Fatbike Gravel Grinder

In Blog by Eric Benjamin2 Comments

A big ride. I needed to get in a big ride. I got on the internet to double-check the weather for Sunday, looking at the hour by hour breakdown to plan out my gear. It was going to start in the teens and end up around 60 degrees outside with winds blowing in from the Southeast. A 40 degree shift in the temperature from the beginning to the end of my ride. That makes for a tough clothing plan. I like to stay warm and needed most of my winter gear for the morning but would most likely end up in shorts and a jersey by the end.

I thought about my options as I walked into the garage to get things ready. I wanted to wake up early, eat and then hit the road while the sun was rising and warming up the hills. Two things needed to happen for this ride to be successful.

  • I needed to get up early so that I would have plenty of time to ride and
  • I needed to be able to ride for 80 miles.

These two things used to be a given in my equation of planning big weekend rides. But since well before the surgery I haven’t been able to get up early on the weekends to get in a good ride. Back then when the alarm would go off I would be so tired I felt it down to my bones. I just couldn’t get going. I am sure that had something to do with the regurgitating blood in my heart. Since surgery, my longest ride has been 50 miles and that was a chore. And as you may have read, my ride last week with Tim didn’t turn out so well as I tired out so bad I had to bail at the 50 mile point.

But I was determined to make this work. I had my son on call if I needed to call for help, but I was sure I could make this ride happen.

I decided to bring my Wingnut backpack. I haven’t used it for some time, but I would need the packing room to throw my layers in as it warmed up through the day. I haven’t used it since I acquired my Revelate Designs tangle bag. But that wouldn’t hold all the shedded gear and I needed a hydration pack to, so the Wingnut would fit the bill. To some of my readers (you know who you are) 18 degrees would be a nice day, but to me, that’s cold. I even wore my big gloves to start out the ride and I was glad I did.

Last week my legs completely ran out of energy so to counteract that I brought plenty of food. I packed the Wingnut with Gu Roctane gels, Gu chomps, a banana, and a mixture of peanuts, dried fruits and salted sunflower seeds. I also planned on keeping close to my goal HR of 145 and not pushing too hard so that I could keep pedaling for 77 miles. I chose the same route I did just before surgery. That pre-surgery ride had me stopping and sitting on the side of the road because I was so exhausted (I found out days later that I needed heart surgery). This time would be different.

I probably should have gotten the skinny cross bike ready but I decided to do this on the Salsa Beargrease. I am simply in love with this bike. I thought the newness would wear off but it hasn’t. The fatbike is simply fun to ride and I wouldn’t be the Adventure Monkey founder without giving myself more of a challenge. I am deciding if I will do the LR100 on the fatbike or not. This ride would help decide that.

Waking Up

The alarm went off and I hit the snooze. I just wanted a couple of minutes to lie in bed, breath deeply and meditate on the ride before me. The alarm went off a second time I was up and at ‘em. First major hurdle behind me.

I made some oatmeal and an egg and drank plenty of water. I got dressed, packed up and was on the bike by 7:00 am. I love an early morning start on the bike.

I headed south into the morning wind that would pick up as the day progressed – another reason to start early! Even with a light wind, the 18 degree air was cold. I knew from experience it would take about two miles from me to warm up. I passed a police officer and waved before heading out-of-town.

I didn’t bring an extra tube and hoped it wouldn’t be an issue. I’ve never done a big ride without an extra tube but fatbike tubes are huge and heavy. I just couldn’t bring myself to stick that in my backpack. I am running the Beargrease tubeless and my homemade sealant has yet to be tested. I hoped it would hold up because this route would encounter roads that can leave the unprepared rider stranded.

I forgot how much I liked the Wingnut pack. It held 100 oz of water all my food and tools and still had room for more. Plus it rests low on the back unlike most backpacks, lessening lower back pain.

I headed towards some of my favorite hills to ride in. After about ten miles I felt pretty far from civilization but by 20 miles, out by the twin towers it feels like you left civilization far behind except for the turnpike in the distance. There is nothing like getting “out there” may it be the Flint Hills on a bike or the foothills by foot. Escaping the everyday hum, surrounded by nature is a necessary thing to do. It is one way to feed your Adventure Monkey.

I felt pretty good and continued on past a few roads that could serve as shortcuts if I was feeling too tired. In the back of my mind I was not planning on shortening this ride in the least, but it felt good as I passed each chicken exit.

Bleak Kansas Winter Road

Bleak Kansas winter road

The wind wasn’t crazy but it picked up as the sun heated up the hills. I pedaled keeping my mind in the moment of this ride instead of worrying about the wind or anything else. While I ride I focus on the air, the breath, the movement of my muscles, the movement of the pedals, cranks, gears, wheels and tires, the road that someone created, and the land that has been there for who knows how many years.

Flint Hills Moonscape

Flint Hills Moonscape just past the Twin Towers

Even when at work, perhaps a job you or I cannot stand, doing “meaningless” things maybe with spreadsheets or whatever, just accept the situation for what it is. If we don’t like where we are, the best we can do in that situation is come to a level of acceptance with the moment and don’t think about anything, clear your mind and do the best you can with the task you are on. If your mind is clear and you savor the moment, no matter how far it is from your perceived “purpose” you will let it be what it is, just a moment in time. But if you make enemies with the moment, the now, like I have at my job for so long, you will be putting negative energy out there and most likely you will never leave that job, or you will leave and find yourself in the same situation in another job. Make friends with the present, be present, find your presence, and begin to raise your energy from negativity to positivity and find that doors will open. It’s not magic, or a secret, it just is how this universe works. I will be living proof for you. I have no leads and I tell you now, I will be leaving my job soon, maybe in unexpected ways, maybe not. I don’t care and refuse to future trip and put all my marbles into expectations. There is more power in the present moment. We only live in the present moment, as every moment is the present moment. It is the field of the game of life. If you are not even on the field then you aren’t even playing, no matter what you may think in your mind. Get on the field!

I saw the huge Matfield Green tower in the distance and I was getting tired. The tower was some 36 miles into the ride. I was getting tired to the point of considering turning the ride into an out and back from the tower. I brushed that thought away quickly. I made it to the tower and was ready for a break.

 I simply love this road. I feel lucky to ride it when I want. The Matfield Green tower is on the left.

Beargrease at rest

I took some time at the tower to get off the bike, relax and eat. My mix of nuts, salted sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and flattened bananas hit the spot. Once off the bike I could hear the wind howling through the hills. I’ve seen a lot worse. I was going to finish this. This ride would be into the wind for about 47 miles. The quicker I got back on the bike, the quicker I would be able to finish the into the windy part of the ride. I stretched out and got back on the bike. I was feeling sore and tired, but far from exhausted. If I could just make it to Texaco Hill I knew I would finish this ride and log my longest post surgery ride. I wanted to break the 50 mile mark.

As I rode the 2-3 miles into the wind (miles 38 – 40.5ish) I had some big hills to climb. I remember cramping on the last one at the Death ride in 2010. That didn’t happen on this ride. I shifted down and spun up each of those hills. I was the conqueror in the Flint Hills on this day. I was feeling good even through the soreness.

I rode on and on. I enjoyed the beauty of the hills. These Flint Hills speak to me, show me my smallness and awesomeness all at the same time. Life with all its ups and downs is beautiful. I hope you see that too.

Exposed rocks in the rocky Flint Hills and the Beargrease never felt more at home

Up on a ridge the hills go on forever

The image above looked awesome, but in the middle of the day the sun didn’t give me any shadows to capture the depth of the hills. This headed steeply down into that valley and looked like something on another day that I would love to ride. I took a picture anyway to show you the edge of the world here in Kansas.

I made it to the point where I could FINALLY turn and ride with the wind for the rest of the ride. That meant that I would ride down Texaco Hill. I’ve done that on a cross bike before but on a fatbike this downhill was effing amazing. Why you wonder? On a cross bike I have to brake as to not break my skull as I crash down that fast hill with a curve and cattle guard at the bottom. On the fat bike I couldn’t pedal fast enough. Brakes? None. I sped down that hill with a smile on my face and excitement of a little boy radiating out of my heart into the hills and the universe beyond. I made that curve at the bottom of the hill with no problem and sped over the cattle guard with the stability only a fatbike gives. That was exhilarating to say the least. That moment was “the moment” of the ride. I smile thinking about it now.

I made another turn at mile 53.5 or so and had to stop to peel off the rest of my winter clothes. That was such a freeing feeling. I pedaled on tired, but feeling good, not great but good. Then something happened.

I was on tame gravel all the way home but suddenly I heard the loud and ominous Psst, Psst, Psst, Psst! Oh no! A rock punctured my rear tire and sealant was spewing everywhere. Here was the test of my homemade tubeless setup. I quickly got off the bike to check the damage. I turned the puncture to the bottom and sealant sprayed all over the gravel. Crap! I think I mixed it a bit too thin. But then I had a thought, it needed to dry. I spun the wheel a few times and then turned it so that the puncture, a large v-shaped cut, was on the top of the tire. I pressed down on it a couple of times with a finger and suddenly the sound of leaking air stopped. I spun the wheel and no more sealant was coming out. At first I thought I had lost it all on the ground, but nope, it sealed!

Now to air up the tire. I lost enough air to fill up a cross tire, but when I pushed down on the tire, it didn’t feel too bad. I got back on and pedaled. Hmm, it felt pretty good. I smiled, then let out a good laugh and you know what I did next? I rode all the way home happy as could be. I made it 77 miles, didn’t break any speed records but I made it! I ended up averaging 11.9 mph and I am still out of shape! That means I will get faster. I don’t know if I’ll ever ride that cross bike again. I had fun on it, but not like that.

Feed Your Monkey!