Beargrease on gravel

“Upper sixties” was the  forecast for Friday. Yeah, seems like there might be something to that global warming idea.

I got things ready Thursday night because I was in need of a longer ride. My antidepressant medication of choice is miles of Flint Hills Gravel (Vitamin G). The combination of the sights of rolling hills, the sound of crushing gravel under my tires, the circular motion of the pedals, gears wheels and breath moving in and out of my lungs and being out in the middle of the natural world does it for me. I’m not kidding. If I don’t get my fix, I feel like I’m not fully living.

But let me first say, when you first try some Vitamin G, it may take awhile to get its full affect. What I mean is, getting on a bike and heading out on a gravel road may be very depressing at first. But once you get that body into some shape, things start to get really good. I went from 20 mile rides to 30 to 45 to 65. Then I hit 90 and finally started taking Sundays to ride dirty centuries before I reached the pinnacle of the DK200. Now, for better or worse, I am an addict. Vitamin G is my drug.

I began to pack  my bike of choice these days, the Salsa Beargrease, as I have really been jonesing to ride the fatbike on a long gravel ride to see how it would treat me. But as I packed up the little frame, because I am a man of small stature, I realized this frame was not meant to hold 100 oz of water. Bummer. So I packed my Revelate Designs framebag with clothing, as it started cold in the morning, food and a few supplies and decided to use Camelbak for hydration. The small sized frame bag is excellent for supplies but not so great for hydration. That makes sense since most people with fatbikes are riding where it is actually cold and water would freeze in there. Why would I ride my Beargrease on a warm, long gravel ride? Because it is that fun to ride. It hasn’t worn off yet.

I hit the road and noticed that it was a little windy. I planned the route so that I would go into the wind for the first half of the ride and come back with a nice tailwind. In fact, I planned to ride the same 80 mile route I did just before my heart surgery last year. It would be my longest attempt since surgery.

I passed EVCO Foods and noticed their flag was flapping in the wind in a way that tested the strength of the stitching used in its creation. No biggie, I have ridden in the wind plenty of times. I will just breathe deeply and take in the dark feeling that would ensue when I faced 40 miles of headwind. My mind told myself things like:

  • “This will be good for me.”
  • “The ability to feel both “good” and “bad” feelings is a beneficial to the psyche.”
  • “Nothing is good or bad, it just is. Only my thoughts makes things “good” or “bad.”

And then I turned into the wind on a long, flat section of road. A wind gust came up and stopped me. I mean that, it stopped me in my tracks. OK, the wheels were still moving a bit, but the gust was so strong that 2 mph was a chore and this was a flat piece of road. My mind made the decision and I turned around. I didn’t have the mental fortitude to handle that kind of punishment yet.

So instead of that, I rode into a dry stream bed – a perfect place for fatbiking.

I have tackled windy rides before, but I worked my way up to that kind of disciplined riding. I am not quite there yet. But things are healing nicely. It is a lot harder now to get my heart rate up than it used to be and my resting heart rate has fallen too. Now it’s my legs that feel out of shape instead of my heart. I can deal with that.

I waited until Sunday to get the ride I was looking for.

I didn’t feel like getting up super early and I wanted to do some reading so I headed out on the fringe of early lunch time. It was a tad windy, but not extreme. I neared the edge of town as some cycling friends of mine were finishing up their ride. They let me know that the wind was coming from the east at a pretty good clip. Crap, the internet weather told me I’d have a NW wind as a nice tailwind on the way home. Oh well, I wasn’t going to change my plans, I’d just tough it out. Perhaps I would get lucky and the wind would begin to change directions mid-ride. A cold front was supposed to move in later in the day, so I had hope.

I headed out to one of my favorite Roads, just west of Emporia, Road V, that leads to the west side of Lake Kahola. That road gets into the middle of nowhere and has some nice hills and scenic Flint Hills vistas without getting too far from town. I took off the frame bag and had the bike light. I had my hydration covered with my CamelBak and a little food, tools and supplies in my rear jersey pockets.

It was a nice ride heading west out of town as the wind gave me a nice tailwind. That always makes me feel strong on the bike, but the wind soon began to shift and before long I was fighting a cross wind, but it wasn’t too terrible. As I turned to head towards Kahola, the wind began its dance, shifting from the east to blowing out of the north. And with it came cold air.

Soon the sky was covered in clouds and I had to remind myself that the sun was still up there. As I began to ride into the wind, my hands began to get a little chilly. Without the sunshine, the north wind became colder with each pedal stroke into the hills. I remembered a visualization technique I had used to keep warm and feel fast a few years ago and decided to try that again since my hands were feeling cold. I made my breaths as deep and intentional as possible. I would breath in very deep and breathe out very deeply too. On each exhale I would visualize blowing on a fire and watching it flame up with the added oxygen. Instead of blowing on a fire I was directing those thoughts to my cold hands. It worked and it had a nice feeling to it too. I’m no iceman but I know visualization works (seriously, check that video out).

By the time I made it to one of my favorite gravel downhills that would test out the durability of the tires, the wind was kicking from the north. It was a cold cross wind but soon, as I turned towards Emporia, it would become a nice tailwind all the way home.

I must say, the Beargrease held its own on the rocky descent and I felt fast all day. Nothing poked through the Husker Dus so I didn’t get to test out the sealant’s ability to seal yet, but the tires feel great without those 1/2 pound tubes in them. I got to thinking that with some aero bars this bike would be a fun, long distance rig. “I wonder how fast it would be if I put 29er wheels and tires on it?” I thought. But then that would really take away the coolness of having a fatbike wouldn’t it? But the mud clearance might be excellent with skinnier tires. Oh whatever, the point is I feel surprisingly fast on the Fat Beargrease. But for longer rides I do miss my drop bars.

As I turned and headed south, I pedaled hard with the wind. The fat tires smoothed out all the bumps and any washboard that was present on the road. I had a great ride and got in just shy of 50 miles. Not too bad. My average speed was 12.7 mph which is great being that I wasn’t pushing myself and I was on a fatbike. At first I thought that was faster than my presurgery self, but it wasn’t, although it was only 0.6 mph slower than my old gravel grinder averages. I don’t know if I’ll ever catch the speedsters but I think I am going to soon be much faster than my presurgery self!

Feed Your Monkey!
Eric

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Eric Benjamin

Owner/Operator of Adventure Monkey

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