I'm a better photographer than I am a bicycle racer and I'm a terrible photographer if that tells you anything about my bike racing ability. I often don't drink or eat enough while racing and training, psssh... let's not even get into that. None the less I have inherited the job as Staff Photographer for Tyler and Jamie and they decided to throw their hats in the ring, so to speak, for the 2015 Omaha Jackrabbit race in the Fat Bike category. This of course meant that I would need to tag along as well to fulfill my duties as photographer, thankfully digital film is cheap these days because the loan on the food I needed to purchase to prevent from full on bonking during the 127 mile gravel race was not. Nor was it light, my back may never be the same, luckily Quasimodo's chiropractor has an opening next week that I was able to slide into. The things we do for our art...
I showed up at the start well before the butt crack of dawn, in the whole internal organ scenario, if dawn were the butt crack I showed up in the colon of dark. As you can see from the photo, the views from the start/finish line were breath taking and it was at this moment that I realized I didn't bring nearly a big enough flash if this was the lighting I had to work with.
The race started in the cold and the dark, which was really poor for taking pictures while moving without everything looking like one big blur but once the sun started to rise it was a beautiful morning.
Riding partners for the day, 'twas a wee bit chilly for all of the morning and a good portion of the early afternoon as well but once the old motor got warmed up, everything but the feet were plenty warm.
Luckily I can't read because that sign seems like it's trying to tell me something important that might make me decide to not cross over the cable onto this sketchy ass bridge but as they say, ignorance is bliss... until the ground falls out from beneath you.
If only they had maintained the bridge as well as they did the now completely unnecessary and highly likely inaccurate 11 ton weight limit sign, they might not have had to close it. Fun bridge though, in a "I really hope the bridge doesn't collapse as I'm crossing it, crushing me until I die, causing me to fall into the water below where I will surly drown and die again" sort of way. Bloated corpses make for the worst open casket funerals ever... and the fish smell never comes out of the coffin.
It wasn't all death defying bridge crossings and cable hurdles though, there was just some ordinary early morning gravel racing going on as well.
Not to mention some really great views of sleepy little towns and farms by the dawn's early light.
The first little outcropping of buildings that tried really hard to be a town we rolled through was Fontenelle, even if it's not technically a town but an unincorporated community and census designated place, it had a lot of cool old buildings.
But what do those census bean counters know anyway, it had a Town Hall; all it needed was a bar and it'd qualify as a town in my book.
As you might imagine with a gravel race in Nebraska, we saw our fair share of corn fields.
Plenty of cows to moo at as well. I've often wonder as we are riding by mooing a them if they ever wonder to themselves how such a moronic, cow imitating, hairless baboon species ever became the dominant life form. You know, because cows have nothing else to do while standing in a field chewing their cud looking at you with that derpy expression, which is probably more a look of apathy and pity.
Even came across a pumpkin patch, hopefully just a personal one at that, otherwise they had the worst corn maze ever.
Hey look, I'm winning!
There were times I would get lost in all the awesome views and I would need to remind myself that this was a race and I wasn't just out tooling around on the Farley. The scenery was pretty amazing and I could have easily spent an entire afternoon lazily riding around gazing at the sights.
One of the hazards of gravel riding/racing is the dust cloud, dust clouds following you, dust clouds coming at you and always getting closer. You never know what might be in that dust cloud that is stalking you but it's almost always something far bigger and badder than you.
Especially when it's harvest time and that cloud could contain one of these big dudes.
These green guys were everywhere.
35-ish miles of gravel, dodging dust clouds and incredible views later we rolled into the bustling metropolis of Uehling Nebraska and the first official check point.
Picked up a few new cue sheets, some fresh water and left a little recycled water behind before moving on. It was fairly early on in the race but I was feeling pretty good and most importantly I was keeping up on the food intake and as we all remember, not eating enough was my down fall in Gravel Worlds.
Outside of Uehling we started hitting the minimum maintenance roads.
Some of them more friendly than others, this one was greeting us with a friendly "HI".
Luckily we haven't had any rain for weeks, this meant that the MMRs were dry, smooth (for the most part) and fast.
They might have been dry, smooth and fast but they also upped the ante on the steepness scale... although Tyler was motoring up them like they were down hill sections. I really need to work on my mental game when the terrain turns hilly, I get as whiny as Betty White in a Snickers commercial.
Jamie was chewing up the hills like a champ as well, this lady has a serious motor and it's pretty impressive to get to witness it up close.
In addition to eating, the hydration must have been on point as well because it wasn't long after cracking the seal in Uehling that I had to help share the moisture. Luckily corn fields make excellent hiding spots, only takes a few rows in before you just disappear.
Not on the cue sheets but just as appreciated as those that were, was the second (unofficial) check point with bananas and more water... and a little bit of beer brewing discussion. I think Tyler would have been almost as happy to call it a day right there and just talk brewing all day long.
Probably should have stayed at the check point, county road V awaited us about a quarter mile up the road and she was not a nice hostess.
V was just a serious of really steep MMR rollers, some of the steepest MMRs I think I've ever had the displeasure of riding up. V was an apt name for the road as it was one deep V after another for what seemed like 1,000 miles.
A few more fields being harvested,
A few more dust clouds to dodge.
And more than a few miles of MMRs and we were into Decatur and the official 2nd check point.
Check point two was about 85 miles in and had a oasis in the form of a gas station right next to the park where we checked in. Took a bit longer here to take a break, get some real food and maybe a sip or two of barley pop. More than half way through the race and I was feeling good as far as food, hydration and overall energy, about the only issue was my sit parts were starting to feel the effects of 85 miles of bumpy roads while sitting in sweat soaked chamois but there wasn't anything to do but power through at this point.
After about 20 minutes of rest, food, beer and chit chat it was time to mount up for the final 40 mile push to the finish. Left town on this pretty cool little bridge, luckily we didn't meet anyone coming the other way in the middle.
It seemed like outside of Decatur the Combines got larger and the minimum maintenance roads got softer, the result of which were some really awful, bone jarring, teeth rattling, tire rutted roads. I almost would have rather had the hills of county road V over these flat but tore up roads.
Sun started setting and temps started dropping but with the sun setting the winds also started to drop. I would guess the winds were a fairly constant 15+ mph all day with gusts up to 25 mph but once the sun started going down the winds turned into more of a gentle breeze around 5-7 mph would be my guess.
Once the sun went down, there wasn't much in the way of picture opportunities again, so we just put our heads down and plodded on toward the finish line. 126.2 miles, 11 hours 33 minutes of ride time, 14 hours total and almost 7,100 feet of climbing later our Omaha Jackrabbit was in the books. We had decided before the race that we were just going to ride it together and that's exactly what we did. Having some great company for the race was a huge advantage over talking to the voices in your head for the better part of a day. Jamie being the studette that she is pulled out the win in the women's fat bike category, Tyler and I got 2nd as we all came in at the same time... there was a guy on a Surly Moonlander that just killed it out there, we saw him at the beginning and then nothing but his tracks here and there for the rest of the race.
Jamie was pretty stoked to have her rabbit in hand and deservedly so.
Tyler and I were trying to work out visitation rights for the 2nd place rabbit but he decided to be the consummate great dude and let me hold onto the little bunny. That was a classy move by a classy dude, truth be told had Tyler decided to race and not ride as a group he would have finished well ahead of me.
Other than a sore rear, tired legs and chapped lips, this was a great race for me and a world of difference from the catastrophe Gravel Worlds ended up being because I wasn't eating enough before it was too late. Non cyclists often think I'm crazy for doing events like this as they cannot fathom riding for that many hours but when you have two great friends and fellow riders to cruise the back roads with I couldn't fathom a better way to spend a beautiful October Saturday. Huge thanks to both Tyler and Jamie for riding with me, listening to my Betty White whine, putting up with having a camera shoved in their faces for the better part of the day and for just being two of the greatest human beings a guy could hope to ride with.
I also want to say thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers who spent months of their free time putting this great event together, getting nothing in return as far as monetary compensation. I don't care how fast you ride, the real studs of these events are the men and women who put these things together and their loved ones as well for allowing them to be gone for countless hours on end so that I can ride my bike through some spectacular country roads.
Last but certainly not least, I have to thank Cycle Works for allowing me to suit up in the Rasta colors and ride for them. I've been to a ton of bike shops in my days but never have I come across a better, more caring, awesome group of people than you'll find right there at 27th & Vine in Lincoln Nebraska.