Introducing….the Scrappy Badger
A few weeks ago I pre-rode the Scrappy Badger course with my pal Dan Marshall, Substance Projects head honcho, and I gotta say this:
Because it’s almost here!
The inaugural Scrappy Badger, presented by Substance Projects is going to be one hell of a rip. There are two options: 40k or 80k.
Wait a sec, I’m not buzzing, I’m doing whatever badgers do when they’re excited.
Okay, hold that thought. I just Googled badgers, and I am not doing anything like a badger. Um, they’re gross. Come to think of it, do you know what else is gross? The course for the Scrappy Badger, the final instalment of the Substance Projects OnGravel (love that name) Race Series. It’s gross, and disgusting, and awful, and just really really horrible.
I don’t want to do it.
A few years ago, I pre-rode the inaugural El Bandito, with Dan, and then wrote a post titled “Just Say NO to El Bandito” as a joke, but this time, it’s no joke. DO NOT DO THE SCRAPPY BADGER. Do you know what a badger looks like? Well I do AND I’ve ridden the course, and this race is the personification of a badger. Except worse, it’s a scrappy one.
Here’s a general summary of the course: ugly loose gravel, horrible technical sections, punishing climbs, more punishing climbs, raw and rugged farm track, and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat until you want to vomit your sternum.
Annnnnnnnd crap. There’s the rub for me, because I totally dig that.
I don’t want to do a race that’s easy.
I don’t want to ride my bike down a gently sloping hill to garden party.
I don’t want to walk normally the day after a race.
So I’m back to buzzing. Or maybe I’m doing exactly what a badger does, because I think there may be a chance the badger is my spirit animal.
Nope. Just checked the Google again. The badger’s diet consists of earthworms, insects, and grubs–and they’re really ugly–so, um, that’s a giant NO…but it doesn’t mean I’m not still buzzing.
I’m buzzing because I don’t think there’s anything else out there quite like a Substance Projects gravel race. They are hard, and fun, and an absolute blast to ride and they aren’t just races on gravel. Sure, they INCLUDE some gravel bits, but there’s a bunch of other gnarly stuff too…and lots and lots of climbing…and some pavement…and sections of absolute terror known simply as “sections” (way to get creative there…).
Sections can only be described as, um, sections of, um stuff, that you have to ride over, under, through, and along. On second thought, I guess the name is appropriate. The sections in the OnGravel Series are basically the grossest parts of non-road in the province. They’re abandoned farm track, and rutted and greasy trails. Think: goat path.
And, whether you’re climbing or descending a section, the physical reaction is essentially the same: pant crapping. Also, THEY’RE SO MUCH FUN!
The sections in the Scrappy Badger range from packed limestone, to deep and frothy sand; from pea gravel, to fist sized, deeply grooved impossible track; to steeply banked trail that can be blisteringly fast, and/or punishingly slow–sometimes in the same short stretch. They are horribly awesome. I hate them like I’d hate a badger in my kitchen.
The varied terrain begs the question about bike choice, and tire style, width, and pressure. The answer is YES. I rode the course on my Norco Threshold Cross bike, with the absolute worst choice of tire and pressure (31mm file treads at about 60psi), and I survived. Honestly whatever you choose, it’ll be both right and wrong depending on where you are in the race.
If you think you can’t do the 80k, you’re wrong (anyone can do the 80k), but if you want a more gentle day on a bike, register for the 40k, or even the 20k: same pant-crapping fun, shorter course.
Pre-Ride Report: Scrappy Badger. July 20, 2019. Baltimore, ON
Okay, so my pre-ride details may be a bit sketchy. Dan and I rode the course on July 20th, which may have been the hottest day since the invention of farenheit. No kidding. Worse, I was knee deep in a basement renovation, and still mired in my early season breathing situation (that still persists, but to a lesser degree), so my physical condition was less than stellar. Even worse, we were totally unsupported, and had to stop three times to ask for some kindness from strangers.
How hot was it? It was so hot that I didn’t even have the energy to take a Team Colin selfie (which is now totally a thing), until after the ride.
The Scrappy Badger starts and ends at the Baltimore Community Centre, in Baltimore, Ontario, which is about 6 minutes north of Coburg, on Highway 45. Immediately after the START, the course winds slightly downhill, and passes the material from whence it came: a gravel pit. After the pit, it’s basically hell.
Or maybe I just think it was hell because of the flames lapping at our feet–on the hottest day since the cretaceous period. No kidding.
The first long climb is long and long. It lets up for a bit, but then it keeps going. If you did the El Bandito, it’s like the 4k hill about 15k into the race, except it’s steeper and longer and longer and gravel and longer.
The climbs do not let-up for the rest of the race. Did Dan load the hills at the beginning of the race? No, he did not. He loaded the hills throughout the race. Looking at my GPS, I counted 7 distinctly big, grunty, climbs, and a whole bunch of other mean ones, scattered evenly from START to FINISH. Near the end, the course actually summits the steepest hill ever encountered in a Substance Projects race. You will actually need crampons and a belay. I’m usually big with hyperbole, so take what I say with a pile of salt, but Dan confirmed it: There has never been a steeper hill in a Substance Projects race. Thankfully, it’s relatively short, but relative in this race doesn’t mean much…
BTW at the top of the hill, look back for one of the finest views I’ve ever seen in a bike race. Bring an oxygen tank for that. It was pretty even though my soul was slowly fading into the abyss of heat stroke–because the day was hotter than an actual lava flow. No kidding.
Badger V. Bandito
The El Bandito 70k had 1400m of climbing, with 3 giant climbs, a few smaller ones, and a gentle middle section.
The Scrappy Badger is 10k longer, with only 1250m of climbing, and one giant climb at the beginning, plus 7 lesser climbs scattered throughout, followed by a sweet slope to the finish. Don’t let the 10k longer/150m less climbing thing fool you, the climbs never end, and the sections are long and angry.
Also, it was really hot that day. Once again, I need to mention that I typically don’t shy from exaggeration, but by the end of the ride, I was deep into heat exhaustion, and I think I was dangerously close to heat stroke. I almost barfed on the drive home, I couldn’t stop shaking for a few hours, and I was so spent that I think I stopped on the drive home and ate a bunny on the side of the road. After the ride, Dan said “Just think how good you’ll feel after a good sleep”. I thought “First, it’s called a coma…”
The race ends with a gentle glide back to the gravel pit, where you may want to simply lie down and die, and back to the Baltimore Community Centre.
End of Pre Ride Report
Okay, so it was hot that day, and the course is really hard, and that gravel pit almost became my final resting place, and even though much of the ride is blurry from the several strokes I experienced, looking back, it was an absolute gas.
Um, it’s a Substance Projects race, what did I expect?
Plus, I gotta say I dig going a new race.
Btw, something else really cool happened. As I wrote in my last post, it’s always about the journey, and I never have to really scratch that deep to find one. The Scrappy Badger took Dan and I through some pretty remote towns, and aside from being strikingly beautiful, something else happened that particularly surprised me. While we were navigating a particularly rough section, a truck came barrelling towards us, and even though I moved to the side as far as I could, I almost got clipped by the bumper. It was unnecessary on the part of the truck, and scary as heck.
But there’s more…
Shortly after that encounter, we were out of water, hot, and thirsty. We saw a few residents loading their truck, and approached to ask for water. Without a beat, they gave us a few water bottles, and we talked about the stuff you talk about on a hot day. That very same meeting happened two more times during our ride, and each time we met terrific and hospitable people. I can’t help thinking the truck driver who had blood in his eyes just a short while prior would have just as easily been kind and hospitable if we had appeared on HIS doorstep, because in that context, we would have had faces, as opposed to simply being anonymous cyclists on “their” farm road. I don’t know why the thought persists, but I almost feel like the Scrappy Badger could be a cool way to bridge a gap between non-cyclists, and the riding community, or at least a way to expose two often disparate groups to one another.
It’s also a reminder that races are held on open roads, and that driver may never want to see a different side to the inconvenience of a cyclist on the road, so we need to always be alert and vigilant.
One final thing. Near the end of the race, just after the last section, and with about 5k to go, we passed a farm. We were dying (well, I was), and the owner had a hose…and it was running…and I was basically riding a green unicorn through the fields of Bonkenberg…so we stopped to beg for some help. As I was drenching my head under the hose and gulping as much water as my body would hold (because it was really really really hot)–I think I was speaking in tongues too–Dan and the owners got to talking. I staggered out of my stupor, and we toured the barn. Dude had a wall plastered in old MTB race plates (like 70 or 80 of them): 24 Hour races, Epic 8 Hour, Coulson’s Hill, and a bunch of races I didn’t recognize. We stumbled on a former MTB racer! He promised to be at the foot of his driveway on race day, cheering riders. When you pass, say hi to Dave.
So that’s it. The Scrappy Badger is this weekend, and it’s going to be one heck of an epic romp. Okay, I’m not going to start eating earthworms, insects, and grubs, but I just might pretend to be a badger for the day.
For those who can’t make it (although seriously, cancel all plans to make it–heck, reschedule your wedding if you have to) the inaugural Reggie Ramble, presented by Sean Ruppel and Superfly Racing, is on September 28th. I don’t know what the course holds, but I’m looking forward to it because it’s a Sean race, it’s close to my mom’s town (so I’m gonna eat like a teenager after the race), and the terrain is the rolling Northumberland Hills. There are three distance options (65k, 130k, or a 1,000k).
If you’re looking for more info, check the Substance Projects website, send a message to Dan Marshall, or fire an email to me (at: TeamColinBlog@yahoo.com). Also, you can check my other posts about prior Substance Projects gravel races:
My riding buddy, John joined us for the first part of the ride. He had to bail early to get to work, but as usual, it was great to ride with him. John is smart, and knows current events, and we were talking about the Left vs the Right politics and other stuff. At one point, I was well behind (um, of course), and I heard one of them say “Easy there, Thanos…”, however, when I caught up, they were talking about mechanical advantage, and one of them said “No, that’s kinetic energy, not potential energy…”, so it was a mixed bag of convo topics. Awesome.