VeloNorth’s Gravel Growler showcases club’s focus on fun and inclusion

A large group of cyclists ride together near the start of the Gravel Growler hosted by VeloNorth on Sept. 28 in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Riders start the 2019 Gravel Growler on Sept. 28 at Winterlong Brewing in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Geof Harries rides along the Copper Haul Road towards Fish Lake during the Gravel Growler on Sept. 28 in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Trena Irving rides near Mount Sima during the Gravel Growler on Sept. 28 in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)
Thomas Tetz leads, from left to right, Aaron Foos, Thane Philips and Chris Milner down the trail during the Gravel Growler on Sept. 28 in Whitehorse. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

The 2019 Gravel Growler cycling event was Sept. 28 in Whitehorse, hosted by the VeloNorth Cycling Club for the first time in the event’s history.

Starting and ending at Winterlong Brewing, the day began with a waffle breakfast for riders before either a 40-kilometre or 65-km loop to Fish Lake and back, and wrapped up with some socializing at the brewery.

The event itself is three years old, organizer Ian Parker explained, but is officially a VeloNorth project for the first time.

“It went great. It was kind of everything we hoped it would be, to be honest,” said Parker. “We’ve tried to build it a little bit each year — tweak it a little bit each year — and this was our most ambitious year ever in terms of what we were trying to offer people and it worked great.”

All together, 34 cyclists took part in the ride — along with a baby who hitched a ride in a chariot.

While the event isn’t a race — Parker said it’s really whatever riders want it to be — the day did include awards for riders who “did something kind of hardcore or impressive.”

The Belgian Hard Woman Award went to Sierra van der Meer who pulled the aforementioned chariot for a portion of the course including some of the most difficult sections, according to Parker.

Peter Moore won the Belgian Hard Man Award in recognition of completing the difficult and arduous climb to Fish Lake and back for the first time.

“I’d never met Peter until that day, but he had a great attitude and took on the challenge of getting up and over the hump to Fish Lake and back again,” said Parker. “He seemed to really enjoy the day. He’s exactly the type of person we were trying to attract to these events.”

For the first time, a youth rider joined the ranks and 10-year-old Reid Sandiford was given the Belgian Hard Kid Award for his efforts.

Parker stressed that the event and turnout was proof that VeloNorth’s efforts to reinvent itself as a more laidback, more social organization are paying dividends.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say many of the folks out on Saturday are not people who are regular bike racers in any way,” said Parker. “Hopefully they picked up on the vibe we’re trying to create around the new VeloNorth and the events that we’re trying to plan.”

“We’re trying to make sure it’s a fun and inclusive culture, but still one where people can come out and find a challenge and find out something about themselves on the course.”

When all the riding was done, there were no complaints about the course or concerns about placing, something Parker said is a positive.

“It was noticeable and it was sort of gratifying for us, as organizers, to see that what we’re deliberately trying to set out and build seems to be starting to gain some momentum,” said Parker.

The only negative on the day was one rider who got lost during the 65-km ride and took quite a bit of time to get back to the start and finish area, something Parker said was a reminder to him to stress to riders that the courses aren’t easy.

“He eventually made it back to the brewery, which was a reminder to me that I need to emphasize to people that having a fun, inclusive culture doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy,” said Parker. “That 65-km course in particular is a challenging course. … It’s not easy by any stretch, but everyone made it back safely.”

Some of the challenges riders face included dealing with mixed surfaces, elevation changes, head winds, dirt, roots, gravel and the Mordor trail – which Parker said is “essentially a swamp at this time of year.”

Although the traditional outdoor riding season is drawing to a close, Parker said VeloNorth hopes to keep the momentum going over the winter with a movie night at Winterlong.

“We picture sort of a classic cycling movie and encouraging people to wear vintage cycling clothes and stuff (to) huddle up at Winterlong and have a few beers together,” said Parker. “So that’s something for people to maybe have on their radar.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at