For several years, I'd been following TransIowa on the internet, along with a few other gravel grinders like Almanzo and Dirty Kanza. These are long, solo races on gravel roads, not anything like the short, fast laps on single track trails and the social atmosphere of hanging out with friends and families at a team base camp at the 24 hour mountain bike races. But without such a relay team in sight, maybe I should consider a different kind of race.
From the Dakota Five-O website, I see that the promoters were getting into the gravel scene with a new race in the Northern Black Hills: the 110 mile Gold Rush and it's shorter companion, the 70 mile Gold Dust. The course covers primary USFS gravel roads, rougher secondary roads, some trails and a gentle downhill paved highway to the finish. The event features some elements of the storied MidWestern gravel grinders, but also carries over many aspects of the Dakota Five-O. Worth a shot.
|We're going where? A confused Craig and a dapper Shaun look over the course description of the Black Hills Gold Rush.
There are mountain bike racers, for sure, and road and cyclocross racers, too. But also recreational mountain bikers, century road riders, commuters, tourists and even tool-a-rounders. All kinds of different cyclists, on all kinds of different bikes. There's a nervous excitement in the air, as folks assess gear, water and food options, while knowing little or nothing about the course. For that matter, many know nothing about how to approach this type of race. I certainly don't.
|John Sundberg and I sprint for the top of an early climb at the 2013 Gold Rush.
I ride my trusty Torelli cyclocross single speed, set up 42 x 18 for cyclocross. The miles pass, but that gear turns out to be too tall. Way too tall. The long early climbs wear me down and the later, steeper climbs, like up Cement Ridge Lookout, are brutal. The first 70 miles or so cover good gravel on primary USFS roads, but then the course turns into a muddy, rocky, almost single track hike-a-bike, both up and down. As exhaustion sets in, I turn onto U.S. Highway 14A, Spearfish Canyon Road, for 14 miles of paved, gentle downhill to the finish.
|Finishing the inaugural Black Hills Gold Rush in 2013, 3rd place single speed (ok, there were only three).