I have started this post, typed words, added pictures; only to erase it all and stare at the screen, numerous times. Gravel Worlds, and any long distance gravel race really, can be a very humbling experience and can leave you searching for answers and reasons. This years Gravel Worlds was one of those races for me, I'm coming off of two successful finishes and I've been feeling better about where I am in my riding than I have in at least two years; yet things didn't go as I had hoped.
2018 was my fourth consecutive Gravel Worlds and after a failed 2015 attempt, I was coming off two successful finishes in 2016 and 2017 on the Pugsley so hopes were high that I would finish this year as well. For 2018 I switched it up and decided to ride the Fargo instead of the Pugsley, it's a good deal lighter than the Pugs and almost as comfortable, plus with the 27.5+ tires it had all the float I'd need without all that extra rubber and rotational weight.
The Expo on Friday was a good time as always, got to meet some really cool people and catch up with some other folks I hadn't seen since last year. Those pictures are out there on the social medias for the gawking if you're so inclined. I am not sure what they are going to do for space if the thing keeps growing like it has the last two years but it's a good problem to have I suppose and I'm sure they will figure it out when the need presents itself. The real meat of this story didn't start until the next morning at an ungodly early hour, the new Start/Finish looked rad, our little gravel event is growing up and getting all fancy.
Gone this year from the start was the familiar roar of the blue Ranger at ignition or the clunk of the transmission as it was dropped into drive; replaced instead by a shiny yellow Chevy that couldn't even gravel. Both rad trucks and similar in showmanship but different in real world application so we were lead out instead by a nondescript Subaru. We headed out on the usual neutral start pavement route and then out on 1st street gravel where the real racing would start.
Early in the race things were a bit humid but cool with calm winds, a few of the valleys were actually a little chilly when we bombed down the descents but things were dry and rolling pretty fast and so was the pace. We actually went out at a pretty good, yet comfortable clip and we kind of ended up in the middle of the fast folks and the rest of us. Being in front of the lights in the last picture was unusual for me as I'm usually on of those lights but as I said, I felt pretty good physically coming into Gravel Worlds. I felt like I was riding better than I had in probably 2 years and was hoping that this would be a good finish for me, all of the pieces were there to make it happen but 150 miles of gravel is a long journey and any number of things could conspire to take you out.
In the early morning light before the sun officially popped up the vistas were pretty amazing, the little bit of fog in the low lying areas only added to the picturesque quality.
We continued to clip along and a decent pace in that weird space between rabbits and mortals, sharing the space with quite few others jockeying back and forth. It wasn't too long before we rode into the unincorporated village of Touhy Nebraska and the first oasis. There isn't much left in Touhy now except for the church and the tavern but at one time it was somewhat of a booming railroad town boasting a grocery store, an Opera House, Post Office, a seed company and even a bank but those days and buildings have all long since vanished. I couldn't help but hear the words of Jason Aldean playing in my head as we filled up on water, standing in this almost ghost town but Nebraska has more than it's share of church pew or bar stool kinda towns.
"There's only two means of salvation around here that seem to work, whiskey or the Bible, a shot glass or revival. When you don't seem to run on either side of the fence, people act like you don't make sense."
If you are at all interested, a history of Touhy can be found here.
One of my goals for this year was to try to cut back on the amount of time I spent at each stop, I ended up with over 3 hours of non riding time last year and felt that could be improved upon easily without too much additional effort, so it wasn't long before we were rolling through Loma and mile 33ish and still cruising along at a good pace. I was feeling really good at this point, nutrition and hydration seemed to be going well and while we were riding a quicker than my usual pace I didn't feel like it was one we couldn't keep going.
Pat and Raffey were killing it and were often off the front a little ways, both of them were riding well; especially since neither of them had ever done the full Gravel Worlds before, Raffet did do the Privateer last year, but Pat was on his very first Gravel Worlds of any length. It's great seeing your friends try things that they aren't sure that they can do, to watch them push themselves past what they think they can do.
As we got to Valparaiso we had to stop for the corn cob photo op and a visit with the Dockhorns.
Thanks to the Boy Scout Troop we made fairly quick work in Valparaiso and were on the road again out of town, that hill on the east side of Valpo is a lot more fun going down it than it is going up it.
We were still speeding along at mile 58 when we came up to our first Check Point at Otto Pond, this was a little bit of a longer stop than Tuohy or Valpo had been but sometimes longer stops are needed. I grabbed a coke and hot dog and Todd had a turtle head poking out that he had to take care of, we sort of had the whole food thing covered both coming and going you might say. I was still feeling good at this point and as a group we were still averaging somewhere around 13.5 - 13.7 mph, not fast enough to come close to winning but plenty quick to get a decent time at the finish I felt.
About mile 75 or so we came across the newly relocated Schmidty's Uncles oasis and of course we had to stop, even collected a little Pirate loot here. Leaving out of the oasis, we saw lots of scattered plastic water bottles on the road that some individuals decided were too heavy to carry with them. I'm pretty sure that violates rules #1 and #4.
We also saw our first Privateers as we were nearing Malcolm, they looked so fresh and so smiling. It was around this time that I started to not feel particularly well; legs seemed fine, nutrition and hydration had been going well, pretty much the same as I'd been doing since GW '15 and it had always worked in previous races. Not sure what the deal was but all of a sudden I couldn't really eat anything, I could chew it but swallowing was difficult, not as in my throat didn't want to work but more just the thought itself was almost impossible to execute. The mass of whatever I had in my mouth just sat there, I told my body to swallow but it just seemed to refuse. I was able to get it to go down with enough coaxing and water but it seemed like something I'd need to figure out soon.
Luckily Malcolm wasn't too far down the road but keeping pace with the rest of the crew was a struggle all of a sudden, keeping the same 13ish mph average seemed like the most difficult thing in the world and the fellas sort of rode off without me until we met up in Malcolm. I tried and successfully ate a few things while in Malcolm as well and had a cold drink so I was really hoping that the issue was a thing of the past when we decided to get rolling again.
Heading out I didn't feel too bad but it was short lived and the crew just pulled away as I continued to really struggle getting anything to go down or find the energy to maintain speed without the food flowing; no gas, no motor. Looking at the splits I wasn't even able to keep a 10 mph average going out of Malcolm, down from a 13.5 mph average until the troubles started. I dropped off the back in a big way and watched the group sail on over the next hill and then the next while I struggled to get any speed up the rollers. So, not really sure how to explain the sudden loss of 3 mph to the average over the course of 20 miles when I was feeling so good before. I was eating the usual things, was even managing to remember to eat jerky and other non Clif Bloks items and had some real food in the form of a hot dog at Otto Pond just before Malcolm... Gravel Worlds isn't like some of the other races I've ridden, it doesn't just smack you right in the face as much as it sort of toys with you for hours with those constant rollers, none of them in and of themselves all that big or all that steep but over dozens of miles they are no less an ass kicker. I pulled off into a little shady spot and tried to eat and drink, pulled up the Googles and saw that I was 8.5 miles from Malcolm and 10 miles from the next oasis outside of Milford. In the end I decided to send a message to the crew to keep going and headed back to Malcolm where I was hoping to either catch a ride or limp back to Schillingbridge on the bike. So there I sat just me and my RC, sitting in the shade, bummed about the failed attempt. Still not sure what to change since I was doing what I had been doing successfully thus far in races and I felt great for 85 miles of Gravel Worlds, maybe just chock it up to not being my day, circle the wagons and do better at the next race.
On the bright side, not finishing I was able to get back to the finish and watch everyone come in, that was something I'd not seen in previous years as I was out racing myself so that was cool. It was extra nice to be able to see Raffet, Pat and Doug all finish their first ever full Gravel Worlds; so happy for those guys.