|The Moon, just past full, hangs fat over the start area for Gravel Worlds|
The alarm sounds and Tony springs into action. I follow along somewhat less rapidly. Tony is a fireman by trade and he showed it by being ready for action. We got ourselves kitted up and then we were downstairs for the complimentary rider breakfast buffet. A spinach and bacon omelet, some fried potatoes, and a bit more bacon, (of course), was the fare for my morning. Then it was time to load up the bikes and get over to the Fallbrook area where the start was to be held again, just like it was last year.
The start in the dark concept was something we did for Trans Iowa years ago. I usually am running the event, not riding in it, when all the start line blinky lights are blazing, so these Gravel Worlds starts are an opportunity to see what it is like from "the other side of the fence", as it were. One thing remained the same as when I am running the event, I was not wasting any time getting there. Tony and I arrived so early to the parking lots we beat most of the volunteers to the area. We had time on our hands for sure.
The flag on the local YMCA was standing straight out and it was a bit chilly, almost Fall-like. We marveled at the air temperature, having been used to sweat inducing humidity for the better part of the last three months. The wind? Tony and I had ridden in so much wind this year, we weren't all that concerned with that part of the weather.
|Tony and I have some time to reflect before we line up to do battle with 145 miles of Nebraskan gravel.|
As riders slowly filed in behind the pick-up truck, we were seeing many faces both new and familiar. Kevin Fox, who was volunteering this year, stepped up to Tony and I to encourage us and take a start line image for us. He had given me his phone number the night before, just in case I needed to.......well, you know. Kevin said in no uncertain terms I wasn't to consider using his number, but I had it. All in good fun, but there was an element of seriousness there that we both understood to mean that I was going to finish.
|Tony McGrane and I. Image by Kevin Fox|
Anyway, the truck rumbled to life and pulled away. We were off. I overheard one rider say, "What? No cannon, no horns?" Yeah..... This is Gravel Worlds, but it still has that unpretentious, down to earth feel that the Pirate Cycling League has been known for all these years. This ain't no roadie circus, that's for sure!
The start was like any other for me. A pavement roll out, lots of people passing me, and some nervous jockeying for positions. I saw a weird image. A light so low that at first I thought someone was down, but it was a LED headlight that had fallen off. It was lying in the middle of the street and pointing up the road. A silent beacon showing us the way out of town.
Gravel was finally contacted by tires and when they did, the easy rolling feel of pavement was soon forgotten. Riders were diving, juking, and searching for the best lines in the dark to avoid the mushiest parts of the road. I could feel it. It was as if I was dragging a cinder block in some places compared to the pavement. I thought that this might be a really tough day if these roads do not improve. But that thought was fleeting. I had a bike to power up hills and keep from washing out from underneath me. Riders went by or I passed a few, but the dark hour was marked by little else than my keeping a solid pace and not burning too many matches this early in the day.
|On our way to meet the Crack of Dawn.|
|Slowly things start to come into clearer view.|
The course headed North, into the wind, at first for about five miles or so, and I didn't think the wind was all that awful, but combined with the soft roads, it was a chore. Then we got a reprieve from the wind, at least while we headed East several miles, and watched the Sun rise. It was spectacular and the day looked to be a wonderful one despite the wind. I ran across Corey Godfrey, one of the "Pirates" of the "League", and to whom we sang a hearty "Happy Birthday" to just before we rolled out. He was riding with Matt Wills, another of the Pirates, and we had a nice chat before our paces separated us again. Meanwhile, the route took us to a little town called Greenwood, and then a long slog South where there was a Casey's convenience store at a little town called Eagle. I had run across Tony here, as he was stopped, and I stopped as well to top off on fluids. We were 32 miles into the route, and I hadn't even looked at my cue sheets yet!
|The Sun rose to reveal the mushy gravel and mud we were fighting against in the early morning hours.|
|The stop at the Casey's was where I noticed riders I would be around the rest of the day.|
In five miles I had to pull in to the first checkpoint at Schmidty's Farm. I planned on a quick in and out, but there was an animated, life sized pirate there that I decided to get my photograph with. Why not? If I couldn't have fun, it wasn't worth the agony. I also picked up a little "mojo" in the form of the "Black Beard Micro-Pirate", which you'll see later on in the report.
|Wait! Is this Davey Jone's Locker? Image taken by a kind woman at the Schmidty Farm checkpoint.|
Ahh......Roca!! It's where I had to bail out of last year's Gravel Worlds. I saw Pell Duval there, and he made mention of that day last year at this bar. I was reminded that I couldn't even speak, I was so gassed and burnt up by the heat and humidity. Pell said about my inability to speak then, "Well, that was fine with us, since we probably didn't want to hear what you would have said." Yep. He was right about that. I would have spewed some negativity, most likely, and they didn't need that last year.
We got more water here, and I ate some of my food I packed along. I will get all into that later, what the nutrition plan was, but at this point, I popped out my "flattened bananas" and shared a bit with Tony and Martin. Meanwhile, country music spilled out from some unseen speakers while we sauntered around the outdoor seating area of the bar. Country music? Well, I should say "Real, Authentic Country Music". Stuff by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and older Willie Nelson stuff. Not this cotton candy country music that they play today. Bah! Well......anyway...... Roca was as far as we were going South. Now it was time to start into the hard part of Gravel Worlds. The long slog North into that head wind.
|Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Eat yer stinky banana and get ye headed Northwards to Malcom and points beyond! Arrgh!|