An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gravel Love/Hate

Gravel rides can be funny things. Usually they start and end on pavement, the means to get to what the ride is really all about -- getting OFF pavement and onto gravel and/or dirt roads. But the progression of the mood is what makes it so amusing. It becomes a love/hate tug-of-war, all the more polar as the distance increases.

This past week I took a trip to the northern Oregon coast for a couple days of relaxation. Manzanita was our base, about 30 miles south of Cannon Beach (famous for the rock formations on the beach). I had mapped out a few ride routes and loaded them onto my Garmin with the idea that I could get out on a couple rides while there. Two of the three routes I had planned incorporated gravel roads linking road sections to and from our rental house.

It's a given that, especially on the western side of the Cascades, gravel roads mean hills, usually long and quite often very steep. Getting to a 1:1 gear ratio is highly recommended. I'm close, with a 34/32 low gear. Even with an elevation profile, though, I was unprepared for what hit me.

First, you'd think that 101, being the COAST highway, and following the coastline and all, would be, you know, flat. It follows something at sea level, right?

Well, that's a glorious yes as well as a disappointing no. Riding north out of Manzanita heading to my turn-off at the Short Sand Cutoff road, I encountered what seemed like one long uphill, followed closely by another. Taking the right hander onto the gravel was a relief. FINALLY some flat road!

But that relief was short-lived. Within another quarter mile, I was headed up again. WAY up. Bottom gear, rear tire slipping with every pedal stroke kind of up. And it just went on. And on. And on...

The crown in the gravel road made it interesting, with each slipping of the rear tire sending me closer to the edge of the road. Several times I had to get off and walk, keeping myself on the road and giving myself a little bit of a break. Getting started up again was another problem in itself.

At the three mile mark from leaving pavement, I hit what I hoped was the summit. I slumped myself over the handlebars for a minute, letting my heaving lungs subside into a more natural rhythm, then rolled on into the mist.

Fortunately, it was the summit. Unfortunately the downhill portion was no better than the uphill, and in fact was worse in many ways -- far rougher in sections, and just as steep.

Passing around a second gate on the descent, and finally seeing pavement again, I was surprised by five HUGE black birds taking flight just to my right. I had to take a close look -- TURKEY VULTURES! I had never seen these birds on the west side of the Cascades before. I decided to keep moving to make sure they didn't mistake me for their next carcass.

And even with the sad state that this pavement was in, it was a wonderful relief to be back on something smooth again.

After just a few miles cruised back west and south on the North Fork Road, I was back at home base, tired and dirty. And glad to be done with the ride.

That's the mood progression that's so funny. At first, on pavement, you can't wait to get to the gravel. Once on the gravel, and hit with the normal hills, it becomes a grind, possibly some of the most strenuous riding around. Then heading back down from all that, it's a balancing act of caution and terror, maintaining speed and control. By the time you get back down, pavement is such a relief, and you're glad to be off the gravel.

For the next day's ride I opted for a road loop, relatively flat.

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