2022 Dirty Turtle Gravel Grinder Race Report
Carbury Dam Recreation Area, North Dakota
May 21, 2022
This was the fourth annual Dirty Turtle race and I was itching to get back and attend as I raced in the 1st event and covid caused border closures for the 2nd and 3rd events. The weather forecast looked cool and dry, with a light breeze forecast from the North West. My kit was prepped with a choice of cool and cold weather gear, and a couple of different jackets to throw over top if the weather went South.
I had the car packed up Thursday night and was ready to leave right after work Friday afternoon. I was making good time and had a quick stop for food and grabbed some Kuiper’s Family Bakery Monster Cookies in Virden, MB at the Highway Grocery and continued on my way. I ate a couple of monster cookies to “carb” and peanut butter “protein” load. My route planning involved a 45 mile detour to the East to cross the border and back to Carbury as the border crossings would be closed by the time I finished work. The Border Agent at the Port of Dunseith was pretty interested in the race and where it was running as he was quite familiar with the area. Once I crossed the border I drove West on the Scenic Byway Highway 43, which is very appropriately named and covered some of the ground that I would be riding tomorrow.
I saw dark snow and rain clouds in the South West where I was heading and my heart sank a little. I didn’t want to set up my tent in the rain, and I knew that the gravel and dirt roads would get a little slick in the rain. I made a quick detour in Bottineau, North Dakota for gas and some USA-only food stuffs like Fruit Loops with Marshmallows, Dot’s Pretzels, Club-sized Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly, Haribo, and Dove Dark Chocolate Almond treats. After shopping, the sun was getting low on the horizon and the rain had stopped so I continued on my way to set up camp. I lucked out and found lots of room at the campground and had my tent setup in minutes. It was already below freezing so I covered up some of the mesh screen door of my tent with a couple of jackets to keep the cold air from blowing over my head.
As I was laying in my sleeping bag, visualizing which cycling kit to wear and whether I should run my Panaracer Gravel Kings or Bontrager GR1 tires, I could hear the snow falling on my tent. I chuckled, and thought to myself this is going to be epic! I set my alarm for 5:30 AM as I didn’t make it down in time to sign on Friday night and would have to do that on race day morning. I woke up hot and tossed off my toque and had to unzip my sleeping bag. I realized that covering up the mesh in front of the door was a bad call as there was not much airflow. The air was stuffy in the tent so I moved the jackets out of the way and then noticed that the bottom of the tent fly was covered in ice that had frozen there from the condensation.
I woke up at 5:20 AM (4:20 AM Saskatchewan time) before my alarm went off and knew I had work to do. I was dry in my sleeping bag but everywhere else in the tent including the top of the bag was very damp. I quickly set down my tent and found my Primus stove to boil some water for my oatmeal and coffee breakfast. The isobutane / propane mixture was hard to light and didn’t burn very hot. I let the water heat up as I tried to wipe my tent and sleeping bag off with a towel but it was all ice. I rolled it up and made a note that I’d need to dry it out later when I got home. The water was still not boiling yet and time was ticking as registration was opening at 6:30 am. I decided to start the car, drive down to the registration area and warm up the propane canister in the car. The gas cylinder was warmed up now and I reassembled my stove and the water boiled up right away. As I was eating my oatmeal, I saw a car head further North of the parking area and knew I was in the wrong place. Two cyclists went by me and headed the same direction the car was going. I finished my coffee and oatmeal and drove North to the other part of the camping area and found the registration.
The pre-race meeting was in 50 minutes and I hadn’t mixed my water bottles, registered, changed into my bike kit, or unpacked and assembled my bike from my backseat. I installed the Ass Saver fender under my seat to prevent water and mud from spraying everywhere. I stayed calm, walked up to registration and was greeted by Cody Steinhouse, the race organizer. The race volunteers were super organized and signed me into the race in no time flat and handed me my race grab bag. I quickly assembled my bike, and mixed up my Lemon Lime Nuun Endurance and started filling up my top tube and handlebar bags with food, extra electrolytes and my emergency jacket and strapped them onto my bike. I’d already preloaded the routes onto my Garmin and was about to tape the laminated cue sheets onto my top tube but was out of space, and time! Into my back pocket they went.
Time check - 15 minutes to the racer meeting so I pulled out my Pactimo Transfer C BaseLayer, Storm+ Shoe Covers, Pactimo Change Kilt, Nuun/Pactimo Breckenridge Vest, Arm & Leg Warmers, and my HPL Cycling Team Kit and put everything on. I clicked my Garmin Edge 530, Varia Radar, and Bontrager Ion Pro RT Light onto my bike to navigate and keep me visible to cars out on the course. One last bathroom stop and I put on my Garmin HRM. Sensor check time, I made sure my 4iiii precision power meter was connected to both my Garmin Fenix 5X Pro and the Edge as the drive side crank would be helping me measure my efforts during the race.
I roll up to the start line with 3 minutes to spare and said hello to some friends from Regina, Sk. It was super cold and starting to snow again. Neutral rollout starts and there is a course change that was discussed at the pre-race meeting. The awesome dirt road was a mud pit and impassable so we were detouring a mile North. Cody said that once we turned North to start climbing the neutral rollout was off and the race proper had started. Kent Windsor said some words of encouragement and that he’d see me back at the finish line. I powered ahead and thought it was nice to get warm and wondered if my kit choice was warm enough and if I’d be kept reasonably dry. Cody dropped back after starting us to get ready to start the 50 mile event. That left Jake from Bismark and Josh from Jamestown and myself up front. Josh was leading, followed by Jake, and I was following, concerned that my file tread tires wouldn’t bite into the greasy roads.
I was well into zone 4 heart rate a couple of kilometers into the race and could hear Coach David Lipscomb telling me to use the tools that CIS Cycling has provided me with. The spring CIS Cycling virtual training camp and HPL Cycling Okanagan Falls training camp had me well rehearsed on what power and heart rate levels that I should be hitting, and I was over those. I got my heart rate down to Zone 3 and knew that the race would settle down. The gravel road was super slick and I was having difficulty keeping the bike pointed straight ahead and my back tire would spin if I had too much weight on the front end. I was trying to avoid the bits of mud that were on the road and stay clean and dry. That didn’t last long! Josh pulled over and I asked if he was okay, he said yes and he was just fixing something. That something later turned out to be pairing up his bike sensors as he had pressed a button on his bike computer to causing it to update instead of ignoring the update. I followed Jake for a while and then was able to see a line to get by and took a turn pulling. I let him know I was slowing a bit for Josh and he was happy with that. I’m not sure if that’s protocol but thought we have 155 km or so to go and there would be lots of time for attacks.
After a couple kilometers I slowed a bit more to let someone else take the lead pulling, but nobody came through. I looked over my shoulder and saw I had a gap of about 30 meters on the next rider. The first climb was straight ahead so I put some power down on the ~250 vertical meter climb segment. 10 kilometres in and I’m in a solo break, this is going to be a long day! I could hear some Blue Jay’s calling and I got into the zone and pretended they were cheering me on as I motored up the climb.
I passed by the top of a ski lift at Bottineau Winter Park, and noticed some wild turkeys on the road. How cool it was to see them and better that I saw them while doing a leg busting climb than a screaming downhill! 47 minutes in, a dog comes running out of his farm yard barking and starts to chase me. I yelled at the animal as my uphill muddy sprint game wasn’t up for a race with a 4 legged creature today. Luckily he backed off after a couple of words. There was a volunteer at the top of the climb that had a bucket of water and some brushes to clean the mud off the drivetrain. “I’m good”, I said. I passed by the first aid station and kept on trucking as I had a couple full water bottles and lots of food. A wolverine jumped across the road about 10 meters in front of me and I felt pretty lucky to see one as I’ve never seen one while riding before. I realized I was 90 minutes in and hadn’t had anything to eat yet. I grabbed a Peanut Butter Clif Bar that was pretty solid with the cold temperatures. I smacked it on my bars to open it and it worked first crack and I bit off a chunk and let it sit in my mouth to warm it up enough to chew it.
48 kilometers in I couldn’t see anyone near me and turned into Lake Metigoshe State Park and hopped on the bike path. “Where are the race signs?” As it turns out, I turned about 150 meters too early and did a kilometer “penalty” loop North and Back South on the bike path before it connected with the course again to the East. I saw Josh ahead of me and knew then that I had gone off course and done some extra. I was on the chase and hit a couple of puddles on the paved bike path to try and rinse my drivetrain with the ensuing spray of clean water.
I knew that I had to catch up now while I still had him in my sights. He was about a minute ahead of me so I dipped my cold, wet toes into zone 4 to gain some ground and I caught up and passed him. The muddy roads were challenging to navigate and I unclipped a couple of times as I slid sideways in the muck. I had opened up a gap by the time I reached the water station 61 kilometers in. My chain and gears were making all sorts of grinding noises and were pretty plugged up with mud. I pulled over to pour a water bottle on my drivetrain to clean off the mud. Josh came by again and I had to work to catch back on.
Once I caught up to Josh again, I went by and I asked him how his drivetrain was. I said that I was rinsing mine off each chance I got. He said his drivetrain was skipping and grindy. I was feeling good so I pushed on past him. I ate another granola bar as it had been an hour since I ate the Cliff bar. I figured I had a minute or two gap by the time I hit aid station “C” so I decided to stop in. I refilled my empty bottle for “rinsing on the go” and grabbed a Wagon Wheel and hydration bottle from my drop bag. The volunteer spotted my Garmin Varia Radar and cleaned the mud off for me as it was completely encased in mud. Josh sailed on by as I was cleaning my chain off.
The chase was back on, and I knew it would be 40 kilometers before I passed aid station “C” again so I put my head down and pedaled. Easier said than done when the tire is spinning out on the greasy roads. I’d spray my cassette and derailleur with water from my bottle every so often to keep the grinding noises at bay and downed the Wagon Wheel I picked up at the aid station. I caught up to Josh again and thought we could work together instead of attacking each other as we were only half way through the race.
We shared some stories about where we rode and how the cold, wet spring hadn’t been conducive to outdoor riding. I mentioned that I rode lots on Rouvy and he said that he did a lot of riding on Zwift. We were on the best gravel conditions of the entire course. Dry, champagne gravel that you could just fly on. We enjoyed the tailwind and the relatively flat terrain from kilometer #80 up to #100. We worked together to stay ahead of the rest of the group. I mentioned that the last significant climb was coming up as soon as we turned North. I crested a few rolling hills and hit a beautiful descent. It was mostly beautiful except for the super rutty, muddy part that had me dragging my brakes to scrub speed the whole way down.
I aimed for high zone 3 for the entire 100 meter vertical climb and held steady. I could hear Coach Paul Cutting telling me to keep climbing cadence and settle into a rhythm. I looked over my shoulder and it looked like I was in the clear. The next 10 kilometers I put my forearms on the tops of my handlebars and TT’d into the wind until I had to spray off my chain and repeated until I reached aid station C again. I rinsed off my chain, grabbed a snickers bar, a pickle, grabbed my “go” bottle and topped up my rinsing bottle.
I managed to get away before Josh came past me again so I pressed on. I switched my nutrition to eating trail mix with my clumsy fingers from my top tube bag and chuckled to myself that some animal would be following the trail of dropped raisins, peanuts, and smarties. At 50 kilometers to go I downed a chocolate energy gel. It was so cold that the gel was solid like a bar so I had to chew it and rinse it down with more Nuun Endurance.
The last 40 kilometers or so of the course was the reverse of the first 40 so I knew what kind of soft roads and mud I was in for. It was slow going into the headwind that it had taken nearly 50 minutes to go 17 kilometers. At 27 kilometers to go, I ate my Honey Stinger energy gel, and soon after I arrived at the final aid station. I grabbed my other “go” bottle and kept spraying down my drivetrain to flush out the grit.
The next 9 kilometers were a real battle as the roads were so soft and muddy that it was tough just to keep moving up the climb. I weaved all over the road looking for some firm gravel, not finding it. I went off road onto the grass and then back onto the road as the grass was just as soft. I was meeting some of the riders from the Dusty and Dainty Turtle distances just heading out as I was coming back in. They didn’t look like it was any easier going the opposite direction.
It was a huge boost to head South, downhill, with a tail wind on the rolling hills and know that I had about 250 meters of elevation to lose over the next 18 kilometers. I didn’t know where my nearest competitors were so I kept pushing on the hard packed downhills, and reached a top speed of 68 km/h.
10 kilometers to go and I had some rabbits ahead of me to chase down. That was the carrot I needed and I could see them making the turns to follow the course. Finally, I was back on the pavement, and I caught the group of 3 riders. I could see one more rider in front of that group and thought I had a chance to catch that rider before I finished. I pulled up right behind them in the last kilometer, and rode to the finish line with them.
I had managed to finish first and only took 13 minutes longer than my goal time of 6 hours with the muddy gravel and windy conditions. After the race I spun down on some singletrack to extend the ride to the full 100 miles and get some pictures for the Rule of Three Strava challenge.
Post race I was treated to a meal cooked up by a distant cousin of mine, Duane Drader, that was catering the race from his food truck, Henry’s 90 wt Ribs and Brisket. It was great to visit with other riders post race and chat about other events and bikes that everyone was looking forward to. I sprayed the mud off my bike and packed it back into the car and began the drive back home.