My late dad was a major proponent of what he called the "mental health day": a day off from work or school not because you were sick, but just because everybody needs a day off to recharge once in a while. I wasn't allowed to abuse the privilege (he was a public school teacher, after all) but I remember a few times in high school where he let me take a Ferris Bueller day minus the parade-based hijinks.
I've carried that proud tradition into my quasi-adult life, and since I was supposed to be on vacation all last week (a vacation cancelled due to spousal sinus infection, unfortunately), I decided that Friday would be my mental health day. The result?
A bit of trailside relaxation with Fall color. Temps were a little crisp, but nothing tights and a wool jersey couldn't defeat. I tend to get a little goal-oriented/obsessive during my usual rides, forgetting to just kick back and enjoy from time to time. On this ride, I forced myself to roll a little more Pondero-style, and the results were very enjoyable. Not sure what Pondero-style means? Here's a great example. Of course, I have fewer (and worse) photos, no hammock, and no trailside coffee brewing apparatus. I'll have to do something about that.
Digressionary news flash, that will circle back eventually... I was also riding with the knowledge that Friend of Blog Steve F (a.k.a. Local Steve, a.k.a. that crazy guy who did the Tour Divide this year) was at that moment in the intensive care unit recovering from a bad crash Thursday night. He and a friend were putting in some after-dark gravel miles when a deer crossed their path. The friend got away relatively unharmed, but Steve hit Bambi hard at about 20 miles per hour, breaking seven ribs (his own, not the deer's) and puncturing a lung (again, his own) -- no word on the condition of the bike or the deer. The guy does over 2,000 miles on the Great Divide without getting even nibbled by a bear, then gets taken out by a deer in Iowa?!? C'mon, universe, that's just not cool. (Digression to my digression, Steve is healing up, has left intensive care, eaten a burrito, and worn pants since then. But think nice things for him in the direction of whatever higher power -- or lack thereof -- you profess to believe or not believe in.)
So given that I had Steve, Guru of Gravel on my mind, I figured it was a good opportunity to leave the paved path and see what the rocky roads were looking like these days. Spoiler alert, they looked like this:
When people ask, "What's the big deal with all this gravel riding?" show them this photo. That's a gravel road so nicely packed down that it could be a double-wide, groomed mountain bike trail. And it went on for miles and miles and miles and miles, way more miles than I had in my chubby, out-of-shape legs. I was out there for a solid two hours and encountered one (friendly) pickup truck, one other cyclist, and one farm dog that barked at me from his yard without even giving chase. Fast surface, rolling hills, perfect weather... what more could you ask for?
For the gear geeks, this was my first real test of the Refurbished Rockhopper as a "gravel bike" (whatever that means), and it passed with flying colors. No big surprise there, since old mountain bikes were designed with this kind of surface in mind. I even got nutty and carried some speed through a few curves just to see where the slick Kojaks would find their limit -- but they never did. Do I think that for a dedicated gravel racer/mega-enduro-gravel-dude, one of those ultra-optimized "gravel-specific" bikes might be a little better than my battered old beast? Maybe. But did this vintage ride with its "outdated" wheel size and rim brakes hold me back at all? Nope. (Well, the rim brakes held me back, but that's what brakes are supposed to do.) If I'm being extra-super-picky, I'd probably prefer a frame with a slightly lower bottom bracket and slacker seat angle, but man, that's really putting a fine point on it. Luckily, if the Rockhopper ever succumbs to the rust nibbling away at its tubes, all the parts will port over to a 26" Surly Long Haul Trucker frameset with just those features. Of course, by the time the rust catches up, the 26" wheel size may be dead and gone.
I can't say that the day off and ride fixed all my mental health ills (it's not a miracle cure, after all), but I am feeling much better. I guess my dad was a pretty smart dude.