 5:20am. Is it me, or is it the boring pavement that is yet to awaken root beer and me? I ride for 10 minutes on smooth pavement, before hitting some rough chip-and-seal roads north of my town. Itís mainly uphill and I continue to struggle at a measly 18-20k/hour.
This chip-and-seal road should have been re-graded by now. I remember seeing the truck last year at this time laying some fresh gravel. I gave him a fist pump! I think this past winter, being so harsh, has likely eaten away at the townís budgetÖbut maybe in the next few weeks that truck will be out there and I will have gravel! ďYes, please direct a portion of my property taxes to pea sized gravel north of the city Ė lolĒ.
As the sun just starts to peak above the horizon I meet my first bit of gravel this morning; my speed instantly rises despite the continued incline; my senses are alerted to my surroundings, the lush forest on my right is saturated in dew after a humid evening, and squirrels scamper unseen. My focus is sharpened as I dodge large depressions on the gravel road (I wouldnít call them pot holes) and I begin a downhill stretch before making a sharp right before another climb. Ah, this is why Iím up early!
I notice myself smiling, a cocky smile like ďIím the only cyclist out on this road and actually, Iíve never seen another one on it in years of ridingÖsuckers!Ē. Feels good! I stand up and pedal hard up the hill, pausing to shift my downtube shifters into a harder gear, despite the climb Iím going faster. Is it me, or is the feel of the gravel pushing me to higher speeds?
I navigate the hardest part of todayís 2-hour, pre-work route - a steep descent with a sharp turn that quickly goes back up hill. I feather the brakes, varying the pressure on the back and front brakes so that I donít skid or over-shoot the corner. Success. I then shift into my granny gear and spin for a few minutes up a 15% grade. Itís starting to get hot.
Iím back onto some chip-and-seal but I feel invigorated. I start to think of my route. There are 4 north-south roads, three of which have some gravel. Traveling east-west isnít as good, with only a couple of gravel options, interspersed with pavement. I decide on the next part of my route Ė north on 10th line. This road has some nice gravel and itís a narrow road that is mainly tree-lined, with country homes here and there.
As I again transition to gravel my speed increases. I find myself staying on the smoother lines carved into the road by cars. Why is it that I crave gravelóactually find myself thinking about it regularly throughout the dayóbut once Iím on it Iím looking for the easiest lines? Have to ponder that one later over a cup of tea, post-ride.
I spend time looking at the forests on either side, hoping to find deer, or maybe a fox. In the spring I would see a deer on every second ride, but itís been two months since Iíve seen one. I look into one of those sections of forest that is thick with trees and despite the sun now being far above the horizon, itís like night in there. I think I spot animals, or is it my imagination.
Iím attentive to traffic, usually, but when Iím on these gravel roads I almost never look behind for cars, and when I do, I giggle that Iím wasting my time as cars are seen maybe once every 10-20 minutes. And this is during morning rush hour (well, small town rush hour of folks heading to work from their country and small city dwellings). In fact, I sometimes ride down the middle of the road. When I hear the crunch of gravel under a car (usually a truck) I scamper over to my side of the road. The odd time a vehicle does pass theyíre always courteous and I wave a thanks. Maybe they think Iím like them, living in the country, as opposed to passing through it.
As I approach an intersection I decide to alter my route, instead of going through to continue on this gravel road Iíve been on many times, I head east on a gravel road Iíve not been on. A new gravel road experience is like getting a Christmas gift. This road has some great gravel, no traffic, and has a climb and descent that is surrounded by flat lands (never new it existed). After years of riding on the paved roads around my area, on a skinny-tire bike, root beer and my fondness of gravel have in the last couple of years helped me to discover many new roadsówell not so newóthat have formed some treasured routes, and rides that I recall with good detail.
I ride about five times a week. Iím usually good for a long road ride on the weekend, one mountain bike ride on groomed singletrack, and the rest is gravel. I have two bikes that enjoy the gravel, one is root beer, a chromo-steel frame with rim brakes and clearance for more than the 32mm tires I have on there. The other bike is used mostly in winter, it has disk brakes, 40mm tires and I do treat her to dry gravel in the summer a few times.
After riding a few kilometres on this lovely gravel road my route takes me back towards home. Iím on a roller coaster of a gravel road for the next five km. I know there isnít much after this stretch so I savour the gravel. My focus is on the road and my line. I find myself, again, looking for that smooth gravel line. But Iím going fast now as Iím pedalling down the down-hills to drive over the up-hills. I get this idea in my head that I should write about this gravel ride - the thoughts that go on in my head, the focus on the ride and nothing else. I find myself completely focused on the ride when on gravel, and focused on other things when Iím back on pavement (family, work, etc.).
My bike is getting dirty at this point, after about 1.5 hours with close to an hour on gravel. I just cleaned it the other day. Sigh. I find that all of my bikes, mountain bike included, root beer gets the dirtiest. To remove the caked on road/lube residue from the jockey wheels I actually use a screw driver and carefully scrape it off. Crazy.
On my way home there is one last bit of gravel, a multi-use pedestrian trailÖnice, but not the same as a gravel road. In the one kilometre that Iím on it I pass three people. Nice to say good morning and all, but I donít own that path like I did the gravel roads that are now behind me.
Iím now in town. Itís busier now than two hours ago. Everyone heading to work. Iím attentive to sewers, cars, traffic lights and debris. My thoughts linger on what wasÖ