Gravel and Whine, Temecula California, January 27, 2024. Marissa Axell, (11th, women Magnum course)
This course: we did the Magnum course at 65 miles and 6500’ in sunny SoCal. It was all about steep climbs and rough steep descents, oh and great views of snowcapped mountains, plus a really pretty valley. I set out for a big day, focusing on this event to help provide motivation to train through the winter. My biggest objectives are late in 2024, so this was about fun, and not about being super fit or fast. Overall I think it’s the hardest gravel race I’ve done (harder than bovine, paydirt, and lost n found). Crazy tough, but doable by taking my time and not taking risks!
The weather was warm (even at the start) and the wind was a major factor after 12pm, I haven’t ridden in wind that gnarly in years. I don't know how strong the gusts were but my rear wheel was picked up and skipped twice in the head/cross wind causing me to scream.
We started out at a super spicy pace (as happens) and I had already set the intention to park it at the edge of my threshold so i dont blow up. Glad I did that. It was safe, but fast.
Early in the first gravel road section, we had to navigate a loose dog which was super strange. This McMansion house was surrounded by green grass, a huge fence topped with aggressive barbed wiring…. Yet the 3 dogs ran parallel to the fence and got out. So…. tell me what’s the point of the barbed wire fencing when it’s not a complete fence?
That was scary. I put on my deepest loudest coaching voice and screamed GO HOME, GET OUT OF HERE to the dog as it almost bit the guy in front of me. My yelling distracted it, and the dog ran back towards its property.
The aid stations were really small and almost always out of water - the promoter mentioned to me afterward that they had 100+ more people register last minute so they admit got their water needs wrong. There was water to refill my pack in the first aid station but then aid stations 2 and 3 had almost no water at all.
Before we left Aid station 1 I made a rookie move, I forgot to add more electrolytes to my pack - this would come back to haunt me– but I ate 30-40g carbs every 30 min until the final hour. We left and directly into the 3.5mile, 1500’ climb (averate of 7% but really it was like 1.5 miles of 4% and 2 miles of 12+%)– steep AF. This is where I noticed all the locals had 54tooth cassettes. I was exceptionally jealous of that gear. Soon, we came up to a literal wall (like in ‘cross) where we had to dismount, carry bikes and try to scramble up using hands, knees and feet. That was wildly unexpected. I read later it was a 30% grade.
After the top, the course split into shorter and longer routes. It was gorgeous rolling up on the ridge, until the steepAF straight down descent. Then we turned left into a monster head cross wind that was absolutely bananas - like it picked me up and skipped my rear wheel twice... As I was approaching the second underwhelming aid station my legs were going into full cramp mode.
Super fortunate they had a trickle of water but also a few handfuls of ice, I took almost the last of it. And they had pickles in pickle juice, my savior. I slammed the pickle in like 5 bites, drank about 10oz of that juice, straight, no chaser :) I know you’re wrinkling your brow thinking “gross” but I was desperate for some salt thanks to forgetting to put the nuun tabs into my CamelBak.
After getting a small refill of water I added all my remaining nuun for the next leg. I also had to pee so badly so I finally just found a tree. Anthony found me at the second aid station and we rode the rest of the way together.
4 climbs down, Three climbs left. Most were steep but really short. I had to walk one, it was so technical I couldn't ride it… ruts, rocks, mud, I just walked about 300 yards. The final climb was 2miles and had an “aid station” at the top. I had to beg for water again and the volunteer filled up maybe 10 oz? Argh.
Anyway, then it was singletrack, and it was like 6 inches wide, with cactus and drop offs. I believe I said “if I'd have wanted to go hiking I would've done that”. Personally, I think single track in gravel events is straight up stupid (unpopular opinion but whatevs, I was ready for a pavement descent back to the start at this point).
There was lots of evidence of people crashing into cactus as there were broken cactus everywhere which was really sad.
Finally done with that section, but then a gigantic very steep descent with "deep canyons" running down, splitting the road into two and three and sometimes 4 part… oh and two locked access gates blocking our way. During this part I kept singing outloud “I do not like this, this is scary” over and over. So I’m barely navigating this, it’s super steep, loose gravel/sand navigating the erosion canyons and then hoping I stopped in time before the gates. That was the least fun part of this course. The reward was my tiny coke I had taken from the second aid station.
Then we head back to the start, only to find that the promoter added annoying pavement loops taking us farther from the start. At this point, I had enough. I got out my Google maps to take us back.
So it was like a super tough but sunny grasshopper on 90% gravel– The course was stunning altho I wouldn't send a roadie to this, or anyone with tentative gravel skills.
My body felt great, thanks to strength training! I’m glad I brought enough carbs, I probably would’ve enjoyed some salty snacks if they were present.
My back, neck shoulders everything felt strong and at the end a bunch of people (men and women both) were surprised at how hard the ride was on their upper body. The descents were long and some were really technical so there's not much recovery. People - get in your weight training!
So after a big day, I ended up finishing around 5:45 total time (about 5:30 moving time–but flubbed the end of the ride, missed about 3 miles of pavement I think). I would come ride here again in good weather. Expect a really tough day out, bringing more climbing gears, and prepare to carry your own food. It was completely new race in a new place and a bluebird day. However if there hadn't been any rain the week before, and the sand wasn't compacted it would've been an really rough sandy slog. Steep hills and sand.