Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Gravel

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41 years after our founding fathers penned their signatures on a piece of paper, forever sealing our independence, a new mode of transportation entered the world that would change the way humans move: the bicycle.

That’s right. The bike is celebrating its 200th birthday this year. From boneshaker to Penny Farthing, cruiser to Stumpjumper, the bike has come a long way in 200 years. To commemorate, I’ll be spending most of my Fourth of July riding one along the gravel roads near our office in Charlottesville, Va.

With its tubeless 29inch tires, carbon fork, and hydraulic disc brakes, my Salsa Fargo is a far cry from the dinosaur-age bikes of yesteryear, but at its core, my bike today provides the same possibility that the 1817 velocipede hinted at all those years ago: discovery. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike, no matter the distance, knows that intoxicating sense of freedom that comes by traveling from point A to point B via human-powered movement.

Ernest Hemingway was ahead of his time. He understood the beauty of a bike long before the rest of us. “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them,” he said. As of late, learning the intimacy of the land, conquering the challenge of the terrain, has been all I live for.

Summit of Spruce Knob, West Virginia’s highest point. / Photo by Travis Olson MountainRides, LLC

All spring, I’ve been hammering out long hours on the bike in preparation for a race that celebrates that sense of freedom and discovery, the Gravel Race Up Spruce Knob (GRUSK). For those of you who are not familiar with the race or Spruce Knob, West Virginia’s highest point, now’s the time to change that.

The summit itself offers one of the few above-the-treeline views in the Southeast. At 4,862 feet, the climate is unpredictable, capricious, and remarkably similar to that of higher elevation alpine environments. GRUSK embodies all of Spruce Knob’s attributes, for better or for worse.

The untraditional adventure race takes place this weekend, July 8th, at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center, about an hour from the nearest anything. I’ll be riding the 52-mile classic course, but with non-competitive 24- and 32-mile routes, plus an epic 72-miler, anybody with a sense of adventure and a hefty dose of grit can ride.

There’s nothing easy about this race, and I suppose that’s precisely what intrigues me. The setting itself is extremely remote, falling in the technology-free shadow of Green Bank. The 72-mile course gains 8,432 feet in elevation. The 52-miler ascends 5,286 feet. But all of that suffering is not without reward: the endless car-less gravel roads, the sweeping mountain views and open meadows, the camaraderie of West Virginia’s biking community. It’s a race that celebrates life, liberty, and the pursuit of gravel. What more could you want in an event?

Join us on the mountain! Online registration ends July 6th at 10pm EST, but you can still show up on the day of and register. If you’re not ready to take on the challenging terrain by bike, bring a cowbell and cheer us on!


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