Riding in Peanut Butter – Gravelly Lessons Learned

MY ride last Thursday was quite an adventure: a slippery, sloppy, peanut-buttery, very short (as it turns out) ride on the East Carson River Trail, just outside of Markleeville.

“Gravel remains largely undefined, which is exactly the point. It’s supposed to be an adventure.”

NO doubt Selene! Yeager, that is… Her words from “Gravel! The Ultimate Guide to the Gear, Training and Grit You Need to Crush It” certainly ring true. More so today than last month when I wrote another post about gravel. That post, “A Brief What and Where,” didn’t include the trail to which I’m writing about today so do give it a read when you get a chance; it has a few more gravel grinding factoids for you.

It All Started Innocently Enough

ROSCOE (II, a 2017 Domane 600 Series Disc) and I headed out from HQ here in Markleeville on an almost 60 degree day knowing that some mud was possible — but unlikely or at least navigable we thought after a couple weeks of dry weather.

THE trail starts at Hangman’s Bridge, just about two (2) miles from Markleeville, and I had hiked it before. A few little rollers to kick things off, and a couple others about half-way out, but other than that it’s a fairly flat, non-technical out-and-back trail that tracks the East Fork of the Carson River for about 3 1/2 miles or so. Click here to check it out on All Trails.

THAT first pitch wasn’t rideable (at least for me) so I kicked things off with a little hike-a-bike. Little did I know then that I would get a bit more of that (hike-a-bike that is) pretty quickly.

I was having a great time riding through the squishy, pine-needley (is that a word? not sure) muck and was really enjoying the sound of my tires hitting that squishiness. Some fish-tailing, some mud-splattering, some big ol’ rocks and some pine cones; all of which made for some serious, shit-eating grin kinda fun. Roscoe and I were really enjoying ourselves and then we hit IT and as soon as we did we knew we were in a bit of a pickle.

The path from whence we came – that track that looks a little like a thread was ours. ‘Twas okay as long as we were moving. Then we hit that patch of thick peanut butter mud.

Now What?

THERE was no more progress to be made and I had to dismount. It all went very much downhill from there and it was a veritable laugh-riot. I was cackling like a madman as I surveyed the scene. I had seen mud but I had never experienced THIS MUD.

MY wheels would not move. No problem, I thought. I’ll just grab one of these sticks and clear ’em out. Snap. Okay, let’s try another one. Snap. No joy there. I need a better (not necessarily bigger) stick. Again I tried. Crack.

OKAY, let’s pause for a moment, I said to myself, and look at the shoes. Holy sludge Batman, this stuff is incredible! There was no way any stick was going to clean out this caca.

I realized at this point that we were doomed, Roscoe and I. And yes, that is hyperbole. We weren’t really doomed but the ride sure was. At least we were fairly close to the trailhead. So, I swallowed my pride and called for extraction. Luckily, I still had cell service so that made it easier. I also had, if needed though, my inReach Mini. So if I had too…

For more on that little gadget of wonder, by the way, take a gander at this post. I think it’s the most valuable thing I carry when I’m riding, or hiking, or snowshoeing, or pretty much doing anything here in the California Alps, or any adventurous location for that matter!

We then did a little hike-a-bike, Roscoe and I, laughing (just me) all the way, and my lovely assistant (and wife) Patricia was there lickety split.

Those Lessons Learned?

THE ride that I hoped for instead turned out to be an afternoon of shoe and bike washing and the first thing I learned was that regular water (i.e. from a garden hose) does not work on this stuff. That cold water just made the mud harder.

LESSON #2: When you are riding a road bike (albeit an endurance-oriented, Paris-Roubaix tested model) made a gravel bike with the simple addition of some gravel tires, mud is a problem. It wasn’t designed with enough clearance like today’s true gravel bikes. Sand, check. Loose dirt, check. Rocks, check. Gravel, check. Mud, negatory. Better clearance is better!

LESSON #3: SPDs can be problematic in the muck. I did have a small swiss-army knife in my kit but it would have been a long slog to use that little thing to clear out everything to the point where I could actually ride. I should have installed those hybrid pedals (SPDs on one side, platform on the other) before I left.

LESSON #4: Use warm water (and brushes) to clean off the caca. Like I said earlier, that cold water just made things worse. I even had to use a steel brush to clean off the tires. Thankfully I have a big ‘ol laundry sink in the bathroom off the garage so I was able to apply that hot H20 liberally. Still, it took a surprising amount of time.

LESSON #5: This one I had applied before: wadded up newspaper in those wet shoes make for fast, efficient drying. I cleaned the shoes before I started on Roscoe, by the way, and did so in the sink, with warm water and a nylon brush.

IN case you’re wondering…Yes, I did clean the chain (I use Park’s Cyclone Chain Scrubber) and lubed it as well. Roscoe needed a bath anyway.

  • Time actually riding the bike: ~ 22 minutes
  • Time cleaning the shoes and the bike: ~ 2-3 hours

ROSCOE and I are still laughing about that day’s adventure. It was pretty much an epic failure of a ride I admit, but those lessons learned? Priceless.

ESPECIALLY as we gear up and train for more gravel riding. Lots more learning to do, to be sure.

YOU?

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