100 km Gravel Bike Race
Saturday, February 23, 2019
CIRREM by the numbers: 250 signed up, 40-ish started the race, and 17—for some reason or another—decided to push through the interesting day that was to unfold.
Awesome start to the day with breakfast and a bloody at the start/finish host the Cumming Tap. I was seeing a lot of racers in "street clothes." In conversation around the room, I heard a lot of "nope"s going on. Considering the conditions, I don't blame anyone for not even getting on their bike.
My girlfriend Kelsi and I drove just a little bit of gravel west of I-35 before heading to Cumming and simply put, it was a pure sheet of ice. I figured I would at least give it a shot because why not? If nothing else, I'd roll around the country mile and back to the Tap.
I was on my girlfriend's fat bike for the day. The first time I'd ever pedaled one was just this January so this would be my longest ride on it by far. For apparel, I had a regular jersey and my Pearl Izumi coat up top. Rain cover on helmet. Thermal riding pants on bottom, waterproof socks, duct taped shoes, and waterproof shoe covers. For my hands I wore my Specialized Grail short fingered gloves. Which in combo with my Pogie Lites worked just about perfect.
The race starts with a 1.5-mile neutral rollout to the first "gravel." We get there and it's a pure sheet of glaze ice. People are already falling as we try to see who's actually crazy enough to take the plunge on this luge of a gravel hill. A few brave souls start to make their way down the sides of the of the road. A few had studded tires and definitely excelled on the ice. I decided to head down the right side. There's no way to know how many spills had happened at this point, but it was quite a few. As I got towards the bottom another rider ventured towards the middle of the road and promptly hit the ice hard.
I made it through the first road and couple hills with a lot of hike a bike because of ice. The first 15 miles were by far the most sketchy part of the riding/safety for the day. We just kept rolling on. Saw Scott Sumpter and asked my normal, "Hey, how's it going?" and heard "Well we've made it farther than I thought we were going to." We were only a few miles in at this point. At mile 10-ish there was a group of spectators cheering on the crazies, which is always a welcomed sight!
When we got to cemetery hill there was a tow truck coming off the hill. What are we in for now??? It actually wasn't as bad as I feared, though, as long as you took it easy. Somewhere around mile 20, Iowa Gravel Project had a bit of an informal safety checkpoint set up to provide a little relief from the nasty conditions. Temperatures had warmed enough to start melting the ice a bit. This made the ice turn soft and eventually to slush. Being constantly splashed on the inside of your legs and feet in the low 30s for hours on end isn't very pleasant to say the least. Next 15 miles was a sludgy mess.
At that point, I lost my ability to shift my rear derailleur. Checked it out and it didn't look too dirty, really. The shifter levers themselves didn't want to move so I figured it must be the cables froze up or something. This left me on the second cog on the rear but still able to shift with the front. Unfortunately, that meant 7.5 mph spinning max for the most part for the final 25 miles.
I made the checkpoint around mile 40. Downed a tiny Coke and ate a few of these amazing cookies. Going into the wind at this point on top of being constantly splashed with the icy, slushy mix definitely was giving me a bit of a chill. Without being able to go any faster I had lost my ability to heat myself up again. Also, being in a relatively flat section, I had no way to push myself. Decided to put on my full finger gloves and extra undershirt. This warmed me up pretty well in the next mile. Around mile 50 my girlfriend had stopped to say hi one last time. While standing next to her car it started to hail. Time to get moving again.
Within a few minutes it starts raining. It rains off and on for most of the rest of the couple hours I was still out on course. This unfortunately soaked my through and through. After a bit, I stopped and tried to do something and realized my arms were getting cold enough that I was losing my mobility and function. All I was thinking was, just keep moving. Finally I got to the end of Fillmore Street and hit a couple good hills. This didn't warm me at all and got me worried. Especially because I had to just coast on any downhill or anytime I was over 8.5 mph. This lost any warmth I had built on the climbs. I'm an extremely warm blooded person and work outside all year so I'm pretty hardened to the weather.
At this point I was only 5 or 6 miles away from the finish but also into a state of cold not previously reached on a ride before. I had the wise warning BIKEIOWA.com had put out to the racers about how quick hypothermia can kick in with these conditions. I'd been shivering for a few miles already. At that point I called for my girlfriend to just follow me in the last couple miles. It started snowing pretty good at this point, of all things.
I made the finish with no more issues and was greeted with familiar faces and then cheers from the remaining crowd at the Tap! I hadn't even brought a change of clothes. Got most of the wet clothes off and put on a warm sweatshirt, knee covers, and the amazing wool socks CIRREM gave racers with their entry. Hung out for a bit and enjoyed a well deserved victory beer after I received an awesome amount of swag for finishing!
It was an amazing day of adventure without a doubt! I'm so glad I decided to take the chance and just go for it. Who would ever guess a 100k race would feel like an ultra?!
Thanks to all involved for the great effort it takes to consistently put on a quality event when conditions with almost certainly be adverse. 2019 gravel racing has officially begun in Iowa!!!! Time to get dirty!
For full results, visit the CIRREM website.
"Iowa Gravel Project" by Kelsi Jurik
"Gravel Luge" by Katherine Roccasecca
"Dirty but Smiling" by Kelsi Jurik
Used with permission.