Coming out of the Ponca Ride, during which I suffered from increasingly troubling knee pain the last 50 miles, I was hoping that a week-long trip to Boston and Providence -- without a bike -- and a few days of easy rides would have me back in shape. Even though I hadn't moved it at all, with symptoms classic for a too-low seatpost, I checked the measure from my bottom bracket to the top of my saddle. Apparently, in the course of all my riding, it had managed to move itself down about 15mm...which may not sound like much, but, well, it is. No wonder my knee hurt. Not wanting to overdo the adjustment right before a big ride, I moved it back up about 1cm, figuring I could adjust mid-ride if necessary.
Packed up Friday after an early morning of yard work, picked up MW, and headed west, with a planned stop at Thunderhead Brewery in Kearney to refill the growler we picked up there last year. Oh, and go ahead and do a run of their tasters. They make good beer out there...
Then onward to Gothenburg, where we met up with our buddy Noah from Boulder, whom we met on the ride last year. Making friends on bike rides is awesome. We were checked in and settled in to our room with time to spare before heading to the rider meeting. As usual, the pre-race meetings are like little family reunions, and it was great to see the DSG crew. They put so much love into this event!!
Went back to the hotel with some Twin Six swag (thanks!!), some cue sheets, and some pizza. Time to eat copious amounts of that, wash it down with IPA, take a digestive walk, and head to bed. The alarm, of course, would come early...
|6 AM rollout into the pink dawn|
|Riding buddies Matt and Noah|
|Clouds tickled pink|
|MW train heading south into the canyons|
|Noah brought an extra lung from Boulder|
|Vistas unseen last year, due to dense fog|
|The Gammel tandem!|
|First sandy MMR climb|
We pulled into Checkpoint #1, 42 miles in, at the top of a long climb. I remembered it -- and Merrie's amazing peanut buttery goodies -- from last year, and was glad for the break. After eating a pickle and some treats, I grabbed my multitool and raised my seat about 5mm higher.
|Pickle power. Photo: Merrie Quigley|
|Fellas, it's time to ride. Now that my saddle's in a better place, I mean business. Photo: Merrie Quigley|
|Entering the open range|
|Government Pocket (that's the name of the road)|
|Lots of time riding with this fine fella. Never tire of it.|
|Mark, aka Guitar Ted, and MW at the end of Gov't Pocket|
|Seriously, Beautiful Nebraska is right|
We hung out, refueled, and enjoyed the fresh, cool hydrant water. Last year, I could hardly be torn away from that hydrant in the heat. This time, it was onward, northward, back to Gothenburg, and then further north. The north wind was really picking up at this point, and while I was in "bury your head and crush the miles" mode, Noah and Matt were not. I slowed up and pulled them into the KOA, where we had cold things waiting and more than an hour to spare before the cutoff. With great weather, I thought we might just overlap with the winner finishing, and sure enough, after we'd eaten some snacks and gone into the c-store for more, we came back to see Corey and his two riding buddies come in for the win.
|Corey pulls in for the win as I'm eating a ChocoTaco with 50 miles to go. Photo: Kyle Vincent|
I hung onto Aaron's wheel, taking pulls that were considerably slower than the pace he was putting down, but putting in my time nonetheless. Matt and Noah were about a 1/4 mile back from us, and all I wanted was for those 10 miles to be over. When we finally turned, I wanted a break in the grass, even though there was no shade around, just to have some quiet from the howling wind. Aaron went on alone, and our gang of three regrouped. It was hot. A few miles up the road, we found some shade and took another quick break. Maybe I'd burned a few too many matches...or maybe it was just the heat...but the shade rejuvenated me, as did the changing landscape, which was now looking more like the Sandhills than the river valley or the canyons to the south.
|Southern Sandhills on the north loop|
We hit the last checkpoint of the day next to an old cemetery, where Captain Cowbell had cold beers and more pickles waiting for us. There, we were also met by an inquisitive 11-year-old farm boy on an old Huffy. He was very curious what we were all about, whether 11-year-olds would be allowed to participate in such an event, and whether, if he modified his tractor to have pedals, he could race that. We had a great break, but with it being 7 o'clock and us having about 25 miles to go, I wanted to hit the road. We would barely go north again, and then shoot back south and to the finish with the wind at our backs.
|Sandy MMR as the shadows lengthen|
|Time to chase the sunset|
|...but have to stop for pictures of this insanely beautiful road|
We climbed out of there, and then it was a few grids of gravel roads before we linked back up with the road we'd climbed north out of town. The sun was setting, and I really wanted to make it before dark. While I would finish with the fellas, I spent a little more time solo off the front, soaking in the sunset and what this last 7 weeks of a gravel endurance campaign has meant to me. I thought about all the people I'd gotten to ride long stretches with -- Erin and Andrea and Corey and Jim and Noah and of course Matt and more -- and all the time I'd spent alone, too. I thought about my trip back to Providence and Boston, and how happy I am to not live there anymore. How I love to breathe deep. How I love the horizon. How I love experiencing topography firsthand, at my own speed, by my own power. How no matter how long I tried, there would be simply no way I could ever take a photograph or film that would convey the feeling of being in this time and place.
|5 miles to go as the sun drops|
|A wee bit misty-eyed from the unspeakable magic hour beauty. Noah's light in the background...|
I sat up at the end of the gravel and let the fellas catch up to me. We rolled through town together, happy to have made it the whole way this year. It was twilight, and my fully charged light was on, for safety's sake. I rolled over the overpasses and cruised into the finish to cowbells and hollers -- people hanging out and having fun watching the last of us finish.
|Did it! Photo: Kyle Vincent|
And today, my parents needed help with putting up hay. So instead of a lazy recovery, I headed out to the farm and spent some time with two incredible people. While I was ostensibly there to drive the tractor, I of course ended up unloading a rack of bales with my folks, too. And would've felt pretty silly complaining about my sore legs and the pain of the sunburn under my pants when working with my 67-year-old mom and 70-year-old dad, doing it like champs.
|Experience, wisdom, love, and humor. Love my parents|
I know it's custom to thank a laundry list of people at this point in a race report. I've had the opportunity, I hope, to thank most everyone in person. But in case I haven't, thanks. Thanks for reading. See you at Gravel Worlds, on the trail, or somewhere else...
Update: Currently on repeat: The Mountain Goats -- Never Quite Free