Fitzgerald’s Bicycles hosted its annual Around the Rock gravel ride on Saturday, June 25, sending riders on a 152-mile journey around the entirety of the Teton Range.
The ride began a few minutes after 6 a.m. near Fitzgerald’s Victor location, sending riders down-valley past Tetonia and Felt. From there participants turned east towards Grassy Lake Road, which brought them off the gravel and onto Highway 191 in Grand Teton National Park.
From there riders turned south towards Jackson, with the beauty of the range’s sheer eastern faces just to their right while cruising the smooth pavement. The route saves the meat of its over 8,000 feet of elevation gain for last; a climb and descent of Teton Pass.
The fastest finisher arrived back in Victor around 2:45 p.m., completing the ride in around eight and a half hours.
This year’s ride featured about the best weather any rider could have hoped for. A brisk morning start was followed by a beautiful sunrise, nearly cloudless skies, mellow winds, and a moderately high temperature.
“We have seen such extremes of weather from high winds to high temperatures and then equally to snow and hail on Teton Pass. To have normal wind, it wasn’t crazy and was mellow, having temperatures that were mild to start with but not crazy in any way. It could not have been better weather,” said Fitzgerald’s brand manager Greta Baker.
With low-key weather, conditions were ripe to enjoy an equally low-key ride.
“It goes back to grassroots gravel riding. It’s not a race, it just happens to be that on the weekend closest to the solstice we all go and do this big ride. It’s really fun to be able to be out there with people from all walks of life riding around this beautiful area,” said Baker.
That sentiment is reflected in the conception of the ride many years ago when it was just a bunch of riders wanting a long day in the saddle. It has since grown to be more organized, with all the riders participating for a multitude of different reasons, rather than just trying to be the fastest.
“There were many different people that were there for different reasons, there were husband/wife combos, there were teams going half and half, there were people that were riding around and taking it in two days and camping up on Grassy Lake and that area,” said Baker. “We also had people wanting to do it in the shortest time possible and people just wanting to complete it.”
Caedran Harvey, a fourth-year participant coming over the pass from Wilson, spoke to the relaxed vibe and social aspect of the ride.
“There is definitely the enjoyment of camaraderie of this race, I do mostly mountain bike racing so this is inherently more social because you’re riding in a group more of the time,” said Harvey.
Even though it’s a nice distraction from the size of the route, there comes a point where it’s just better to get it done.
“There is still that aspect of wanting to get it over with, the faster you ride the faster it’s over, so I do have that in the back of my head,” said Harvey.
Preparing for the ride is something that Harvey didn’t get much of a chance to do with this year’s cool and wet spring.
“We’ve had some events be canceled, the sort of warm-up events. I don’t have very many big rides under my belt (this year),” said Harvey.
Preparation also takes the form of making day-to-day adjustments.
“I’ve learned that for me, I have to eat when I don’t want to and I have to drink when I don’t want to, otherwise that’s when I can completely crash,” said Harvey.
That sort of preparation for riders is necessary to overcome the physical challenge of the route. Baker attested that it wouldn’t be the same if the pass was at the start of the race.
“You would get the pass done so early that it would take away the hardness of it. Having done 135 miles, you then have Teton Pass to do right there at the end when you’re exhausted. I would say that’s probably the most challenging,” said Baker.
Not to be overlooked is the mental challenge of that final climb.
“You’re almost there, and it’s so easy to want to have a friend pick you up on the pass, or if you live in Jackson just want to ride home. Yes, there is physical endurance, but there’s also a mental ability to just get on and do it.”
The demanding experience that the ride represents ultimately boils over into a celebration of riders that feel the release of the finish line.
“The relief of getting off the bike after that many hours, the relief of completing the course, and there is also the camaraderie of being able to do that. It’s not something everyone can do, so there is a certain amount of camaraderie that you’ve done something that very few people have completed,” said Baker.