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Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Journey to Gravel Races (part 6) - A Revelation

Three seasons ago, Odin's Revenge sparked my passion for unsanctioned, grass roots gravel road races.  Since then, I've returned twice and raced several others, including Gravel Worlds, Almanzo Royal, Dirty Kanza, Gold Rush Mother Lode and Omaha Jackrabbit, each having a unique flavor and character.  I'd found my event, or maybe my event found me.

Even mid-winter in the central Black Hills National Forest, the gravel roads are rideable on an all road bike.
More important than enjoying a few special events a year, this small gravel race triggered a new mindset for riding.  Conspiring with riding buddy Shaun Arritola, I continued riding gravel into the fall and then throughout the South Dakota winter.  It's a revelation.

Shaun spins into a stout, late winter wind in Badlands National Park en route to a rendezvous with a herd of bison.
Oh, the Black Hills are loaded with amazing single track for mountain biking, as well as many miles of winding, paved roads for road biking.  But now, I'm looking for new adventures on the meandering miles of gravel and dirt roads running throughout the Black Hills and out into the vastness of the prairie beyond.  The possibilities are limitless.  Any kind of road.  Any kind of country.  Any kind of weather.  Just get out and ride.

Plowing through a creek out by the Fairburn Agate Beds.
After that introductory gravel season in 2013, we ride 2-3 weekends per month, throughout the winter.  Even with trails stuffed with snow and paved roads slick with ice, the gravel roads are rideable, especially out on the prairie.  And drivers of the occasional vehicle crossing our path typically slow down, smile, wave and sometimes stop just to make sure we're okay.  More often, they stop just to find out what we're doing, maybe with a question phrased as a statement, such as, "We don't see many pedal bikes out these parts."

Shaun hoofs up a short, muddy climb just past the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary.
These rides vary anywhere from 30 to 100 miles, or more, depending on our conditioning, ambition and time.  We ride through some weather and, sure, the roads sometimes are messy.  But we are repeatedly amazed at the number and length of rides possible, even in the depth of a western South Dakota winter, with the right gear, right route and right attitude.  Riding gravel is a game changer.

Rob Sorge and I chase two pronghorn across Wind Cave National Park.
By the time spring is sprung, we're primed for the upcoming races and longer trips.  And ready to ride any road, anytime.  I'll be on this path for awhile.

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