3/19/22 Chainbuster Racing Scratch Ankle Gravel Race Write Up

@Chainbuster Racing’s Small Town Gravel Series Scratch Ankle Gravel Race was one of the most fun adventures I’ve been on in a good while. While anyone can look at the weather a week or days ahead of time, and get a feel for what to expect, it wasn’t until a serious downpour rolled through Friday afternoon that you could have expected what we encountered. The last 30 minutes of the drive to Adventures Unlimited in Milton were through beautiful countryside with wide open skies, and the weather was beautiful a few hours after the rain.

As I got near the venue, I saw a few dirt roads with some serious standing water. I pulled in, and went to check out my cabin. I had to drive a little bit down some sandy roads, but I had a nice tiny rustic cabin on stilts, with an elevated screened in porch overlooking the creek. I was lucky to get a unit that had just been renovated, see pics. Fridge, microwave, ac, heater, coffee pot, electricity, and a spigot, but I shared a bathroom building with the campers. There are some really nice cabins with bathrooms, and multiple bedrooms. I highly recommend looking at renting one next year. My stay was awesome, given the flooding. Thank goodness my cabin was on stilts.

Saturday morning, race day, I got on my bike first thing and rode to the bathroom building. After that, I was going to ride by the registration area and see if packet pickup had started, but I got confused because the road that went to that area didn’t have a river on it last night. I rode back to the cabin on dry roads, ate breakfast and got dressed, and hopped in the Subaru to go pick up my packet. During that time, a two foot deep river had formed on the road that was just dry between me and the bathroom building. I finally got to test the swimming features of my Subaru and it was great. About three quarters of the mile between me and registration were under water, and that was really fun. I made another trip back after packet pickup to go get dressed out and ready to race. Swimming back and forth with the Subaru may have been almost as fun as the race.

After seeing all the flooding in camp, I was really glad that I had decided on the mountain bike for this race. I pulled up to the start, and hung out with a good Birmingham contingent of friends, as well as getting to see friends from all over the Chainbuster footprint. Almost everyone else was on gravel bikes, but mine is too new and pristine for me to want to get all that wet sand in it. After all was said and done, I think I definitely had some advantage, there was no shifting around in the sun dried sand, and every downhill I took advantage of, bombing down them all. But the sand was pretty hard packed, and the folks on gravel bikes definitely had a little more advantage with speed in the flats.

I rolled out with the fast group for a few minutes, a mistake I make from time to time. I knew, and let the gravel bikes roll on as I focused on pace and pedaling technique quite well the whole day, rolling my own pace. I rode with groups about thirty percent of the race, making new friends as always along the way. The weather was amazing. Hardly any clouds, and the temp ranged from 65 at the start to a nice 70 by the end.

Jason had announced in the rider meeting that there would be four creek crossings. I thought about what I drove through to get to the start and laughed a little to myself on the inside. There may have been eight. And when you hear “creek crossing..” well some creek crossings are a little different than others. I was able to blast through about six on the mtb. Every time I saw a sixty-foot-long puddle ahead of me, I went full steam to see if I could roll through without getting my feet wet. That almost happened once. Aside from two, I was able to at least pedal under water and make it all the way across. One, I made it sixty feet across an eighty foot “creek crossing” and rode right into a two-foot whole and had to walk the rest of the way. The other one, there will be stories. I think the deepest spot I walked through on it was three and a half feet, but I would believe someone if they chose a bad line and said they got fully submerged. Merrill said he rode through it until his bike started to float. I am questioning the physics of that, but if he insists, I am inclined to believe him.

I was extremely happy with my @Sunheist Oak shades. As much mud as I was able to get on them, each time I wiped them off with a sweaty glove, I could watch the fog I made disappear in two seconds, and had crisp, shaded vision all day long. They are so light, aside from wiping them from time to time, I forgot they were there. These shades are amazing, you should really check them out.

The course was amazing. It was mostly sand roads, a little bit of clay, but we started with wet hard pack which dried out a little over the day. The scenery was beautiful countryside. There was such a variety of surface on this course that it really stood out as one of my favorites. That is given with the knowledge that without the torrential downpour the day before it would have been completely different, with a lot deeper shifty sand. I think my favorite part, being on the mountain bike was the last section through the woods at the end. It felt kinda like saying, okay mountain bike, let’s do some mountain biking.

After the race, Pensacola Offroad Cyclists cooked up some delicious Mexican style food with some amazing drumsticks. I may have had four, and there was a ton of food left over. I had a great time visiting with friends afterward. Considering having chosen the mtb over the gravel bike and having not been able to train lately, I was very happy with my results.

I had heard nightmare stories about this race two years ago. For those that shared them, the new route is great. I highly encourage everyone to put this on their list for 2023. There are lots of plans in the works to make this event even more amazing next year. Plan ahead, grab your friends and reserve a cabin together. The venue made this event really stand out, among everything else mentioned above.