I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to drive to Benton and ride yesterday. I had been trying to think of a good excuse to get out of it all week. Friday night was dipping into the low 20s so I said, “Sorry guys, too cold,” so they moved the ride back to 11AM and shortened it. Crap. Then there was the deal with Hagler’s wheel. I’d borrowed one of his back wheels with a Gravel Grinder Race tire mounted on it for a photograph to use on a Dirty South Roubaix poster. I needed to photograph and return the wheel and Saturday’s ride was perfect time.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t want to meet up with everyone and do the ride, it’s just that I drive past Benton on my long commute to work every day. And more importantly I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up on a tough gravel ride. In my last group ride back in October I sucked. Fortunately I went, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. The ride was awesome.
So we met up at Lee’s cycling studio, which was cool since I’ve never seen it. Wish I lived closer and I’d be a regular there. The sun was out and temperatures were warming, parking lot is close to full. Immediately I noticed lots of people that I didn’t recognize and several I did. Ryan who stuns everyone on mountain bike rides with his old school rigs was there on his old school 26er rig with aerospoke wheels and mountain bike tires, awesome! Ryan had to put out tremendous effort to keep up with us on a mountain bike. I also saw Thomas Gee, who has driven from Tennessee for this ride, when he shows up for a ride you know it’s legit.
I busted out my Canon 5d got a group photo, and was immediately annoyed with myself for not bringing a wide angle lens to get everyone in the shot and then we took off. I was cold and not really feeling great at the start. The guys in the front were spinning out a strong steady pace and I hung back to stick with a few stragglers and quickly found myself a straggler. Luckily everyone had bright colors and strung out a bit so I could see guys from far away.
After a short stop to regroup and a slight raise to my seatpost I was feeling better and started riding near the front. Here’s my big observation from the ride, this may not apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to me. When you’re off the back and the group is rapidly moving out of sight I’m like, “What the heck, why are those guys riding so fast, why are they trying to kill us back here.” When I’m on the front and guys are drifting off and stringing out I’m like, “What the heck, why are those guys riding so slow, why won’t they stay in the draft.”
So anyway, my friend Shon did a mega pull across Rend Lake and got us to Wayne Fitzgerald where a guy I didn’t know gave me a gummy octopus. You know how much I like gummy candy on rides so this guy’s awesome in my book. Now here’s where things start to get interesting. We get on the Wayne Fitzgerald Park limestone trails. The group kind of spreads out all over the place. Eventually a State truck stops us and the guy says the trails are closed and points at a sign. There are brown signs everywhere that say the trails are closed. I’d been riding past them constantly but hadn’t even read them.
The guy drove off and we took a little detour around a section of trail then swung back onto the trail so we could connect up with the riders in the front. Low and behold the next time we cross the road there’s the truck and the guys like, “Hey these trails are closed.” He wasn’t rude or anything and apologized. We explained we needed to hook up with the riders in the front and let them know and he was fine with it.
As we near the end of the trail we see flashing cop lights. Oh SNAP, are we about to get busted for riding closed trails. As we approach we see the front group hanging out and the cop over talking to one rider. The story was that most everyone found a spot to take a leak and Mr. police officer showed up for the last guy with the intent to write him a ticket for public urination. That’s never happened on any ride I’ve been on, and trust me there has been public urination on EVERY SINGLE ONE!
Anyway, this was really a turning point for the ride. The wind picked up and sun went behind the clouds. It felt way colder and we turned into a headwind just making it worse. The next 20 miles were all mostly exposed oil and chip and farm roads. I managed to hang with the front group who were pouring on the coals, but only for awhile. Eventually I cracked and drifted back from one group to another until I found shelter behind Josh, whose about a foot taller then me.
After the ride I got Shon’s help and headed over to a nearby gravel road we’d just climbed for a photograph of the tire. I had Shon holding the wheel while I photographed it. While was busy adjusting f-stops and focus distance eventually he let me know his hand was cold. Sorry Shon the very first photo I took was the best.
Finished out the day hanging out at Cycle 1 Studio and warming up. Very glad I made it over for this first Dirty South ride of the season.