The Mad River Riders’ first Grateful Gravel gravel grinder and Grateful Dead celebration attracted 300 cyclists who rode either 35 or 60 miles, and another 525 people who showed up at Mount Ellen after the biking to enjoy food and Zach Nugent’s cover of the complete Cornell 5/8/77 Grateful Dead concert.
The July 29 event raised $21,000 for the Mad River Riders and club members will put those funds directly back into trail work and the Mad River Rippers program, according to board member Derek Lusso.
The inaugural event featured food and beer and music that was supposed to have taken place on a stage outside, to the (skier’s) left of the Inverness lift and Green Mountain Valley School racing facility. But Mother Nature had a different plan.
Rain held off during most of the racing and some of the festivities afterwards but a torrential deluge sent the music inside to the Mount Ellen base lodge with Dead Heads reveling in Nugent’s covers from inside the lodge and outside on the deck under tents.
“It was a pretty successful first event. Everyone had a really good time and the turnout surpassed our greatest expectations,” Lusso said.
“If it had been sunny, I’d have guessed we would have had well over 900 people. It was a really special day and the community was so supportive. The feedback we got on the ride was good,” he said.
He acknowledged a complaint published on Front Porch Forum about Fayston residents not being aware of the event and the fact that the town’s back roads were undergoing heavy ridership on Saturday morning.
“Our thinking about the route was that by having riders head up Number 9 Hill it would spread the field out pretty quickly but it’s a steeper road and people were spread out in the travel lanes versus the shoulder which was softer,” Lusso said.
He talked to the person who posted the concern and said he was glad he did.
“It was good I got to talk to her because it’s really about making sure we notify the community. I see where she was coming from. Next year if we end up with that many riders, we’ll look at road closures until the field is spread out,” he added.
In general, he said, the feedback was positive and he said the aid stations were well stocked and well received.
“The only curve ball was the rain. It came at the most inopportune time. Zach was really awesome in working with us. The stage guy came up and told us we should hang it up and Zach said to pivot to option two which was to set up inside and he was willing to do so,” Lusso said.
Is it happening again next year? Absolutely, Lusso said. It is slated for July 27, 2024, and will again feature Zach Nugent and one of the hundreds of full-length Dead shows available for him to cover in its entirety.