I did it again. Yes, another race. Just a day after my 5k to start out 2018. This event was “The Dirty 50” mixed terrain bike ride starting at Outspokin Bicycles in Irmo, SC. It involved 55 miles of combination paved and gravel/dirt road riding put on by The Southeast Endurance Project run by David Hall. To top it off there was a 100% chance of rain for pretty much the entire ride making for a wet and muddy course. Awesome.
Given the stigma of triathletes not having very good bike handling skills, as well as me being able to count on one hand how many times I’ve done any riding on unpaved roads on my road bike, I was trying to write this off as not being a “competitive” event for me. I had decided to ride my Trek Domane for the ride since most of the course was on roads and a mountain bike would have been overkill. While the Domane is a very smooth ride for being on the roads, I was concerned that my 28mm slick tubeless tires may have been a bit thin for the job. I decided to suck it up though and just drop the pressure down to 60 psi for a “squishy” ride.
We started just a couple minutes after 10 am following a truck for the first few neutral miles until we got off the more heavily traveled roads. As soon as the truck pulled away though, my competitive juices started flowing. In the back of my head I was already thinking tactics despite trying to keep myself calm. Looking around at everyone else’s bikes I knew that mine would likely be fastest on the road sections. And I was cocky enough in believing I had the engine to back up trying to pull away. So my ideas of being reserved immediately went out the window and I started to pick up the pace to see who would come along.
I started to pull away a couple times. By the time we came to the first gravel section I was maybe 15 seconds ahead of the group. I took the wet dirt pretty tentatively since I didn’t quite know how my bike or I would handle it. I managed to stay upright, but suddenly everyone was coming around me and passing me! Once again my competitiveness got to me and I refused to watch them just go ahead without me. As the road tilted up, I jumped in on someone’s line and did what I could to put down power while getting a quick tutorial on how to ride off-road. Before long we were back on a paved road and I had survived my first gravel section while staying with the group!
These sections came up regularly as we would head back down some unknown (to me) road and a group of 5-6 of us became established ahead of the rest of the riders. A little bit before mile 20 on a paved section of road I noticed that our pace had dropped and that we weren’t quite as motivated as before. I also noticed that the group behind us were gaining ground and would soon catch up if we didn’t do something. At this point, I decided to come around the front to see if I couldn’t light a spark to get the group going again. Nobody wanted to respond which left me dangling out in front. That’s when I decided to make my move. I used the gap to start riding a bit harder and steadier to see if I could continue pulling away by myself. Before long the group was out of sight (whenever I would occasionally look) and the ride had suddenly turned into a solo time trial!
Unfortunately, shortly after I started riding by myself my power meter decided to halfway die on me after one of the gnarlier gravel sections. I say halfway because I would still get power, but only half what I would expect. Meaning only one crankarm was working now. Oh well! I continued to try to ride quickly on the gravel and dirt sections without wiping out and I believe I did a fairly good job. I definitely took more chances and learned a lot more about how to handle my bike. Especially since I was more willing to take risks and was well outside my normal comfort zone! And when on the paved sections I simply kept the pace high and time trialed as well as I know how. Which I like to believe is pretty good considering that is a triathlete’s specialty!
At one point just after mile 30, I turned around quickly as I was concerned that I had taken a wrong turn. I soon found out that I had been correct as a rider named Eric caught up to me. We rode together for a few miles until we actually took a wrong turn and added just over half a mile to our route! A group of a few riders were now visible not far behind. I took off up the road to try to re-establish the gap while Eric dropped back to the group (who also wasn’t positive about the turn I later learned). The mix of paved and unpaved sections (now getting slicker with mud) continued with the promised creek crossing just after mile 40. I decided to not risk it and walked my bike across rather than riding and got straight back to trying to stay ahead of the group.
I had no idea what was going on behind me over the remaining miles and I pretty much assumed that some group would come up behind me in a fast paceline at some point. As the miles wound down, though, I continued to be alone and got back to familiar roads as I got closer to the finish at Outspokin. I ended up crossing the line in 1st overall and had a ton of fun riding way outside my comfort zone for a few hours on a Sunday morning!
I enjoyed chili, beer, and hanging out with a bunch of awesome cyclists after the ride and had what I think was my first real cycling podium picture. I luckily remembered that I was supposed to put my arms in the air so at least I got that right! Events like this are a ton of fun and if you’ve never done any of the organized rides of fondos in the Columbia area then you’re really missing out! I’d say the Dirty 50 really lived up to its name and I’m super happy to add gravel grinding to my list of skills as a cyclist!