This past weekend was the fifth edition of the Grumpy Grind in Milledgeville, IL. Go ahead look it up, it’s a tiny town about thirty minutes north west of Dixon, Ronald Regan’s hometown. Big stuff out here folks. It’s on the edge of the area in Illinois we have grown to love, The Driftless Region.

Mark Johnson is the man behind all these years of great route and good time and every year he does not disappoint. And every year it’s a cue sheet ride; no early release of the route; no gps files; just a piece of paper with some road names, mileage, and what direction to turn. Each year it starts at “the farm” and goes off in whatever direction Mark would have us.

This is my forth Grumpy Grind and one of my favorite rides of the year. Each year the weather has been very different from the previous. This year turned out to be about as perfect as you could want it. The start was in the mid-fifties with almost no wind and nary a cloud in the sky.

For some reason I was at the very front of the group when Mark sounded the horn to go and off we went. It wasn’t too much of a crazy pace off the line but it picked up by the time we first hit gravel and I slid off the pack and found a place in the chase group. I was feeling really great, surprisingly great for how tired I was after not sleeping well the night before and a two hour plus drive out.

This was pretty uneventful for a while. The chase group started to crack apart and I found myself, once again, drifting off the back. I wasn’t the least perturbed by any of this; I didn’t come out here to race; I came out to enjoy myself and test my limits while I was at it.  I found myself in good company for a while as I rode along chatting with Brandon Gobel about how we had actually met each other almost a decade ago(I’m still looking for that picture, Brandon.) We ended up hooking up with a few Heritage gentlemen and rode together to the rest stop at mile 18.

HI Kae!

I wasn’t all too keen on stopping but the group did so I figured I would too. A few minutes later Eric Alexander rolled by without a stop and I jumped on and rode with him. We were going at a good 80+ mile pace and were talking about who knows what when his shifter stopped working. We pulled over and it seemed that the mech in the shifter was on its way out and he was going to have to singlespeed it the rest of the ride. Just then a gentleman of gentlemen stopped by and began to give Eric a hand. After some fussing and blowing, yes blowing, in the shifter it started to work again.  And I quote,”SRAM is like Nintendo, you have to blow in it to make it work.”-HAHA

Again, we are back riding enjoying the hills, the scenery and the beautiful weather. The Heritage boys caught up to us again and we let them slip on by. At this point it’s about 30 miles in and Eric tells me to go ahead with them if I’m feeling up to it he doesn’t want to go hard. I declined then changed my mind, sprinted off, and latched on to that group again.

Things are going great, I feel great, the roads are good, and we are pushing off at a solid speed. We took a left turn on to Astor Rd and that’s when things got weird. The road was hard, fast and smooth and I did something I don’t normally do on gravel; I was right on the wheel of the fella in front of me when disaster struck. There was a rut in the road and I found myself on the far right end of it rubbing my tire. It was quick and I tried to save it but before I knew it I was rolling around on the ground. YARD SALE.  Bottles and gear strewn about the deserted gravel rood. I’m not sure I’ve hit the ground going that fast before but I seemed to slide a lot longer than I had expected. Thankfully I was surrounded by good riders that were able to avoid running my ass over and no one else got caught up in my mess. With rage I stood to my feet and walk my bike to the side of the road I notice the chain is off the chainring so I pedal to get it back on and realize my rear derailleur in in my wheel. With no spokes busted and everything seeming fine except for the bet hanger I grabbed it and pulled it back. At this point I was probably too mad and I pulled a bit too hard and SNAP, it came off.  DAMN IT!  This is when I notice that there are steady drops of blood coming off my arm; I look at my forearm and all I can see is read. Great.

All the while the gentleman of gentlemen is there picking up my ejected jelly beans and coming to my assistance this time. His name is Patrick McIntyre and helped me out tremendously that day. I had my third bottle out and was blasting water on the wound in my arm and scrapes on in knee to see the extent of the damage and he was on the ground next to my bike with chain breaker in hand asking me what gears I want. My mind wasn't really focusing on what ratio I should be running so I told poor Patrick I had no idea. While he is doing that he is also giving me advice on what to do with the half inch wide by eighth inch deep hole in my arm. By then Eric had caught back up and the rest of the Stay Rad crew of Bionic Bob and Kristina show up to witness the carnage. Just as I was about to wrap my glove around my arm with a tube Eric recommends I use the Ziploc bag from the cue sheet and his arm warmer. That poor arm warmer, good thing it is black.

One speed, bloody ass elbow

Just as Patrick is finishing up my singlespeed conversion Mark Johnson comes by and sees the mess of things I had caused myself. He informed me that at the check point, about 6 miles down the road, they had a truncated route that is about 10 miles back to the farm. I yell back to him, “I can’t do it, I need that mug”

GG5 coffee mug of champions

That might need a little explanation. Every year there is either a pint glass or a mug for the first 50(ish) finisher and I’ve got a collection going. I couldn’t just call it because I was riding singlespeed.

By the time the bike is back in running order and I’m packaged up as best I could the pain in the muscles starts to creep up and I take off knowing the movement of my legs will hold it at bay. With six miles to the check point I am hoping they have some gauze and tape for me and I’d be lying if I was contemplating taking the short route.

When I had arrived they were expecting me and the fine folks there were more than accommodating. They did not have a gauze but he did have a clean old towel that he let me use to clean my arm again and soak in blood. He even let me cut a corner off to put inside the arm warmer in place of the plastic bag to cover up.

The man there turned to me with the cue sheet for the short route and that’s when I decided I wanted to finish. If I were to cut it short and go to a doctor or a hospital now there is nothing they could do that they couldn’t do after I had rode another 37 miles. I topped off my bottle and ate a sandwich and started to roll out with Bob, Kristina, Eric, Kyle and Paolo.

Blood on everything

The problem with singlespeed, for me anyway, is you have to do a certain pace. After a few hills I had noticed that I had left most everyone except Paolo. We ended up riding the rest of the ride together. We do good work of swapping pulls and slowly picked up some people on the way back. Looking at the elevation diagram I noticed that the second half of the ride had much more climbing and almost seemed to just keep going up. We had picked the Union team of Meesa Maeng, Courtney Reed Tanner, Laura Alagna, and Kristine Deibler along with the lone wolf Dan Szokarski and that was our group to the finish.

I could not have picked a better gear myself. There were a few times on flats that I was spinning out to stay with the group and definitely a few times I was feeling the climbs and fight off the cramps but all in all it was just about perfect. It got me to the finish, to get my mug, to show off my battle wounds and tattered drive train. After eating some delicious food and having some beers Paolo came through once more, with a first aid kit and I gave myself a proper cleaning and put some gauze on my arm.

Both crashed, both finish, both were rad.

Ever since I bought my Warbird I had wanted to ride it singlespeed and ever since I had found the Driftless I had wanted to ride it singlespeed as well. I didn’t exactly want either of them to happen the way they did but it did but I’m not mad about it either. I’m still very much tending to the damages I did to myself that day but what a great day it was.

-JOEL

Photos: us & here

Tees: here

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