Monday, June 19, 2017

Good Life Gravel - A Tale of Two Races

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness... if you weren't a reader of this blog and I told you I had done two gravel races back to back, one 60 miles in length, with mild temperatures and a gentle breeze, the other 100 miles with temps in the mid 90s and 30 mph winds but I only would finish one, would you guess right which race it was? 


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Saturday was the Good Life Gravel Grand Fondo, storms had rolled through the night before and caused a lot of damage due to winds and torrential downpours but the day of the race was absolutely perfect for mid June.

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What wasn't perfect were my legs, it was Wednesday before I started to feel somewhat normal again after the Sto Mil and I had been second guessing racing the Good Life Gravel Gran Fondo but figured I had already registered so I would go and see how things went. Unfortunately they didn't, I felt alright at the start but things went downhill quickly and it wasn't long before I was crawling along. I wasn't even in the hills yet and already struggling up the baby hills, some of them I was only able to maintain about 5 mph.

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Photo Jun 17, 11 21 12 AM

I rolled into Tabor Iowa, found a convenience store with this cool little park area next to it, grabbed a few cold drinks and something to eat, popped open an umbrella and sat in the shade enjoying the day for a little bit. After sitting in the park enjoying a cold beverage on a beautiful June day, I decided to abandon the race and find the most direct route back to Malvern and the start/finish area, there was no way I had another day of struggling through 40 more miles. Nobody likes to quit but anyone who has ever tried pushing themselves has eventually found a breaking point and I found mine on Saturday, but quitting is only failure if you don't use what you learned through it to help you improve for the next time, some of the races I've learned the most from are the ones that I didn't finish.

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Heading out of Tabor on Waubonsie Ave, I spotted this committee of Turkey Vultures and hoped that they weren't there for me. I wasn't feeling that bad I didn't think but maybe the birds knew something I didn't.

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300th and Oman road looked like it would have been a really good time in drier conditions, 300th street was actually a pretty good road to travel down, rollers but nothing horrible.

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By the time I hit Noyes road I was feeling almost human again, road struck me as a little humorous actually. Is it no, is it yes or would it be maybe road? I guess when you're out on a lonely gravel road by yourself things seem funnier than they actually are sometimes but on Saturday I was crackin me up. A little pro tip if you're new to gravel racing... here's the secret to making a gravel race, find an area that you're familiar with and then find some big hills, heck find all the big hills in that area and then sit down and figure out how to ride them all, even if it means a few miles of just looping up and down the same hill a mile or two down the road. So here is perhaps a better tip, if you ever find that you're in over your head or just having a bad day and you can't go on, look at the course map and then take any other road out there back to the start. Typically just one or two roads down you'll likely find a nice gravel road with rollers instead of giants and you can easily spin your way home. The only time such roads are used in a gravel race is if they are needed to link up the monster hills but they are out there and they are more common than the roads with the big hills; why do you think most gravel courses are so jagged in design?

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While it took me 20 miles to get to Tabor using the roundabout way, there was only about 10 miles separating the two towns and it wasn't long before I was back at the start enjoying a sandwich from Relish and a beer from Brickway while I waited for riders to start showing up.

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I didn't have to wait long at all before the rest of the gang started rolling in, they obviously were killing it and having a much better day than I was having. While I managed to finish 30 miles in about three hours, they rest of them were completing 60 in just about that same time frame, pretty impressive.

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Jamie even won the female single speed category... and a free bath from Feagan's sweat towel, although he swore it was water.

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Obviously some were happier than others after the race, birds were out in half force on Saturday.

So while my day wasn't the greatest, everyone else seemed to have a really good race but they are all strong riders so that was kind of a given.

Not a whole lot of true "positives" from this race as it was more of a learning experience than anything else. Things to take away from the race, well, big one is that I need to listen to my body and if it's not snapping back after a race like it usually does, going ahead and racing the next weekend anyway is probably not a great idea. I think next year if the two races end up being on the same days that they were this year I might to have to make a decision and only sign up for one of them. They are both great events so it will be a difficult decision for sure however to be honest had the epic winds not been a factor the previous week, I think this race would have been much more attainable so that might be something to take into consideration for next year as well. Epic winds on the first race, no go on the second race... I suppose the other option is to decrease the tire girth of the bike I'm riding but that is just crazy talk.

Next up is the Solstice 100 but instead of racing it I'm helping my good friend Joe with whatever he needs me to do so that we can get the inaugural edition off the ground this year. Should be a great race and a great area to get out and ride some gravel, you really owe it to yourself to seriously consider riding it. If you do show up, stop by the timing table and I'll be handing out free high fives all day.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Bolest & Utrpeni On The Bohemian Sto Mil

Since the beginning of this blog, long before there were any regular readers, my mantra was that I am not a racer. That, more than any single thing I've ever written in this blog, still stands true today. Being short and stocky, like the bikes I prefer to ride currently, I do not posses the racers build nor do I posses or want to posses the racers mind set, it has got to be exhausting always needing to be the fastest, the strongest, the best just to make yourself happy; who needs that floating around in their head? That is not to say I don't love a good challenge but a challenge against the me of last year, last week or yesterday in an attempt to be a better me than I was; not better than you but a better version of me. I enter races not to see if I could be faster or stronger or better than number 12, in all honesty I'd rather ride along side number 12 and share the experiences and the scenery with them. If you are a mile ahead of me or a mile behind me neither or you concern me any more or any less than the other because neither or you matter in my race and neither or you factor into it's outcome, I cherish embracing the struggle with the person next me way more than trying to catch the phantom ahead of me or staying in front of the sound of tires behind me. The proverb that slow and steady wins the race is false but sometimes, hell often times, winning isn't everything and a lot of the times it really isn't anything. If that's your thing, then do you, I have not desire to tell you how you should race or how to find meaning in endless hours of turning cranks. But I digress, if were ever going to get this blog to bed, I better stop rambling on and get down to the brass tacks of what was the inaugural edition of the Bohemian Sto Mil for me.

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In the wee hours of the morning I arose and began my last minute preparation before getting in the FIT and descending on the still sleeping town of Prague Nebraska. I had never been to Prague previously but much like most rural farming towns in Nebraska it was not without it's quaintness and charm in it's almost Norman Rockwell like appearance; I especially fancied the last building pictured here as it's the only place I've ever seen with an neon sign indicating they were "Closed". I like small town America, I like the fact that not much has changed in these towns, names of businesses on the buildings may have changed but they are for the most part still the same buildings they were a hundred or more years ago. In a world that sometimes is in too big of a hurry to change just for the sake of changing, it's nice to visit these towns on the weekends; hell if it weren't for the other half I could see myself in one of these little towns sitting on the porch, telling some whippersnapper to get off my lawn. It's a good dream, until you factor in the amount of Bud Lite, Busch Light and Miller Light there are in places like this in comparison to craft beer... that's a deal breaker, wake up and get good tasting beer small town America, then we can talk.

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The race was to start and end in the town park which had a unique way of making sure it's playground equipment kept that just out of the box look.

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Czech in was smooth, quick and simple thanks to race organizers Rhino and Russell, they even brought an assortment of Kolaches for the enjoyment of the participants. The easiest way to attract cyclists is with free pastries, throw in a little cold beverage and they may never leave your side.

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Most of our usual Saturday morning crew threw their postcards into the mail weeks or even months ago and came down to race, always good to see the gang show up in force for these events. Hands down some of the greatest guys and gals I've ever shared hours of gravel with. Great people, every last one of them and strong riders as well; I just knew today was going to be a good day for most of them, filled with struggles and weariness but only through struggle do we truly find rest.

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Right around 10 til 8, we all lined up behind the pace truck for the rider meeting. The only reason I wasn't in that group and got this picture was because Roy, Carlos and Joe all decided to camp the night before at Czechland Lake and they were cutting it a little bit close and in their rush to get tot he start missed all 50 or so of us standing around in the park and rode right by, so I left to go round them back up.

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Back safely in the heard, it was time to follow this guy out of town and start this race.

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The first quarter mile or so was a neutral start as we rolled through town on the paved streets, this was the closest I'd get to the lead pack all day but with temps getting into the mid 90s and steady winds in the 20-25 mph range with gusts that had to top 30 mph the last thing I wanted to do was chase skinny tire rabbits on a fat bike right out of the gate.

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Once on the gravel we circled around the back half of Czechland Lake, I rode along with Joe and Janelle for a bit before Joe continued on ahead of me and I pulled slightly ahead of Janelle. Both were riding really strong at this point in the race.

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Not too long after getting into the heart of the gravel, I found myself in very familiar territory all by myself; so as I usually do I settled into a nice pace and tried to take in some of the sites. The winds, temps and humidity were all already in full effect and the water from the center pivot looked more than a little inviting.

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Right around mile 16 it was time to get down to the meat of the race and the first really big hill on Road 30. The hill itself was about a mile long climb ranking in at a gradient right around 18ish % at its steepest and if that wasn't enough it was also straight into the strong south winds for just that little bit of added effort. The last two pictures are courtesy of Gina who was out there supporting and encouraging riders the entire day and picking up those who could no longer go on and there were more than a couple on this day. I have the utmost respect for anyone willing to selflessly give up their day to come help out with these gravel races. Nobody is making money off of these races, I would be willing to bet most of the organizers are ecstatic if the money coming in through entry fees gets anywhere close to the money going out for prizes, supplies, etc.; without the Ginas of the world there would be no Bohemian Sto Mils to race in.

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A few more miles down the road and we had successfully made it to Czech point one and 25 miles into the race. I could tell that this was going to be a long day for me, the winds were something else and it was a constant struggle to maintain momentum when you were pedaling into the teeth of the wind, often times you'd have to pedal just to keep moving on the decent downhills, there was truly no rest for the wicked this day.

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Shortly after the first Czech point I managed to somehow catch up to Doug, Todd and Brian and we rode along for a little while together. Honestly I think the main reason I was able to catch them and ride with them for even the little bit that I did was because we had hit the worst of the sandy roads on the course and the Pugsley provided me with the only advantage it had to offer for the day as it floated while everyone else sank, slowing them down far more than it did me allowing me to maintain their pace. When I say sandy I'm not talking loose gravel but actual sand like you'd find on the beach, so fine that the wind was already covering up the tracks of the cyclists who passed before us probably not 10 minutes ahead.

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We rolled into David City, Czech point 2, at mile 42 as more or less as a small group but this would be the last time I'd see Todd or Brian for the day; Doug and I would continue on as a smaller group and Janelle pulled the plug. I can't say as I blame her, while only 40 miles in it certainly felt like a lot more than that, I've ridden 100 miles and wasn't as tired and worn out as I felt on Saturday. It was a little before getting to David City that I started to realize that it was going to take all I had to make it to the end.

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Doug and I continued on mostly by ourselves although near Loma we picked up a third, whose name I can't remember unfortunately. My mind was elsewhere by now trying to focus on anything but the task at hand as much as possible. There was still a ton of stuff to see and I even managed a few pictures, like us getting off the road to allow this tractor to go by without decapitating us. Sometime self preservation over rides that whole share the road thing.

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Doug and I rolled into Loma, or what's left of Loma anyway, at about mile 68 and stopped into the tavern to check in and to grab some refreshments. We also met up with Janelle again who was riding around with Gina after getting picked up from David City, we also met up with Ed, who pulled the plug here ending his day.

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To be honest as I sat there in the shade enjoying my Negra Modelo, Coke and oranges, the idea of just sitting here for a few hours sounded more than a little enticing. I was well into survival mode by now and pretty much had been since David City, the legs were gone but the mind was still in the fight and that's about the only thing that kept me going. If I'd had a dress I might have shed the kit, done my best To Wong Foo impression and just blended into the woodwork, giving up riding and living the life of a drag queen; I hear it's been done here before by people far more famous than I.

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I knew if I left Loma I'd have to finish because the next easy place to get picked up was Czech point 3 at Weston and I couldn't stop there as it was a mere 12 miles from the finish. There weren't too many pictures after Loma, as I said I was in survival mode and I was on auto pilot for the most part. I could see my legs turning but I think at that point they did so on their own out of habit. I envied these cows, these simple minded, soaking in the mud pond, cows... just standing there, not going anywhere, with there little cow faces. Not moving sounded a lot like heaven, even if it meant you'd end up as a pair of boots and someone's dinner down the line. Stupid yet to be boot/food cows!

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Headphones in, nose to the grindstone I unknowingly took a picture of this hill, most likely because I was thinking bad thoughts about the hill and wanted to record it for posterity. Doug and I rolled into Weston and I sat inside and consumed a bunch of random stuff, Chocolate Milk, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, an Grandmother's cookie and some crazy new prickly pear juice spiked Mt. Dew lemonade drink. Yeah, I had to Google that last one when I got home too, just to make sure my addled mind wasn't making shit up but it does exist and from what I remember it wasn't all that bad. As we sat there Oak, Matt Wills, and Dylan caught up to us and we chatted for a bit; I half joked that we were 12 miles from the finish which meant if I averaged 2 mph, I was only 6 hours from being done. I say only half joked because realistically if we hadn't turned north and had still been heading south into the wind and hills, that 2 mph might have been a reality. I hurt, things that shouldn't hurt did... my ribs hurt from breathing, my kidney on the right side hurt; maybe from being slightly dehydrated, maybe from the constant pounding of the MMRs or from who knew what but about the only thing that didn't hurt were my legs but only because they were dead and numb. I finally convinced Doug to head out on his own and finish this thing, after Loma he was much quicker and would often wait at turns for me to arrive. I knew I was finishing by the time I got to Weston but I didn't see the need to prolong the suffering for Doug as he could easily finish in the next hour or less and I knew it'd be more than that for me. So at Weston we parted ways.

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I finished as I knew I would and just like I thought, Doug finished 33 minutes ahead of me and was waiting with the rest of the guys when I got there. I was spent, the group had a chair waiting for me... the one seen at the corner of the table but I couldn't sit at it. Not that I didn't want to but I felt like I needed to decompress, to just sit down at the next nearest table and participate from a far for the time being. The kitchen was about to close and the kind waitress asked if she could get me a menu but I doubt I could have focused on one at that time, I asked for a hamburger to which she said they had several kinds. Not in the frame of mind to make insurmountable decisions like what kind of hamburger, I said just a plain old hamburger... in retrospect I should have been more specific and stated a traditional hamburger; mustard, ketchup, pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato because what I got was a bun and a piece of meat, nothing more... which is what I ordered and it was delicious, totally my fault and not hers but it spoke volumes about where I was mentally after the ride and why I couldn't people at that time.

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It was one of... no scratch that, it was the single hardest 100 miles I have ever done on a bicycle; it even surpassed my failed Gravel Worlds attempt from two years ago for suckage. It was hot, humid, windy, hilly as hell, all we were missing was Mark Wahlberg and we could have had the gravel version of The Perfect Storm. It wasn't all bad though....

By the numbers, 10 hours 27 minutes moving time, 12 hours 46 minutes total time, averaged almost 10 mph (9.6) and hung on for the finish and first place in the fat bike division, 24th over all and didn't even come in DFL. 57 people started the day, 2 in the fat bike category, but only 27 finished and just me in the fat bike division, it was a rough one for all involved.

Positive things to take away, nutrition seemed good, hydration seemed good, mental game was strong, it had to be or I'd have pulled the plug around mile 42. Really the only negatives were things I couldn't control... heat, humidity and wind and there is nothing you can do to change any of those so I'd say there were no real negatives coming away from this race. Also on the positive side, my riding partners the #SOVAG crew; each and everyone of you folks mean the world to me and have helped me to grow as a cyclist and become a better rider. I hope I've at least given a little back to each of you as you have given to me. A special thank you to Doug for sticking with me for those middle miles and letting me slow you down, appreciate it buddy.

Cycle Works, I don't even know where to start with those guys... 4 years ago I was a guy tagging along on their Tuesday night rides through Wilderness Park and now... so much has changed, there like family. So much support from so many people at the shop, I don't think I'd even being doing these races if it weren't for the folks at Cycle Works. Nathan who never left my sorry ass on those first rides in Wilderness and always made me feel welcomed, Rick for putting up with me (I honestly don't think the guy knew what to think of me at first, maybe still doesn't), Kris for supporting me and giving me the free reign to create what at the time was a one of a kind group shop ride with Fat Bikes all the way through winter, Damon... such a great guy and a fabulous human being, the guy is way more to the Lincoln cycling community than you can sum up in words. Brody, Gary and the rest of the mechanics for keeping my bikes running, lord knows I don't treat them like I should most of the time.

Much thanks to Rhino and Russel for the awesome event on a challenging yet fun course and all of the volunteers that helped to pull the event together and make it the outstanding time that it was and will continue to be for years to come.

As always last but certainly not least by any stretch of the imagination, the other half who puts up with so much of me being gone or only half there because I'm exhausted or blogging or preparing for the next ride, race, whatever. Love you more than you know, you're one of a kind.