By Eric Alexander
The Chainlink is thrilled have Eric Alexander as our new gravel/adventure contributor. We first encountered Eric a few years back on the final stretch of a particularly windy, cold, and rainy gravel ride called the Dirty Mudd'r. Since then, he's proven time and time again, when the going gets tough and you're deep into a difficult day in the saddle, he's definitely someone you want pedaling by your side. Over the past weekend, Eric and his wife Kelly completed the 4th edition of the Grumpy Grind gravel ride. Not that Grumpy Grind 3 was easy by any stretch, but apparently this year's longer and hillier route was particularly brutal, resulting in less than half of the field finishing. True to form, Eric and Kelly finished and lived to tell the tale.
This was the forth year for the unsupported gravel ride known as the Grumpy Grind. The field is limited to 100 riders, so you must send in a post card to get in. The ride consists of 80 to 90 miles of mixed-terrain roads with a bunch of hills thrown in. This year's route was 82 miles with 5,500 feet of elevation climbed, and unseasonably warm temperatures. The event organizer is a great guy named Mark Johnson who also has a group of friendly volunteers who make the day run very smooth.
Eric's Twin Six Standard Rando is ideal for back-country adventures like the Grumpy Grind. It accommodates fat tires, three water bottles, and offers a comfy steel frame. Add in some accessories from Revelate Designs, and you can carry a fourth water bottle, plus plenty of tubes, food, tools, and more.
I chose my go to bike the Twin Six Standard Rando. It features a steel frame that will allow you to run up to a 42 mm tire to roll through any terrain you encounter. The bike is set up with a SRAM 1x road gearing with a 44 tooth front ring and a 10/42 cassette to help getting you up the steep hills on this route. I carry three 24 once bottles of fluid and a frame bag with all my food and spare tubes and tools.
We're not sure why a rooster was chosen as the Grumpy's logo. This ride isn't for chickens.
The ride starts from a barn in the town of Milledgeville, IL. The ride commences at 9:00 am so in my usual fashion I show up 20 minutes before with two for my Twin Six teammates; My wife Kelly and a friend Chuks. We get our bikes ready, sign a waiver, and grab the cue cards. They tell you what direction to turn and at what mile. This is the only way to complete the route as there are no maps. We are late getting to the starting line and miss the meeting so we just start pedaling with Mark and he fills me in on what to expect. The one thing he stressed was the middle of the route would make or break most of the riders. The first 30 miles were the run of the mill gravel roads minor inclines small sandy packed gravel. After mile 30 was where it started to get intense, the hills were getting up into the 13% grades and the down hills were a loose combination of gravel. This was wearing on many of the riders just like Mark had mentioned. The first and only rest stop was at mile 42 of the 82, and a lot of people were calling it a day. The heat, lack of water, and hills had taken their toll on the field. At this point in the ride I filled up my water, ate a banana and we continued on hoping this was the end of the challenging hills. We were wrong. Less then a mile after the stop we were right back at it steep long hills till about mile 52. At this point the hills and heat had put Chuks in a bad spot with leg cramps. He found another rider in the same position at called it a day. He rode back to the car off route. Kelly and I continued on stopping a few times to eat and stretch and made it back to the barn with a total time of 8 hours and 51 minutes.
What rural Illinois lacks in mountains, it makes up for in hills. The 2016 featured very little flat. Add in wind and heat, and you had a challenging ride on your hands.
In the end, out of the 100 registered riders, only 48 completed the route. It was hard, hot, and dehydrating. This was by far the hardest year of the three I have done. I would also like to give props to my wife on her finish. She was one of only four women to complete the ride. There is no podium. In the end you get a pint glass to use to drink the home-brewed beer they serve while eating a buffet in the barn featuring pulled pork. Ill be back next year hope to see you there.
Eric and his better half Kelly were all smiles at the end, thanks to a well-organized event, plus a buffet lunch and home-brewed beer waiting for them at the finish.