Cyclocross began in Europe as an informal hammer-fest among riders looking to do some off season training. The lads/lasses would gather at the local pub, have a pint and then hop on their bicycles to ride to the next village. To make it interesting, they would trespass onto farmer’s fields by hopping gates and fences, bicycles over their shoulders; and then ride on cow and sheep pastures, two-track and any uneven ground they could find. Their gear was primitive, a single speed racing bike with slightly wider tires, and perhaps some tread for traction. So the slug fest with the mud, snow and dirt began. The Belgians (go figure) of course turned the sport into a religion. Now, when I hear more cow bell, I think of cyclocross.
In the spirit of the genesis of cyclocross, Jason Roon and Chip organized a 60 mile ride from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, (our local pub) to Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids. A pint to pint event. The route would be along two track and power line trail for almost forty miles. And then continue along the Kent trail into Grand Rapids proper.
We arrived at Bell’s around 11 am to enjoy a pint before hitting the trail. Chip and Jason sheepishly pointed out there might be some light trespassing. I wondered if our judicial system perceived trespassing with degrees or depths, but didn’t question the term at the time.
We rolled out of Kalamazoo under bright sunshine and cool breezes. After following some trail signs we crossed some very high gates and began the trail portion. The trail was sort of sucky at first. Lots of downed trees and bushes. There were the obvious mechanical problems with a number of riders at the onset of the trail, bent dÃ©railleurs, flats, and a single speed switch out. I waited with some buddies from Kalamazoo and we quickly became the tail end of the ride.
The route took us along some beautiful farm country, we passed many horse and cow pastures. As we rode on the trail became increasingly more difficult. Lots of sand, and huge mud puddles. After finally getting my bike working like a champ I was sheepish about charging through mud puddles. But it wouldn’t be cyclocross without mud. As the day went on I became progressively wetter and muddier. No one however could be wetter or muddier than Jason Roon. Like a kid on a rainy day he hit every single mud puddle intentionally as hard as he could. Some of them appeared to be 5 feet deep. He flew through one that swallowed him up to his shoulders and then hit something at the bottom and was flung head over the handlebars into the puddle. I tried to take the high ground, but on the few puddles I couldn’t avoid at speed I went through them. I could’ve sworn I saw tadpoles swimming in a few.
As we crossed dirt road after dirt road it was mind boggling to see how much trail there was. It just kept coming. I felt great. My energy was holding even after four hours of trail riding.
The trail became a complete mudpit at one point just shy of the pavement. We spotted some off road vehicles coming at us down the trail. We quickly hopped off and watched them go by. Some good-ole boys were enjoying the same trail. Luckily some of the more savvy riders helped us out by yeehawing as the ORV’s went by through the mud. I think this may have saved us from Deliverancesque behavior on the trail.
Once we hit tarmac the pace picked up substantially. My crank and freewheel had a lot of grit, but everything seemed to be running pretty well. Unluckily one of the guys at the back of the crowd broke his chain with 5 miles left to go to the brewery. Once we hit Monroe street we heard cheering from the inside of the pub. We rolled right in to the entrance.
Overall it was not a technically demanding route. But it was fun to see the entire off-road route between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. I’ve done a lot of rides by myself and it was great to have a pack of folks on cross bikes to absorb the punishment with you. It turns out some folks bailed on the all trail option and took some road detours to reach Founder’s. I can’t say I blame them. 40 miles of trail feels double the same mileage on the road.
As I was soaking in my pint at Founder’s I wondered about the fate of Ubeercross 2008. The pack was fairly big for this year, hopefully it won’t be a victim of it’s own success. I really enjoyed the sense of accomplishment of cycling the trail the whole way. Despite the adversity, it was worth it. I wish I’d had a helmet cam. Stay tuned for the Jason Roon puddle dump video!