I really wanted to do this ride last year but my wife was days away from giving birth and I couldn’t quite justify being out in the middle of a field on my bike all day and missing the big moment…so here I am this year. With all this rain I was dreading the course. I knew it would be muddy but I was hoping it wasn’t clog the tires and prevent them from moving muddy, like the last Pedalers Fork grinder we did. The night before I even grabbed the Trader Joe’s coconut oil non-stick spray and gave my frame a coat, which, was by the way a terrible idea because coconut oil becomes solid at room temperature and formed a wax like coating on my bike that was nearly impossible to get off and did not prevent one drop of mud from sticking. Live and learn.
We lined up just before 8am at Lengthwise Brewing Company in Bakersfield. It was a chilly 44 degrees and a temperature inversion made for a foggy and smoggy sunrise.
After a talk from Sam we headed out on the neutral bike path rollout for about 12 miles. There were pee stops and chasing back on the group as it had already began to string out along the way. By the time we hit the road it was game on. Hornbeck hit the gas on the first paved climbed and chase we did. There was a regroup at the top and things slowed down until we hit the first dirt when Jake Orness harnessed his CX speed and sprinted up the first climb with everyone in tow. I managed to hang right behind Scott Lundy in 4th or 5th wheel and right around Neil Shirley who kept offering the wise advice to chill, this was a long day. By the end of the first punchy climbs a group of about ten of us had broken off the front. We stayed that way through orchards, river crossing, cow paths until Neil and Phil Tinstman flatted right around mile 30ish. Then there were 8.
We hit the road again and Jason and a small group caught back on. We pushed hard after the second aid station and managed to drop the pack down to six riders with myself, Scott Lundy, Brent Penslow, Menso de Jong, Jason Siegle and Vincent Ownes taking turns pacelining the pavement. It was awesome. Such a great group of dudes just working together and out for a ride. We kept turning around and catching Neil working his way back to us, and amazingly he caught back on when we hit the fire road. What a beast. Unfortunately he had to dig a little too deep and wasn’t able to hold on when the pace picked up around the crazy suicide murder hike-a-bike hills. Speaking of those… ever been assaulted with beach balls on a 35% grade while jogging with your bike? It will mess with you.
From there we hit Mr Toad’s and had the most amazing flowing descent back down. I put a little pressure on the front and by the time we hit the bikepath home stretch it was just Menso, myself and Lundy. Menso threw down a crazy TT and pulled away with Lundy and I chasing but I just couldn’t hold his wheel and slipped to 3rd. Overall it was an amazing day. I can’t say enough great things about this event and it’s everything a gravel grinder is supposed to be; not too serious, dirty, painful, beautiful, bloody, and comprised of the coolest cyclists around.