Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Gravel Worlds 2017 - Slow and Steady


There is a saying in the cycling community that basically says don't make any major changes to your bike or gear leading up to a big race, seems simple enough right? Well I took that saying and completely obliterated it, changing up the tires to tubeless the night before, changing the way I loaded the bike (for some reason I put some but not all of the bags on the bike the night before, it would haunt me later) and decided to go with a last minute wardrobe change by adding a jockstrap to try to protect the family jewels from the same fate they suffered two weeks prior at the GTDRI, having of course never worn a jock in my entire life previously, let alone a 150 mile gravel race.

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Hopefully the addition of a handlebar pirate could thwart some of that bad mojo I was stacking up against me.



Stayed the night in Lincoln at some good friends place on Friday as he was racing in GW as well, we decided to prepare the bikes that night and threw them on the car in the garage so all we would need to do is roll out at the crack of dawn the next morning instead of stumbling around half awake trying to remember all the last minute items. Speaking of cracks, lots of shots of early morning butt cracks... must take better group shots but maybe that's why they call it the butt crack of dawn. One change this year was that they had assigned parking lots based on the card you were handed at registration, seemed to work out really well and much better than the free for all that happens at most races. We went to our assigned lot, found a spot and unloaded the bikes and made any last minute adjustments before heading over to the start/finish area.





Even though it was just a tad past 5:30 am there was already a pretty good gathering of people and bikes at the starting line. I grabbed a spot near the back, not being the fastest rider out there I didn't want to get stuck in the middle of a pack like last year with everyone dodging left and right randomly trying to find "the best line". Thankfully this was going to be a dry start so maybe that wouldn't be an issue as most lines were good lines unlike last year with the soggy start.




There was the customary mumbling and rumbling near the front but what was said I don't know, I've been to three of these now and I couldn't tell you one word that is said up there if my life depended on it but then again I figure I'll just salmon along and follow the guys leading us out who did hear it. At the start we did our usual accordion thing where the front takes off, stretches out and then everyone else starts moving in similar fashion. It did seem to me like it was a quicker than normal launch but maybe that was just early morning jitters, I also noted that it was a bit chilly again this year. It was dry though which was an improvement over last year, even had a little bit of fog and a spectacular sunrise; today was going to be a good day.


We were about 2 miles out from the start when I noticed the first mistake I'd made or at least the first one I'd noticed so far, in previous years I'd either loaded all the bags on the bike then put it on the rack or I didn't load any bags on the bike before putting it on the rack and loaded them on the bike in the parking lot the morning of the race. This year for whatever reason I loaded MOST of the bags on the bike the night before and then put it on the rack and placed the rest of the gear in the back of the car, why I didn't just do all of them I will never know. So, at 2 miles out I noticed that my Gas Tank bag was not on the top tube where it should be.

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Shown here in this picture from 2016 Gravel Worlds, that large gray bag is hard to miss but miss it I did until it was too late to do anything about it. Quickly I did a mental inventory of what I thought was in the bag... jerky, gummy bears/worms, a few packages of Clif Bloks, electrolyte pills and of course my music for the afternoon. SHIT! The though did cross my mind to go back and get it but that was almost instantly dismissed, I was just going to have to make due without it and hoped it turned out to not be a fatal mistake. I wasn't too concerned about the food as it was replaceable at the next gas station, even the Bloks I could probably do without by rationing the ones I did have a little better but the electrolyte pills would have been really nice to have to stave off possible cramps in the later stages of the race. The music would have also been nice and wasn't replaceable, looks like the demons in my head and I were going to be dancing this day without the accompaniment of music. I think out of all those items the music was the most missed, rookie mistake that hopefully wouldn't bite me in the posterior down the road.




No sense dwelling on it so I had to try to push it out of my mind and just keep plugging away and not let it get to me, wasn't anything I could do about it now and I didn't need that negativity floating around in the brain pan. Finishing this race is hard enough without giving your doubt more ammunition. By the time we were about 10 miles out I noticed that this was in fact a much quicker start than last year, last year I was smack dab in the middle of a large group of people but it seemed like this year I was almost out there by myself already and my legs felt like they were pushing harder than they should be and I  wasn't exactly speeding along like normal for the effort being put out... well speeding and fat bike are kind of an oxymoron but still, it felt like we were creeping. Then it dawned on me, I'd left the PSI in the tires at 10 from last night when the tires were setup tubeless, mistake number two had shown itself. It was uncomplicated fix but did require me to stop to add air into the tires and that cost valuable time that it seemed I already didn't have at this point in the race. Hastily I pumped them up to about 15 PSI and off I went once again, instantly the bike felt so much better and it didn't feel like I was cycling in quicksand anymore. Okay, lets hope that was the last of the issues for the day and get this thing done.


Heard a lot of grumbling about this particular section after the race was over, it was about 4" of freshly laid white rock and you could see where skinnies had swerved left or right looking for the shallow end. Pugs and I had no issue a all crossing any of it, for that one 100 foot section the Surly Pugsley was the perfect bike for Gravel Worlds; unfortunately there was still another 135 or so miles to go after this.


Rolled into Otto Pond feeling pretty good, it was only mile 27 after all, but I was also a little concerned as it just seemed like everyone else was so much quicker this year; even though I didn't feel like I was riding slower than last year. It was a bit perplexing but it gave my mind something to mull over while I pedaled away, anything to keep the mind off the constant pedaling was a good thing.


Met Chris at the pond and we rode along together for a little bit after leaving OP before she disappeared into the distance. This also wasn't too surprising as she rode away from us last year as well so this was not out of the norm.


Not long after Chris left me in her dust, I caught up to Kevin who looked to be struggling a little bit. It was good to finally be catching up to some folks because my mind was still trying to play games with me and convince me I was being super slow this year, last year by this time I had passed at least a dozen or so folks who took off out of the gate chasing rabbits only to realize that the pace was not maintainable for the entire race. Kevin and I rode along together for a bit and chatted awhile before I had to ride on and leave him to his own race. The fact that Kevin was out there at all is pretty amazing considering some of the medical problems he's had these last two years, very inspirational.


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Mile 50 or so saw us into Valparaiso and gave me the opportunity to replace the jerky and gummies I had left in the car near the start and also helped to squash some of the "uh oh" feelings associated with leaving the Gas Tank bag.



Cool looking building that had District 73 over the door, an old one room school house perhaps at one time?


Rolling out of Valpo I was still feeling pretty good and it was about that time that some of the super fast 75 mile Privateers started showing up... and then it dawned on me, at least in part I bet that there were more than a few folks who ride my pace or slower who had walked the plank and swam for the Privateer boat, which was why I was thinking all this time that I must be going super duper slow even though my average MPH was about on par with last year. With at least a little mental boost in my pocket I carried on with carrying on down the road and made it to the next unofficial oasis feeling good. They had some mini cokes there so I decided to have one and a smile, I was also catching up to some other folks so things were looking up and I wasn't out in there seemingly DFL.



Made pretty good time and rode along, more or less, with a larger group of folks consisting of Corey, Russell, Rhino, Matt W. and a few others from the Oasis to Malcolm so I knew I wasn't completely sucking it up out there which was also equally as reassuring as figuring out the Privateer thing.... the mind can play some wicked games with you on these rides if you let it.



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In Malcolm I decided to take some extra time and grab a quick bike at Lippy's, I did this last year and it seemed to be a really good pick me up. Caught up to Pablo in Malcolm as well, it was good to see a familiar face and have someone to lunch with since the Privateer route didn't go through Malcolm there would be no massive group.





Pablo, myself, a guy named Steve and another fellow named Aaron (although he was mostly out front for the most part but always in site) sort of seesawed our way from Malcolm to the Reinkordt farm and we were still within sight of the Cornbread group which meant we were keeping a pretty steady pace. Which isn't a bad thing at just over the half way point of the race, when you're racing a fat bike, or at least in my experience, consistency will get you much farther than sprint, rest and repeat will.


Kind of a squirrel moment but I found this railroad crossing pretty cool, somehow I had never seen it before even though I know I've ridden in that area many times before.




Pablo and I sort of kept up our seesawing to Roca, although I could tell Pablo was starting to struggle a little more as his saw was getting a little long in the tooth. He did have me worried there for a bit after he involuntarily gave up his lunch on one of the stops, riding and not being able to keep things down are a bad combination.

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With a little rest and a little fluid though he seemed back in good spirits, there was a lady who offered to give anyone who needed it a ride back to the start but Pablo declined saying he was going to finish. Which I don't blame him necessarily, I bailed two years ago at mile 95 (Roca this year was mile 103) so I knew what it was like to bail when you were over half done. Not wanting to stick around too long and get super comfy just sitting in the shade, Steve and I got up and got ready to set off but Pablo stayed put, I wondered if this was the last we would see of Pablo that day as we pedaled off. If it was there would be no shame, at 103 miles I believe it was his longest gravel ride to date and for some reason the course seemed a little harder than last years even.


Roca to Bennet is a mere 13 miles as the pirate sails but it's not a calm sea, the nonstop wave of rollers was definitely starting to stack up and it was getting later in the day so it was time for heads down and cranks turning. We (Steve and I)  made it to Bennet and decided to stop and get some water and food as we weren't exactly sure if the next check point would be open, we were told that it would be up until 7 pm but depending on how things went we'd be cutting that close. We also ran into Guitar Ted in Bennet, his day was done and he was waiting for MG to come pick him up; turned out MG had pulled the plug earlier too with stomach issues, which is why Guitar Ted pulled the plug and it was what Pablo was suffering from as well. Speaking of, as GT and MG were about to take off for Lincoln I saw Pablo coming up toward Bennet and asked if they could wait to see if Pablo had had enough, as it turns out it was a good call on my part and Pablo excepted the ride back to Lincoln, ending his day as well in Bennet after 113 grueling gravel miles. Shortly after they drove off, Steve and I were back on the bikes and off toward the last CP and the final push into Lincoln.



Photo Aug 19, 7 00 01 PM

We ended up making good time to the Schmidty family farm and beat the clock, arriving a little bit before 7 pm. We picked up our final pipe cleaner, grabbed some food and water, said our thank yous and were off again. We were thinking we might be the last ones on course but talking to the volunteers it appeared that there were a number of people who dropped out and an almost equal number of people still out there or otherwise unaccounted for, so if we were DFL then attrition played a role in that as well.


Only picture I got of Steve all day and it's not even a very good one but after Roca there were less photos and more cranking trying to pick up the pace a little bit so as to not be out here all night. Hadn't met Steve previously to that day even though he lives in the Lincoln area and rides many of the same gravel roads, it was nice to have a little company in the later stages of the race. I didn't ask but it would have been a nice touch if Steve would have sang to replace my forgotten iPod; that would have been the icing on the cake right there. Still, it was good to ride along with Steve even if he didn't sing. +


Any time you start a ride looking at the sunrise and end it looking at a sunset, it's been a good day on the bike and both were equally beautiful. There were some decent flat sections between CP 2 and Mill Road and we made up a little bit of time there but Mill Road was a whole other story. Mill Road and then N 1st were just 10 miles of nonstop up and down rollers, nothing huge mind you but there also wasn't a whole lot of flat to be had, you were either going up or going down. Not so much intentional but this is where I made a little bit of time on Steve at the end, once the lights had to go on I think the skinnier tire guys were a little more cautious and trying to pick lines on the downs. Pugs and I on the other hand just threw caution to the wind and bombed down them as fast as we could, those fat tires might suck on most of the course but they excel at eating up the gravel when the slope turns toward the negative numbers.



Last two pictures were taken by Lincoln's own Matt Pearson. I rolled into the finish just a little before 9:30 with at 15 hours and 22 minutes. I was glad to be done and glad to have finished my second consecutive Gravel Worlds putting the record at 2 finished to 3 starts.

Photo Aug 20, 12 26 30 PM


Picked up another super rad finishers patch, which promptly made it onto the wall of gravel once I got back home.

Gravel Worlds by the numbers with a comparison of sorts to last years. Both years my moving average speed was exactly the same at a 12 mph average (11.9 if you want to be exact). My moving time this year was 12 hours 46 minutes, last years was 12 hours 9 minutes but the course was 6 miles longer this year, so also about the same. So where was the difference? Well, as I had said the course seemed a little more difficult this year and that is backed up by my overall time. This year I came in at 15 hours 22 minutes which meant 3 hours and 24 minutes of stopped time (time not moving on the bike) whereas last year I came in at 12 hours 9 minutes but with an overall time of 13 hours and 44 minutes which is only 1 hour and 35 minutes of non moving time so in the end what hurt me this year was the extra 2 plus hours of stops, something I'll have to work on for next year. I do think that not having the music and the electrolyte pills added to the overall time factor as I didn't have anything to help keep the legs fresh and nothing to take the mind off the constant hours of grind, both I feel would have helped but how much I'm not sure. I'm also not sure what happened to everyone else, there were 245 finishers but there were 444 people signed up, that's a 50% attrition rate due to one factor or another, that's crazy right there... 199 people either didn't start or didn't finish the race. Whoa! While not my fastest time, it was a finish and a good effort I felt and all things considered a finish I wondered if I was going to get at the beginning of the day.

So many people I need to thank, the whole Saturday morning crew, Gary, Sarah, Joe, Roy, Todd, David, Jamie, MK, Pablo, Frank, the "real" Rob, Stephanie and Chris (anyone else I might have forgot, the finish was a little hazy) for sticking around for a few hours to watch me roll in; it was a great reception and I am completely grateful to have so many wonderful and supportive friends in my life. This also includes Carlos, who wasn't at the finish so he could go chase some tail but I still love you buddy; you do you. Of course I wouldn't be anywhere without Michaela and her ability to put up with all my time away for riding and for just putting up with my shenanigans all the time, woman has to be a saint. Also grateful for everyone at Cycle Works, all the way from the Kris at the top of the pile to the Chris at the bottom. Couldn't ask for a better shop to ride for, one that is full of great folks who are knowledgeable and passionate about everything bikes. Last but certainly not least to the Pirate Cycling League, Schillingbridge, the Fallbrook area and each and every volunteer that helped put Gravel Worlds together; you guys and gals rock. Lets take 364 days off and do it all again next year!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gravel Worlds 2017 - Expo-se Yourself

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If you ride bicycles on gravel (who in Nebraska doesn't anymore it seems) and live in Lincoln then you were probably aware that Saturday was our time to shine in the gravel scene with Gravel Worlds 2017. But as has been the case for the last two year, before any gravel was... grinded... ground... rode... there was the rider check in and Expo on Friday at Cycle Works. I for one am digging the new format as it gives people a chance to hang our a bit more, talk and check out what's new in the industry as far as gravel goes without feeling like your just standing around in a bike shop. Not that there's anything wrong with just hanging out in a bike shop mind you, some of my best times are spent doing just that but this gives you a "reason" to hang out that you can give to your significant other who might not be as into bikes as you are.





As has been the case in previous years and was again this year, I headed down to Lincoln a bit early to help out and partake in the festivities. This year we had a legitimate tent city out in front of the shop, last year I think there were two tents, this year we quadrupled that. The Expo is worth checking out even if you're not racing IMO.



Of course I had gone to the Expo/Check-in to check in and see the sites but I was also there to buy some last minute supplies, one of those being a new tube for the Pugsley since the front had developed a slow leak that was becoming more leak and less slow. Rick happened to mention that Tubeless Solutions, out of Wichita Kansas, was out in the parking lot helping people get setup tubeless. Now to give you a little background on this, I have been preached to 6 ways to Sunday from every tubeless convert east and west of the Mississippi about how I just NEEDED to go tubeless, especially on a fat bike, especially-er on a heavy fat bike. The tubeless crowd is almost as bad as the folks that will tell you how you NEED to be running clipless pedals, luckily I already bought into that snake oil along time ago so I don't hear that sermon, just the tubeless one. I have to say I was dragging my feet on the whole tubeless thing mostly because I'm not a very patient person some times and I had heard the stories about how the Marge Lite rims either setup easily or it's a complete nightmare getting them setup; my luck always seems to fall on the latter side of things so I wasn't in a huge hurry to start kicking things and cursing up a storm in the basement. However, since these guys were professionals I thought I'd go talk to them and see what they were charging to set them up... let's just say it was a price I couldn't turn down so I brought them the wheels and 45 minutes later Tim had them holding air! Never gave me a single problem, outside of my own stupidity but more on that later, the whole day of Gravel Worlds. Check them out, they have some really cool and original products like the bead biter but the stand they used to setup the tires was actually really cool and could hold a tire vertically or horizontally which looked almost like a must have for setting tires up tubeless. Tim mentioned one of the tricks for setting up tubeless was if you had one side of the tire that wasn't making a good seal you should try to pump it up with that side facing down so that gravity can help the cause, now I know you can do that by placing it on the ground or having someone hold it but having a stand that would easily flip the tire horizontally seems like it'd be the way to go if you could.




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Once I had the bike all squared away by Tim at Tubeless Solutions, it was time to check in... Kevin, Joe and Rafal's head did an excellent job getting people in and out quickly.

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Swag was on point again this year, the pirates never hesitate to share the booty with those setting sail with them and this year was no exception.

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Equally as rad and totally unexpected was a swag bag from Cycle Works, I'm always amazed and humbled to be a part of the Rasta family; they really go out of there way to make a team member feel appreciated.

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Pugs squared away, check in done and supplies bought and stowed it was time to check out the rest of the expo, hang out for a bit and help where I could. I ran into the reigning Gravel Worlds 2016 champion, the "real" Rob Evans and we chatted it up for a bit. Always good running into people like Rob at these events, if it weren't for the Gravel Worlds reunion every year I might not see any of these great folks again. The gravel family spreads far and wide.



Living up to the Rob Evans namesake, the California version of me is no less a comedian doing an Instagram interview with Allison Tetrick and her Dirty Kanza belt buckle. That buckle was pretty rad I do have to say, even had bits of Kansas gravel epoxied to it.



Speaking of Allison, as Gravel Worlds grows so do the number of cycling celebrities who come down to toe the line and so far all of them have been really great people, talking to everyone and not getting annoyed with the endless requests for pictures.

I hung out for a few more hours talking to people and of course ogling all the rad bikes that show up for Gravel Worlds, here are just a few.


Lauf's new True Grit gravel bike, seemed decent but far too skinny of tire for my tastes.


Russell's Sklar bike from my home state of Montana, first one I've ever seen in the wild. Even more impressive up close than they are in the pictures and pleasantly plumb just the way I like them.


Greasy Bears.


Drool worthy plus sized Fargo... so want one.





I was really diggin the purple bits on this Ti Moots, so choice.



Corey's new (to him) Mariach-go?




Bunch of Powder Kegs this year, didn't get a picture of all of them but there had to be at least 4 of them at the Expo.

That's it for part one of the Gravel World series, depending on length and my desire for a marathon blog there should only be one more in the series. Next up is race itself and a few rookie mistakes on my part that could have an adverse affect on my race.