It might not seem like it initially but this post eventually gets around to being about the Loess Hills Enduro that was last Saturday but before we get there we have a bit of backstory to cover first, so hold on we will get there.
A lot of things happened in 1992, some good and some not so good. A feller from Arkansas got himself elected president, John Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, MTV aired the first ever episode of the Real World, the US was fighting a war in Mogadishu, Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, LAPD officers are acquitted in the beating of Rodney King and L.A. riots, loots and burns for 5 days (I had a front row seat for that, it was not a pretty time in California history). The Chicago Bulls win the second straight NBA title, the Buffalo Bills lose their second straight Super Bowl (on their way to an unprecedented 4 Super Bowl losses in a row) and Alabama wins the National Championship.
Me, I was living the dream as a US Marine stationed in sunny Southern California not even old enough to drink legally off base yet. I was also taught a lesson in physics on an otherwise unremarkable, warm, late January night; that lesson being that a VW GTI and a Suzuki Bandit could not occupy the same exact space, at the same exact time. My left leg taking the brunt of the chance encounter, one minute I'm riding along thinking about what to do on this gorgeous payday Friday night and the next I'm looking up at the sky, not exactly sure why I'm there or how I got there. It didn't take too long for the pain and realization to start to sink in about what had happened and I looked around to see my poor Suzuki lying against the curb in a dented and crumpled mess. Most of the rest is kind of a blur of activity and conversations with strangers about what happened, how I was and that the ambulance was on it's way. One thing was for sure, my leg hurt like hell and I was pretty sure my foot was not supposed to be dangling in the manner that it was or at least it never had previously. Odd conversations happen shortly after a traumatic event, I remember asking the kind soul who was elevating my leg if he could also perhaps make sure to not let the foot dangle as it was because it was somewhat uncomfortable; he looked at me a little crazy but obliged me my request. I never did get the guys name but it takes a heck of a dude to grab your dangly foot and prop it up for you, thank you whoever you were. The other odd conversation I remember having was actually an argument with the EMTs trying to cut my brand new shoes off rather than untying them like civilized people do, I eventually won that one as well. Like I said odd conversations happen following a traumatic event, odd indeed.
I don't particularly remember the ambulance ride or the initial transportation into the emergency room, my next clear recollection was the ER doctor running through the list of injuries, in no particular order. Compound fracture of both the Tibia and the Fibula leaving a large chunk of my lower leg missing when they made their abrupt departure from where they were supposed to be, torn MCL/ACL/Patella tendon, knee cap fractured into three pieces, a sizable flap of skin that used to cover the knee had been peeled back and I had more than my fair share of road rash. As bad as all that might sound, that was the "good news" portion of the good news/bad news scenario; the bad news being that Doc thought that the injuries were such that the chance for infection, poor healing and the eventual limited use of the limb were such that he was strongly leaning towards amputation now rather than the possibility of infection and the need to amputate higher up later on down the road. So there I was all of 19 years old, flat on my back, hopped up on pain meds and faced with a decision nobody should ever have to make concerning someone you care about let alone about yourself but it had to be made and it had to be made fairly quickly. As you're bleeding out on someone else's nice shiny stainless steel table, time is not a luxury you have. I listened to the Doc concerning the pros and the cons of each choice, end up with one and a half legs and likely be out of the hospital in a few days, with just a lifetime of disability as a parting gift or opt to try to remain dual legged, hope it healed without killing you through any number of infections or complications, then hope that you could rehab it back to some semblance of "normal". Of course that wouldn't be until after several surgeries, a fist full of government metal, weeks of hospitalization and just a smidgen of pain as the cherry on top of the shit sundae. I hate giving in on almost anything without a fight and to my drug induced, hazy way of thinking, laying there in a hospital gown with my butt hanging out; taking a little now or a lot later wasn't going to change the overall result all that much; half a leg or 2/3 of a leg didn't seem to be a world of difference to me. Leaving the hospital with a whole leg vs. leaving with half or 2/3 of a leg without even trying just didn't sit right with me so option B it was, bring on the pain. I'll try to wrap this up and give you all the Cliff's Notes version of the next year so we can get out of here without a Stephen King sized novel. There were surgeries, lots of them, more than I cared to count; rods were inserted, screws were screwed, staples stapled and stainless steel wires used as stitches to close up the hole in the back of my calf and months of rehab. Through it all there was a certain measure of pain but after awhile pain becomes the norm and the mind has a unique ability to ignore just about anything if you let it. The two worst experiences of the entire ordeal was day two at the hospital when they yanked (yes, yanked is an apt description) 6 inches of drainage tube from my surgically repaired knee without so much as a Tylenol before putting hands to tube; it's as enjoyable as you are probably imagining it to be, maybe a little less so in reality. The second was the removal of the stainless steel stitches that had been in my calf for 8 weeks, their job was to close the gap made when the bones tore through flesh and they did their job... but that also meant that skin had grown around the stitches and believe me when I tell you, I felt every millimeter of those wires as they were extracted from my calf, every, single, millimeter. I did however leave the hospital two-ish months later with both legs still more or less where they were supposed to be. It took the better part of a year but I was able to return to full duty and pass the required USMC PFT tests, take that infection and amputation! For the most part things got back to close to normal, I don't think you ever get back to the way things were but you get close and most of the time that is good enough.
Over the years as part of the natural aging process, things have flared up and have caused some minor issues here and there but they come and go after a bit of rest. The week before the Loess Hills Enduro was one of those flare up times, it started as a little nagging in the knee and moved down to include the ankle at it's height; most likely the ankle pain was a result of walking funny because of the knee and visa versa when it starts in the ankle and moves up to the knee on other occasions. Sunday, progressed into Monday, then into Tuesday and things were getting better and with the aid of some Ibuprofen the discomfort was minimal. Wednesday I decided to get in a short ride to see if things would get worse, get better or stay the same as it's better to find out those things before a race than during. Things went surprisingly well on Wednesday and I was optimistic that I would be able to race in the Loess Hills Enduro, I know to some it might seem silly not to try anyway but as I've said I don't like giving up. When I register for a race, I have no grandiose visions of winning the thing but I also don't take lightly my commitment to finishing the thing. I don't lineup at the start line with the hope of being able to finish, if I am at your start line it's because I am going to do everything in my power to get across the finish line, anything less is an unacceptable result in my mind and hope has little to do with making that happen. That's not to say that I haven't ever not finished a race but I can count those DNFs on one hand and have fingers left over but the Good Life Gravel Gran Fondo was one of those DNFs last year and I knew which leftover finger I wanted to give that DNF this year. Knowing your limits is a good thing, knowing when you've actually reached those limits vs. when your mind thinks you have is a better thing. Why the back story, well I suppose to help the reader understand that when I say I wasn't sure if I was going to make the start because of a nagging knee and ankle I wasn't just blowing smoke up your butt. This leg and I have seen some stuff but don't think that I am in any way using it as an excuse for anything, we play the cards we are dealt.
Like I said, the GLGGFD, now the Loess Hills Enduro, was one of those DNFs last year so I had a score to settle this year so if at all possible, I was not going to miss it, so I was pretty stoked at the end of the week when it looked like things were going to work out.
Back again this year were the tuxedo jerseys and most of the same crew as last year, we ended up a Joe short but gained a Doug. A huge advantage that played into my favor was that we didn't have the Bohemia Sto Mil the weekend before so the legs were fresh and not fried. That race was once of the most difficult races I have ever done and it took a few weeks for me to feel 100% after that one.
Turn out for the Loess Hills Enduro was good, probably better than last year if you were to ask me, it was also the second race in the inaugural Nebraska Gravel Points Series but ended up being the first actual race as the Robidoux Quick and Dirty got rained out. Not sure if that contributed to the turn out or not but anything that gets more racers racing in local events the better. After a few words from Rafal it was time to get down to business, the roll out through Malvern was brisk but not quite at race pace while on the pavement as people jockeyed for position.
Once the course switched over to gravel though, things picked up considerably and I jumped on Roy's wheel; I wasn't drafting mind you, I just really liked the look of all that rubber and I was attracted to it like a moth to flame. Now I'm not the fastest guy in the world, see the above novella for a good part of the reason why, I'm also not the slowest and we were clipping along at a pretty good average for the first 15-20 miles or so until things started to heat up.
Right around noon Mother Nature really started to turn the screws with both the heat and the increase in wind, at one point I had heard that the heat index got up to 113° and I certainly wouldn't have bet against it on that day. Another more troublesome issue for me was that the hip on the leg that was causing me issues earlier in the week was groaning a bit, the hip was a new development as it's not usually what bothers me so I hoped this wouldn't become and issue later down the road. However the course itself was amazing, I didn't make it into the canyons or MMRs last year so this was my first time riding them. I wonder how many years it takes to get that far down from grading the road or how you keep those walls from collapsing in a good rain storm.
Heat has a way of decimating a field and you can quickly go from full on racing to half racing and half surviving to full on survival mode in just a few dozen miles, Saturday was a struggle for most of those of us out there I would say. Of those that started the race on Saturday, 20% of them didn't finish. That's a pretty telling number when you consider the race seemed full of experienced gravel racers and the course is relatively short by gravel standards at 62 miles, yet 20% of the field pulled the plug. Conditions weren't unlike the Sto Mil from last year, I am not sure what the wind speeds got up to officially but being out there in it I would guess that steady 20 mph winds with gusts in the high 20s and possibly even low 30s would be a fair guess.
By the time we hit the second and third canyons it felt like we were in a slow cooker, simmering in our own juices but as long as you were still making juices to simmer in then you were still in the fight. No juice and it's time to pull the plug. The Fargo performed amazingly, this bike is made for this type of course with it's plus tires it just rolled over the loose silt/sand and most of the rutted out MMRs weren't too bad on the Fargo.
About a mile before the pop up SAG water stop, we came upon a shady oasis full of other weary racers, that shade felt so damn good we stayed there way longer than we probably should have. At the time we pulled into the yard we were unaware that there was another water stop just up the road that wasn't on the cues, we were only made aware of it when one of the riders returned to our spot because he had forgot his bottle. That pop up SAG stop was a life saver though, I probably had enough water to make it back but with the temperatures what they were it's always better to err on the side of caution and get the water when you can.
With about 15 miles left to go and loaded up on water, we all kind of hit our second wind and picked up the pace a tad to put this one to bed.
Right around 4 o'clock we rolled into the finish, dirty and worn out. A cold beer, chilled wrap and a finishers patch in hand we sat around talking to fellow riders and we also learned that one of our own, Karla, had taken a bad spill out on course and broke her collar bone. Not the kind of news you want to hear to finish up the day but she was going to be alright and we all expect a speedy recovery from her at which time she can continue kicking our asses.
Despite the heat and the wind, the course was in good shape and the views were pretty amazing if you could see them through sweat stung eyes. Best of all I came back and was able to finish some unfinished business from last year. I'm not going to lie though, this one took a bit out of me and I'm still nursing that hip just a little bit even today, thankfully a few Ibuprofen on course and a little mind over matter and I was able to push it down and not let it affect the outcome. This one was definitely a team effort as I think we all helped each other get to the finish, thanks for the ride fellas.