A few weeks ago I mentioned on the Shawnee Mountain Bike Association website that I intended to do a gravel road ride in some of the hillier areas of the Shawnee National Forest. I thought there might be one or two people there who were interested. I was wrong, there were 23 people who were interested.
I planned out a 62 mile ride and served as tour guide for the ride, which meant that many folks were held back, back while just a few might have been pressed a bit, but fortunately the ride went well. There no accidents, only a couple small mechanicals, which is really awesome because I didn’t even expect the ride to take place.
All week-long I’ve been watching the weather report for today’s ride deteriorate. What started as a beautiful day in the mid 50s became a snowy morning and rainy day in the low 40s. Luckily the front broke further south and we missed the rain, the sun popped out a bit and the temperature got up around 45. The only real negative aspect was the wind which was about 15 mph and blowing from the North West.
When I arrived at the Mitchellville County Store for the start of the ride I was relieved to see I wasn’t going to be on my own, but even more surprised to see the number of vehicles. We left out with 17 people and had 5 more joining in at the halfway point. I had cue sheets but many of the roads were unmarked so they wouldn’t be easy to follow so everyone had to follow my lead which was more than a little stressful. Especially when trying to figure out what kind of pace a pack of 17 riders on anything from a pure road bike to pure mountain bike want to ride. Sadly I misjudged the pace in the first few miles a couple of riders got separated from the pack. We waited what felt like a long time for them and decided they had turned back, but they hadn’t and followed the route on their own.
There were no other mishaps on the ride, only a couple minor mechanicals and nothing that really held us up. I was continually told how nice the route was, and especially how challenging it was. I tried to throw in as many big climbs as I could and the ride had over 5000 feet of climbing. Others asked where all the cars were, the fact is Sunday morning on the backroads in Southeastern Illinois you can ride hours without seeing a car.
What made this route novel was the inclusion of several gravel road sections and a short trail section. Many riders were unsure of what bike to ride, the most popular choice was a cross bike with slightly knobbed tires, but we had mountain bikes with knobbies and road bikes with slicks. One rider brought a full-blown carbon fiber road bike with high-end components and 24c tires. I expected him to flat several times but he never did and never seemed to have any problems. Probably the perfect bike for this ride would have been a road bike with 28c road tires. I rode my touring bike with 30c cross tires. The bike handles the gravel and rougher sections with no problems but I could really feel the weight and resistance on the road.
I began feeling the ride about 30 miles in when my hamstrings tightened up and threatened to cramp. I had to back off and let the other riders go, even though I had plenty of energy and didn’t really feel bad. At the halfway point my food consisted of a coke and a package of cookies. I probably should have drunk a Gatorade and ate something salty because as I began to climb Williams Hill I had to dial way back or face cramping hamstrings.
For the last 20 miles I had tight slightly painful hamstrings and every time I had to put power in the pedals for climbing I would begin to cramp. I wanted to try to hammer the last hill, Jenny Ridge since it’s very short and very steep it suits me, but halfway up I had to dismount and rest my legs, they completely locked up. I think I probably didn’t drink enough, but I’ve never done a ride this hard this early in the season, so that could be it. Either way I’ve been riding for years and only suffered cramps a few times. Time to start getting serious about fixing this problem.
In conclusion the Dirty South 100K was a big success, I think everyone had a good time and got some good early season training, there’s talk of making this an annual event with a race category. It looks like I may have started something.