By Brett Ratner
If you scroll to the bottom of the home page for the Grumpy Grind 80-Mile Bicycle Adventure, you'll read that "It's all about the journey man. But you can still ride hard!"
True to these words, Grumpy Grind 3 allowed those with a competitive spirit a chance to drop the hammer, while offering everyone else the relaxing feel of a century ride.
For sure, a few dozen riders went full gas right off the gun. But many of the 80 participants stopped to chat at the checkpoint, pulled over to take photographs of roadside curiosities, and generally had a great time simply "playing bikes."
But regardless of intended pace, the gravel, winds, and rolling hills didn't discriminate when it came to doling out lactic acid burn.
Grumpy Grind starts and ends on a small farm on the outskirts of Milledgeville, IL. Registration is free...but if you're cool, you make a donation to the organizers. What I mean is, even if you don't take into account the great FREE (and tasty) food and beer at the end of the ride, the free water bottle, and the free pint glass, it was clear from start to finish that a lot of great people and local sponsors put their hearts into organizing a top-notch event. If you ever wonder why people come back from gravel rides with smiles on their faces and their faith in bikes fully restored, look no further than the Grumpy Grind. It exemplifies all that is great about this form of cycling. But I digress.
The Bonebell's El Maya finding inner peace through pedaling.
Participants are instructed to treat the Grumpy Grind as an unsupported event. As such, you're ultimately responsible to keep your bike and your body operational. That means carrying plenty of tools, tubes, food and hydration for around six hours in the saddle (and longer if you get lost or have a mechanical).
Since the course is predominantly unmarked (and many intersections lack street signs altogether), riders must diligently follow a cue sheet to navigate the 78.4 mile route.
In return for their efforts, riders are treated to a scenic tour of Western Illinois farm country. This vast expanse of rolling gravel occasionally was broken up by grass lanes, dirt roads, and even a short stint on the Joe Stengel Trail. Only on rare occasions did our tires ever touch pavement.
Aside from relentless wind (compounded by a general lack of tree cover), the weather was just about perfect. Also nice was miles and miles of deserted roads (a pleasant contrast to my typical urban riding environment).
Since gravel events tend to be a "metric century" (about 62 miles), I wasn't sure what my disposition would be when riding those extra 16 miles. Well (to borrow again from the Grumpy Grind's eloquently-written home page), I was still very much able to enjoy "the beautiful silence of a bike." But with about five miles to go, my thoughts took an an abrupt turn toward barbecue...and my legs responded by pushing the pace. My riding partners must have had similar thoughts, since they kicked it up a notch as well.
Rolling up to the farm, the organizers greeted us with our complimentary Grumpy Grind pint glasses, which we promptly filled with beer. We then proceeded to the barn, where we enjoyed a pot luck meal while standing next to a vintage tractor or sitting on hay bales, surrounded by equally tired and satisfied riders. It was clear that while some came to race and others came to enjoy a long, challenging ride, it really was all about the journey...and the journey led all of us to our respective happy places.
Many thanks to the organizers of Grumpy Grind. I'll definitely be back next year.
About the Author
Brett Ratner (firstname.lastname@example.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.