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Ontario Gravel Series: Beauty and the Beasts

Substance Projects is one of my favourite race organizers around. Dan and his team of volunteers put on stellar races all year long (fatty, mtb and gravel); each with multiple distances, encouraging a variety of riders to participate.

With my pinched nerve playing somewhat nice in recent months, I signed up for the long course in each gravel race: Eager Beaver 100 Mile, El Bandito 130 km and Scrappy Badger (a.k.a. Feisty Fox) 80 km.

Now I'm not so sure this is a race report... because I am kind of terrible at remembering race details. A lot of my Faction Racing team members are amazing at relaying minute details - I can give you the grand picture though: these races are beautiful, but they are also beasts!

Eager Beaver 100 Mile

Eager Beaver was my first race since the winter when I pinched my nerve. I was beyond excited to zip-tie my race plate on. But also hella nervous; I always get the race jitters. Also - I had never done Eager Beaver of any distance before so didn't quite know what to expect.

Two other team members were there: Kevin and Thiago. We carpooled together bright and early. Thiago and I were signed up for the long; and Kevin for the 100km. Enroute to the race, we convinced Kevin to switch to the long course... may as well pedal instead of waiting for us to finish! It really didn't take much effort - Kevin is always ready for an adventure. Here's a photo of us in our kit (you can tell this is post-race because of my salty sweat stains):

I lined up somewhere near the middle beside Andrea B. of Lapdogs Cycling Club - trying to put myself behind the powerhouses but not far enough back that I would get slowed down in the early technical bits (Dan likes to throw things in to space us out quick!). My positioning didn't work out too well... we went up a rocky ascent close to the beginning and the guy in front of me stopped without warning and I grazed his wheel as someone yelled 'mash', skirted up the side on foot and was back at it.

The first chunk of this race was just pure hilarity (karma will probably get me). I've never seen so many riders on the sideline changing out flats - dozens! I was rolling 38 mm Panaracer Gravel Kings since I was told the terrain was rough and because I didn't want to switch things up just before a race. After seeing so many by the wayside, I was happy with this choice. Also - I packed two tubes on me and sent two in drop bags as contingency.

After this, details get pretty hazy. This is what I remember:



  • Wishing I had more opportunity to take photos of the beautiful scenery

  • Getting pulled for a little bit by a Bateman's Racing Team MOUNTAIN BIKER

  • More hills

  • Blasting by Aid Station 1

  • Putting on my Solo Substance playlist on my phone speaker to keep the stoke high

  • Ben E. of Lantern Rouge and his single speed mountain bike sidekick catching up to me and working together for a bit

  • More hills

  • Aid Station 2, where a volunteer promised the hills were over after one big one

  • Big gravel hill

  • False promises and more hills

  • Aid Station 3

  • WIND TURBINE ALLEY - so much wind. I was solo through this section and probably moving 10 km/h

  • Ben and Jonathan catching me after the wind tunnel

  • Aid Station 4 - pleasant surprise to see a familiar face volunteering - Peter Glassford!

  • Riding around the grassy perimeter of a farmer's field adjacent to the Highlands Nordic property thinking: 'wait, I like cyclocross?'

  • Crossing the finish line and hearing 'first female!'

It was quite the surprise to learn I was first! I hadn't seen a single 100 Miler female the entire race and was unaware of the positioning of the other six females; oblivious even to whether Andrea was ahead or behind me even though we started side by side. Plus the volunteers kept things on the hush hush (which I kind of like).

I came in at 7 hours 18 mins. Lise M. came in after me, simultaneously with a gang of Lap Dogs, arms intertwined in a daisy chain. Impressive finish! And Molly M. whizzed in shortly there after.

Ask me to do 160km of road and I won't bite - but mix in rugged terrain to keep things spicy and I'm in. It was a great day in the saddle. Beautiful weather and gorgeous views!

Thanks again to all the lovely volunteers (even those that provided false promises of flatter terrain)!

Race results for other distances and categories can be found here.

El Bandito 130k

Two weeks later and it was time to get the race kit back on. I pleaded with Dan a couple days before 'who can we convince to switch from 70km to 130km?' Only Katie V. of Cascade Cycling was signed up with me. I'm not a fan of automatic podiums so had hoped there were some last minute females who signed up. No luck!

Kevin and I camped out at Darlington Provincial Park the night before. I was pretty stoked that car camping meant I got sleep on a real pillow! The whisper of the nearby highway however kept me in and out of sleep all night. Also my mattress lost air. At first I thought it was just PV=nRT but in the morning one side was fully deflated - time for some patching.

We arrived at Brimicombe Gate 3 around 8am. I immediately had flash backs to the start/end of this race. I have done the 70km twice before; it's a monster start.

I had just enough time to get ready and hand in my drop bags. For both races I had some spare tubes, sunscreen, food and water bottles. (I'm going to ditch the water bottles going forward.) I tried to sneak in my physio exercises and managed to snap the band and have it whip me in the stomach. Good start, good start.

Last year Kevin and I practiced the start several times to get a feel of what it's like to not make it up the first hill and how to minimize the shear terror of the first rickety decent in a crowd. No time for warm up this time around though! We lined up quite close to the start, a little out of my comfort zone. The race went off with a bang - one mountain biker swiped a post on the second straight away and tumble-weeded a bit.

There was no way I was riding up the first hill. Like many, I dismounted (did I cross dismount? I think I might have!) and slowly slogged up the hill. One guy came up the left and almost made it the entire way. My hero. Once we crested, I remounted ungracefully and Mike H. of Dark Horse Flyers told me to get at 'er and I proceeded to mis-clip and waddle up the next section to flat ground to try again. I WADDLED IN A RACE. Such an embarrassment. Don't worry, I redeemed myself. I made it swiftly down the rickety washout section AND made it through the entire section of broken up pavement chunks like a champ. Honestly, I didn't care about how the rest of the day went after mastering that segment.

I started out the race much too fast - or maybe the right fast and the rest of the race I was too slow? My average speed definitely dwindled over the day, as did my mojo several times. I drafted with one group for a couple kilometres; it was a treat. The next group I tried to draft with, I let go after mere seconds - I wasn't ready for that level of power output.

It was an odd sensation getting to the 70km-130km split a the 50 km mark - it felt like I got there quite quick and that the challenges of last year weren't as humbling. I even took a couple photos along the way!

I loaded up on fuzzy peaches at Aid Station 2 and then was ready to tackle the unknown. The first bit through Ganaraska Forest was wildly fun and technical. I took some sections pretty freely (don't tell my mom...). The two mountain bikers at Aid Station 2 caught up to me at the end of the section.

Between Aid Stations 2 and 3, there was SO MUCH SAND. Sandy mountain bike trails, sandy ATV trails, sandy powerline corridors. I didn't have much of a chance to eat or drink because my hands were almost always on the handlebars. Just before Aid Station 3, things got a tad comical (honestly it looks less steep in the photo). I chose to walk up the second from the left because it seemed to have more grip than the sandfalls straight ahead.

The sandy corridor was actually a lot of fun, mostly because of its lunacy. I enjoy a good laugh mid-race. I bombed down a rocky section at the foot of Aid Station 3. The volunteers there told me I was the first female - sweet. I was the last person through that had a drop bag though - meaning that although I was the first female, there weren't many behind.

Then came the Zion. Zion 4th Line was a straight section of nicely paved road that just kept going and going; well 10km. Some people may consider this a great break from the gravel and technical bits, but it killed my soul. For some reason, I lose all motivation on straightaway pavement. I need potholes or something to keep my energy levels high.

Then came some sections through forest that I really didn't care for. More leafy and rooty than sandy and I was worried my nerve was not going to be happy. I actually took a break in the middle of the forest - stopped, rolled my shoulders for a couple seconds and stretched my hands. I knew that my Wahoo was likely underestimating kilometres at this point because of all the forest sections, so I kept telling myself I'd be to Aid Station 4 sooner than later. And sure enough I was - and there were still fuzzy peaches!

It was smooth sailing after this. 20km - easy peasy. A little bit of single track and some good canopy climbs, followed by some gravel and paved road. After the Ganny bit, I stumbled upon a wedding procession down Cold Spring Camp Road. Them cheering me on was pretty great; I was recharged for the rest of the race.

The scenery started to look familiar as I backtracked the beginning of the race. I even attempted to ride the broken up pavement and made it half way. And made it part way up the washout! Kevin was on standby ready to cheer me on at the end and keep me company while I laid down and gave my back a rest.

The course had a chunk taken out last minute, so I wrapped up with 120km. My finish time was 6 hours and 16 mins. Not too shabby for 1,952m elevation gain. I was also pretty excited when a mountain biker told me they were impressed that I bombed down the technical bits like I was on a mountain bike. That made my day.

I really appreciated those who stuck around for our podiums, even if they finished hours beforehand. The favour shall be returned! Results for all course lengths and categories are here. I can't fathom doing this race on a single speed or fat bike! Kudos.

Scrappy Badger (a.k.a. Feisty Fox) 80k

Scrappy Badger is happening September 14th, with the longest distance being 80km. With this being a new race, the terrain is a mystery. It will no doubt be fun though! You can register here! Where my ladies at?

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