Gosh Darn Good Times in Hickman County, Tennessee: The 2022 Gosh Darn Gravel Gathering

Tennessee might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about gravel, but the roads west of Nashville will have you saying “gosh” and “darn” more than once over spectacularly challenging and varied terrain. Gosh Darn 5 welcomed over 240 riders and offered four rugged routes ranging from 16 to 100 miles.

This year’s event was hosted at the Five Star Retreat located 50 miles west of Nashville on 440 acres of rolling hills. The venue provided an array of amenities: a large kitchen to accommodate an awesome catering team, luxury cabins and bunk rooms for those that prefer a roof over their heads, plenty of space for camping, and most importantly the opportunity to start the ride with two deep creek crossings and a gnarly climb.

What’s this Gosh Darn Stuff You’re Talking About?

The Gosh Darn Gravel Gathering started in 2015 when Greg O’loughlin and Dave Thienel put their heads together to share their love of rugged gravel roads, creek crossings, camping, and the community that our small “gravel scene” had developed. After hosting nine rides and five main events, Gosh Darn has become Tennessee’s longest-running gravel event.

Gosh Darn raises money for the Oasis Center’s Youth Mountian Bike Team. The Oasis Center is a non-profit organization in Nashville that provides support and resources to over 4,000 youth and their families every year through 20+ programs. Oasis’s Youth Mountian Bike Team is comprised of high school students from all over Nashville, providing them the opportunity to overcome challenges on the trail.

Y’all Riding or Racing?

I’d like to make it very clear that we are not a race. Your results won’t be posted; nor will we tell how long it took you to finish – we really only care that you finished and that you had fun doing it.

From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you are surrounded by a community that genuinely cares about you. Your fellow riders will cheer you on, help you fix your flat, and will even give you their last tube. We are here to support each other and to give each other a space where we can accomplish hard things. We want folks to tackle challenges that they aren’t prepared to face. The real winners of this event aren’t the people that cross the line first, but rather the riders that stay the course.

The routes are intentionally hard. Resupplies are scarce, and the turns unmarked. This ride requires more than the leg to finish. It requires preparedness, the sharpness to navigate, and determination to overcome.

All four routes are littered with deep and long creek crossings. There are short and steep climbs reaching grades between ten and twenty percent. Riders will experience a loose top layer of dirt and gravel, as well as rocks the size of babydoll heads. Descents are often scarred by deep ruts from heavy downpours that frequent the region. Other roads combine with the creeks that run beside them – the terrain can be so rugged it’s not uncommon for a 60-mile ride to take seven to eight hours.

The roads aren’t always punishing. There are miles of smooth gravel that effortlessly crush beneath your tires as you ride alongside river bluffs and tear through winding hollows past farms and hunting cabins. The beauty of the surrounding hills and the warmth of the sun as it passes through the sky amplify the highs and lows experienced along the route.

Post-ride Recovery, Taken Seriously

The event hardly ends when the ride is finished. Fires are ready to go, the beers are cold, and the burritos are hot. Everyone takes the time to unwind, share their lessons learned, and thank the new friends that shared those moments with them.

As the night goes on and everyone’s energy rallies, the campfire shenanigans begin. When the sun rises in the morning and you begin to break camp, you can feel the ride in your legs and the joy in your heart.

Ultimately, I host this event because I think someone needs to. People need to experience an open and welcoming environment that challenges them to tackle obstacles that can’t be found in the metrics of a GPX file. There need to be events that focus on community and routes, and not the fanfare of a start/finish line.

Gosh darn, we need places where we can connect over the things that we love, understand each other’s differences, and begin to understand the things that unite us. I hope that everyone that comes to Gosh Darn will feel at home and experience the vibrant communities that Southern hospitality can foster. I hope to see you there next year, it’ll be a gosh darn good time.

With love,
Safety Michael

Editors note: This event was WELL documented and there are many more photos available than what we were able to feature in the gallery above, including a handful of portraits Josh took before the event. If you would like to download any of the event images, they are all available in this Dropbox folder. We’d also like to extend our appreciation to the other photographers – Caz, Josh, and Clint – for contributing images to this epic photoset!