I’ve never been a big fan of gravel. One reason being that the word “gravel” – in Missouri at least – is a relative descriptor. Mind you, I’ve never conducted any type of quantitative analysis of road conditions across the world, but I’ve always felt like the rural roads of Missouri are particularly insidious. Ours are comprised of long sections of bone jarring washboard, huge wheel crushing ruts that are almost gully-like in dimension… and “gravel” itself? From what I’ve read of other areas, gravel pathways are quaint and casual riding affairs of packed, mild mannered chat. Here, our gravel is mean-spirited, loosely distributed and much less like crushed chat and more like… well, like boulders. Lots and lots and lots of fist-sized boulders.
I used to live on a gravel road. We were about five miles from any sort of pavement. Then, as now, my choice of riding tended towards road bikes and not the sturdier framed mountain bikes. The big difference, however, was that back in the day I only rode 23C size road tires. Getting to those paved surfaces chewed up my narrow rubber tires and had my teeth chattering unrelentingly the entire five miles.
So I tend to avoid gravel…which occasionally has me at odds with a natural inclination to wander and explore. The past few days I’ve had a hankering to get off of the familiar routes and do a little meandering. Taking it slow, I wandered off the pavement on Saturday in search of new places. Heading out of town, I found myself with an unexpected urge to climb so I took the hilly route toward the bluffs along the Missouri River.
Some of the structures along the way are dilapidated, yet have the charm of homes that have been well-lived in for many a year. It’s easy to imagine, looking at this building, what the early days of Clay County must have looked like.
Atop one climb, I decided to take a side road to see what was there to see. It’s a pleasant (but short) detour.
The ride down was quick and uneventful, as was the miles of flats through the river bottoms. My Boulder Brevet is sporting a new pair of tires by Compass that have been growing on me as they seem to have settled in on the rims. Rough farm road surfaces seem to be absorbed better than when I’m riding typical road tires. Maybe I’m buying into the hype, or maybe I’m trying to justify to myself having shelled out the extra scratch for the tires – or maybe they’re actually doing what Compass bills them to do. Either way, I’m happy with the ride.
The first gravel road is flat for a couple hundred yards and then begins to ascend steeply back up into the bluffs. The road twists and turns abruptly, but I’m going uphill and slow, so no worries.
I ride my lower gears, but for some reason don’t need to rely on granny at all. The gravel is loose enough that my tires will spin if I shift into the very lowest gears. The line of sight is short and more than once I find myself wondering what might be over the next hill.
At one point, the road comes to a gated end and I have to turn around to look for another junction to explore.
And at another point, the road simply ends. The signs proclaim “Road Closed.”
“What road?” I wonder.