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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.