Getting Revenge on Odin

Last year's Odin's Revenge did not end well for me. 100 miles in, in over 100 degree heat and oppressive humidity, I quite literally cried on my bike pulling into the halfway point. Then cried some more as I quit the race, my only DNF. Odin had gotten his revenge, indeed, and I was bound to make up for it this year.

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
While larger than last year, the group rolling out was still small compared to recent events, with 40ish riders toeing the line. Looking around the start crew, nowhere was better represented than Lincoln. I'd venture to say we made up a third of the field. The first two miles are pavement, and we cruised along at the back, waiting for Noah to catch up after he just about missed the start.
Riding buddies Matt and Noah
Then we hit the gravel and it was game on, with MW pulling us through the back half of the field toward the canyons. The sunrise was absolutely stunning, as it lit the clouds from purple to pink to orange to yellow. Magic hour like cinematographers and light designers only dream of. Last year, in the fog, we didn't get to enjoy a lot of the landscape. This year, WOW.
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
We climbed up into the canyons, lots of riders around, and soaked in the views. My hip flexors were tight, and I worried that maybe I hadn't ridden enough in the week leading up. The knee was feeling ok, but once we started to climb, I was wincing in pain at each pedal stroke. Not a good thing to be happening, oh, 20 miles in to a 150-mile day...
The Gammel tandem!
With all the Lincolnites around, it sometimes felt like a glorified group ride with different scenery. These two were crushing it on the tandem, with Aaron telling Anita to close her eyes on every descent. And he was right to do so...there were some really fast, twisty ones with only one good line to choose from.
Gorgeous valley
First sandy MMR climb
It was at this climb, which was steep but not horrid, where the knee pain made me make out-loud pain sounds, and after a concerned look from MW, I got off and walked. Maybe the saddle did need to come up a bit more...

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
I hopped back on the bike and into a headwind, and everything felt better. Granted, there was a period where my hip flexors were screaming again as they adjusted to their new position, but the knee didn't hurt and I was feeling so relieved that I kept pushing the pace. We crushed through a big stretch of miles joined by Kevin Fox, Mark (Guitar Ted) Stevenson, and a fella from North Platte named Blake. Good times, including riding on one of the best-named roads around, Government Pocket. Feast your eyes on some of these photos that attempt to capture the beauty of Nebraska. Then, go there. I'll go with you. It's so beautiful.
Pure beauty
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
Before too long, we were approaching Potter's Pasture, and in the 7 or so miles leading up to it, we had a tailwind that had me hammering solo in the big ring. I just couldn't help it. After going through pain at every effort, every rotation of my right knee, it felt amazing to crank it up and fly into the checkpoint. Worth enduring a little ribbing from Noah about how he was writing a song to Matt about me leaving them...

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
 We wrapped things up at the checkpoint, adding a reluctant but pizza-filled Aaron Schnee to our posse for the ride out of town. The first 10 miles of this back 50 would be demoralizing, we'd been warned, since they were basically a steady slow climb straight into the at this point quite strong north wind, with no trees to take a break and hide in the shade from the heat. (Dang, that was a lot of prepositional phrases and clauses...)

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
I have always loved the simple beauty of the Sandhills, and lamented that most travelers' opinions of Nebraska are shaped by their time on I-80. They're really missing out. The beauty of these grasslands, especially when they're green in late spring and early summer, is soothing in its vastness. It's easy to see why it has been compared to an ocean, as the grasses blow in the wind, looking like so many waves. I drank it in.

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
Most notable on this last stretch was a beautiful MMR called Table Road, which was pocked with deep sand, a dip into pine trees, stretches on the ridge alongside corn rows and overlooking valleys, and some truly gnarly washouts. It was easy to go from 25+mph to nearly stopped as the sand changed from hardpack to, well, sand.

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...
Yeah, I got a little emotional. It was also sinking in that I was going to win this thing. Now, here's a bit of a knot to work out. Yes, I would be the first place female finisher. Would there be any others? No. Does it matter? Well, yes and no. This gets at an interesting intersection for women in fields where there are often few others. Sure, had some gravel powerhouses shown up, I probably wouldn't have won. But they weren't there. Why should that diminish my feeling about it? Why should I feel sheepish about winning if there wasn't another woman contesting it? It's complicated. And while I really don't do this for the wins, there's obviously some fun in being called a winner, too. I digress...

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
Chad rushed to get me hooked up with prizes for a photo before the light was gone, and then it was time for hugs, beers, and food. With my emotional moment out of the way out on the road, I was ready to have fun and celebrate an end to racing for awhile. As wonderful as it's all been, I'm really looking forward to hopping on my mountain bike for fun, spending some weekends at home, and not living out of my race bags quite so much. My living room could stand some decor beyond the post-race and pre-race packing explosions. My yard is kind of a wreck. My cats are clearly mad at me. My porch is beckoning to be leisured upon.

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
The farm means a lot to me (regardless of the fact that the hay being baled feeds cattle raised as beef I'll never eat). I love watching the barn swallows swooping across the field as the tractor stirs up the bugs, seeing the topography of the hayfield freshly mowed. The farm is family, and it's really special to me that it will serve as the hosting location for Gravel Worlds, bringing two "families" together for me. After we'd finished picking up the hay and were having lunch, Mom shared info on pickle making with me, as this will be an important part of GW2013 prep. 

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


gravy said...

Yup. Government Pocket was my best experience on a bike too. I wish that was my commute everyday to just make me happy... except for that one climb. Congrats!

Gravy, A.K.A. Mr. Wrong Turn Groundhog Day Guy

Marc Pfister said...

What's your handlebar bag? Squinting it looks like Jannd?

elisabeth said...

Indeed, Jandd. Little roll bag with a plastic insert to keep it round, attaches to bar with two straps.