Monday, August 19, 2019

Gravel Worlds 2019 P/B Heat, Humility and Hills

12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, 31 million 536 thousand seconds; that's exactly the amount of time you have from the time you cross the finish line of Gravel Worlds until you line up for the beginning of the next one. It seems like a lot of time, when you see it written out like that but it's not all that much time in reality and it goes so fast. The rigors of daily life will take those precious seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months away from you and will do with them what it wants leaving you scrambling to do with them what you want to get done; the struggle is constant. For most training is something we love to do squeezed in between and endless list of things we have to do. 

Photo Aug 18, 3 04 42 PM
After coming off of two successful Gravel Worlds in 2016 and 2017, the 2018 version ended a little more than half way into it and left me sitting in the shade in Malcolm, drinking an RC Cola, waiting for rescue and contemplating what went wrong. 

Photo Aug 14, 7 19 12 PM
For 2019 I opted to sail the gravel seas aboard the 2019 Salsa Journeyman I've been demoing from Cycle Works since November. A worthy bicycle and one that definitely would be up for the task, if I was. I spent most of the Wednesday and Thursday evenings leading up to the event cleaning off the remnants of what the Guitar Ted Death Ride put on the bike and there was a lot of Iowa sand and gravel to clean so I stripped it down and went to town. 





Photo Aug 16, 8 48 47 PM
Friday around 2 pm we packed up the car and made the short trip down to Lincoln for packet pickup and to reunite with friends we haven't seen in a while, some of them not since last year. It's always good seeing those familiar faces at the Expo or check in, that alone might be worth the entry fee. This year the Expo was held out in Fallbrook, the one time small Gravel Worlds/Good Life Gravel Ride has out grown the lot at Cycle Works and it's a beautiful thing to see. The night ended with a quiet evening at some friends house and a frosty A&W Root Beer Float as the icing on the cake. 




4 am always seems to come just a little too soon no matter what time you get to bed and Saturday was no exception. We arose to a slight sprinkle but by the time we made the drive to Fallbrook all the water works had stopped and it looked like it was going to be a dry start to the race. 



The crowds amassed and filled the starting chute as the crowds do, announcements were made up front and sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher to those of us in the back... mwwaah, mmmmwaaaa, waaaah, waaah. 


And with little to know fanfare we could detect in the back, we saw the crowd up front clear out and we followed. Off we went to meet our fate for the 2019 Gravel Worlds race. I do miss the old blue 70's Ford Ranger that used to start the race; even without amplification the entire field knew when things were about to get real when that beast fired up and moments later made that distinct and audible drop into gear. I didn't see it my self only heard the aftermath but the first crash of the race was had before ever leaving the starting gate, two fellows tried to occupy the same space and that's just not possible. 



A short neutral roll out later and we hit the gravel and started the race in earnest under the cover of darkness. Those first few miles while everyone jockeys for position are always the most nerve wracking but I kept my line and my pace and managed to make it out alive for the 5th straight start. 




Low temps, for August in Nebraska, cloud cover and just the slightest of breezes were a welcomed way to start the day and I was hoping that we might get them to stick around but as the day progressed that was not to be. 


One of the things I love about gravel and the folks who race it or at least those of us not trying to win, not sure about the speedy folks since I'm never up thatta way, is that they never take the race aspect too seriously. I met Marcus along the way just before Loma and we struck up a conversation after I mentioned that I loved his sock game and that they almost exactly matched my Journeyman. He offered to make an even trade, socks for Journeyman but since I needed the bike to be in the bike race, I had to decline. They were some sweet ass socks though. 


Speaking of Loma, as we were coming into town we noticed a few fixer uppers on the main drag just out of the town proper; a little TLC and they could be good as new. 


Loma was our first opportunity to resupply on water at around mile 40 so it was a pretty happening spot. I love that the Pirates still include this tiny town that seems like it has no business still being around after all these years but it grits it out year after year. 




It was just outside of Loma that we caught up with Sarah and Pat, Sarah went out pretty hot from the first gravel and Pat went shortly after that. I decided that I was going to resist chasing rabbits and stayed my pace, Todd decided to stay with me and so it was just us two. Not knowing if I'd see either of them again that day, I was glad that we were able to hook up again after 40 something miles. Long rides are always more fun with friends. 



After that initial 40 miles the Oases were stacked up nicely, one about every 15-20 miles or thereabouts. That would be a welcomed site as the clouds disappeared and the mercury began to climb as the day drug on. We rolled into Valparaiso around mile 50 and while we probably could have kept on pushing through to the first checkpoint at mile 60, we opted to stop and spend a little green at the Boy Scout tent. Those ice cold $1 Cokes tasted like heaven, you know if heaven was artificially flavored and caffeinated.  



Branched Oak Farms around mile 60 was the first checkpoint and was stocked with a menagerie of things to eat and drink. With all the food, drink, shade and cool breezing blowing on that hill top it was really hard to leave but after refilling water bottles, downing a hot dog and another Coke it was time to go. If you get a chance, stop on down to The Hub Cafe in Lincoln and get a taste of what farm fresh food is all about straight from this little farm that has always been a great supporter of cycling and Gravel Worlds, you won't be sorry. 




By the time we started meeting up with the Privateer racers going the other way, the clouds had diminished to almost nothing in the sky. With the lack of clouds both internal and external temps began to tick up fairly steadily. I was still feeling really good at this point, I was keeping the pace at a reasonable level, I was doing well with hydration and nutrition, even remembering to drink the Go Far I had decided to try this time around. 

Photo Aug 16, 12 44 21 PM

Although not at the recommended dosage, as I was packing up the day before I took note that the package prescribed two scoops per bottle and one bottle per hour! What you see here is about half of the amount I would have needed to carry to be at the proper amount. I already looked like I was trying to reenact a scene in Scarface with all that white powder so I decided I'd just have to get by with one scoop... plus who has that kind of room on their bike??? I guess Go Far is for those who also Go Fast. In all seriousness though, it did seem to help quell the usual drop off in energy when there wasn't much in the way of real food available. 




I opted to not fill water bottles and the bladder in my Chase Vest at the checkpoint when everyone else did so we rolled into Malcolm, found some shade in the abandoned car wash and grabbed some cold beverages, a gallon of water and something to snack on. We also passed Guitar Ted sitting in the shade at the corner of the Post Office and invited him to join us in our shaded wind tunnel of fun. 




GT decided to pull the plug at Malcolm due to some issues he was having so the four of us set sail on down the road and wished him well on his short journey back to Fallbrook. Next stop for us was the giant corn Oasis at about mile 80 and it was a welcomed sight before tackling the Denton Wall just a few miles up the road. Sshhhhh, don't tell Kris about the bike leaning on the van, that's definitely a no-no but come'on if that ain't a sweet pic, I'm not sure what is. 





A couple more miles down the road and we hit the wall, literally, the Denton Wall and waiting at the top was Dave taking pictures and some drone footage of people as they crested the hill. This deep into the race, mile 82, it was not a welcoming site but it's only a hill so you just have to get over it and to our credit, note a single one of us had to walk it. We visited for a bit with Dave and then pushed on to see what other fun awaited us. 


The view from the top wasn't half bad if you stopped, turned around and took the time to look. 



Shortly after The Wall, the wheels started falling off the bus for Sarah. At one point we lost sight of her so we pulled up on Saltillo to wait but she never came, we checked messages and saw that she was thinking about pulling the plug. Todd and I texted and said to come to Saltillo and we'd make sure she got to Denton a few more miles down the road... not having the heart to tell her, we left out the bit about that hill at 140th and Saltillo, she'd find out about that soon enough. This little Oasis in the grass shortly after we turned off of Saltillo was a life saver, someone had really twisted the knob on the oven by this time and it was getting steamy. At one point Garmin showed a temp in the triple digits, Garmin has a habit of showing more what it feels like than what the weather station might say but you know what I was FEELING it too. 



We rolled into Denton, said our goodbyes to Sarah, her ride was already waiting for her when we got there, grabbed something cold to drink, some real food to snack on and then pressed on toward Sprague. Leaving out of Denton things were still going good, I felt good, legs weren't all that tired and my hydration and nutrition were both going well. As it turns out though none of that really mattered. 


Four miles from Sprague, on the shortest route not as the course went, I pulled up along side Todd and let him know I was likely going directly to Sprague and calling it a day. He said he was good with that plan and was coming along for the bail out plan as well since he was pretty cooked and started having some cramping issues. We pulled over and while getting buzzed by this asshat doing 50 mph in his huge truck, we texted Pat to let him know we were done and he should go on without us. Pat went on to finish and rode really well, the only one from our group to make it all 150 miles and at times he made it look easy. I'm not sure if the heat finally got to me or what my deal was but I was having a hard time swallowing the Cliff Bloks near the end and I wasn't having much better luck with the Go Far. In general I'd say I just felt like a warmed over bag of dicks and that's just no way to race a gravel race. It was fine until it wasn't and when it wasn't it went to shit quick, I just didn't see how riding another 50 miles/5 hours (optimistically) was possible. 


Riding down Sprague Rd toward the town of Sprague, I couldn't help but think about Randy and I think that helped both Todd and I find a little extra speed to funnel into the legs to limit the time spent on the pavement. Seeing this guy off to the side gave me the chills a little bit but both Todd and I  made it to Sprague a little more tired but still in one piece. 

This was my 5th consecutive Gravel Worlds and definitely wasn't the way I was hoping it would go, especially after coming off of a DNF last year but we don't always get what we want and despite the prognostication from the Stones; sometimes we don't even get what we need. Gravel Worlds, or any 100 mile plus gravel race, isn't always a guaranteed finish but it's a race I've successfully done twice so it is one I know I can finish if I do what I need to do leading up to the race. I didn't do that this year, miles were down and over all fitness was not where it needed to be but excuse are just that, I made the choices and the excuses during the year that helped to contribute to the results. Ironically the two successful Gravel Worlds finishes came on the 50 plus lbs Surly Pugsley, I have never finished one on a lighter, "faster" bicycle. Not sure what that is about but it is what it is, maybe it's time to go back to what works instead of trying to find the easier way to ride this thing.

Right after every Gravel Worlds I always think that maybe I'm done with them, maybe Gravel Worlds just isn't for me. This thought process comes after the successful ones and the unsuccessful ones, you don't finish Gravel Worlds without wondering why you're doing it, or at least I don't. But then the days go by, the pain and feeling of being completely gutted passes and you start to reevaluate when you have some honest perspective of what you did and didn't accomplish. I didn't finish but I did line up at the start, I did give it all I had, I got to spend a day riding with old friends and new friends and I did something that challenged me to my very core... something a lot of people can't say they do very often. Even though I don't have a patch that says I had a successful Gravel Worlds, I have the memories that I earned and shared with those that I rode with on Saturday. Those I can't hang on the wall of my bike room maybe but they are also memories that I'll have long after patches are lost. Will I be at next years Gravel Worlds, I will. Will it be toeing the line for the full 150? Well that's another question entirely, 75 miles sounds good but 75 miles is also something I know I can do. Do you pick the seemingly more obtainable goal or do you pick the goal you know is going to challenge you every pedal of the way? Which is more important to me, having the "easy day" or the tougher road with more potential for "failure"? I guess that's a question I have a little bit of time to decide on, about 360 days roughly if you factor in the transfer deadline.

Overall everything went as well as it could, aside from the finish, bike performed flawlessly as I expected it to. Saw more than a few Journeyman out there on Saturday, the bike really is a fully capable gravel racer at an pretty good price. As always I'd like to thank Kris, Rick, Damon and all the people at Cycle Works for their continued support. The Saturday crew, this gravel life is always more fun with you guys and gals in it. And the other half, without her understanding (and need to get me out of the house) none of this would be possible. See you all at GW 2020.