Sunday, June 30, 2013

Odin's Revenge - Double Thumbs Up!

 Riders lining up for the 6 AM start

Had the pleasure of riding in Odin's Revenge yesterday.  This was the second year of the event and also my second attempt at it.  The first year was brutally hot and I pulled the plug after 100 miles (180 total mileage last year).  This year the weather was perfect.

 Lots of Rasta and PCL representin'!

The grinder is located in central Nebraska and begins/finishes in Gothenburg.  The city of Gothenburg is smack dab in the middle of the state right off I-80.  If you blink you'll drive right past the exit. 

 And we're off!

The folks of the DSG cycling crew of central Nebraska host this event.  BTW, ask them what DSG stands'll make you laugh. 

 The pink clouds hover over our destination in the horizon....

They have put together one of the most beautiful and technically challenging gravel grinders that I have participated in over the years.  Last year we couldn't see a lot of the scenery in the first half due to thick fog.  This year we were able to enjoy the landscape and take it all in.

 Flat heading out of town...soon to change!

We had about 40 starters this year, up from 25 last year.  This event will get bigger every year.  I have no doubt.  Once folks see the pics and hear the stories, more will come.  Think of the famous line in Field of Dreams..."If you build it, he will come."  Now let's be PC and change that to, "If you build it, they will come.".

 Smiles and sunrise...Jeremy came out of retirement for this event!

This is another classic grassroots grinder.  No entry fee, top notch support by enthusiastic volunteers, and excellent sportsmanship by all riders.

 A rather large bull blocking the road...he stared us down for awhile...thought it might get ugly for a bit.

The event is split into two parts.  The first is a southern loop of about 97 miles that take us through the canyons that rest just south of the Interstate.  Driving across Nebraska you would never imagine that there would be canyons 5 to 10 miles to the south. 

 Anatoly Zlotnik and MG grindin' it out

After completing the southern loop, riders head back to Gothenburg and grab a cue sheet for the northern stretch.  Last year that section was 80 miles, this year it was trimmed down to 50ish.  The north didn't have the canyons, but had plenty of rollers and deep wheel sucking gravel/sand.

 Love this bridge

On the southern loop of the course I didn't see one automobile.  We did see mule deer, pheasant, turkey, plenty of cattle and one stubborn bull who gave us a long stare down prior of conceding.

 Good group rollin' together most of the morning

The gravel roads are nothing like the roads surrounding Lincoln.  Due to the topography, the roads wind and twist through the canyons. 


The difficulty of this event is hard to quantify.  The gravel was very thick this year which multiplied the effort needed to push across the roads.  Numerous times during the day I found my front wheel "snow plowing" through the gravel.  At times there would only be one good line across the entire gravel road.  Finding that line was part of the challenge.

 Todd and Robert leadin' us out

Numerous times during the day I thought I was gonna crash.  Mainly on the super fast descents, but also on a few of the MMR's that went from semi-hardpack to stop you in your tracks foot deep powdery silt.  After last year I told myself to run a minimum of a 40c tire, but I obviously forgot and stuck with my 35c's.

MG and Mike enjoying the gravel goodness

The crew of riders this year were great to ride with.  Ended up riding with Robert Sack and Jeff Caldwell, both Nebraskans, all day and rolled into the finish together.  Another great day on the gravel. 

Big thanks to all who had a part in putting on Odin's Revenge.  I'll be back again next year!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dirty Kanza 2013 - It's more than just a gravel race

 Lis and Wills preppin' for 200 miles of gravel goodness

It's been almost two weeks since DK and I am just getting around to a blog post.  Life has gotten busy.  Finding time to sit down for a few hours and blog just hasn't been feasible.  Work has been very busy as well as projects at home and in the community. 

Monika on one of the Downtown Emporia pianos - in her kit, of course!

Endurance riding results in endurance blogging!  Especially when I take so many pictures!  The passion for sharing my experiences is still present, but when it boils down to it, I'd rather ride than write about riding.  So I apologize for the delay. 

 Nebraska Crew lined up and ready - Rafal sportin' his 2012 Gravel World Champion Jersey

The Dirty Kanza has come a long way.  Back in 2007 (or was it 2008 - this was my seventh figure it out!), when I first lined up for the event, I had no idea what to expect.  The Flint Hills were new to me.  Yeah, I had heard of them, but didn't know much about them.  Then my good buddy, Matt Wills, who had raced in the Inaugural Dirty Kanza, told me of the vast natural grasslands which were navigated by gnarly chunky gravel roads.  Remote.  Peaceful.  Beautiful.

 Gravel family reunion! 

That sounded like something I wanted in on.  So I signed up.  And that first Kanza was something special.  It was my first successfully completed Gravel Grinder.  What made the event even more special was the fact that I was able to ride most of the day with close friends.  We overcame challenges, celebrated small victories, and eventually closed the line...together.

 The majestic Granada Theater in Downtown Emporia

And that's what makes these gravel grinders different from other events.  It's not a solo effort.  Teams are formed out on the gravel.  A camaraderie among the riders is glaringly palpable.  Why?  I believe it's because we all have the same goal first and foremost....finish. 

 And we're off!  Lance Andre rockin' his 2011 Gravel World Champion jersey

And finishing is a victory in itself.  Two hundred plus miles on Flint Hills gravel is nothing to shake a stick at.  Factor in whatever Mother Nature throws at ya and you have an event that is a life changing experience.  Personally, I feel that completing the DK200 is empowering.  It makes the everyday challenges of life seem insignificant and minuscule.  Anyone else feel that way?

 Eric and Monika sitting behind the tall drink of water

The DK is more than just a race.  It's a celebration of all that is good in the Gravel Grinder cycling community.  Friendships, adventure, overcoming insurmountable challenges, tests of mental and physical fortitude, hardships, disappointment and victories.

 Hi, Lance!

During my tenure at the DK, I think I've been through just about every imaginable situation and emotional experience possible.  Multiple flats, severe dehydration, parts falling off my bike, getting lost, chased by dogs, almost run off the road by unfriendly motorists, helped by friendly country folks, frantic convenience store binges and then unfortunate involuntary roadside purges, debilitating muscle cramps, frustration with luck, ridiculous cartoon-sized saddle sores, random rural encouragement, soul crushing bonks and finally, elation.

 Garth Prosser and Joe Fox early in the day - both rode great and finished well!

And that's why I keep going back every year.  The experiences have formed memories that I will never forget and have shaped the person I am today.  I can honestly say that I'm a better person due to my passion for gravel and the community that has developed over the past seven years.  Thank you to all that have been there and crushed gravel beside me.  Same to all the promoters and volunteers.

 Sittin' in early

Ok, ok, enough of the mushy stuff....on to the recap!  Sorry, I got a little carried away there.

 Double pace line formed with the sun peakin' over the horizon

Anywho...Lis, Wills and I headed down to Emporia on Friday afternoon.  We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our packets at the Granada Theater in downtown Emporia.  This theater is quite the venue.  Whoever restored this beauty is a genius.  It's a majestic reminder of days gone by.  I would love to see a show there someday.  Hmmm...that sounds like a great gravel bike tour idea!  Who's with me?!

 All business...

After picking up packets and visiting with gravel brethren, Monika and I went for a short shake down ride on the first 5 to 10 miles of the race course.  Monika broke her frame prior to the race and was using a borrowed bike.  Ugh.  That would suck to hafta ride the DK on a bike other than your own.  Any small change in fit is magnified over 200+ miles. 

 It's going to be a beautiful day....

After the ride, a large quantity of calories were consumed at the local pizza joint.  You gotta love guilt free binge eating!  Yay!  We met some new and current friends while dining.  Stories were shared as well as lots of encouragement.


We were all excited about the prospect of very mild temperatures, but were also well aware of the wind situation.  The forecast was for a stiff Northwest wind.  Based on the DK route, we would have headwind for a significant part of the day.  It wasn't going to be easy, but everyone had to do it and for some reason, that makes it better.

 Two track goodness

Hit the hay relatively early and got a restful night's sleep.  That's a bonus!  Usually I only get a few hours at best, but I got a solid six.  Lis, Wills and I rolled to the start and unknowingly passed Lincolnite, Jim Winklepleck.  He rolled up beside us and chatted us up.  We were shocked to see him and forgot that he had signed up.  It was great to see you down there, Jim! 

 Flat, drat!

The start was a bit different this year.  In year's past once Jim Cummins said go, we would take off rather quickly through downtown Emporia and race to the first right hander onto the gravel.  This year the police escort kept the pace a lot slower.  There was almost a pile up behind the cruiser!  That would have been a bad start to the day.


I led the pack out for the first stretch of gravel and was able to get some shoots with the point and shoot camera (see above).  Then I settled in and got more shots.  It's what I love to do.  The pace picked up on the first few climbs.  At some point, there was an unmarked turn.  The first 15 riders went blowing by and another 15 of us sat up wondering if we just missed our turn.  I asked Rebecca Rusch if she knew we were on course.  We fumbled around our maps...with memories of last year's missed turn fresh in our mind, we didn't want to make the same mistake twice.  We soft pedaled for a bit while the folks in front got a big gap.  Eventually we made it to the next intersection which confirmed we were on the right path.  By then the group out front had gotten away.  And that was the last I saw of them. 

 Trying to get a draft...

We hit a large mud crossing and knee deep water crossing in the first fifty.  That was fun!  The scenery was beautiful and we had a nice tailwind.  I rode with a guy from Chicago for a bit until I flatted about 5 miles from checkpoint one.  I had just passed Garth Prosser changing a flat and thought how sucky that must be when I noticed the back end getting soft.  A large piece of barbed wire went through the rear tire.  Bummer.


The flat was changed and I rolled into the first checkpoint to refuel.  I was rockin' the no support this year, but eventually found some friendly faces that offered to fill my bottles.  Thank you!  The first fifty went fast. 

 Chuggin' along with the German Diesel

I saw Monika roll through the first checkpoint and caught her shortly after beginning the second leg.  I was stoked to ride with her! She has been tearing up the gravel scene over the past year and is all day strong.  Especially later in events. 

 Pinch flat for Monika on the chunky descent

We rolled together and battled the wind and the rocks.  Lots of epic gravel on that stretch.  Stuff more suited to mountain bikes.  We only had one flat on that stretch.  The pic above was a short downhill that claimed many pinch flat victims. 

 Absolutely beautiful!

The scenery was breathtaking.  I had to remind myself to look around once in awhile.  If you're riding on the rivet you could miss out on the best part of DK. 

 Lonely roads

Those fifty miles were my favorite.  Everywhere I looked I couldn't help but smile.  Lots of wow moments.  Anyone up for a bikepacking trip?  I'm sure the night sky out there would be amazing.  


We made great time, but were only two riders.  We needed more to help fight the wind.  Plus, Monika likes to ride in the drops.  She doesn't provide much draft!  I'm like a frickin' UPS truck.  Ha!

 Rollin' into checkpoint two

By the time we got to checkpoint two I was hungry.  Real hungry.  We quickly grabbed provisions and took off.  After a small stretch of tailwind we had more headwind.  I'm not sure of the wind speed, but I'm guessing a sustained 20 with 25 mph gusts during the middle part of day.

Regardless, we were doing well and consistently picking folks off while we clipped along.  We picked up good buddy Eric Brunt at some point and rode together for awhile.  My stomach began to take a turn at some point.  I thought it was just hunger, but something wasn't agreeing with me.  Monika began to pick up the pace and I eventually asked her to go.  I had to get through that dark spell alone.  Adding insult to injury, I missed a turn along with 20 other riders and went an additional 9 miles.  That was just about the final nail in the coffin.  I convinced myself that I would not give up!  I didn't care when I finished, but I was going to finish.

Cottonwood Falls

I crawled into checkpoint three.  Full on bonk.  It was sad.  It was tough to muster 10 mph.  Best friend, CVO was my savior at checkpoint three.  He rode a rented Harley down from Lincoln with our friend Emily.  They brought a bucket of KFC fried chicken and biscuits.  Now, I have a degree in Dietetics...fried chicken, especially KFC, is not something I eat on a regular basis....or ever for that matter, but damn, the chicken was goooooood!  And was exactly what I needed.  After an extended break at checkpoint three and plenty of fried chicken, I finally began to feel better.  I looked at my Garmin...I had three hours and fifteen minutes to make the "Race the Sun" cutoff of 8:42(?).  I knew it would be close.  Fifty miles in a little over three hours doesn't sound like much, but it is after 160 miles and a bonk.  But if I was gonna go down, I was gonna go down swingin'.  I would make a run for it.

I assumed the last fifty would be all tailwind and flat, but I was wrong.  The first ten miles were headwind.  Then the hills began.  It was a tough stretch regardless of what point in the day it came.  As the miles ticked away I kept a close eye on the time.  I was doing alright, but wasn't exactly meltin' butter.  Peanut butter M&M's that Emily gave me at checkpoint three kept the blood sugar above the bonk threshold.

Americus was in sight.  As I rolled through Americus, I calculated my odds of making the cutoff.  Only ten miles away and 30 minutes to go!  It might just be possible!  The sun was going down quick.  I had to boogie!

The legs were cooked, but gave it everything they had.  Soon the Emporia Water tower peaked over the horizon.  I was close!  Finally I made the familiar turn onto the pavement, crossed the Interstate, and rolled through campus.  The roar from the finish resonated off of the brick buildings of Emporia State University.  Ugh!  Less than a minute!  I sprinted to the finish through a tunnel of cheering spectators and crossed the line.  Did I make it?

Jim Cummins congratulated me, shook my hand, handed me a "Race the Sun" lithograph and told me I had seconds to spare, but had made it.  By an eyelash.  Another rider behind me made it too, but crashed into me when I stopped just across the line.  Sorry! 

Wills and Lis at the finish!  Smiles abound!

What an experience!  To top it off, most of the Lincoln crew finished.  And did really well to boot!  Plus, good buddy Rafal made the SS podium!  Monika did awesome too!  She was second overall to Rebecca Rusch.  Not bad when you finish second to a World Champion.  I was proud of the folks who got it done.  Several first time finishers in 2013.  Congrats!  

Thanks to all that had any part in making the DK200 happen.  Also thanks to all my friends, family and sponsors! 

It was a glorious day on the gravel...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Royal 162 - Gravel Grinding at its finest

 Chris Skogen, Gravel Ambassador, reviewing pre-race info

For the Midwest gravel junkie the middle of May means one thing...Almanzo.  Mark it on the calendar and don't make any other plans for that weekend.  Well, that's the way I feel.  Yep, you heard me.  Even if I had a free ticket to Hawaii, I'd turn it down for this event.  The Almanzo event demands that much respect.  It's rightfully become the biggest gravel event in the country.

 Leaving downtown Spring Valley - New start/finish location this year!

This past weekend I had the privilege of riding in my fourth Almanzo event.  My third Royal 162.  The Royal has been an option for those that want to see a bit more of the southern Minnesota and the northern Iowa gravel.  The route is essentially the same as the Almanzo 100 mile event, but also includes and additional 55 to 60 mile southern loop that crosses the Minnesota border and runs parallel to the state line in Northern Iowa. 

 Hittin' the gravel goodness

We exit and enter the Almanzo 100 route around mile 50.  By the time we get back from the additional southern trek the course is full of Almanzo 100 riders.  That's always fun seeing all the folks on the gravel.  Plus you can put your cue sheets away since the course is full of Almanzo 100 riders.

 We had a great crew of Royal vets and rookie strong-persons this year...

The Royal event has remained pretty consistent as far as size.  Usually 50 to 100 folks sign up each year.  While the Almanzo 100 event has continued to swell each year with close to 1000 riders lining up this past Saturday morning in downtown Spring Valley.  Close to 1500 riders sent postcards in for both events.  Yeah, the Midwest gravel thing is catching on.

 Rick Blackford and Jason Gaikowski were all smiles - Mission Accomplished!

Let's be honest...if there's a longer option, I'm of the philosophy of "why not?!".  If you're a masochist who loves to ride your bike, the extra 60 odd miles is just the ticket.  The additional mileage is always worth it.  Of course I say that now, but was often looking down at my Garmin after the 100 mile mark had ticked past last weekend and thought to myself, I could be relaxing at the finish line by now and drinking a cold beverage while cheering on finishers.

 Heading towards the rising sun

The Royal started at 7 AM this year in downtown Spring Valley.  The Almanzo 100 started at 9.  The main drag of downtown Spring Valley was closed for the start.  Chris got up and thanked us for coming, said his obligatory pre-race remarks, and then allowed us to sing Happy Birthday to his son.

 Stringing out

Now I know I've said this before, but the gravel community is a remarkable group of guys and gals.  The comradeship is palpable.  Everyone is welcoming and supportive.  The sense of competition remains, but everyone is riding for the right reasons.  I have no doubt that any of my gravel pals would jump in front of a rabid charging canine for me.  And likewise, I would do the same for them. 

 Beautiful scenery was abundant

The day before the event, most of Minnesota got dumped on by Mother Nature.  I heard reports of close to 4 inches of rain in some locations.  That's a lot of water in a short period of time for the gravel to absorb.


The gravel was a bit soft at the start, but looking on the bright side, the dust wasn't an issue!  Dust can be dangerous especially during this event.  On a few of the downhills you can get up over 40 mph and even close to 50 if you're brave and pushing it.

 Everything is lush in Minnesota

The diversity of the winding gravel roads and elevation changes kept me clamoring for more. 

 The group was thinning out at this point

The gravel around Lincoln is great, but I've ridden most of the roads.  And the gravel around Lincoln is more of a straight grid.  The Minnesota gravel near Spring Valley reminds me of the backroads in southeast Ohio. 

 Mr. Eric Brunt - aka Skullcrusher - he crushed it, alright!

The morning was absolutely beautiful.  I sat back and enjoyed the views and took a bunch of pics.  If you're too busy riding the rivet, you'll miss out on one of best parts of the Almanzo experience...the sheer beauty of the countryside.

 Leaders were settin' the pace

I was regretting not bringing a fender for the first 20 miles.  Clammy chamios! 

 Drying out and becoming hardpack super trucker highway

The sun came out and dried the roads to smooth hardpack.  The wind was out of the south, but less than 15 mph.  Conditions were ideal!  Way better than the first two Royals.  Ugh...just thinking about the 2011 version makes me shiver. 

 Bridge out!  Portage in!

Ok, so on to the "racing" recap.  The group played along nice and kept the pace relatively subdued all the way till the water crossing.  That's when a break occurred....or at least I think that's when it happened.  Honestly, I dunno cuz I was too busy getting by ass kicked up to that point.  Man, I'm outta shape!

 You can't ride this one...just pretend you have hot foot...ahhhhh, refreshing!

After the water crossing the group splintered while some took their time to clean their shoes and cleats and others frantically crossed the water and wasted no time.  I hopped back on my bike and briefly thought about chasing, but noted how damn fast the leaders were going and decided to settle in.  We still had over 100 miles to go.

 Riding some solo miles

I rode solo for a bit while taking in the scenery and eventually came across a rider down in the middle of the road at the bottom of a long gravel roller.  This is something I hate to see, but it's inevitable during any bicycle event.  People crash and get hurt.  Unfortunately, it was my buddy, Charles Parsons.

 Charles grimmacing in pain

Charles went down while trying to switch a cue sheet.  Those pesky cue sheets will get ya every time.  We need an electronic cue sheet that's powered by a dyno hub or a solar panel...maybe like a old Kindle with electronic ink.  Then there would be no need to pull paper sheets out of cue card holders or ziplock baggies.  I should patent that idea...hmmmm.

Steve Fuller is a machine!

Charles was in obvious pain.  He was sure he busted some ribs on the crash.  I'm no doctor, but after feeling a rib shift on light pressure, I knew we needed to get him outta there and to a hospital.  A friendly local in a pickup soon drove by and was flagged down.  He offered to take Charles back to Spring Valley and to a hospital.  I loaded up his bike and wished him well.


After getting Charles squared away I linked up with a great group of riders.  Jason Gaikowski, Steve Fuller, Ben Oney and a couple of others. 

Fresh gravel on several long stretches

We worked together and chatted about stopping in Harmony for a refuel.

Lots of tree lined gravel up north

Harmony was around 60 miles in and would be the one and only legitimate refuel the entire day.  The next stop would be around 100 miles at a small tavern with no guaranteed provisions.

Sweet old wooden planked truss

We took an extended break in Harmony.  Ice cream and plenty of fluids for me.  Even though it wasn't that hot, I sure was losing a lot of fluids due to the humidity.

Northern Iowa gravel goodness

The crew was steadily clipping along throughout the day.  I stopped at mile 83 in front of an Amish farm with a doozey hamstring cramp. stopped me dead in my tracks.  It was gonna to be a long day.  The lack of miles in my legs was apparent.  You do the homework you get the grades.  Don't do the homework and you get an F-daddy. 

Florenceville, Iowa

The guys didn't realize I stopped and kept on moving.  It took a good 5 minutes for the cramp to subside.  I ate some food and downed a bottle while getting some curious looks from the Amish kids.  I waved, they didn't wave back.  Ha!  Eventually I got going again and to my surprise the guys stopped a mile ahead and waited for me.  Class acts. 

Berly and Ashley! - Best picture of the event!

We agreed to stop in Florenceville at the bar to top off bottles and hoping find a snack.  We didn't even know which state we were in and had to ask if it was Minnesota or Iowa.  I was sure it was Minnesota, but nope...Iowa. 

Dandelions were in full bloom - ahchoo!

 We chilled at the bar for 15 to 20 minutes and had some pop, water a chips.  That's all they had for food.  Steve manned up and had a Budweiser heavy.  Stud!

Oasis - Thank you, Volunteers!

Jason, Steve, Ben and I took off together.   We re-entered the Almanzo route and began riding through the traffic.  Eventually I got dropped.  Those fellas were haulin' and keeping the cramps at bay prevented any hard efforts. 

Oasis strategically positioned across from a cemetry

About twenty miles from the finish I came across the above pictured Oasis.  It was just what I needed.  And by the looks of the bodies strewn across the grass, it was a savor for many riders.  My bottles were running low and I needed something salty to snack on.  Steve was there and was in bad shape battling cramps.  We commiserated for a bit, refueled and got back to the task at hand.  We needed to finish this mama-jamma off. 

Mr. Skogen at the reroute - "First right, first right, right back on course."

Steve and I rode together for most of the last twenty miles.  The wind was at our backs for the most part and all the riders on the course kept things fun.

Oriole Road

The last twenty did have a couple monster climbs.  Lots of folks walking and pushing their bikes.  I managed to turn squares all the way up both and kept somehow the cramps at bay. 


The body was ready to be done by the time I crossed the line.   The knee was killing me and I was severely dehydrated, but it was a glorious day on the gravel!

Thank you to Chris Skogen, all of the volunteers and vendors, the city of Spring Valley, and all my ride companions.  Kudos!  See you next year!