Only three weeks ago, I wrote about returning to more gravel riding to improve my mtbing. Now, that’s a little ironic because 6 years ago, I started mtbing to improve my gravel riding. It seems that both the latter and the former work; as if the two kinds of riding are complimentary. Because of what I’ve learned on the trails, my gravel bike has navigated some pretty sketchy terrain. And yesterday’s Waldo ride gave evidence that just a few weeks of pushing myself up some hard hills had improved my strength noticeably.
While I’m not back to where I was three years ago, I rode well yesterday. There’s the climb on Red before the power lines that begins with a rocky turn to a stone wall crossing, continues up over more rocky ground between two closely spaced trees, and finishes up with a rooty chicane between two more neighborly trees and a couple of boulders. I’ve only cleaned it a couple of times in the past two years. Yesterday, I resisted the urge to drop down a gear, pushing one that felt slightly uncomfortable at the get-go. The second my rear wheel cleared the stone wall though, I knew the gear was right. The rest of the climb took looking up and gritting down just a bit.
Then there was the first rock garden on Purple. It’s not the gnarliest rock garden in Waldo, but the gnarliest one is only uber-gnarly going up. Going down it’s no big deal. But the first rock garden, well, it’s tough in both directions. We hit it from the fire road side, the same way as usual.
On the approach, Roadie Me and MTBMe had their usual argument about gear choice. MTBMe won and RoadieMe slunk off to sulk.
I hit the rocks one gear harder than seemed comfortable and rolled right over the first 15 feet. The next 15 feet is a crux spot. The best line is the higher line, but it’s a little off camber, and, if you go too high you risk striking your left pedal. But staying high maintains speed and lines you up better for the rocks to come. Trusting my bike, I hit the high line in a high gear and came out perfectly.
Next comes a bump and a small drop – Nothing smooth here, just flattish, jaggy rocks with a narrow passage at the crest that’s defined by a tree on the right and a rocky bank on the left. You have to begin gearing down here though, because immediately after the drop comes a left-turning, rocky, rooty, steep climb. If I’m not in my bottom gear right away, I’m either jamming my derailleur trying to get down, or I don’t make the climb. There’s not much more than 10 feet between the crest of the bump and the bottom of the climb to gear down.
But because I took the high road one gear higher at the beginning, the bike had some speed going into the bump and I was able to gear down in plenty of time.
Cleaning the top, I whooped, “Yeah!”, and coasted to a stop to wait for the group.
So, yeah, I’m pretty happy about the gravel rides.