Valley of the Giants

Valley of the Giants…

So sometime around mid April of 2021, I decided I REALLY wanted to try out this gravel thing.  Everybody I know seems to be fascinated with gravel and it’s catching on like wildfire.  I picked up a bike and oddly, did not really RIDE it for about 6 weeks!  You see, I was training for some other epic shit (Cheaha Challenge) and couldn’t be bothered with new bikes and/or dirt.  I was pure-road at that point, but really tired of pure-road.  

Once I got ON the gravel bike, I had a lot of fun.  I broke some stuff, but I got invited to ride the Valley of the Giants loop with my coach, Rob.  This would be my second or third actual gravel ride, I had no idea what to expect, and it was like a baptism by fire.  This was hard – and this was only the beginning.  You see, Rob had us riding this in prep for the RACE he was promoting.  This would be my first ride on “chunky gravel” and learning why people use tubeless tires, as both riders using tubes got flats on this ride.  Okay – lets add that race to TrainingPeaks, it’s time to do a gravel race.  I did one other, which was SUPER HARD but man, I had fun.  

With a solid ride at Six Gap in my rear view mirror, I felt pretty good going into this 75 mile adventure.  I had 2 goals.  PR Duncan Gap (it was early in this loop) and have fun riding with people.  

The ride started well.  I knew the “most of the course” … (more on that later).  I knew when we got to Duncan, how to pace, and was doing it to perfection. I was bringing back people along the climb, which doesn’t often happen.  The rugged  terrain and long climb really were hurting people who didn’t pace well.  I didn’t have a segment on the Garmin, but I knew I was doing well.  

After getting a flat within 1 mile of Duncan, in May – I got new tires, converted to tubeless and was feeling pretty good about my equipment.  This was my only flat on my gravel bike.  About half way up the 8 mile climb *POW* … I blew my rear tire.  I tried to fix it, but that wasn’t working, I installed a tube and tried to inflate it and my CO2 tool broke.  I was almost about to panic when a rider from Chrome Yellow asked me if I needed help.  I asked for a CO2 and he said “Take my pump, mail it to me!”  I didn’t know the guy, I didn’t know where he lived, he was just being nice.  

I finally got my bike fixed – and got back on the road.  Based on my skin condition at the time I scribble this down, this tire change was done in Poison Ivy.  #FML.  I got over the climb, passed about 6 people on the descent and got the the “Aid Station”.  (Interesting note:  We used to ride Centuries and stop at “Rest Stops”.  Now we ride “Fondos” or “Gravel Races” and stop at “Aid Stations” … when did this change?)

Now – this is where you need to give me some cheese to go with my whine.  The flat stole goal #1 and put me far enough back that there were just what we call onsie-twosie riders.  A couple could climb with me, or pass me on the longer climbs, but my lack of giving a …. had me descending a lot faster, so I rode about 50 mile solo.  My “mojo” was gone.  I was mentally blown, felt like I sucked and really really really wanted to take a short cut home.  (There were MANY options – both “official” and I knew how to get “home’.  Maybe this is dumb, but the reason I didn’t?  Max was there and I didn’t want to have to explain to him why I quit.  (I don’t remember ever quitting a race in my life.  I’ve been pulled, I’ve crashed, but I haven’t quit – so I guess that is good.)

Now – bad rides do happen…. and after 2 days of decompression or gentle pondering – I don’t think this was a bad ride happening.  I think this was a couple bad things happening on a bike ride.  After careful inspection of the tire, it appears I had a pinch flat … on a tubeless setup.  I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen?  Maybe I needed a couple more PSI?

It wasn’t really that bad, outside of my internal struggles and being pissed off at my bike.  How will I get past this?  Well, a bike tire isn’t that expensive.  I learned that MAYBE just carrying a CO2 tool isn’t the best idea in rugged conditions… I’ll get the bike sorted out, come up with a plan for the Bird Dog and go ride my bike!

I’ve come to the “conclusion” that I need a wing man.  The pandemic got me riding a LOT.  It got me riding solo, forever, alone.  That had some GREAT advantages – like I would ride whenever I could/would want to.  Never got stood up by myself.  Now I am riding REALLY long events alone.  It would be great to have somebody who wants to do epic shit that rides at my pace and has similar rest stop thoughts (gas-n-go).