Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Gravel Worlds '16: The Long Slog Northward

Hills, Wind, but low humidity and temperatures, which made it all tolerable.
Leaving Roca I decided to hit out before my riding mates, Tony, Martin, and the others in our little loosely knit band. I figured I could set my pace while those guys would likely reel me in and pass me handily. So, off I went up the paved road out of Roca Eastward. When it came time to get back to gravel, it was right into the headwind. But you know what? I didn't think it was a thing, I just plugged along. Sure enough, within about five or six miles, Tony went by on a climb and I set to just doing my best.

Somewhere in the stretch to the next checkpoint at mile 75.2, I was by myself and then I found myself going back and forth with a women who finally faded behind me for a bit. Then on a down hill into a little valley, I heard a startling sound. It had been fairly peaceful, with just the noises of gravel on my Sparwoods and the wind, but then this sound! I thought it was peacocks. They sound like girls screaming, you know. But then I heard actual words in this cacophony, and I realized it was a few women who were excited to have come across each other out on the course. Wow! Well, now that I knew what that was, I just got back to grinding. Sometimes you forget there are a lot of other people riding not far from you.

As I was plugging along, I found I had come to the end of a cue sheet, and I had to swap over to the next. I was checking on a place to do this, because it takes a lot of my focus off the road and that isn't good on hills or in bad gravel and sand. So I ended up having to stop to swap the sheets quickly. When I did, I didn't see a checkpoint marked. What I didn't know was that the blank line on my page that I was looking at was where my printer decided to print white on white, so I didn't know if that was a cue I was missing or what. I wasn't worried about missing a turn, because I could see multiple tire tracks and sight riders up the road most of the time. But.......where the heck is the next checkpoint?!! 

At the Reinkordt Farm checkpoint. Mrs. Reinkordt is by the hayrack with the black t-shirt on. Her pickles are famous!
 I ended up tracking down Tony and I asked him where the next checkpoint was on the cues and he allayed my fears. So it was closer than I thought, and that was good. The Sun was out full force now and it was warm. But I was still on my schedule of nutrition and water uptake, so things were working and despite aching legs, a mind that was wanting to go to sleep, and wind, I was doing okay.

The Reinkordt Farm has been a standard on the Gravel Worlds course off and on since the beginning. I love stopping here and I was glad it was a checkpoint for 2016. I have always left a bit more enriched than when I first rolled in whenever I've been there. This time was no different. Since it isn't a blog-safe story, if you ever see me, ask me about the Spanish foreign exchange student's take on the American Slang concerning the wind. It's a hoot of a story. Really. Mr. Reinkordt, if you ever read this, know that my friend Tony and I have been laughing on and off about that story ever since!

It's a gravel grindin' bike, don't cha know?
An ancient "gas pipe" tubed Schwinn converted into a single speedin' gravel mutt! We don't need no stinkin' carbon!
The Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Onward ye scalawags! To Malcom!
Leaving the Reinkordt Farm was a good time. I felt refreshed after a Lime soda which had me wide awake, and I was feeling great. Ten miles or so to Malcom, and I knew the road there well enough, having ridden it a few times. I was on fire in a good way, and my riding showed it. This was arguably the best section during Gravel Worlds for me.

The Malcom General Store was an optional stop this year, but as we were all getting tired as the afternoon wore on, we kind of all made the move to park for a bit and take our ease. I decided to not buy anything here, and looking back on that decision, I probably would have gone in given a second chance. It was an issue with falling asleep and getting mentally dull that was going to rear its ugly head again, but I didn't think that was possible after staying on my scheduled nutrition plan and just having had the best ten mile stretch of the ride so far.

Malcom was buzzing with riders and afterward I heard not a few who had taken sustenance at the barbecue place there and they all had declared it good eating.  I don't know. Another year and I may have eaten something, but after the GTDRI debacle with eating and stomach shutdown I was loathe to get off my nutritional bandwagon, and that meant staying out of convenience/general stores with lots of things to get me sidetracked. So, I just sat on the green grassy bank opposite the general store and drank water and ate my own vittles.

Martin photobombing my Malcom General Store pic. That yella bellied scalawag!
The Black Beard Micro-Pirate says, "Get ye up ya lazies! There's a wind a blowin' no good and ye have ta gets ye to Valpraiso! "

So, we cruised on out of Malcom heading North and then there was a brief respite out of the wind to the East. The hills were beastly and the wind was picking up steam. The hill climbs were actually better than the down hills. At least you were sheltered from the blasting Northwest wind. I don't know what it was, but in here I was getting the worst of the wind. I don't think it was my imagination either, but again, I was getting tired and nodding off more as the miles wore on.

There was the Branched Oak Farm oasis stop which allowed me to regroup a bit, but I was definitely suffering like a dog about this time. It wasn't fun at all through this stretch of Gravel Worlds. I wasn't very talkative, and I think Tony could see I was fading a bit. I resolved to see triple digits on my computer though, so after a bit, we slipped out and made our way to Valpraiso. I would regard my ride with more scrutiny then, but not until then.

Dark times for me at the Branched Oak Farm oasis. Even the Black Beard Micro-Pirate didn't come out to hang with me!
After peeling out of that farm I had the darkest time of all with regard to my day's riding. I was just slower. I was getting really hungry, and I even had to break schedule to eat a half an hour earlier than I should have just to stave off a bonk. I had water a plenty. In fact, I had to stop to take a nature break. Tony was faster than I and was long gone up the road. I was alone and maybe for good this time.

I looked at my cue sheets a little closer. The better to distract my mind from my screaming legs and the incessant hills of doom. These dang hills! Then I saw it. A little mountain icon right on the cue line I was on course at. Dang it! No wonder I am suffering worse than ever now. This is a bad hilly section! No wonder I was working so darn hard. I was determined to go at a sustainable pace, and that was a bit slower than I had been going. I was okay, but I was going to need to see that convenience store in Valpraiso soon!

I was coming up a very steep hill when I noticed a bunch of riders gathered off on the left side around a pick-up truck. Hmm.... Maybe more "course cruisers"? Tony and I had noted a few cars that seemed to be following along as we went, with certain riders seemingly "visiting" said vehicles at times. Ahem! Well, it isn't my race to run, so I'll just leave it at that, but after a bit I noted that this wasn't one of those deals. It was a "trail angel" and her kids with some cold drink dispensing for any and all. I decided to stop, then fought the impulse, and I was undecided. Then I saw a familiar blue frame and a figure coming into focus. Tony! He was waiting for me! Wow!

Tony looked me straight in the eye and asked, "How ya feelin'?" I replied, "I feel fine, I'm just slow. I had to stop for a nature break...." Tony was relieved, and gave a hearty "Good! Good! Glad to hear that!", in reply.

I knew from that minute we were  finishing this thing.

The scene in Valpraiso.
There was no coke in the trail angel's truck, she'd just been wiped out by the previous horde. I grabbed some beef jerky and left with Tony. Suddenly the hills were less, the wind was dying, and we were rolling up into triple digits on the Gravel Worlds course. Valpraiso was just up the road and the headwind section had been conquered. Now to finish this thing off. No matter how long it took, it was going to happen now.

The Black Beard Micro-Pirate said, "Drink ye deep, me hearties! The home stretch be all that's left and then to Paradise!"
Next: It Ain't Over Till It's Over.

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