Ridgetop Ramble Recap
Location: Shawnee State Forest, Blue Creek, OH
There was mud, climbing - a lot of climbing, exploding derailleur hangers, crashing, good food, and beer. This was a good day. It was February 10, and we were riding the Ridgetop Ramble through Shawnee State Forest.
This ride was a “surprise me” type ride with no RSVP and no expectations other than the hopes of a great ride. To our amazement, over 50 people showed up for this impromptu gravel ride in the beginning of February. Riders filed the parking lot at the start spot in the town of Blue Creek, Ohio. We normally see some fellow Loveland-ers on these rides but we had folks from Cincinnati, Dayton, Kentucky, and Columbus show up to ride some bikes. Lots of different types of bikes. There were cyclocross bikes, 29r mountain bikes, 26r mountain bikes, single speeds, bikes with tubular tires (!?), Fargo bikes, and “gravel bikes”. Was there an advantage? At some point in the ride, everyone was riding the right bike for the job. The thing about gravel riding is that what seems to be inappropriate equipment for one section of trail may turn out to be an advantage at the next turn.
We started the ride together, gradually stringing out, but regrouping at the top of the major hills. The first 13 miles were difficult with a lot of climbing and adapting to the thin, slurry of gravel mud we rode through in some parts of the lower-elevation gravel roads. This mud was wet and would spray but the ground was firm. Around mile 13 there was a major re-grouping as someone pointed out that we had in company a solo 12-year-old male rider. Boy would be the wrong description of this young fellow who had been killing it up all the hills to this point and hanging with the group! His dad was last seen walking up a hill many, many miles back, enjoying his maybe-a-bit-big single front chainring. There was no cell reception so we made the decision to keep the young fellow with us moving forward and sent a few fast guys a couple miles back to see if they could find his dad. It all worked out though because two miles later we had our first major mechanical of the day. Mike’s derailleur hanger decided to explode and did the typical wrap around the rear of the bike into the rear wheel type thing. Thankfully the derailleur and the wheel were salvageable AND (get this), the twelve year old boy’s dad caught up to us at that point and happened to be the only one with an extra derailleur hanger, AND it worked (after some MacGyvering). At this point too much waiting around had been had and some groups went forward and some groups stayed back to wait for the mechanical. As the boys (Tom and Mike), were finishing up the last group rolled out with the impression these guys were on their bikes and obviously equipped with a map (duh! one of them was Tom, co-leader of ride, and the other guy was wearing a Swallow kit). After waiting many times we realized something was up and these guys were either way back (with a mechanical) or they were lost. After finally reaching them via phone, we found that neither one of them had a map and that they were on the complete opposite side of the forest (and I mean far, far, away). I set them up with some verbal directions on how to get back to something they were familiar with and with the mission of getting back in time for food duty. To hear more about the “lost” ride you will simply have to stop in and hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Back to the ride that the rest of us did, which was beautiful by the way. The sky was overcast and you could see through the wintery woods for miles. When you’re not either climbing or descending for miles at Shawnee, you are on flowing rollers of gravel. The terrain is very fun to ride. The next big section of the ride was bridle trail. Otherwise known as the “6-mile-when-is-it-over-I-hate-this-mud-trail”. The first part of the bridle trail is steep, really steep, and it was muddy, and it was rough. There were quite a few sections that most folks hiked. Once the steep climbing turned more gradual, the trick was getting through the really sticky deep mud sections. This was a testing point of this ride and certainly the hardest. You’re either a mudder, or a mud-hater. Before the bridle trail, we had a lot of climbing in our legs, and riding the portion with the most elevation gain sure put a good burn in the legs. The thing about the mud is that aside from cyclocross, we don’t ride in it very often. As mountain bikers we are trained to avoid riding in wet conditions at all costs to save the trails, so we simply won’t ride trails if it is somewhat wet (Frequent in Ohio!). If we do encounter mud, boy, do we feel guilty. In this case we were on a bridle trail, more like a multi-use-trail. When horses aren’t making hoof prints everywhere, trucks and ATVs are riding on it, even big Forest service trucks get their chance at big old mud burnouts. It was nice to have a guilt free mud ride. We practiced balancing skills, pedaling skills, not pedaling through sticks-in-your-wheel skills and of course mental skills to get through the tough parts. Some of us crashed, but all were ok.
Upon getting back to the forest roads, it was time to get moving. Rain was coming, I heard some even got rained on for a bit. There was still some substantial riding left though and two very substantial climbs. There was a bail-out point that sounds like many took due to fear of rain/leg aching/no water left/”i’m tired”/”I am not climbing any more of these god damn hills” type feelings. So, many people took the 6 miles of long, terribly boring, flat, paved road back and some stayed on the course that had another long, steep climb and a lot of gravel rollers which simply made your legs want to explode. Turns out, I lead the group I was with at the time down a wrong turn and while we got to enjoy a nice long paved descent, it was not the 6 mile descent I had been bragging about the whole ride. On top of that, it spit us out right at the start of the terribly boring flat paved road! Arg! (I blame the guys in the group who happened to increase their speed as they were having a conversation about power-taps, coincidence? I don’t think so. I was seeing stars by the time I was supposed to make a decision. It could have been the lack of water too which ran out a few miles back.)
In conclusion, the entire group seemed to have rolled back into town within roughly half an hour of each other, even though some of us hadn’t seen each other all day. Even Tom and Mike were rolling to the car at the exact same time as my group was which was perfect because he had the only key to the car with the beer, hummus, Twizzlers, Mexican Coke, Sun Chips, and soon to be Pizza. The group ate, drank, and talked about the experience which was categorized as epic. As for ride statistics, there are none here. Each group did different things and rode different paces. All that matters is that our legs had a burn, a good burn.
Good times, good vibes, good people. Thanks for coming out!
Fellow rider photos, click here.
Resources for more gravel riding:
Sub 9 Death March, click here.
Ultra Cross Gravel Race Series, click here.
Ohio Gravel Grinders (hosting a Presidents Day Gravelthon next weekend), click here.
Frankenbike 50, click here.