Route Planning 101: To the Gravels and Beyond!

This past weekend I was a part of the TransIowa V.11 Clinic. The clinic was in Des Moines and since I am still without a car I decided the best way to get there was by gravel. Makes sense, right? I got a couple of questions about how I made my route and what roads I took. Realizing that making routes is one of the trickiest parts of getting out and riding I am going to share exactly how I crafted my route to Des Moines!

The finished route.

The first step of planning is making sure this is actually a possibility. I wouldn’t have to cut into any work or fun-time responsibilities so it was on! I made support plans with a friend who offered to come get me if I needed and to also take me back home on Sunday, which made planning for Saturday that much easier. Finally before I even thought about my route I double-checked my bike and gear to make sure it was all still there, TransIowa had been at the back of my mind for nearly 6 months.

Next up is the route. I will typically start browsing a few key websites to see if anyone else has ever ridden where I am going. To keep things simple I stick with Strava and Ride with GPS for this. I do pay for Strava premium mainly so I can download the GPX files straight to my computer. Within Ride with GPS I can save the GPX files to my account and load them to my Garmin 510 for free!

Saved routes from Ride with GPS.

Once I have scoped out some of the previous routes I start building my own. I use Ride with GPS to make an actual GPS route. While I have this page open I will be checking Google Maps, the Iowa Gravel Roads website, and the Iowa DOT county maps just for a little extra help. Between the Iowa Gravel Roads Website and the DOT county maps I know if they roads are gravel, paved, or B-roads. I will then double check to make sure the roads exist on Google Maps. I had a destination in mind and the mileage was easy to tweak due to the straight lines I could take. I ended up pretty lucky with two towns to roll through and at least 3 C-stores to stop at. I do not pay for Ride with GPS because I can upload the GPS files at no cost! The file type I chose for my Garmin 510 is the GPX track.

The Final Step

My last and probably favorite part of creating these longs routes is my final step. I go through the route and make a paper cue sheet. Then I delete my route and recreate it on Ride with GPS. While this sounds like it takes a while it really takes no more than 15 minutes. Then I have extra back-up cue sheets and I have gone over the route a couple different ways to help me remember where I am going. When I started riding gravel and had no GPS this was how I created routes. Paper and pen. I still have scraps of routes lying around my room ready to take me through the hinterlands.

Navigation Station: Garmin 510 and Cue Sheets.

My route was perfect. I didn’t get lost and I utilized both the cue sheets and Garmin. Between the two I could distract myself from the long stretches, but still keep an eye on my mileage. I didn’t stop at any of my C-stores, but it’s nice to know where they are. I typically will only go this in depth for rides 100 miles or more, but it really helps me get into the mindset of staying focused and practicing using cue sheets.

I had fun.
I had fun.

3 thoughts on “Route Planning 101: To the Gravels and Beyond!

  1. is based on DOT data so it should match the DOT county maps. There might be some, shall we say, bureaucratic reasons they fall out of sync. But hopefully they’re the same.

    p.s. All your links are busted – maybe you need to put the http:// in front of them so WordPress recognizes they are external links.

  2. Great write up! Thanks for sharing your process. As a TI.V.11 rookie, I really wish I could’ve made the event this past weekend. I know I would have been able to get loads of great info. Alas, I live south of St Louis and could not make the trip. Do you have any suggestions on where to go to get info on gear similar to what was shared at the clinic?

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