2018 Howling Coyote Gravel Grinder
With the onset of autumn, I find it easy to stay inside. Daylight hours are shorter and temperatures are cooler, and I believe we have an instinct to begin our winter hibernation habits (or it’s just my excuse to be lazy, eat and drink more and exercise less!).I’ve also scaled back this year in the number of cycling events/races that I’ve entered. In 2018, prior to October, I’d only entered Paris to Ancaster (the spring classic race back in April) and Turas Mor (an untimed tour in May). And I was content to ride just for enjoyment for the rest of the year. Then I read about the Howling Coyote, a gravel grinder about an hour from home. Two things drew me to this event: (1) it was held in an area where I’ve never cycled: Mono, Ontario, and (2) It was organized by Dan Marshall at Substance Projects, with the support of local cycling expert Linda Shin. Although I’d cycled a lot this year, I thought I’d try the “medium” distance of 40 km on my fat bike. The longer 80 km distance just seemed too far on a fat bike, and I knew it would be hilly. Plus I mistakenly thought I might have a chance to get on the podium in the fat bike category for the 40 km distance (more on that later). Race day started cold. Near 0C temperatures and a chilly wind out of the north west. When I arrived at the Mono (pronounced Mow-Know), there was a hint of snow on the ground that had fallen the night before. The 80 km race started just after 10 am. As usual, my bro Jeff took off at the front: Once they were gone, I had almost an hour before the 20 and 40 km race distances started at 11 am. It was cold, so I didn’t want to stand around outside. Instead, I found my sister-in-law Elaine and our mutual friend Karen, who were warming up in a camper trailer that Karen and her hubby Hal (who was racing the 80 km on a singlespeed) brought to the race. Shortly before 11 am, I finally went outside to “warm up”. With over 80 riders in the 40 km, plus another 20 in the 20 km (including Elaine and Karen), the starting corral was crowded, but not packed. I started near the front and found myself surrounded by fat bikers. There were a dozen of us in the 40 km event, compared to just 5 in the 80 km distance. I blame my bro Jeff for this… He’s so fast on a fat bike that when people see his name on the staring list, they sign up for the shorter distance. It’s the “Jeffect” (see what I did there? I combined “Jeff” and “effect” to make a new word)., which is defined as: racers see that they’re up against Jeff, and they drop to a different category. Anyway, I’ll get a little ahead of myself here to say that with a fairly large fat bike field in the 40 km distance, I realized I didn’t have a chance a getting on the podium (which meant no Amsterdam Beer, which all podium winners get at Dan’s races!). Still, I wanted to have a good race. The 40 km loop started with a hill. Not a huge hill, but still enough to get the lungs burning right off the start (about 80 metres of elevation gain over the first two kilometres). Though I started near the front, a lot of cyclists passed me on this first hill, but I’m used to that. Once we made it to the top, we continued along the road until we were treated with some singletrack through Mono Tract Forest. Trails were covered in leaves but were a lot of fun to ride on my fat bike. Upon exiting the woods, there were some fast downhills and tailwind that made the next sections loads of fun! I hit a maximum speed of nearly 65 km/h on one long, steep downhill! Then, I saw it in the distance… the first of two BIG climbs. We gained over 180 metres of elevation in about 3 kilometres, with a peak grade of over 20%. Fortunately, my fat bike is equipped with a gear that was low enough to grind my way all the way up. Some other riders weren’t so lucky, as I was able to pass some people who carried/pushed/dragged their bikes over these steepest sections (when I say I “passed” them, I mean… my cycling speed of maybe 5-6 km/h was only marginally faster than their hike-a-bike speed of around 4 km/h!). There was another climb with over 100 m of climbing in about a kilometer and a half soon thereafter. Again, I was able to grind it to the top (at a speed of maybe 7 km/h). And then the home stretch… gravel roads led to pavement, which led to some grassy trail before the finish. I’ve said in these pages many times that I’m not a very competitive. However, in the last kilometres of this race, I found myself trading positions with another fat biker. I knew there were at least four or five fat bikers ahead of me, so I wasn’t battling this fellow for a podium spot. But I still found the need to beat him (that’s him in the white long-sleeved jersey in the photo above). So as we got closer to the finish, I sped up a bit and drafted off of another guy on a gravel bike. After a few minutes I looked back and we had gained on the fat biker. I finished less than a minute ahead, but I learned that I do occasionally have a competitive spirit. As it turns out, I finished 6th out of 11 male fat bikers in the 40 km distance. Overall, 83 riders finished this distance, and I was 35th. Not bad for an old fat biker… Here’s a screen shot of the elevation profile for the 40 km route: I’ve been a fan of Dan’s Substance Projects events every since my first Eager Beaver race a couple of years ago. Dan organizes the best cycling events in Ontario. He has a winter fat bike series, a mountain bike endurance series and a “Stupor Cross”, or gravel grinder series. Introduced for the first time in 2018, Howling Coyote is the third and final event in this latter category. If I were to measure the dollar value of cycling events, Dan’s would come out on top. SWAG included a sweet Howling Coyote toque and beer glass. Plus a hot lunch post-race, loaded aid stations, hot coffee before the race, and hot apple cider afterwards. And the draw prizes…. lots of cycling stuff, but when my name was called, I went straight for the PIE! Winners of each category were awarded locally-baked pies, but there were some available for draw prizes as well! Finally, huge thanks to the organizers, Dan, Linda and the large crew of volunteers. And to the town of Mono. I love connecting with the cycling community at these types of events. Great to see my bro Jeff on the top step of the podium again. And Hal on the second step on the singlespeed category. And their spouses Elaine and Karen who signed up for the 20 km event, but took a little scenic detour and won the unofficial 32 km distance! Plus local buddies Duane W., John S. and Stu C., PPP riders Christina and Arlie, Lapdogs, including volunteers Barry C., Robin and Jouko (and Bruno), Cyclepath Oakville riders Nat, Brent, Laura, plus of course, my fellow middle-aged male cycling bloggers Team Colin and Riot, and photographer Ted A.
5 thoughts on “2018 Howling Coyote Gravel Grinder”
Good story. Thanks for sharing it.
Great write-up Steve. Wish I was not such as weather weenie.
I was surprised to read that you hadn’t ridden the roads around Mono and Hockey Valley before! Beautiful aren’t they?! And not all of them are that climby :). Nice to see you again! Great photos!
Thanks Robin! I definitely want to explore that area some more!