Monday, May 27, 2019

Gravel Mission - The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Photo May 24, 9 23 07 PM

Saturday was the Legion Post 197 Gravel Mission, with the help a Lt. Dan I had everything packed and in the car for the drive down in the morning. A strange thing occurred to me both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, I had never driven to Eagle from either Lincoln or from Omaha that I could remember. Sure, I'd been there many times but via a bicycle on either a gravel road or the MoPac, I honestly had to use Google Maps to figure out the best route from Omaha to Eagle.




Thankfully, with Lt. Dan as my copilot, we were able to make it to Eagle on Saturday morning with a half hour to spare before the start of the race. Someone needs to let the GPS folks know that Hwy 63 is closed, I almost threw the thing out the window because it wouldn't stop telling me to make a U turn because I was on the wrong route... I fricken got there didn't I?






A lot of the usual Saturday crew came out for the race and a lot more of the not so usual Saturday crew, really good turn out for the race despite the threats of rain up until the night before the race.





A few last minute words and we were off with the 50 milers and the 100 milers leaving at the same time and all of us doing the same 55 mile loop.




Despite the on and off rain most of the week, the roads around Eagle were dry and fast. This helped to contribute to a pretty spicy pace heading out of Eagle.




I wasn't really planning on flying out at the start but the legs felt good and I wasn't on the 50 lbs Pugsley, so I decided to roll with it and see how things played out. It wasn't long before we were through Elmwood and pedaling away on the other side.


Sometimes it's good to not be first, this killer Chihuahua lit out after the folks in front of me and he was a quick little booger. Thankfully by the time I rolled up on the little guy he was all tuckered out and didn't give any chase to our group.


The next town we rolled into was Weeping Water, somehow I have never been to Weeping Water; on a bike or otherwise.




One of my favorite parts of the first loop was this sketchy as hell looking swinging bridge over Weeping Water Creek. While the bridge was a hoot to traverse two things came to mind while crossing on the bridge, it was a good thing it wasn't wet because that metal would have been as slick as walrus poop on an ice flow and it was also good I have had my tetanus shot recently.





Speeds were still pretty quick leaving out of Weeping Water and it wasn't too long before we were in Manley and the checkpoint. Since it was only a 55 mile loop and I didn't need anything I only slowed so that they could get my number and then pushed on.





A few more miles and we were through Murdock and the last little town before we were back in Eagle, legs were still feeling pretty good despite the quicker than normal pace so things were looking good for finishing a pretty quick first loop.


I ended up getting a second wind in the last quarter of the loop and had to back off a bit since I knew I was probably going to need that energy in the second loop. Dark clouds also started rolling in by the time we made it back to Eagle, I was hoping it was just going to turn overcast and not rain. Only time would tell on that one.

Photo May 25, 12 18 41 PM

After checking in at the start but before heading out for the second loop, Sarah and I headed over to Casey's for a slice and a drink. I knew I would be totally dead in the saddle without some real food, I only get about 60-70 miles before the body starts slowing down without real food in it. Energy gels like Clif Bloks or even calorie drinks like Go Far only do so much for me and then it's real food or a real struggle finishing out a longer ride.



Photo May 25, 4 41 34 PM

Photo May 25, 5 07 54 PM

Not too much for pictures on loop 2, a lot of it was the same but backwards from loop 1 plus I didn't want to doddle too much. Sarah found out that all of the other women doing the 100 pulled out after the first loop so all she had to do was finish to get the hardware and the title. To her credit, she did not just coast in but hammered through the second loop like a champ... on a fat bike and she did in fact take home the fist place trophy for the women's 100 mile race. We did get caught in a brief rain shower but it wasn't overly heavy or very long and there wasn't really anything we could do about it so we just kept rolling.

Okay, so now the good, the bad and the ugly from my perspective.

The good, well there was a lot of good. I got to see one of my friends and usual Saturday crew ride like a beast and bring home first place in the women's division and I had the best seat of anyone to watch it play out. My nutrition, hydration and legs were on point; I did the first lap with a 14.4 average and the second with a 13.6 average on the Fargo. While not blazing fast, it was pretty quick for me so I'll take it. I did like the two lap format as you could break it down to two 50ish mile races/rides rather than focus on the big triple digit overall number. For me that seemed to make things go quicker, obviously still had to put in the hours but looking down and seeing you're halfway through a 50 mile loop rather than a quarter of the way through 100 miles is more uplifting. Not sure how many more races this year I'll push like that but it felt good Saturday to give it a little more speed than normal and still be able to finish it out strong. Route was great, took me to a few new roads and towns I'd never been to and the reverse loop 2 was different enough that it didn't seem like the same loop as loop 1. Bike was phenomenal, not one single issue with the Fargo, it performed flawlessly.

The bad... well, to be honest, there wasn't really a lot of bad for me. One thing that I did notice about the 2 loop format is that it enabled a lot of folks who signed up for the 100 to bow out after the first loop. More than a few folks who were originally in for the 100 stated that they were going to see how they felt after the first loop before totally committing to the 100. I felt that put folks in the wrong mindset, of course your going to be tired and not feel 100% after 55 miles, if you didn't go in with the thought process that it was a 100 mile race without and easy out it seemed you took the out. But that's just my perspective, everyone has their own race to ride and choices that best suit them.

The ugly. Well this one was more of an observation than anything else but I did notice a few folks skipped putting any sort of money into the donation jar. Now I get it, it was a free will donation but seriously, if you're riding around on a $1,500+ bicycle that you carried on your late model car/SUV/truck in a $200 kit; you CAN afford to put a few dollars in the collection jar and if you think you can't maybe you need to take a remedial math class. Everyone likes a free event and I get that, so $5-10 in a jar isn't going to break you by any stretch of the imagination and this type of behavior leads to races/rides moving towards a fee for entering. These small towns in rural Nebraska have started to really embrace gravel cycling and have seen how they can benefit the town financially but if you aren't contributing then  you aren't part of that solution. And don't even try to sell me on the idea you forgot, how many hours did you spend making sure the chain was lubed, the tires properly aired, the nutrition was bought and packed, the kit was prepared? Don't be a dick, reach into those pockets and free your wallet of a few measly dollars that mean the world to the folks in these towns.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Lazy Horse Gravel Grind

Photo May 18, 4 10 30 PM

Saturday was the inaugural Lazy Horse Gravel Grind in Ohiowa Nebraska, never heard of Ohiowa Nebraska you say? Well to be honest until earlier this year, when I signed up, I hadn't heard of the tiny town either and I live here in Nebraska. The Lazy Horse Gravel Grind isn't a race but rather it is intended to be a gravel tour of small town, rural Nebraska enjoyed with friends. Some may stick up their noses at paying to do a "group ride" when they can just do that at home, if you fall into that category, well then maybe this ain't the rodeo for you. On that same note, however, you can also race your friends right where you live too so there is that argument as well, you either get the concept or you don't. As gravel grows I think we might start seeing more and more of these types of rides popping up all around us. I have two of them on my calendar for this year and if you follow gravel at all and haven't been under a rock this week then you should be aware of the big changes coming from one of the big ones in Minnesota. Times they are a changing. I think that there is room for both gravel races and tour style gravel events and I think that both can grow and advance the sport of gravel. I think that the tour style rides are going to see a bigger uptick in the next few years, mostly because I truly believe in my heart of hearts that there are more folks out there who aren't racers, who are intimidated by everything that racing brings to the table but they still want to ride in far off places, see new roads and share those types of experiences with their friends who also aren't racers. Okay, enough of the monologue, let's get into the Lazy Horse.




Photo May 18, 8 14 02 AM

I awoke at 4 am to the sound of rain on the roof and it wasn't just a gentle drizzle but a full on deluge, not the way it was forecast but it was what it was at that point and all the crying in the world was only going to make things that much more moist. I rushed to get ready so I could leave a few minutes earlier than originally planned to allow time for any delays that might be caused by the rain, threw the Fargo on the car and started the 2 and a half hour journey from Omaha to Ohiowa. Thankfully the farther west I got the less the rain was falling, by the time I crossed the Platte river the rain had stop completely but even in Ohiowa there was evidence that the storm had come through there on it's way to Omaha. We parked at the church down the road and rode up to the brewery to meet up with the rest of the crew, it was going to be a moist one for sure but hopes were still high for a great day or riding.


The name sake of the brewery and the gravel ride, I kid you not it seemed like these horses spent all day in almost the same spot just leisurely eating and swatting flies with their tails.


Then again, there are worse places to be a lazy horse or a gravel rider for that matter.


Official greeter of the Lazy Horse Gravel Grind.




A quick check in and some last minute route updates thanks to Mother Nature and we were all lined up for a few words from the organizers before setting out for a day of southeastern Nebraska gravel.


Solstice 100 sticker in the house!



Right around 8:30 the 100k route took off, the 50k about a half hour later. The roads near Ohiowa were soft from both the rains overnight and the thick, sandy gravel that you'll find more in the western end of the state, Ironically the worst of it we encountered all day was lining the streets of Ohiowa and the church where we parked. It might have been intended to be a leisurely tour but if the roads stayed consistently wet and thick like those around Ohiowa, it wasn't going to exactly be a walk in the park. I debated which bike to take to the event, the 3" Fargo or the 2.1" Journeyman, both great bikes but I'm glad that I went with the Fargo, that extra inch was appreciated on Saturday.





One of the first things different between a gravel tour vs. a gravel race that became apparent to me was that there were more groups of folks moving down the road together and more socializing in general than you'll usually find when everyone around you is competition and the goal is to get done as quickly as you can. It was a nice change of pace, pun totally intended.




SAG stops were also more frequent, seemed like there was a stop about every 15 miles or so and they were a little differently stocked than one would expect in a typical gravel race. Not much Fireball and beer drinking going on when you're already turning yourself inside out.






The longer the day went on and the more miles we clicked off, the roads did get better but the hills also got bigger so there was a little give and take but I'll take dry hills over wet roads any day of the week.









Photo May 18, 10 58 20 AM

Our first town was Gillead Nebraska at about mile 21 with a whopping population of 38 people and a designated pie stop at the Pioneer Inn. The Pioneer Inn was originally built in 1887 to house railroad workers but they have all long since moved on leaving the Inn to become the purveyor of some darn cheap and tasty pie; a slice and a coke only set me back $2.50. This was also one of the aspects I found I liked more about the tour style ride, folks sitting around eating pie and talking are things you just don't see in a race. As mentioned by the event organizers before we left, the towns were excited for the tour to come through and they all prepared for us by preparing some sort of food and beverage that they offered for sale in each of the towns we rode through. If riders stopped, as most did, and spent even a little bit of money at these stops it would go along way towards helping out these small towns, some of them seemingly on the verge of extinction. It wouldn't be that hard to imagine that many of the places we stopped don't regularly see a 50-100 people in a week, let alone a single day. While nobody spent a fortune individually, it was nice to know that what you did spend would go a long ways towards doing real good in these towns.


Full of pie it was time to move on, the coconut cream was pretty fantastic if you're ever out that way.







The Saturday crew has a soft spot for bridges and the Lazy Horse was no exception so of course there was a bridge beer stop incorporated into the ride. We don't normally encounter people fishing on our normal bridge stops but it looked like the fishing was good as he had a slew of fish in his truck already. Probably our first ever fish beer stop, might even be our last but only time will tell on that. As the saying goes "When in Rome" so in following with that we had a tasty Peach Habanero Kolsch from the host brewery and it hit the spot and went down smooth with only a hint of heat that was not at all overpowering.







A good portion of the route was fairly flat, had the roads been a little drier it could have been a bit less effort and maybe even a bit speedier than it was on Saturday but nobody was really complaining at either the soft roads or the more casual pace and there were plenty of things to keep your eye occupied on the ride.



Photo May 18, 12 58 04 PM

At about mile 38 we came to our next quaint little town, this one was Belvidere Nebraska, population 50. Initially we stopped at Toad's Bar and Grill because the smells wafting from it were amazing but as we were milling about out front debating about going in and eating we were told that there was a walking taco and pie SAG stop up the road in the city park, Decision made, we all decided to go there instead.




I am glad we decided to make the switch to the park, while the bar and grill would have been a good option too you could tell that the pies and tacos in the park were made specifically for the event and the ladies running it were genuinely happy to see us roll up to their stop. One of them was so tickled by the fatter tires (3" - 4") that she had us line up with our bikes so that she could get a picture of them.




The pies were delicious, I opted for the apple and was not disappointed, the hardest part was choosing which flavor to get without getting one of each. I heard that the walking tacos were good also but they ran out of meat before the whole group got through the line, a popular stop for sure it seemed. I for one was okay with the fact that they ran out rather than they be left with extra food after everyone had passed through. Believe me, nobody went hungry on this ride and it was nice seeing that none of the food or effort of the towns people was going to go to waste.





Belvidere has a pretty amazing city park for being such a small town, the whole park was well kept but the grass was lawn quality grass. I don't think I spotted a single weed and it was obvious that someone put a lot of time into keeping it up, a couple of us even made sure to sign the guest book to let them know how much we enjoyed the park and the town.



Todd was enamored with the restroom in the park, he legitimately had a 5-10 minute conversation with one of the ladies at the park about the bathroom; things like layout, cleanliness and the magazines. It was a five out of five on Todd's plunge-o-meter! In not sure if Yelp has reviews on bathrooms but if they do, you can be sure Todd left a glowing one for Belvidere.




Leaving Belvidere we didn't get more than a mile out of town when Brian flatted and we had to pull over on the sandy stretch of road and change out the tube. There might have been some friendly ribbing about him not being tubeless but since I also am not tubeless I just sort of hid in the background and snickered from afar.



It's a good thing we had Kat and Chris with us as a pit crew, otherwise we might still be out there. And they say chivalry is dead! Not today buddy, not today.




While we were all supervising the K and C tire changing service, a few of the folks from the Black Squirrel Cycling League out of Marysville caught up with and then passed us. Once both tires were inflated we caught back up to them and all of us rode into Bruning Nebraska at mile 44 together. Bruning at about 270 people was the biggest town by far we saw on the ride and they too rolled out the welcome wagon at the local fire station.


Photo May 18, 2 09 09 PM


Those of us who didn't get the walking tacos in Belvidere found the $2 brats and $3 hamburgers quite delicious and super cheap. Seriously an inexpensive day, I brought $20 in cash, bought something at each stop and still had a few bucks left in Bruning so I tossed it into the collection jar at the station.




The last 8 miles went pretty quick, I think we were all ready to get back as the skies were darkening a bit and the temps were dropping. We picked up a pace quite a bit to get er done as they say and probably averaged a good 14+ mph on those last 8 miles.

Photo May 18, 3 04 27 PM

We checked in at the table setup for returning riders, the took our wrist band and offered up a beer of our choice. I opted for the Watermelon Radler brewed by Lazy Horse Brewery and again was pleased by my choice, it was a light and delicious beer that was the perfect pick me up after 53 miles of gravel.

Photo May 18, 4 29 54 PM

Once the majority of the riders had rolled in, they started the raffle; I even managed to win some locally grown and pickled asparagus and a butt butter koozie for the ole pint glass. The asparagus is pretty darned amazing, will have to track some more down once this jar is gone.

If your into gravel adventures more than you are gravel racing or even if you're a racer that just wants to explore what rural southeast Nebraska has to offer, you can't go wrong with the Lazy Horse Gravel Grind. I can't say for sure that there will be one next year but there definitely was more than a little talk that there will be one in 2020, if there is it'll make my short list of must do rides for the year.