The Lyme Grinder 19’ was a sloppy muddy fun time. We had 70 people registered but a mid-April snowstorm dumped about 6 inches of slushy snow on the course for two days right before the ride and it scared many people off. It snowed all day and night on Thursday and into Friday. On Friday morning, I was considering if the weather would improve enough to clear the roads of any ice and sent a series of panicked text messages to my fellow organizers. Appreciative of their wisdom, they suggested driving the course and checking for snowplows. I knew Saturday’s weather was calling for no precipitation and 30-40 degrees with little wind. I set out to drive the roads and promised an update around noon on Friday. The plows were in fact out and my fat bike rolled flawlessly on the cleared tire tracks. I promised a modified course to accommodate more fatbikes and cut out a few of the sloppiest roads. I was thinking it would end up in the 40 mile range, but in fact it came out to 54 miles. It proved to be long on a fat bike but an adequate test for the road bikes.
Saturday morning things started happening at the Blacksmith Lounge around 8am when Now Bikes and BikeStud set up their vendor canopies. David and Jeff, from Now, brought swag and a portable stand to adjust bikes at the start and set out flags for people to see the parking lot entrance. Registration was inside and the MN Lyme Association representatives were there with information and handouts. Waivers were signed and the swag and giveaways were set out for all to see.
It was interesting to watch all the riders appear and see what kind of bikes they brought to the event. Some of the racier guys brought their gravel road bikes, hoping for plenty of traction. However, the conservative riders, brought their plus or Fat Tire bikes. In all, 25 hearty riders signed waivers at the start – everyone from the top road and gravel racers in the state, former road racers, Dirty Kanza and DAMn finishers, to teenage and novice Fat Bikers. A brief pre-ride talk was given by Paul and some words of appreciation given by Robbie from MN Lyme association. Someone suggested we take a group photo so we all saddled next to each other and snapped a few pics.
For permitting and safety reasons it was not billed as a race but instead, a gravel grinder. It is unsupported meaning you have to bring your own tools, pumps, tubes, etc. and have a backup plan, cell phone, and pray. Although it is not a race, everyone knows that it is not a social or no-drop ride and bragging rights are a strong motivator and instigator of many post-ride stories.
The course has a short neutral rollout on the shoulder of HWY 61 for a quarter mile and through some rutted gravel before it opens up. Riders challenged themselves for about 30 miles until the optional midway stopping point at the Marine Café in Marine on St. Croix. Two riders, Dave and Rob, saw the fastest group had stopped at the Café and saw their opportunity to leapfrog them into the lead. Knowing the course from their previous winter rides, and that Nasson Hill lie after the café, they knew that could be the defining move. The previous week they rode Ragnarok 105 together so the 54 mile distance was totally within their range and they had a great feel for each other’s riding styles. They went for it and remained in the lead for the rest of the ride. They were the first two finishers of the whole course.
The course was void of any fresh gravel but had plenty of peanut buttery mud. At intersections of gravel and on a portion of May Avenue, there were some serious ruts from vehicles to contend with. Choosing a proper line was crucial to maintaining speed through those sections. For the most part, the peanut butter mud took more power out of you, feeling like your brakes were rubbing the whole time. The paved portions of the course were definitely a bit of respite, except for the cold north west wind blowing in your face on the way out to Marine. I had to check my GPS unit to see if the asphalt was actually faster than the gravel as it felt sometimes like the opposite.
Our two photographers and course marshals were at various spots on the course counting riders and tracking who appeared to be in the lead and towards the rear. Word spread that two women on fat bikes had turned off the course and were returning to the start. A course marshal tracked them down and reported to the finish line watchers. They safely crossed the finish line after completing about 30 miles in total. Others riders determined the first half of the course was enough and headed back via pavement or other shortcut from the café.
One rider reported a broken chain but all who started the ride made it to the finish. One rider said it was her first real gravel event since trying one a couple years ago and said she learned a lot. It was a great pre-season test for all riders and everyone learned something from it.
As riders returned to the Blacksmith, the party room was set with tables and people ordered burgers and beverages from the bar. Once all the riders returned, we honored the two fastest finishers and the sole teen rider with the first picks from the swag table. Bike Stud brought winter beanie hats, a couple of flasks, a replacement stud set, stickers, and can cozies to give away. Banjo Brothers offered up two XL Bike Packing seat bags, and Now Bikes had t-shirts, hats, socks, and all kinds of swag in addition to bright green water bottles. Everyone went home with something or two from the prize table and we had a great time talking about the ride, Lyme disease, and our goals for this coming gravel season. It was a great time of fellowship of likeminded enthusiasts that wanted to make a difference, learn more, and challenge themselves.
The feedback from everyone on the event has been super positive. Ideas are being hatched for how to make it bigger and better for next year. If you have ideas, we are open to hearing from you.
Thanks to those who came out to ride and support MN Lyme Association. Your gift is truly appreciated.