Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Country Views: Local Gravel

 This past weekend I got back on the horse again, but it was a different ride than I thought it would be. See, N.Y. Roll had a ride route plan and I was to meet he and Tom again for about 50 miles of Grundy and Black Hawk County gravel. The time was set for the meeting at 6:00am at the corner of Shaulis Road and HWY 63. That would mean that I'd need to leave the house no later than 5:30 am and that I'd have to be out of bed no later than 5:00 am. 

So, I set everything out the night before and got into bed around 9:30pm to make sure I was well rested. About 4:45am I was awakened by lightning and thunder. Hmm......it wasn't supposed to rain. I grabbed my phone and saw that we were in for rain until at least after 7:00am. N.Y. Roll texted then and pushed the meeting time back, but the weather did not relent until almost 9:00am and the ride was off the table for me. I had to be done by 10:00-11;00 am so I could do some things with Mrs Guitar Ted. 

So, the ride I did I did solo and I didn't get out until mid-afternoon. By this time it was hot, humid, and there was little wind to speak of to start out with. I grabbed the Twin Six Standard Rando v2 single speed and rode from the house to points East and North. While it was up around 90°F, and the humidity made it worse than that, I figured I shouldn't let all that heat training I did for Gravel Worlds go to waste. 

Looking East up Newell Avenue.

Looking East up Barclay Road. The corn is drying down fast out here.

The country seems devoid of birds now. I only saw a couple of doves. Sounds of birds singing and chirping have been replaced by the constant drone of 'neek-breek!-neek-breek!-neek-breek!' of crickets and grasshoppers with the occasional louder 'bzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzzzztt!....zzztt!...zzt!' of cicadas. It gives the country a lonesome, melancholy feel, at least I think so.

A week ago I was working up the giant waves in Nebraska on sandier gravel. Here, in Iowa where I live, the gravel is completely different. We've got that 'white rock' chunky-goodness. It rattles and knocks and makes your bike less stable. We've also got hills, but around here, these just don't compare to what I just rode in Nebraska. 

I worked really hard last weekend and I think it gained me some fitness because even though I was on the single speed I felt like this route was easy. I was carrying a lot more speed, and it was okay, even though I am sure I am not yet 100% recovered just yet from Gravel Worlds. 

It is almost like when you were young and that hill you had to walk up seemed so intimidating. Then you leave and climb some mountains and come back one day to that hill. It seems all wrong. Where did that big hill go? I know it was right here but all I see is this little rise in the road. Huh!? 

And coming back to ride the local gravel now is kind of like that for me. Those hills were a pain earlier this year, but now? Pffft! Not a problem! Not even on a single speed. I felt good, but I know that I had to work at it to get to this point. And I am very glad I did that work. It made the two hour ride in brutal heat and humidity not so bad after all.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Randomonium: Catching Up

 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?

After a week of event recap it is time to get back on track here at Guitar Ted Productions. Regular blog scheduling will now commence! So, to get up to date here, I have a few tidbits that I thought were interesting that I would share here before getting into current events.

Finish Line FiberLink Sealant: 

I mentioned the new Finish Line sealant in an "FN&V" post a couple of weeks ago. Well, some showed up for testing on RidingGravel.com last week. (Standard Disclaimer) Now I have it installed on a set of wheels and we will see how it goes. Stay tuned for that...

Rainy Daze:

Almost every day in June, July, and half of August was rain-free. Now it decides it is time to play catch-up! Man! Last week we got hammered a few days with rain to the point that neighborhoods in Waterloo were getting flooded. Obviously it has affected the dirt trails and gravel roads here also. The biggest threat to cycling is the lightning. I really do not want to be out with the possibilities for that being as high as they were. I know that Tuesday here I would have gotten hosed had I been out in the country because that storm blew up, (literally and figuratively) in a big hurry. Glad I wasn't out that day, and I could have been, but I was in recovery mode from Gravel Worlds. 

24hrs of Cumming Changes Hands:

In late 2018 it was announced that there would be an event based on Trans Iowa and called "Iowa Wind and Rock". It would join the Spotted Horse and soon to be announced Iowa Gravel Classic as the three events which would fall under the auspices of a group called "Relentless Events"

Now Relentless Events has 'adopted' the 24hrs of Cumming, an event run for several years by Steve Cannon, the ultra-distance runner/cyclist from Iowa. The 24hrs of Cumming is much like an MTB 24hr event in its format and with regard to its classes. The course can be done solo, in a duo format, by teams, in a relay style, and in 24 or 12 hour formats

 Steve Cannon has stepped aside as the director and now with Relentless Events taking the reins it appears that Adam Blake, who has previously been associated with this event, is taking over as director. From the release posted on the 24hr of Cumming's Facebook page;

"We are looking forward to continuing to offer the 24 Hours of Cumming in a format that everyone has come to expect, and we have some exciting changes planned going forward. We are also happy that Adam Blake’s energy and wit will continue to be part of the 24 HOC experience for everyone to enjoy."

 Questions Over Unfairness In Women's Gravel Racing Arise:

After the kerfuffle arose from the recently run SBT GRVL concerning the practice of men working to pull a woman contender to the front and keep her up front, there have been several media posted articles and athlete discussions on social media about this tactic. Many from the gravel side say it is unfair while those coming from a pro road racing background are now calling for separate women's fields and start times. 

Meanwhile, almost everyone that is not a Pro or Elite racer doesn't care. 

That should be the very first red flag for promoters to notice. Your core audience thinks maybe that stuff is goofy, and they could give a rip about whether you have racers up front or not. So, it would seem that these problems are arising due to an unnecessary part of an event for most people. It's true that many times entry fees are deferred for certain Pros, and obviously concessions to the Pros make racing for others more expensive. Not to mention what amenities have to be provided to cater to that level of athlete. 

Secondly, the purses and prizes- not to mention the intangibles of sponsorship and support outside of the event prizing, are another factor involved here. When it comes to sponsorship and prize money, those pearls are what Pro/Elite racers strive for to support/fund their season. When that sort of stuff is at stake in an event, the tactics and strategies to obtain them, or chances at the sponsorships outside the event, are going to motivate unsavory results. 

My more detailed take on all of this can be read HERE. The only other thing I'll add here is that most of these issues could be solved if promoters/RD's took a stronger stance against the silliness and actually enforced what they say with swift disqualifications without regard to who is the offending party. If, for instance, you, as a male, are told not to 'work for' a female competitor, and you are found doing so? Both the male and female get the DQ. Promoters whine and say this is unenforceable. I say bull dookey! Find ways to do this IF you are inviting those likely to cheat and take unfair advantages to your event. I can think of a few ways I would do this, so if a silly punter in Iowa has some solid ideas, I bet those smarter than I could get the job done. Drones come to mind.... Anyway..... Another idea- Don't cater to the old racing formats you think are 'necessary'. There are creative ways to get competitive racing juices flowing without drawing from Pro Roadie tradition. (Cue sheet nav, timed sections) Or how about this- Take away the money. You cry foul? I say- Almanzo 100! (Which would still be going on had it not been for the unnecessary instability injected into the proceedings by its former  RD) 

Saying "it can't be done" is quitter talk. I do not want to support quitter mindset promoters. It's on the RD's to clean this up, and strong willed, fair minded, action-taking RD's will not have issues with the following: Men letting women draft so women gain an advantage on fellow competitors, litter bugs, course-cutters, supported riders in "unsupported events", or whatever the latest issue-du-jour may be for the Pro/Elite fields. And yes- maybe Pro/Elites need their own events. (See how far down the road that takes you once you get off the backs of ordinary riding folk.)

Gearing Up For Late Year Adventures:

One other thing I did last week was I went through my Ti Muk 2 so it would be good to go for things coming up. Ya know.....like Fall and Winter? It's just around the corner now. 

Of course,  a couple of those things I needed to do were already done. Like getting new sealant in the tires, and putting on that new Answer handle bar. But during the process of putting the bar on I somehow disconnected the rear tail light wire. I looked into that and it turned out to just be a pulled spade connector which was easily repaired. 

I did get a test ride in last Friday and everything worked out great. I only have to tweak the angle of the saddle a bit which had been knocked out of whack last year when I came down wrong on the saddle after slipping off one pedal. Once that gets rectified the Ti Muk 2 will be ready for adventures on gravel, dirt, and snow.

And with that I think I've covered the things that were going on here and most important while mentioning some current events in the gravel scene. Next I have a report on a ride over the weekend, some Trans Iowa Stories news, and regular "FN&V" with some other meanderings coming soon. 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: It's About The People - Part 3

Sarah Cooper's portrait by Wally Kilburg. Sarah would go on to help produce IWAR.
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject  by clicking on the "Trans Iowa Stories" link under the blog header. Thanks and enjoy! 

In this, the third and final look at the important people of Trans Iowa's past, I'll be focusing in on those individuals who were key to the last three Trans Iowa events. Some I've mentioned before, but their influence and contributions spanned several years of Trans Iowa. Some I will mention here for the first time. 

Finally, I've been treated to some great Trans Iowa stories and memories from riders recently. I am collecting these to - hopefully - put into a book at the end of this series. If you were a Trans Iowa rider and have any memories that you'd like to share, please do and send those to g.ted.productions@gmail.com. Maybe your tale will also end up in the Trans Iowa Book Of Tales! 

I'm going to kick off this last post on the people important to Trans Iowa by featuring Sarah Cooper, a highly accomplished cyclist and now event promoter, along with longtime Trans Iowa volunteer and veteran rider, Steve Fuller. Sarah was important to Trans Iowa not only for winning the Women's Open division twice, but for being the person that most influenced me after T.I.v10 to keep Trans Iowa going. She was also very supportive of me behind the scenes over the last few years of Trans Iowa and was the first person to ask if there were any way to keep a T.I.-like event going post-Trans Iowa. Obviously, she, Steve, and a few other folks started up the "Iowa Wind and Rock" event which is Trans Iowa's direct descendant. I'll get around to all that soon enough here. 

Greg Gleason during T.I.v14- Image by Jon Duke
Another important rider who was in the last three Trans Iowa events, besides winning T.I.v10 and v12, was Greg Gleason. Greg animated all the T.I.'s he was in very heavily and I cannot speak about Trans Iowa's history without acknowledging Greg's heavy influence upon the story lines. 

As a person, and as a rider, I always have had nothing but the utmost respect for Greg. He always had one of the best attitudes I ever witnessed in a Trans Iowa event and was a pleasure to get to know from my view. Likewise, Greg always supported the event and was very complimentary toward me and Trans Iowa. Something, obviously, that means a lot to me even now. 

There was only one heart wrenching incident which Greg was a part of that, I would imagine, he regrets as much or more than I do, but I'll get to that story later in the series. Besides that incident, I will chiefly remember Greg's affable character, broad smile, and as always, his green handle bar tape!

Gt congratulating Jana Vavra upon finishing T.I.v14- Image by John Duke

Jana Vavra, the stalwart woman cyclist from the Lincoln, Nebraska scene, was obviously cemented into T.I. history when she became the first woman to ever finish the event in T.I. v7. She also had the distinction of being the only female to finish T.I.v14, winning the Women's Open, and becoming the last woman to cross a Trans Iowa finish line. 

What's even more impressive is that Jana not only was the only female to finish that last T.I., but that roster featured the most women that ever started a Trans Iowa! Of all the things that we accomplished and witnessed at Trans Iowa, for myself, Jana Vavra's participation in Trans Iowa is amongst the top of the heap of the best of those things. In my opinion, she blew the roof off the barriers to participating in Trans Iowa. She represented an example of toughness, not just for women, but for athletes in general. There weren't many other people that participated in Trans Iowa's events that were tougher and had more grit than Jana Vavra. I'll say it again- one of the most under-rated women in gravel grinding history. 

A rider with a farm tractor in the background from T.I.v14 by Jon Duke

In terms of support and volunteers, I have to mention the selfless support and creative energy that Jon Duke gave to the last few Trans Iowa events. Starting out as a volunteer at Trans Iowa, Jon stepped in as the event photographer when Wally Kilburg's life took a turn and prevented him from being a part of things. 

Jon took some fantastic images, some which are iconic to the end of the Trans Iowa era, and his contributions to the imagery of Trans Iowa are every bit as important and impressive as those who came before him. Not only was Jon an important part of the story-telling in images, but he was also a great help to me in interfacing with the City of Grinnell. 

Jon also was important post-Trans Iowa as an image taker and liaison between the Grinnell officials and my last event I promoted, the "C.O.G. 100". Jon then went on to become a key individual in promoting and running the Prairie Burn 100 gravel event in Grinnell.  

Dennis (L) and Christina Grelk at CP#1 during T.I.v13

Former winner of Trans Iowa, Dennis Grelk, became a volunteer for me at both of the first checkpoints for the last two Trans Iowas. He and his wife, Christina, ran the checkpoint to perfection and were so reliable and efficient that I never gave a thought to a thing concerning how they would handle the affairs. 

Dennis also had a very distinct, dry wit which was full of wisdom. The thing is, you could really never guess when the deep waters of his mind would open up and let one of the many gems about Trans Iowa come forth. In fact, two years past the last Trans Iowa, Dennis gave me a gem of a quote concerning the events of days gone by that I will always cherish. I'll share that quote later in this series. 

Mike Johnson (L) and Matt Gersib (MG) at T.I.v14
Of course, I cannot finish this series without mentioning a few of my main supports which were always there for me during the last Trans Iowas. There were people like Tony McGrane, who was always willing and able to do whatever heavy lifting I needed done during a Trans Iowa weekend. He along with Mike Johnson, typically, were running interference ahead of the riders, marking corners, being lookouts, and always ready to be there for me to just hang and have a good time. 

The Mathias'- Celeste and John, who selflessly gave of their time and talents to be image takers and course observers for me during the last three Trans Iowas. I never asked them to do this, they just gave of themselves. The last Trans Iowa was one where their loyalty and help was most appreciated. I'll get to that story later as well. 

Jeremy Fry, of course, was my right-hand man for recon and logistics with regard to cues. He did not help me in that way for T.I.v14, but he had a good reason for this, which will be told when I get to the T.I.v14 story. Suffice it to say that to this day Jeremy is a staunch supporter of what we did at Trans Iowa. 

And finally, my brother, Matt Gersib. Wow..... It just wouldn't have been the same without his massive contributions to the event. He was a stalwart supporter of Trans Iowa, and the one I leaned on in tough times during those last Trans Iowas. There were things that we shared which I consider sacred. I won't tell of them, but that's the way it should be amongst brothers. Needless to say, I'll never forget those times I had with Matt.

So, there are a few more souls I owe a lot to. I'm know that there are many, many others too, but this could go on forever if I keep adding names. I feel like I have covered the main players in the field. That said, one always feels that they probably have short-changed someone when they make a list of those they wish to call out and thank. I'm no different in that area. 

Next: A Look At The Landscape in 2016

GW '21; Gear Review

This will conclude my GW '21 postings. This post will be all about the gear I used and how I feel about each choice I made. Some things I've mentioned already, some I have not ever before here. Here we go.....

The Bike: Obviously many of you are familiar with Black Mountain Cycles and their MCD model. But I had several questions about what my bicycle was during the event, so obviously many folks are unaware of Black Mountain Cycles yet. 

In my opinion, this bike is a cross between a Salsa Cycles Fargo and a Vaya. It does some things neither of those two can do and in a style that is all its own. The segmented fork and cool rear drop outs are something not usually found on frames at this price and the bike handles and rides really well. I was able to shoe-horn in bottle cages and bottles with enough capacity that I did not have to worry about running out of water or have to carry any on my back in a hydration pack. 

The gearing I chose was spot-on, for the most part. There were maybe three times I hit the right shift lever hoping for one more gear and there wasn't one, so overall, pretty good there. I ran my 11 speed SRAM 11-36T cassette. I have an 11-40T Shimano cassette I toyed around with putting on, but that would have necessitated some modifications and a new chain. Chains are hard to come by now, so I just dealt with what I had on there. And as I said- it got me by. I never had to consider hopping off and walking. Crank gearing was my preferred 36/46T CX gearing which has less range, but also less of a cadence jump when you switch over rings. If you get into a groove with 36/46 gearing it can feel exactly like a cassette gearing change when you shift in a sequence. For me? It is the only way to go with a double. 

Accessories and Other Components: 

I use Bike Bag Dude bags which- in my opinion - are the toughest, most functional bags around. They are light too, which is a big deal when you are climbing 10,000+ feet in a day. BBD bags have never let me down and I have no reason to look elsewhere for basic, "nothing you don't need and everything you do" bags. I used the Garage Top Tube Bag and a pair of Chaff Bags on either side of the stem. In the right one I had my water bottle. Easy access and it always stayed put. The left one carried food and other nutrition. The Top Tube Garage held a Silca mini-pump, a multi-tool, and some supplements along with my cell phone. 

The cock pit was all Redshift Sports. Their Kitchen Sink handle bar, ShockStop Stem, and hand grips all added up to comfort and control all day. Especially on the rutted dirt roads and gravel road washboard sections. In conjunction with the ShockStop seat post, with the WTB Silverado saddle, I was isolated from all that chatter and bigger hits were rounded off so I did not have to absorb the full impact. I will add that the aero bit on the handlebar did not really factor into my ride, so I could have maybe done without that bit but it did make for a convenient place to mount my GPS computer, which was a Super GPS from Lezyne, by the way. 

My home made cue sheet holder, while not being very pretty, was cheap, easy, and very effective. My packing tape laminated T.I. style cues were great. My paying attention? Could use a little polishing up there! But yeah....I'd do it this way again. I don't think you could come up with a lighter, more effective way to do this than what I had on there. 

Lights were the Ravemen 800 Lumen head light and the Ravemen 50 Lumen tail light. Both were great and did just what I needed them to do. 

Wheels and Tires: 

 As I stated, I used a set of WTB's newest carbon wheels at Gravel Worlds. The CZR wheels were super! I'll save the rest of my thoughts on why for the RidingGravel.com review.

The tires were WTB Resolute SG2 models. The Resolute was designed with heavy input from Trans Iowa experiences with multiple surfaces in mind. As an all-around tire, it has few peers. Plus with the SG2 puncture protection, these tires are up to the task of not letting you down in the middle of no where. These tires were used with Stan's, by the way. 

The combination of the Resolute's width and the wheels was a winner. I tracked straight and true and the tires never let go once on me, even getting me through the sandiest sections of road with confidence inspiring stability. I had thought about popping on some Riddlers which I probably would have liked better had the course not received any rain, but as it was, everything worked out perfect here. 


I used a few items that were essential to my comfort and performance at Gravel Worlds. First up was the GORE bibs with the Elastic Interface insert. (Shown left) These bibs were the lightest, thinnest, and had the most comfortable insert of any bib shorts I have here. This was a no-brainer in terms of shorts choice. 

Insert Side Track Story: Warren Weibe, who- as I mentioned in the GW '21 race report- was at the start of the Long Voyage. He had a bit of advice for me as a bibs wearer. Apparently, when it gets super-stupid hot in Kansas they call it a "Bibs Day" and they take off their jersey, and they roll the bib straps down into their waist area, and ride that way to be cooler. Many bib shorts come up on the torso quite a ways, so I can see how this would be an effective measure. Fortunately I did not have to use this tip, but I thought I'd pass that along....

I'm going to mention my chamois creme here as it is imperative to use a product on the insert to help cut down on chafing and the resulting saddle sores which can develop. I used something I am going to review for RidingGravel.com shortly called "Honeybutt Chamois Creme".  It works very well, by the way, and I was happy to have it to use. 

As for a base layer, I used my new Twin Six base layer and over that went my limited edition Bike Rags Merino wool, Summer-weight, full zip jersey. The combination kept me dry, cool, and comfortable all day long. The security zip pocket in the left rear was perfect for my money as well, by the way. Unfortunately, you cannot get this jersey anymore, but it is probably the best wool jersey I have ever used in warm weather. 

I also used PCL branded Voler Sol Skin Sleeves which I was super happy to have on. I also used some Mint socks and I wore the Shimano MTB shoes from way back which I wrote about last week. On the head I wore a gifted Omaha Jackrabbit cycling cap and my Bontrager WaveCell helmet. Glasses were the transition lens Rudy Project glasses I have here. Everything worked great. I also wore a Twenty One Pilots branded bandana that my daughter gave to me around my neck and that served as my face mask at the start line. I kept it on all day though as it seemed to keep my neck cooler. 

NOTE: A LOT of what I used at GW '21 was former or current review stuff and as such, the Standard Disclaimer applies here. 


Besides these wheels and tires, this was the set-up I used at GW '21.

Final Verdict: Would I change anything about my set-up or my clothing? Hmm...... I cannot really say that I would. I don't recall getting frustrated with anything I used with the exception of the dried bananas, which were sticky-gooey and caused a bit of a mess on the levers after I handled the food and ate it. There I probably would do something differently, but other than that? No. I was about as dialed in as I could be. 

That bottle set up was perfect! I was so glad I spent the time dialing that in because there were some BIG hits on fast down hills. Especially on the dirt roads where I would have ejected those two big bottles in a heartbeat had I not figured out a secure strapping system for both of them. As it was, I was amazed something didn't come loose or fall off the bike, the biggest hits being that alarming. 

In conjunction with that, the Redshift ShockStop stuff was worth its weight in gold. I simply would never consider riding Gravel Worlds without those items. Maybe the handle bar could be left off, but those accessory grips did help a lot. Yeah....it would be hard for me to not take those things to a Gravel Worlds again. 

My issues at Gravel Worlds were self-inflicted. I should have done something different with the computer at the start. I probably would not have missed the turn later had I been on track mileage-wise. The sleepy issue may have been mitigated had I done several longer 75-100 mile rides for training where - perhaps- I would have been able to work on that. But all this year I did not ever once have those issues. Anyway, the gear and apparel? Spot on. Best I've done for an event in my opinion. 

And that closes out the GW '21 posts. I will return to regular posting on Monday!

Saturday, August 28, 2021

GW '21: Final Comments And Thoughts

Now that I have wrapped up my race recap, interspersed with a few observations on the event, I will now give a few opinions on the event itself. Keep in mind- the following is my opinion. It probably does not reflect most of what people think, nor does this probably represent the most popular opinions. 

So, with that I think it is very important for me to reiterate what I wrote at the onset of this report: 

"And here's another 'hot take': What Gravel Worlds is today is right up the alley of what most folks seem to want in gravel events. Yep. You can cry foul all you want, but almost everyone at the 2021 Gravel Worlds does not have any other reference point to judge the event by. It is what it is now, and whatever 'grassroots' is, most of the folks at Gravel Worlds have no clue about that era of the event. They never knew any better. So, it is hard to get that point across to those who attend now, and what's more, they probably don't care either."   

I would like to follow that up with a comment left by MG on that post:

"I agree that Gravel Worlds this year took a big step up in production. Whether that’s a good or bad thing probably has a lot to do with which event you participated in, and ultimately what you’re looking for in an event.

During the Long Voyage, as we were riding into the darkness Friday night, several other riders and I were talking about how a lot of ‘old school’ gravel riders are gravitating toward the longer events, simply because there are fewer people. I have to admit that the appeal of a smaller field was strong with me, and while I’m still hurting from the effort, the experience was well worth the work.


I thought a lot about what MG said in that comment and what I had written there as well. I have an analogy concerning gravel events which I will use now to kind of tie all these thoughts into a bow that - I think - will make sense for many folks. It has to do with inviting people over for a small dinner/party. 

For me, the early gravel events were a lot like those small, intimate parties you might have with a few close friends. Every party is different. The hosts imbue the party with their own flavor and style. The food might vary, the drinks may be unusual, and the venues rarely are similar. Then what happens if the party is successful? You want to do that again. You want to share that with more folks. The word gets out, and suddenly there is nowhere to park on your street and the food runs out and people don't have enough to drink. 

Then you have a decision to make: You either limit your dinner parties to a manageable level, and 'risk' putting people off, or you decide to go 'big time' and accommodate more folks. Then if you do the latter, you start to draw the attention of the grocer, the gas station in town, and maybe even the local authorities who see that something 'big' is going on. They press you to make it even bigger, so they can sell more goods, get more tourism dollars, and garner more attention for the community. Now you have to go to a bigger venue, get more equipment to cook things, more help to do the party, and on and on. Then it happens.....

The 'OG' party-goers don't feel like they have that intimate, close relationship with the event anymore. Heck, even 'professional' party goers are showing up now and taking all the best hors d'oeuvers and drinks! This ain't the party it use ta be! 

And I think that, in a very simplistic way, describes what some people do not like about "big time" gravel productions. The thing is, we in America seem to be attuned to equate 'success' with 'how prestigious and big' the event is. An event is not deemed 'successful' if it stays true to its roots. If an event doesn't value growth for the sake of growth, and doesn't care about prestigious participants, it is seen as a backwater event. But when an event cultivates an experience you cannot get with 2,000 riders in the field, it cannot 'grow' in the traditional sense- at least not the way many people seem to want them to grow. Gravel Worlds cannot be the Gravel Worlds it was in 2010 because the directors have chosen a different path for 2021 and the future. Any vestige of what was unique and had a different flavor has been molded out of the event to make room for all the things that folks deem necessary for 'success' in 2021 and beyond. 

And no one is 'right' or 'wrong' about that. It is just differing opinions on what makes a thing good. What is not up for debate, however, is that it was the smaller, more intimate gravel events that grew the sport into what it has become today. It is not up for debate that the smaller, more intimate events are what will keep gravel rooted in what made it popular in the first place into the future.  Big time, corporate gravel will exist for a while, but it will not be able to sustain itself. We saw it happen with road racing, mountain biking, and it will happen to gravel events as well. Vote with your dollars accordingly. 

 So, with all that prefaced here I will say that I felt Gravel Worlds made a big move toward being equated with events like Unbound, (DK200), SBT GRVL, Belgium Waffle, and others of that ilk. It seems to me that in the process details were left a little ragged. For example: The protocols for COVID were good, but definitely NOT enforced at the checkpoint where I saw no one wearing masks. (They stated that this was a requirement in an email sent a week ahead of the event) The lack of a rider pre-race meeting was a miss, in my opinion.  The use of copious loudspeakers with a constant drone of repeated admonishments instead was an unnecessary intrusion on local resident's lives and was annoying to many race participants. Besides- are you really getting your points across this way, or are you just satisfying a requirement? The "Don't Be Lame" rule was being broken a hundredfold by folks ditching masks and pitching food garbage all over the rustic Nebraska rural roads. Was anyone DQ'ed as the rules warned?

The hype and focus on Pro/Elite riders at the awards ceremonies and less on ordinary folk, like all the people of color I saw, was disappointing. Those were folks who deserved to be celebrated for coming out, but got no mention by the event that I heard or saw. (NOTE: There were a few pre-event Instagram shout-outs) There were some oddities with the Long Voyage, which I will reserve commenting on. The cue sheets sent to riders were definitely not on par with years past for this event. But - you know- with a large crowd, and with how folks attention is directed these days, most folks probably never noticed those things. I admit- I have a unique perspective. 

  There are still a lot of great things about Gravel Worlds. Many folks likely had life-changing experiences there this year. I had a life-changing experience there this year! Like I said- It isn't like what they were shooting for was 'wrong', or anywhere close to being that. It's just not what I fell in love with in 2009. And that's okay. It is just a different event now - and likely going forward. Hopefully they can tighten up the loose ends and be true to their stated rules and goals in the future.

A Final Gear Review for my Gravel Worlds attempt will be coming soon. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 27, 2021

GW '21: Shaking Hands With Adversity

GW '21 Barns For Jason #6

Note: The traditional "FN&V" is being superseded by my continued GW '21 report. FN&V will be back next week. 

Approximately 11:30am, Saturday August 21st 

As I rolled into Checkpoint #1 at Branched Oak Farms I was still feeling very positive. I was tired a bit- of course I was. I didn't really sleep the night before. But I felt pretty positive. I now was about to leave and have my longest ride of 2021 happen. The previous longest for the year? A weekend before with N.Y. Roll and Tom. So, I wasn't sure what would happen. 

I decided to use the porta-loo. These plastic formed outhouses of doom are a requirement for big crowds and events, and I was sure glad they were there. I 'ahem'! - I came out a little lighter than I went in. Let's just say that. I felt a lot better. 

After my exit I ran into Rob Evans, he of Cycle Works fame and a resident of the area. He was doing the 'Privateer', which is the 75 mile version of Gravel Worlds. The same checkpoint was in play for both distances. He interviewed me for.....something. Maybe it was an Instagram story? Not sure, but I had fun hamming it up and I said then I intended on finishing. 

That was then.....

The sunflowers along the roadside was a common theme along the Gravel Worlds course.

A Minimum Maintenance Road on the course after the checkpoint.

I wasn't very far out of the checkpoint when upon bombing a downhill at 30+ miles an hour I suddenly wanted to nod off. As in- just fall asleep. I could barely keep my eyes open! This was quite alarming, as you might suspect. Climbing? No worries, but as soon as I went down hill? I wanted to fall asleep like a light switch had been hit. After about two of those harrowing deals I decided to stop, rest, eat some more, and take the electrolyte tablet I had forgotten at the checkpoint to take. 

You were either going up or going down at the Gravel Worlds in 2021.

I sat there alongside the roadway munching on something as riders were passing me by. To their credit- all who passed asked if I was okay. I responded in the affirmative, I mean- what could they do to help me with the sleepies? One fellow asked about me and after he went by, I heard him say to himself, "That was Guitar Ted!" I laughed softly to myself. My life is a bit surreal at times!

Well, after a good bit I got back on the bike, but now I felt like my legs were weak and I had less power than before. The good news? I never did feel the sleep monster after that. Whew! Good thing too because I bombed a LOT more hills after this! But my body felt tired and I was really feeling sluggish. Back off the bike to take a 'nature break', and then I don't know what came over me, but that shade by that bushy ditch-weed madness looked like a very inviting place. I laid down and fell asleep breifly. 

My view from a ditch somewhere in Nebraska.....

When I came around again to thinking I needed to get a move on, I had no idea how long I'd been there. Maybe fifteen minutes? It wasn't all that long, but long enough that I felt about 100% better. I was raring to go and that I did. I still wasn't going 'up' at a pace that satisfied me, but I was moving okay and felt way better than I had. 

Of course, now I was waaaay off the back again. I wasn't dead last. Oh no! I found that out later, but I was in arrears and I had burned up my bonus time in the bank from the morning. It was now mid-afternoon, and it was fine and hot, but not humid. The wind had picked up a bit through this section, and we were going mostly right into it. No big deal. I can handle a bit of wind, but this adversity? It was hard to deal with mentally.

GW '21 Barns For Jason #7

Coming into Loma. This is about the highest elevation point on the course for Gravel Worlds.

As I blasted past the 80 mile mark and got into the 90's, I was hitting the highest part of the Gravel Worlds course, in terms of elevation. There was a good bit of flat in here, actually, which was quite welcome. I could motor along at a fair pace on flatter terrain, even after all the troubles I'd had. My goal was to get to the PCL Oasis near Loma, get something else to eat, because what I had didn't sound good anymore, and then go on from there. But the PCL had packed up and left by the time I reached Loma. That was a bit discouraging.....

More adversity came after I got within striking distance of Valparaiso where I knew there was a convenience store available. I was about to hit a century on the computer, and so I was counting down the tenths, not paying attention to the roads. (Remember, I was .5 off due to my computer mishap out of the gate) Since I was so focused on the odometer, I missed my right hand turn on 30th, and I ended up going about a half a mile out of my way. It took me about ten minutes to figure out why the cues were not lining up, and then I got straightened out and was back on course.

The course did not use this cool old bridge which was not far from Valparaiso.
Made it to Valpo! But I desperately needed food and water by this point.

Eventually I rolled into Valparaiso and the convenience store. Missing the PCL oasis meant I had to stretch the food and water out a bit, but I had enough to make it there. However; that also meant I needed a bit of an extended rest there to gather myself up for a final push to the second checkpoint, if I still had time. 

Now granted, I was a bit weary, very worn out mentally, and not in the best of spirits. Tony, who had been up ahead of me all day was texting me for most of the second half of the day, giving me updates on his progress. I was responding and telling him where I was at. He was sure I had time to reach CP#2. I wasn't convinced I could in less than an hour. Then Matt Wills, Joe Billesbach, and a couple other PCL guys showed up. I asked them about a bail out option from Valparaiso, just in case I didn't recover enough to get a move on again. They basically said , "You may as well go to the checkpoint, it's on the way anyway, You might make it!"

Well, all this positivity was too much for me to handle, so I got back on the bike. I guess I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I just headed out and I ended up finding a rhythm up the climb out of town. I felt good and ready to hit it hard, and I was going to have to as I was now running out of time to beat the 6:00pm cut-off. 

Headed out to CP#2, things started out with a grinder of a climb.

Ironically I have no memory whatsoever of crossing this bridge!
I had to get to mile 116.1 and I had less than a half an hour to do it. I watched as the miles ticked away and the time added up on my computer. I made every turn and climbed as hard as I could. Fortunately, the course there from Valpo was mostly downhill. That saved energy and time, but it was still going to be close. 

The cues and the miles to CP#2 were running out and I had ten minutes to spare. Just a little further.... I rolled across the timing and scoring line with six minutes to spare on the cut-off time! I had made it! But at what cost? I was slammed and needed to stop again for a bit. I found a ledge to sit on, dismounted, held my bike, and put my head down in my lap. I was gassed. 

Meanwhile, a checkpoint volunteer was telling me he could get me water, something to eat, "did I want anything?' He repeated the line three times, at least, and I couldn't even lift my head to look him in the eye. Finally, realizing I was beyond being able to respond, he left me alone. After a bit, I got up and shuffled over to the table where the volunteers had Coke and energy food and I drank a small can of Coke. Meanwhile, the time ticked away. 

I did the math. I would have to cover 35 miles in order to finish and the 'official cut off' was at 9:00pm. I already had less than three hours and soon it would be 2.5. I could see the writing on the wall. I told one of the volunteers there, Chris Sonderup, that I was bailing. He offered a ride if I could wait, but Rob Evans also contacted me, (I cannot recall how that happened), and he ended up getting me back to Fallbrook and the finish line area. 

So, that was it. As far as my ride anyway. 116.1 miles in all. There is a bit more I have to tell, and to say, but that wraps up my riding experience at Gravel Worlds. I gave it all I had despite adversity and I overcame some things that had stymied me in the past. I passed a barrier or two, and now I have more confidence for long rides like this. I rode well. I made some mistakes, but I can learn from them. In the end, I am happy with my performance, given the obstacles I had to deal with. 

Thank You: Thanks to all involved in putting on Gravel Worlds 2021. Thank you to Tony, I enjoyed our time together. Thanks to all those who mentioned this blog, the website, and the podcast. Thanks to all the riders who lent me a hand, the checkpoint volunteers, and especially to Rob Evans for his gracious gesture in getting me back to Fallbrook and Tony's truck. Finally- Thank you for reading my race recap!

Next: Thoughts on Gravel Worlds, "Big Production" gravel events, and more tomorrow. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

GW '21: A Surprise Meeting

Perhaps my favorite thing about Gravel Worlds is the Sunrise.
6:30am, Saturday August 21st:

"What the.....?!!" , I say out loud to myself. It looked like someone had just stopped in the right lane and was looking backward down the course. All I could see was a blinding LED light and shadowy figures making evasive maneuvers around the blazing torch. This was on an uphill bit. 

As I approached I could see what it really was- a light had fallen off a competitor's bike. Probably one of the 'fast racers' who felt like they couldn't afford to go back for it. A similar situation presented itself a bit later when I saw a rider trying to fetch his sunglasses off the gravel. Of course, they were sitting right in a preferred line, so he was having to dodge other riders to get them. A dicey situation if you think about the front of the pack and trying something similarly. So, while it may seem wasteful to leave an expensive LED light there, it probably was the safest thing to do.  

On the subject of safety: Gravel Worlds did have to make some concessions to this pandemic we are all in now. This being my first event since 2019, I noticed a big difference in how this affected the event. Riders were required to wear face masks at check-in, at the start, and (according to a pre-event communication via email)  in checkpoints. I noted almost complete compliance at the check-in and on the start line. This was good, but I was dismayed at what the face mask requirement led to. 

Discarded face masks on the gravel......

I eventually started catching riders and was moving up in the field.

Taken over my shoulder- Riders almost do not need their lights after about 45 minutes into the event.

I was shocked that people thought just tossing their mask was an okay thing to do. Obviously, it isn't. Here's the thing- We are supposedly representatives of a cleaner way of life because we exercise, use a non-fossil fuel burning vehicle, and we supposedly have an open mindset to humanity. Well, how does throwing a COVID mask out on the country gravel fit into that? (Doesn't this break the "Don't Be Lame" rule?) It just is super disappointing to me that my fellow cyclists feel that was okay. 

And by the way, Tony and I noted masks discarded along the entire Gravel Worlds 150 mile course. It is despicable and anyone who decided that was okay should really reconsider their priorities. Of course, this is besides the food trash I noted on several climbs. It was the worst I've seen at Gravel Worlds by a long shot. Bottles too, but.....I can see why some were out there. There were a fair number of really rutted out portions on downhill runs which would easily eject a bottle. But yeah....some were just tossed out in random spots. I cannot abide by that nonsense. 

Anyway......back to the story at hand! 

Oh yes! There were "Barns For Jason" out there!

GW '21 Barns For Jason #2

The course had received a fair amount of rain on Friday morning there, which was a Godsend in that it had packed down the dust from weeks of previous dryness and car traffic further enhanced this in certain places. But even with all of that, the Gravel Worlds course was still loose and sandy in many places. There were copious amounts of washboard sections. There were also a lot of rain-rutted corners and dirt road bits were also affected by rutting where rain had washed down hillsides in rivulets. So while the rain they got helped knock down the dust and firm up the roads, it was still Nebraska gravel out there, and technical features were everywhere which required skill and keen powers of observation to navigate. 

 Through all of this I was plugging along just fine. I was trying to maintain a pace that was manageable, despite my feeling anxious about how I started. By now I had plateaued a bit in terms of the field and my speed. I was finding myself 'yo-yoing' with different people and groups of riders. I would also alternately find myself seemingly alone, then five minutes later I was in a string of 30 riders up the road. It's very odd how these events swing and sway in terms of who you see along the route.

We were routed under this railroad overpass in Lancaster County during Gravel Worlds
GW '21 Barns For Jason #3

Amazingly the weather was just about perfect. The previous day's humidity had cleared out, it was far cooler, and in fact, my feet were cold most of the morning. I didn't care! It was a fantastic change from the 'normal' Gravel Worlds baking heat and high humidity. 

I felt pretty good yet. I kept having to check the speed at points where I was honking on the pedals and going a bit too hard. My right knee, which had flared up a few times with pain earlier in the year, was completely a non-issue during the entirety of my Gravel Worlds. Besides a bit of Northwest wind, this Gravel Worlds was perfect in terms of conditions and how I was faring up to that point. 

GW '21 Barns For Jason #4

"Did you see the sky this morning? Talk about blue!"

My bottle system was a 100% home run, in terms of convenience and in practice. I was doing my best to get a bottle down every hour to hour and a half, and it was working out that way. So, adding in a bit of the dehydrated bananas I had, I seemed to be getting enough calories for the effort I was putting out. 

The first real chance to get resupplied was coming up in the little town of Malcom, which Gravel Worlds has used several times before as a pass-through or checkpoint location. I was getting within ten miles of the little village when I had a pleasant surprise. 

GW '21 Barns For Jason #5

Aaron Schnee was with me when I got hit by a car on a GTDRI in 2014.

I slowly came up upon another rider who was wearing the Army Green Pirate Cycling League jersey which they sold several years ago now. It happens to be one I own as well, and it is one of my favorite PCL jerseys, so I was admiring it when suddenly I had a strange feeling. Hey.....I think I know that guy! 

As I pulled around to see the man's face,  I recognized him as Aaron Schnee, a former Trans Iowa veteran of T.I.v4 and finisher of T.I.v8. I asked him how things were going, and as he turned, a sudden smile came across his face, and he exclaimed,"Guitar Ted! Just who I needed to see!" Well, I wasn't sure I would be a 'good thing to see', but we embraced across our bikes as we rode and he chatted with me for several miles. As these sorts of events often go, we ended up getting separated and I did not come across him again. But what a great chance meeting! It was really fun to catch up with Aaron and hear about his family. 

GW '21 Barns For Jason #6

Leaving Malcom, Nebraska. Yes- they have gravel streets there!

I reached Malcom in a bit over three hours which was making great time, considering I started dead last. I needed water by this point and I needed to transfer out water from the big bottles strapped to my bike. While I was fiddling with things, a gentleman offered most of a gallon jug of water he wasn't going to use. I gladly accepted the offer, so I did not even have to go into the General Store to get water! This saved even more time and I was soon on my way to get to Checkpoint #1 which was only another 20 miles away at 61 miles in. 

Next: Shaking Hands With Adversity

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

GW '21: Things Didn't Start Out So Well

The Scene: Riders lining up for the 150 version of Gravel Worlds
Saturday, August 21st, 1:00am-ish:

I awaken to loud voices in the hallway outside of our motel room and then many loud, slamming doors. I am wide awake lying in the bed at the Graduate, a large 14 story motel near the Haymarket area of Lincoln. It's hot and clammy until the air conditioning kicks in, then in about five minutes I need covers. The air kicks off and doesn't come back on for an hour. (I know, I was awake this whole time), and then room re-heats due to the radiation of the absorbed heat of concrete and buildings during the many 90 degree-plus days leading up to the event. So then I have to kick off the covers. This scenario pretty much repeats itself until the 3:45am alarm goes off. 


Tony and I get up and throw on some clothes so we can go to eat the 4:00am breakfast they have arranged for the cyclists here. We also are to meet Pell Duvall, another Trans Iowa veteran and veteran of many other gravel events. He and his friend, Scott Redd, also put on the Omaha Jackrabbit Hundy for several years. Pell had his wife with him for support, but wanted to let her sleep in and had asked us for a lift down to the start. 

At the breakfast a gentleman from Colorado sat with us. It was his first go-round at Gravel Worlds. He'd done the Steamboat gravel race the weekend before. As we chatted, he exclaimed that it was hard to believe that they had come up with 12,000 feet of elevation gain in Nebraska, of all places. The gentleman's words no sooner left his lips when laughter was heard from Pell and Tony. I smiled. 

How many times have I heard about how "Iowa is flat!", and you know most folks think the same of Nebraska. Well, both Pell and Tony know better, and .....I actually felt sorry for the guy from Colorado. He was about to get schooled.

Moments before the 150 set out

We got down to the starting area which was pushed out of the parking area we used to use and now was in the street. They had a couple of city blocks set up "DK200 Style", which is how they used to do it back in Emporia. You were to figure out what your 'estimated finishing time' would be and line up accordingly to the signage the GW folks had posted on the street. There was a big inflatable and lit up start 'gate-hoop' with the chip timing line. There were loud-speakers set up all over which were blaring a non-stop live reading of the race's rules and admonishments. This went on for 45 minutes straight. You could hardly have a conversation, it was so loud.

I found this to be extremely annoying, but hey! It isn't my event. I found that hardly anyone was paying attention, which is ironic, and most everyone I spoke with had negative comments regarding the 'noise'. I would have preferred a rider's meeting, or, ya know- just find a way to communicate this more efficiently via electronic signs, or something less intrusive to the surrounding neighborhood. I don't know. It was downright silly though. 

I did have one bright spot in all of this. I saw John and Celeste Mathias, who were such big helps to me during the final years of Trans Iowa. John is a long-time veteran of gravel grinding as well. We had a wonderful chat there, but as the time ticked away, we had to get our focus on the event.

And then it was time to go. 


My Lezyne GPS is like many computers, I guess. You have to turn it on, let it 'acquire satellites', and then when you move, it asks you if you want the ride recorded. Of course, I never figure this out until after the event starts. I mean, I could roll around briefly before the start and get the dang record button pushed and I'd be set, but noooooo! I waited until I was rolling under the start gate to, you know, get it spot on. 

That's not a bad plan, if you push the right button in the dark! And of course, I did not. Fortunately I recognized the mistake almost immediately. Without the computer recording, it would not give me any mileage readings, only a speed readout.Then I had to think very quickly. I need to stop and reset the computer to get back to the page where it allows me to choose "Record this ride". But when you are rolling in a throng of people, you do not just jam on your brakes to fix your computer. Well, unless you want to cause utter mayhem. So, I had to first find a safe way to get off to the side. 

I deftly worked my way to the left and at a corner I stopped where the course went left. This allowed me to not only start the computer up and get it into record mode, but now I could reference the cue sheet and be able to determine mileage overage based on where the turn was on the cues against my computer. Fortunately I was only .5 off. Okay! Now, let's get going.....

And I looked behind me so as not to interfere with any riders, but it wasn't necessary. I was dead last. 

Next: A Surprise Meeting