For the sixth time, the Gosh Darn Gravel Gathering popped up in the hills and hollows of Hickman County, Tennessee. Each route was jam-packed with a variety of gravel and a multitude of creek crossings. Riders take their pick of the 19, 42, 63, and 100-mile routes. The goal is not to win, but to simply have a gosh darn good time.
When the Gosh Darn Gravel Gathering was founded in 2015, the event was a small gravel grinder with a strong focus on camping, hanging, and a bit of gravel racing. The first event watched 80 riders roll out to race the rugged roads. What we really didn’t mention to anyone was how informal of a race it was. Yeah, sure, we had a trophy made and a podium set up, said “ready-set-go,” but it was just for fun. After we snapped the podium pic and our fastest riders basked in their success, someone asked, “How do I claim my prize?” We didn’t have a prize. We didn’t think anyone would take this sort of thing seriously enough to expect to win anything.
From that point forward, we didn’t think about the competition. In 2018, we forgot to give the winner their trophy, and in 2021 we decided to cut racing out altogether. People were coming to hang out around a bonfire, camp out, and ride bikes.
We welcomed everyone back to the Five Star Retreat for a second time this spring. The venue sits an hour west of Nashville on 440 acres of breathtaking countryside. The retreat is nestled between the hills, providing a cozy and luxurious getaway. The property has five fully-furnished cabins, comfortable bunk rooms in the main lodge, plenty of space for camping, and over 20 miles of ATV trails to explore.
On a cold, gray Saturday morning, 300 riders lined up to seek and tackle their own adventure. They rolled down from the start into the first creek crossing just 500 yards later, then into a second one, and then up two more steep climbs—all in the first mile and a half! It’s a difficult start, unfair (almost), but it’s there to prepare you. Riding in Hickman County isn’t easy. Regardless of the distance you choose, winding, twisting roads that range from ultra-groomed to fist-sized rocks littered across washed-out jeep trails are guaranteed. Riders can encounter up to 27 creek crossings depending on their chosen route. If you make it through the first mile, you’ll make it through the day.
Gosh Darn GG’s routes are intentionally hard. Event founders Dave Thienel and Greg O’Loughlin scoured Hickman for the best of the worst. Our riding had always focused on exploration and navigation, keeping track of turns on sopping wet cue sheets and praying our head units would be accurate in hollows where cell signal wouldn’t reach. The going was never fast. You’d most certainly get lost if you got ahead of the route keeper. We started searching for the steepest, wettest, washed out, and almost unrideable. We’d stop for safety meetings, flat fixes, enjoy the views, and make sure no one got lost. The rides were about our community and overcoming what felt impossible.
There have been so many rides that I’ve gone on in Hickman and had my shit handed right back to me. An ounce of unpreparedness can derail an entire ride. Sealant too old? Didn’t bring a plug kit or enough spare tubes? Didn’t bring enough food or water? We routinely made those mistakes, but we stopped to help each other. A 40-mile ride could take six hours to finish. We offered up our spares, lent a pump, and shared the hodge-podge of snacks we’d carried. Over time we learned what would keep us going. The goal was always survival, just to make it back to the car for a cold beverage and cheer on our friends as they all pulled in.
That ethos is still what we strive for. Save your racing legs for another day. We won’t be impressed if you blast through your ride, nor will we notice. There’s magic in the hills that you’ll miss if you try too hard. Plan your steps, be sure in your footing, and help those around you find theirs. Take the time to revel in something you love.
Gosh Darn GG is about gathering. And gosh darn, that’s what we did. We celebrated our victories and learned from our mistakes. Regardless of how fast or slow, mechanical mishaps or navigation errors, we did it. The riding at Gosh Darn is always challenging, and the weather always makes it fun, but it’s the community that shows up that makes this event so unique. Bikes are cool, but people are cooler.
Gosh Darn 6 was one for the books, and I hope y’all can join us for the next chapter.
There were so many photos from this event, we couldn’t share them all here—be sure to visit Gosh Darn’s Dropbox folder to save and share photos from the day!