ADVENTURE BY BIKE®
The Westside Dirty Benjamin is a 107-mile gravel road race in Carver County, Minnesota. This is just west of the Twin Cities in some beautiful rolling Minnesota farm country.
At this year’s event, the day started out looking great; sunny with a very small chance for rain later in the day. I was riding my Fargo, set up with 35mm tires, a Revelate frame bag and Gas Tank. I also built a custom cue card holder based on Joe Meiser's design, which worked flawlessly.
We did a neutral roll out from a park in Chaska, which included some railroad bed, paved trail, and dirt single and doubletrack. It made for an interesting start. Within the first mile, I saw one guy crash and another with a flat. Once we hit the first section of proper gravel, things started to spread out and settle into place.
This was my first time doing this event and I was treating this more as an adventure ride and not a race, so I had no intention of trying to follow the leaders. My goal was simply to finish under eight hours and to not completely destroy myself. I got into a good rhythm and was cranking out the miles. I thought eight hours was a reasonable goal as I had done the much hillier Almanzo 100 a couple years ago in under seven hours, but I was soon to find out just what the Dirty Benjamin had in store for me.
The first 20 or 30 miles went by pretty quickly. The sun was shinning and the temps were warm. Miles 30 to 80 were another story. Lots of soft fresh gravel made for slow, painful going. The organizers marked a point on the cue cards around mile 35 where, if you wanted to, you could cut the course and bail back to the finish. This definitely played mind games in my head for a bit, but I was fairly determined to make it through to the finish.
The one and only proper checkpoint was at mile 61 in a small park, that had a hand pump for water out of a well. The water tasted terrible but at this point I had already finished the 52 ounces of water I had started with, so I absolutely needed it, and would have to choke it down all the way till the end. I didn't stay long as the mosquitos were ferocious and I really just wanted to keep moving. So, off to the next section, which included about a half mile of dirt singletrack through the very dark woods, which dumped you out into a ditch and back on to a road.
After mind-numbingly cranking through 20 more miles, I started to feel good, or maybe it was because I was finally getting a tail wind. Plus, the higher the mileage got on my computer, the easier it became mentally. Either way it was nice to be moving a little faster. Next we turned off on to a very short paved trail that abruptly ended and dumped us out into a muddy field, which was being prepped for more suburban sprawl. It was very muddy which made for very slow progress and made a mess out of my bike.
Shortly after this point, I noticed the clouds were starting to get very dark, and then I saw lighting far off in the direction I was heading. I stopped and put my phone and camera in the Zip-Lock bag that I smartly stashed in my frame bag the night before. About 5 minutes later the downpour started and the wind picked up big time, leaving me swerving all over the road, unable to hold a line, and eventually riding on the very side of the road, drenched to the bone.
The rain was now starting to get in my eyes, which would sting and force me to shut my eyes, which is no good when you are attempting to ride a bike. I needed to get out of the rain, but in rural Minnesota, there's not a lot in the way of shelter.
Finally I came upon a house and hid under the awning for a while. The farmer whose house it was showed up and graciously open the garage door and gave me some paper towels to wipe off with. He was quite friendly and I was gratefully to be out of the rain for a bit. But after standing there, soaking wet, for ten or fifteen minutes waiting for the rain the let up, I started to get really cold. It was still raining but I had to get back on the bike if I wanted to warm up again. Plus, I was ready to get the ride over with at this point.
I still had to stop a few times to wipe my eyes, but the weather started to improve again and I started to really push it for the last 15 miles or so, through the now soft and wet peanut butter gravel. I ended up pulling into the finish at a total time of seven hours and 55 minutes, besting my goal of eight hours, which looking back, was a lot harder of a goal than I thought it would be. This was a beast of a ride, and one I will remember for a long time.
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I am the buyer for Salsa and spend most of my days staring at spreadsheets. Minnesota born and raised. I'm an avid bike commuter, who dabbles in road riding, mountain biking, gravel riding and the occasional cross race. I'm also a craft beer junkie, I like to brew my own beer and try new beers whenever I get the chance. When in doubt, ask yourself, what would Jens Voigt do?