Thursday, August 10, 2023

Gravel History With Guitar Ted: The Good Life Gravel Adventure

Welcome To Gravel History With Guitar Ted! This will be a random series here on the blog where I will give you my take on the history of gravel riding and racing in the modern era.* 

There may be a "Ted-terview" or two where I speak with those from the early days of the Modern era of Gravel as well. 

The early days of the gravel scene, as we have come to know it, were very, very different than they are today. Nothing illustrates this better than looking at the transition of what was an idea on a relatively unknown blog in 2008 to what became one of the most well known gravel events on the planet. Of course, I am speaking of "Gravel Worlds", which will take place in Lincoln, Nebraska in a little over two weeks from now. 

My connection to Gravel Worlds goes way back and I have known the promoters of the event for a long time, but the beginnings of Gravel Worlds goes back further than that. The beginnings of the event are closely tied to the development of a loose confederation of cyclists who called themselves "The Pirate Cycling League". 

That story is another one for another time. I'm going to keep the focus here on the genesis of Gravel Worlds. That event grew out of another event, which itself has its beginnings in the very earliest part of the Modern Era of gravel riding/racing. 

The blogging scene, which was at its zenith in the mid-2000's, helped bring a sense of community to many facets of American culture. Cycling was no different in that regard. Suddenly everyone had a voice, and the Lincoln area cycling community capitalized upon this phenomenon very successfully. At first, it was exemplified by the "Folks from Lincoln" blog. This was a blog that featured all sorts of activities ranging from cycling, music, skate boarding, and art. I suspect that the amount of cycling related stuff, especially the gravel stuff, made the Pirate Cycling League's decision to form its own blog a rather easy decision to make. Much like the "Folks From Lincoln" blog, the PCL's blog was, at first, a community driven affair. Everyone was welcomed, and everyone had a voice. 

"CVO" or Christopher Van Oyen, at Gravel Worlds 2010

The PCL blog and the Folks From Lincoln" blogs worked together for a while, but eventually the man known as "CVO", (Christopher VanOyen) sort of became the de-facto blogger of that site and it became a quite different thing. So, the PCL eventually was the clearing house for anything "gravel" in terms of cycling in the Lincoln/Omaha areas.

During the Summer of '08, an idea was floated on the PCL blog which would become an event. But as with what came before, this was decidedly a "community driven" idea. You can get the gist of it here from a post I found on the PCL blog which is still on the net!

"As a reminder, the Pirate Cycling League is race promotion group focusing on fun, free, and friendly bicycling events. The PCL is run by no one and everyone. Anyone can organize a PCL event. The founding fathers will remain anonymous. I (Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey) have taken the reigns to create a blog. If you would like to become a contributor, please send me an email and I'll send you an invite."

As the Summer rolled along the event ideas came in and things were cooked down to a singular idea. Again from the PCL blog:

"In keeping with PCL tradition and mission statement, there will be no entry fee. Riders will be required to purchase Nebraska Lottery Powerball tickets as proof of reaching a checkpoint (date and time are indicated on the ticket). Four lottery tickets should cover ya (not every town will be an official checkpoint). The local convenience stores will serve as the checkpoints which will also provide nutritional support for your $."

No date or distance had been determined at this point, but taking a bigger picture look at the landscape at that time will reveal that Spring and early Summer were pretty set with gravel events by 2008. You had Trans Iowa, Almanzo 100, and the DK200, (now Unbound Gravel), going on and in deference to those events, the PCL leaders were thinking about late Summer or Fall. 

The event idea was to be one that kind of fit into the ethos of the first Modern Era gravel events and so a longer distance was contemplated. Eventually settling in on a 150-ish mile course, the event, which was known as "The Good Life Gravel Adventure", was run in September of 2008. 

The results for the first GLGA (Courtesy of the PCL Blog)
One of the event's attendees, my co-director at the time for Trans Iowa, was David Pals. He could not stop talking about how great the event was and insisted that I give it a try the following year. Upon his recommendation,and with a few "life" things falling my way, I was a part of that second running of the GLGA in 2009. 

Unfortunately, my camera decided to not charge up, so I have no visual record of the event, but I did write up this race report afterward here on the blog in 2009. 

The event was deemed a success and the PCL saw their attendance numbers more than double. This and the positive feedback they received was more than enough to spur the PCL guys and gals along the way to re-up for another go at things in 2010. By that time of the announcement, which was a month after the last GLGA,  response to their event had indicated to the PCL crew that maybe a name change and a venue change was in order. 

I don't know why they decided to go with "Gravel Worlds", but my impression was that at that time it was a stab at the stuffy, overly-complicated Pro roadie scene and its age-old conventions. A tongue in cheek take on racing which flew in the face of normal road racing conventions and even going so far as to usurp the icon of Pro road racing's achievement, the rainbow jersey, with a Gravel Worlds version. 

One of the PCL's co-founders, Craig Schmidt, holding the inaugural Gravel Worlds jersey.

Of course, this got the PCL in hot water with the UCI several years later, but all is well nowadays! The "rainbow stripe" design has been modified and now appears a bit differently on the current jersey for the category winners of Gravel Worlds in 2023. 

My post card entry for the 2010 event.

That first Gravel Worlds, held in mid-August of 2010, solidified the event as one of the important gravel grinders on the calendar for years to come. The event grew by over twice its size again in 2010 over 2009, with attendance somewhere over 150 riders. Gravel Worlds had now become a staple of the gravel scene.

And of course, it has only grown with every coming year to become one of the most important gravel grinders in the USA. What I find amazing is that through it all - the growth years and through a pandemic through to the other side - Gravel Worlds has maintained that "everyman's event" feeling and its basis for inclusiveness which it has had from its beginnings. It has grown, and it has become fancier, with all the race event trappings which many events have, but somehow that basis from which the event has its foundations has remained solid and unyielding. A true testament to its founders and to the directors, volunteers, and sponsors that the event has today. 

Additionally, this event and Barry-Roubaix are really the only gravel events which can trace an unbroken line from before 2010 to the present day. The Gravel Worlds event is one of those iconic American inventions that not only represents "gravel" in perhaps its truest form today, but is an event with a historical importance that not many current events can even hope to touch. That one of its founders is in the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame should underscore that sentiment. 

 I want to also take a moment to say that I wish all those involved in Gravel Worlds this year much success. 

Until next time on Gravel History With Guitar Ted.


Rydn9ers said...

Sure do miss the Folks from Lincoln blog and seeing CVO at gravel and cross events.

Guitar Ted said...

@Rydn9ers - Amen to that! That blog was such a unique one, and I really enjoyed checking it out, although I didn't know the half of what the heck anyone was sharing!

And, of course, losing CVO was such a huge blow to many. The Lincoln cycling community has had more than its fair share of tragedy and hurt for a cycling community of its size.

MG said...

Thanks for this, Brother… As one of the Pirates that fought hard for Gravel Worlds to be realized, I’m proud that it’s become what it has. We’re the championship for every rider. Because the true competition in a 150 mile race is with yourself.

Have a fantastic weekend!!

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Thank YOU, and AMEN!

Have yourself a great weekend as well, Brother!