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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Final Commute

Today is my last day riding my bike to work. That's because it's my last day of work, at least in this career. Today I officially retire from the Pennington County Sheriff's Office.

Riding downstream on the bike path along Rapid Creek past M-Hill and then toward the sun to downtown Rapid City.

For the past 12 years, I have ridden a bicycle to work practically every day. Not absolutely every day, but practically every day.

With shifting work responsibilities and a maturing family, one constant throughout the years was cycling. Every day, I hopped on my bike and rolled through our neighborhood, grinning in disbelief that I got to ride my bike that day. As if dipped in magic waters, I'm 12 years old riding to the park to play baseball with my friends.

After a shift, or a shift and a half, working in a demanding environment, I hopped on my bike and rolled home. Two rides in one day! Somewhere along the way, work troubles always seemed to drop off the back. They just couldn't hang with the pace of the good vibes pulling me along.

"It'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, 
they'll have to brush them away from their faces." Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams (1989).

Cycling travels at a human level. I loved seeing and greeting all kinds of folks along the bike path that formed a large portion of my commute. Even in the depths of a western South Dakota winter, folks are out, throughout the day and night, enjoying the bike path for recreation and transportation.

The most regular of the regulars, however, was cyclist Bill Marquadt. A retired 70-something year old, Bill rides almost 50 miles every day, year round, totaling somewhere around 16,000+ miles per year. When I rode in at about 6:00 am, I often saw him riding home. We regularly stopped to chat for a moment, so I may need an early ride now and then to catch up with Bill.

A fun, little side trail along the other side of Rapid Creek on the base of M-Hill.

The newest regular along my commute was Lucas Haan, an enterprising young School of Mines engineer with a passion for all things cycling and beer. Last winter, Lucas successfully completed the Icy Bike Winter Cycling Challenge by commuting 81 days during our 6 month winter. He even arranged his schedule to share with me part of his ride home. I may need to arrange my retirement schedule to occasionally ride in with Lucas.

Riding my bike to work simply started as a way to get to work. It became an integral part of my lifestyle. I will miss it.

Entering downtown Rapid City as the city awakens.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Stop The Madness

For four wonderful years, I blissfully rode my geared Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross for thousands of miles on many long, remote road rides and races. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I converted it to single speed for the 2018 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. A Single Speed Gold Rush.

Good. I got that out of my system and switched back to gears.

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross after its 75 month/25,000 mile tune up in June 2020.

Hold your horses. Guitar Ted announces a single speed only race on the storied gravel roads of central Iowa in March 2019. Really? OK. I'm not about to miss that. Back to single speed for the C.O.G. 100. A Fine Mess. And, since I'm at it, let's go for the first attempt of the 210 mile Mother Lode single speed. Arrogance At The Mother Lode.

How did this happen? This is nuts. I thought I beat this single speed addiction back in 2014 with that sweet geared Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross.

But it doesn't stop. I continue to ride single speed throughout the 2019-2020 winter to prepare for the 150 mile Buffalo Bill Rough Rider Gravel Grinder. And then it's single speed throughout the 2020 Black Hills Gravel Series to date and the 110 mile route of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. Not A Virtual Ride.

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross, set up single speed at Trailshead Lodge, O'Neil Pass, South Dakota,
the 70 mile checkpoint of the 110 mile route of the 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.

Enough already. Long, remote rides on rough roads are tough enough with gears.

Here's a novel concept for 2020. Stop the madness. Check the emotion. Control the ego. Engage the intellect.

Get your gears back on.

So, I rebuild the Shimano 105 hubs and buff the H Plus Son Archetype rims on my geared wheel set. I then install a new set of 40 mm Schwalbe G-One Bite tires. As I start on gears, a closer look at the rest of the bike stops me cold. This bike needs much more work.

One long afternoon last week, I take most everything apart, clean everything, inspect everything, switch out the Salsa Cow Chipper handle bars for Salsa Cow Bells, wrap new bar tape, install front and rear derailers, and replace the brake pads, brake cables, brake housing, shift cables, shift housing, chain, and cassette.

The result? Coasting down our driveway, before even shifting gears, I smile ear to ear. Yes. This is how this bike is meant to be. Smooth. Comfortable. Familiar. It's like slipping into sneakers and stepping up to the free throw line. The difference is not the addition of gears, but the change of tires. I finally replaced those awful Teravail Cannonballs, which have to be the harshest tires I've ridden since racing 21 mm slicks at 130 psi years ago. Thank you, Schwalbe for your G-Ones!

Refreshed Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross, set up geared for all day riding on rough remote roads.
Now adorned with custom color top tube bag and frame bag from DirtBags Bikepacking.

Now with gears, maybe I can actually ride gravel more with others. And maybe I can ride a few overnight or longer light bikepacking trips this summer. And maybe I can keep gears on this bike for awhile. Maybe.

For an earlier post about the Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross bike, go to A Road Bike By Black Mountain Cycles. For my 2016 series of posts about its 30 month, 12,000 mile overhaul, go to It's Time - Overhaul (part 1)Frame & Fork (part 2)Wheels & Tires (part 3)Drivetrain (part 4)Brakes & Shifters (part 5)Controls (part 6)On The Road Again (part 7).

Black Mountain Cycles MonsterCross after its 30 month, 12,000 mile overhaul in 2016.

Why, Annie Lennox (1992).

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Not A Virtual Ride

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, by Itaal Shur & Rob Thomas, performed by Santana (1999).

My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder is in the books. The real route. On real gravel. Through real mud. Over real rocks. Against real wind. In real heat. With real sunburn. And, in the end, real tired.
No virtual ride here. 

Hard Forest Service gravel abounds at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in the Black Hills of South Dakota. 

Like events of all kinds all over, the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder will not occur in 2020, due to uncertainties with governmental licenses and permits. Gone is the pre-race gathering, the mass start, the check point enthusiasm, and the post-race festivities at a city park. There will be no Gold Rush block party this year.

Determined to make the most from a bad hand, Race Co-Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett create an alternative event. One can participate in a "virtual" Gold Rush by riding one of the four race distances (45, 70, 110 and 210 miles) on any route, anywhere, between June 1-15. Kristi and Perry will post "results," ship out event schwag, and even award door prizes and other awards.

Kristi and Perry are doing what they can do, making the most of it for everyone. And I understand others choosing not to gather in large groups or to travel to the Black Hills for a bike race. But I live here. I ride many miles solo. I've looked forward to this all year.

So, I enter the "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder to ride the actual race course. Solo. Single Speed. Self-supported. Self-navigated.

The event is "virtual," but my ride is real.

The start of my "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder from an empty Spearfish City Park.

With a late start to clear the vestiges of last night's hail storm, I arrive at Spearfish City Park full of anticipation. The "virtual" weather as forecast and the real weather outside actually match with relatively clear skies, no wind and 60 degrees. The day promises to be very good.

It's oddly quiet and a bit eerie to stand at a Gold Rush start line alone. Memories flood my mind of many starts here, with many friends, both old and new. I see their excited faces and hear their friendly chatter. Abruptly, a crowing rooster breaks the clutter and a familiar voice shouts "PEDAL POWER!" I look around. The park is empty. The streets are empty. So, I quickly reply, "Pedal Power," take off and don't look back. 

From Spearfish heading west into Wyoming, the gravel roads still hold water from last night.

As the sun burns off the last of the cloud cover, I roll through the early prairie miles below big, blue skies. Before long, I turn onto Sand Creek Road for a serene 22 mile climb along a quiet creek. This pretty, protected stretch of gentle uphill offers a great opportunity to settle into a sustainable rhythm and just enjoy the ride. My mind drifts.

What's that? A cyclist! Flying down Sand Creek Road toward me! It's Angie Kent from Spearfish, out riding her own "virtual" Gold Rush event. What a nice surprise. We chat for a few minutes before returning to our individual journeys. That brief encounter lifts my spirits for miles.

Spearfish cyclist Angie Kent on her own "virtual" Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
Great to see you, Angie, and congrats on your successful ride!

Emerging from Sand Creek Road at mile 36, I stop at would have been a Check Point/Aid Station brimming with encouraging volunteers and baked treats. Although now there's nothing but a remote intersection, I take a break, stretch, and eat a little. I'm right on track for me, a little over 3 hours into the ride and starting to warm up.

Looking ahead, Moskee Road looms large, with some significantly steeper rollers and then rougher road along the ponds. After a couple of hours of steady climbing along Sand Creek, I always enjoy this stretch of short, hard uphill pulls and screaming descents.

OK. Short stops are great, but long stops will break. Time to roll.

Spinning up Sand Creek Road on the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.

By the time I turn southeast onto Grand Canyon Road, both the sun and wind are fully awake. My cycle computer reads 94 degrees and a stiff, steady headwind greets me for the final 20+ mile climb to the next Check Point at O'Neil Pass. There's not much to do now, but keep pedaling up the hill, in the heat and into the wind. Here lies the heart of the ride.

About half-way up that final climb to O'Neil Pass, at about 60 miles into the course, Grand Canyon Road turns decidedly upward. Not only steeper, the road also straightens out to flaunt its might. It simply looks endlessly up. Gut check time.

Keep at it. Keep pedaling. Walk if you must. Keep moving. There is a summit. You will make it.

Nearing the 70 mile Check Point at O'Neil Pass, after a whole lot of uphill, upwind, hot gravel.

Eventually, I reach Trails Head Lodge at the top of O'Neil Pass. Rather than check-in, re-load, and dash, I plop down for a cheese burger, french fries and a bottomless Coke. No, that's not premium racing fuel. But I'm not racing anyone, anyhow. Today, I'm out riding my bike.

After an exceptionally long break, I ease onto the roads for the 40 mile descent home, starting with 9 downhill miles on Rifle Pit Road. But even that doesn't come easy. This rocky, rutted, rough, often barely-a-road is no time to relax. I bounce all over, checking speed to avoid breaking bike or body. At least this year it's mostly dry.

Of course, there are a few uphills along the way down to Spearfish, particularly that nasty pitch up to the last Check Point at the Cement Ridge Lookout. But now, the heavy lifting is done. After a spell, it's a spun-out coast down Roughlock Falls Road and then Spearfish Canyon.

Cooked by the sun, battered by the wind, and worn down by the hills, I am done for the day. My 2020 Gold Rush Gravel Grinder "virtual" event is complete after riding a very real 110 miles in just over 10 hours.

The most bellicose, unruly gang of wildlife I've seen since the virus.

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.
Smooth, performed by Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana (1999).

Monday, June 1, 2020

Yield Ahead

Michael Grussing, a gravel enthusiast from Minneapolis, Minnesota, recently posted a thoughtful message on social media about current events and eternal truths. Although he claims that he is not a writer, I found his message powerful. With his permission, I have shared it here in its entirety. Thank you, Michael.

by Michael Grussing

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:17

On a bike ride just a couple days ago.... as our Minneapolis community was just entering this painful season, God started revealing a few things to me.
Gravel roads are my choice of bike paths... I grew up on them... I used to drive a truck that would spread fresh gravel on them...and I have helped rebuild ones that were old and torn up. Also, the vehicles on them are generally moving slower, are not texting and driving, and are much less frequent than roads or streets...and they wave.
I've yielded to the more aggressive mountain bike trails (I fall enough on flat land) and really enjoy the struggle, and beauty of gravel roads.

Yield Ahead. (photo by Michael Grussing)

One of the keys to riding long distances on gravel is "riding the line"... Lines are areas in the road with less loose gravel that are made smooth and firm, from the vehicles that have gone over them recently...these lines are usually more stable and predictable than the rest of the road.
Water is not kind to gravel roads, or to vehicles traveling on them, or any road. Drainage is important. The highest point is in the middle... the crown... so that water can drain off into the ditches on either side, preventing soft spots, pot holes and such. 
Sometimes, these "lines" are hard to find. It's impossible after the road grader has gone over them and redistributed the gravel evenly over the road again. A clean slate per se, but often a more difficult ride. Yet, without this gravel road maintenance, they deteriroate and become full of holes and washboard making travel more difficult and the roads deteriorate much quicker...needing to be totally rebuilt.

Gravel Road grader. (photo by Michael Grussing)

So, as I'm riding a couple days ago, I was struggling more than usual to finding good lines to ride...there were some stretches on the right...and some stretches on the left....both provided firm, stable footing for my tires. But, as often is the case (80% of the time I'd say) when lines aren't clear, the Crown of the road was solid.
As I reaching my intended turn around point, I was out in the open (it was windy!) and I wanted to eat and drink something out of the wind...a line of trees was in the not to far distance, so I added a bit to my ride.
It was there, after I'd eaten, drank and rested a bit, that I noticed a sign right by me, previously unnoticed, that said "Yield Ahead". This was a clear affirmation, to me, of an honest admission that really struck me... from a FB friend in response to the murder of George Floyd...
"I personally had to take a moment (Yield) when I saw this image and ask myself some hard questions.... The older I get the more I realize that there is still so much I do not understand."
I was struck, and convicted, with this sense of Yielding... Yielding to this moment and to his / my prior understanding of circumstances that lead us to this current season of pain. A moment of Pause... A Yielding to our limited understanding...of many, many things.(I lack the understanding to comment on the current situation. .. I could comment from the line I've often rode on the right side...and i can acknowledge a line in the left side.)

Lines on a gravel road. (photo by Michael Grussing)

As I struggled back, keeping my head down into the wind, I rode the crown of the road...sensing the lines on the left and right would give way, especially with going against the wind, and I could wind up in the ditch.
My father in law used to send us off with "Keep it out of the ditches"... It's been many years since I've heard that voice, but I heard it clear during that ride. 
The ditches are where those that have grown tired, and coasted into the ditches on either side of the rode reside... Low areas where we can't see those on the other side, or have to cross paths with them... But they are still within a stones throw away.
I know the ditches... I've coasted into them and got stuck, and found myself not able to gravel on. I had to get off and walk myself back into the road and start riding again. 
Though the line on The Crown is often difficult to see, and verbal stones from the Right and Left ditches may try to knock me from it, it offers a firm and reliable ride...i will Trust it and stay on it, even when it's often hard to see.
Also, I will "Yield Ahead" when I lack the Wisdom to travel this new road... on which the line of the road, provided by the Crown, is made clear by James 3:17.