Well, it’s all wrapped up. The first edition of Gravelaide has come and gone, but most people are still feeling the effects of it.
They’re strong effects. Mostly good effects, but everyone will remember this event for quite some time…
Sorry, all other bike rides ever. You are now boring in comparison. Apologies. But not really.
Firstly, there was the route. I’m quite fond of this route. It took months of planning to get it just right, and a good few rides before hand to make sure. The idea was to give people a taste of everything SA has to offer when it comes to the road less traveled, which is the entire point of gravel riding.
It was a mix of conditions, that’s for sure. That’s not unusual for gravel events in other places around the world, but I’m pretty sure that most people who rode Gravelaide here on Sunday encountered a few sections that they wouldn’t have normally found themselves on. I like that.
Many roads were smooth enough, but things got loose in places, rocky and rutted in others, a straight-up hike-a-bike up a very steep hill in another, and what’s a good bike ride without at least one daunting climb? Ok, three. Or four, if you rode the long course. Or was it five…?
There were views a plenty. The benefit of going up is that you can then survey the land around you, and SA has some beautiful landscape to survey. Everywhere you turn on this course there is something beautiful to look at.
There were mates. Plenty of people knew each other, but plenty of people met others they didn’t. Everyone there was there for more-or-less the same reasons, and that was a huge part of what made Gravelaide and other rides like this work. Sure, some people rode it fast and hard and others took a little longer, but there was a sense of adventure and conquering the course that was pervasive among everyone, but never at the cost of having a good time. As everyone assembled at the start there were many smiling and exited faces. I heard many stories of people happily helping out anyone that needed it along the way, evidence of the real sense of community among all the participants. Bless!
And then there were the conditions. Ahhh, those conditions…
2016 has been a bit of an interesting year in terms of weather in many places, and for SA it’s been no different. A few isolated glorious days of weather here and there, interspersed by wicked storms of rain and wind that have wreaked havoc on everyone for months now. I eye nice days now with suspicion, assuming that as soon as I turn around it’s going to smack me in the back of the head and give me a ripping wedgie.
And this would be a fitting description of how the day turned out on Sunday.
It was always going to be a solid day in the saddle. For those doing either route, depending on their abilities, the course was challenging even without superfluous elements. I mean, you can’t plan a route months in advance anticipating terrible weather, and anyway, late October/early November are traditionally quite nice around here.
The weather had sort of worked itself out in the week prior, taking a break from dumping rain and wind all over us for a time, and as we got closer to the day it actually looked pretty reasonable. But…
The night before
The night before I got a message from one of the participants wondering if I had seen the weather warning. Weather warning?!? I just checked the weather a few hours prior and saw nothing. Seriously weather? Can’t you be a pal for just one day?
Yep. Severe thunderstorm and damaging wind warnings. You’ve got to be kidding me. They were mostly south-east of our area, but not far enough to be comfortable.
The thunderstorm warning was cancelled overnight, but the wind remained. Great.
Arriving at the Mt Torrens Oval in the early hours of the morning, it was actually really nice. A light breeze, sunny, and a perfect temperature for riding a bike. Even as everyone excitedly (nervously?) started off, things seemed pretty good. Maybe they would remain that way? Please?
Fingers crossed. Toes crossed.
Within minutes we got reports back that the wind was definitely as excited to attend Gravelaide as we were.
Gutted not to be riding it… mostly…
I lost a shoving match with a car a week prior and was gutted not to be riding it. I’d been looking forward to this day for ages. In reality, I was too busy all day to really wallow in self-pity and I was still pretty chuffed that everyone else was so excited to be there. However, as the day unfolded I did start to feel like maybe I wasn’t all that envious of those riding it…
Average wind speeds of 50kph+ were the order of the day, with gusts of most likely around 90-95kph. It was mental! The first 30km was in a mostly favorable direction, which was why it took the front-runners so much less time to reach the hydration/food stop than anticipated (and trying to help a rider out with a broken chain held us up a bit – we were successful, but it cost us time), but once everyone turned north from there, things got pretty real pretty instantly.
The cross winds were in full effect
Some people were blown into the weeds a few times and everyone else was leaning into the wind at a 45 degree angle while trying to react to the massive gusts coming and going. Interesting times.
At the food stop people could either head back to the start to finish the loop, or make their way out on the long course. Everyone turned up looking pretty bedraggled, but behind the grimacing faces were still wry smiles. A few people were actually still managing to unapologetically love it, which made me feel a bit less guilty! Champions!
Some made the extremely pragmatic decision to abort the long route and head back, but around 30 people were still determined to give it a crack! Again, the long loop started with a ridiculous tail-wind and blue skies, so the spirits were lifted and people cruised comfortably at ridiculous speeds with no effort required for about 15km.
Of course, they had to turn around at some point.
And it got brutal.
The long route takes you a couple of km’s past the ridge of hills that surround Adelaide, so you get this amazing contrast of beautiful rolling hills with absolutely pan-flat farmland. The sadist in me is especially fond of the fact that once you turn left for a second time and are heading back towards the hills, you begin to catch a glimpse of a road that looks impossibly steep and long. For a few kilometers you question if that is indeed the road you will be riding up, and you then discover that, yes, yes it is.
Some may think it pretty cruel, but I think it’s one of the things that makes this route memorable.
With the wind, however, I can’t imagine that I’d feel the same if I were out there as planned! People arrived back at the food stop the second time looking absolutely smashed, not least because once you complete the climb you ride along a ridge which is a lovely road, but, as ridges are, is somewhat exposed. Did I mention is was a tad windy?
There would have been some brief spots of respite in the last few km’s before arriving at the food stop again, but I don’t think that many would have taken notice, given the effort required up to this point.
From here all riders were back on course for the final 21km or so, with images of burgers, chips, and a Pirate Life beer handed to them dancing through their minds. I’m sure the more pressing thought was trying to find shelter, but hey, burgers and beer help.
With a hike-a-bike over Mt Beaver, which must have some sort of weather multiplier buried within its bowels, then one final climb to seal the deal, Daisy Burger, Pirate Life, sunshine, and getting off of the bike came to the rescue! Stories were told, ‘grams were made, and sighs were relieved!
In the end, the crazy weather certainly put a certain tint on the day, but also made the day that much more memorable and satisfying to finish, not to mention making the burgers that much better going down.
A few snippets from some of the participants, if i may:
What a day, the longest ride I’ve ever done, all of it on gravel, some amazing roads, great company and a brilliantly organised event. Bring on the next one, i can’t wait. – Matt
Rolling back into Mount Torrens I was met with a sense of relief and achievement. Realized that I had gone through what is probably one of my hardest rides I’ve ever done. The final burger and prizes capped of what was an epic day. – Luke
That f#?king RULED! All rides should be like that. Always. It was social, hard, scenic and a burger and #sportsdrink to finish. For a lazy 40 clams. VALUE. Next one, let’s go. – Mr David Edwards, esq.
Thanks all. Was a good day out and as said the condition just add to the epicness. We will all be able to talk about this one for a long time. – Mr Rodgers (Matthew Rodgers)
We’ve learned a few things from this event and will definitely take this experience to make the next one (which will be sooner than I had thought!) better. It’s going to be hard to top the route from this one, but each event will have its own flavour anyway, so maybe that’s not fair.
With this particular event being so completely taken over by the weather, I’m thinking that we might even just run this one again next year in, hopefully, normal conditions. I’m sure it would feel like a completely different ride. We’ll see.
In any case, I’m glad that it went well enough, and I’m really glad that everyone came away from it smiling and hungry for more. We’re just getting started!
Oh, and check out the painfully accurate write-up from GCC here.
Header image: The Sticky Bidon