In a 2020 that has been the year of donated dollars or deferred entries for gravel events, it was refreshing to see the Lazy Horse Gravel Grind still proceeding with their tour. Even so they were not immune to the affects of the pandemic, what was originally slated for May kept sliding back until guidelines were lessened to a point where having the event didn't seem foolish. I know that there will be that group of people that will say that events like this still need to be shelved and those people aren't necessarily wrong. The people who showed up and rode aren't necessarily wrong for riding either, as we begin the journey out of quarantine each of us is going to have to make choices along the way and decide our comfort levels when it comes to "normal" activities. Outdoor exercise, bicycling included, is agreed upon by most experts to be a relatively safe activity. The do recommend solo rides over groups but have agree that smaller groups are also relatively safe, especially if those groups consist of the same people. I actually feel more at risk going to the grocery store or, now that my employer has ended most folks work from home status, going to work each day and sharing air with relative strangers for 8 or so hours. At the end of the day though, it was left up to the individual to determine their own comfort level as it pertained to the Lazy Horse. Those who wanted to were welcomed to come ride, those who didn't feel comfortable were afforded the opportunity to defer or get a refund; you really couldn't ask for anything more from the event organizers.
There were a few changes this year, gone was the mass start. Instead each participant was encouraged to leave when they arrived as long as it was within the 7-8:30 am window that was set to ensure folks made it to each SAG stop before they closed up for the day. Our goal was to leave at 7:15 to let the early birds set out before us and still give us plenty of time, so of course we left promptly at 7:25ish. Trying to get everyone there at the right time and ready to go is a lot like herding cats, the smart money is on just rolling with it and going with the flow. Once we set out I guess the front end must have thought we were late because we took out of the gate like we were in a race rather than the advertised leisurely tour.
We rode like the wind, Bullseye, all the way to Alexandria and the first SAG stop; I think we were clipping along at almost a 14ish mph average, into the wind. Another change this year to help guard against Covid Carl was that all bottles were filled by volunteers who wore masks and gloves so that nobody is touching the water sources or the food except the assigned volunteer. Alexandria was only 13 miles from the start so I personally didn't need anything yet but there were plenty of things to eat and drink if one was inclined to do so, I heard the breakfast burritos were pretty darn tasty.
Leaving out of Alexandria the group fissured into several smaller groups, those who were bound and determined to try to race the thing and those of us wanting a more meandering pace.
Around mile 28 we lumbered into our second SAG stop. At this one I did partake in the offerings and the opportunity to refuel, I mean who could pass up a cold one from the host brewery and the rides namesake on a hot day.
It's not often that you get the selfie and it's antithesis, the group setting up for the shot, but thanks to the crew at the SAG snapping this picture, we got just that. Kind of an interesting perspective of what the trendy selfie looks like to those not actually in the picture.
Leaving the SAG stop we were treated to a fun passageway through the prairie before eventually popping back out on the gravel, relatively speaking the gravel felt almost silky after bounding between root clumps in the prairie.
7 quick miles later and we rolled into Gilead Nebraska, home to the Pioneers Inn and some of the best pie this side of the Mississippi. Pro tip, spend the extra dollar and get the ice cream. Ice cream is never not the answer, regardless of the question.
Who was that masked man? Well, he's a little bit Lone Ranger, a dash of Blankman, a smidgen of Zorro with just a little sprinkling of Pee Wee Herman (don't believe me on this one, watch where his arms go when he stands still) to make things interesting; it's none other than world famous, super volunteer Matt H. Through Matt's tireless efforts all things are possible when it comes to the Lazy Horse.
Before riding off into the vast expanse of Nebraska, we needed to take an obligatory groupie in front of the Pioneers Inn.
No wonder we were trudging along at such a high pace, I'm pretty sure behind those "moonglasses" it's none other than Seabiscut from horse racing lore. You know he once beat triple crown winner, War Admiral by 4 lengths... but I digress we were talking about bicycle touring not horse racing, that story is a horse of different color.
We mounted up and galloped off toward the west and the hilliest part of the course and since the wind had shifted in Nebraska fashion, we were also greeted by the headwind again but this time it was coming out of the south. For our troubles we were awarded a chance for cold beverages and shady spots to take a load off at the apex of the long climb.
Rolling into Belvidere we made a beeline for the park and indulged in walking tacos, pies and patriotic sodas or pops if you will. In my neck of the woods growing up, we always were asked if we wanted a "coke" and then what flavor. Apparently every sugary concoction was a coke where I came from, take that Coca Cola with your fancy trademark, didn't matter to the fine folks of Montana one bit.
Our group is a bit enamored with the village of Belvidere with it's small town charm and awesome residents; the feeling must be somewhat reciprocal since our group has made the article in the paper two out of two years. I really hope that Belvidere can figure out how to beat off the steady decline that seems to be trending right now in small towns all across the country. In it's heyday, the early 1900s, the village boasted a population of 475 people, at last census in 2010 it was down to just a scant 48 people.
Moving on from Belvidere we formed up two pacelines to help buck the wind that was now out of the south, by doing this we made pretty quick work of the 6 miles to Bruning and our next SAG stop. Where as Belvidare has been in steady decline, Bruning has managed figure out how to stay relatively steady in population; right around 300 people. Perhaps what has helped Bruning has been it's desire to stay modern, in fact Bruning was one of the first small towns in Nebraska to install telephones and a modern sewage system after the boys returned from WWII. I'm not sure if it was that or the advent of it's tasty "Summer Beer" concoction that consisted of Busch Lite, Vodka and lemonade. Every town has to be known for something and there are worse things to be known for than a tasty adult beverage.
As much fun as the tour is, I think we all sensed that we were on the home stretch and lit out like scalded cats towards the brewery where cold beer, hot pizza and a prize raffle awaited us. And of course there was the curious case of that lethargic donkey, shepherding his flock of hair sheep as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be doing on a hot July day in the middle nowhere Nebraska.