Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Gravel Worlds '18: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly- Part 2

Staging area for some of the riders at Gravel Worlds.
The morning was dark, humid, and cool. The day promised to be one where the temperatures wouldn't be too high, the winds would be light, and there was no chances for rain. In other words, perfect as far as one could expect for a mid-August ride in Nebraska. I've been there when it was too hot, too windy, and both on the same day. So, moral was high amongst the riders gathered at the Fallbrook Center where the start line was.

An odd thing for me happened when I got a call to answer nature, ahem! just before the start. By the looks of the length of the line in front of the three porta-potties they had, I wasn't alone in the feeling of the urge to purge. So, I got in line hoping I wouldn't miss the start. Bobby Thompson, of Gravel Guru fame, was just behind me in the line. We were nervously chatting and checking our watches constantly. Fortunately for the both of us, we cleared the line up with pretty much ten minutes to spare. Whew!

Then it was time for a final run down on things. Cue sheets ready? Yes! Lights ready? Yes! Turn on the GPS? Yes? The final countdown started, and then I said a few parting words with Tony and we were off. His blinky blended in with hundreds of others and I wouldn't see him again until much later in the afternoon.

The opening miles of Gravel Worlds are typically a scrum of faster and slower riders finding their place in line.
As we cleared the paved section and got up away from city lights, you could already see the distinct blush of the Sun arising and lots of fog hanging in lower lying areas. It looked to be another spectacular Sunrise at Gravel Worlds. It's one of my favorite parts of the riding there when you are in a long train of lights going up the road and the Sun is making its magic just under the horizon.

I should get up early to ride more often.
Soon things settled into a rhythm and I found myself trading places back and forth with single speeders and riders of similar strengths to mine. One of those folks was Pell Duval, who has been around the gravel scene for several years. He was riding a "dingle speed"- two cogs and two chain rings which you can run your chain on for different ratios. Parallel single speed, if you will. Anyway, Pell mentioned that he was on the "honor system" not to swap his chain over to his higher ratio, and that nobody was going to care about a back-of-the-packer anyway. Ha! He's a great guy and it was fun to share a bit of time on the road with him. Eventually his pace up hills was too great for me and he was gone up the road.

My usual view of the road after about ten miles in.
The riders around me eventually thinned out to the point that I was essentially alone. Oh sure.....I could see riders up ahead in the distance, but I wasn't anywhere near anyone. Occasionally some random rider, or a pair of riders, would whiz by me without a word. But I was okay. My game plan was not to go out too hard in order to get as much out of my legs as I could. I had a plan for water and eating as well. I tried to stick to it as best as I could.

The opening parts of Gravel Worlds 2018 took us Northeast of Lincoln into an area which I was unfamiliar with. The locals have always referred to this hillier, upland area as "The Bohemian Alps", which is a nod to not only the elevation, but to the area's pioneering settlers. There was a heavy Czech influx here back in the 19th Century, and some of the heritage of this area reflects this to this day. There is even a newer gravel event called the "Bohemian Sto-Mil" which celebrates this area and it's heritage.

Well, all this meant to me at the time was that we were going to go up, up, up! If you recall last year's posts on my Gravel Worlds, I was climbing "14ers", which was a tongue in cheek stab at the big climbs in the Rockies, but these were 1,400 footers. I thought that was big for the Mid-West, but we went into an area this year which took us a little higher. My GPS topped out at a little over 1600ft, so that was interesting and, of course, not easy with all the climbing up from Lincoln.

You learn to ignore these signs when doing any gravel grinding.
That group of folks there at that small building? They saved my day from being really short!
About 20 miles in I was starting to get the symptoms of a bonk. I was pretty discouraged by this. When I start to bonk, I get really sleepy. It was so bad I was having trouble seeing and I started swerving at times. Not good! Even despite downing a couple of gels previous to this, and then two more, I wasn't able to stave off the bad situation. Then I came upon Tojhy, Nebraska. (Say "two-ee") This unincorporated village is so tiny it doesn't retain its name for an address if you reside there. It is listed as part of Valparaiso, Nebraska in that way. There is a Catholic church there, Maybe a few residences, and Tuffy's Bar. It is what happened out in front of this closed bar which extended my day beyond what I thought possible at the time.

You see, Gravel Worlds, (and other gravel based events), which are "self-supported", don't mind if locals get into the game by offering free drinks and snacks. They call them "Trail Angels" at Gravel Worlds, and there was a Trail Angel or two at Tuffy's operating out of a pick-up truck. All I know is that a fine young lass with a foreign accent asked if I wanted a Coke, and I replied in the affirmative. That little 8oz can of sugary, caffeinated goodness zapped me back into the land of the living! I had a half a banana as well and then I set off for the higher heights of the 2018 Gravel Worlds course.

Some fine looking ponies and evidence of the "pea-gravel" like conditions.
 Now you probably don't have a very high opinion of Nebraska if all you've ever done is fly over it or driven I-80. But let me assure you, there's some darn fine scenery out there! And of course, hills! Yes, Martha, Nebraska is anything but flat, despite what you hear the naysayers commenting on. I saw some pretty cool stuff on the newer sections of Gravel Worlds this year, and I was having a good time doing it. The roads maybe were a bit sketchy at times, what with the softer "pea gravel" like conditions out on certain roads, but over all, it wasn't nearly as tough, or rough, as Iowa gravel which I am very used to. They do have washboard, like everywhere, but other than that, no big deal.

Loma, Nebraska. This was about as high as we climbed at just over 1600 ft.
I was feeling pretty good. I started back on the gel routine, drank up some water, and cruised. The Sun was out now, of course, and it was getting hotter, but I never really got overheated this year. That was never an issue.

I passed through Loma, and it was darn near a ghost town with its weathered, moldering buildings and dearth of activity. The local bar looked to be the bright spot in the community.

This part rode along a higher ridge and the scenery was spectacular. It was as high an elevation as we'd see for the course, so I was hopeful for a "downward trend" toward the checkpoint, which I had mistakenly drilled into my head as being Malcom. I rolled onward and turned on to Rd. 25, and that stretch had roller after roller in an unrelenting succession. They were steep too. This started me back towards the sleepy feelings, but just as I was despairing of another fight with that malady, I came across another Trail Angel, and wouldn't you know it? Another Coca-Cola. I diluted this one into a partially filled water bottle and soldiered onward.

Now the course went more down than up. I finally had a couple of directional changes, and then I came into a town. I was a bit taken aback by that, until I recognized the place, that is. I was in Valparaiso. The convenience store there is well known to me, and I cruised on up where the Boy Scout troop had a table set up with snacks and water. A young lass came out and asked what I needed and wouldn't leave me alone until I got something from her. She couldn't have been much more than 5, maybe six. I think she has a future in sales.

Onward to CP#1
I rested a bit here, used the restroom, got some gummy treats, a banana, and a young women cyclist gave me a handful of Pringles. That hit the spot! Thank you, whoever you are, for that! Next up, familiar territory as I headed out from "Valpo", as they call it, and onward toward Checkpoint #1. This section is also pretty hilly. You start out with a long grind up out of the town and then you get into some good hills.

It was approximately 16 miles to the checkpoint and when I realized it was Otto Pond, a farm out in the countryside, and not Malcom, I got a bit dismayed. But what really started to annoy me was that my legs were hurting and the power was slipping away. I ended up in "survival mode" before I reached Otto Pond, and I knew I had a tough decision to make when I reached that place.

They have a big machine shed there which you can get out of the Sun in and I availed myself of another banana and a hot dog while I was there. Matt Wills and his single speed crew, who I had been trading places with all day long, came in right behind me. They were stronger riders than I by far, but their pace was dictated by the "safety breaks" they were wont to take on occasion, and that let me catch up and pass them several times. I loved seeing "MW" out there as he is a very positive influence for my psyche and he made a big difference in my attitude Saturday as well as other times I've ridden with him.

Anyway, I asked MW if he had any recommendations for a route to bail out back to Lincoln. I doubted my legs would hold out much longer and he made a suggestion that I could simply follow the course to a point just North of Lincoln, turn South, and I would be back. It would be about 22 miles or so. I took that under advisement, and I figured that if I could somehow rally in the next few miles out of CP#1, I might continue on to Malcom. It would be an easy 15 miles or so back to Lincoln from there if I needed to bail. I decided to top off the water, just in case, and I left slowly from the checkpoint.

Barns For Jason- Gravel Worlds edition
Unfortunately, only nine more miles in I was toast. My legs were completely shot. I was very awake, not bonking, very hydrated, it was just that my legs were done. The not recovering from all the other miles in the last three weeks was taking its toll. I stopped alongside a corner in some shade and just sat there contemplating my bail out point and a ride back to Lincoln in shame.

It's never fun to not meet your goals and have your body dictate to you when you are finished. It also isn't fun to answer the questions afterward, but it is what it is. I took care of myself, and I will be fine. Going more miles until I was incapable of riding back to Lincoln was not an option with me, and I had a rough go of it as it was.

But, after I peeled off the official course, I was actually riding okay. I hit some big rollers on Raymond Road, then I went South on 27th until I reached a corner near to the end of Alvo Road, which is the paved boulevard that takes you back to Fallbrook Center. I was near to being done, but I actually was so gassed I had to stop and rest two miles out because my legs were not going to hold out. I guess I made the call at the right time. Just about this time the leaders came by in a blur to finish Gravel Worlds. Amazing!

A bit more than 80 miles on the day. Not what I signed up for, but I'll take it.

Next: I've covered the good, the bad, and next I will touch upon the ugly part in Part 3 of my Gravel Worlds report.


Adam said...

Sounds like a hard day in the saddle, glad you made it back safe! Figure I might quickly share my GW2018 story:

The first 40 miles or so were great, but I was getting into a pretty bad way by the time we passed CP#1 at Otto Pond - just felt like there wasn't much power left in my legs. I convinced myself that I should turn south where we crossed north of Lincoln around mile 75, but a little before that I finally found a good riding buddy. He got my spirits up, and we kept riding along to Malcolm where we took a pretty long break - there was a decent party going on in the shady grass strip next to the convenience store. We were all at the "Maybe we'll finish before it gets TOO dark?" pace and some folks were debating turning back - but most of us pressed onward. In my case, that was probably a mistake...

About midway between Malcolm and the next convenience store, I found my ride buddy stopped in some shade on the side of the road trying to cool off. He said we wasn't sweating much and was getting chills, and then I realized I wasn't sweating much and was getting chills... that's heat exhaustion heading rapidly for heat stroke. I wasn't in any shape to pedal all the way back to Lincoln, but I knew the Phillips 66 ahead was off an I-80 exit, and figured we had a chance of hitchhiking back from there. So we kept on riding ahead; I think I expended over 2 liters of water in the next 7-10 miles just wetting down my arms and neck to evaporatively cool.

We got to the gas station safely, hung out in the air conditioning for about 30 minutes, and my ride buddy elected to continue onward while I hitched a ride and bailed to Lincoln. I stuck around the finish line after the awards to cheer for all of the folks I'd been riding with - my buddy finally crossed the line around 9pm.

What a day! I'm just glad it wasn't raining like it did on Sunday.

Guitar Ted said...

@Adam- Thank you and thanks also for your story. I am glad you and your "riding buddy" were both okay. Heat is no joke. I have burned a lot of candles, so to speak, when it comes to heat over my lifetime, and being older now,well...... You are less resilient to heat after so many episodes and added age. It pays to be conservative in regards to dealing with heat. I think you did the wise thing.

I had fun and it sounds like you did as well. Next year I hope to be better prepared and ready to handle the typically hot, humid Gravel Worlds weather.