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Note: The traditional "FN&V" is being superseded by my continued GW '21 report.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. 


FarleyBob said...

Thanks for the great write-up! You gave it your all...that's all one can do! Nice century plus!

Guitar Ted said...

@FarleyBob - Thank you! While the result wasn't what my goal was, I did learn a lot and did some things leading up to- and in- the event that worked which I had not been doing before.

And yes- I got a century plus in! Thanks again.

nellborg said...

Thanks for sharing your story - always interesting to read what others go through on long rides like this.

That was my first time at GW. I completed the 151 mile event in a bit under 10 hrs - and I like the chap from CO can't believe how much vertical there was. I also noticed all the bottles and gel wrappers littering the course. My default thought is that the bottles were ejected and/or accidentally dropped while the rider was trying to get them back into the bottle cage while at speed, and that the wrappers were stuffed into jersey pockets and then unknowingly "ejected" when the rider later reached into the same pocket to pull out more food - which is a lazy way of doing things.

You commented that this event has become more professional and less grass roots and guessed that it's probably what people want nowadays. I'm not so sure about that. I have a hard time justifying a $200-300 entry fee for events like this and UG/Dirty Kanza which I also did this year. To me, both of these events seemed big and sterile, and I didn't sense any local flavor at GW at all. I now consider these "one and done" events and I suspect that there are a number of others who feel the same way. I much prefer the local grass roots events that have a reasonable entry fee, are more casual, and are less of a production. Fortunately, there are still plenty of events like this in the upper midwest.

Guitar Ted said...

@nellborg - Thank you for the comments and observations. I think your take on the trash and bottles is overly-generous and too gracious It certainly is possible that some of this was unintentional, but it is quite difficult for me to believe that all of what I saw was accidental. Some? sure, but when I saw the same scene repeated climb after climb? Ah......that's a hard pill to swallow for me.

Ari said...

Congratulations on going there, riding your best effort and overcoming those obstacles. I wish I would have ridden with you!

Guitar Ted said...

@Ari - Thank you!

teamdarb said...


Rydn9ers said...

Glad I could help you out, Joe let me know that you were pulling it at BO Farms but I wasn't sure I had your number. As it turned out I did, must have been from the GTDRI or the COG 100.