Gravel Worlds 2014


Old school Sheclismo crew

After two months in Philadelphia, where my new bike friends heard more than a few grumblings about how hard it was to get away from the city, how Forbidden Drive might be a gravel surface but didn’t evoke the same feelings that I’d have on a gravel ride on the Great Plains, and more than a little agonizing about whether, after weeks of chill mountain bike sessions in the Wiss and road rides through beautiful suburbs with twisty climbs and descents, I’d be ready to slog through 153 miles of gravel and dirt roads back home. On a converted-back-at-the-last-minute singlespeed.


Kit grid. I went full-Sheclismo

The night before, I’d had somehow the quietest pre-race night ever. Last-minute, I had no houseguests. I went home after check-in, made a simple dinner, had a nice chat with Willem, who was camping on Lake Champlain (yeah, more than a little envious I wasn’t there), and crawled into bed with Tim Krabbé’s The Rider. I think I actually got some decent sleep, a rarity before these kind of events.

Matt Fuller and Dustin Roth fetched Matt Wills and I shortly after 4 AM Saturday. After weeks of worrying about the forecast — and after a nice downpour on Friday that dampened my enthusiasm considerably — the weather for the day suddenly looked great. Minimal wind, not too hot, and by Schmidty’s report, the roads were good.

The starting atmosphere was great, as usual. Lots of people milling about by the barn, playing with kittens, and anticipating the 6:15 cowbell. Instead of carrying my camera with me this year, I gave it to my mom to capture the start, and whatever else she wanted to. Thanks, Mom!

Selfie with Susan. Amazing lady.

Selfie with Susan. Amazing lady.

A big group of women — from Sheclismo’s Gravel Girls to a few women from out of town to superstar, multi-time Race Across America winner and transcontinental women’s record holder Susan Notorangelo (!!!!) — all lined up in the drive, letting the pack of fast fellas stake out their claim in the road.

My dad rings a giant, real Swiss cowbell to start the race. This bell is so big, he wears it on a belt and, well, thrusts it. Thank your lucky stars, everyone else, that it’s not your dad — it’s hilariously awkward for me.

My Week #278 (August 11 – 17) from nocoastfilms on Vimeo, featuring Gravel Worlds prep and the roll-out at 6:15 AM.

Rolled out, hit gravel, and Matt and I were off, weaving our way up past packs of folks. Before I knew it, we were at the Denton Wall, and thanks to a summer in Philly, I attacked and climbed that sucker like it was nothing. That was a good feeling, a little victory early on.

It was really foggy, so I wasn’t wearing glasses. After having fumbled to get them securely stowed on my helmet, once we turned onto W Denton Road, which was under construction and bumpier than a buggy ride, they went bouncing right off. Damn. Had to turn around and hope no one ran over them, then climb back on and sprint back up to Matt. And this happened twice. Dumb ways to lose time.

First MMR bliss

First MMR bliss

We hit the first minimum maintenance road (aka MMR, B Road, lovely dirt/mud pit) about 15 miles in, and it was absolutely perfect. Not muddy at all. Matt about cried, so relieved we wouldn’t be hiking through the cornfields. It was just perfect. After a few stretches of dirt, we headed north on a road with fresh white rock on top of pretty soft dirt. We were bridging up to people going slowly along this section, and I made note of the fact that as we caught Skip Cronin, we also passed Kate Wilson, a singlespeed lady and friend of Anatoly’s who I’d been told would be quite speedy. I put the hurt on for the next few miles, towing Matt along with me and trying to see what sort of gap I might put on her.

Rolling through Ruby in the fog (Lisa Janssen)

Rolling through Ruby in the fog (Lisa Janssen)

Berly and Christina, beautiful gals! (Lisa Janssen)

Berly and Christina, beautiful gals! (Lisa Janssen)

By the Milford checkpoint, Kate wasn’t far behind, thanks in part to us having to stop for a train at Ruby. Her fella was there with bottles and she made quick work of the stop, heading out a couple minutes ahead of me while I ate a rice cake. I told myself we were very early on and I had plenty of time to catch her again…

Susan and Barb. These two. I love this photo. (Lisa Janssen)

Susan and Barb. These two. I love this photo. (Lisa Janssen)

The stops were so well timed this year that it seemed like nothing between Milford and the Sheclismo Checkpoint and Pickle Oasis in Garland. Awesome Sheclismo teammates and supporters checked us in and fed us pickles, and friends gave me a gap time to Kate of less than 5 minutes. On we went. The clouds were parting and the sun was starting to peek through, and we took a quick stop on the side of the road before the bigger climbs started. I watched the time on my computer…no more than 3 minutes, I told Matt. This was not our usual casual program.

Me n' my endurance adventure bestie (Lisa Janssen)

Me n’ my endurance adventure bestie (Lisa Janssen)

Corny (hehe) photo on McKelvie road (Lisa Janssen)

Corny (hehe) photo on McKelvie road (Lisa Janssen)

Kat and Conrad (Lisa Janssen)

Kat and Conrad (Lisa Janssen)

This next stretch of the course was the toughest, with steep rollers that were more like needles. We kept yo-yoing with a ray of sunshine named Desiree, who’d cheer me on with “go singlespeed gal, go!” up every pitch. It helped. Then we were in Malcolm, where there’s always a raucous crowd. I took advantage of the real bathroom, refilled water, chatted with my good buddy and academic brethren Aaron Musson, who’d come down to cheer me on. “The gal in first left with her quesadilla in her mouth,” they told me. “What are you doing standing and eating?” We pushed on to the next checkpoint, a water stop with pirate toys (obviously, I took the one wielding an axe), and an incredulous Dustin and Fuller — “you guys are here already? You’re killing it!” I’d noticed by now that Kate’s fella Pete was at every stop along the way, and that he’d drive off right after I left. She must not have been too far ahead, but she was also getting gap time reports from him.

So on we went, out of town for some more Bohemian Alps. Heading south, there were a few sections of pretty loose, deep gravel, and on one descent, I went careening off toward the ditch. It wasn’t awesome. It was getting a little warmer, and at this point, it was getting exciting to think about hitting the oasis at Schmidty’s aunt and uncle’s place, mostly because that would mark 100 miles, successfully hitting my 17th Hundy of the Month Club. We rode with Desiree and Scott Kiddoo for awhile, but on flatter terrain with a bit of tailwind, they had a pace I couldn’t hold. When we pulled in there, Pete told me that Kate had just left a few minutes earlier, and that she was in hot pursuit of the two lead women in the open race, Andrea Cohen (YES GIRL!) and Karen Borgstedt, who were riding together. “Make your stop quick, then catch Kate and you two can catch them!” Pete said. I kept my stop to under 10 minutes before moving on. It would be a big gap to bridge, especially with Kate knowing how close she was to the lead women.

The next stretch between the 100-mile oasis and the winery was a slog, for no good reason. It was a little uphill. It was a little hot. It was a little 2/3rds done fatigue. Whatever it was, I was definitely not bridging. Maintaining, sure, but not bridging. We took another quick ditch stop on an MMR to eat and for me to kind of soak in the atmosphere. I had missed this vastness in Philly.

More MMR goodness

More MMR goodness

On we went to the winery, where a long and silly winding road took us to the checkpoint. My head was pounding. Allergies? Dehydration? Heat? Barry from the Dirty Dog Race Pack offered me various pills, but I didn’t want anything, really. Then there was Eric Anderson, Tim’s dad, who was tracking Tim’s friend Stephanie, from Lancaster, PA. Also known as singlespeed lady #3. And she wasn’t far behind. Crap.

We left the oasis, and at the end of the drive, on her way in, was Stephanie, with a couple guys — one of them unmistakably Dave Randleman, who I could hear whooping at her that she was going to catch me. Great. Matt and I pushed on a bit south and then to Stagecoach Road, where we turned west and put.down.the.hammer. Matt and I typically ride side-by-side, only occasionally do we paceline. Well, we did along Stagecoach, taking turns putting down a good 18-19mph average. We got to Hickman quickly, picking up another rider who hitched onto us along the way.

In Hickman, we made super quick work of the stop. I wanted to get out of there before Stephanie showed up. In, out, onward. I did really need to pee, though, and so at the turn from Stagecoach onto SW 2nd, we pulled over to pee and snack. So close to the finish, and on such familiar territory.

Matt was starting to hurt, though, and when we pushed on from our break, he was struggling to stay on my wheel. Early in the day, he told me to go on without him if I needed to. This would not be something I’d do lightly. If it came down to it, I told him, I might break away with 10 to go. Between miles 135-140, I’d slow up to let him latch on, then lose him on climbs. We pulled in for a last water refill at Lane Bergen’s oasis with 11 or so to the finish. I didn’t really need it, but I felt like I should stop, and the water tasted good. Onward. Shortly after this, I lost Matt. I looked back a couple times to see him further back, but I felt really good and kept pushing. Don’t look back. Keep pushing. So close to home. So close to home.

Then, with about 5 to go, right before crossing W. Denton Road, I sensed someone on my wheel. Looked back. Here was Stephanie. Damn. After crossing the highway, we rode side by side. I made some small talk, trying to assess everything going on. With how my pace had been, I figured she must be in a higher gear. I asked. Sure enough. My 42×18 was one cog more than her 42×17. And the course from here to the finish was pretty mellow, not enough hills to make an attack that would be likely to stick through the mile of pavement to the finish. My goodness, this was going to come down to a sprint finish, wasn’t it?

So we rode side by side, keeping the pace right at the point where I’d be spun out. We crossed the highway, onto the pavement, a road I’ve driven thousands of times in my life. Down, up, curve, long down, slight rise. Spun out. Spun out. Past the pasture gate. Sprint sprint sprint. Spun out to the point my legs felt like silly putty, all the energy I was putting in them worthlessly limited by a too-easy-for-this gear. A couple yards to the line, she had me. What a race.

Stephanie and I hug it out. Her lady Hadassa was damn proud!

Stephanie and I hug it out. Her lady Hadassa was damn proud!

Right after the sprint. Thanks, Mom!

Right after the sprint. Thanks, Mom!

Big hugs with Desiree, who took the win in Masters.

Big hugs with Desiree, who took the win in Masters.

Last year, I fought personal demons in the heat. With temperatures regularly over 100, and with strong winds, it was an exercise in extreme stubbornness to make it to the finish. This year, I was there FOUR HOURS sooner. My goal of a daylight finish was met and surpassed, as I rolled in at 5:34 PM, hours before sunset. Sure, I may not have won my category, and I may have lost that sprint, but good grief, did I improve. Moreover, I now know that I can actually race at this level and distance. I came in 6th overall for women, and only about 40 minutes after the leaders. And on that note — there were a whole lot of women representing out there on Saturday, which is something I’m darn proud of having a hand in making happen. Even overall winner and “King of the Kanza” Dan Hughes noticed.

Janine rocked out for second in Masters.

Janine rocked out for second in Masters.

Ever-amazing Ann Ringlein and first time racer Meleia

Ever-amazing Ann Ringlein and first time racer Meleia

Ann's a cross-country coach. Her runners made signs. How awesome.

Ann’s a cross-country coach. Her runners made signs. How awesome.

Kristin Kleve gets greeted by her whole family

Kristin Kleve gets greeted by her whole family

You can basically hear Gina laugh in this photo. (Lisa Janssen)

You can basically hear Gina’s laugh in this photo. (Lisa Janssen)

Susan learned how to boot a tire to get her to the finish. Awesome perseverance. (Lisa Janssen)

Susan learned how to boot a tire to get her to the finish. Awesome perseverance. (Lisa Janssen)

Joy with a smile, setting her second distance record of the year (Lisa Janssen)

Joy with a smile, setting her second distance record of the year (Lisa Janssen)

It was fun to be done early enough to watch awesome teammates and friends come in for their finishes. Unlike the finish last year, with people just zombie’d out from the heat and wind and awfulness, people were excited, smiling, happy to be done, but dare I say chipper! And I was so dang proud of all my friends who made it there for the first time. All those who helped each other out to get there, who kept each other from quitting, and who can say they did it.

Amazing group finish -- Lincoln Hustle represent! (Lisa Janssen)

Amazing group finish — Lincoln Hustle represent! (Lisa Janssen)

As Aaron Chambers wrote so beautifully:

All day, I kept the hope of finishing in the forefront of my thoughts: the feeling of lying down in the grass and drinking a most satisfying beer, of high-fiving other finishers, and of having ridden 70 more gravel miles than I’d ever done at once. I have not been disappointed. It feels as if I have my own personal BCE/CE crossover. There was a before Gravel Worlds, and now there is an after. There were guesses, and now there is certainty. There was a question mark, and now there is an answer.

Gravel Worlds is a very special event. For two years, it’s been all the more special for me, with a start/finish at my family farm. I can’t thank my parents enough for thinking this is a fun thing to host. Nebraska, I’m going to miss the hell out of you, but you’ll always be home.

Check out a beautiful set of photos and a write-up from a photographer from San Francisco who came out to experience the race, capturing so well what makes it special. 

Gravel Worlds 2011

Sheesh, for a professional photographer, I sure didn’t take many photos yesterday. This is definitely attributable to the task at hand, the completion of the Gravel World Championships. If you haven’t heard of this, read up. Completing the Pirate Cycling League‘s Gravel Worlds has been one of my biggest goals of the year. And even though I was in the last group of riders to finish, I wasn’t one of the 1/3 of the starters that didn’t make it the whole way. Read on for my attempts at a recap!

Early morning, Fletcher full of blinkies heading East.

Headlights and sun on the horizon. Must’ve been a trip to come upon this sea of 116 cyclists at 6 on a Saturday morning!

After a hot streak that dried out the roads around town to beautiful riding shape, early August in southeastern Nebraska took an unseasonably cool turn. Add a little heat back in, and we had massive thunderstorms the two days before the race. What’s that mean? Wet gravel. With added humidity in the air at start time, the roads were power-sucking and soft. Though not technically hard to ride, they sapped more energy than I’m used to expending to keep the pace I wanted to keep. Silver lining? White rock sections early in the day were much more forgiving, as the soft ground gave way for the rocks.

First hike of the day. Oh, County Road B. We became quite familiar, eh?

While the soft gravel may have been ok, the Minimum Maintenance Roads (MMRs) were not. Though we had ridden on a couple dirt sections that had one rideable line before this one, Road B wasn’t rideable in the slightest if you were interested in going more than a couple hundred feet. Gravel endurance superstar Janna Vavra (first ever female finisher of TransIowa) offered me this advice Friday night: “If you see people walking up ahead, get off and start walking. If your tires are starting to pick up mud, start walking.”
Portage! That’s not a very happy face, is it?

And so shoulder my bike I did, dumping off any bits of weight-adding mud I could first. This went on for about 2 miles, with a couple places where pushing the bike in the grass on the side of the road was possible. After riding mostly solo, though, my long legs gave me a chance to catch up with some other riders!

Trying to find bits of grass worth pushing the bike along.

In this area north of Lincoln, the mud is of a pseudo-clay composition. Every bit on your bike made it that much heavier. People who didn’t stop soon enough were pulling huge chunks off their bikes.

As we came to the end of this MMR, PCL Pirate Schmidty was directing people to the grassy side of the road to thoroughly scrape off their bikes. As people hit the gravel, he said, he’d witnessed 3 people fall victim to seized, bent or snapped derailleurs at the bottom of the hill.

Kevin Wilkins having to call it a day, snapped derailleur in hand at Valparaiso.

One of the victims was Kevin Wilkins, who was very disappointed to fall from the front of the group to having to call for a ride home. Several people went for makeshift single-speed conversions at this point (and at a point between Valparaiso and Malcolm). Thanks to Janna’s advice, a lot of walking, and a very vigilant eye on the cleanliness of my derailleur pulleys, chain, and brakes, however, I stayed geared the whole way!

From the first checkpoint in Valparaiso (38 miles in), I rode solo to the second checkpoint in Malcolm (67 miles). I passed a few more single-speed conversions in progress, walking or riding in the grass in the ditch — which, while good cyclocross practice, was extraordinarily sapping. ‘Cross races are only 45 minutes, and this was an all-day kind of thing!

One great memory from this stretch that I wish I would have stopped to record was a windmill that was making the exact squeaking sound from the opening sequence of Once Upon A Time in the West, one of my favorite films.

I rolled in to Malcolm to a big crowd gathered outside the General Store, leaned up against the wall in the shade and gorging on all sorts of vittles, beers, and sodas. The sun was out, it was starting to get warm, and we were almost halfway through. With my parents’ oasis just 10 miles away (and at the formal halfway point), I downed some chips and a Sioux City Sarsaparilla and made my way to the farm with Clint, Russell, and my vet, Mark Falloon.

Mark pulling me South to the Farm on W 98th.

Mark and I had ridden together earlier in the day (he picked great mountain bike lines I could follow on the first dirt roads), but then his pace was faster than I wanted to keep. I was glad to reunite with him for the 10 mile stretch to the oasis. He just rode Leadville last weekend, and I think the altitude was still in his lungs! In addition to being my vet, Mark was also a student of my dad’s back in the day, so my parents were all excited to see him when we got to the farm.

My folks knocked it out of the park. Two varieties of homemade pickles, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and pears from the garden, cucumber water, sodas, beers, and a sprayer hose to clean off dirty bikes. Can’t believe Clint was the first to take advantage of that one! Hung out in the shade for a bit and then headed on with Conrad, Carl, and Matt Wills.

Conrad, Carl, and Matt, heading west for the Denton Wall.

The sun was definitely out at this point, and I knew there were some tough climbs ahead. Nothing like we’d had earlier in the day along Ashland road (in what’s dubbed the Bohemian Alps, for all the Czech settlers in the area), but one in particular was the steepest climb of the day at 12% grade. Nicknamed the Denton Wall, the thing comes up out of a flat and really does look like a wall. Ouch. Carl and Matt were riding together all day, and while I was near them in the hills, once we got past that, they kept trucking. I was also having some gastro-intestinal issues at that point (not eating normal food for hours while putting your body through this much work is pretty tough on the GI tract), so I was looking for good trees rather than paying attention to the road. This slowed me down considerably, but I knew there was a secret checkpoint oasis in the future…

Clint at the Krull House.

My parents are friends with a fellow named Matt Steinhausen (appropriately, Stone House, auf Deutsch) who owns and is restoring one of the oldest houses in Lancaster County. Named the Krull House after its original resident, Frederick Krull, this beautiful limestone home sits tucked away in the trees off SW 2nd near Roca Road. Skip from War Axe Bicycles was there with scratch-off cards — I won a pair of War Axe socks! — beers, and generally good conversation with friends. Several folks who had ridden earlier were hanging out, and more decided that 102 miles was enough and were chilling before getting picked up.

Thank goodness for this!

Yes, that’s an honest-to-goodness outhouse, and boy did I need it! It’s true, the seats are really smooth from all the people sitting on them over the years. 🙂

Playful black cat on the side of the road underneath the Jamaica Trail, taken for c-rad.

Onward to Hickman (“Official” checkpoint #3, Mile 115.4), where I was hoping for some more substantial food, having eaten mostly Clif shotblocks, chips, nuts, and some pickles. The roads leading to Hickman weren’t too challenging, but the distance was beginning to set in. That, and the back of my left knee was starting to feel really sore. More frustrating for locals, we knew leaving Krull House that we were being sent in the opposite direction of town for a good chunk of miles before turning back toward Hickman. Arrrrgh!

Oak rocking the Long Haul Trucker with a triple crank. Way to spin!

Oak, Scott, and Wes — who rode his Surly Big Dummy cargo bike the whole way, dude is a machine — caught me a few miles outside of Hickman and we rolled in to the gas station together. All the pizzas looked meaty, and as it was getting late, I didn’t want to wait around for one without, so I grabbed a couple chunks of cheddar cheese and some peanuts and hoped for the best. Lots of folks were making the decision to get a ride or ride on, and with the sun going down behind a big and ominous cloud to the south, it wasn’t a good time to chill out.

Also awesome in Hickman was the fact that Kit and Amy had come out and Kit had his bike stand set up doing neutral support for riders, cleaning chains and checking derailleurs. So nice! Amy gave me a big hug, surprised to see me there, and I headed off to the road to move on, thinking I might try to hang with the Wes/Scott/Oak crew. Kim Carveth and Scott Ideen were about to leave too, though, and as I was pulling out, Kim (whom I had been playing leapfrog with all day) asked if I wanted to finish together. I gave her one of the most definitive “Yes” answers I’ve ever given. Since we’d seen each other all day, it seemed like a really good decision, plus I liked the symbolism of finishing together. Hardcore cycling women rule!

She, Scott, and I pushed eastward into a bit of a headwind, and I quickly realized that I needed to hang on the back to keep up with their pace. Not a problem; we were in this together. When we turned on to a beautiful narrow gravel road — 19oth/County Line Road — I remembered riding this last year, when I was first starting to ride with the PCL crew. And I remembered it turned to dirt. Hoping that maybe there was a chance that they didn’t get as much rain south of town as north, or that the sunny part of the day had dried things out a bit, I didn’t say anything about the oncoming change.

Kim patches a flat on the side of the County Line Road/S. 190th MMR

And it was still totally muddy. At least this time, there was ample grass on the sides, so we didn’t really have to shoulder our bikes, but at times, the sides were banked pretty steeply, meaning that feet were on one level and the bike was on another. My shoes were about 3 times as heavy as usual, with mud all filled in to the gaps in my sandals. Pretty gnarly. The hills on this road were pretty steep, too, and it wasn’t possible to see where it ended. Kim picked up a flat, likely from the thorn of one of the locust trees on the side of the road. Meanwhile, Scott, who was riding a vintage Panasonic road bike, was having to make multiple stops to clear the mud from his brakes. The sun was going down fast, and we just kept hiking. From our cue sheets, this could be up to 4 miles long. Not fun at 2 mph.

As Kim changed tires, I took a moment to remember the beauty, a little flower stuck to my caked tire.

No photos from here to the finish. After the MMR oh-so-graciously gave way to white rock (never thought I’d be welcoming white rock), we stopped to clean everything off and get ready to ride again. Lo and behold, here come Lucas Orth and Brandon Wachal, who I hadn’t seen since Brandon had fallen victim to unexpected single-speed conversion way back before Valpo. They stopped to clean their bikes, and we headed on into the dusk.

As we turned on our lights, I thanked the Bike Gods I’d decided to team up with folks. My rear light had stopped working, making riding gravel and MMRs — or any roads on a Saturday night, for that matter — completely unsafe. My front light worked, though, so we decided I’d ride in the front and lead the way, using my mountain bike instinct to find the best line, with Kim and Scott following. Thankfully, we only had a couple short stretches of MMR left, but flying down gravel rollers in the dark is pretty intimidating, too.

At that point, I was so bound to finish that I was riding downhill as fast as I could handle, letting the other two catch me on the climbs. We had one more oasis before the finish, and I convinced the other two that if they were still open, we should stop, at least to let Corey and Troy know that we were on our way to the finish. We stopped, slammed a little food (cold cheese pizza and a beer!), and talked with Schmidty about who we knew was still on course. Since we’d seen Brandon and Lucas recently and they were riding strong, we knew they’d be contenders to finish. Sure enough, a couple minutes later, they rolled up. Kim asked if they wanted to join us to the finish, and the 5 of us rolled out together, 10 miles to go.

Here was another local advantage: the street names were familiar at this point! We’d been just north of Van Dorn, now came A (where a car passed us and stopped, weirdly and at risk of dooring us, and I actually offered her help), then O, then Holdrege, then Adams, and then Havelock. Last turn! We knew we had a little more dirt, but it was all pretty packed down, so as long as you kept the line, it was really nice riding.

I was giddy, hooting and hollering about seeing the lights of Lincoln. Since the start/finish was really on the edge of town, it was dark and gravel until the last 50 yards or so. We saw headlights, and there were Corey and Troy, and my amazing housemates Diane and Liz (who rode 77 miles of the course and another 15 to get home!) waiting to pick me up. So awesome! Big hugs and high fives to the sweaty bikers, and jerseys to Kim, winner of the Masters’ (50+ years old) Women Division and Scott, the winner of the Lanterne Rouge, a jersey awarded to the last place finisher of a race.

Huge, huge thanks to all of the PCL crew who helped put on the race. The oases were great, the secret checkpoint was awesome, and there were often folks along the way to monitor the progress of all the riders. Even bigger thanks to Schmidty and his uncle for hanging out late enough for us to come through, and for Corey and Troy being there at the finish. With huge time gaps, it couldn’t have been fun to be waiting at the finish, but it made a big, big, deal for those of us who really cared about finishing.

Rarely do race organizers put out so much support and goodwill for the not-so-elite racers at an event. And really, that’s what makes something like Gravel Worlds so special. Elite riders always have support and advantages, but this race isn’t really about that. It’s about pushing your body to the limit and having a crazy adventure on a bunch of minimally traveled roads, seeing the world from a different perspective, taking the impassable route and slogging through it because the cue sheet told you to, chatting with curious locals in the small town convenience stores where you buy your checkpoint Powerball tickets, waving to equally curious farmers along the route, and riding bikes with friends new and old who’ve come from across the country to explore with you.

Getting out

Boy, do I love the winter thaw!

After my disappointing end to ‘cross season and a longer-than-expected recovery period, I had a lot of trouble getting myself back in gear to put in base miles outside. The fact that we’d had plenty of snow and ice (generally things I really enjoy…well, at least the snow…) kept me gun shy about another crash, and the longer I was gone from group rides, the more I knew I’d fall behind frustrated after wasting a bunch of energy trying to keep up at the start.

No more. Today, Kat, Ryan and I opted for a later start time and a goal of 50-60 gravel miles at a pace we could all maintain for the duration. We rolled out a little before 11 and headed into a SW wind, Cortland in mind for a first stop.

We found gravel roads in beautiful condition, with options for packed smooth middles, a little pea gravel in between tracks, or churningly difficult wet shoulders. Kat needed that slowing power later in the ride when her front brake cable snapped, leaving her relegated to stopping with a pretty worn out back brake. Scary!

Ryan, riding singlespeed, kept a nice crisp pace for us whenever we started slacking. After worrying his gearing would be too low, he ended the ride thinking this will be his Gravel Worlds gear for this year. (Sorry nerds, I don’t know the gear ratio and he’s not here right now.)

With temperatures fluctuating from the low 40s to the mid 50s, plus a wind cold enough to make wind chill a factor, clothing decisions were a little challenging. I stayed pretty comfy with a silkweight capilene baselayer, wool jersey, wind vest (detachable sleeves came off pretty fast), neck gaiter, wool cap, glove liners and shell gloves, and cozy Craft running tights over my bibs. Wool socks in my winter shoes were toasty!

After exploring uncharted (to us) gravel east of Cortland en route to Hickman, we ended up back at home with 59.59 miles. Nice way to kick off the outdoor training year, and it felt great to do something more on roads where you didn’t have to worry about just staying upright on 1-3 inches of pure ice. Bring on the Spring!

In other news, I was able to make this likeness of Hunter S. Thompson during a work professional development activity in which a team of us were given 16 items of which we could choose 6 to keep after surviving a plane crash in the Australian desert. We chose none of these, though we spent a good deal of time considering the Jameson. With 6 of us, though, it wouldn’t have gone very far.

Gravel Worlds Video Recon

The Good Life Gravel Adventure/Gravel Worlds is only a few weeks away. Sunday, I went out with some of the crew to shoot video promoting the event.

Sometimes, you find lounging furniture. Is this a dump or a hangout spot?

Or just stadium seating for wheelie contests?

Gravel grinders are all about where the pavement ends.

The weather was perfect, and shadows were a perfect length, too.

Curvy little bits of gravel close to town, shade and sun.

The PCL looks nice and intimidating in this silhouette.

At the top of the Denton Wall. 11% grade on this climb.

Fob climbs the wall. I swear there’s no way to capture how steep this is in a photo. Get out and ride it yourself!