“You have 40 more miles of suffering,” he said, “or you have 365 days of regret.”

It was the summer of 2011, and I was diving head-first into long distance gravel riding and racing. I’d done a century ride or two, and ventured out with a really great group of people for the Ponca Ride, an annual 155-mile trek straight north from Lincoln to Ponca State Park. It’s the kind of ride you could point out on a globe — just a big long line up to the South Dakota border.

We gathered at D Street at 3:30 AM in a wild thunderstorm. Our 4 AM departure wasn’t going to be so feasible. Several people popped open beers to kill the time while watching the radar, getting an early start on celebrating the Wizard Staffs Across the World day. Finally, around 4:30 or even 5 AM, the worst of the storms had passed, leaving just the steady rain of a June thunderstorm in Nebraska. We rolled through downtown Lincoln. We headed north on the highway, the gravel roads too soaked from the rain to be rideable. We stopped at the gas station in Valpo, shivering and soaked, shaking while holding cups of coffee and cocoa. Fifty miles in, we stopped for breakfast at the Corner Cafe in North Bend, eating two breakfasts each.

The mood after the Corner Cafe was electric. Our group of 17 or so rolled out of town, further north, onto dry gravel. The rollers were relentless, but spirits were high. I was feeling great. I was doing an amazing long group ride with so many great people. I’d been warned that the last 50 miles of the ride were harder than the first hundred, but I was feeling great. The miles ticked away.

But around mile 100, things started to fall apart a bit. The closer we got to Pender, 110 miles in, the worse it got. I couldn’t take a deep breath no matter how hard I tried. It just hurt, my lungs just searing as I took tiny little breaths. I wasn’t even going 10 mph. I crawled into Pender, and curled up on the bench outside the Subway. Everyone else was eating sandwiches and ice cream, but I could barely open my eyes. My friend Ashlee had offered to pick me up if I needed to bail. I couldn’t imagine getting back on the bike.

And then CVO came up to me with a sandwich. He sat down. And he told me something that’s stuck with me in every single bike race or ride I’ve done ever since.

“You have 40 more miles of suffering,” he said, “or you have 365 days of regret.”

He and Wills would roll slow, he promised. “I won’t lie, it’s a hard 40 miles that’s left. But you’ll make it.” I ate some food. I started feeling better. And I got back on the bike. And CVO, and Wills, and Fob, and Rhino Albeez and Malcolm T, and Scott Bigelow, they all helped me get there.

There were many times where CVO did little things to make me feel like I belonged in Lincoln’s bike world. Times where he quietly lent a hand, helping Sheclismo in so many ways over the years. Helping Star City CX get off the ground.

But it’s this memory that sticks with me the strongest right now. Of sitting on his wheel, struggling to make it up each successive hill, watching his wizard staff with belt attachment bounce along the road.

Cheers, Christopher Van Ooyen. The constellation of people that make Lincoln good lost a bright force today.

 

Mood board for a new project

Someone wise (and I should know who) wrote that Nebraska was 90% sky, 10% earth. And no matter how long I’m away, the landscape is seared in my deepest, earliest memories.

I love the way one bright, warm, earthy or floral or vibrant color pops from the blues of a seemingly endless sky.

today's inspiration image for { color garden } is by @tangledgarden … thank you, Margaret, for another inspiring #SeedsColor image share!

A photo posted by Jessica Colaluca, Design Seeds (@designseeds) on

 

 

 

today's inspiration image for { color view } is by @colourspeak_kerry_ … thank you, Kerry, for another fantastic #SeedsColor image share!

A photo posted by Jessica Colaluca, Design Seeds (@designseeds) on

today's inspiration image for { flora palette } is by @natashakolenko … thank you, Natasha, for another gorgeous #SeedsColor image share!

A photo posted by Jessica Colaluca, Design Seeds (@designseeds) on

today's inspiration image for { color go } is by @_jessum_ … thank you, Jess, for sharing your wonderful photo in #SeedsColor !

A photo posted by Jessica Colaluca, Design Seeds (@designseeds) on

today's inspiration image for { color nature } is by @saffronandsuitcases … thank you, Ruth, for sharing your wonderful photo in #SeedsColor !

A photo posted by Jessica Colaluca, Design Seeds (@designseeds) on

My mother is a highly skilled expert master gardener, and her love of wildflowers and native plants is something I identify most strongly with my feelings of her.

midwestwildflowermix

prairiewildflowersNebraska

And every Keith Jacobshagen painting makes me exhale involuntarily, a deep breath at the smallness of us in the bigness of the sky.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 12.41.00 PM

(Via: https://www.google.com/search?q=keith+jacobshagen&sa=X&espv=2&biw=1756&bih=1211&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ved=0ahUKEwjQ9uXdi-zOAhXIwBQKHYk4BmUQsAQIJA)

Here’s my grandmother:

#tbt My Oma.

A photo posted by elisabeth (@egrindcore) on

And this is her Bicycle Brigade (she’s the one on the far right)

My grandmother's bicycle brigade #familyhistory #womenscycling

A photo posted by elisabeth (@egrindcore) on

And this is her on bike tour in 1940 on her Featherweight named Rheta.

I can’t wait to see what Julie at Pedalino Bicycles comes up with. Check back for more inspiration as this project progresses!

Portfolio Selections

Video Production

My most recent feature, Miles to Go: Women Activists Reflect on the Road Traveled, premieres on September 30th, 2014. Please contact me to request a screener copy.
In 2010, I co-produced, directed, and edited When We Stop CountingThe film, which follows six Latino high school students in Crete, Nebraska, merges student stories with voices of administrators, parents, and scholars to explore community response to demographic change.

When I worked for the Nebraska Department of Education, I had the opportunity to produce a few documentary shorts promoting the work of the agency and best practices in schools across the state. (The majority of my work for the Department was more along the lines of technical assistance webcasts, broadcasts of State Board of Education meetings, and video-based trainings.)
Nebraska Teachers of the Year:
Robotics Championship:
Data Integration at Dawes Middle School:

Writing

As the staff correspondent and communications specialist for the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, I wrote feature articles for their quarterly journal. I also started and managed a Twitter account (@NCSAToday) and wrote semi-weekly blog posts digesting federal education policy for school administrators.

Links to select issues of NCSA Today:

Summer 2014 in press:

Profile of Commissioner Matt Blomstedt

Winter 2014, featuring interviews with Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams on School Accountability and a Legislative Preview

Spring 2013, featuring the introduction of Teacher/Principal Content Testing

Winter 2013, featuring a profile of Chair of the Education Committee, Sen. Kate Sullivan, and Sen. Jeremy Nordquist on changes to the State Retirement System

In 2012, I was asked by then-Commissioner of Education Roger Breed to author a white paper envisioning a Nebraska’s future schools. The document has served as guidance in statewide education visioning.

Sustaining Nebraska’s Community-Based Schooling Through Technology

Stepping Up, Getting Disappointed, and Reassessing the Situation

I am in the process of moving from Lincoln to Philadelphia. Two days after arriving, I lined up for my first East Coast cyclocross race.

On Wednesday, I packed up my dear friend Corey’s Honda Element with a cornucopia of important things, snagged my bestie and fellow Sheclisma Berly, and hit the road for two days of cross-country travel to Philadelphia. After spending a good chunk of the summer in Philly, I decided to make the move for real, and after completing the editing of a feature length documentary on Tuesday, it was time to make the move. One last night of Star City CX cross practice on Wednesday evening — where my awesome 9-year-old buddy Adrienne wished me well in PA and told me to “go show those ladies who’s boss,” and we hit the road early Thursday morning.

Last night of CX practice at Piedmont Park in Lincoln. Feeling good chasing the fast dudes.

We arrived and unpacked everything Friday afternoon, then celebrated Willem’s birthday Saturday.

Hanging the birthday flags for Willem, an important family tradition, was the main reason I needed to get to Philly by Saturday.
Oh and also to make this cake. Chocolate espresso with toasted coconut and maple-sweetened whipped cream.

We headed to Granogue on Sunday morning. This is a race with a storied past. It takes place on a private estate owned by the DuPont family in northern Delaware. It’s been a UCI race. It was gone for a couple years. This year, it was back, and after pre-riding the course with some local friends, it was back in a reportedly far more challenging design.

Number style.
View up the hill to the watchtower.

The technical features of the course were amazing. Off-camber stretches, some turns I could really rail, a little run-up, and fun sections through the woods. But then there was the climbing. A couple long, punchy climbs, however, had me immediately certain I had a very overgeared singlespeed. Thank goodness I’d at least switched to the 42×19 from the 42×18 I’d been training on…

Decidedly overgeared

We watched the 3/4 women race, and I definitely had a bit of regretsies registering for the elite race instead. It was awesome, though, to watch my friends crush it. After they were done, I changed up my tire pressure and took another couple laps of the course. I’m still running clinchers, and there were a few rocky sections of the course that had me nervous about running low tire pressure, but the grip was so good everywhere else that I felt like I should risk it.

After another race was through, my amazing sweet friend Rachel and I kitted up and did a little spin around. Rachel and I got to know each other this summer, and she is just a wonderful human. Both of us are new to racing this level, so we tried to relax each other on the ride’n’chat. Try not to get stressed, just have fun.

We lined up and the whistle blew so fast I was barely prepared and did not have a fast start. With one steep climb right away, though, I knew I’d fall back, even with the surge of adrenaline in my legs. It was just too steep for my gearing. I made it all the way up — what I would give to know what sort of wattage I was putting out to make it up that beast — and had lost contact with the group by a couple seconds. But I was not going to be satisfied with that. Coming through a few turns more cleanly, I made my way back into the mix and rode really cleanly through the off-camber downhill, only to be caught while spinning out on the long, slow downhill straightaway. I stayed right on her wheel, though, and passed a couple women on the run-up and through the pavement section, where I really put on the gas. The barriers — which we skipped on the first lap — were on an uphill, and coming back onto the bike went right into the top half of that punchy climb at the start. I was so deep in the red that I just couldn’t stay on top of the gear and had to dismount. Emily came around me at this point and gave a nice word of encouragement in my misery, and I hopped back on and chased her.

I knew where to push, with my technical skills being allowed to shine in certain sections, and with good cheering sections scattered around the course, I was feeling pretty good about hanging in there and racing hard, not caring that I was nowhere near the front of the field. I wasn’t in last, and even if I had been, I was racing as hard as I could and I belonged in this race.

Then, after coming through a muddy set of turns, I hit the rocky dip into the run-up at full gas. PFFFFTTTTT. I came to a quick stop as I heard my rim clanging against the rocks, just before getting to a run-up where I knew I could cut time into Emily’s lead on me. Damnit. DAMN. I WAS HAVING SO MUCH FUN.

I had nothing in the mechanical pit. My race was over. I walked, defeated, out of the woods to the run-up. Spectators looked on as I lifted my bike, resigned, and crossed the tape. “Pinch flat.” I went off to the side, where Willem found me. And I’m not going to lie, I tossed my bike down and cried a little. I didn’t want it to end so soon. I was so, so frustrated to be done racing, no matter how overgeared I was or how much 3 more laps would’ve hurt. No matter how far back I was, I did not want to quit. I don’t do that.

Best remedy for a pinch flat? Maybe.

I’ve been so lucky as to never have a mechanical take me out of a race before. I’ve watched it so many times with friends, and now I have a much greater degree of empathy for how frustrating it is. (Rob Livermore, looking at you, buddy.) The rest of the day, through watching the elite men and on the drive home, was spent with lots of thoughts and talk both about setting up tubeless and debating on going back to gears. I love racing singlespeed. But where would I have been with gears? Was this course an anomaly? Would swapping for a 39t up front do the trick? If I had a geared bike with discs, I could use Willem’s pit wheels…and and and and. The amount of factors and decisions and money I could spend…Sigh.

Corn Hecklers: Better than Cornhuskers.

This morning, I woke up remembering moments in the race that I was really proud of. Pushing so hard up that climb and reconnecting with the field like that. Sighting turns down the hill and seeing I was doing it better than others. Not giving up when I easily could. And really, being so deeply frustrated by a flat taking me out of the race when I was nowhere near in contention for even a top ten placing. I could’ve shrugged it off. But that I cared about staying in there means something to me.

This weekend, I’ll head down to Baltimore to race at Charm City, where a UCI field means I’ll drop into the B’s field for the women. I have a flat to fix, and some decisions to make about other changes in the stable. Stay tuned…

 

Gravel Worlds 2014

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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.

IMG_0014

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. 

Seeing beauty or boring

I had a long drive across Pennsylvania yesterday. It gave me a lot of time to think about this accusation I often hear when introducing myself as being from Nebraska. It goes something like this:

“Nebraska. I drove across that once. Thought it would never end. Wow, it was boring.”

Generally, my rejoinder has been something along the likes of the interstate cutting through the most boring part, the beauty of the Sandhills or canyons just to the north or south, the rolling hills of prairie, etc. etc.

But yesterday, as I drove across PA, I thought to myself, “Well, if you’ve seen one 5 mile stretch of trees and valleys and hills, you’ve seen em all! But guess what? You get 200 more miles of the same thing!”

It’s not that either one or the other of these landscapes is inherently beautiful or boring. They’re both, depending on your mindset and perspective and home environment, I’m guessing. I really missed being able to watch the sun set. Interstates are pretty damn boring, no matter where you are — with a few rare exceptions like in Colorado.

Bottom line, though, I do pity people who can’t see beauty in vastness. I present my evidence from my Kansas-Nebraska century last weekend. Take it or leave it.

Royal 162

There’s this thing with gravel events. You send in a postcard months in advance. It’s usually deep in the winter. You’re dreaming of summer. You’re eager to put training plans into place to meet this year’s goal. And then, life happens…as do long-winded race write-ups…

This year, rather than making a third year in a row of the very fine, wonderfully challenging Almanzo 100, I instead opted for its more ambitious companion, the Royal 162. (No, I didn’t go for the 380+ mile Alexander, as much as the fellas tried to get me to change my mind the night before…) It would serve as my May Hundy-of-the-Month Club ride — 14 months in a row — and with a course as beautiful as the Almanzo, I was up for taking on a few more hours of scenery and a little less dust and ditch-to-ditch bike traffic at the start.

And then there was the whole thing where I took 12 credit hours, finished and defended my Masters thesis, and fell in love with someone very far away. I trained some, but not as much as last winter. My winter/spring looked more like “ride hundy/do virtually nothing but sit in front of computer or book for three weeks/panic/ride a little/fly cross country/more work/ride hundy.” I knew I had miles in my legs and that after last summer, my body knew what to do, but I was a little out of practice. I graduated a week before the race. I spent the early part of the week in a real funk, contemplating cross-country moves and the vast unknown that is my professional future. My head was not in the game for a long, difficult day of riding.

I headed up Thursday with Corey, who was going to be taking on the nearly 400-mile Alexander. Chatting with Almanzo’s organizer Chris Skogen at their check-in, I was absolutely switched into “happy to be there” mode. Then having dinner with the Alexander crew that night, 162 miles suddenly seemed incredibly reasonable.

Gasland. I need to watch the whole thing. Impressed by the director’s dedication to his work.

Ostrander lunch

Riding with Kurt and Mike

Friday, I enjoyed a mellow start to the day after Corey’s early departure. Finally watched (most of) the documentary Gasland, which was on TV, and remembered why I love the medium of documentary. Met up with Mike and Kurt from Chicago, who took me on a lunch ride to a bar in Ostrander, where I ate a bunch of fried cheese curds. Noted the amazing lack of school-related stress. Napped. Joined the rest of the Lincoln crew at the check-in. Ate more pizza. Hugged far away buddies at the campground. Packed up the bike with lots of food and room for the clothes to be shed between the mid-30s at the start to the low 60s it was to be in the afternoon. Slept, restlessly.

Dustin and I met up with Matt and Butch at 6:30 to roll down to Main Street for the 7 AM start, and it was so chill and sparse in comparison to the Almanzo start. I liked it, but I also missed the overwhelming “I AM PART OF SOMETHING” feeling that being there with over 1,000 other riders gives. I’d venture about 60-70 riders started the Royal, and about 7 or 8 women, by my count. It was chilly but beautiful as Andrea Cohen and I rolled out of town. It’s always so good to see that lady!

Coffee and a cinnamon roll on Main St. before the start

Hamming it up with Andrea

Love the name of this road.

Gorgeous morning to be riding with friends.

It was much easier not to get caught up in the excitement with fewer riders and more distance to cover. Goodbye, lead pack; hello, chit chatting. I noticed lots of beautiful buildings I’d overlooked in past years. I settled into my pace, leapfrogging with several riders for the first 25 miles. By about mile 30, Dustin and I found ourselves at a very nicely matched and comfortable pace. I had regretted not hopping in with Loretta and Andrea after taking a bit longer break at one point, but we had a good pace going. I was hoping to finish in the twilight, but I had lights with me…

We got to Preston, and Matt and Butch were no longer in sight. We pulled into town, filled up water and donuts at the grocery store, put on sunscreen and shed some layers. My bags were stuffed to the brim, between my frame bag and my little handlebar burrito. While there was another town stop 63 miles in at Harmony, there would be no food to be had from there to the finish, nearly 100 miles later. Oy.

We rolled out of Preston as a group of two, Dustin and I, and we didn’t see any other riders for quite some time. Then, shortly after departing from the Almanzo course and onto the Royal add-on, we missed a turn on the cues and found ourselves, one mile further, at an intersection we were supposed to be at something like 7 miles later. How frustrating is that? We saw a couple cyclists come at us from the left, one blow past from the direction we’d come from and just go on through, and then another, Mary from Minneapolis, stop to see what we were up to. Confirmed: we were just outside of Harmony, and we needed to go back a mile, turn, and do a nice, long loop to bring us back to this intersection. Honor code engage. Back we went, seeing the sign we missed in the trees. It was a pretty loop, but it felt so excruciating to ride these miles out of the way of our goal. It was warm and it was lunch time. But so it goes. We got them ridden.

When we got to Harmony, we headed for the main street, where we found a bar offering “Drunch” — get your drink and brunch on. YOU GOT IT. There were a few other riders there already, and not too long after we got there, Jason & Aaron from Lincoln joined us, too. We all ordered beers and big plates of breakfast food. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten eggs and hashbrowns and toast so fast. This was going to be a long stop — the one that prevented my daylight finish — but it was worth it.

Drunch menu

After Harmony, Dustin and I connected with Luigi and Steven, who were both riding fixed gear All-City Big Blocks with huge gearing and had driven through the night from NYC to get to the race. They were fun to ride and chat with, and the pace was probably a bit too high for right after a big lunch. After 7 or 8 miles, we saw two familiar figures on the crest of the next hill — Matt and Butch! They’d opted to skip a stop in Harmony for some snacks on the side of the road, and so now we had a little group of six to head into what felt like a really long stretch of headwind.

Our group strung out into solo suffer efforts. We were just a bit under 100 miles in. The wind was definitely stronger than forecasted, trade-off for the slightly less cold morning, perhaps. When we finally turned north, we took a break from the wind in the ditch. The psychological benefit of knowing we were at the far point and heading back toward Spring Valley was palpable. Butch, however, was feeling pretty ragged from the course. He had me look at the map to see how far it was if he headed directly back. He didn’t make a decision at that point, and as we left the ditch, I thought he and Matt were following right behind. A few miles later, though, and we didn’t see them again the rest of the race. It was sad to part ways, but the one thing you can count on riding with Matt is that if you want to keep going but are struggling to know why, he’ll keep you going. I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t be needing that skill set later…

Ditch stop. Not feeling so awesome.

I think this hawk was sent for me from afar to remind me to keep going.

The next stretch of road was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. We were in Amish country, and we’d pass by fields being plowed by teams of four horses. The farmers and their children always smiled and waved, even from far off in the field. After all, their horses and plows were quiet enough to hear our bikes coming down the gravel. The sides of the roads were dotted with signs reading “Do Not Spray, Organic Farm,” and I thought a whole lot about how good it is that these farming communities lasted long enough through the industrial agriculture revolution to make it to today, when their sustainable practices are valued once again. It was such a stark contrast to scenes from earlier, getting dusted by huge farming equipment that nearly took up the whole road, or to later in the evening, as the sun set and the giant tractors with bright headlights were still out in the fields, roaring away. As we passed through a small Amish settlement that was home to what appeared to be an Adirondack chair factory, a family out for a walk asked where we were from. “Nebraska!” I said. “Wow, really?!” answered the father, smiling broadly. It was a beautiful moment.

Amish Country

Dustin is an awesome riding buddy.

Amish mowing. Chain the horse in the ditch, relocate periodically once grass is eaten down in that area.
Adirondack chair central. Looked like a pleasant place to work.

Not long after that, we rejoined the Almanzo course. The prospect of catching up to some riders from the 100 was welcome, as Dustin and I hadn’t seen many people of late. The thing I realized, though, was that while in perspective, that last 50 would be the home stretch, my memories of doing the 100 had me recalling that those were some damn tough miles. And only half of that course. Yeesh. We had some strong winds again, and the hills were rolling. What was remarkable, though, was seeing how the 1,000+ bikes that had traversed this road ahead of us had made a distinct track in the gravel, one ribbon of smooth line reaching far into the distance. We passed a couple packs of Almanzo riders, including three of my friend Anna’s Koochella teammates. I admired their tenacity, plugging away at the miles. We had more headwind sections, and Dustin and I finally decided maybe we ought to do a little pull rotation. This got us through a chunk of miles, tick tick tick on the cue sheet.

The miles to Forestville dragged on. Finally, we were there, refilling bottles, eating, and trying to keep our eyes open. I tried lying down on a picnic table and nearly threw up. I sat next to a tree and thought I’d fall asleep. The early evening light was beautiful, and I thought about the fact that you should never, ever set up camp there, or you’d never leave. And as we got rolling, we pulled past Mary, who was doing just that. I looked at her with a deep sense of envy, but Dustin pulled on up the hill, reminding me we had 38 miles to go. And we were going to do it. From here, the river crossing would be halfway to the finish. 

Forestville emotions.

Coming out of Forestville, the climbs were really getting to me. I was tired, and not staying on top of my nutrition. It was looking stormy, and I was not excited about getting rained on. At the top of one climb, though, there was a beautiful rainbow. And then there was Dustin, waiting at the top of a hill with a magically delicious rice cake filled with blackberries and covered in mint leaves. HEAVEN. We were stopped alongside a beautiful farmhouse, and the woman who lived there was walking out to get her mail. She asked if we had a map or something that told us what to do, and I showed her the cue sheets. She offered water, and though we weren’t out, we filled up. “It’s by the horse corral,” she said, “but it’s nice, pure water.” She was not kidding. It was the most deliciously sweet water I’d ever had. Her husband was making a fire in their firepit, and again, it would’ve been lovely to stop and watch the sunset with them…

We passed through the town of Cherry Grove, where the Banjo Brothers shenanigans were long gone. We got to the creek crossing, descending into the beautiful valley. As we reached the river, there were two Almanzo riders on the other side, putting their shoes back on and encouraging us. Dustin gave it a go, and I opted to walk. Skinny tires and tired self…and I wanted dry shoes. The water was cold and the rocks were sharp, and I nearly lost my balance a couple times. That would not have been fun.

The World Menacing Dame inspects the Root River crossing.

Nah, we’re gonna walk. White feet, gray shins, tan quads.

The climb out of the creek crossing is really the only MMR section of the course, and I love it. Rocky double track…give me miles and miles of it. Ok, maybe not all at once at the end. But it was awesome, as was knowing we had just 20 miles to go. We sent a message to Adam and Joy that we were 20 miles out and anticipating finishing somewhere between 9:30 and 10 and if they could please get beer. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset. And then, as we descended to the base of Oriole Road, I had a scary, scary moment of losing control of my front wheel at 30+mph. I relived my crash from 3 weeks earlier in my head in a split second, screaming “NO NO NO!” Thankfully, I saved it. But, damn.

Gorgeous magic hour light.
Sunset over the Driftless hills

We stopped to put on our lights at the bottom of the hill. It was twilight. And that hill. Ugh. Dustin rode it like a champ, and I met him at the top on foot. 9 miles to go. One more scary descent and climb. Then, lights of Spring Valley blinking in the distance. One more rice cake. Lots of stops to double check the cue sheets in the dark. Just a few more turns. Pavement. Bike path. And then, the finish, to cheers and cowbells, even late in the dark. We’d made it before 10 PM, about an hour past my goal, but happy and in one piece. Besides, as Dustin said, it’s important to set ambitious goals — ones you can only meet about 50% of the time. After shaking hands with Chris and trying to get him up to speed on other riders that might still be on course, we rolled back to the hotel, to be greeted by a sink full of cold beer and a jacuzzi full of hot water. Well done, Joy & Adam! Oh, and they killed it in the Almanzo, finishing in 8.5 hours, first gravel century for Adam and first century of any sort for Joy. Amazing.

Finishers!!

Jacuzzi felt amazing.

Ok, I almost passed out after sitting in that jacuzzi and then standing up. But it was amazing. And better yet, a couple hours later, we got word that not only had Corey finished the Alexander, but that Matt and Butch had pulled in to finish the Royal at about the same time. That meant a 100% finish rate for Nebraskans, from the 7 of us in the Royal, the 7 in the Almanzo (that I know of), and the 1 in the Alexander. Not too shabby, folks.

Eating Punjabi curry out of a can with the end of my toothbrush. Another type of “run whatcha brung,” in absence of silverware.

There were a lot of things I missed about the huge crowds that the Almanzo provides. And the extended party hours in the evening. But especially because of that long section through Amish country, the Royal was a nice change, too. The ride was beautiful. The company was great. The bike was flawless. The community that does all this is unmatched. I’m happy to be a part of it all. A couple days later, seeing Morrissey throw a diva fit on stage and sing decades of morose songs, I wondered at how someone could be so singularly mad at the world. Sure, there are plenty of things to be angry about and to take action to make better. But to be so unable to see beauty in the world just made me sad for him. Maybe he just needs a long bike ride. Thanks for reading, and remember to smile and appreciate what’s all around us.