Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Omaha Jackrabbit 2016 - All Husk, No KOM

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Saturday was the Omaha Jackrabbit race and the lights of Blair were doing a wonderful job of making the start as amazing as the rest of the views on the course were sure to be. I still claim I am not a racer and I'm sticking with that story. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a racer as a person or animal that races and a race is defined as a competition between racers to see which is the fastest in covering a set course. One could loosely group me into the first groups as I do enter races but my goal is never to be the fastest rider covering the given course so we end up with an oxymoron of sorts. Also not the first time moron has been used in the same sentence to describe me but that's a story for another time. 

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Pre-race rider meeting at OMG it's early in the morning. Scott, Pell, Emily and all those involved with the Omaha Jackrabbit put on a great event, race if you must call it that, which differs from most of the other events I find myself entering but in a good way. The Jackrabbit is much more grassroots than the other events, it's numbers are small in comparison and because of that it has never felt like you needed to turn yourself inside out or that you need to be uber competitive to feel like you've accomplished something. A sense of accomplishment comes in many different forms but we will circle back to that later. 

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Last year three of us rode the course together and had a great time, this year we upped the number in the group to 6 with the same philosophy in mind; those who started together would finish together. A Husk of Jackrabbits set off from the start with the goal of sticking together and leaving the KOMs for someone else to hunt for. Tyler was out this year, not from the race but from the Husk, he decided to ride a different race this year due to a previous injury that kept him out of most of the season and he had a strong desire to actually race this one. We missed him but we understood, sometimes even rabbits have to run. 

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While we lost one from last years group, we gained five new faces in this years group. Carlos (in yellow), seen here with Robbie who also rode with us for a bit but wasn't part of the original group but he was no less welcomed and could have stayed if he had wanted but I think the lure of speed got to him eventually and off he went. Over the course of the day we had as many as eleven in the group, some stayed for just a short while and some stay for a longer spell but regardless of the time they spent with the group, each of them were a pleasure to ride with and I hoped we helped them make the race just a little bit less miserable. I know they did for us by sharing a little time together and helping to take our minds off of the endless miles of gravel and dirt. 

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Kristin and Mark were the skinny tires of the group, there were a few times I was a bit envious of those svelte treads but then we would hit a particularly gnarly section and I would be grateful for the extra stability and confidence the 3.8" Knards provided. 

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Roy (in red) was also a new member of the group this year, we would later find out that this would be the longest ride either Roy or Carlos had done on their fat bikes, you would never have known it by the way they powered over the hills with hardly a complaint. Well no more complaining than the rest of us did, it's near impossible ride up the 20%+ grade hills on a fat bike for miles on end without at some point having a bout of verbal diarrhea at times. If it is possible to do so Jamie (in pink), one of the original three form last year, is that person who almost never complains. Her positive attitude and unwillingness to quit is quite infectious and certainly has helped me at times on rides like this.

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The course did not disappoint early on with some great views and one really rad MMR to start out with, unfortunately even modern day cameras don't handle riding in the wee hours of the morning well so there are no pictures to go with the experience but I can tell you it was pretty epic riding that fist MMR in the dark with 20 or so other cyclists. The first stretch of the race was pretty quick as we were blessed with a pretty good tailwind and fairly flat terrain. 

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We rolled into check point 1 in less than 2 hours which meant we were making really good time with the wind, CP was 24 miles from the start so we were averaging speeds above 12 mph at this point. The tail wind was good luck for me, I knew that the worst, or best of the course, was yet to come depending on your opinion of steep MMR hills. My riding had severely dropped off over the previous month due to a few life events that got in the way of being on the bike so I knew today was going to be a suffer-fest for me and any little advantage was appreciated. 

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Summit Lake looked like it would have been a nice place to camp in the cooler temps, might have to make a note of that for future reference. 

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We picked up our new cue sheets, grabbed some water and made quick work of CP1 and boogied on down the road, as you can see spirits were high at this point. If we only knew what was to come perhaps we would have saved that energy for climbing. So much climbing. 

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Leaving CP1 we started the minimum maintenance roads in earnest, thankfully it had been dry lately and they were smooth, quiet and fast rolling when they were flat. Some of my favorite roads to ride on are dirt roads when they are dry, you don't realize how loud and vibrating gravel is until you roll onto a smooth dirt road. Silence really is golden. 

We also swept up Ray somewhere after CP1 and he rode along with us for a bit, finally parting ways with us somewhere near CP2 for faster skinny tire folk but it was a pleasure riding with him, he strong rider for sure. 

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As the course went on so did the MMRs, some of them not too bad with steep grades but not insanely so. 

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Others were down right nasty, pictures never do the grade of a hill justice but several of these were steep enough that you could probably have leaned just a little bit forward while walking and touched them while standing up. There was some walking done, there was ample curing done as well if not externally then most certainly internally. Some of the hills became a risk vs. reward scenario, to ride up them you had to spin in a very low gear and burn a ton of energy for little forward speed and the key was determining if the output was worth it. This is when riding with a group is beneficial as the mental struggles become almost as difficult as the physical struggles. I was as close as I have ever been to pulling the plug on a race/ride without actually pulling the plug, I would say if there had been even 5 more miles of those MMR rollers, I would have thrown in the towel and probably would have done it even sooner had I been riding alone and not able to get encouragement from the group and to see that I wasn't the only one having troubles. I guess that teaches me to not better prepare myself for races but in the end having that camaraderie and company helped me through the dark times. 
  
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Thankfully the rollers broke before I did and I was able to focus more on the surroundings and less on the physical suffering. This course is really beautiful if you take the time to let your eyes wander to something other than the dirt ribbon directly in front of you, for what the Midwest lacks in way of true elevation gain it more than makes up for in miles of beautiful and expansive vistas. 

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We rolled into Walthill on the Omaha Indian Reservation looking for some real food, I had made a rookie mistake with my hydration and nutrition by bringing only sweet things so at this point I wanted anything salty. Walthill is a small town named after the son of the former chief executive officer of the Great Northern Railway, James Hill. The now defunct Great Northern Railway was the northern most and only privately funded transcontinental railroad, it ran from Minnesota to Seattle in it's hay day and helped to build much of the upper Midwest.

Little known piece of personal history, my grandfather Adelbert (he went by Bert) Evans was a clerk for the Great Northern from about 1935 until 1960 when he ended up in Shelby Montana and found employment working for a grain elevator and later as a probate clerk for a local Shelby law firm until 1994 when he retired at the age of 77. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with the race or Walthill Nebraska what so ever except for the tiny connection through the GNR, so let's just get back to the yarn at hand. 

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While the rest was welcomed and the food was needed, all good things come to an end and so did our stop. Onward and upward. 

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A few more miles of gravel and minimum maintenance roads and we found ourselves in familiar territory, Decatur was the final check point last year and as it turns out, it was again this year. Had we been aware that we would hit Decatur again this year, I think the consensus was that we would have waited to eat and get some more of that pizza from last year rather than the sandwiches and wraps that we had in Walthill. Hot greasy pizza always seems to hit the spot on these kinds of rides or at least it does for me.  Pictured here is the best group of riding buddies a guy could ever ask for, I am honored and humbled to have ridden with them for the day. These guys and gals helped me more than they probably know. 

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I personally was ecstatic to see Decatur, even if we get any of that pizza like last year, Decatur meant miles and miles of flat dirt roads and I was ready for some flat by this point. It seems like from other posts that most people weren't keen on the flat section but I had a ticket for the struggle bus that day and that flat section was my saving grace. I can climb, especially when I'm in better physical shape than I was for the Jackrabbit but where I seem to really excel is at maintaining a pace. As I've said before it doesn't seem to matter what bicycle I ride, I get into a comfortable groove and just grind it out for miles so this played to my strength and was a nice recovery for me.

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It wasn't all exactly flat and smooth however, there were plenty of ruts and this, uh... bridge? It was still better than the steep climbs though in my opinion. 

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'Twas a beautiful sunset as well and the weather was absolutely phenomenal for the entire ride with the start being in the 60s already and highs that day being in the mid 70s. You couldn't dream up a more ideal weather pattern for the race. Once the sun went down the camera became useless again so that pretty much wraps up the photos but there were still miles of gravel, stories and shared experiences to be had. I think that final stretch of roads at night surrounded by great friends has to be one of the best experiences I've had on one of these type of rides/races.

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Photo Credit: Omaha Jackrabbit

Just like we started, the six of us crossed the line virtually side by side some 13 hours later, from some of the descriptions I've read from the Jackrabbit guys and gals it was as humbling and exciting to watch as it was to be a part of. Not all races are won by those with the fastest time (well technically they are I suppose), sometimes you can win at life while losing an arbitrary competition and I think everyone in the group was a winner that night... but we weren't all that slow either as it turned out. Kristin won the women's open division, Jamie won the women's fat bike division and Roy, Carlos and myself split the 3rd place finish in the men's fat bike division.

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Somehow I ended up with the hardware again this year, it will probably go on the shelf next to the 2nd place rabbit from last years race, which was also a shared trophy. They will probably sit there and collect dust as knick knacks tend to do, the real prize for the ride are the memories we all came away with, the sense of accomplishment each of us gained in our own way. Such an great team of people to ride with in a sport traditionally not meant to be a team sport, I only hope I helped you guys as much as you all helped me on this one. If not for you guys I doubt a finish would have been in the cards for me, this one really took me to the brink of cracking. So much so that I contemplated why I do these types of rides the entire next day, had me wondering if they were really that much fun... but you know what, time fades the memory; so lets rally the troops and do it all again next year. I'd love to see the group grow, to see how many we could get to join us in a leisurely 125 mile plus ride through the country side of eastern Nebraska.

None of this would be possible though without so many people who I cannot thank enough. The amount of effort and time that the people behind the scenes of the Omaha Jackrabbit put in cannot possibly be summed up in a couple of sentences but I thank each and everyone of them anyway, this is a fantastic event that you folks put on and you should be proud of what you all have accomplished.

As always I am also very appreciative to all the outstanding men and women at Cycle Works for allowing this average fat biker to wear the rasta colors, some of the best people you will ever meet at the best shop in Nebraska.

Last but certainly not least, the other half deserves a huge shout out for being so understanding and cool about all the time away from home that the bicycle steals away. I imagine someone who hasn't been bitten by the bug finds it hard to grasp what exactly would posses a person to ride that far or that long and call it fun.



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