I’m just going to get this out of the way immediately: yes, I fell. I lasted over two hours without failing to rise to the occasion of deep mud, slippery gravel descents, and rock gardens. Then, instead of taking the road, I suggested we head back to the house on a trail that I often run. Note that I said “trail” because when we turned onto the path it was not a trail. It was a river.
It wasn’t just extremely muddy or washed out. There was full on flowing water connecting deep puddles with submerged small boulders resting on squishy sticky mud. Even if I wanted to walk, there wasn’t anywhere to go except through. I knew I just had to commit so I did. I got about 5 meters and then it was as if I had ridden into a stationery trainer. I was still upright, I was trying to pedal but my bike wasn’t moving. “Nooooooo,” I yelled to the universe. A few seconds later, still crying out, I slowly tipped over and without a splash, a crash, or any form of excitement, I landed in the cold muddy stream.
As a roadie through and through, my off-road experience amounts to two mountain bike rides on flat dirt roads and a whole heck of a lot of trail running. Needless to say, I was nervous about riding a gravel bike for the first time but I hoped there would be some basic skills that would carry over. If not, at least we would be on my local trails so I would know how to make an emergency exit.
We started on the road and then on the walking path around the lake: flat, easy, calm. Even when we hit the first real trails, surprisingly, I felt pretty comfortable. Then the mud came. I couldn’t believe I could ride through boggy, sticky, deep mud but somehow it kept happening. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness….” I would say, trying not to completely break out as my back wheel fishtailed. “I made it! I made it” I kept repeating, in total disbelief each time.
As the terrain got more demanding, I learned how to do the one-leg shuffle over the deep mud puddles, how to stand and put my weight back on the descent, and that Speedplay pedals are not made for mud. The most challenging part was trusting the bike. A normal road bike could never handle what I was riding so my instincts were hard to override. Time went on, however, and just as I was feeling a bit more confident, there I was laying in a stream.
“This was such a bad idea,” I said.
“Why?” Edward replied, simultaneously enquiring if I had hurt myself.
“Now I want a gravel bike.”