Last December I picked up my first ever Fat Bike and it was shortly after that, that I started the Saturday Morning No Drop Fat Bike Ride for Cycle Works and it was during those rides that a few of us got a crazy idea of riding our Fat Bikes in Gravel Worlds, a decision that was maybe encouraged and spurred on my Jamie who had already ridden and finished GW 3 times. Well, that discussion came to fruition yesterday as the what if's became reality.
I know for most serious gravel grinders, riding a fat bike in Gravel Worlds probably doesn't seem like that big of a deal and maybe it's not but as this would be my first Gravel Worlds and my first 100+ mile race on any bicycle, let alone the Farley and I have to say the butterflies were HUGE leading up to the rider check in.
Corey was checking riders in and Craig was selling Pirate Cycling League gear and giving out the rider swag, we got into Lincoln and then onto Cycle Works fairly early in the scheduled rider check-in time range and we got all checked in and on our way within minutes. Corey and Craig had it running like a finely tuned machine. We opted not to stick around for the rest of the festivities that were planned for the evening, including but not limited to a keg tapping from Zipline Brewing and a book signing by none other than the queen of pain herself, Rebecca Rusch. I have no doubt it was an awesome time but we had a few other things we had to get done while in Lincoln and my mind was more focused on the race the next day and I doubt I would have been great company.
Not wanting to get up at 3 am to drive down from Omaha, we decided to take advantage of the Gravel Worlds rate special at the Holiday Inn downtown and snagged a room for the night.
The vibe in and around the hotel was awesome, bicycles and cyclists as far as the eye could see.
Woke up bright an early feeling pretty good and once kitted up in the Rasta colors of Cycle Works, I was looking good as well, such a great shop full of awesome and knowledgeable people, I feel very fortunate to be able to represent them. After a few mirror selfies like a teenage girl (at least it wasn't in the bathroom I suppose) it was time to pack up and head to Schilling Bridge for the start of Gravel Worlds.
For being zero dark thirty the area around Schilling Bridge was buzzing with activity, even if I wasn't riding in Gravel Worlds it would have been fun hanging out and watching all the goings on.
Oh yeah, there was also this race going on so after some standing around it was time to get down to it, I have to say rolling out in the dark with 295 other cyclists, tail lights blinking and head lights dotting the scenery was a pretty cool experience. Somewhere in the initial melee I lost contact with Gary, not knowing if he was ahead or behind but not really relishing the thought of getting run down by 100+ cyclists if I stopped, I decided to keep going and hoped to hook up with him later down the course. As it turned out he was behind me and ended up pulling out at Malcolm, mile 60, but I didn't know this until after I was done for the day.
A very short distance on pavement and it was time for the gravel rollers, miles and miles of gravel rollers.
The race started out with cool temps and overcast skies but the wind was already blowing at a decent clip, probably in the mid to upper teens at start time.
Fellow Rasta rider Bruce making it look easy in the early stages of the race.
Impromptu pop up oasis with water and Rice Krispy Treats on one of the MMRs.
The course itself was in awesome shape, the gravel and even the MMRs were fast and in prime conditions not to mention how gorgeous the whole area was if you took time to look at something other than the front tire.
Rolling into Valparaiso at about mile 31 I stopped for a quick refuel and was feeling really good, I was still passing the occasional person and was only occasionally getting passed... holding my own we will say.
More Rasta riders on the course, Andy was looking pretty strong here.
Coming off of one of the minimum maintenance roads outside of Valpo, still feeling strong and moving along at a decent pace. Photo credit goes to Lisa Janssen.
Always come to a full stop, look both ways and only proceed when it's save to do so... safety first you know. For the most part the cars I did encounter on the roads were very courteous to riders and would slow down and mover way to the right when we passed each other. It's always nice to be respected as a vulnerable road user. Photo credit goes to Lisa Janssen.
County Road 30 was the first real climb of the day but I was still feeling good at this point and powered up it without too much difficulty.
This is where the camera lives on these rides, not sure why I thought I needed a picture of it but I guess when you're climbing a monster like county road 30 while also trying to take pictures, you sometimes hit the shutter release instead of the power button.
50 miles in and still riding well, I rolled into check point 1 in Garland probably still averaging somewhere around 12-13 mph. Not wanting to stay too long knowing that Malcolm and the Malcolm General Store was only about 10 miles up the road, this was just a quick stop to use the restroom and refill what water I had drank between Valparaiso and here.
And just like that, boom, I was in Malcolm and taking advantage of the A/C, food and cold beverages of the ole Sac-O-Suds (from the movie My Cousin Vinny for reference) as I affectionately and usually refer to it as. This was a bit longer of a stop for me as I decided to get something cold that I would drink then and something to take with me for later when the stops wouldn't be inside a town, I also decided to eat some of the jerky and almonds I had with me as we were 60 miles into the race at this point.
Pulled into the world famous Reinkordt farm oasis still feeling great and still riding strong but the clouds were starting to disappear leaving nothing but Nebraska sunshine which seemed to ramp the heat up just a bit more, oh and the wind was also starting to pick up because we needed that.
What makes this oasis world famous? Well other than the great hospitality it's the homemade pickles, they were delicious and hit the spot; even if they were camera shy and out of focus.
Naps under a shady tree probably help also. Still making good time and hoping to beat the sunset back to the finish at Schilling Bridge, this was just a brief stop as well before pushing on. Unfortunately it was shortly after this that the wheels started falling off the fun bus and when it started going it went pretty quickly.
The increasing heat, wind, sun and continued southward heading into the wind started to wear on me but the biggest issue was my own logistic failure. I had thought that we rode into Denton for an oasis so I was going to get some real food to eat and take a bit longer break while I ate, not sure why I thought we made it to Denton but the closest we ever came to the town was the Denton wall and it was certainly not as welcoming as the gas station would have been. After I realized my mistake I knew things were looking grim as I was starting to run on empty not having eaten anything of significance since the grab and go breakfast at the hotel which was nothing more than water, a granola bar and an apple. First came the cramps in my left leg. I tried to ward these off by drinking a bit more Gatorade in between the normal water and by eating some of the jerky I had with me for the salt but the jerky was forming this big pile of mush in my mouth that was really difficult to swallow causing me to need to drink more to get it down. By the time I made it to check point 2 I had emptied my 70ml Osprey bladder and all of the Gatorade in my bottle even though it was only 15 miles in between the farm and check point two. I refilled the Osprey's bladder and added some Gatorade powder to both my bottles, then ate a few grapes, a banana and some more almonds but it didn't seem to be helping all that much. Leaving check point 2 I was in real trouble if I couldn't figure out how to get rid of the cramps, the cramping was causing me to lay off of the hills which was robbing me of my momentum to help me get up them, which in turn caused me to have to exert more energy in a much lower gear to keep moving. I was hoping I could make it the next 15 miles to Hickman where I could get some real food and something cold to drink but once I was barely able to maintain 3-4 mph on most of my climbs I knew it was most likely already too late.
At mile 93 I pulled over, laid the bike down, pulled off my helmet and pack, made the call to my ride, sent a text to Corey to let him know I was KIA and then just laid down in the ditch waiting for rescue... a mere 7 miles from Hickman and food but just like that Gravel Worlds came down to a 15 mile stretch of bad luck and one big logistical mistake on my part. Would it have helped if I could have slogged on into Hickman, I don't know and never will at this point it's all would have, could have, should haves in the end. I think a good part of it at the end was also mental as I couldn't get my mind off of the cramps, how I was feeling and how really, really slow I was now going so when I saw on the Garmin that the course turned back south and into the wind again that was it for me... funny thing is I had an iPod with me for when I found myself alone and needed something to distract me from the solitude of riding solo on lonely gravel roads, the nagging pains that come with long rides and that doubting voice that creeps into your head telling you it's worse than it usually is in reality but I never pulled it out until my ass hit the ditch and my head hit the pack. Had someone been anywhere near me on this last few miles they would have sworn I escaped from a mental hospital as I was cursing the wind, the hills, the cramps, the Pirate Cycling League, gravel roads in general and anything else I could think of that was irritating me at that point (of course none of them were the reasons I couldn't go on or why I was in the situation I was in, that was all on me)... quite a site I am sure, just a guy on a fat bike, yelling at nothing and going really, really slow... probably lucky I didn't end up in a straight jacket in a rubber room. In the end there is nothing to do now but learn from my mistakes and plan better for next year, getting in a little better shape probably wouldn't hurt either.
Things learned, know the course better so I don't make the huge logistic mistake next time that I made this time, if you bring a device to take your mind off of miles of gravel... use it, don't buy a soda in a metal bottle unless you plan to drink it immediately because Mt. Dew heated by the sun does NOT taste good at all, you don't tug on Superman's cape, don't spit into the wind, don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger and don't mess around with Jim... oh I also learned the dusty, dirty, road side, corn field ditches feel amazing after getting shelled by 93 miles of sun, wind and gravel rollers.