Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Goal Is A Four Letter Word


Goal is probably the only four letter word in my mental athenaeum I didn't use during Gravel Worlds on Saturday. Just like your supposed to do if you want to improve, I had set goals, I had done the prep work and put in the miles and I was as ready as I'd ever be to try to achieve the goals I had set for Gravel Worlds...


And then in the midst of the driest, hottest summer in recent years; the skies opened up late Friday night and saturate Lincoln and the surrounding area with upwards of 3 inches of rain. I knew when I opened the garage door at zero dark thirty on Saturday morning, and saw that it was still raining, that any goals I might have had were out the window and there was a possibility that riding might not even be an option. To be honest I'm not much of a rain or mud fan, don't like it and have DNS'ed on other events when it seemed like a shit show was imminent. We honestly just stood in the opening of the garage staring at the damp world beyond for 2-3 minutes, neither of us saying much of anything. Finally we decided, after looking at the extended forecast and seeing that the showers were to end shortly, to loaded up the bikes and headed out. Rain and mud be damned. There aren't too many pictures from the race because it was still raining at the start so I opted not to bring the camera for fear of it meeting with an untimely death. Cameras and water don't much like each other and water always wins, I've experienced this first hand on a Guitar Ted Death Ride some years back and did not want to repeat that mistake. Since I was still going to race and was still attempting to do well that was alright with me, no camera to distract or take the focus off of going fast... and turning left. 

Right out of the gate as soon as we hit the gravel road on 1st street I knew it was going to be bad at least at the onset. Instead of skating over thick piles of gravel attempting to hold your line, you were slip sliding on mud the consistency of walrus snot on an ice flow... attempting to hold your line. This one section of MMR, pictured above, will for sure go down in Gravel Worlds lore and be talked about for years to come, the whole event will likely be known as the rain year but this one road was so much shoe and soul sucking mud. I lost my damn shoes twice carrying my bike on that road, twice! Yet I digress because as much as it sucked for those of us brave/dumb enough to to be riding it, you know who it sucked for even more? The race directors, the volunteers, the SAG stops and everyone who had a hand in planning and organizing the event. I can assure you with almost 100% certainty that nobody felt worse about the rain and this road than those who have been living, breathing, eating and sleeping Gravel Worlds for the previous 364 days. While there was a wet course given out, this one stretch of MMR needed to stay in because there was no other way to get to the check point without it. 

So, here we are in the middle of this muddy mess of a road, cursing to whoever would listen, carrying our bikes as best we could for the solid mile that this MMR existed and in the midst of it all there was a moment of humor to be had. An old farmer in an older F-150 had made the same mistake many of us had made and thought the road was okay to navigate by wheeled vehicle. He soon learned like we all did that riding/driving the road was near impossible. With bike firmly in my grasp and slung over by back I hear the roar of an engine and turn to see the old farmer white knuckling the steering wheel of his red pickup truck, a look part fear and part bewilderment on his face. He couldn't stop or he'd be stuck, he couldn't turn around, there were not options to take a shoulder to the left or the right and he couldn't give it full gas either because in addition to the clay mud on the road it was littered with dozens of mud zombies shuffling along carrying their bicycles. RAINS..... RAINS..... RAINS.... you get the idea. Rather than honk and yell he saw the situation as it was, neither of us wanted to be there on that road if we could have helped it but here we were, all of us up to our undercarriage in slick, slimy, momentum stealing Nebraska mud. So with much consternation the farmer slip slides his way down the road trying to not stop, to not end up in the ditch and to not hit anyone of the dozens of cyclists on the road, dodging us like traffic in the expert mode on Need for Speed. To his credit he piloted his truck with violence and grace, didn't get stuck and didn't flatten any cyclists. The whole time we were thinking what kind of lunatic drives down a road like this?, the whole time he was probably echoing that sentiment with a similar what kind of lunatics ride a bicycle down a road like this?



Despite the trying and exhausting conditions if you look at the pictures of riders on the course, the one thing not absent are the smiles. Most of the people I talked to and interacted with were upbeat and positive and honestly seemed to be taking things in stride and enjoying the race. 


While my time goals went down the drain like runoff from the deluge I still wanted to push myself and see if we couldn't still make a go of it and in the end I did alright. First and foremost I not only stayed the course and started the race but I also finished and on that day finishing was something in and of itself. I was a full hour plus over what I had hoped to be but for a brief time it looked I took third in the 75 mile men's single speed category... and then they found a guy that slid down from the 150 mile single speed category and that put me into 4th. He must have been a last minute switch as he was still listed in the150 mile race, even worse he was fast and ended up with the top spot. The single speed category was a pretty close race looking at the numbers. The top 4 of us were all within 10 minutes of each other. The gap between 1st and 2nd was about 4 minutes, 2nd to 3rd was less than 3 minutes, 3rd to 4th was about 2 minutes. A race is what I had decided I was going to try for and in the end a race was what I got even if I was third loser. Good times were still had though... 

I got hugs.


I gave hugs.


I got to hang out with good friends.



And I got to see Jackie kick ass and take third in the women's 75 mile single speed race!


Gravel Worlds 2023 will be one for the books for sure, it was probably the single most difficult race I've ever done in probably the worst conditions I've ever raced in but at the end of the day it was also one of the most rewarding races I've done to date.
Through adversity we discover things about ourselves that maybe we didn't know before, misery and miles provide plenty of time for self reflection and introspection. It's what you do with those thoughts that help to mold who you'll be in life. There is a distinct difference between physical discomfort and a physical injury, one tells you that you should stop and the other requires that you do. Knowing the difference between the two and not listening to that voice in your head trying it's best to convince you that things are much worse than they are goes along way when things get dark.

There was plenty of physical discomfort to go around on Saturday, every single person who toed the start line on Saturday experienced that collective discomfort. Legs get tired, lungs gasp for breath, butts get sore and sweat happens... physical discomfort as daunting as it seems at the time isn't as powerful as drive, determination and positive mental attitude. If you chose to dwell on all the negatives that surrounded the rain you probably had a negative experience, if instead you chose to focus on the positives you probably had a positive experience. 

Not everyone you know can ride their bicycle at a high level over large distance, fewer yet will ever try. Push yourself, step out of your comfort zone, tune your mind out and embrace the suck. It likes hugs and it's always waiting for you over that next hill, make a frienemy out of it and just keep pedaling.


Big thank you to the Gravel Worlds crew, you all are amazing people that put on an amazing event. 

Emporia is the self proclaimed Gravel Capitol of the World and they certainly have earned the right to claim that title but you can't talk gravel history in the modern era without including Lincoln, the Pirate Cycling League, Gravel Worlds, Corey Godfrey, Craig Schmidt, Chris Van Ooyen, Elizabeth Grindcore, Randy Gibson, Matt Wills, Aaron Gammel and so many more who I have forgotten to mention but they were there at the beginning of this grass roots gravel movement we are in today or at least responsible for our little piece of it here in Nebraska. 


Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Your Path You Must Decide


For a little green, hairy muppet so much knowledge and wisdom was packed in the little green body that was Yoda. Probably most remembered for saying No! Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try. He took the young Luke from an innocent farm boy to one of the greatest Jedi by dispelling his little nuggets of witticisms on the young lad and forcing him to confront his self doubt and fears. At it's base though, by today's standards, their relationship would probably draw a lot of unwanted attention. I mean an old, weird guy who lives in a cave, befriends a young boy and convinces him to leave home and go live all alone with him in the swamp... sketchy! What does any of this have to do with anything, well, truthfully not much but I had to start this blog somehow.

Photo Nov 22 2022, 4 38 49 PM

Well, maybe it does have a little bit to do with things, while I don't have Yoda to talk me into lifting X-wing fighters out of bogs I can still listen to the teachings he bestowed on the young Jedi. Back in November of last year I was gifted a Salsa Stormchaser as an early Christmas present and so began the journey of me revisiting my love affair with the one speed bicycle.

Photo Mar 25, 11 02 08 AM

There was a time not too long ago, and definitely in this galaxy, that all I rode was a single speed Redline Monocog. That bike and I went everywhere and rode almost every surface, I was a one bicycle dude and that bicycle had but one gear... and then along the way N+1 happened and the Cog found its way out of the rotation in favor of fat bikes and geared bicycles and I sort of forgot how simple and rewarding single speed travel was. 


If you follow the gravel cycling world you'll know that this week is Gravel Worlds here in Lincoln and if you've followed the blog, you'll know that GW and I have had a rocky relationship as far as finishes go when it comes to the 150 mile version. I think I'm 2 for 4 on them, both finishes coming on the Pugsley and all failures on lighter, faster bicycles, it seems that perhaps I am better at suffering a slow agony rather than a fast one. To do well maybe I just need to embrace the suck as it were.


All of that lead me to sign up for the Gravel Worlds Privateer in the single speed category and unlike most of my previous endeavors in gravel events I actually plan to try, there's that word Yoda, and see what I can do as far as racing it goes. That's a pretty big statement for a self proclaimed non-racer and to be honest I'm not entirely sure if this is a great idea or a stupid idea. The Stormchaser and I have done pretty well this year which contributed immensely to this decision. Results have been there also... kind of. I finish first (out of one) at Stay Fired Up, which wasn't easy despite being the only participant in the single speed category as there is a ton of elevation out there around Leavenworth, Kansas and probably a good reason there weren't many single speeders. Then we went up to Michigan and I got a legit third place finish at the 100 mile Coast to Coast race. Our three person relay team took second at Solstice riding single speeds against geared competition and legitimately I just feel faster on the Stormchaser as odd as that might sound to some. For one you have to attack every climb and bomb every descent because in a world without shifting, momentum is king. 


Gravel Worlds isn't exactly a single speed friendly course generally speaking but we are going to give a go and let the chips fall where they may... and if it doesn't work out well, Yoda has another profound statement. If no mistake you have made, losing you are. A different game you should play. Not that I would stop riding my bike, that's just silly but if you never try you'll never know what may be and if you try and fail... well, there are often great lessons to be learned in failure. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

A Kindler, Gentler Haddam Hounds


Saturday was the annual Haddam Hounds Hundy out of Haddam, Kansas. If you've never heard of Haddam, Kansas you're probably in the majority. With a population of around 100 souls and way off the beaten path, most people will never cross paths with this little map dot located literally on the edge of nowhere Kansas off of Hwy 36 just 10 miles north of the Nebraska border. Platted in 1868, it's name borrowed from Haddam, Connecticut, it's never really been a hotbed of activity for the world traveler but there did exist a "rival" town of West Haddam if you can believe that. Both towns decided to merge in 1874 to form the megatropolis of modern day Haddam, such as it is. Haddam is home to the Brown Honey Farm which is Kansas's larges honey producer and they used to be home to Rev Honey before it moved to Missouri and then recently shuttered it's doors. Probably also not widely known Rev Honey was a pretty good soda type beverage sweetened with honey and they were starting to branch out to energy drinks and honey "gel" packets for energy during cycling and running events. Both products pretty decent also in their own right.



While it does have it's moments in history, Haddam today is probably best known, in the cycling community anyway, as the home of the Haddam Hounds Hundy. This year marked it's 7th occurrence, I have attended 3 of them myself and they all have been an adventure encompassing some gravel roads, some beautiful dirt roads and a smattering of "roads" that are barely, if at all, discernable from a farm field.




This years route was rumored to be a bit milder than the offerings of the past so we decided to give it a go on the Stormchasers and hoped we wouldn't regret that decision. After getting to the event and talking to Todd about the route, he did in fact confirm rumors were true and stated he did so because there were a lot of new people to the event that he didn't want to scare off. Not sure how to take that tidbit... so, it's okay to try to kill your friends but it would be a fopa to try to kill a group of total strangers? With friends like that, who needs enemies.



While there was not a single wagon rutted Oregon Trail type road on the course this year, it was not short on hills or rocky MMRs.


Kansas farmers seem to have a soft spot for the wind turbine, I can't remember how many of these sights we rode past on Saturday. Seemed like every couple of miles there was a new one sprouting up out of the ground. Not a huge fan of what they do to the gravel roads in order to get the big trucks down them myself, for a "green" energy source they certainly don't adhere to the adage of leave no trace when propping them up.





Our first SAG stop on route was at about mile 18 in the quaint little berg of Cuba, Kansas. Complete with what appeared to be a still operational blacksmith shop! Cuba, Kansas is named after the country of Cuba and there just happens to be a Geneva, Nebraska not too awfully far from Cuba, Kansas... an industrious gravel organizer could come up with a route to include both locations in a sort of a a Cold War Gravel Grinder if they were so inclined. It would have to be a big'un though since the most direct route between the two is already 60+ miles so to make a loop of it you would need to add a bit more than that.




Cows on course is always an interesting time and we had at least four smaller cows wandering about between Cuba and Agenda, Kansas.


Fun fact, more people are killed by cows each year than sharks! They look innocent but they are always watching and plotting your demise, just looking for the perfect time to unleash udder destruction on you.


Had an opportunity to draft off a swather also once I was able to catch it, they look slow but don't let that boxy shape fool you. One could argue that drafting off of a swather might be grounds for disqualification for outside help, I argue that the swather was available for everyone on course and thus fair game. Since Haddam isn't a race perse the point is a bit moot in this instance but the argument does have some merit.


Goat thinks it's a horse.




Our last urban SAG was in the tiny village of Agenda, Kansas with a population in the 40s now but once boasted numbers above 200 in it's heyday when the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad still passed through. Not much is left now but it does boast an ice cream shop, a curio type shop and even a hidden garden. More on the garden is shown in the video link at the bottom, it's pretty impressive to be honest.




There wasn't much between Agenda and Haddam other than dilapidated houses and wild flowers to we made pretty quick work of the last 20ish miles before stopping into the Haddam Cafe for some burgers before heading home.

Check our the video on YouTube for the rest of the story as Steve Harvey used to proclaim.


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Flat Donuts and Dead Legs




For the majority of the year Wilber, Nebraska lives in relative anonymity, another rural Nebraska farm town scratching out an existence as best it can. In early August for three days, however, Wilber thrives with it's annual Czech Days festival. Unlike many rural farm towns in Nebraska, Wilber has continued to grow each census. Platted in 1873 it's population in 1880 was 710 souls and it's continued to grow and at last census in 2020 the population was 1,937 souls. Fun fact... Dana Altman, head coach of the Oregon Ducks men's basketball team hails from Wilber and began his basketball career as a play at the now defunct Fairbury Junior College that was in Fairbury, Nebraska. Wilber has put on 62 Czech days and we have been organizing some sort of ride since roughly 2017, although I attended my first Czech Days in 2014. The starting location has changed from year to year but we have always approached from the east prior to this year when we shifted the start to Plymouth, Nebraska which is almost directly south of Wilber. 




The weather was fantastic for the ride with temps starting just below the 70° mark. The group was pretty big as we set sail on Saturday, matching our previous high number or riders in 2018 and I am sure the cooler temps helped in that aspect. There have been some scorchers in past years and even a rainy year or two so having the nice weather was a welcomed sight.





The course this year ended up being relatively flat also which helped us make quick work of the 20-ish miles from Plymouth to Wilber.


We ran into some friends who had ridden out from Lincoln and as is tradition we all touched the Wilber wiener that resides in front of Frank's Smokehouse.





After the wiener we headed over to the Sokol Pavilion for brauts, kraut and kolaches. Sokol Pavilion was built in 1930 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. The Pavillion was originally the home for Sokol gymnastics, a Czech gymnastics organization that dates back to 1862 when it was founded in Prague. We didn't do any tumbling on Saturday but we did wrestle some beers down.


As is also tradition, we stopped at the Wilber sign proclaiming it to be the Czech Capital of the United States. They aren't just blowing smoke either, the very first Czech Days in 1962 brought in 20,000 people and 60,000 people in 1965. Numbers are one thing but in 1963 then Governor Frank Morrison officially proclaimed Wilber to be the Czech Capital of Nebraska. If that weren't enough to cement the claim, in 1987 then President Ronald Reagan degreed Wilber the Czech Capital of the United States. So when Wilber makes the claim they have the pedigree to back it up.


Official ditch beer sight, caught 'Grammin. 






Cooler temps in the morning gave way to high temps and more sun in the afternoon prompting a stop at the Red Zone in De Witt, Nebraska on the ride back. The Red Zone is your typical quaint small town Nebraska bar that time seemingly has forgotten but this one also doubles as a semi-shrine to the late, great Elvis Presley with several shelves of knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. No blue suede shoes were found in the establishment.

Back in Plymouth a stop at the more modern looking Bart's Bar was in order for cold refreshments, we miss timed our arrival and hit the sad hours between lunch and dinner when the grill gets a bit of a rest so a liquid lunch is all we could muster up. Good ride, great group and as always a fun time at the Wilber, Nebraska Czech Days.

Didn't get enough of Czech Days, check out the companion video.