It’s been too long since I’ve posted. Life happens and distractions occur that stop me from doing what I enjoy. Yes, I’ve been training and riding, but I also enjoy writing!
On December 12th, my riding partner and creative genius behind “Team Gravel Grunts”, Ryan Haug and I participated in a 120k gravel ride south of Sioux Falls, SD called the RiddleBox Winter Ultra (120k + 50k gravel bike + 50k run). I teasingly, yet seriously told Ryan that after the ride we would do another 25 miles and make it a century. 75 miles felt like more than 100 miles by the time I crossed the finish line. No extra miles were added and Ryan didn’t disagree.
Our introduction to the gathered group began Friday night with marvelous hospitality by Tim and Sue Metz. They provided a generous meal of pasta, protein, holiday sweets, and beverages along with copious conversation. Their garage was clean, organized, and a great space for gathering. The tandem fat tire bike hanging from the ceiling was certainly a conversation starter.
Saturday morning started with nutrition interspersed with getting dressed for the upcoming ride. With cereal, fruit, and coffee ingested the 30 minute drive to Inwood, IA went quickly. Start and finish was at the Calico Skies Winery and Vineyard. There was a large meeting room to register, gather, and tend to last minute details. The published 7am start was moved to 7:30am due to the initial creek crossing. Organizers felt it was safer to navigate this portion with increased natural light. The group came from various states, a compliment to the well organized event and its increasing popularity. Both narrow and fat tire rigs came to the starting line, as did a tandem ridden by Joe and Tina Stiller.
This area had received approximately 18″ of snow in the weeks previous. However, by event day most of the snow was gone. The roads were soggy and sloppy in spots and well packed in other. The creek crossing was a highlight, as the creek was flowing well. Organizers made a stable crossing site with soft, slippery banks on each side of the creek.
Two checkpoints were along the route. These were C-Stores in Hudson and Canton, SD. A receipt was needed from each store to indicate your stopping and purchasing product. What I naively thought would be a good ride with a bit of challenge turned into a personal slug fest. After a C-Store Special K bar tucked into my bag (homemade – one of my favorite treats) and a bottle of 5 Hour Energy poured between my two hydration bottles, I was off again. I was feeling good and believed dressed appropriately for the conditions. A few miles out of Hudson, my encounter with the first B-Road or Minimum Maintenance Road was a test of patience and perspective. The picture doesn’t show the depth of mud and goo, but the ditch was the only place to be. I walked quite a bit of this section, as the part I rode was filled with grass covered potholes that jolted my whole body.
A few miles after getting back onto solid, yet wet gravel my attitude, as well as my comfort level plummeted. I began telling myself this was awful and making it to the Canton C-Store was my only goal. This was 35 miles into the event and I was beginning to shiver.Just a few miles prior I felt fine. After what seemed like an eternity in this negative thinking, I realized my calorie intake had been slight, as well as my hydration. I stopped and enjoyed the Special K bar, many ounces of hydration, and some electrolyte chews. After peddling two miles onward I felt like a renewed rider. Ya, it was going to be tough as the wind was stronger than predicted, but I was going to press on. Road conditions remained varied, but mainly wet and gritty.
Nearing the town of Canton, I connected with another rider, Todd from Wisconsin. We yo-yo’d until we came to the Canton C-Store. Hot, salty food and sugar-laced soda made for a gourmet meal. Numerous customers commented about our bikes and our reason for being out for a ride. The food, as well as the interactions boosted my strength and spirit. I was tired, but I was determined to make the last 25 miles a reality. Part of a prayer offered by an FCA-Endurance member before the event start came to my mind. It mentioned God’s strength for body and spirit in the midst of struggles during the ride. I hadn’t gotten to this point by my efforts and strength alone.
The pace lessened, but my determination increased. I stayed stightly ahead of Todd, as he was having some cramping issues. We reached the final B-Level road which kept climbing. The deep ravines, large rocks, and slippery soil made for an appreciated walk.
The final miles were a delight. The conditions were still soft and gritty, but simply getting closer with each revolution made a difference. Todd and I visited, traversed an abandoned bridge over the Big Sioux River into Iowa, peddled past numerous deer hunters, and finally crested the final hill to see the Calico Skies Winery. 75 miles which felt greater than 100 was nearing completion.
Upon entering the driveway, shouting my bib number, and parking my bike, I was greeted by Joe Stiller. He and his wife riding the tandem had finished hours previous. I felt like his long lost brother. He was gracious, complimentary, and genuine. After cleaning up and enjoying some food and conversation the lottery for swag and the awards ceremony began.
Ryan Haug, equally tired and having mud and grit troubles with his gears for most of the ride, stood upon the podium as the 2nd place finisher in the fatbike division. What a treat! Ryan is a fast rider, determined participant, and good friend. It was fitting that before his first anniversary of winter riding and his first, long-distance fatbike event, he should be recognized for his fine efforts.
The answer to the riddle……the 3rd year of the RiddleBox Winter Ultra was an well organized, competitive, and hospitable event. It deserves to be a part of early winter riding by more people. The course was challenging and more than I anticipated. Weather always is the wild-card and this event was no different. Yet, the variety of terrain and the beauty of the area lends to a memorable event.