Soggy Socks (a.k.a. Gravel Grinder 2014)

gravel GrinderYou’d think that by the time that a person gets to be my age, that somewhere along the way they would have figured out how to be a little more punctual.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case with me.  I very reluctantly coaxed myself out of bed on this cool, grey Saturday morning.  From that point on, everything I did to get out the door took just a little bit longer than it should have.  It was just one of those mornings.  Even though the Gravel Grinder isn’t a race, I got in my psychological race fix as I tried to make up time on my way over from the Kingdom Saturday morning.  Without pushing the posted speed limits (too much), I managed to arrive with about 15 minutes to spare.  Along the way, the rain went from a light mist to a steady shower as I made the trip over to Waterbury.  You really shouldn’t expect too much out of the month of April.  The rain didn’t help as I scrambled to get ready to ride, trying to decide how many layers I’d need.  No matter what I chose, I knew I’d end up soaked one way or another.

This was definitely a day where fenders would rule.  Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo on fenders and there was plenty of tire spray to go around.  On the downhills, getting behind someone without them would result in a generous misting of road silt.  Regardless, that wasn’t even close to enough to put a damper on the day.  Turnout was clearly a little lower than previous years but a decent crowd still showed up to brave the elements.  We had a good mix of ‘cross bikes and mountain bikes.  I think the folks on the fatter MTB tires may have made the better choice in terms of traction.

Rolling out from downtown Waterbury.
Rolling out from downtown Waterbury.

As far as I could recall, the course was identical to last year’s Gravel Grinder – and that’s a good thing.  It has a nice balance of climbing, rolling dirt roads and even some pavement.  We even had a short section of class-4 roads thrown in just for fun.

Everything seemed to be pretty normal on our ride until we hit Waterbury Center.  As we passed through the village, someone’s horse did the jailbreak thing and decided to join our ride.  Feeling the joys of liberation, the horse trotted down the road in front of my little group for at least half a mile.  Everyone on bikes at least had the presence of mind to not buzz past the animal.  We accumulated more bicycles in our group as we all slowed way down and followed Mr. Ed at a reasonably safe distance.  I was starting to get worried as the horse occasionally would run down the opposite lane near blind corners and hills.  I really didn’t want to witness the carnage from a horse-car collision.  Fortunately, a driver coming the other way pulled his pickup across the lane forcing the horse to leave the road.  Another rider, now on foot, managed to guide the horse to the roadside by the harness.  Shortly, his freedom run was brought to an end by securing him to a tree with at ratchet strap.

Mr. Ed and his sidekick micropony (hiding in the background).
Houdini and his little sidekick running around in the background.  The cyclist/horsewhisperer in the blue jacket gets credit for restoring order to the day.

As things were winding down with Mr. Ed, things became a bit more weird:  a very small pony showed up in the road and was running around in circles while others worked on calming the big horse down.  Micro-pony decided he wasn’t having anything of that strap business and couldn’t be corralled under any circumstances.  Eventually, a woman from the area managed to get a rope attached to his harness and walked him off.  I have no idea how she managed it.

Squish, squish, squish....
Squish, squish, squish….

With that behind us, I returned to the road.  Nearly everyone had passed while I stuck by to help with the equestrian roadblock.  Now near that back, I was able to catch up with some friends that I had missed earlier in the ride.   That’s one of the best parts of the Grinder, just simply getting together and riding with friends.  We stopped at the aid station where there was plenty of snacks and other refreshments.  Sadly, there weren’t any Twizzlers to be found.  I can always hold on to hope for next year.

I left the station with Bob and Wil.  As we made the long descent, the temperature dropped fast enough that my glasses fogged up a little.  This was the general trend for the day, although there were some odd variations with elevation.  The dirt roads, likewise, became a little less inviting as they became softer throughout the ride.  I found a perverse joy in the conditions.

Vermonty stuff.
Vermonty stuff.

Ryan (of MTBVT fame) and I rode the final miles together.  I think we both were seriously looking forward to the meal waiting for us.  The last section of pavement was fast but also really cold.  My feet became fully soaked and even my wool socks weren’t enough to finally hold in my body heat.  I had stayed quite comfortable for the entire ride, so I was okay with a few miles of soggy feet.  We rolled back into Waterbury in a light rain.  After changing into some dry clothes, I got some good food and visited for a while.  Since I first got talked into doing the Gravel Grinder a few years ago, I’ve looked forward to it as my personal, unofficial start to the non-winter cycling season.  While it’s not mountain biking, it’s at least mostly on dirt and the funds raised benefit the maintenance of the trails on Perry Hill in Waterbury.  Once again, the Stowe Mountain Bike Club did a great job with this event.

Last mile
Last mile

Some photos from the day can be see here.

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