The Black Fly Challenge is a pretty well known gravel grinder that takes place in the Adirondack’s of central New York. The route reverses every year, and this year the route went from Indian Lake to Inlet, a distance of 40.5 miles, on gravel forest roads with about a mile of single track at the end to cut over to the city park.
I did absolutely zero course recon and the only information I had on the race was what I had gleaned from the internet and the few questions that I asked a guy at packet pick-up. Why he acted like I was asking for his bank pin number or something of that sort, I have no idea. He was the person that I was directed to for questions, but acted like I was annoying him by asking them. I finally blatantly announced that I was from out of state and this was my first time to do his race. Mr. Personality grumbled the answers and walked off. If in by chance, you were the guy at Pedals and Petals giving me a hard time, why were you a dick?
Do to it’s rather remoteness and the single lane mountain roads, the start was at 10 am. I arrived early, since I’d learned that it was a mass start. Why have a mass start when they’re are 3 different bike divisions (cx, mtb, fat bike) and different age groups? I have no idea and after participating in the cluster fuck that was the start, it’s something that needs to be addressed. Anyway, I went right to the front and positioned myself on the second row of about 10 riders. I knew it was going to be sketchy as shit during the roll out and since there’s 5 miles of pavement, I wanted to stay at the front and out of trouble. “Cat 1’s to the front, Cat 2’s to the back.” Whatever, people are going to line up wherever they want and I made sure that it was behind me.
The ribbon drops and we’re off…all 700 of us. There’s a slight uphill and then it was rolling for the first 5 miles. We were rolling 22-25, and I was hanging with the cx’ers (I was on a Niner Air 9 hardtail, in the mtb division). The unmistakable sound of bikes and bodies hitting the ground started less than a mile from the start. Lots and lots of crashes behind me. Lots of yelling… behind me. Sketch af! The other bummer involving the mass start, was that I had no idea who I was racing. Sure, the contenders were going to stage themselves at the start, but no clue who was in my age group. We’d been riding for about 20 minutes before I looked around to see the size of the group. About 30 cx bikes and less than 10 mtb’s. “This is the selection,” I thought to myself.
The pavement ended abruptly and we hit the gravel. This area had seen a decent amount of rain over the past month, so the roads were fantastic. Nicely compacted dirt and gravel, led to a fast race. Speeds were in the low 20’s until the halfway point, where the cx and mtb’s tended to split. I remained with a group of about, 8 and I was the only mtb’er in the group. We took turns pulling in a pace line and I enjoyed bombing some good downhills, where the cx’ers had to take it easy or play Russian roulette with punctures and bike control. We passed through some pretty areas and several more aid stations. I brought 2 bottles and had ditched one empty and was rapidly going through the second. We came out into a clearing, took a hard right marked by signs, and settled down for some sustained climbing. The temps were mild, but I felt the humidity creeping up a bit in the shade of the trees.
My group was down to about 5 with 10 miles to go. I started feeling a bit if the bonk, which I have no real answers for, other than the high speed of the race on a 21 lb bike. I took it easy for a bit and dropped off the back, rolling behind the group for a mile or so. We eventually popped out onto the main road, where I knew that the finish lay only a couple of miles away. I was right at 1:50 and I knew the winning time for my age group at a prior year was right at 2 hours. Another little climb, some muddy singletrack where I passed a few cx’ers, and a short little downhill led me to the finish.
I ended up second in my age group with a time of 2:07, and a big plus was the fact that second place paid $125!
I’ll do it again, as the race will be the reverse of what I did this year and that it was definitely a fun race. The start leaves a little bit to be desired, but I’ll reuse my plan from this year and come with a little bit more fitness. The Black Fly Challenge is always the second Saturday in June, so if you’re in the north east, come on out and give it a try.