For Love of Gravel
From left to right: Farrow, Kershaw, Peterson, Ek
We approach the beast slowly as it stares down on us from what seems to be an unattainable height. The steepest pitch of the climb is right at the beginning and the elites slowly pull away from me. I know that to try and fly with them at this point would certainly be futile so I proceed at what I consider to be a sustainable pace. The teachings of the cycling elders has inscribed into my intellect many lessons, but the one that is playing over and over in my heat at this point is that I need to ride smart. Sustain…. sustain…. sustain…. is pounding like base drum and I quickly devise a plan as to how I will try to catch the uncatchable. I know that they are on single speeds so my only advantage will be going downhill which is where I will try to make up the difference. So I push at a good pace going up and do the same going down yet I make no ground.
I’m clearly not as strong as these guys and now I’m riding alone which is always harder than riding with a group, yet I never yield. I wonder what the others are thinking. I wonder if they even know I am not there. Do they even care? A comrade has fallen yet the forward thinking racer types precede onward with nary a word. It’s times like this when I try to view others perspectives and it always brings about deep introspection. I decide to not pass judgment for the Sasquatch is their battle and I am a mere guest. None the less, I feel good on the bike so I maintain forward progress, and at this point I have accepted the reality that I may be spending the next seventy or eighty miles alone.
Tim and Rich finally turn back to check on me and when they turn around to pull me back to the group I’m told to hang onto Tim’s wheel. I am uninterested in hindering their performance numbers any further so I decline their draft. Tim sneers to Rich “he doesn’t care,” and they speed off without me. The group stops on the side of the almost deserted highway in what I would call ‘the middle of nowhere’ to shed some layers now that the sun is up and I quickly come upon them. As buzzards circle overhead I’m asked what the plan should be for the group if I happen to fall off the back again. I tell them that I am fine alone and express my wishes to not hinder their training plans. They reply with wishes to keep the group together and I agree. We depart together and all is well for it is smooth sailing as a group for many more miles.
We turn off the asphalt at the town of Toimi to pound the gravel. The group is in high spirits at this point and I hide my concern for the soft, wet road. I’m the only one with narrow road tires and I’m not sure how much of this junk is ahead, so I press on without a word and hang with the group. We stop a few times to take some pictures, which is a nice break, and the mood is constantly lightened by the sight of wolf tracks and Farrow’s seeming infatuation with rundown old buildings. This area seems to definitely have an Alaska feel to it as the houses, which don moose antlers over the entries, are of rough cut lumber and look to be constructed using mainly hand tools. I have never experienced anything in Minnesota like this and as quickly as the beauty of this amazing place came into our lives the gravel ends and we are back into modern times. Pity.
The group turns south onto 44 and are caught off guard by a nice little headwind. We jockey and joke around for a while and finally settle into a pace line. Farrow suggests two minute pulls and it’s on. We run a style that I am privy to, which consists of the person in front peeling off to the side when he feels that his time is up and tucking in the back. I’m pretty tired at this point but I take my turns. There is something invigorating for me about getting the chance to pull those who I look so fondly up to so I push past the aching knees and burning lungs. I stand in the fire when it is my turn and I do it with a smile, yet I know what this is doing to me. Every time I get to the front I push harder and longer than I should but I don’t care. I forget my teachings about restraint and I live in the now…. It takes it’s toll. My knees are falling apart and my recoveries are getting longer and longer. We have many more miles to push into the unrelenting wind, but like a mirage in the desert I see it. Hugo’s……….