This was the first year of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Fondo by Emde Sports and I’d kind of had it on my radar for awhile, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit until Thursday. I was even able to con one other VC guy to come along (Bill) too. We arrived at the venue, Nine Mile Recreation Area, a nice little state park located on Long Lake, part of the Spokane River. One of my favorite parts of these events is just visiting with guys, checking out their set ups. A lot of really nice bikes in a lot of flavors. There were more cx bikes set up with big knobbies than I expected to see, then it seemed like the other half were full on road race rigs complete with carbon wheels and all. I was on my Trek Crocket cx with 700×28 Hutchinson Sectors. The course was said to be 65 miles (65% gravel) with 3700′ climbing. As we gathered to roll out I could see the turn out was definitely low, but so it goes with first year events, GFE was 40 something for the first few years. They lead us out of the park and set us free into the world, the sun was shining and life was good. Until mile 1.5 and Pine Bluff climb… what kind of sick person would put a climb right at the beginning of a fondo, wait don’t answer that. It was short and sweet, but definitely got the blood pumping and strung out the group. After awhile it was three of us at the front. One of the guys introduced himself as Tim. The first aid station was at 20 miles in, and none of us needed to stop at that point so on we went. Shortly after, on one of the more washboarded out sections of gravel I hit a particularly rough spot and shot my second (full) water bottle out, which exploded upon impact. I was down to one bottle that was approx 1/4 full, but what concerned me more was the fact that I could feel the very beginning twinge in my right calf of a cramp. This was not good at mile 25 of 65, even worse when I have to start rationing my water so I can make it to the 40 mile aid station for a refill. It was around this time when Tim suggested we shed some dead weight and lose the third member of our group who wasn’t doing their share of work. I figured one of two things would happen: we’d either succeeded, and loose the third wheel, or I’ll be the one to get dropped and those two will ride off into the sunset. But I agreed and the next steep pitch we both gunned it. It hurt real bad, as soon as we got to the top I found Tim’s rear wheel and hung on for dear life. We held it pinned for a few more minutes, made a right turn and looked back and he was gone. We may have gotten away, but at this point I was pretty much out of water and looking at Tim’s two gigantic full water bottles. We only had 5 or so to go until the aid station so I toughed it out. When we finally got there we kept it pretty quick, I refilled, grabbed some dried fruit and nuts, and hit the road. By the time I washed down the fruit and nuts, and took a couple extra drinks to catch up from before I was already down to half. As luck would have it though the course happens to go right past Tim’s house where his family was out to cheer and hand out water bottles, score. As we neared the end I was definitely beginning to fade. Tim flatted, I waited. It was a quick change. We hit one last steep pitch at approx mile 59. I was still climbing reasonably strong, but was so so close to total cramp up lock down mode that I didn’t want to get too crazy. That was immediately followed by a fast gravel decent where I was glad to have disc brakes. As we rolled back in riding side by side visiting I looked up to see the “finish line” (it’s not a race) and interrupt the conversation to say lets go! Nothing like a sprint finish right!? Ahh, but lets not get bogged down in who “wins or loses” after all it’s “just a ride” and we all had a good time (that’s what losers say). We got back to the park and before long everyone else was back too. So we’re relaxing in the shade eating bratwurst and snacks loving life when I find out that the dude we dropped was my buddy Shawn Howard, a guy that on any other day would mop the floor with me, but was just having an off day and was just hanging on. I felt like such a scum bag, sorry Shawn! Over all it was a beautiful sunny day. The course had a lot of gravel, most was pretty good, just a few washboards here and there, but hey it’s gravel. I liked how there was so much back and forth between gravel and pavement. I also like riding in the trees, I’m from the desert. There wasn’t really any huge climb or deciding piece of the course, mostly rollers with a few short pitches. Everything seemed to roll smoothly and aside from a small turn out looked to be a good day for the Emdes, hope things pick up for the second annual Nitty Gritty Dirt Fondo!