What is This All About?
So back in 2012 a group of us got together for what I’m sure wasn’t the first gravel road ride in Southern Illinois, but the only one with a catchy name, The Dirty South 100K. The next year we branched out with a ride on the West side that was even more well attended. Last year when we had a massive group for this casual group ride some riders were treating it like a race and our fearless leader Moe, decided to make it a race this year.
His expectation was maybe around 50-60 racers to make it break even. We ended up with 90 something riders toeing the line for what for some would be an epic gravel challenge, and others a mere training race.
Nahh, not this year
I did not ride, instead volunteering to take pictures. This will be the first winter I haven’t done the Dirty South West in 4 years. There are a few reasons for this, first I’m not in shape, my legs are smaller and my belly is bigger. I think the ride would have hurt me bad. Secondly, as a race in my mind there is an expectation to actually race, this would have probably caused me to blow my doors off in the first 20 miles worse then I normally do and end up in a ditch somewhere around mile 40. Thirdly, I really preferred to take photos of the event.
“So you’re really going to this thing without a bike?” Shauna asked as we drove over. Shaundo graciously came to help with the photo taking yesterday. “You are going to be so sad you’re not riding,” she said. It turned out she was right. As I talked to people who were feeling the excitement of a bike event, I felt a deep sense of sadness that I wasn’t about to enjoy the suffering with them. Then I thought about some of the painful leg cramps I’ve experienced at the end of this thing and a slight smile did creep across my face.
Just Here to Have Fun
So as you might expect at this kind of event there were all kinds of bikes and all kinds of riders. Gravel racing doesn’t have the stigma that road races do and mountain bike races for that matter. It’s a far more laid back atmosphere. While some may have shown up to win, most are just here to have fun. Speaking of having fun, how could anybody find doing a 62 mile road ride fun on a single speed fatbike. My hats off you crazy bastards that went for it, but seriously, that’s crazy.
So I took a few pictures at the start with my new super wide 14mm lens that doesn’t auto focus and auto exposure. This turned out to be a mistake as my exposure and focus was off on every shot. In my defense it’s almost impossible to focus a 14mm lens without some kind of aid. After that failure we loaded up the van and followed the race. This was dumb since there was no way we could pass through the race to get to the Pine Hills. The next failure was my Garmin GPS on which I had loaded the race course. Though I thought the batteries were good it kept turning itself off. Luckily I ran into Pat and followed him backwards on the course.
We drive up into the Pine Hills and stopped at what is probably the most dangerous corner, a nearly 180 switchback. I was considering this may not be the best place to take pictures and thinking about moving up to the next pull off when suddenly the race came through.
I ran to grab my trusy 1D which has super fast autofocus and 10 frames per second speed. In the process of getting a lens on I popped out the focusing screen inside the camera somehow. Luckily Shauna was on hand to take pictures while I sorted it out. Sadly I missed getting good shots of many of my pals. I was able to warn riders of the approaching tight turn.
Next we went to Rhine Road where there is a creek crossing with a beat up old car that Moe thought might make a good photo opportunity. This was 54 miles in the race and I estimated that the first riders would be by in about 3 hours ride time. Almost like clockwork at 12:05 Scott Williamson came steaming by.
Keep it Smooth
Watching Scott ride this gravel road was a lesson in humility. Despite being 50 miles in on a tough gravel course his form was perfect. His back was flat, his pedal stroke was fast and smooth, his upper body was motionless. I couldn’t help but think of Peppy Le Pew, the cartoon skunk who made his chase look so effortless. His expression didn’t reveal a hint of suffering, just calm repose.
The next rider who came through was Mt. Vernon rider, Wayne Brown, and he appeared at first glance to be moving far faster than Scott was, his form was good, a little rougher than Scott’s, but the big difference was the striving look of dedication in his face. He was turning himself inside out and putting in a hell of performance. Sadly he was was nearly 15 minutes behind the leader and nothing short of a total failure for Scott would allow Wayne to win.
Over the next hour riders came by mostly solo, but occasional groups. Some appeared to be at the end of their ropes, even having difficulty with the slight dip in the road, while others came through looking much like Wayne. No one looked like Scott. Even though several folks I knew were still out on the course we headed back to Alto Pass to see the finish and say goodbye. I knew it would be a couple hours before some folks were coming through.
So in conclusion, huge thanks to everyone who came out, most of you nuts came from so far away and we love you for it. Thanks to Moe,Pat and the Bike Surgeon for putting it together, thanks to SoILL racing for the support. Thanks to all the volunteers who made it possible. I think we’ll see this again next year, and I’m guessing that we’ll see 200 riders show. It’s going to be HUGE!