“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!

Closing out 2014 with the Festive 500

I signed up for the Festive 500 with two competing planes of thought. One: piece of cake. I’ve cycled so many centuries and double centuries that this was just three of those, close together. Two: I’m really going to try to do this in the midst of flying cross-country to visit family, thereby ensuring that much of it has to happen on a borrowed bike and stealing away time from a visit my dear mother views as absolutely precious? Obviously, I signed up.

December 24th was a sacred family day. I’d already skipped the house the night before, not more than a couple hours after returning to Nebraska, to go to a punk/hardcore reunion show. While we’d picked up our loaner bikes, throwing a leg over them in the midst of decorating a tree and entertaining several visiting friends and neighbors with endless cookie trays was just not in the cards. We opted for a sunset walk at the end of a dreary day. 0 km logged.

Sunset at Conestoga Lake

Sunset at Conestoga Lake

Homemade Stollen, a traditional German Christmas bread

Homemade Stollen, a traditional German Christmas bread

December 25th greeted us with beautiful clear skies, strong sun, warm temperatures, and a hearty Nebraska wind. After an unprecedented shifting of the general schedule of meals, we found ourselves with a nice chunk of the afternoon free for a ride. We set out on the first part of the Gravel Worlds course, fought a headwind to Crete, got stuck hiking a too-soft minimum maintenance road en route to Milford, and soaked in a stellar sunset on our way back to the farm. 78 km logged.

Willem cruising with a tailwind

Willem cruising with a tailwind

BB road. Not the best day for it.

BB road. Not the best day for it.

Chasing daylight on the way home

Chasing daylight on the way home

Magic hour illuminates Willem

Magic hour illuminates Willem

The start of a gorgeous sunset.

The start of a gorgeous sunset.

December 26th, the doubt set in. It was cold and damp. We watched cyclocross races in the morning. We ran errands. We ate. We shopped. We decided to have a drink. It just didn’t seem to me like there was any way we’d get the miles done. We had big plans for the next day, though. Talk of hundy-of-the-month club, a whopping 160 km if we did that… We drove home from dinner in an ice storm. 0 km logged.

The lovely Berly Brown and her beautiful new whip

The lovely Berly Brown and her beautiful new whip

December 27th, we rose early, gathered all the warmest gear we’d managed to squeeze into our light luggage, and headed to Lincoln to meet the Old Guy Gravel Group at Meadowlark Coffee. The temperature was in the teens, Fahrenheit – well below 0 Celsius. The roads were covered in ice, with about an inch of snow on top. We rolled west, passing by the farm for a quick pit stop that involved snagging my mom’s sheepskin cattle-feeding mittens for Willem’s frozen hands. North, to Malcolm and over some amazing, frozen, snow-covered, rutted, MMRs. We rode on to Valparaiso, where the local Bohemians took pictures of those crazy cyclists invading their convenience store tables. Seeing only one woman on the ride, they asked if we were on a tandem. “Nope, I have my own bike out there,” I said. Hot cocoa never tasted so good. We thawed out our frozen bottles in the sink, refilling them with hot water in hopes it might last a while. Rather than push on to Prague, we joined the rest of the group back to Lincoln, over steep rolling hills of ice and snow. 102 km logged.

Making snow cones with caliper brakes and low clearance

Making snow cones with caliper brakes and low clearance

December 28th was going to be another cold day. My shoulders and neck ached and pinched from riding a bike with a longer top tube and wider handlebars. In hopes of letting it warm up a little, I pushed for a slightly later start time for the easy miles to Cortland and back. Despite predictions of warmer temperatures, they wouldn’t materialize until later, and it was a brisk 12 degrees F when we pushed off from Corey’s house. We rolled easily on the Jamaica Trail to Cortland, where we enjoyed cocoa and old donuts. The ride back was chill, too, with the mellow rollers south of Lincoln, the endless vistas, and gravel that was still frozen but getting softer as the sun strengthened. A brief stretch of the Jamaica on the way home confirmed it was getting warmer, as our bikes were coated in wet limestone in less than a mile of riding. We would be returning these borrowed bikes a bit filthier, it was clear. We finished off the miles, returned bikes, made a last round of visits, and didn’t eat a meal until far too long after finishing our ride. Then we packed and headed to bed early, anticipating our 3 AM departure. 75 km logged.

Dudes in Ditches, a staple of Nebraska gravel rides

Dudes in Ditches, a staple of Nebraska gravel rides

The dining area at the Cortland Sinclair station

The dining area at the Cortland Sinclair station

December 29th was a blur of a day. Up at 3 AM, pack the cat into her new carrier, drive to Omaha, take a cat through airport security, fly to Chicago, run through O’Hare with a cat with just 10 minutes to get from one plane to the next, fly to Philadelphia, wait for a ride, get home, and introduce one very exhausted cat to her new home – with two other cats. After a couple hours of cat monitoring, we collapsed into the bed for a nap. A shame, since it was beautiful outside, but so it goes. We woke up as the sun was setting, with a goal of getting something on the order of 25 to 30 miles logged. While it was far warmer than Nebraska, I made the tired mistake of dressing too light, and ended up just as cold on our ride through Fairmount Park as I’d been on the Plains. Exhausted but determined, I followed along as Willem connected roads into a loop. 41 km logged.

The Reluctant Traveler

The Reluctant Traveler

Adjusting to her new home

Adjusting to her new home

December 30th, ironically, had to be filled with a very non-bikey set of tasks. While we were in Nebraska, the city converted our block to resident permit parking, which meant I had to get a Pennsylvania driver’s license in order to tag and transfer my car to Pennsylvania in order to get a resident parking permit. This, it turns out, is an ordeal. That took almost all day. We logged a tiny bit of distance (every bit counts) running from place to place before finishing it up in the late afternoon and heading out for a ride as rush hour began. Not in the mood for dealing with traffic, we opted for the Schuylkill River Trail, riding nearly to Valley Forge and back. As the sun set, the cold crept in, and we adjusted our goal for the day, pushing more miles to the finale. We once again returned home frozen. I thanked Willem for dragging me along on this stupid challenge. 73 km logged.

A two-hour wait followed by a two-hour wait...

A two-hour wait followed by a two-hour wait…

December 31st, we decided not to set an alarm. We had all day to finish off a not-insignificant amount of distance. We had tossed around a couple of ride ideas, some familiar, others new and unmapped. We’d gone to bed the night before still uncertain of our plans, and awoke still undecided. We mapped a route through the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Made cue sheets. Abandoned them. It was colder here now, and we opted for a familiar route, to Tabora Farms by way of Ambler Donuts. We renamed our quest the #fatty500. It was windy, too. Not like Nebraska but much more than usual for Philadelphia. We ate pastries and drank too much coffee. We rode around Lake Galena, frozen. Somehow, little patches of ice on the trail there struck fear in us like miles upon miles of icy gravel roads in Nebraska hadn’t. As we worked our way back toward the city, we did math in our heads over and over. Add a little bit here, and will it be far enough? We did a couple laps exploring Penn Park in the encroaching dark before heading home. Unsurprisingly, we’d saved our biggest day for last. 134 km logged.

Willem demonstrated snowboard warm-ups at Tabora Farms

Willem demonstrated snowboard warm-ups at Tabora Farms

I like the idea of this challenge — and certainly enjoyed rounding out the year with some solid base miles. I did, however, spend a fair bit of time cursing the sheer quest to log distance as opposed to just going for an enjoyable ride. It would certainly be more enjoyable if not for juggling family obligations and travel and limited daylight. Because cold weather? Bring it. Happy New Year. 503 km logged.

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.