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Susan's story: Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder

BaseCamp alumnus Susan Robinson shares her experience at the 2022 Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder.

Let me preface with this is a long write up. Grab some food, a beverage and post up for my OTGG recap.

Stage 1

I made a couple of silly mistakes.

Mistake #1: I didn’t pay close enough attention to where we were starting and went to the wrong place. Park downtown vs. High school which were luckily not far from one anther and I had given myself enough time to accommodate for my error.

Mistake #2 was not being able to hear the pre-race announcements very well from where I was staged. I did this event in 2019 and all stages began with a few mile neutral rollout to official timing mat where we would regroup and begin the race portion of the stage.

This time, the 1st stage we rolled over timing mat as we left the lot to hit the pavement for a few miles before we were on dirt. I let myself drift towards the back and then was a bit confused as to why we weren’t regrouping once we turned on to the dirt road beginning the 1st climb. Once I realized we were ‘racing’ I made mental note to put those 2 mistakes behind me and focus on my ride.

I had a minor crash in a sandy, loose rocky section and luckily landed in soft dirt but realized my bottle cage was rattling. I pulled out my multi tool only to realize I didn’t have the proper size Allen key. Seriously?? I hand tightened and finished descent to find a mechanic set up on the road. I asked him for assistance and what size I was missing: #3. Noted.

From there, I did my thing and crossed finish mat having no idea where I was in the mix.

I rode to camp with a fun crew and my timing was perfect as my husband and good friends were returning from their mtb ride. What a pleasure to see some of my favorite people, get to our van and pat my old dog on the head.

We went to the river to soak our legs, I had a massage after, ate a bunch of food, was photographed grabbing an adult beverage at the Fat Tire bar (which ended up in Velonews 😜) and hung out at the van with hubby, dog, Josh Berry and one of the Giant mechanics. We looked at results and I had finished 5th for masters women. Josh said “You either move up or you fall back”. 3rd, 4th, and 5th were within a few minutes of one another.

Stage 2

This stage is a pretty fun one, if you like long climbs and fun, fast descents. This course isn’t particularly technical, IMO, but starting with a long climb can set the tone. I made note of the ladies I was competing for 3rd (1st & 2nd had a ridiculous lead already on stage 1). 3rd place started the climb hot and I rode with her for a bit but the pace was unsustainable for me. I let her go thinking good on her if she can keep it up. 4th place passed by me about 2/3rd’s of the way and we chatted for bit and then she pulled away. I kept my pace and a few miles from the top, I came up on 3rd place rider looking pretty uncomfortable and I rode by. I arrived at aid station #1 near the summit and stopped to top off my h20 bottles (no chase vest) and noticed 4th place was filling bladder from her vest so I took off. There was a bit of rolling climb left and 4th caught up to me just before we started the long descent. She started ahead of me and I realized her hesitation going down so I punched it past her and caught up to a couple of guys and followed them down. They pulled away along the flatter section before next aid station & climb but there was no one in sight behind me. I pushed as hard as I could without blowing up and made quick stop at 2nd aid station where I met up with 4 other riders. We banged out the climb and finishing section together. There were 2 women in this group and I told them that I wasn’t going to sprint them for the finish as they were in Open category and I was racing Masters. I was just happy to have some wheels to sit on and try to move up in the standings if possible. I finished 3rd and had roughly a 4min and 7min lead over 4th & 5th.

Stage 3

This was another fun stage for me. The promoter decided to make it a grinduro format which consisted of a time 7 mile hill climb followed by timed 10 mile descent while the rest of the 47 mile loop was a group ride. My strategy was to pace the climb and have fun but not take any unnecessary risks on the descent as Stage 4 & 5 were going to be challenging and my hope was to maintain 3rd place. I did and managed to add a few more minutes cushion.

Stage 4

This was the Queen's Stage. 88 miles and 9,000+ climbing with temps in the 80s. I live in Idaho, and we've experienced an extended season of moisture and cool temps. I've been riding outside the past few months in temp range of 45-60 degrees F so I had been hydrating throughout the week in preparation for this. The promoter offered up the option of earlier start time for those concerned with distance & temp and these riders would receive times but not be scored in overall. To my surprise, 5th place started early so she was a nonissue. 4th place got dropped early on 20 mile climb and I rode alone after cresting that climb, the descent in to aid #1, second 10 mile climb and descent in to aid #2. I met up with my camp neighbor there and we rode the rest of the course together, thank gawd. We kept one another motivated and rolling. It was a long day but we got it done and I finished about an hour ahead of 4th.

Stage 5

The final day! I knew I could take it easy but I also didn't want to be out there all day. There were 4-5 of us that rode together to aid #1 and made a stop there. After that, we split in the rolling terrain & descent so I was on my own to aid #2. It was getting hot, so I topped off bottles, put ice down my sports bra & bib shorts and headed to the final exposed, steep climb. Near the bottom there were 2 volunteers: 1 pouring h20 over your head & the other stuffing ice down your back. They asked & I said “YES!!” I settled in and passed a few riders who were having a far rougher time and try to give words of encouragement. I got to the top, started descending and passed through the short snow banks and rode through some puddles. The last puddle I came to I had my line & exit… thing I know I slammed the ground on my left side with my head bouncing off the ground due to jack knifing my front wheel upon exiting the water. Seriously?? I was 2.5K from the finish. There was a rider who witness and stopped to check that I was ok and I was but needed a moment to shake it off. I got back on the bike and took it easy the rest of the way to the finish where my husband was waiting. Yes. I did it.

P.S. Mistake #3: I missed the podium ceremony due to taking a shower.

Fun fact: it’s not the 1st time that I’ve done that. 😂


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