Dusted and done

28 05 2018

Nobody warned me about the dust. Or the bear.

Both were features of the first Golden Ears gravel fondo that ploughed its way over dusty gravel dikes and trails from Port Coquitlam up to Minnekhada, over to Pitt Meadows and back on Saturday. Although, I didn’t witness first hand the latter, the lineup at the post-event beer garden was abuzz with stories about the young bear that wandered out of the bush next to the trail near Pitt Meadows airport, and one of my ride companions had photographic evidence.

Uncertain of my fitness after just a month of regular riding following the conclusion of our road hockey season that occupies my Sundays from October to early May, I signed on for the less arduous 50 km route, rather than the 100 km full meal deal. Plus, I’d never done a sustained ride of more than a kilometre or two over gravel while on a road bike and I’d heard it can beat you up and sap your legs over time.

Still, this would be a fitting conclusion to my first season with my new Norco Search adventure bike which had carried me through several evening trail rides and even a few road rides through the winter months. But with the arrival of warm weather and clean roads, it’s all Franco, all the time.

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The Norco is clean and shiny for the day’s big gravel fondo. Alas, it won’t stay that way.

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Flying Oakes prepares for the major ascent of the day.

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Oh no, our leisurely arrival foiled by an inconvenient train.

The fondo would also be an opportunity to experience some familiar landscapes from new perspectives; much of the route skirted roads I’ve ridden dozens of times, but veering hundreds of metres away from pavement, along sloughs and the back edges of farms offered fresh vistas. And no shortage of cat crows from chicken coops.

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A preview of what’s to come.

About 250 riders at the event were almost evenly split between the 100km hard-core and those with more leisurely intentions. Some of the former were fully-committed to gravel mashing on their tricked-out carbon fibre bikes with deep-dish wheels and 3-D printed chain catchers for when the path gets really bumpy. Our group was more of a hodgepodge, with fat-tired mountain bikes, fendered cruisers and even a single-speed fix with high-rise handlebars intermingled amongst dedicated gravel and adventure bikes.

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The FRF represent!

The event got off to a slow start because of a “police incident” that closed access to part of the planned route. The nature of that incident was never revealed, and there’s been no mention on social media of intense police activity in the area at that time. But the organizers had to do some scrambling to devise and mark out a detour.

When the countdown to send the first heat of riders finally went off an hour later than scheduled, everyone was champing at the bit to get their legs churning as the morning overcast had brought a cool breeze up the neighbouring river.

As advertised, the course was pan flat. The only inclines were up and over the Pitt River Bridge. This is what it must be like to be a cyclist in Florida.

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Following the gravelly road. For 50kms.

The course was fairly well-marked and there were traffic marshals to stop cars when we had to cross roads. Not all the motorists appreciated their efforts as a few impatient ones leaned on their horns.

Apparently there were some areas of confusion, though, as some of the 100km riders were complaining in the beer garden of riding extra loops because of ambiguous signage.

I covered the 50km course at an average speed of about 23.5 kmh, good enough for 39th place out of 115 entrants. But my legs felt like I’d ridden 80kms. The gravel dikes don’t beat you up as much as bog you down, although my slightly under-inflated front tire — as recommended in the pre-event prep email — might have had something to do with that.

And everywhere, on the bike and myself, there was a coating of fine grey dust. It’s been an exceptionally dry month, and it felt like I’d absorbed half the dikes into my socks and shins.

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The dusty damage of the day’s ride.

It had been a good morning out.

And apparently nobody got eaten by the bear.

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