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Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017 Gold Dust - A Friendly Little Ride

Nothing quite like cruising the Northern Black Hills of South Dakota on a glorious early summer day with 200 fellow adventure cyclists at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.  Even better is riding fast enough or, in my case, choosing the shortest race to finish early enough to hang out with the gravel clan at the post-race party.  Great day to be out and about in the Black Hills, especially with friends.

Shaun Arritola and I chewing up the early miles at the 70 mile Gold Dust.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)
Way back in 2013, I rode the inaugural 110 mile Gold Rush on my beloved Torelli cyclocross bike, finishing third (out of three) in the single speed division in my first gravel race.  In 2015, I finished the inaugural 210 mile Mother Lode on my relatively new, and geared, Black Mountain Cycles monster cross bike.  Now, in 2017, I look to the 70 mile Gold Dust for yet another new experience:  sleeping in for a later start, cruising without a care of time cutoffs, and finishing in the warmth of the day to enjoy the post-race party with friends at a park.  What a concept.

Tony Diem starts the Gold Dust in high-wheeling style.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
Thursday night before the event, I peruse the event website for a refresher on all the happenings, to mentally double check preparations and to stoke the fire a bit more.  I wander over to the registration page to see who I might run into over the weekend.  Sweet.  There are quite a few cycling friends from out of state traveling to Spearfish for the weekend.  This is going to be fun.  Then one name jumps off the page.

Shaun Arritola.  "That dirt bag!" I yell out loud, scattering the household critters.  He entered the Gold Dust at the last possible date and didn't tell me.  "Dirt bag!"  But now, I'm grinning ear to ear.  Shaun and I started our gravel road journeys back in 2013 at the Gold Rush and have ridden together many miles and events since, including Dirty Kanza, Almanzo Royal and Odin's Revenge.  But not in awhile.  Shaun has been working full time, caring for his father, and building a house, barn and other structures on a recently acquired acreage in the foothills.  So, he's been busy with real life for awhile.  But now, it looks like he found some time for a little bike ride.

Big rollers on the early miles shared by the Gold Dust, Gold Rush and Mother Lode courses,
before turning up, up, up into the Northern Black Hills.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
We catch up Friday evening at the race packet pickup in Spearfish.  Updating the progress on his various projects, Shaun exudes optimism that things will lighten up soon.  I smile and nod.  It sounds like the same song he's been singing for many, many months.  On the other hand, this time he did manage to take an entire Saturday off for the Gold Dust.  Maybe he will be coming back to the bike.  He is here now.

No question he's fit.  Shaun keeps active and works out daily at a gym, including a regular 30 minute or so bike ride on a stationary bike.  However, more than a few months have passed since he rode any longer than that, let alone longer outside.  The Gold Rush is his challenge, and test, of his ability to adapt his overall conditioning to a long bike ride and to reawaken his cycling spirit.  70+ miles and 4,500+ feet of elevation gain on remote gravel roads should do both.

Shaun bridging the gap up Sand Creek Road into the Black Hills at the Gold Rush.
Saturday morning bursts bright and early, with mild temperatures, clear skies and light winds.  It looks to be a great day for a bike ride in the Black Hills.  Arriving a little early for the 110 mile Gold Rush start, I re-connect with some friends and meet some new ones.  Nice.

Before long, Race Director Perry Jewett calls for the 7:00 Gold Dust start.  The scene at the start of  the "short" race reminds me of the overall gravel scene just four years ago.  All kinds of bikes:  rigid, hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes, hybrids, cyclocross bikes, fatties, and some that defy characterization.  All kinds of riders:  from those capable of riding these 70 miles in less than 4 hours to those out there to find out what they are capable of.  And all kinds of positive vibe:  light, lively, festive.  Folks just excited to see what's out there.

Steep little pitch up to the Potato Station by the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower.
(photo by Les Heiserman)
Shaun knows these roads well, having ridden the Gold Rush twice before and having lived, worked and ridden out of Spearfish for years.  He knows that the real ride of the Gold Dust is the first 45 miles, with its almost 4,500 feet of elevation gain, that top out at the Potato Station on Cement Ridge.  From there, it really is almost all down hill to the finish.

So, we spin out of Spearfish at a comfortable pace, intent to roll up to that feast at the Potato Station.  We settle into a familiar rhythm of a long ride.  The road surface is hard packed dirt with gravel sprinkles and navigation is straight forward.  We cruise through some prairie rollers and head for the Hills.  Even with all the climbing up Sand Creek Road and Grand Canyon Road, the first four hours soon pass as we head up Rattlesnake Canyon Road for the final five miles or so to the top.

Mission Accomplished.  Gold Dust mile 45 at the Potato Station on Cement Ridge.  All (most) downhill from here.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
Shaun learns that, at his current level of cycling conditioning, four hours of steady climbing is really fun.  After that, it becomes more challenging, as signs of cramps creep in.  But Shaun recognizes the symptoms and nurses himself through the remaining miles and elevation to ride into the Potato Station.  Objective met.  We take a long, celebratory break over a few too many potatos and chips.

Fellow Gold Dust riders trickle in, relieved to complete the steep, final pitch to the top.  What a fun stop with energetic volunteers offering snacks, drinks and squirt gun cool-offs.  It's downright relaxing.  As I remove my helmet to enjoy the light breeze, a young volunteer gasps, "OOOH, do you need some sunscreen for that forehead?"  I thank her, but decline.  She persists, "I really think you need some sunscreen."  OK.  "No thank you, ma'am.  I plan to outrun the sun."  She looks confused, but several older cyclists smile.

Potato Station looking west from Cement Ridge at the Gold Dust and Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
(photo by Les Heiserman)
As we soak in the scene and scenery, Gold Rush racers also fly into the Potato Station for their required check-in. These cyclists are clearly racing, which makes for a focused pit stop and a quick departure down the hill.  Friendly faces and grateful thanks, but with a determination to complete a necessary task and move on.  What a contrast.  I have enjoyed racing like that and I have enjoyed riding like today.  Right now, I'm happy right where I am.

Following a steep, rock drop, Shaun negotiates a sharp turn through standing water.
Short and infrequent technical bit, just enough to pay attention.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
Eventually, we point our rigs downhill for the 25 mile descent to the finish at Spearfish City Park.  Thankfully, someone finally patched up the 482,793 pot holes that occupied Roughneck Falls Road the last time I bounced my way through there.  Now, it's just the normal tourist motor and pedestrian traffic on that popular destination.  We wind our way to Savoy and onto Spearfish Canyon, a paved 14 mile scenic decline to the turnoff into Spearfish City Park.  Nice ride.

Shaun successfully completes his challenge with experience, judgment, toughness, determination and optimism.   He cheerfully pedals over 70 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain, with essentially no ride over the past many months that is longer than a regular 30 minute spin on a stationary bike.  A nice reminder that we are all capable of more than we may think.  And a nice reminder of reasons why we love to ride events like this.

Ironic that I won a Dirt Bag bike packing bag at the awards ceremony.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
We make a Clark Kent change of clothes and hit the post-race party with gusto.  A catered meal, drinks, local micro brew, live music, small expo.  We hang out with the gravel clan, as riders trickle in from all three courses.  Folks from twenty states and Canada mingle with family and friends, sharing stories of the day, of days past, and of days to come.  I enjoy hearing of events and rides far away and day dream of somehow making it to some of them, someday.  But today is the day for relishing the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in the Black Hills of South Dakota, our backyard.  What a day.

My thoughts are abruptly interrupted by the sound of my name over the PA.  What's that?  I meander up to the stage, not for a podium placing, but for a raffle prize.  It's a bike packing frame bag made by a nearby Wyoming outfit called "DirtBags."  How cool is that?  A high quality, locally made cycling product that I will definitely enjoy.  And every time I see that DirtBag logo I will think of my friend Shaun, "that dirtbag" who surprised me with our ride together at the Gold Dust.

Thank you, Shaun.  Welcome back.

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