Thursday, June 08, 2023

Moving On

 With last week's trip in the rear view mirror, now I am looking at Summer and trying to get in at least a couple of "big" rides in. I'm tempering my expectations here. Last year taught me that I have to do that. So, despite my wanderlust being at an all-time high, I will have to try to dial it all back a bit so I don't come away with a big disappointment at the end of this year. 

I may as well address something else that came up the other day on a messenger thread. I was asked about attending a certain gravel event this Summer. My answer to that is pretty much my answer going forward for the foreseeable future concerning any gravel - or other - events held typically on weekends. 

So, as many of you readers know I have taken a job as a bicycle mechanic/director/educator at a local bicycle collective. That place is open on a limited basis and has two employees. Myself and an assistant mechanic. The place is open on Saturdays, and well, I just cannot go taking the time off. 

That would be enough to answer the question right there, but there is more to it than just that. See, I took a big pay-cut when I went there and with little income comes fewer traveling opportunities. In fact, after going to the Gents Race in April and now with this last trip, I am tapped out for the remainder of this year. 

It has been difficult turning down the many opportunities I have been offered ranging from events here in Iowa to Nebraska and an invitation with amenities covered to go to Rebecca's Private Idaho, but the reality of my situation is that I cannot take those opportunities due to my job situation and my income. But also: Thank you for these kind offers. They don't get passed by without a lot of regret on my part.

But it is what it is. In the end, this places me in a very "stay at home" adventure mode and only where I can ride from Waterloo Iowa is practical for me to consider. That limits me to doing just a couple of big rides at this point, and thus my having to adjust my expectations. 

So, I want to try to get in that two-day mini-bikepacking deal I was all set to do last year. That got nixed when my son did not pass his drivers license test, but he eventually did. That means I can finagle a time for this trip now. 

The second thing is a century ride. Just anywhere out of here, really. That may end up being my "Death Ride" this year. Hopefully so. Stay tuned on that one. 

That's it really. I just wanted to put that down as goals and then to explain as a sort of "PSA" why I won't be going to any gravel events the rest of this year. It isn't because I don't want to.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Observations On 2023 Unbound Racing

The same road that was a big problem in 2015 was used again this year with similar results.

WARNING: A long ranty post for today. You've been forewarned... 

 Now after several days of looking at commentary and stories about the 2023 Unbound event, I have a few things to get off my chest concerning how things went down. Especially since our media is so piecemeal now that you cannot get a good read on things unless you read ten articles and look at scads of Insta and Facebook posts. Couldn't we just go back to when we had to wait a month for the cycling mags to print? It was sooo much calmer then! Ha!

So the big deal this year was that the Pro Men and Women would each get separate starts ahead of the plebeian masses whom the event is banked off of. That's another matter for another time, but the important point was that NOW things would be more "fair" in terms of who was racing for a living out there. 

Next: There were a few days of pop-up, heavy thunderstorms leading up to the event that were dumping copious amounts of rain on the course, which was to feature the very same three mile stretch of dirt road that we had to march during the 2015 "Mud Year" of the DK200. These storms were random, but significant enough and occurring often enough that they became a factor in the event. 

The next piece of the puzzle was that Unbound Race Director, Ben Sachs, told media gathered there the day before that there was a re-route which could be implemented if necessary to avoid the three miles of goo, which by the way, was the first time that section had been used since 2015. 

  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

My view of the D Road Hill in 2015
Now there was rain overnight before the 2023 Unbound event and the three mile section in question here is only about 11-12 miles out from Emporia. I dunno...... 

Maybe it wasn't easy to check it out before the riders launched at 6:00am? 

Regardless, the riders were sent off and there was no implementation of the reroute. Was this done to keep the "spirit of the event" or.....? So far, neither Mr. Sachs nor anyone from Unbound will say- yet anyway. That could change. We'll get to why that is and what I think will happen a bit later. 

Right now all you need to know is that many Pro men in the field of 116 riders failed to finish, many of them directly or indirectly due to this stretch of road. This field's stragglers were caught by the Women's field, which was made up of 57 riders, and saw fully about a third of that number as DNF's by the end of the day, again, many blaming this section of road. The women's field, in turn, was caught by the fast end of the amateurs running the 200. By the time all was said and done, by Mile 20 it did not matter much that the Pro Men and Women got a preferred start ahead of the masses, which numbered about 1100, according to stories I read. Of course, of those many did not finish. I read somewhere that the attrition rate in the 200 was 43% of the field.

During the 2015 event, the entire course was either wet, mud, or had standing water across the roadway.

So, naturally we could find several instances of complaints about course conditions, how "all that training went to waste in 11 miles" (Where have I heard THAT before!) , or how, at least in second place Woman's Pro rider Sofia Gomez Vllfane's opinion, the Woman should have their own race day and that it should be shorter. 

Here's the deal: First off, the RD, Mr. Sachs did not, for whatever reasons, utilize the reroute for D Road. Why not? This is an important question. Without an answer, I will have to assume that what happened was preordained. Update: Thanks to "Nebo" in the comments on this post, we do have a response from Life Time's President, Kimo Seymour: See HERE)

So, the mud section came and yes- if you have not been paying attention here, you might come away from the Unbound thinking that was too extreme, or that somehow this played into "unfair" situations for some riders. Well, here's the thing folks- weather can squash anyone and elevate others. It's random sometimes, and yes- Low finishing rates are a result. This is what has been accepted in gravel racing since 2005. 

In other words- "Hey Pro riders and media- DO YOUR RESEARCH!" And- If you don't like the idea of any of that mud or rain, or whatever, then maybe these events are not for you. That's right folks. Gravel events are not going to be every cyclists cup of tea, and that's okay. I don't like crit racing, and so I don't enter crits, even if I was good enough to make money at it. I still would not sign up. But that's me. The point here is that I shouldn't ask criterium overlords to make criterium racing easier for me to accept. You shouldn't ask gravel racing promoters to make their events easier either. Just don't go if you have issues with the format.

Checkpoint #1 Trans Iowa v12

The other story I saw wasn't so much a complaint but that what was observed was thought to be a "new tactic" that the Pro Men were using at Unbound. 

What could it have been? Was it new GPS computer tracking? No? How about some nutritional ju-ju no one has tried before? No? What was it?

Here is what it was: The guys and gals are using cell phones to call in to support for the reasons of quicker pit stops. 

As if THAT hasn't been going on since, well since cell coverage got good enough that rural riders could count on getting messages across the air waves. Be that by an actual call or text, the result is the same. 

So, sorry to bust your bubble out there, but this is definitely not a novel use of a cell phone. If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you already know that I wrestled with cell phone usage for years when I put on Trans Iowa. Coaching, emotional support, navigation, awareness of competitor's positions, and more were all used in Trans Iowa. Prearranged support probably was too, I just never caught anyone doing that, but look, I'm pretty sure that happened looking at the evidence. 

And this use of texting in an order to your "pits", (which is essentially what the Pros have for themselves now), is prearranged support. It is not fair to all the riders, but you know, as long as all the plebeians have paid their entry fees, Unbound probably doesn't care about what is fair or not to the entire field. And the whole idea of having three to four mechanics and team people there at those pits is not new either. That came from cyclo cross and 24hr racing. That happened in 2005 at Trans Iowa. So, yeah.... 

Then we have the folks who are complaining that this or that is "unfair" or if not that then it's "not right". This brings us back to whether or not Unbound or its directors will address this mud year thing. In my event it was "Take it or don't come to the event. This is what it is." However; there is a slight bit of an issue with Unbound being able to stand their ground in this area. That would be their entry fee. 

An image from Trans Iowa v6 by Steve Fuller

When you charge a fee for an event, you are taking money in exchange for several things. The event production and maybe the race director get a portion of that. The fee covers insurance, technical things like timing, lights, tape, and race numbers. Stuff like that. Stuff many of you think about when you go to an event that "should be there". 

But there are also intangibles and unseen expectations at work here Things like "The course better be doable by at least 80% of the riders" (where THAT came from is pretty random) , or "My training better pay off here", or related, "My coaching better show up as being worthwhile here". 

Other things like, courses that leave gear in pristine running conditions, or easily traversed terrain, or how about having a big welcome at the finish. (Yes, really. I've seen and heard people have a conniption over not getting fanfare at finish lines) 

So, Unbound has all of that and this becomes even more of a pressure placed on the event organization due to the extremely high entry fee and the fact that the event is difficult to get in to. That it is a "bucket list" event also adds to the pressures with regard to people wanting some assurances/insurance that they will finish and have a good time. 

Well, here's news for ya: Failure Is An Option.  I get that it can be deflating, regrettable, and that it is really hard to see the person in the mirror in front of you as having the most responsibility in that. It's easy to point at the RD, the event, or someone else. But those four other fingers are pointed at the person who really needs to own up to what happened. 

And what happened could be 100% out of your control. Yep! Hard to swallow, I know. I've been there. I know all about this. And it is 100% relatable to this year's Unbound. 

I missed the cut-off at Checkpoint two at the DK200 in 2015 by two minutes.

So, back to Unbound and their high entry fee. You expect to be able to ask - nay demand - that for nearly $400.00 and more for housing, travel, equipment, etc, not to mention all that training time, that you shouldn't have to put up with _____ (Fill in that blank any way you want to) 

And Unbound, well, ya know, they gotta listen. Maybe they hold to their guns, or Corporate may lean on the RD's and say that they gotta start cleaning up the complaints. But I hope that they don't. I hope that Unbound doesn't sanitize their event. I hope that they don't think that they should change because of 173 Pro racers while ignoring the 3K+ others. This is not where gravel racing came from. You want a curated experience with a near 100% chance of a positive outcome as a Pro? Well, again - maybe this is not for you. And yes, we're okay with that. That's what I hope Unbound will do.

Gravel racing was never about making things easier. It was about an event that stretched you, that challenged you, that maybe no one would finish. And that was good. It was seen as something to be celebrated. Hard years at Trans Iowa were cherished and desired. We had a nearly perfect year for Trans Iowa in v12, the year I saw the most finishers ever for one event. You know what I heard afterward from many of the riders? They wanted to try Trans Iowa again and they hoped for a "mud year" because that would be a "real" challenge. 

In other words, the people at Trans Iowa, and many other gravel events, didn't want to participate in an event that "most people would finish". They wanted to be pushed to limits and see if they could go past them. I get that money invested in high entry fees, high-dollar equipment, (which is 100% NOT necessary to compete) and time investments, make it hard to see what is the thing that made gravel events take off. But I can tell you that making things easier, more sanitized, and "equal" is not a recipe for truly satisfying and soul - stretching experiences. 

Failure is an option.

Sometimes it is the best thing that could ever happen to you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Randomonium

 NOTE: Okay folks, if you haven't been around long enough here to know what a "Randomonium" post is, then here is the deal. I ramble, rant, and randomly moan about all things cycling in one, incohesive, bizarre post. "Randomonium", okay?

Jeff Kerkove Speaks:

Over the years since November 2004 when the idea of Trans Iowa was hatched, Jeff Kerkove has not had a lot to say about the event, its influence, or my participation in Trans Iowa for 14 years. Not that he had to say anything at all, but I always thought it was curious that he did not lay some claim to coming up with the idea that helped to spark a movement in cycling that has changed just about everything. 

After our ride together last week, Jeff broke his silence regarding Trans Iowa, his part of gravel events, and my part in the gravel scene, in a Facebook post. I'll reserve comment until after his quote:

"I am a firm believer that Mark Stevenson and myself are the catapult of the modern day gravel movement. It was all because of Trans-Iowa, which was a good bad idea hatched while wrenching on bikes one afternoon at Europa Cycle and Ski in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Without Trans-Iowa there likely never would have been Unbound Gravel as well as the first mass produced gravel bike(s) from Salsa Cycles. While I only had my hand in Trans-Iowa for around 4 years prior to taking my job with Ergon Bike, Mark kept its momentum rolling forward for over a decade - earning that much deserved Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame spot. Most of you reading this now know what “gravel” in the bike universe has become.

Today, for the first time in like 16 years, Mark and I got to pedal some gravel together in Emporia, KS at the Gravel Hall of Fame shake-out ride. All the warm-fuzzies were felt seeing what that good bad idea has become over the last 20ish years. No one ever would have imagined 5000+ people from all over the world would be coming to Kansas in June to ride gravel farm roads "

I cannot say that I disagree with him here. It is kind of weird to have finally read hiopinion of things, but I am grateful that he feels that way because I've always felt Jeff had a hand in this deal. I don't like taking any credit for things as they have shaken out, but besides Jeff, I had two other people literally pointing a finger at me and telling me I was responsible for what was happening in Emporia and beyond last week. Like emphatically shaking their index finger at me and underscoring the "fact" that I was responsible, and one of those people was a bar owner in Emporia! 

Color me humbled. And THANK YOU Jeff! 

Bike Shops In Turmoil:

Following the retail situation for bicycle shops reveals a tale of two extremes. on the one hand, service work seems to be coming in at a higher rate than pre-pandemic days. I have heard and read about mechanic shortages, overwhelming repair schedules, and good labor sales overall. However; the overstocked conditions which are plaguing the sector of retail bicycle sales is still a big problem. 

Trek and Specialized are still trying to dump off inventory and I would not be surprised if that is not the case with most brands. Distributors are also seen doing sales yet which would indicate to me that stock levels are crazy high at places which are servicing the retail bicycle trade. 

As a side effect this situation is going to delay new product introductions, which was evident at Unbound, where a lot of people were expecting to learn about new products for gravel, but the only notable thing that occurred was a "leak" of the new 12spd Shimano GRX, which wasn't really an introduction either. 

A You Tuber I watch who is located in Florida stated that there are a lot of shops in trouble, some even to the point of going out of business due to lackluster sales and too much inventory in stock. Interesting days to be sure.

Skies full of Canadian wildfire smoke as seen in Iowa.

Unwanted Canadian Import:

There have been more than a handful of days this year that I have chosen not to ride due to wildfire smoke. Smoke that is emanating out of Canada has polluted our air. You wouldn't think that smoke from something burning over a thousand miles away would cause me to not ride, but....

This stuff burns my eyes and stinks in my nostrils. It cannot be a good thing to be breathing. heck, as I type this I can smell the smoke inside my home. 

Look Canada, I like some of your imports. Canadian bacon, hockey, maybe even Brian Adams, but this smoke thing has got to be stopped. This is ridiculous. The first no-wind day in weeks and the skies are full of your acrid smoke. Bah! It drives me crazy...

My schedule is hard enough to deal with and now this? take your smoke back, Canada! I don't like it. But seriously, this is a major issue this year, and we typically do not have to deal with wildfire smoke. Hopefully this ends soon for all concerned.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Unbound Gravel: The Real Heros of the Event

 The gravel racing scene in North America just held its "Super Bowl", its premier event. The event with the biggest pay-off for winning in terms of life-changing benefits to the male and female Pro who pulls off the win there in Emporia, Kansas on Commercial Street. 

And perhaps no other street name is as appropriate for this finish line's home as this event epitomizes the commercialization of gravel riding and racing in North America. Maybe even for the world, as far as gravel goes. 

While the evolution of the DK200 into Unbound has been well documented here and elsewhere, I wanted to see where this event has led not only gravel cycling in general, but how Unbound has affected the town of Emporia, Kansas. Enough about the winners, the social media posts, and the Facebook comments, what about the average citizen in this town? What really makes this event tic?  These are some things most of us give little thought to. But as large as this event has become, as important to the cycling calendar as it has grown to be, there are still six times as many residents who live there, make a living there, and call Emporia "theirs" as there are racers. It is from these people that the backbone of Unbound is formed from.

So, briefly, please allow me the chance to paint a picture here for context. It is safe to say that for several of the early years of the DK200, most residents of this once sleepy little Kansan town were totally unaware of gravel cycling. A few nut-jobs showed up every early Summer, rode around out there in the Flint Hills, and disappeared as quickly as an afternoon pop-up thunderstorm on the prairie, never to be heard from again. But at one point, an enterprising businessman approached co-founder of the DK200, Jim Cummins, with an idea. Bring this downtown. Let's get the local businesses involved, we can grow this to benefit the community. That's what I overheard as I was sitting within earshot of that conversation in 2009. UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that Kristi Mohn, also a member of the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame, was the first to suggest this to Jim and Joel in 2008. The gentleman I saw a year later was influenced by Kristi's idea, so credit where credit is due. Thank you Kristi Mohn!

That was the impetus that began the slow evolution from this event having less than 100 riders overall in 2009 to having 160 riders two years later, and ten years after that the event grew to host 2,626 riders in five event distances. This year in 2023? The event is claiming to have approximately 4,000 riders! 

This obviously has strained the resources of Emporia to their limits and maybe beyond in some ways that most people never think about that attend the event. 4,000 riders with support people. 4,000 riders with all the infrastructure, UNBOUND staffing, volunteers, and extra help businesses bring in to service the attending riders and support people. This doesn't even consider media and event expo people coming in to cover the event and show company wares and services. In fact, Emporia Police Captain Ray Mattas estimates that the entire population of Emporia grows by 8,000 - 10,000 people over the four days of the event. 

A local grocer gets into the spirit of the event with this display.
Despite the meteoric growth of Unbound Gravel over the years you'll be hard-pressed to find any locals that will publicly voice any negativity over the event. It undoubtedly brings in a windfall economically to the community. LeLan Dains, head of Visit Emporia, claims that in 2018 the impact was 6 million and "is probably more than that now". Given the nearly doubled amount of riders since then, I'd say he's on to something there. 

But big money windfalls that come in a short window of time not only stress the community's resources but the residents themselves to a high degree. I watched a female employee of a motel near the Kansas Turnpike sigh and in reserved tones explain that she was on day four of a 14 day stretch of work because taking the Unbound weekend off was not an option for her. 

In another case, where we saw an effect on the local economy, my wife and I walked into a restaurant on the Wednesday before Unbound where there were no clean tables and after ten minutes of waiting we ended up leaving without being spoken to. Apparently they were so busy they couldn't keep up with the lunch rush. 

Back at the motel on Thursday morning a discussion arose amongst some locals who did not know the details of the event other than that it snarled the usual traffic flows and that it involved "thousands and thousands of cyclists". Disruptive cyclist who were making impacts on the local citizens that the cyclists probably were not thinking about. Heads were wagged and eyes were rolled, but you somehow got the feeling that the bother was worth it somehow.

Vendors were setting up on Wednesday for the All Things Gravel Expo.
Then there are residents of Emporia that are directly impacted by the Unbound gravel event and have had their lives redirected as a result. I met one such man, who I'll call "Mike", at the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame after-party. Mike told me that around 2016 he was made aware of an event called Lunar Kanza, a night time gravel event which was about 50 miles in length. More or less this was a for fun ride in the middle of Summer. 

Up to that point the man hadn't been riding a bicycle since childhood. After the event, he discovered the gravel riding community that had grown up around the DK200 event. This got him even more interested in gravel riding in the Flint Hills and eventually he entered the DK100. After riding several 100 mile versions of DK/Unbound, he has stepped up to ride the 200 mile event. 

Mike said after that Lunar Kanza ride he was smitten with the Flint Hills. He loved the welcoming and accepting qualities of the local gravel riders. He felt welcomed and encouraged. Now he is ready for the big miles. 

Mike was pretty stoked about the gravel scene around Emporia and thought Unbound was a worthwhile event for Emporia overall. Mike did admit that there were "pockets of resistance' locally to the gravel scene and Unbound. Despite that, he felt that most folks thought it was a good thing. Mike said, "I suppose the town benefits from it economically. At least from what I've heard it has", voicing the general populace's views on the production. 

However; not all is well in Gravel City. Last year, a man named Greg Bachman was tragically mowed down out on a gravel road near Emporia by a driver of a truck, a local resident, while Greg and his wife were riding a day or so before the 2022 Unbound. An article published on a Colorado based website paints a picture of anti-cyclist bias in the police's handling of the case, (Read that article here), and many questions are raised concerning responsibilities for rider safety and public education. So, while there is much good that Unbound brings, there are still some areas that could use some improving.

While today you'll see scads of posts celebrating the wins, the epic efforts, and the crazy conditions which typified this year's edition of Unbound, there is a "behind the curtains" thing that is going on and has a huge effect on Unbound and those who ride in it. Things that, if one of them goes wrong or haywire, (like Greg Bachman's death) it could derail the entire event and its future. 

While we engage in debates about aero bars, race tactics, and "fairness", don't forget that there is an entire foundation which exists that supports all of that to even exist as a thing. Consider the motel worker, the police officer, the waiter and waitress, and the people at the sanitation department. You are not bringing 4,000+ people and all the accoutrements associated with that to ride an event without those people and more. 

Those are the people behind the curtains that are the real heroes of Unbound.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

The GTDRI Stories: The Ninth One - Part 3

"The GTDRI Stories" is a series telling the history, untold tales, and showing the sights from the run of Guitar Ted Death Ride Invitationals. This series will run on Sundays. Thanks for reading!

The day was one of those classic mid-Summer, Iowa days where you were gasping for breath on every climb. It felt like your head was under a blanket. The air was so thick and hot with humidity that oxygen seemed to be far down on the scale of ingredients that the air was made up from.  

As we pulled into Elkader, many of us took advantage of the "food stand" (Think food truck, only this was a portable trailer thing) on one corner of the main drag through the small village. The tourist count was up, no doubt due to RAGBRAI being in the area. The food stand, which was called "Two Mit" got that name because it was part of a sentence spoken by a German immigrant once upon a time in a restaurant there when he responded to a question of whether or not he wanted a ground beef burger. He stated that he would have "Two mit  (with) ketchup.", or something of that order, as I recall the story being told to me. Anyway.... If you have a more accurate version, please hit me up in the comments. It's been nine years since that time.....

(Note: As of April 11th, 2023 Two Mit has closed its doors for good according to a Facebook post on the business' page)

Taken while waiting in line for a Two Mit burger, which was a boiled ground beef thing.

We were sitting around Elkader for quite some time, as I recall. It was as if no one really wanted to leave, but we knew we had to get the party started or we'd never get the deed done. So, off we shuffled and onward we went to meet the awaiting steeps of Clayton County. 

Leaving Elkader and going into the most difficult part of the course.

Imperial Road Level B

So this was going to be about 35 miles of really tough hills. It was also going to be the hottest part of the day, which was into the 90's and, as I said, humid. I was well into the hurt locker when we left Elkader and now it was going off the charts into bizzaro-land as far as how much this was pushing me. It wasn't good. 

And my Tamland was woefully under-geared, so I ended up walking sections a lot. This meant that the going was slow and everyone else had to wait on my old carcass to catch up. That in turn made me feel badly and that made things go even worse. 

Part of Impala Road, a level B road along the Turkey River near Garber, Iowa.

Things were hopping in Garber due to its being on the 2014 RAGBRAI route.

After being way out in the boonies, seemingly removed totally from the civilized world on Imperial and Impala Roads, we dumped out of a dirt two-track to come face to face with the stream-of-riders of bikes that is RAGBRAI. It was a brief respite from the fever-dream I found myself in, and I do recall some of what happened there that day. 

The area around Garber Iowa is known as an area with a lot of Amish/Mennonite residents. As we came off the dirt road, we had to immediately cross a bridge on a county blacktop, part of the RAGBRAI route that year, which would get us across the Turkey River. Along the bridge's railings were a line of Amish/Mennonite boys and younger men, all standing with hands crossed on their chests, who were watching the ladies ride by. It was kind of a comical site. 

Then we made haste to take advantage of the small convenience store/gas station for water refills and off we went again, back into hill after steep hill, and my memory fades into a blur. Spurred on merely by an inner will to finish, I really do not have much recollection of the following miles up until.....

This was about the only flat part in this afternoon's riding.

The big, long climb up Fantail Road

Until we got to Fantail Road. A long, three mile-plus slog which starts out gently and then ratchets up to a staggering 18% gradient before slacking off a bit going into some zig-zag corners and then topping out North of Edgewood, Iowa. I've ridden this road four times and I have never made it up all the way without walking it. Of course, there were the conditions and all the miles leading up to that point, but even so. This is one tough cookie of a climb. 

Some in our group were able to climb this, but a few of us walked a lot of it. Just down from the top of the steepest bit, the guys had thrown themselves into the shade of some overhanging trees to wait on us stragglers. As I walked up, a shiny new looking white GMC 4X4 pulled up to a stop kind of near the middle of the road, on the top of that steep section. I thought the driver maybe was going to give us a hard time, but when nothing happened, I thought maybe the driver was stopping to use a cell phone. Reception down in the hollows was sketchy. I paid no further mind to this and threw myself down into the cooler grass and closed my eyes for a bit. 

I wanted to rest there a long time. I needed to rest, but I had a driving urge to make sure everyone else was happy and I knew we needed to get a move on. I don't know how long I laid there, but when I felt no one else was going to make the call for me to move along, I stood up and motioned weakly that we should start going again.

I was walking my bike slowly on the grass, next to where the gravel met the green, and I heard a shout, "LOOK OUT!", and I lifted my eyes to see Dan Buettner, who had been right in front of me, cartwheeling off to my right. I had a second to realize that a white vehicle was about to hit me. I turned my face to the right, squeezed my eyes shut, and....................

Next, the conclusion of the ninth GTDRI.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame 2023; Photo Dump

Your Corporate Overlords drive an SUV.
I took a bunch of images while on my trip to the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame ceremonies and I thought I might go ahead and share those with you all today. 

These do not all have a direct connection to the GCHoF thing, but as you all know, UNBOUND week has several satellite events attached to it now and the GCHoF thing is one of those. 

In this photo dump I may or may not have some commentary for each image. There was a lot to take in and what impresses me more than anything else about UNBOUND is how large and overwhelming it has become. 

No longer is it a place to "meet your gravel family" because, truthfully, you could easily never see someone that is there due to the vast amount of people coming into the area for the week. Yes, I said the week. 

That's the other thing. This event is not a Friday-Saturday thing anymore. I saw more people on bicycles and wandering around that were out-of-towners than I ever have on a Wednesday before an event. Even Tuesday, when we arrived, you could easily find out-of-towners on bicycles cruising around. So, this event has major impact, not only economically, but in terms of the local residents as well. I'll have more to say about that in my final take on UNBOUND coming soon. For now, the images.....

There is something about the Flint Hills that hits differently.

Mrs. Guitar Ted and I ate at Casa Rojas on Tuesday evening. While the service was its usual top-tier and beyond reproach, the quality of the food wasn't up to snuff. This was a big disappointment for us. I remember this place having excellent Mexican cuisine in the past, but now it is just average fare. 

Some women's wind jackets that looked like something a rock star would wear. As seen in Merchant Cycles.

The Shimano vans were easy to spot. This is one of two that were there plus they had a "team car" as well.

I'm on the right just ahead of the rider in the foreground. Image by Jeff Kerkove.

Image by Jeff Kerkove

The efforts put forth to document every sweat bead shed at UNBOUND is amazing.

Image by Phyllis Stevenson

I ended my time in Emporia with my appearance for a recording of the "Gravel Family Podcast" in front of Merchant Cycles on Thursday morning. Normally I do not EVER get interviewed, so this was a fun change of pace. 

Sofia Gibson and Jason Strobehn do a great job of putting the show together and had some great questions lined up for me. I'll try to make sure I get a link thrown up here whenever that show is ready to go. I think they had six guests planned for recording so it may take a bit for this to show up. But I'll try to share it here when it does. 

I'll have an essay about the whole Emporia scene at Unbound coming out soon. Stay tuned.....

GCHoF 2023: Inductees & Comments

The Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame ceremonies were held at the Grenada Theater.
 Last year I reported on the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame ceremonies and gave my commentary on the deal from my personal perspective. (See that HERE) this time I am going to give my take on each inductee's speech and maybe give some thoughts on their importance to the Hall. 

This will not be a critique of how they gave their speech, although there may be a little of that, but more so I wanted to touch upon the theme and message that each person had to share, which is important for many reasons. I also feel that beyond the walls of the Grenada Theater you won't hear much about those messages, so this factors into why I wanted to write this post. These messages were too good not to share. 

I will cover each person and the THING in the order that they were presented May 31st, 2023 at the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame ceremony. 

Miguel Crawford: The Influencer:

Miguel Crawford, who was the creator of the Grasshopper events in the 1990's, was up first. I was a bit disappointed that he wasn't there as I was wanting to meet him, but at least we got a digital message to take in. 

Miguel's message was one of historical importance to the Northern California cycling scene and how his events disseminated an idea that adventure, fun, challenge, and inclusiveness was important and these ideals ended up being picked up and further refined by cyclists like Yuri Hauswald who attended the very first "Hopper", as they came to be known. The Hoppers are still going on 25+ years afterward and are still influencing gravel culture to this day. The way that Miguel's events have molded what many outside of the Mid-West see as 'gravel' is inestimable. 

Michelle Davis, Joel Dyke's widow, shares her views upon Joel's induction to the Hall.

Joel "Big Grin" Dyke: The Man With The Plan For All The Wack-A-Doodles Out There:

 Joel Dyke, if you are not aware, is one of the co-founders of what became UNBOUND, which is happening today. His place in the history of gravel cycling is therefore cemented in place beyond argument based upon that alone, but Joel represents so much more than that.

In my opinion, his widow, Michelle Davis, nailed Joel's subversive character, and his motivations to get more people on bicycles to have fun, perfectly. Calling those Joel influenced "wack-a-doodles", Michelle helped us understand that Joel is responsible for the participation of many cyclists who wanted to see just how far they could really go, because Joel thought up ways to allow them to do just that, and invited them in with enthusiasm and joy.

Michelle rightly suggested that, had Joel still been alive, that he may not have attended the ceremony, or wanted to accept such an accolade. However; I would like to think otherwise, only because Joel is the perfect representative of the common gravel rider, the "outsider", the under-represented, and the people who wouldn't consider themselves "racers". It is my belief that Joel would have been a champion for these sorts of people and causes mostly based upon his encouragements to me after he stepped away from the promotions of the DK200. 

But we'll never know that, and for that, I am eternally saddened. After the ceremonies, I had a chance to speak with, and really, mostly just listen to, Michelle as she shared her thoughts and feelings on the evening. With her were her two children she had with Joel. It was heart-wrenching for me to look into their bright eyes and see the reflection of their father whom they will never have the chance to know.  This makes me so blessed and honored to have known Joel the little bit that I did and to know that he is forever enshrined for his efforts in the sphere of gravel cycling. 

Yuri Hauswald: He Raced For Her:

Yuri Hauswald, as mentioned previously in Miguel Crawford's story, was a participant in the first Hopper event and came from a background of mountain biking. However; in 2013 he discovered the DK200 and won the event in the legendary "Mud Year" of 2015. His finishline interview that year was a heartfelt tribute to his wife who was battling stage four colon cancer at the time. Amazingly, she has survived and was at the ceremonies to see her husband enshrined. 

Of course, there is much more to Yuri's story with gravel. Overall, I would say that Yuri's story is also one of influence, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, which has spurred the gravel movement forward with each effort he made. 

To say that Yuri's fingerprints are all over the gravel world is not an overstatement. I won't get into all those details here, but he certainly has the qualities that make a Hall of Fame worthy inductee. Both from an athletic perspective and from the influencer side. And most importantly, Yuri isn't done yet. I cannot wait to see how he helps push the category forward in the future. 

Allison Tetrick: She Found Her Home:

Allison Tetrick's speech was about as long as the UNBOUND 200, but it embodied her expressiveness and her personality which was formed early on by her parents and especially her "Grampy" who was the main influence for her to get on the bike and compete. 

Searching for the "certain something" that was missing she went from a full scholarship tennis player to, briefly, a triathlete, then to a Pro road cyclist. After she experienced several setbacks and struggles she found herself trying out this weird thing in Kansas called a gravel event. Well, she won it. That would have been the DK200, by the way. 

Allison went on to become a three-time Gravel Worlds champion and has cemented herself in as a top female influencer in the gravel arena as well. She continues to champion female participation in the sport and she still competes at a high level in the sport. But from what I gathered upon listening to her at the GCHoF induction, it is that she finally has found her "home" in gravel cycling and its people. 

The Chaise Lounge: Keeping Gravel "Real" One Photo Op At A Time:

In a surprise announcement, GCHoF Board member LeLan Dains announced that there would be a new category for "things" which were influential to the gravel scene. The first inductee had a nomination written so convincingly that the Board felt that a new category was necessary. So, we got the Chaise Lounge from Salsa Cycles as the first in the category. 

Okay.... So that's weird, but listen, if you took anything at all away from Wednesday evening's speeches, what Mike Reimer said "on behalf the the Chaise" is worth remembering. 

Essentially, the message was directed at an imaginary field of riders.The "fast folks" were reminded to remember that the mid-to-back-of-the field racers were enduring for longer and that their efforts were worthy as any winner's were. That the fast folks needed to stick around to cheer on those folks and be invested in their experiences after the event.

Conversely, the mid-to-back-of-the field riders were reminded that the fast folks were people who were working hard, had sacrificed a lot to be where they are at, and that this deserved respect as well. We were reminded to celebrate their accomplishments and remember that many of them are there to make a living, and are not just riding for fun. 

And then we are all to respect and honor those who are less represented and under-privileged as well, lifting them up and celebrating them for who they are and what their accomplishments are also. 

Oh! We all got these sweet vests also.

More Thoughts On The Ceremonies: 

 The ceremonies were a bit different than last year's.  This time recipients were given more freedom to express themselves. There also was more integration of video as well as the speeches themselves. Joel Dyke's video featured the People's Punk Band's song called "Big Grin" along with a montage of Joel doing what he did best, including flipping the bird! 

The surprise category is something I had no idea about at all, but as it was announced, the electors will elect subsequent entries to that category in the future. I think it is appropriate given that certain elements of the early gravel scene, like post card entries and cue sheets, are probably little known to today's gravel freaks. 

Of course, the hardware innovations could be a part of that category as well, and I fully expect to see things like tires and bicycles introduced in the future as being "hall worthy". But I am only one guy speculating on that.

The ceremonies were capped off by the after-party which was well attended and which was held in the Merchant Cycles space, same as last year, only then it was known as Gravel City Adventure and Supply. The name change reflects a change in ownership. Now Bobby Wintle, Yuri Hauswald, and Tim and Kristi Mohn own the shop and LeLan Dains has stepped out of his role as an owner selling his part of the business. 

The ceremonies themselves were better attended. I saw a pretty full house downstairs and it looked pretty good up in the balcony as well. Much better than last year's event. So, that was nice to see. I think the promotions leading up to the event were better, more consistent, and that this brought in a lot more folks. 

In fact, I and the rest of the first class were asked to do little promos, which I did. Interestingly, Chris Skogen's was kind of an overall ambivalent effort which I noted wasn't used by the GCHoF account. But that's a Mr. Skogen thing, which didn't surprise anyone at the GCHoF. It was pointed out to me that Mr. Skogen had mentioned he had written two acceptance speeches last year, a negative one and a positive one, and he gave the positive one. Then he stepped out of the building, walked across the street to a tatoo business, and got "HoF" engraved into his arm, so......

Anyway, good times. I was glad that I attended. 

Next: A Photo Dump from the trip.......

Friday, June 02, 2023

Country Views: Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame Ride

Escape Route: 18th Ave NW, Emporia, Kansas
The Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame Ride was one of the things I most looked forward to about our trip. It is the reason we left to get to Emporia, (Mrs. Guitar Ted and I) on Tuesday. I won't bore you with the trip down details. It was a mundane 6.5 hr drive. I tell ya this much - I'm getting to the point where I don't like sitting in a car for that long. 

But I did it for this, and I am really happy about that. I saw a lot of folks I haven't seen in a long time. Some for a really long time. 

So, anyway, the ride! It was a ride that was kind of a strange one in that we were to meet a ride in progress and escort those riders back to Emporia. That ride we were to meet, loosely known as the "Gravitude Ride", started in Lawrence Kansas at Sunflower Bikes, led by their owner, Hall of Famer, (or "GCHoF'er - pronounced "geechoff'er" ) Dan Hughes. 

The ride was to start out for me in front of Merchant Cycles, (formerly Gravel City Adventures), at 11:00am. I figured that if I left my motel room, which was at the far Northwestern part of Emporia, at 10:00am or slightly afterward, I would have plenty of time to get there. I took the pink BMC for this one, and wore a Summertime kit which was appropriate for the high 80's-low 90's that was forecast for the ride. 

I arrived in front of the bike shop and saw someone I have not seen in probably more than a decade.

A clue as to who I saw.....

My Trans Iowa co-founder! Jeff Kerkove!

So, Jeff was in town for the big gravel expo and the event. He was pretty sure he was doing the 200, but.... If it rains..... (And it appears that will be the case.) Maybe not, but we will see. Anyway, that was the least of our concerns at the time. I had a nice long chat before the start of the event, and I actually spent some time chatting on the road with him as well. What a great surprise! I could have left and gone home with that being enough, but there was more!

Gravel Worlds promoter and GCHoF Board member, Jason Strobehn was the ride leader.

Riding out on Commercial Street.

My brother from another mother, MG was there too! I haven't seen him in so long! This was already an awesome ride and we hadn't even left town yet! Well, that time came, finally, and after Gravel Worlds and "geechof" board member Jason Strobehn called us to order, we rolled out of town on Commercial Street.

I got early twenty-teens DK200 vibes as the 50-ish riders rolled out down the street. I remember the first year the DK did this and while it would have been darker, with less cars around, I felt like I was rolling back in time a bit there. Especially with Corey, "Cornbread" Godfrey rolling along beside me, just like in 2010! I couldn't believe it. Yeah, I was having a good time already.

MAJOR props to this duo who did the entire ride.

What a wonderful sight to behold.

I had no idea where we were headed, but it was relayed to us at the start that the planned meet-up with the other riders was now not happening. They had planned to overnight at a campground near a lake Northwest of Emporia, but that evening it rained so hard that their encampment was flooded out and they all bailed out of the place and roomed up in Emporia instead. So they joined us for the ride and the distance was cut short accordingly. The route? Not even some of the ride leaders knew where we were going! 

I think that's awesome in these days of pre-planned, curated, GPS filed routes. We just had to trust to whomever had the "plan" and our job was just to stay upright and have fun.

I took this blind, over the shoulder shot, and look at who was sucking my wheel!

That's MG in the PCL jersey to the right there.

We stopped at Rocky Ford Bridge, or "Bird Bridge" as it is known by some. It is on one of the old DK200 "Route Challenge" routes and is a "beginner level" route. I didn't know this until we stopped at the bridge for a photo op with new GCHoF'ers, Allison Tetrick and Yuri Hauswald. There was some chatter about "murder ordained" and then I vaguely recalled the route being named something like that from years past. But that wasn't a big deal. It was just fun to stop and celebrate the new GCHoF members and then we were off again. 

2023 GCHoF inductees Yuri Hauswald (L) and Allison Tetrick (R)

The Flint Hills are all about cattle and feeding them the rich prairie grasses.

Leaving the bridge provided the only real climbing in this route and it wasn't too much of a burden to keep up even though we don't have that steep of a climb near where I live in Waterloo in the country. I'd have to go to Tama County for that. I gotta get down that way soon...

Of course there was a minimum maintenance road on the route!

The ride ended by coming back into Emporia on the road it left for the ride on. In all, it was a 13 mile loop, plus whatever I rode to get down there. When I was finished I chatted with a few folks, including the "Bike Monkey", who I know from Twitter, and Mike "Kid" Reimer from Salsa Cycles. 

Then I got ahold of Mrs. Guitar Ted, and we went and got some lunch. We chilled out for a bit and then we got dressed up for a night out at the GCHoF inductions ceremonies and after party. 

Stay tuned for that report next......