Soggy Spring Gravel Training


I don’t always ride with a purpose.  Probably more often than not, the “purpose” for a ride is to get out, get some exercise, and have some fun.  While those are perfectly good reasons to ride, they aren’t what a dedicated cyclist would call a “purposeful training ride”.

This spring I have been more purposeful, and for a number of reasons.  In increasing order of importance:

For those reasons I’ve been planning and executing various rides with specific purposes to prepare me for the things I have coming up during the “year of the bike”.

This past Sunday I planned a ride with a few primary purposes:

  • Knock out my first metric century for the Cup O’ Dirt
  • Continue to increase my weekly and individual ride distances
  • Since the weather looked crappy (35F and rainy), test various clothing and gear for those conditions

The route started at the local coffee shop and was a 79 mile loop of predominantly gravel roads in Chisago County MN.  The roads include some of my local favorites, sections of the original Mammoth Gravel Classic 100 course when it used to go in MN, and some roads I had never ridden before but scouted via Google Maps.

79 miles of Chisago County gravel.

I was lucky enough to enlist a few riding buddies to join me despite the less than stellar weather.  Mr. Gravel Conspiracy doesn’t need convincing to join a good adventure.  DM felt like he needed people to force him to ride and drove up the night before so he had to go ride anyhow.  We enlisted Rule #9 to publicly shame JK to suck it up and join us.

The Ride

DM camped in my driveway over night, and after getting ready, we rolled the little over a mile from my place to Northwoods Roasterie in Lindstrom to meet our riding companions, caffeinate and sugar up for the ride.  It didn’t take us the whole way there to be pretty well soaked since it was still raining when we left.  We also opted to enjoy our coffee and pastries for a few extra minutes to let the rain continue to move to the north which also happened to be the direction we were headed.

We also decided to give the weather a few extra minutes to continue rolling off to the north.

A good 30+ minutes after the originally planned departure time we finally committed ourselves to the ride and rolled out of the parking lot.  The route started with a couple of miles of pavement before venturing into some of my favorite local gravel.

Despite it no longer steadily raining the gravel was pretty saturated.  It didn’t take too long before it was hard to hear each other over the grinding of brakes and drive trains.  There were a couple of early stops for some gear adjustment.  I ditched a layer being too warm despite it only being 35 degrees, someone else donned their rain jacket.

Despite being quite wet, the gravel was rolling pretty quick in those opening miles.  Before we knew it we were north of Hwy 95 and venturing into a few roads on the old MGC course.

Around mile 14 the course I had planned turned right onto a paved road… but there was this sign.  Minimum Maintenance Road.  MMR.  Mr. GC had such a gleam in his eye that it was impossible to say no.  It was also partially because he started riding down the road without the rest of us and we would have had to abandon him if we didn’t go too.

It turns out this may have been the highlight of the adventure for me.  Trans Iowa is (in)famous for its B roads.  I have read many accounts and seen many pictures of bikes so covered in mud that the wheels don’t roll and the derailleurs get ripped off.  Prior to this ride I never really understood how that is possible.  Now I do.

The MMR was long stretches of super gloppy, super sticky, deep mud and decomposing leaves.

While I was able to ride some of the mud, I eventually had to dismount when it became too slippery.  It wasn’t long after that and I noticed that my wheels weren’t rolling anymore.  Turns out 40’s on my Warbird don’t have a ton of mud clearance.

Time to get the mud spatulas out and clean the glop off.

We also found evidence that someone is going to be in big trouble.  How this truck ended up like that I’m not really sure.  It’s a good half mile down that super muddy MMR and there weren’t any signs of excessive speed right before the ditch.  With a busted drive shaft and all that mud I’m not sure how it is getting out of there either.


The MMR eventually kind of petered out and I’m not sure if we road through a farm field or if that was really the rest of the road.  Eventually we were back on course though having killed a little time but for no change in mileage.  The next 25 miles were predominantly new to me gravel as we headed further and further north.

While I won’t call those roads my favorites it was decent scenery despite the gray dreary skies.  Eventually we hit the northern most point and started working our way east towards the St. Croix and the Snake River Landing that I had targeted as a break opportunity.

Descending towards the St. Croix.

The Snake River Landing on the St. Croix was almost exactly at the halfway point of the ride and I was hoping would provide a nice scenic spot for a little pick-me-up.  DM had packed a few cans of Coke and a flask of whiskey, Mr. GC had a flask of something, and I had two pounds of bacon for the four of us.

Bacon, booze, and a boat landing.


Shortly before JK dunked his bike in the river to clean it up.

After a restorative stop we started the long trek back to Lindstrom.  The return trip was a good portion of the MGC 100 course from 2013 all the way down to Wild River State Park and my favorite one mile stretch of MMR Reed Ave.

Despite being on the front most of the day and towing the rest of us, JK was feeling it some and did take a short ditch nap with about 20 miles to go.

Ditch napping like a boss.
MMR Reed Ave

The last 20 miles were pretty uneventful with some of the fastest and driest gravel of the day and a few closing miles of pavement.  I think when we finally rolled into Lindstrom we were all pretty well satisfied with the length and effort for the ride.  I know I was about on the limit of my endurance for the day.

This photo is in no way photoshopped.
Post ride refueling at the Northern.

So at the end of the day I really got everything I wanted out of the ride and then some.  56+ miles of gravel in an 82 mile ride qualifies as my first metric against the Cup O’ Dirt.  The wet conditions pushed my equipment and my endurance.  And I had a good day on the bike with friends.

Many more rides to come in the Year of the Bike.

4 thoughts on “Soggy Spring Gravel Training

  • March 30, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    A spectacular example of rule #5 and #9, I guarantee if I didn’t spend the night up there I wouldn’t have ridden with you! We should do more stupid stuff like that!

  • April 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    Epic ride! Saw your post on Cup of Dirt. I’ll be at Trans IA too as a newbie… also with a Warbird and I’ve been worrying about tire choice, size, tubeless, and potential mud issues. Have you narrowed down your options? Good luck and see you there.

    • April 3, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      Hey Derek. Honestly, maybe because I don’t know any better yet, I’m not worrying too much about tire choice. I’ve got my Clement MSO 40s on now tubed and will likely run those. The only other tire I currently own is the USH 35s. I run the MSOs in the soft sandy stuff up here for the Mammoth Gravel Classic, and the USH for the limestone of Almanzo (and road riding). I figure the slightly more float of the MSO is the safer bet other than for clearance issues. Maybe if things are looking really wet heading into TI I’ll get freaked out and change everything at the last minute.

      • April 25, 2017 at 4:52 pm

        Hey Ben – Thanks for the reply. I saw your latest COD post and circled back to this one. (I guess I missed the email notice that you’d replied.) For Trans IA, I also have Iron Cross rims. I have MSO 36c tubeless on my Warbird right now. It was great on some test rides here, but our Missouri gravel tends to be finer than IA. In really deep, coarse spots similar to what I expect on TI, I wished the tires were a little wider. I am probably going to leave it as-is, given the late hour, but I have MSO 40c sitting in my garage in case I feel like a conversion tonight. 🙂 I just don’t want to run tubes, and running the 40c tubeless (when it is officially a clincher tire) makes me a little nervous. See you this weekend! I’ll be on the mint green Warbird.

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