Ride Report: Fiddlin’ Fifty

Editor’s Note: The Fiddlin’ Fifty, a race we did a “Featured Event” post on not long ago, was run recently in some pretty challenging conditions. Riding Gravel contributor, John Ingham “showed up” and gave a bit of feedback on his experience there, but we are really excited to share a race report we did not see coming. We were fortunate to hear from Erik “The Dude” Nelson, who was inspired to “show up” to the Fiddlin’ Fifty, in part by John’s post, and was kind enough to share that experience with us. Following is his take on this year’s Fiddlin’ Fifty along with some images by Erik and others provided by one of the Fiddlin’ Fifty’s event directors, Susan Hoppe.

Fiddlin Fifty
The registration table at the Fiddlin’ Fifty

Fiddin’ Fifty – I Showed Up- by Erik “The Dude” Nelson

It’s funny that I recently read “Showing Up, Weather Be Damned” by John Ingham. (http://ridinggravel.com/uncategorized/showing-weather-damned/) I ended up meeting him on this ride, though I didn’t know that at the time. This was one of those rides. The weather forecast was pretty confident that we were in for a cold and rainy day. I’m not sure how many people were put off by that. But the lot who showed up were hearty and cheerful. Even at the end, after all the cold and wet.

Fiddlin FiftyScott and Susan, (Fiddlin’ Fifty event directors), said a few words, and sent us off. The fast riders took off in the distance. I am certainly not one of the fast ones. The weather was cool and damp. I have a tendency to ride too fast at the start, so I hung back and concentrated on just following people. I’d find some people riding at a good pace and ride along behind or beside them, trying not to hurry.

Despite that, the roads were good and the riding was fine, and I managed to make good speed for the first 20+ miles, until we got to Mud Hole road. It’s aptly named, though “road” is maybe a little optimistic. It starts out well enough, with puddles you can roll through or around. It gradually gets boggier until you’re basically riding through a swamp. Really, it was good fun. Other than soaking wet feet, I couldn’t have been happier. Remember your 8 year old self who loved to stomp through puddles in the rain? Give in to that childish feeling and enjoy it.

After making it through the bog, I stopped to try to clean some of the gunk off my drivetrain. I used most of a bottle of water trying to get my disc brakes to stop grinding. It turned out later that wasn’t a terribly smart decision. I was also smart enough to pack a rag and a bottle of chain lube. I re-lubed my chain and that was definitely helpful.

Fiddlin Fifty
Erik reminds us to smile and roll with it.

A few miles later the course turns off into the woods and follows what I believe is an ATV trail. It’s basically little used double-track and it was beautiful. And bumpy. But riding along alone in the woods was a treat. Until I took the wrong line through a muddy rut and ended up on my back on the side of the trail. It was a low speed fall and I wasn’t hurt at all. I briefly considered just laying there for a minute and enjoying the rest, but I didn’t want someone coming up on me to worry that I might actually be hurt so I got up and brushed myself off and detangled my drivetrain. Of course I fell to the right. I’m not sure how my rear derailleur survived the day, honestly.

The trail eventually spits you out onto a most beautiful freshly paved road with absolutely nobody on it. I must admit I really enjoyed the “rest” of being able to roll without struggling. The road took us into the closest thing to civilization we were going to see all day. There was a small store and gas station, and that was about it.

Somewhere around the 40 mile mark I ran out of energy. I had tried to keep eating during the ride, but it’s something I always struggle with. Normally I force myself to stop every 10 miles, at least for a minute, and put something in my mouth. I had brought along a couple of bananas and a variety of energy snacks. But now the mud had gotten thicker, and my drivetrain was complaining loudly, and it was a struggle just to keep pushing the pedals. I started pulling over and taking a break quite often. I ran out of water, which wasn’t good. Remember that bottle of water that I used for my brakes? Well the brakes were grinding and complaining fiercely and it hadn’t really made any difference.

Fiddlin Fifty

I happened past a house, and stopped to knock on the door. They were friendly and let me refill my water bottles. Without that stop, I definitely wouldn’t have made it. For the next ride, I’m bringing more water.

I hit Lonesome Polecat road at mile 45 and I was ready to quit. Lonesome Polecat is a quiet, bumpy trail where I didn’t see a single person. I pulled over to rest multiple times. I “quit” countless times. I was done for. I thought about calling Susan and asking for rescue. But making them come down this track seemed excessive, so I decided I’d just make it to the next road first. Just one more segment. “Just one more” helped get me through the ride.

Fiddlin Fifty
Riding Gravel contributor, John Ingham negotiates a boggy “road” at the Fiddlin Fifty

Somewhere after Lonesome Polecat is where John, (John Ingham, Riding Gravel contributor), caught up with me. Seeing another human and talking to them helped cheer me up. I shared my chain lube and we both cleaned up our drivetrains a little bit. And then rode together for a short while. John helped distract me from thoughts of rescue, and got me a little bit further down the road.

I sent him on the way and up the next hill and I stopped to take yet another break. It felt like I was standing on the side of the road resting more than I was riding. But I’d stop for a minute and drink a little water and try to eat a bite of something, and then get on the bike and ride some more. Just one more mile – just one more road. Just a little bit further.

Just a little bit further got me to the turn onto Colombe Road. And a short way down that road was a group of people who had just done the same miles that I had done, and were waiting for me to join them – so I did.

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Finished! Erik at the end of an adventure filled day. (Image by Erik Nelson)

I got down the road to the finish line. I set my bike down and wandered around in a daze for a few minutes. Scott pointed out the hose on the side of the house. I pushed my bike over (grind, scrape, grind) and hosed all the mud and grit and sand off of my bike. And all that gunk came off of my bike and I felt lighter. I was standing dead tired in the cold rain after having struggled to make it here. And I started thinking about the next ride, and looking forward to my next chance to get my bike dirty.

Challenging yourself and pushing yourself is what this is all about. It’s why we’re here. When you’re in the middle of it all and struggling, it’s hard to see. But when you get to the end and look back and see your accomplishment, it surely feels good.

Editor’s Note: We’d like to thank Susan Hoppe of the Fiddlin’ Fifty for providing us many of the images seen in this post. Also, a big thank you to Erik “The Dude” Nelson for this report and images that he provided as well. If any reader of RidingGravel.com would like to submit a ride report, we do accept contributions. Please mail any reports with images to: guitarted@ridinggravel.com for consideration. These reports are not compensated for by RidingGravel.com and all images and words submitted become the property of RidingGravel.com

About The Author: I am Erik “The Dude” Nelson. I started biking 5 years ago. Heard about the Almanzo and said, “Hey I want to do that!“. Since then I have been trying to spend less time at work and more time on a bike, with less success than I’d like.


Author: Guitar Ted

Guitar Ted hails from Iowa. Home of over 70,000 miles of gravel and back roads. An inaugural member of the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame and Co-creator of Trans Iowa in late 2004- Guitar Ted has been at the forefront of the growth of gravel events and riding since then. Creator of Gravel Grinder News in 2008, he produced the premier calendar of gravel and back road events. GT joined forces with Riding Gravel in late 2014.

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3 thoughts on “Ride Report: Fiddlin’ Fifty

  1. Having ridden three of the four fiddlin’ fifties, that was by far the hardest ride thanks to the weather. Felt like the harder I tried in the last eight miles, the more my bike just decided to sink into the road and slog harder.

    Thanks for the lube btw.

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