2016 Garrett County Gran Fondo
AKA - Using my Fitness to do Cool Shit Part 2
AKA - That was totally wicked!
My early season training calendar was wide open and I’ve been using that fact to have some fitness enabled fun! So far this season I’ve run the Pittsburgh Marathon and the 50K version of the Laurel Ultra. My triathlon season does not officially start until late August, so my “have fun” plans are not even close to finished yet. Next up? The Garrett County Gran Fondo.
First off, what the hell is a Gran Fondo anyway?
Google says "noun, a long-distance cycling event in which a large number of cyclists ride a marked route."
The Gran Fondo Guide website (who knew?) says "Gran Fondo is an Italian term which loosely translates to 'Big Ride'." That site also says "Gran Fondo's are designed for everyone."
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's take a look at the Garrett County Gran Fondo (GCGF) offering.
The GCGF offers 4 main route options from 44 miles up to 124, all of which are designed to take cruel advantage of the local terrain. For the more triathlon focused readers, if you've heard of the SavageMan triathlon, you probably know all about the "hills" of western Maryland. If you've never heard of SavageMan, you can learn more here. Because of the hills, all of the routes are tough, but the mac daddy is the Diabolical Double, a double metric century with over 16,000 feet of climbing. The DD contains all of the 7 timed KOM climbs plus a slew of small, and large, untimed climbs. Average grades near 10% are common, even on climbs of over a mile in length!
My goal was to complete the Diabolical Double as the second leg of an extreme duathlon, where the first leg was the Laurel Ultra two weeks earlier (report here). As it turns out, I was not the only person thinking this way: I ran into, and rode with someone, who I met on course at the ultra. It's such a small world.
Now if only there was some crazy open water swim on July 9th... Not.
Although this was fitness related fun, I’m in no shape to actually compete for anything in this ride: this was just a big training day for me. Actually, it was a really big training day. This was also the first really hardcore cycling specific event that I've ever done so I was surprised by all of the $15K bikes, the shaved legs and the massive quads. It turns out that some people take their cycling very seriously. Me, I was just out for a fun and challenging ride with some friends.
Some of the ride highlights (and lowlights) include mechanical issues nearly ending my day early, some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever biked past and a band with not one but two stand-up bass players on the side of a gravel road, in the middle of BFE!
The start/finish for the ride was Garrett County Community College in Garrett County Maryland and it was a great place to queue. Coach P., if you’re looking for a great location for a mid-summer camp: one with an olympic indoor pool, 9 billion hotel rooms and some of the most challenging, scenic and least traveled cycling roads I’ve ever experienced, hit me up and I’ll tell you all about it. I’ve always thought of this place as the home of amazing, class v whitewater, but it turns out it’s also home to amazing, class v cycling!
Garrett County CC was a new start/finish and as a result, the new route started at the bottom of the local ski resort, instead of at the top. I’ve not done the ride before, but I have to say, starting a large group ride with a tough climb seems much smarter and safer than starting with a steep descent. Overlook Pass was a nice warmup for the legs and a great indicator of what was to come. On many occasions before and during the ride, the organizers were pushing people towards the easier routes and that was certainly true here, if you had any trouble with Overlook Pass, then the DD or the Savage Century were not the routes for you!
The first 20 miles went by quickly and before I knew it, I was in line at the port-a-john in aid station 1. One stupid-biker mistake later and my day was nearly over! When it was my turn for the port-a-john, I leaned my bike (derailleur side out) against the john and went inside to do my business. When I came out, I found my bike laying neatly in the grass, several feet away from where I left it. I also noticed that my saddle was rimmed with mud. Rut Ro Reorge, looks like my bike took a tumble… I dusted it off, did a quick check and everything seemed normal, so I headed off to refill my bottles. Insert ominous music here…
Just outside of AS1 is Limestone Hill, the first major climb (1151 feet) of the ride. Coming into the climb, I started shifting up in the back and it was clear something was not right. My chain was jumping around and it would not hold a gear. I stopped and did a quick assessment, made a few turns of the the barrel adjuster and got it sorted out, or so I thought. I got back on and things seemed good until a few second later when I shifted up and right off of the inside of the cassette, into the spokes. Yikes, that’s not good. I got the chain back onto the cassette and did another assessment. Everything seemed normal except that the bottom pulley was awfully close to the spokes and I was on the top cog but with another position still available on the shifter. More sad music and the realization that I bent either the hanger (replaceable!) or the derailleur itself. Regardless, the good news was I was able to trim things out and keep moving forward, as a 9-speed rig instead of 10.
In spite of all of my drama, Limestone Hill, which was closed for the event, was simply stunning. For much of the way I put my head down and hammered, trying to catch up with my friends. Even still, I could not help but notice the serene beauty of this climb: car-free and quite, until I started to hear what sounded like bluegrass music. Out in the middle of nowhere. Then I rounded a corner and sure enough, there was a bluegrass band, with not one, but two stand-up bass players. It was really something to see.
That sense of joy carried me into aid station 2, at the very tip top of Pig’s Ear & Keyser’s Ridge (1142 feet), the 5th KOM timed climb. I hopped off and racked my bike (learned that lesson…) and then queued for food and water. I waited for my group, Michael (who I’ve known for years) and Michael (who I met that morning!) to catch up and I chatted with some other riders. While I was milling around in aid 2 I ran into Jason, who I first met two weeks prior, on course at the Laurel Ultra! Turns out Jason has an interesting story, which I’ll summarize by saying that he was out testing newly earned fitness and that he was happy too. Aid 2 is also where I first ran into two gentlemen on a tandem. This itself would be unremarkable but for the fact that the stoker was blind. As someone who can’t imagine giving up control enough to even sit in the stoker seat, the idea of sitting back there with my eyes closed - that’s just more trust than I have in me. Of course if the alternative was not getting to ride at all, then maybe the stoker seat would be worth a try. For what it’s worth, those guys were happy too!
After Pig’s Ear, we lost “long-known” Michael to back spasms but “just-met” Michael and I picked up Jason, so we were back to being a group of three. We cruised through one more timed climb before hitting the split at mile 68.3 where the DD goes left and the Savage Century turns right. The three of us chatted up the tandem guys and we talked through the fact that 24 additional miles probably isn’t that much. However, the difference between 12K of climbing and 16K makes those 24 miles more significant. We also talked about the fact that none of us really knew each other and so the left/right decision was something that we would each have to make ourselves. In the end, we all stuck with our original plans - Michael and I along with the tandem guys all went left and Jason went right. Ironically, I know the three of us spent at least a little time regretting our decision.
Shortly after the split came Blue Lick, an untimed climb up a great gravel road - just over half a mile at a 10.4% average grade. The road conditions were decent, but I sure appreciated the new 700x32 slicks that I was riding!
Right out of aid station 4 there was a long, un-timed climb. Then there was a long descent, one of the longest of the day, down along a stream into aid station 5, at mile 101. That descent was super sweet and pretty, another truly scenic piece of road that provided a welcome relief from all of the climbing. That relief was short lived though as the final timed KOM climb was right around the corner. “Just-met” Michael looked pretty rough at aid 5 and it seemed like he took a good, long look at the sag van. I know I spent a minute or two thinking about the fact that I would already be finished if I had chosen to go right and not left back at the split. Since that decision was not to be undone, Michael and I agreed to go our own pace out of aid 5 and potentially meet up again at aid 6, after the final timed climb.
I managed to find my second (maybe third?) wind coming out of aid 5 and I cruised up Dry Run Road (1070 feet), KOM timed climb #7 without issue. Unfortunately, my Garmin couldn’t find its second wind and it died at mile 116 This was the first time I’ve used turn by turn navigation on my 520 and it worked really well. This was also the longest ride I’ve done with my 520 and I now know that the battery life, at least while using the navigation, is about 12 hours. Live and learn.
After the Dry Run Road climb there was nothing left but small rollers to the finish. I feel like I finished strong and I’m super pleased with the way that the day turned out. I’m curious how much stopped-time I could take out if I tried that route again. Hopefully I get to find out next year. I’m also curious how much time my mechanical issues added to my day. Regardless, the day was about finishing, which I did. Just-met Michael finished up the DD ~15 or 20 minutes behind me. I imagine this was the longest ride he’s ever attempted, so I’m sure he’s super psyched about finishing. Long-known Michael rallied and finished the Savage Century. Jason finished the Savage Century with energy left in the tank. I’m sure next year he’ll make the left at the split and go for the DD!
Life is short, go have some f’n fun. Get outside and celebrate the fact that we can get outside! Do something cool. Meet new people. If there’s any way you can get here for this ride, you owe it to yourself to get here and share in this fantastic experience!