Hitting the gravel roads of New Hampshire. Courtesy of Seth Lincoln

Hitting the gravel roads of New Hampshire. Courtesy of Seth Lincoln

During the offseason, we love hitting the gravel roads on our ’cross bikes, and it’s been great to see the explosion of gravel racing (featured in Cyclocross Magazine’s Issue 20 piece, Call of Gravel). Here, we have a great rider diary about the Raid Rockingham in New Hampshire.

by Nick Digangi

Back on June 8th, 180 cyclists of all abilities tackled a mix of dirt/gravel/mud/pavement planned out by Loco Cycling’s Arlon Chaffee. This is the second year that he’s run Raid Rockingham. Last year the route was a 45ish mile jaunt through gravel and paved roads in coastal New Hampshire. This year, he tacked on some additional miles for an even 100k option on top of the original 45 mile route. My cycling buddy Seth ended up making it for the shorter route while I took on the 100k.

I had the opportunity to do some recon rides of the course, which worked out in my favor as I often go too hard too soon and end up in the gutter for the remainder of my rides. Knowing how my body works, it takes me a solid 10+ miles to wake up and really get moving. So my strategy was clear: Pace myself.

I have a love/hate relationship with all gravel/dirt roads, as they tend sap a lot of energy out of me (this should make my inaugural ’cross season… interesting). I was taking it nice and slow as we came up to the first dirt section, a rail trail. I entered this long, flat section with a small group of about seven other riders.

Seth, obviously feeling fresh, took off and blitzed through the section. The rest of us made our way along, passing a couple others who had the misfortune of flatting. At the midway point, I realized I was feeling better than expected and decided to up the pace a bit, and was able to hold it up to the end of the rail trail. After a good six or so miles of rail trail I was ready for the next step, where my plan was to ride recovery until we ventured back on to Nottingham, New Hampshire’s dirt road climbs.

Having previewed the climbs a few times, I knew that we’d hit some hilly sections prior to Nottingham Square.  This was the first of two Strava segments set out on the course and it stung riders with a mix of spongy dirt roads and punchy gradients.  Even as a rider in the back half of the full group, I saw riders dropping off as soon as things got steep (Seth included).

Once we arrived at Nottingham Square Road, I wanted to do find the balance of doing well, while saving enough for the rest of the ride.  I found myself in some trouble early on and wasn’t able to generate as much power as I normally have, but even still I finished with my second best time out of my four total trips up the segment. At the top we were greeted by a rest station providing all with water, Skratch Labs, peanut butter sandwiches, Porta-potties and even some wipes to tidy up a bit. We caught our breath, chatted with some fellow riders, fueled up and departed. Seth and I split ways as he had a plane to catch. 20 miles down, but 40 to go.

The next 20 miles started off with a fast’n’fun descent. This was followed by rolling hills and dirt roads we’d all been accustomed to from the previous 20 miles. I found myself in no-man’s land for a bit but eventually I met up with a group of about four others. Eventually I split off with another rider. This is one of those times on a ride where you’re grateful for the company—not to mention the ability to trade off, bring up each others average, and save a little energy in the process.

We were moving at a really good clip until he came across some people he knew on the side of the street and naturally decided to stop to say, “Hi.” I carried on alone for a couple miles, seeing a lone figure up in the distance.

Over the next five miles or so I was able to whittle down the distance and join up with the lone rider—Jess Howland, who I’d become briefly acquainted with prior to the ride. We continued on for another five miles or so chatting and taking pulls. Up next was probably my favorite section of the course, Gile Road. It’s a dirt road with some rising hills followed by a fun downhill and some rollers which when timed correctly can be blitzed right though. Shortly after we came up to the second rest stop, where we took a quick pit, refilled of the bottles and I was off. Now we were at 40 down and 20 to go.

The last 20 continues as the previous 40, but with more pavement. I was feeling good up until mile 50 when I started to fade. My lack of fitness and having spent the majority of the last 40 on my own slowed me down. Again thanks to the recon rides, I was aware I was getting close so I left some in the tank, knowing that the Dirty Dame (a Strava Segment) was fast approaching and the finish line shortly after that.

I had been starting to cramp up a bit, but it was nothing too major. Having plenty of food on board, I ripped open some Clif blocks and carried on. Once I hit the segment I was welcomed with a searing pain in my left quad, I went to stretch it out and then felt my hamstring cramp as well, then my right quad…and so on and so forth. I decided to lay off the gas and just spin lightly as I ran my fist up and down my legs. Luckily, the Clif Blocks I had taken 10 minutes earlier must’ve started to kick in. The pain subsided just as I came to the end of the Dirty Dame and it was smooth sailing to the finish line.

Afterwards, Arlon set up a nice little shindig with plenty of food, water, and “adult sodas” (all thanks to Smuttynose). Everyone was able to relax and chat it up with our spandexed brethren. All in all, a smashing success. I’m psyched we were able to be a part of it and we hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. Thanks to everyone who came and said “Hi” to us as well. It was pretty cool hearing that people actually read our stuff. Life is busy, but we hope to continue putting up content for everyone to enjoy! Last and certainly not least, the biggest thanks goes to the Ar-man. He is one cool dude and I’m sure we speak for all Raiders involved when I say, “Thank You.”

Nick Digangi is a proper New Englander who loves gravel rides and watching the Gloucester GP with an Allagash in hand.  Due to injury he bowed out of the 2012 ’cross season, but will be kicking into high gear for 2013. He started Not Quite Belgian with cycling buddy Seth Lincoln to cover their favorite topics: ’cross, road riding, beer, and gear.