Saturday was supposed to be the first race of the Psycowpath racing series here in good ole Nebraska but Mother Nature had other plans in the form of rain and Joe talked me into signing up last minute for the race in Kansas. Frequent and soaking rains had turned the dirt into mud around these parts but it had skipped Lawrence Kansas where the Gravelluers Raid was to be held, forecast down there was calling for sun, dry weather and 65 degrees. Sounded like heaven in comparison to the Seattle like weather pattern we seemed to be stuck in lately, so I decided to take Joe up on his offer and head down with him for a little gravel fun. As it turned out luck was on my side too as I happened to grab the very last spot for the 100 mile race, well the last spot altogether as the 50 was also full.
Pugsley got the nod again for the race, she might not be the lightest or spriest bike but there is just something about the geometry that works well for me on gravel. Why mess with what's been working, plus the rack and trunk bag allow me to keep all the weight off of me and on the bike which my shoulders and lower back are thankful for.
Joe opted to take the Warbird down for the race, just between you and me I think it had a little tire envy sitting on the rack next to Pugs for the 2 and a half hour car ride.
Had to get up at the insanely early hour of 3 am to head down to Beatrice to meet up with Joe and then we cruised on down to Lawrence getting there right around 8 am, an hour before race start. There was great turn out for the race, as I said there were 300 registered racers, 100 for the 50 miler and 200 for the 100 mile race and it looked like most if not all of them had made it to the start.
A few announcements and we were off, the start was about 2 miles of neutral levee trail and I found myself in familiar territory, smack dab in the middle of the pack. Given the fact that this was the first race of the year for me and the first time I was attempting a century on gravel, on a fat bike since the Omaha Jackrabbit in October I was perfectly OK with where I was.
The levee trail dumped us off onto a couple of miles of flat smooth gravel road in what looked to be an old river valley so the going was pretty brisk, while forecast had called for sun and warmth it was wrong on both of those guesses so far.
Saw this guy off in the not too distant distance and as I was reeling him in I kept catching myself looking at him to make sure that Gary hadn't come down for the race; they both have identical jerseys and even a similar "lean" over the handlebars.
Couple of things I noticed about Kansas, or at least the area around Lawrence, that was markedly different from most of the gravel races I've done in Nebraska. The Sheriffs Dept. was everywhere, stopping traffic on this busy highway and then I saw them several more times on course making sure things were going good for the race and nobody needed help. The other thing I noticed was that vehicles slowed down and moved over on the gravel roads for you, I mean really slow... maybe 25-30 mph and as far to the right as they could get and still stay on the road. It was appreciated but it was weird, there were of course a few exceptions to the rule but for the most part they seemed genuinely more courteous to cyclists than what I'm used to; for a second I almost felt what it must be like to not be treated like a third class citizen. Helmets off to both the drivers I encountered on course and to the law enforcement men and women who helped make it a great experience.
The first climb was a long paved section as we climbed up the other side of the valley and entered the main gravel part of the course.
The Kansas gravel was in excellent shape, roads were dry and the scenery was beautiful; best part was that I was feeling really good so far and clipping a long at a decent pace.
I'm not sure where Joe went, lost him before we ever made the paved climb out of the valley but I kind of expected that; he's one of those guys that race these events instead of riding them so he was doing his thing and I was doing mine. I did Yo-Yo with fellow Cycle Works rider, Bruce for quite a few miles before he too rode off into the distance, always good to have a little company early on in a race while things are still warming up.
Fellow fatties on the course, the guy on the Moonie was haulin and went by and kept on trucking. I rode along side the fella on the Farley for a bit, best color ever IMO for a Farley... of course I might be biased, those rims though, how sweet would the look on my Farley?
Rolled into CP one at mile 25 feeling really good, grabbed a little water and pushed on toward CP two and mile 50.
I was lacking a little bit on the picture taking on this race but there were some pretty cool old barns and farms along the way that I managed to get a shot or two of while pedaling along. I think my photographing slumps off a bit more when I'm by myself vs. riding in a group due to needing to spend more time trying to stay focused on riding and ignoring all the nagging voices and minor aches that sneak in on a longer ride.
McLouth Kansas, rolled into town with a one girl welcoming committee who was very impressed by the Rasta jersey and commented loudly to her mother that I had "a really neat shirt", I guess we know where we should start recruiting future gravel racers.
Rolled into CP two at about mile 50 and I was pretty ecstatic to see that the check-in tables were directly behind a Casey's. I quickly checked my name off and beat feet for a slice of pie and some chocolate milk, nothing tastes as good as Casey's pizza during a gravel race.
I made quick work of the pizza and brown moo juice and headed off again, the forecast was not at all accurate and I'd say temps were still in the 40 degree range with lot's of clouds and I didn't want to get cold while standing around. Saw a lot of these tanks dotting the landscape on the roads around Lawrence, not sure if they are natural gas containers or what but they were everywhere.
Couple more random shots from the race, lots of horses and purple flowering plants; those guys were everywhere which was nice as they added color to the otherwise drab early spring grays and browns.
Briefly stopped at CP 3 and mile 75 for some water and to pull out the iPod for a little musical company and then got right back on the bike. An odd thing about this race was that I felt great at the beginning... probably the first 35-40 miles then just sort of hit a dead spot as far as energy went. Kept up a pretty steady pace but felt like I was just maintaining and not really "racing" then around mile 75 I caught a second wind and started picking up the pace. I'd been chasing down three other riders ahead of me, slowly but steadily gaining some ground on them and was hoping to at least latch on to them for the finish but that didn't work out as planned. First the Garmin flashed on the screen that it was about to enter low battery mode, which meant that it would keep track of data but not display the course or turns anymore... which was bad since they changed the course the night before and I didn't have an opportunity to print new cue sheets so Garmin was my only clue as to where I was going. I tried to pull over and get out the backup battery as quickly as I could but I hadn't planned on needing it unless something had gone terribly wrong and I was still out after dark so it wasn't really conveniently located just yet. By the time I located it and got it hooked up so Garmin was happy, the three riders had vanished and two more had gone by... I struck me as crazy that the Garmin was dying after only about 8ish hours, the older 705 I had lasted well over 14 hours, you'd think the newer ones with better battery technology would last at least as long as the older versions. Googled it after the race and found it's fairly common apparently on newer Garmin computers, 4ish hours if you're using it to navigate isn't unusual, it lasted twice that I guess so there is that. Still kind of ridiculous that they burn through battery that quick but knowing that now I'll just have to make sure to always have a charged backup battery on me from now on and printed cue sheets as well. Anyway, got rolling again but as I said I lost sight of the original three but was trying the same strategy with the second two that passed, until they made the train crossing and I didn't, bad luck I suppose.
Not much I could really do about a train so I just turned up the jams a little louder, waited for the train and then plugged along rockin out to the songs in my head and the last few miles.
Although it was a pretty decent race for me, I was glad to see the finish line. Ended up finishing about 6 or so minutes behind the three riders I had originally tried to catch, seems about right when you figure in the battery change and the train. Not sure if I would have caught them or not but it would have been a lot closer anyway but that just wasn't in the cards on that day but I was pretty excited that I had the energy to even consider trying to chase folks down at the end of a gravel century.
Joe was already done, had been for about an hour but he waited around for me to finish. Dude took 87th out of 200 like the stud he is, must be something to those narrower tires but I'm not ready to give up the plushness of the 4" ones just yet. They have served me well up to this point.
They gave us a ticket at registration that was good for a slice of pizza and an Ad Astra Ale from Free State Brewery at Johnny's Tavern. Both were delicious and went down smooth, might be the gravel talking but it was some of the best darn beer I'd had in awhile.
Joe and I in an us-ie before the race, great travel companion, heck of a pedal turner and just a fabulous all around guy and human being. Honored to know the guy and to get to spend a little quality time in HRV-y the love Honda on the way to and from Lawrence. Plus as you can see in the picture he's a snazzy dresser with impeccable fashion sense.
By the numbers it was an OK race for me, 102 miles in just under 8 1/2 hours for an average of just over 12 mph; probably not spectacular by most people's standards but I'll take it. Ended up 133 out of 200 in the 100 mile race which netted me a very familiar middle of the field finish.
Not much new learned on this race, I think nutrition wise I was good, water wise I was ok as well, not sure what the lack of oomph there is the middle was about but could have just been first race energy was quite there and it did go away and I felt I finished on a higher energy level. All in all I'd say it was a good start to what is shaping up to be several gravel races this summer and fall, lets hope they keep getting better from here.
Other Rastas on the course were Joe, Lane and Bruce, all great guys and all did really well; photos courtesy of Roger Harris who took a ton of great pictures of the event. His work can be found here.
Pugsley preformed great so I couldn't have asked more of her, lots of flats out on the gravel that was sharp and chunky in places but Pugs saw me through with out any flats or mechanical issues, she might be slow and heavy but she's sturdy and trustworthy.
Can't thank Cycle Works enough for their continued support, truly feel like I won the lottery being able to be associated with the great folks on the corner of 27th & Vine... doesn't hurt that the black is "slimming" on someone not so slim.
Next gravel race up I believe is the Solstice 100, it's the inaugural year for the race and looks to be a fantastic course around Pleasant Dale Nebraska, spots are limited so get registered. Facebook page is here and registration page here.
Correction, the next race is the Bohemian Sto-Mil in Prague NE, also in it's inaugural year and then the Solstice 100. Other races on the agenda are Gravel Worlds and the Omaha Jackrabbit as well as the Good Life Gran Fondo, Pony Express 120 and the non race Tour of Dirt Roads... in no particular order. Going to miss not having Odin's Revenge to go to any longer as it was always on the calendar and always a great time but with so many other races going strong or popping up, it's a good time to be a gravel racer in the middle of nowhere USA.