Morgen and Zinnia’s First Gravel Race: Riotgrrravel!
By Morgen Larsen
The only bike races I have done have been alleycats in Minneapolis. I wanted to try a gravel race after reading all the awesome reports on the Grease Rag blog. Riotgrrravel seemed like a perfect place to start, and why not do the ride with my two-year-old daughter in the bakfiets? This bike, a Workcycles cargo bike long, was a pretty great ride all winter, with big tires and very stable handling. Heavy, but hopefully not impossibly so for a 30 mile ride. OK, maybe I was overly confident, but it ended up serving me well. I hit the gravel riding clinic hosted by Natalia at Freewheel and made lots of notes. I made arrangements with Linda Pate, one of the race volunteers, to get me, my daughter Zinnia, and my massive bike out to Hastings and back (Thanks Linda, I truly could not have done this without you, and I really enjoyed your company on the ride to and from the race.)
Photo by Kate Lockhart
No bags, pouches, or panniers were necessary thanks to the giant cargo hold on the bike. Planning food was the fun part for me. We brought cubes of bacon and sweet potato frittata, sandwiches, lara bars, breakfast cookies, a chocolate bar, apple, bananas, coconut water, and a 3 liter camelbak reservoir that Z and I could both drink from. I packed it all in a fabric cooler and stowed it on the bench next to her seat. We might have brought too much food, but I was concerned about taking a long time to complete the course and bonking in the heat without sufficient calories and fluids on hand.
I didn’t have a cycling computer and wasn’t planning on buying one (I can read road signs, right?), but at the last minute I realized it might not be a good idea to do the race without one (thanks to Natalia for steering me in the right direction.) It took a bit of fiddling to set it up because both wheels are too far from the handlebars for the sensor to send a signal to the monitor. I was troubleshooting with Patrick the mechanic at Freewheel the day before the race and he suggested attaching the monitor to a small part of frame tubing just above the bottom bracket. I could look down and see my distance right between my feet. Perfect!
We got to Emily’s Bakery in Hastings for bib pickup nice and early, with time to down a few cups of coffee, eat a treat (Danish nut roll for me, frosted cake donut with sprinkles for Z), and walk off some jitters. The little coffee shop was buzzing with excited racers, and Z made admirers out of a table of white-haired regulars.
Then we headed off to the church parking lot at the start of the course. My heart sank a bit when I saw all the fancy, new, fast-looking cross bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, and fat bikes… I felt a bit naïve and a little bit like a freak for bringing my cumbersome Dutch city bike (not to mention a toddler) to the edge of farm country for my first gravel race. I started getting a lot of questions like “so have you ever toured with her before?” and “how long is she generally good for on bike rides?” and I had to admit that I honestly had no idea how it was going to go, but I knew that if we needed to stop every ten minutes to get through it, that’s what we would do. Many people were admiring the bike and giving me thumbs up for wanting to attempt this course with a small child on a cargobike but I was still feeling a tiny bit unsure. Z was unfazed as she calmly collected a granola bar from the refreshment table.
Pretty soon we were off. It was smooth sailing over the first stretch of gravel and as we established our pace we were passed by most of the racers. The first descent felt a little hairy because I was unsure how loose the gravel was at the bottom. I wanted to use it to my advantage to get up the next hill but with a passenger I was a bit more cautious. A wipeout would have been demoralizing for me and scary for her. So we took it easy and worked up to a greater comfort level as we did more and more hills. Most of the roads were pretty hard packed and washed clear of loose gravel, and as I predicted, the bakfiets with its big tires rolled like a dream (a very heavy dream) over the short stretches of fresher gravel that we did encounter.
Once we were about five miles in, my nervousness evaporated. I got used to the rhythm of the rolling hills and just focused on working hard. Nice thing about doing a loop is that every climb has an equal descent that you can look forward to. I was huffing and puffing pretty hard on those hills, leaning forward with bent elbows due to the extremely upright riding position of my bike. I only use gears 4-8 in my everyday travels, but I came to appreciate the other three on this race. I did have to get off and push the bike up two of the hills. I used the descents to rest and calm myself. Z was the very picture of contentedness.
Around mile 19 she started complaining, though, and I knew it was naptime. She switched from her seat on the bench to the carseat down in the box. I had waffled on whether to bring it or not but I’m SO glad that I did! I draped a small blanket over it and she was able to relax and close her eyes for a bit. She stayed in it for the rest of the race.
I found the last five miles to be the hardest, even though they weren’t hilly. It was hot and the wind had picked up. I just wanted to be done. I got a lot of encouragement from some other riders who I leapfrogged with throughout the course. When I saw people cheering for us at the finish line, I was surprised at how emotional I felt! I almost cried. Jeez. We finished in 3:01, with about 2:45 of that on the bike. I am so glad that we did this, even though I knew there was no chance of being competitive whatsoever with our setup. We truly rode our own race. Ellie and her family and volunteers made the effort to organize a race that was accessible to so many people. I can’t wait to do it again.