Consolation Cross, gravel grinder, Colossal Cross, Hell of the North, The Croken Classic. Earlier this week the City of Edmonton pulled the plug on our double header cyclocross weekend due to fear of potential grass damage in the parks. Now that everyone’s schedule was cleared what were we to do? This is where I hatched the idea of Consolation Cross ride, now lovingly or spitefully named the Croken Classic to make up for the lack of cross racing happening in town. Knowing that everyone who races crosses loves suffering as much as I do I figured we should tackle a long gravel ride. What would be better than the Victoria Trail that I rode earlier in the summer?
We all congregated on the side of the highway at 10:30am as we weren’t sure exactly how long the day was going to be or what we might encounter. More and more vehicles started showing up to my surprise as I only had 9 confirmed riders for the day! After countless conversations regarding the proper layering techniques for our clothing, booties or no booties, which gloves to wear, wind breaker or soft shell we all agreed on one thing, bring all the food and water we could carry. Later in the day we were all thankful that our piggish selves had brought a copious amount of food. A few of us were walking around getting excited about how frozen the ground and how fast this ride was going to be compared to our summer effort. Oh how wrong we would be.
The first 25 kms of the ride were absolute bliss. Everyone was spinning along, getting warmed up and we were averaging about 30kmh, the top end of my estimated average for the whole day. The sun was up, the temperature was a perfect 1 degree and there was no wind. At this point the ground was still frozen so we were having a great time.
Remember how I mentioned that we thought the frozen ground was going to be fast? Well we had no idea how bad it was going to be when it started to thaw out and the backside of this hill was our first taste of it. When the hint of a descent appeared a few of us charged off the front to be greeted with a lovely combination of mud and ice at 50kmh. At this stage I had a feel the day was going to take a turn from quick paced ride to an adventure ride with some curve balls thrown our way.
The next 15-20km were quite a bit more interesting than the first 25km but it was still manageable. At this stage we were getting wet from the mud and our bikes started to make sounds that nobody wants to hear from their drivetrains. It was here that a couple riders decided to turn around, we were down to 14.
Less than 2km after the two riders turned around we were now greeted with the most interesting conditions I’ve ridden to date. The temperature was now up to 3 degrees and the ice and snow was melting leaving us with pure mud. Everyone thought the cyclocross conditions were bad the last two weekends of racing and here we were staring down miles upon miles of cyclocross caliber mud. Things were going to get interesting and exhausting from here on out!
It was at this point that I realized I had dragged 14 friends out into a war zone of conditions and that I was on the verge of losing my riding/training/racing partners. Nina always says that I know how to take something fun and turn it into a sufferfest. I now understand what she means.
About 10 minutes after those photos were shot we were riding along commenting on how our poor drive trains have never seen such abuse for such an extended period of time. The orchestra of sad bikes was playing 14 different tunes today and not one will go down in history as pleasant. Our poor bikes. As if on cue Greg states “My bike is shifting like shit, I wonder what could be going on.” Imagine a crash in any movie, minus the horns and sirens that is exactly what Greg’s bike did next. He skidded out sideways and hopped off the bike. I’ve seen many a broken derailleurs but I’ve never seen one tear clean off the hanger and loop around the cassette ending up at the 1 o’clock position.
Great, we are now 50km from the car, the roads resemble the trenches of Passchendaele and one of our bikes is properly dickered. Luckily all of us are handy with the workings of a bike and someone had an 11 speed quick link. Normally I’d ridicule someone for bringing everything and the kitchen sink on a cross ride but today I was glad we had the kitchen sink. A few minutes later and Greg had himself a sorry looking single speed and one hell of a slow trek home. Better than walking right? Oh wait, he had to walk the hills because they were muddy? Quit whining, we normally pay to do that!
At this point we were all a bit nervous because we hadn’t reached the half way point and the conditions were deteriorating rapidly. We pressed onward with our speed down to about 24kmh at it’s best due to the dense mud we were now pushing through. Mud puddles were a welcome sight as we could splash through and simultaneously lube our drive trains. Dry lube, wet lube, or gritty mud water? We had no choice but to choose option three. Who needs cassettes and chains to last anyway?
The few kilometers of paved road leading into Victoria settlement was a very welcome reprieve from the mud and potholes we had been dealing with. We grouped up and pulled into the settlement at a normal pace unlike the slog we’d done for the last 55km. We were all downing our drinks and snacks here. Had there been a bus with a bike trailer offering us a ride home I don’t think anyone would have denied it. We were wet, tired, and our souls had been dampened by the unexpected conditions.
After warming up in the sun and convincing ourselves that the ride home is always faster than the ride out we took off again the same way we came. As if the mud and ice weren’t enough we were treated to a lovely headwind for most of the ride back to the cars. Group and a draft you’re surely saying. Drafts just don’t work the same when you’re going 23kmh as they do when you’re cooking along at 35-40kmh. Any bit of draft you might get wasn’t even worth it due to the spray off of the wheels in front of you. Some folks went for the mud in the face as they were running out of steam and took every bit of help they could get. Not an easy choice!
We thought things were going great until we have another bike failure! This time it was Caitlin’s BMC. Her rear brake had decided to give up the ghost and was not retracting the pads enough for the wheel to spin freely. After multiple attempts to flush the caliper out or align the caliper so that the wheel would spin freely we were left with one option, pull the pads. Luckily for Caitlin not having a brake wasn’t a big deal as if it any point you felt like you were going too quickly you could just aim for deeper mud and bring yourself back to a crawl.
After we sorted out the brake issue we had an uneventful ride back to the cars. Conditions continued to degrade as the day went on but we kept plugging away, slowly but surely. Remember that hill I mentioned earlier in the post where we broke 50kmh on the ice? It was now time to climb the three tiered hill. Not only was the hill steep but there was more mud here than we’d seen anywhere else on the entire ride. This hill punished us to a degree you rarely get on a bike. Granny gears didn’t cut it and you couldn’t get out of the saddle as you’d lose traction, this was now the definition of a grind. We regrouped at the barn after the hill and decided we’d hold a steady pace as a group to get back in timely fashion.
Seeing the cars on the horizon was without a doubt the highlight of everyone’s day. The now dubbed Croken Classic will be a ride we won’t forget for a long time. Sure, conditions were garbage, we went slower than we thought we would, it was a long day in the saddle, and all of us need new drive trains but the experience was like nothing else. Despite all of that we managed to keep smiles (grimaces) on our face the whole day and laugh through everything. Cyclists are a stubborn bunch and they love to suffer with their friends and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Everyone is already asking me what the Croken Classic will be next year and I’ve got some ideas brewing for that. The ride will without a doubt be more organized with significantly more than 4 days notice and it will hopefully involve more gravel than mud.
Kudos go out to everyone who came out on the ride, you’re tougher than most out there and I promise your legs will be stronger because of it. Nobody would willingly go out there and do the ride knowing that conditions couldn’t possibly be worth but we did. Call it stubbornness, stupidity, or what I prefer, the love of sport.
I can’t wait for next year!
If you’re curious about the ride check it out on Strava right here.