Croatan Buck Fifty Gravel Event Recap
by Jordan Spoon
#BestBikeGameEver. That is the hashtag for the Croatan Buck Fifty (CBF) race held in Swansboro, NC. Matt Hawkins (@RidgeSupply) and Gordon Wadsworth (@Quadsworth), the two race directors, set out to make that hashtag more than just a few words though. As soon as I arrived at the race venue on Friday to pick up my Stoke Box, which I will touch on more later, I could already tell that this race was more than JUST a race. The hospitality was top notch right from the beginning and the organization was on point. As fellow Gravelstoke Dev Team member Clint Williams said, “Matt and Gordon have quickly created a vibe that rivals some of more established, longer standing, highly acclaimed events in the country.”
A quick background on the Croatan Buck Fifty… 2019 was only the second year for the race and saw huge growth from 2018. Gordon was able to provide me with some of the stats and numbers in regards to the race. The 2018 running saw 220 riders take part in the race, while 2019 saw 561 riders toe the line at the start. 2019 also saw riders showing up from 20 different states, including as far as California, and even Canada! One other bragging point for CBF is that 2019 saw a 30% female participation. This is huge and definitely something that can be bragged on for the race. As Gordon said in our talks, “I think that the spirit of personal experience and inclusion is a major player in our success so far.” I can attest to that being a huge draw to this race.
As for the Stoke Box, where do I start? The Stoke Boxes, which were received by all 561 riders included customized gear from HandUp Gloves, Ridge Supply, Cutaway USA, and custom Croatan Buck Fifty T-shirts. Most of the items sported the colorways of red, white, and black. These colors also related to your distance. Red being the Fifty, white being the Buck, and black being the Buck Fifty. These colors could be seen in other places around the venue throughout the weekend as well. Your Stoke Box also contained your custom fabric number from Cutaway USA. While picking up your Stoke Box there was also more goodies to pick up from Stan’s NoTubes, Chamois Butt’r, Muc-Off, and more.
The course is also very unique weaving its way through the Croatan National Forest in Eastern North Carolina. The main course is right at 46 miles a lap and around 250-300 feet of elevation gain. Don’t let the lack of elevation fool you in regards to the difficulty of the course. One of the neat things about the course is it starts and finishes inside of the Carteret County Speedway. The course has many different types of dirt that challenge you. There are very few chances to relax as you are dodging potholes, fighting through soft sand, or weaving your way through new bypass sections that resemble single track. The staple of the course is the section known as Savage Road, it even has its own t-shirt! It is a down and dirty almost three mile section of the course that forces you to be on your game and make solid line choices. Savage Road has potholes large enough to make a vehicle disappear, single line choices, and often unforgiving if you make single mistake. There were also two new bypass sections, the Farm Bypass and Cornfield Bypass. These two sections kept you off main roads and meant more time off road! They were difficult but added a nice touch of variety and even single track to a course that most of your time was spent on wider gravel roads. I will attach a link below to the course profile.
Now for the fun part of a Croatan Buck Fifty weekend, the race! CBF had four different race lengths that targeted all levels of experience. A Twenty Mile, the Fifty, Buck, and Buck Fifty. The Twenty goes out to a section known as the Cornfield Bypass and turns around to head back to the race track. The Fifty does one lap of the course, the Buck does two laps, and the Buck Fifty does three laps. I raced in the Fifty this year in the Men’s Open class. I had been training for the last couple months with a focus on racing the Fifty. The morning of the race everyone began lining up on pit road of the Speedway. At 8 o’clock on the dot the two Honda Ruckus Scooters fired up and we were underway for our parade lap around the speedway. Once that was over we hit some paved roads under a neutral rollout to the gravel. Shortly after getting on the gravel the scooters took off and it was game on. Early on the groups of rider levels were trying to sort out and this ended up with a few people crashing and causing separation for riders.
Around mile 15 I ejected both my water bottles after hitting a pothole. I unfortunately had to stop and pick them up. I lost the group I had been with when that happened. You had to stay near the front of your group or you were eating dust and hitting every pothole. Therefore you played the game of how much draft you wanted or how many potholes you wanted to hit. We had a super fast group through Savage Road and everyone made great lines choices. Once we were approaching about 12 miles left, I was feeling pretty strong at this point and knew I just needed to keep the pressure on the pedals. I ended up getting on Clint William’s (fellow GravelStoke Dev Team Member) wheel and he was putting in some strong pulls. Thanks to him we were able to spit my fellow Fifty racers off the back. As we came through the Farm Bypass we had about one mile left. I got on the front and pulled our group in. Once I hit the finish I knew I had given it all I had for that event, which made me happy. After getting my timing chip off, I rode to the main tent and picked up my finishers hat. For the Fifty you get a red hat, Buck was grey, and Buck Fifty was black. I found out shortly after I ended up in third place for the Fifty Men’s Open.
The podium ended up being very unique, but very cool. It is custom made for the end with numbers and places for five riders to stand on. It also had a backdrop of an old bus painted in the colorways of Ridge Supply. I got some cool swag from my podium spot that I will actually use as well.
One last thing that Gordon told me about was “We have folks every year who do their longest ride ever at the Buck Fifty, or have their first bike race, or some other milestone. 2019 was BritLee Bowman's first long race after her initial cancer treatments. I think that the spirit of personal experience and inclusion is a major player in our success so far.” It seemed everyone had a story out there racing and made for a very special experience.
I also reached out to a few other racers, including Clint Williams, Josh Whitmore (winner of the Buck), and Dyland Johnson (winner of the Buck Fifty). I attached some excerpts of what they had to say about the event and racing.
Clint Williams - “This race could have been on some of the worst road and some of the worst conditions and it really wouldn't have mattered, Matt Hawkins and Gordon Wadsworth created a vibe like that rivals some of more established, highly acclaimed events in the country. However, the conditions were as perfect as could be and the course was great, offering a wide variety of conditions that challenged riders many times over the course of the day. My gearing and tire selection (Donnelly USH 700x40) worked out great. My single bolt ENVE seatpost did not agree with the potholes unfortunately. It is easy to see the course and the event was organized and designed by a team that knows what the rider wants. And the venue is perfect, big enough but not overwhelming. I will be back to this event and can't recommend it highly enough!”
Josh Whitmore - “First, this is one of the highest quality events I’ve ever been to. From A to Z, all details are top notch. Second, I thought the course raced a lot like what we see Northern European spring classics like Roubaix. Pretty much pan flat, but sectors that are more technical and force separation. Racing is tactical and not just about each rider’s individual effort over the course. Highly recommended on both accounts.”
Dylan Johnson - “Throughout the day the front group slowly got smaller and smaller and by the end of the race it was me, Jeremiah Bishop, and Michael Bissette. Bissette crawled his way back after Bishop and I got away on Savage Road. We traded pulls and I noticed Bishop’s pulls were slowing down so I went a bit harder on my turn at the front and looked back and had a 10 foot gap so I put my head down and before long the gap grew. From there it was about 20 minutes to the finish all out as hard as I could go to hold off the chasers. I’ve got to give a huge thanks to Matt and Gordon. Such an awesome event. These guys know what they’re doing.”
In a short recap, this event was amazing. Everything was very well put together and ran extremely well. The racing was unique, but made you work. The course takes everything out of you. I will be back next year on March 14, 2020 for the 3rd running on the Croatan Buck Fifty. I hope to see you there!