unPAved by Eric

Occasionally, We have a guest write a product review or share their experience at an event. This time around, we are treated to Eric M’s fun description of the unPAved gravel race:

Commonly referred to by it’s shorter alias, the unPAved is indeed “Hard on the Legs, Easy on the Eyes,” a sentiment as accurately descriptive as its name. In only its second year, the unPAved has become an event that has riders asking when registration opens for next year as they wander around the finishers area in a haze of dust and happiness. The unPAved mastermind, chief cook, and bottle washer, Dave Pryor, along with his main cohort Mike Kuhn and a legion of amazing volunteers, friends, and mischief makers have produced a top tier event that drew nearly 1,000 registrants from 3 dozen states. This year’s event spanned the entire Columbus Day weekend with social rides, the Lewisburg Fall Festival, and even a Wooly Worm petting zoo. The Susquehanna River Valley should be near the top of everyone’s list as a destination for fun in the great outdoors.

A few notes on the 90 mile distance Plenty unPAved–

Last year I opted for the 50 mile category, now called the Proper, and vowed with a fellow cyclist that we would return for the 90 mile version thinking more climbing and descending hills, gravel and dirt roads, and chowing down on the highly sought after finishers whoopie pie was a great way to celebrate this cycling pursuit called gravel grinding. The Plenty unPAved category was all we hoped for and so much more. Dave Pryor, event brain-child, and his band of cohorts designed a course that rewarded all riders who toed the start line at 8:00AM on a foggy and chilly Sunday morning. Riders started the adventure along the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail for a few miles to get the blood to extremities and conduct some idle chat.

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An early morning start in this area of Pennsylvania rewards the visitor with the sights and sounds of the local faithful clip-clopping their way to Sunday observances. All riders gave a wide berth to the trotting horses and no pictures were taken; we were all focused on our respective tasks at hand. For the riders, the first test begins about 14 miles in with the significant climb up Jones Mountain, a combination that proves to be steep with some elevation sections measured greater than 12%. This was an unrelenting climb and longer than I remembered from last year. Most riders take the time to regroup and refuel at the summit before beginning the downhill section followed by minor rollers that lead to “The Ranch.” This first aid station located at mile 27 was a true party atmosphere where riders were greeted by cowbell ringing volunteers in all manner of hoedown garb including inflatable horse and ostrich costumes. Somehow I missed the espresso guy but not the vast array of snacks, hydration offerings, a perfectly overcooked-to-order hot dog, and a bio-break. The next 18 miles was a grinning descent through the Bald Eagle State Forest. Eighteen miles of blue skies and a full palette of autumn colors greeted the riders as we headed past a couple of small hamlets towards the base of the second of the day’s four signature climbs.
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Siglerville Millheim Pikeounds innocent enough when the sun is shining and the thought of the second aid station called the GU Energy Oasis is just a 10 mile click away. Well, easier said than done, but do it we did, and what lay waiting for us at Poe Paddy State Park was perhaps the best rest stop I’ve ever encountered. Drop Bags were neatly set out in rows for riders to pillage through their belongings, or leave items behind to then be delivered at the finish. I propped my bike, a Lynskey GR250 with a newly installed Lauf Grit SL fork, against a handsome hemlock and took my water bottles for a stroll to get refilled. What I encountered changed my whole perception on mid-ride food possibilities. There in the middle of the forest was gentleman decked in overalls creating culinary wonders from a cauldron and a skillet. Most people know him as Evan from Nittany Mountain Works fame, a local company making some seriously great bags for your cycling life. I called him a magician, for how else did he know at that moment that I would most definitely be resuscitated by perogies, bacon, fried potato wedges, and fresh pour-over coffee? I was so distracted by a second and third perogy that I nearly forgot to refill my water bottles. On the way back to my bike, after some sincere high-fives to Evan, I spotted the bottle of TUMS. Who else but a magician would think to have TUMS on hand?
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Having checked off a few boxes at the aid station it was time to saddle up and ride on, so off we went to face the second half of the day with two climbs yet to go. The event’s elevation profile depicts Cherry Run Road as a pyramid followed immediately by “the molar” which starts with Sheesley Run Road and incorporates a few more smaller undulating roads before a swift downhill on Old Shingle Road for a final test of wits and braking acumen.

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For the riders on the 90 and 120 mile courses there was a chance to have a brief respite from the bike saddle in the form of the now infamous Salsa Cycles Chaise from their #chasethechaise campaign which began at the Dirty Kanza event years ago. It was nice to take a quick sit on something soft (finally), smile for the camera, remount the bike, and head down the mountain towards the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail.

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There was a final pitstop available and I’m still stumped why I did not stop at the Rusty Rail Brewing Company aid station in Mifflinburg, where tasty beverages, snacks, laughs, and restrooms were on offer before the last 9 miles leading to the Miller Center for Recreation & Fitness where we all began our respective rides.

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