Finding your people in gravel: The Truffle Shuffle

Guest contributor Molly Lofton takes us inside the irreverent Stillwater, Oklahoma event

Photo: Molly Lofton

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The gravel season has wrapped up for 2022 — the dust has settled from the Life Time Grand Prix, and the rest of us have moved on to the off-season. However, over Halloween weekend in Stillwater, Oklahoma (home of the Mid South, District Bicycles, and Oklahoma State University) a grassroots gravel event not-so-quietly took place.

The Truffle Shuffle is always a Halloween-themed affair

Unlike the banner Life Time events of the regular gravel schedule, Truffle Shuffle focuses on the rest of us— the so-called “participators.” Beer and N/A beverages flow like wine. Losing your voice is a more likely outcome than sore legs (unless you’re Blake Kingfisher, who dressed as Forrest Gump and just kept running), and if you’re worried about your place in the pack, you’re eschewed off-course by a wild and festive Sally Turner (the event coordinator for the Mid South).

The Truffle Shuffle is the brain-child of Dr. Clare Paniccia— now marketing specialist for Wolf Tooth Components, and recent OSU PhD graduate in Creative Writing. She came up with this idea after attending and assisting with the Mid South.

Race director Clare Paniccia (Photo: Molly Lofton)

And, while we all love Bobby Wintle’s early March event, there is a seriousness that doesn’t always fit with every person in the pack. Clare wanted to create something for those of us that like a little more party in our party-to-ride ratio, while still maintaining the structure of a cycling event.

Alongside a less serious approach, Clare wanted to provide an event with a much lower entry fee — entries to the Truffle Shuffle are only $35, and cover the costs of the event, swag, and an outstandingly delicious barbecue lunch (with vegetarian options, of course).

The Truffle Shuffle runs like this: the course is a 1.5 mile square, in the rural countryside that surrounds Stillwater. Within this course, there is a steep hill that serves as the key feature of the ride, breaking up the pack and issuing enough of a challenge that riders tend to tap-out after a few helpings of elevation gain.

Having fun is the goal of the day (Photo: Molly Lofton)

Riders line up in a mass-start, and ride for an hour. During this hour, the goal is to continue as long as you wish. If you want out of the circuit, you’re asked to tap the top of your helmet to indicate that you’re finished riding and ready for a beer. If you choose to continue your ride, you run the risk of being called off-course by Sally — who has been given a coach’s whistle that is somehow louder than any whistle one has ever heard.

But what are the criteria for being pulled out of the race? It’s all based on Sally’s whims — going too fast? You’re outta here. Taking things too seriously? Bye. Miss your beer or seltzer hand-up? Later, skater.

This feature adds a level of random chaos that is reminiscent of the tag line from Who’s Line is it Anyway— “the [race] where everything is made up and the points don’t matter”— and, what’s more fun than that? Participating for the sheer joy of participating.

Now, there is an actual winner of the Truffle Shuffle. This is decided by a random challenge issued to the final three riders left on course.

Race director Clare Paniccia with friends/co-conspirators Susan Cronin, Sally Turner, Marley Blonsky, Abi Robbis, and the author, Molly Lofton (Photo: Molly Lofton)

This year, Marley Blonsky (All Bodies on Bikes co-founder and Cannondale athlete) offered her spin on the final challenge — three back-packs were filled with rocks (by random children in Stillwater, Marley told me) and strapped to the final riders. They were sent out on their final lap, weighted down by their packs. This was meant to emulate the extra weight fat athletes carry with them when riding.

This year, Katie Madey took home the trophy, which was sourced from the Stillwater thrift shop. The trophy had previously been used for a Merchant’s Award for OSU’s Homecoming (whatever that means), won by the likes of Stillwater Beauty College (1972-74) and Pat’s Sport Center in 1976. A veritable piece of Stillwater history.

Clare has created something truly special here — throughout my years of riding bikes, I’ve attended several gravel events, and while they’re mostly quite enjoyable, it’s challenging for me to want to pay $200 to head out of town and pay for hotel, plane, car, etc. while wrangling my bicycle to ride bikes and be at the back of the pack.

I find myself fitting in much better with the cheerleaders and facilitators than the likes of the racer folks. I’ve felt a little misplaced in cycling, as a fairly slow woman that hollers a little too much during rides, but I’ve found my people at the Truffle Shuffle. Smiling, hollering, and heckling is mandatory, and while Fast Boiz are welcome and encouraged, they aren’t the key component of this event.

A proper introduction to the spirit of gravel (Photo: Molly Lofton)

There’s something really special about being able to ride alongside your fast friends in an event, and celebrate together at the end.

While larger gravel events are clearly important to the sport of cycling, they don’t provide the Spirit of Gravel that I’d envisioned when I started riding— an excuse to ride bikes with all of my friends, with a heavy emphasis on enjoyment, silliness, and camaraderie. An event like Truffle Shuffle belongs in our communities as a respite from Regular Gravel — everyone should experience this event. Look for another installment before and after the gravel season of 2023.

Please follow @truff.shuff on instagram for more details and stoke.


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