After an hour-long drive down narrow fog shrouded Texas farm roads I followed the sign and turned right down the gravel driveway towards Huff Brewing. Riders were already heading out for a day of gravel riding east of Houston on the organized ride known as the Crank Stranger.
Bicycling events are few and far between during these COVID days and I was happy to stumble upon this event during my time down here in Houston. I signed up for the long event which was fifty miles and a little over two thousand feet of elevation gain.
The fog remained thick as I rolled out of the parking lot and onto the course. Within the first mile I met up with Jon, a rider with whom I’d ridden the Prison City route out of Four Notch the week before. Jon and I rode along for a few miles following the well-marked rolling gravel. I was no longer in the Houston flats; this is some nice rolling country.
The event had sold out, but the road wasn’t crowded with riders. Soon a rider rolled alongside and noted that he and I were riding the same Ibis Hakka MX mounts. He introduced himself as Corey and we ended up riding the remainder of the route together. Both Corey and I were on the same page when it came to pacing the route: we moved along quickly, but not race pace. At one point a group of eight assembled due to a crossing train and when those crossing gates went up I naturally went into race mode. My first inclination was to hit it hard and then start moving up though the group, pushing towards the front. Then suddenly I had an epiphany: hey this isn’t a race, ease up and roll steady.
The gravel conditions varied from super smooth packed rock to rutted washboard to three-inch deep sand. The Ibis smooths out the washboard, and years of Pacific Northwest cyclocross has taught me how to float through sand so neither obstacle proved to be a significant problem.
I was following the map on my Garmin and wasn’t tracking mileage and I was surprised to see cars and trucks parked along the road marking our return to the parking area. My internal odometer figured that we had at least ten miles remaining. I guess the fast packed gravel and relatively flat (flat compared to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest) threw off my internal sensors.
All in all the Gravel Stranger was a super well run ride on a fun route. There were enough riders to make me feel like I was out with like-minded folks yet not so many as to give me any COVID concerns.