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When the Trinidad-Las Animas County Gravel Adventure Field Guide debuted in April of 2021, no one — not even its creators — suspected that the pocket-sized gravel guidebook would be the first in a growing catalogue.
However, as the Gravel Adventure Field Guide nears its one year anniversary as a licensed brand with seven books on the shelf and four more in early production, it’s clear that the whimsical, informative approach to gravel tourism is working.
This week, Juan de la Roca, who co-founded the Gravel Adventure Field Guide with designer Stephen Beneski, is on the East Coast, hand-delivering fresh copies of the latest guide to bike shops and cafes near Washington DC, Baltimore, and communities in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Roanoke Gravel Adventure Field Guide is their first foray east of the Mississippi.
Like all the guidebooks, the Roanoke edition takes a playful approach to riding gravel in the area, combining 10 beta-tested routes with historical and cultural details about the area. Beneski’s delightful artwork adorns every page.
Unique to the Roanoke guide is a Gravel Adventure Field Report on pro ‘cross racer Kerry Werner and his wife Emily that details why the couple moved to the area to train and enjoy the gravel, ‘cross, and mountain bike race scene.
There is also a spread dedicated to the CCC — the Civilian Conservation Corps — and its contributions to gravel road development in the area.
While the curated routes — which are accompanied by QR codes for easy download — may be the most practical part of the Gravel Adventure Field Guides, the historical and cultural information contained within are an added bonus.
Beneski said that he and De la Roca want people to know where they’re riding, not just what they’re riding.
“Are these Native American foot trails that evolved? Were they roads for mining or logging? Built for ranching? We tap into a different backstory for cycling and we give people the opportunity to really know more about the place they’re riding,” Beneski said.
Another aim of the books is to highlight riding gravel outside of the confines of racing or events. Although a few of the Gravel Adventure Field Guides have been released in tandem with gravel races like The Rad in Trinidad, Colorado or Gravel Locos in Pueblo, Colorado, they’re really meant to offer people an avenue of exploring other than race day.
The books’ heavy focus on art and design is one way to offset a myopic view of race-based gravel riding. Beneski said that he and De la Roca both find inspiration in surf, ski, and skate culture, where competition is only a small part of the picture.
“Not every pro surfer needs to line up and compete to be in the sport of surfing,” Beneski said. “You don’t have to go bash gates every time you go skiing. You don’t have to race every time you ride gravel. We’re trying to bring in art to say, ‘let’s enjoy cycling as a lifestyle and have fun with it.'”
The formula of the Gravel Adventure Field Guides is working — Bellingham, Washington, Las Cruces, New Mexico, and two more Colorado counties are in the works for 2023 — and local and regional tourism offices are taking note.
Most of the guidebooks are made through collaborations with DMOs — destination marketing organizations — rather than the cycling industry per se, as areas seek to capitalize on gravel as a hook for attracting visitors. The new Roanoke book was made with support from Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge — that DMO is aggressively trying to market the area as a cycling destination.
The Bend/Central Oregon Gravel Adventure Field Guide was similarly produced with support from Visit Bend.
The DMO dollars allow De la Roca and Beneski to continue their unique in-person distribution model, something they’ve done since the first Trinidad book debuted over a year ago. They drop off 30-50 guidebooks at bike shops and cafes, who then disseminate them for free. Guidebooks can also be purchased online, for those who don’t live in the area.
Although an analog life seems further and further out of reach, the Gravel Adventure Field Guides are proving that paper maps, hand-held books, and an IRL distribution model pair well with the fun of riding gravel.