Up nort’ graveliering

Whenever we head north to visit the in-laws, who live just west of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, I try to work in a ride or two. It keeps us all happy, as they know I’m a much better person having ridden.

These rides are often a mix of pavement and gravel roads. This time of year, I try to up the percentage of gravel in preparation for events like the Almanzo 100 and the Westside Dirty Benjamin.

Day 1: Friday

After spending part of the morning in the car, my legs were itching for some movement. I knew I wouldn’t have time for a long ride, I opted for something shorter, with more varied surfaces, with a greater mixture of unimproved roads.

I started out on the pavement.

But the pavement soon ended.

And yes, someone did pass me on this stretch at about 45mph, in a huge cloud of dust (things are pretty dry in NE WI these days).

After another pavement sector, I headed off into the less-improved gravel roads.

 

There are hills, but they aren’t very big or very steep. For the most part.

 

I rode the Albatross, in it’s newly reconfigured state.

The Revelate Tangle frame bag, as much as I want very badly to love it, is on the chopping block. My pedal stroke keeps my knees very close to the top tube, which means that they brush the sides of the bag on every pedal stroke. Wearing knickers, this is merely loud and annoying; in shorts, it would cause abrasions.

Stats: 47.4 miles, 13.6  mph. Pavement, gravel, B-road, jeep track, double-track, single-track, small amount of bushwacking.

Day 2: Saturday

On Saturday, I reserved the entire day for riding. After fueling up on eggs and bacon and venison bacon and more bacon, I took off for some new territory to the west, hoping to put together a route upwards of a hundred miles with 60-70 percent gravel.

Once again, I rode the pavement for a bit. But then I found what I was looking for.

Not only did I find the gravel, I also found a few more hills.

That’s looking back down most of the hill. What looks like the crest on the horizon is actually the first of many false crests.

I’d also point out that the gravel in NE Wisconsin is at times rather brutal in ways that the limestone gravel in more southern areas is not. First of all, it’s granite and therefore loathe to break down. Second, the aggregate size is often quite large–sometimes more than 1 centimeter across–and uniformly so. Third, the top layer is rarely well-compacted. This calls for bigger rubber (2.1 inch WTB Vulpines in this case, those in some places fat-bikes would not be out of place), lower pressures (25-30 psi), and a little more suffering.

Also, cunning. Most of the roads, at least when properly graded and crowned, leave a 8-16 inch gutter-like border that gets scoured and compacted when it rains. I did a fair amount of riding in this narrow strip of road, when it was available.

But then sometimes things are better compacted and, well….just perfect.

 

In the end, I didn’t quite hit 100 miles for the day, or the higher percentage of gravel that I’d been shooting for. But I rode some beautiful roads both paved and gravel, many of which I’d never ridden before. So that’s a win.

Stats: 93.5 miles, 14.6mph. Pavement and gravel, in about equal measure.

Prepared?

Part of the purpose of riding on this trip was to assess my preparation for the Almanzo 100, to put in a couple of longer days to increase my fitness, and to get the gravel rig dialed-in.

All in all, my body performed well. I had a couple of bad patches, but was able to ride through them without any real trouble, though one did require a rest and a bit of a snack before I was willing to continue.

I only encountered one physical issue that needs a remedy: tight Achilles tendons, especially in my left leg. I’m 95 percent sure that this is due to the too-long cranks on the Albatross. After several hours of dragging them around in a bigger circle than I’m used to, the connective tissue started to protest. I’ll swap them out for 170s or 165s before the end of the week.

The bike itself is nearly dialed in. Besides the too long cranks, and some minor adjustments to saddle setback and handlebar angle that I made on the road, it’s really down to a question of baggage.

Without the Revelate Tangle, I’ll fall back on a combination of a seatbag for the toolkit, a Revelate Gas Tank for food, and the Camelback and 2 bottles for hydration. Extra kit, should it be necessary, will go in the Camelbak.

All in all, a successful weekend of riding, testing, and preparation. After being ill for part of the late winter, I’m feeling much more confident about the upcoming events of Spring.

It’s about time.

4 thoughts on “Up nort’ graveliering

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