First the back-story. In 2004 my friends Ray and Byran talked me into coming to Washington State to ride the John Wayne Trail. This is a rail-trail with the famous two-mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel. As an inducement Ray would provide the bike, a very nice fully-suspended mountain bike. We had a great time (included in Bicycle Journeys with Jerry). Ray wanted to sell me the bike but I wasn't inclined. However, I agreed that if he could build me a bike for $1500, I'd buy it. He did, and I did. Since that time I've done multiple rail trails on my KHS bike. But these rides are few and far between. Most of the time the bike just hung in the garage.
I've mentioned several times that when I realized I'd not ridden in any of the states bordering Texas, that became my next goal. I did New Mexico last year and have signed up with Velo View Bike Tours for their Arkansas adventure. Arkansas will be a gravel grinder. I determined to get a few rides in before we go in June. I missed one in early March, so was looking forward to March 18th and the Gravel Grinder to Bastrop, an eighty-three mile out and back.
Let me quote from page 15 of Gotta Go! Cycling Vacations in Fantastic Locations: "When riding on non-asphalt trails, limit yourself to no more than forty miles per day." Of course, this means when taking a cycling vacation on rail-trails. But I had not mounted my mountain bike in over four years and my stamina is not up to eighty miles of gravel. So, I whined a bit and found someone else who also only wanted to do forty miles. As luck would have it, she is part-owner (not sure of Dani's formal relationship) of Velo View and she would drive the van to Bastrop and I would drive it back.
When I drove into the departure point I quickly determined everyone else had their cyclocross bikes. It was a good size group, in the neighborhood of 12-14 riders (I counted at the time but now can't remember). I had a sinking feeling, soon verified, that most of the mileage would be on asphalt. Something like six miles of gravel, and only a few patches where I fish-tailed.
We left Pflugerville at 8:30am under cloudy skies and a slight wind in our face (as long as we were headed in a southerly direction), and a mild sixty-five degrees. Perfect riding weather. I had carefully measured the saddle height and position, so was a bit perturbed to find a bit more than the proper "slight bend" in my leg at full extension. I could have used another millimeter. Nothing I can't fix later.
Truthfully, I cruised along on the streets, bikeways, sidewalks, whatever quite comfortably. Only one trouble-spot: a surprise turn up a short, steep ramp. I didn't have time to get a proper gear so had to gut it up and around. Other than raising my heart-rate a bit, successfully achieved. Dan led the group and I slotted in somewhere mid-pack. Between twenty-five and thirty miles my legs started complaining. Welcome to the club, my shoulders and triceps were unhappy from the get-go. Then we hit the gravel. I waved good-bye to the group as I dropped off the pace. Of course, I wasn't left behind, either Dan or someone else dropped back to keep me in sight and we regrouped a couple of times. The fat tires of the mountain bike had no problem in the gravel, which thankfully was mostly packed with very little wash-boarding. The few spots of deeper gravel were more of a diversion than a hindrance.
It wasn't until we stopped in Bastrop that I actually got off the bike and saw that the saddle bolt had loosened and the saddle had slipped back about an inch and a half. I was grateful the bolt hadn't come out completely, as I envisioned riding without a saddle at all. I was also grateful for having arranged to be in the van for the way back.
We lunched at Neighbor's Kitchen. This is a great place, good food, live music, overlooking the Colorado River. Dan wasn't feeling too well, and decided he would drive back, so I rode shotgun. Dani had the lesser end of our ride-sharing, in that while she now had a slight tailwind she also had about fifteen degrees of heat more than I had. It was also a gain in elevation.
The plan for the van was to hop-scotch the riders, but Dan saw a road leading off to the left and wanted to see where it went. Always on the lookout for some good gravel to ride. As it turned out, several miles down it ended at a plant. Now we know. Upon our return to the route, the gravel part, we saw one of the ladies riding by herself. Dan decided he would join her so she wouldn't be riding solo. Thus the driving duties fell to me. As it turned out, one of the guys had also stopped for her, so she found herself with several companions.
A little later, at a turn, one of the guys had lost contact by riding ahead of everyone. Dan asked me to drive straight to make sure he hadn't gone that way. Several miles down the road, it ended at a T intersection and no rider was to be seen. Back I went, got on course, and eventually caught up with the group and passed them and finally set up a hop-scotch scenario. A few miles further and one of the other guys had had enough, and decided to SAG in.
Like any good sag van, water and Nuun was available and copiously used. Only a few miles from the finish, one last stop for water refills, and then I headed to the shop. The cyclists would come off the road and back on the bikeway and through the neighborhood.
I rate this a successful outing on the mountain bike, even if the gravel miles were minimal. And, of course, riding with friends is always fun.