It was another beautiful day in the neighborhood this weekend. I've been watching the temps and wondering what the next gravel slog might be like with the reports of how terrible the gravel conditions are around the state. With one of the snowiest winters all ready on the books and the snowiest February ever, it wasn't looking promising. The forecast for cold weather this weekend intrigued me. Cold on Friday with an overnight low plummeting to near zero should ensure hard packed frozen gravel that would be great for a ride.
Now who in their right mind would be crazy enough to head out with me. Strangely enough, I wasn't alone in my thinking that a frozen and cold ride would trump riding the mud any day. One of the gravel crazies from the January ride I missed was all ready deep into his planning for a new route this weekend. Originally, he was shooting for a Sunday ride so all I had to do was change his mind on that little tidbit and we were set to go. It looked like it would be he and I with the possibility of Fuller joining us for the full route and maybe a couple others for a shorter ride. Alas, it would just be us two brave souls headed into the wild on Saturday morning.
The temperature was a balmy 5 degrees above zero when we left the comfort of the Hy-Vee Grocery store. The one thing I noted was that even though it was cold, I wasn't. A number of people all ready made the comment to me that I was nuts for riding Saturday due to temperature alone. In my mind, the temperature was the reason to ride.
I was dressed about as perfectly for the conditions as could be expected. I'd actually overheated a fair amount on the last ride so I left my clothing choices the same thinking I'd be in good shape for this ride and I hit the nail on the head. My gear choices were as follows: winter weight under armour base layer, hammer nutrition bibs, smartwool medium cushion snowboard socks, pearl izumi amfib bibs, nashbar siberia winter jersey, shimano winter riding shoes with stick on toe warmers in the toes, pearl izumi wind and waterproof jacket, performance windproof microfleece balaclava, and a pair of waterproof snowboard gloves from Menards.
The above combination of clothing with the exception of the shoes and socks has been my riding staple this winter. The shoes, socks, and toe warmers, definitely have the nod for anything over a few hours out in below freezing weather. Unless I'm standing still, I've never gotten overly cold. For the most part, I've got my vents, jacket, and jersey unzipped at least partially as I'm sweating like crazy. One other thing I added based on a recommendation from Dennis Grelk, are my handlebar covers. I started with them and my heavy gloves for this ride and by mile 20 I was ready to switch into my lightweight mechanics gloves.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming... Tom and I rolled out a few minutes past 7 from the confines of West Des Moines. We quickly left the trappings of suburbia and hit the gravel within a few short miles of the rollout. From there we wandered our way south to Booneville and on to a short stretch of pavement before heading south once again. Somewhere in this stretch from Booneville to Winterset at mile 27 we hit some of the hardest parts of the ride. There was a sustained 19-20% grade hill that rose for about 1/2 mile and a level B road that hadn't apparently got them message that the snow was supposed to be mostly gone by now.
The level b road was the only spot we had to get off and hike because of the snow pack and drifts. We kept breaking through the hard crust of the snow and the drifts ranged up to roughly 5 feet deep at the worst spot. Luckily we could push around the drift and didn't have to break trail through it.
I also noted that my bike seemed a bit "loose" going down some of the hills in this stretch. A brief inspection led me to believe my cones holding the axle may not have been tight enough. Strangely I couldn't recreate the problem on Sunday when we checked it at Squirrel's. It may have been something as simple as a slightly loose skewer, but it was unnerving to say the least. Having the bike move more than you're anticipating when bombing down ice and snow packed gravel is not something I'd recommend unless you really like that clamped down puckered up feeling!
We hit Winterset with little fanfare and made our way to Kum & Go for some calories. I decided to be a bit daring and hammered down some pure sugar in the form of a couple Krispy Kreme donuts. Tom played it more safely with the breakfast burrito.
A scant 15 or 20 minutes later and we were back on the road. With Tom and I matched pretty evenly for pace, our plan was to keep moving and minimize our stop times. We rolled back south out of Winterset and into more hills. Thus far we'd had some nice hilly running, but it had been interspersed with a few minor flats as well. Now we were well into hill country. Winding our way south and west towards Pammel park, we were still fighting a headwind out of the south. It definitely had picked up more of a bite since we stopped for breakfast.
A mile or so before we crossed the next highway, we had a hitch hiker join up with us in the form of an overly friendly farm dog. Usually it's an all out sprint to avoid certain dogs or at the least some stern words to ward off impending doom. This happy fellow was feeling his oats and enjoyed running next to and up in front of us. As we came up to the highway crossing, we really didn't want him following any further. It took us a good 5 minutes of hollering and yelling at him just to get him to stay put as we barrelled down the road. He gave a brief chase, but we'd all ready opened a gap and he gave up pretty quickly. Hopefully he made it back home without any harm.
We were soon into new territory as neither of us had ridden the roads west of the park. Part of the route was scavenged from the upcoming "ridges of madison county" ride that is taking place later this month. We hoped the "ridges" implied that we'd be coming out of the river valley and riding on top of the hills for a while. This was partially right.... We did right up and out of the valley, only to descend right back into it, rinse and repeat for the next 30 miles. As we approached a sign that simply stated "Hills" we knew it was going to be fun. The saving grace to this section was that we turned north and now were taking as much advantage of the tailwind as possible.
Somewhere in the extreme southwest corner of our route, we missed a turn. It very well could have been the level B road that we both scoffed at possibly being the "correct" route, but either way, we wound a bit further south than was shown on the route map. A strategic decision was made to turn north and search for the next known east-west numbered road on our route map. We handily found it and then worked our way to the next major north-south road on our journey. Tom was started to feel a bit shelled out at this point and the route we had planned gave us an easy out to cut off about 7 miles of our trip putting us down to 100 even. Seeing as I could stand to be home early and Tom was feeling a bit weary, we decided to cut the route off and cut straight north to I-80.
The only downside to this planning was we were also cutting off our planned lunch stop in Stuart. We knew there was another town just east of Stuart that we should run almost directly into, but for the life of us, we couldn't remember the name. Luck was on our side though and we easily found the little town of Dexter with no problem. I stretched my legs and hammered out this section with the wind pushing pretty hard at my back. Big ring and 20+ MPH were the name of the game for a few miles as I motored off the front. At our designated turn, I waited for Tom to catch back up and we eased in to Dexter.
Casey's was the name of the game in Dexter. We strode in like we owned the place and made ourselves as home. The two guys working the register were pretty amazed at our tail of gravel and century rides in the middle of winter. I'm sure they thought we were nuts, but they accepted we were doing what we wanted and made us feel welcome as we stripped a few layers off and settled down for some lunch. We stopped for roughly 40 minutes and hit the door about 2:40 with 67 miles all ready under our belts.
The next stretch of road led us to Adel and I really don't remember much of that road. I suppose one gets a bit jaded after hitting 4000+ feet of climb in a scant 60 mile jaunt. I do remember we passed a nice lake with a park called "Beaver Lake" and then made our turn east to head into Adel. We were treated with our next surprise on this leg. The south wind had turned slightly west and now was blowing us towards home once again. Our pace really picked up in this stretch with a quartered wind and very minimal climbing compared to the morning. We hit Adel in no time flat. Another stop at Casey's to suck down a donut and to check the map.
The route out of town looked pretty straight forward. We had 15 miles to get home including a short jog on highway 6. As we headed out of town, we noted the route we were supposed to use included a long since closed bridge over the river. Luckily the paved bike trail runs parallel to the road and has a converted railroad bridge. We jumped on the trail and BAM! Wouldn't you know it, I went down on a ridge of ice. My left hip and helmet took the brunt of the fall. I distinctly remember the sound of my helmet scraping across the snow and the crunching noise it made. The only casualty beyond a slightly bruised hip (yet again), was a small tear in one of my vaunted handlebar covers. I hopped back on the bike and just past the bridge we found a short trail that took us to our gravel road again.
This push seemed to take much longer in my head. We hit some headwinds again as we had a few south spots to ride, but for the most part it was quartered tail again. We hit the edge of Waukee and the pavement around 5:50 and celebrated with a brief picture stop. Tom soon parted directions with me to meet up with his family as I hobbled back to my truck another mile down the road. I had to ride one loop around the store as I got there to finish with 100.3 miles. Another century down! Only 10 more to go.