Friday, May 24, 2024

Maybe The Horses Are Onto Something

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Lazy is defined as someone lacking energy, showing a lack of effort or care... as I sit here writing this I am sitting in Colorado, sipping my morning coffee with a great view of Byers Peak without a care in the world. If that's lazy then sign me up!

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Last weekend I spent on the saddle of my Stormchaser, surrounded by friends, pedaling 62 miles of gravel in a headwind. While the effort was definitely more substantial than it is right now, the amount of fucks given were no more or no less present then they are right now about most things in life outside of the ride. Instead I was just being present in that moment, sharing it with those that wanted to share their time with me. Is that Lazy also, if so sign me up, twice!

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The Lazy Horse Gravel Grind out of Ohiowa, Nebraska is by far my favorite event of the gravel season. The sense of community, generosity and goodwill overflow the river of human decency during the 6 or so hours we spend winding our way through small town, rural Nebraska towns and villages with odd names. Every single one of those towns, Alexandria, Bruning, Belvidere and Gilead are not only happy to see us but they might enjoy the event more than those who ride it do. The smiles on the faces of the church ladies who baked pies, the old men with stories to tell about "the good ole days of (insert town name here)" to anyone willing to listen, the overall feeling of being welcomed as part of their community is something you don't get with most gravel events. Lazy ain't so bad sometimes, hell if lazy had a physical embodiment it might be a small village on some dusty gravel road in the middle of Nebraska farm land. Provided you're not there during planting or harvest because ain't nobody got time for lazy then. 

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Jackie, Justin, Julie and Jim (apparently only people with a J first name can be a part of this team) put on a fabulous event every year with courses that are equal parts fun and challenging but just enough challenge that they won't make you contemplate why you're out there doing it. In the ever increasing need by events to want to draw huge crowds, covet "big gravel names", find every hill and put on a spectacle of a show it's nice to see a contradictory event still flourish. Let's be honest with ourselves, most of us are closer to being a pro couch potato than we ever will be a pro cyclist... so why do we aspire to be that which we aren't instead of finding those events that embrace and celebrate what we are in the cycling world?

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I'm not saying to forsake those big events, I myself have and still do participate in them, all I'm saying is give the little guys a look also, you might be surprised how much fun they really are. Jackie and I have started a trend to try to find and ride in the smaller, lesser known events that are within a few hours drive of where we live in an attempt to continue to embrace the true ethos of what gravel was all about when it trickled onto the scene, when very few people batted an eye at the small gathering of cyclists that for some reason rode the dirt instead of the nice, smooth pavement. I speak like I'm 100 years old and have been riding gravel for decades but truth be told I got into gravel not even 10 year ago in 2015. Even in that microcosm of time things have changed dramatically in the world of gravel. The other day I read a post on the social medias that went a little something like this "Gravel is dead, it's now just road racing on gravel roads." and well, maybe they aren't wrong.

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Maybe I'm just the old curmudgeon yelling at the clouds in the sky and kids walking on my lawn, that is a distinct possibility but the joy that the small gravel events bring to my inner being is well worth the label. Find small gravel again, embrace events where event directors can still address the starting line by yelling, find rides that give more than they take. It's way easier to rope a lazy horse than it is a race horse.  




Check out the video from the event on the YouTube.

 

Monday, May 6, 2024

Mid (South) Life Crisis

Time flies, not only when you're having fun, but pretty much all the time anymore. It seems like when you're a little human, under the care of and dependent on larger humans, you do nothing but wish that time would go faster. You want to be older, cooler, out on your own taking on the big world and making your place in it. Those days seem to creep by so utterly slow that you sometimes think you'll never be an adult and get to do all the cool things your parents don't do, they are practically wasting their lives sitting around watching TV! Once you reach your adultness and start to get your independence, say the years from 18-28 or so, time goes by a little bit quicker. Almost imperceptible at this age you barely realize the grains of sand in the hourglass of life have started falling at a quicker rate. Then you get into your 30s and you start to notice that time IS going by a little quicker, life is full of routines and the days seem to be way shorter than you remembered them "when you were a kid". That incremental increase in the time/space continuum seems to double overnight and you realize your not 30 anymore but you're now looking at the other side of 40 as well, things ache that never ached, foods that used to be your friends now give you a gut ache or worse, HAIR IS GROWING EVERYWHERE! I feel like, for the most part, I live that life I imagined I'd have as a kid. I'm always on the go, I'm still in pretty good health and I ride my bicycle several times a week, that's the upside. The downside is that if you're not really, really careful your timeline on life seems to go right past ludicrous speed straight to Plaid. So it is now, as I sit here writing this, that I realize that the Mid South was almost two months ago and I am just now finding time to blog about it.

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The Mid South has been going strong for 13 years now, and for 12 of those years I have not attended; unless you count the Incredibly Socially Distant version in 2020 but I think we'd all rather forget that year and move on. Part of the reason is because I didn't get into gravel really until about 2015 so any of them before then I was totally unaware of. Even after I became aware that the, then Land Run, existed it only appealed to me right up to the point where I saw pictures of the relentless orange mud and heard riders share their horror stories about bent bikes and bodies. I'm not much for riding in the mud and the N+1 factor back then was mostly just N so the thought of being out of a bike for weeks or longer waiting for repairs was enough to keep me away despite all the great things that seemed to surround the event. Despite all that the itch to see what it was all about was always right there in the back of my mind.

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They weren't all bad years though as there were several years where the pictures of broken bikes were replaced with pictures of riders, bikes and everything else covered in orange dust better suited to Mars than the 3rd rock from the sun. The switch recently to riding single speed almost exclusively at events (on the bike designed specifically for the conditions at the Mud South) eliminating the worry about bent or broken derailleurs, a little FOMO and a lot of Jackie making up her mind that WE were going to do it this year led to us finding ourselves lined up on the morning of March 16th. Listening to Bobby Wintle on the mic and the sounds of King Cabbage while waiting for the gun to go off for the shorter distance of the Mid South, we knew this wasn't just some run of the mill gravel event. People flock to the Mid South despite the cold weather, despite the rain, despite the bike and body destroying orange mud that often shows up uninvited, not because they are masochists but because of what the Mid South has built down there in Stillwater. It's something that is difficult to explain, you just have to experience it yourself to understand. If this race is not on your to do list of gravel events, it really should be.

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From the time your front wheel rolled across the timing mats to the hug at the end, there was never a time that you weren't surrounded by dozens of other riders. That was something we noticed early on, most races have that initial sprint of the rabbits, then the hounds who want to be rabbits who go out way too fast chasing them and then the rest of the field that just sort of settles into their own pace. In general that often equates to miles of lonely or near solitary miles but that was never the case here. The shorter route, I had heard, had 1000 riders in it. If you're not one who likes to grind out the miles in your own head, this might be the race for you as there will always be someone in earshot to talk to it seemed.

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Doug, Jackie and I did a modified quick "party pace" through the day as planned when we signed up. Bikes are fun, bikes with friends is funner and I am glad we got to share that time together. Rick caught up to us not too many miles from the end and our group of three became a group of four.

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The "Bobby Hug" at the end really is that good, I think it's part joy of being done pedaling, part sense of accomplishment but mostly it's good because if feels sincere, it feels like an old friend giving you a hug after a long absences... it feels like, well, family.

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While only my first time at the Mid South, I have to admit it was my second "Bobby Hug", I managed to sneak on in at the finish line of Gravel Worlds in 2022 when I shared a champagne dousing of the Women's 150 mile winner that year with Bobby. That may have help to tip the scales in favor of finally making it to the Mid South, If I'm being honest.

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I love the little gravel family that we have built, the times we've shared on and off the bike and the memories that will last well after our abilities to do these kinds of things fade into just memories. We could not have asked for better weather for Mid South and really lucked out with not just a dry year but temps were mild being in the 70s, winds were single digits all day and the slight overcast kept the need for sunscreen to a minimum. Top ten day in gravel and top ten event that I can now check off of my bucket list of gravel events that have to be attempted at least once.



Check out the Mid South video on YouTube!

 

Monday, March 18, 2024

Mid South - Expo

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This has been one of those races always on the "bucket list" but never on the schedule, until this year. I am not a fan of mud, not necessarily because it's usually associated with wet, cold weather either... the toll it takes on bike and equipment is often disastrous and costly. However Jackie, "lets not sign up for every race next year", decided that this was the year where she would sign up for all the races and then let me know she'd signed up so that I could also sign up. So pretty much just like every previous year except this year she decided that we'd make the journey down to Stillwater and both have our first taste of Oklahoma's red dirt and hope it wasn't red mud as it's infamous for being. Since you need to get on registering the day the event opens you just never know what the weather is going to be like 6 months down the road when the event actually takes place. So we tossed our names in the hat and hoped for the best.

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On Friday morning a few of us formed a caravan and made the drive down to Stillwater to catch the expo and get settled in before the race on Saturday.

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The atmosphere is something else down there, the live music, the vendors, the food trucks, the number of people milling about he expo and the number of closed off blocks of city streets is just something you have to see to fully grasp. Your can tell that the city of Stillwater has fully embraced and supported the Mid South and that's something not every city does as well as it should. I'm sure that there are other events that rival the Mid South in such things but how many of those have the vibe, the ethos, the grassroots feel and, well, the Bobby?

It was great seeing some familiar faces and checking out some of the vendor booths and District Bicycles. If the expo was this much fun, what would the race bring tomorrow... I guess we'd find out.

 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Has Spring Sprung?

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Hard to believe that about a month ago we were riding in feet of the white fluffy stuff in temperatures so low that it hurt your face to be out in it for more than a few minutes unprotected.

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Fast forward to yesterday when we headed down to Marysville to ride with the Hoffmans at Backroads Bicycle. We went from every inch of skin needing to be covered up to wearing a jersey and vest yesterday. I'm usually a winter person over the sweltering heat and humidity of Nebraska summers but after the sub zero weeks this year, I am more than ready for warmer temps to stick around.

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The real question is, will the temperatures stay warm or is this just a lull before the cold returns? I did see geese flying north the other day which is usually a good sign that the worst of winter is over but living in the midwest is a lot like being on a Duncan Yo Yo. Temps this week start out in the 50s but drop down into the 30s by the end of the week only to rebound back into the 50s next week... Lindy Loop here we come! It is the Gravel Worlds Winter Endurance this Saturday so I suppose it would be befitting that the temps were more winter like than spring like.

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To be honest, I'd be okay with the temps doing their thing as long as the snow stays away. Roads are just now getting back to being good riding after a month or more of being very suspect if not unrideable and gravel season is just around the corner, seems like as it gets bigger and bigger the events are starting earlier in the year.

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Regardless if it stays warm or goes back to being cold, I hope you all got out and enjoyed the gravel this weekend because it was almost perfect.