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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bikepack Extravaganza 17

Here's a cool concept.  Choose a destination campsite, preferably within a reasonable ride from a couple of population centers.  Commit to bike pack to that campsite on a given day, solo or with friends.  Invite some other like-minded folks to do the same, from wherever they choose to start, along whatever route they choose to take, on whatever type of bike they choose to ride, with whomever they choose to bring along.  Gather together as folks filter in and set up camp.  Hang out around a campfire.  Share coffee and breakfast in the morning.  Eventually ride home.

Fun-loving group at the Bikepack Extravaganza 17!  I'm not there yet.  As usual, I'm still out pedaling somewhere.
Clockwise:  Amelia Meyer, Jay Erickson, Christopher Grady, Robert Cota, Jason Thorman, Pearl Meyer and Jim Meyer.
(photo by Amelia Meyer)
Welcome to the Bikepack Extravaganza 17, the brilliant brainchild of forest fire fighter and cycling enthusiast Robert Cota of Spearfish.  Robert loved hearing stories of bike packing adventures and yearned to give it a go.  Last summer, he enlisted cycling veterans Kristi and Perry Jewett to create a largely single track ride from Spearfish to Black Fox Campground, a Black Hills National Forest primitive campground about eight miles west of the village of Rochford.  Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Robert posted his ride on social media and invited others to create their own rides out to the same campground that night.  The Bikepack Extravaganza was born.

So jazzed about the idea last summer, I mistakenly rode 42 mostly uphill miles to Black Fox a week early.  Then, on the right day, I limped in at about 10:00 pm, after the latest of a string of 12 hour work days and a slow uphill ride skirting thunderstorms.  Both were fun sub-24ers, but the gathering of fellow bike geeks made the Bikepack Extravaganza special.  Here's a link to my two blog posts about those rides last summer.  Black Fox - A Week Early.  A Path to the Light.

It's well into mid-afternoon before I'm finally ready to roll out.
No such drama this year.  Over the course of a couple of nights, I map out a circuitous route primarily on USFS secondary roads and two track trails west from Black Hawk into Nemo, north into unchartered territory and eventually to Black Fox Campground.  All that would likely take a good chunk of the day, with all the route finding, rough "roads" and elevation gain.  I plan to start early for an anticipated 8-10 hour ride, as folks likely will start arriving by about 5:00 pm.

But I let the day slip away.  Nothing big.  Just this.  Then that.  Then another.  Before I knew it, I had no time for that ambitious ride.  How'd that happen?  Maybe I'm not so ambitious after all.

Off dirty gravel and onto gravelly dirt.  Uphill on Bogus Jim Road.
I reconfigure to ride the most direct route with the most gravel.  Leaving home at about 3:00 pm, I simply ride Nemo Road to Norris Peak Road, about 12 miles of primarily uphill pavement into a steady wind.  Light traffic and light rain shepherd me onto good gravel at Bogus Jim Road.  The skies clear and the rain stops, as I turn up North Bogus Jim Road to ride on fresh gravel uphill and upwind.  Just as I crest the final pitch, the rain resumes for the descent to the Sugar Shack on Highway 385. 

Once again, the rain stops when I turn uphill, now onto Rochford Road.  And, once again, after I pop over the final pitch, the rain kicks in for the descent.  By the time the last hill bottoms out, I'm wet and chilled, soft pedaling onto the Mickelson Trail for the final few miles into Rochford.  Time to dry off and warm up over a dinner of chili and fries at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.  That hits the spot.  Eventually, I bid adieu to Dan at the Moonshine Gulch and tool out of town for a sweet 8 miles of mostly dirt road up Rapid Creek Road to Black Fox Campground.

Onto the Mickelson Trail.  Just because.
By the time I roll in, the party is on.  A boisterous bunch of bicyclists arise to greet me with cheers and high fives.  There's Jason Thorman, the devious mastermind behind the Black Hills Expedition and veteran of a long list of long bike packing races.  Jason rode single track on the Deerfield Trail and then up from Silver City with Robert Cota, the host of the Bikepack Extravaganza, and Jay Erikson, an outdoor enthusiast and recent convert to the whole bike packing thing.  And there's Christopher Grady, fresh off his podium finish at the 110 mile Gold Rush, who rode his gravel rig up from Spearfish.  The first on scene at 5:00 pm, Christopher snapped up the last camp site at this first come/first served, no reservation campground.  That's a gold medal performance.

A little later, Spearfish cyclists Jim, Amelia and Pearl Meyer drive past, looking for a site for some family camping on Father's Day weekend.  They find Black Fox full, but wonder what's with all those cyclists?  Well, in no time, they pull their truck in and join the party.  Now, with a motorized vehicle parked in our spot, we're a little less odd to the casual observer.

A bike packing bike can carry a lot of gear.
Robert Cota and Christopher Grady at Black Fox Campground.
(photo by Jason Thorman)
Sitting around a roaring fire under star-stuffed skies, we talk of rides, bikes and gear well into the night.  There's a great diversity of outdoor and athletic experiences among these bike packers, making for lively and wide ranging conversations.  But no matter the twists and turns, we keep coming back to bikes and our shared passion for exploring the great outdoors under pedal power.

Eventually, we retreat into our sleeping bags on our inflatable pads, tucked into our tents and bivy bags.  With the idyllic setting and the extended effort just to get here, sleep comes easily.

Packing up for the ride home.
Camping next to a mountain stream at elevation is cool, emotionally and physically.  However, the resulting overnight dew coats everything and turns to frost by morning.  We wake to bright sunshine and prepare our various breakfasts.  It's still 30-something degrees, so we pull our gear into the sun to pack up for the ride home.

Jason, Robert and Jay pedal out together by 7:00 am, heading for Silver City on their mountain bikes.  About the same time, Christopher turns his gravel rig north toward Spearfish.  I linger a bit, not all that enthused about this coming to an end.

I eventually turn pedals at about 8:00 am, cruising into the morning sun on Rapid Creek Road toward Rochford.  This is good.  This is really good.  I'll be doing more of this.

New friends are always fun to meet.  Here's Jay Erickson, an outdoors enthusiast and full-on bike packer.
Turns out he was a high school classmate of my wife and grew up right down the street.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

2017 Gold Dust - A Friendly Little Ride

Nothing quite like cruising the Northern Black Hills of South Dakota on a glorious early summer day with 200 fellow adventure cyclists at the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.  Even better is riding fast enough or, in my case, choosing the shortest race to finish early enough to hang out with the gravel clan at the post-race party.  Great day to be out and about in the Black Hills, especially with friends.

Shaun Arritola and I chewing up the early miles at the 70 mile Gold Dust.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)
Way back in 2013, I rode the inaugural 110 mile Gold Rush on my beloved Torelli cyclocross bike, finishing third (out of three) in the single speed division in my first gravel race.  In 2015, I finished the inaugural 210 mile Mother Lode on my relatively new, and geared, Black Mountain Cycles monster cross bike.  Now, in 2017, I look to the 70 mile Gold Dust for yet another new experience:  sleeping in for a later start, cruising without a care of time cutoffs, and finishing in the warmth of the day to enjoy the post-race party with friends at a park.  What a concept.

Tony Diem starts the Gold Dust in high-wheeling style.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
Thursday night before the event, I peruse the event website for a refresher on all the happenings, to mentally double check preparations and to stoke the fire a bit more.  I wander over to the registration page to see who I might run into over the weekend.  Sweet.  There are quite a few cycling friends from out of state traveling to Spearfish for the weekend.  This is going to be fun.  Then one name jumps off the page.

Shaun Arritola.  "That dirt bag!" I yell out loud, scattering the household critters.  He entered the Gold Dust at the last possible date and didn't tell me.  "Dirt bag!"  But now, I'm grinning ear to ear.  Shaun and I started our gravel road journeys back in 2013 at the Gold Rush and have ridden together many miles and events since, including Dirty Kanza, Almanzo Royal and Odin's Revenge.  But not in awhile.  Shaun has been working full time, caring for his father, and building a house, barn and other structures on a recently acquired acreage in the foothills.  So, he's been busy with real life for awhile.  But now, it looks like he found some time for a little bike ride.

Big rollers on the early miles shared by the Gold Dust, Gold Rush and Mother Lode courses,
before turning up, up, up into the Northern Black Hills.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
We catch up Friday evening at the race packet pickup in Spearfish.  Updating the progress on his various projects, Shaun exudes optimism that things will lighten up soon.  I smile and nod.  It sounds like the same song he's been singing for many, many months.  On the other hand, this time he did manage to take an entire Saturday off for the Gold Dust.  Maybe he will be coming back to the bike.  He is here now.

No question he's fit.  Shaun keeps active and works out daily at a gym, including a regular 30 minute or so bike ride on a stationary bike.  However, more than a few months have passed since he rode any longer than that, let alone longer outside.  The Gold Rush is his challenge, and test, of his ability to adapt his overall conditioning to a long bike ride and to reawaken his cycling spirit.  70+ miles and 4,500+ feet of elevation gain on remote gravel roads should do both.

Shaun bridging the gap up Sand Creek Road into the Black Hills at the Gold Rush.
Saturday morning bursts bright and early, with mild temperatures, clear skies and light winds.  It looks to be a great day for a bike ride in the Black Hills.  Arriving a little early for the 110 mile Gold Rush start, I re-connect with some friends and meet some new ones.  Nice.

Before long, Race Director Perry Jewett calls for the 7:00 Gold Dust start.  The scene at the start of  the "short" race reminds me of the overall gravel scene just four years ago.  All kinds of bikes:  rigid, hardtail and full suspension mountain bikes, hybrids, cyclocross bikes, fatties, and some that defy characterization.  All kinds of riders:  from those capable of riding these 70 miles in less than 4 hours to those out there to find out what they are capable of.  And all kinds of positive vibe:  light, lively, festive.  Folks just excited to see what's out there.

Steep little pitch up to the Potato Station by the Cement Ridge Lookout Tower.
(photo by Les Heiserman)
Shaun knows these roads well, having ridden the Gold Rush twice before and having lived, worked and ridden out of Spearfish for years.  He knows that the real ride of the Gold Dust is the first 45 miles, with its almost 4,500 feet of elevation gain, that top out at the Potato Station on Cement Ridge.  From there, it really is almost all down hill to the finish.

So, we spin out of Spearfish at a comfortable pace, intent to roll up to that feast at the Potato Station.  We settle into a familiar rhythm of a long ride.  The road surface is hard packed dirt with gravel sprinkles and navigation is straight forward.  We cruise through some prairie rollers and head for the Hills.  Even with all the climbing up Sand Creek Road and Grand Canyon Road, the first four hours soon pass as we head up Rattlesnake Canyon Road for the final five miles or so to the top.

Mission Accomplished.  Gold Dust mile 45 at the Potato Station on Cement Ridge.  All (most) downhill from here.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
Shaun learns that, at his current level of cycling conditioning, four hours of steady climbing is really fun.  After that, it becomes more challenging, as signs of cramps creep in.  But Shaun recognizes the symptoms and nurses himself through the remaining miles and elevation to ride into the Potato Station.  Objective met.  We take a long, celebratory break over a few too many potatos and chips.

Fellow Gold Dust riders trickle in, relieved to complete the steep, final pitch to the top.  What a fun stop with energetic volunteers offering snacks, drinks and squirt gun cool-offs.  It's downright relaxing.  As I remove my helmet to enjoy the light breeze, a young volunteer gasps, "OOOH, do you need some sunscreen for that forehead?"  I thank her, but decline.  She persists, "I really think you need some sunscreen."  OK.  "No thank you, ma'am.  I plan to outrun the sun."  She looks confused, but several older cyclists smile.

Potato Station looking west from Cement Ridge at the Gold Dust and Gold Rush Gravel Grinder.
(photo by Les Heiserman)
As we soak in the scene and scenery, Gold Rush racers also fly into the Potato Station for their required check-in. These cyclists are clearly racing, which makes for a focused pit stop and a quick departure down the hill.  Friendly faces and grateful thanks, but with a determination to complete a necessary task and move on.  What a contrast.  I have enjoyed racing like that and I have enjoyed riding like today.  Right now, I'm happy right where I am.

Following a steep, rock drop, Shaun negotiates a sharp turn through standing water.
Short and infrequent technical bit, just enough to pay attention.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
Eventually, we point our rigs downhill for the 25 mile descent to the finish at Spearfish City Park.  Thankfully, someone finally patched up the 482,793 pot holes that occupied Roughneck Falls Road the last time I bounced my way through there.  Now, it's just the normal tourist motor and pedestrian traffic on that popular destination.  We wind our way to Savoy and onto Spearfish Canyon, a paved 14 mile scenic decline to the turnoff into Spearfish City Park.  Nice ride.

Shaun successfully completes his challenge with experience, judgment, toughness, determination and optimism.   He cheerfully pedals over 70 miles and 4,500 feet of elevation gain, with essentially no ride over the past many months that is longer than a regular 30 minute spin on a stationary bike.  A nice reminder that we are all capable of more than we may think.  And a nice reminder of reasons why we love to ride events like this.

Ironic that I won a Dirt Bag bike packing bag at the awards ceremony.
(photo by Race Director Perry Jewett)
We make a Clark Kent change of clothes and hit the post-race party with gusto.  A catered meal, drinks, local micro brew, live music, small expo.  We hang out with the gravel clan, as riders trickle in from all three courses.  Folks from twenty states and Canada mingle with family and friends, sharing stories of the day, of days past, and of days to come.  I enjoy hearing of events and rides far away and day dream of somehow making it to some of them, someday.  But today is the day for relishing the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder in the Black Hills of South Dakota, our backyard.  What a day.

My thoughts are abruptly interrupted by the sound of my name over the PA.  What's that?  I meander up to the stage, not for a podium placing, but for a raffle prize.  It's a bike packing frame bag made by a nearby Wyoming outfit called "DirtBags."  How cool is that?  A high quality, locally made cycling product that I will definitely enjoy.  And every time I see that DirtBag logo I will think of my friend Shaun, "that dirtbag" who surprised me with our ride together at the Gold Dust.

Thank you, Shaun.  Welcome back.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

2017 Robidoux Quick & Dirty

Robidoux Quick & Dirty is a second year gravel road race rolling up 4,000 feet of elevation gain over 75 miles through the Wild Cat Hills of the Nebraska panhandle.  Created by the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club, this event showcases the pioneer history of the area by following part of the Oregon Trail over old Robidoux Pass and Mitchell Pass in Scottsbluff National Monument.  Nice event.  Good folks.

All the roads were saturated from days of spring rains that reluctantly relented just before the start.
Some pave, a lot of gravel, some dirt, here some sand.  It all stuck to everything.
Driving south from Rapid City on a late Friday afternoon, I watch as the skies grow increasingly heavy, the winds pick up momentum and the temperatures drop.  Cautious glances away from the paved highway onto the occasional abutting gravel roads bring a foreboding sense of reality.  As I drive further south, the gravel roads are getting wetter and wetter.  And there's more and more water standing on the roads, in the ditches, and in the fields.  Hmm.  It starts to rain.  It rains harder.

Socked-in steady rain greets me as I pull into the pre-race festivities at Five Rocks Pavillion, a nice outdoors amphitheater in Gering, Nebraska.  Unfortunately, a week of windy, cold rain petulantly persists past its forecasted finish, and well past its welcome.  The announced field of 105 registered racers winnows down to something less than half that at the pre-race.  As racers huddle around a shelter, Race Director Matt Hutt announces that a 20 mile chunk of the course is actually underwater and the rest is soggy, sloppy gunk of gravel, mud and/or sand.  The solution?  Detour around the parts underwater and slog through the rest.  Well, all righty then.  The group soon disperses.

I meet the effervescent Matt Hutt, sign in, devour a stone-fired pizza, study the modified course map, and consider a game plan.  Not much to analyze, really.  Unless this weather improves quickly and significantly, this race looks to be an all day slog in 35 degree windy rain.  So, just stay warm and dry until the start, decide then the quantity and quality of layers to pile on, and head out to take on the day as it comes.  Not much more to it.

Waking up to 37 degree drizzle and steady winds.  At least the hard rain stopped during the night.
Pitching a tent in the dark windy rain at 35 degrees challenges my objective of staying warm and dry until the start.  However, all turns toasty once tucked inside.  Of course, it rains all night and into the morning, before settling down to a dreary drizzle by about 8:00 am.  I dress like I was riding the Iditarod.

"Hey! Craig!" shouts a familiar voice at the chilly start.  It's the one-and-only Jeff Caldwell of Team White Tail Racing
out of North Platte, here with compatriot Luke Meduna to take on the Robidoux on a fattie.  Great to see you guys! 
Racers filter back to Five Rocks.  The later they arrive, the less layers they are wearing.  I skeptically drop a layer, then two.  By the 9:00 am start, the rain stops and a north west wind picks up, driving temperatures into the 40's.  Matt Hutt warns racers that the first 20 miles plows through soggy bottom land with soupy soft gravel and a few stretches of deep mud.  But the skies tease with a few, small patches of blue and the winds hint of drier roads soon.  A cautious optimism fills the air as the primed peloton streams into the rolling prairie.

Starting out on good gravel.  Just more than a little saturated.  Like those clouds.
But wait.  There's some blue.  I think.

We pedal south and east on well developed, relatively flat gravel roads that, if dry, would be very
fast.  But dry they are not.  Even on 40 mm Schwalbe G-One tires, I ride seemingly rim deep in gooey gunk for much of the first 20 miles.  At least one race ends with a broken derailleur in a particularly nasty mud pit.  It's that kind of day.

No one is in any danger of getting lost.  The few turns are well marked and staffed with volunteers cheering and clanging cow bells.  The interaction is fun and lively, but eliminates what little navigation skills the course may otherwise require.

Turning uphill and upwind into the Wild Cat Hills on firmer gravel, turning to sand.
Emerging from that initial 20 mile slugfest, we turn west and north onto firmer gravel up and into the Wild Cat Hills. These "hills" are bluffs that remain after an ancient inland sea receded.  Wind and water since have eroded these bluffs, further exposing layers and layers of underlying rock and sand.  Much of the 4,000 feet of elevation gain lies here, which now happens to be directly into the growing wind.  The slow climbs allow for a greater appreciation of the unique scenery.

Imagining life as a trading post entrepreneur in these hills in the 1840's.
The course winds gradually uphill on good gravel into pine covered hills up old Robidoux Pass, which runs by the site of a trading post established in about 1840 by Antoine Robidoux.  Yeah, that's not a typo.  1840.  Well before the Civil War.  That life had to be filled with adventure.  After a short, steep pitch, the course detours around the underwater section by turning onto Rifle Sight Pass Road.  This detour was the best part of the ride for me.  Big, sweeping views, long sight lines, firm sandy roads and a sense of remoteness.  Ahhhh.  Breathe deep the air of freedom.

The sand holds a week's worth of rain, but is firm enough so it feels like flying.
This hill generated a speed of 40 mph for this back-of-the-packer.
After a long, glorious descent onto the prairie below, the course rolls along again, with volunteers once again cheering and clanging cow bells at most every intersection.  The gravel remains soft, but rideable and with less standing water, before spilling onto pavement for a short pitch up Mitchell Pass in Scottsbluff National Monument.  Now, it's just a spin through the Gering Cemetery to the finish.

Yep, that's pavement over Mitchell Pass in Scotts Bluff National Monument.
And, yep, that Black Mountain Monster Cross bike is all blue underneath that fresh coating of gunk.
There's Matt Hutt at the finish line, giving high fives to the finishers.  He's a muddy mess, too, since he rode the entire course with everyone else.  Volunteers cheer and clang cow bells.  Music rocks the park.  The aroma of fresh burritos fills the air.  It's much more of a party, now that the wind swept away most of the heavy clouds and drove temperatures into the 60's.

Crossing the finish to a high five by Race Director Matt Hutt, who unfortunately is just out of the picture.
At the finish, my computer read just over 61 miles, with 6 hours and 7 minutes moving time.  For what it's worth, my official finish time was 6 hours 17 minutes, putting me in 23rd place out of 30 finishers.  I don't know how many of the 50 some folks at the Friday pre-race actually rode on Saturday.  But I do know that yet another 50 or so that pre-registered chose not to ride and missed a good one.

Here's Race Director Matt Hutt, showing some mud, but little other effects, from riding the entire course with everyone.
Nice work, Matt!
All told, the Robidoux Quick & Dirty turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant day on the bike, exploring unique country with history and scenery.  With well developed gravel roads, minimal navigation, relatively short distances and on course support, this event should attract a lot of interest from anyone wanting to check out the gravel scene.

Matt Hutt and crew created a fine event and overcame the challenging conditions with good cheer and good judgment.  Well done.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Six Course Feast

A young chef prepares a six course gravel series, worthy of a feast.

Local engineer and beer meister Lucas Haan created a sensory masterpiece with the Black Hills Gravel Series.  Six consecutive Saturdays.  Six different starts.  Six different routes.  Up, down and all around the Black Hills over unique, back country remote roads and near-roads.  Six different restaurants at the finish.  A real treat.

Break that down a little.  Essentially one guy concocted six distinct courses, out of six different towns, for races on six consecutive weekends, drawing simply from a passion for cycling remote roads and sharing the experience with others.  He starts with a good eye for reading maps, scouts possibilities by vehicle and by bike, seeks input from others, and pieces together a creative looped long course of about 50 miles, with a shorter looped course of about 25 miles nestled therein.  He then prepares a GPS file and prints detailed cue sheets and maps.  Each week.  For six weeks.  That's commitment.  That's service.

The crazy thing is that each course was exceptional standing on its own.  That's something special.  Thank you, Lucas.

Lucas Haan setting up shop at the Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish for the Black Hills Gravel Series #6.

This is grass roots gravel at its core.  No entry fee.  No pre-registration.  No aid stations.  No course markings.  No course marshals.  No on course support of any kind.  No t-shirt.  No schwag bag.  Just a cue sheet or a GPS file of that week's course.  All you need to do is get out there, sign a waiver and enjoy the adventure Lucas scoped out.  Each Saturday.  For six Saturdays.  Remarkable.

Folks flocked from all over to Sturgis, to Custer, to Rochford, to Lead, to Hill City and to Spearfish, anxious to see what Lucas created that week.  Look at a map.  That's a whole lot of Black Hills.  Half the riders came from Spearfish.  A quarter of the riders were women.  All came back with smiles and stories.

Here's a snapshot of each race in the Black Hills Gravel Series. The first and final courses ventured out into the wide open spaces on rolling prairie gravel roads through wind swept ranch land.  Sandwiched between those prairie gravel rides sat the meat of the series - four weeks of "forest gravel."  Just the right mix of fast gravel roads, lumpy dirt roads, and rocky two track.  Most all up or down, both steep and gradual, long and short, rough stuff to silky smooth.  Each course offered a unique mix of all of the above, and more, with unbeatable scenery.  Nice work, Lucas.

Black Hills Gravel Series #1 (Sturgis)

Turning back toward Bear Butte steaming for the finish.  Little did I know the steeps ahead lying in wait.
 Black Hills Gravel Series #1 (Sturgis)
The initial course spun East and North out of the motorcycle mecca of Sturgis onto the shoulders of Bear Butte with big views of the Black Hills.  This quick spin on fast gravel, in 70 degree temperatures and bright sunshine, kicked off the series with a flourish.  And just when you thought you're cruising to the finish, Cracker Jack Road and Avalanche Road delivered gut busting steeps right at the end, forewarning of the climbs, and little surprises, ahead in the coming weeks.

Black Hills Gravel Series #2 (Custer)

The natural cobblestones on the mile and a half climb up Cicero Peak.
Black Hills Gravel Series #2 (Custer)
The second course dove directly into the Black Hills out of the gold rush town of Custer and set the tone for the rest of the series.  About 50 miles.  About 5,000 feet of elevation gain.  At least that's what I rode after missing a turn.  Some fast gravel. Some good dirt.  A whole lot of up and down everywhere you turned.  Like the steep pitches right at the end of the Sturgis course, Lucas did not hesitate to add an unexpected wrinkle.  Here it was a mile and a half spur straight up a brutal rock-infested pitch to the summit of Cicero Peak for a stunning view.  I think I rode slower down that beast than up.  That was a ride.

Black Hills Gravel Series #3 (Rochford)

Another spur climb in the middle of a gravel race, here atop Flag Mountain overlooking Gillette Prairie.
Black Hills Gravel Series #3 (Rochford)
The 50 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain of the third course out of Rochford cranked up an 11+ mile climb along Castle Creek on a narrow two track logging "road," with water-filled pot holes, ruts, rocks and timber to negotiate.  Cool climb, but would really be a bear if much wetter.  A mile spur climb up Flag Mountain rewarded riders with a 360 view of the central Black Hills.  And that 5 mile stretch of Black Fox Camp road is one of my favorite rough roads anywhere.  Barely a road, following a beaver-inhabited mountain stream framed with cliffs.  Worth the ride by itself.

Black Hills Gravel Series #4 (Lead)

Spring time in the Black Hills.  Everything turning green and the streams are full.
Black Hills Gravel Series #4 (Lead)
The fourth course out of the mining town of Lead cheerfully kept the theme of 50 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain up and down all sorts of roads and near-roads, but with a start temperature of 27 degrees.  Yes, that's Fahrenheit.  The snow storms a couple of days before the race created everything from hero gravel, to water-filled pot holes, to greasy slides, to Almanzo-esque creeks to ford and even streams flowing down rock strewn two tracks.  All rideable. All added to the Northern Black Hills gravel experience.

Black Hills Gravel Series #5 (Hill City)

No shortage of exposed rock in the Black Hills.  We'll go around this one.
Black Hills Gravel Series #5 (Hill City)
Week 5.  Hill City.  How about another 50 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain?  Although there were a couple of short drops, the first 27 miles of the fourth course basically went up, with long rollers after that.  China Gulch, Horse Creek, McVey, Newton Fork, Bloody Gulch, Burnt Fork.  That's a rough bunch spitting out a whole lot of rocky dirt.  The only real gravel lurked on the corners of the steep downhills.  I'm sure Lucas planned that.  Tough course.

Black Hills Gravel Series #6 (Spearfish)

Heading home from Wyoming on some welcomed downhill in the heat of the day.
Black Hills Gravel Series #6 (Spearfish).
The final course spun out of Spearfish north and west back onto prairie gravel into the windy wilds of Wyoming.  No crazy two track here.  Just fast prairie gravel through rolling hills totaling 3,500 feet of elevation gain.  Great weather, almost summer heat.  Great turn out.  Fun finish to the series.

Those six weeks ended too soon.  Here's to Lucas Haan for creating a memorable gravel series.  Here's to hoping he will do this again next year.  If he does create something next year, I'll be at the start, and hopefully at the finish.

Friday, March 31, 2017


Choosing good versus bad is simple.

Choosing between better and best is much harder.
Especially between the known better and the unknown best.

Sifting through better.
Searching for best.

It's out there.
Keep at it.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Odin's Revenge - Team DSG

"I realized between CP 1 and CP 2, this was the best ride I've ever had.  Not the fastest or anything like that.  I just realized I couldn't wait to see what was around the next corner or over the next hill because it just kept getting better and better after Effenbeck.  Government Pocket was good for the soul."  Scott Ideen, comment on the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page, June 30, 2012.

That sums it up.  The course always delivered.  Team DSG always delivered.  Top shelf.  The best.

Had I known then that 2016 was to be the final Odin's Revenge, would I have done anything differently?  I don't know.  I just hope that those who created and nurtured this event know how much their service to the cycling community is appreciated by all those privileged to participate.  And I hope that those who were never at Odin's Revenge may somehow come to understand the impact of such a race on those that experienced it and, by extension, on the gravel scene itself.

Here's the official race report from Odin's Revenge of the inaugural race, posted on the website, followed by a longer narrative posted on FaceBook on July 1, 2012.  These reports show the love Team DSG poured into this event, from the very beginning.

From the website:

"The dust is still settling on the Inaugural 2012 Odin’s Revenge gravel race.  The terrain and weather in Western Nebraska proved treacherous for those who took the challenge this year.  Of the 28 riders who were brave enough to take the starting line, only six were still on their bikes by the end of the day.

The morning began with a cool fog and the distant rumble of thunderstorms to the South.  Within a few hours, the morning gave way to high humidity and triple-digit temperatures.  The stifling heat began to take its toll as rider after rider dropped from the roster.  Although, only six individuals finished the race, many individual tests of strength showed that this field had strength of character in spades.  It’s the shared suffering and respect for each other’s efforts that take a group of cyclists and makes them a community.  Gravel Racers; Thanks for allowing Odin’s Revenge to become a part of that community.

A full account of the events is in the works, but for now this will have to suffice."

From the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page in 2012: 

"Odin's Revenge was dreamed up by a small group of gravel/dirt cyclers out here in west central Nebraska in early 2012, the actual race that is, a couple of us had been scheming in the back of our minds for way longer & Chad Quigley seemed to have the perfect spot to pull it off & DAMN did he deliver! We formed Team DSG in early 2012 as well with a core group & some honorary outside members who all pitched in to help with the race or ride it & it could'nt have been done without everyones help, to those members, THANK YOU.

And so it came down to yesterday when the premier Odin's Revenge riders lined up to take a crack at this event, 25 riders from as far away as Brooklyn, NY were there for the start, some seasoned gravel veterans, some rookies but all with something in common, the love of riding for hours on backroads & in yesterday's case, getting their asses handed to them! The course along with the weather made this possible & when the seasoned veterans arrived proclaiming it the toughest ride of their life with the most beautiful scenery, well, that there made us realize our dream had been fulfilled.

Thank you Chad for being on board with one of my longtime dreams of holding an event like this & to all the work you & Merrie put into laying out the course, IT DELIVERED! Also to the rest of the Team DSG members for all the work of getting sponsorship, promoting & actually getting it done from the pre-race meeting to manning checkpoints & an emergency rescue of a rider in distress, Bob, Kyle, Nate & Neil. Thanks Paul Siebert for being the official Odin's Revenge musician bringing your own special flair to a unique venue.

Thanks to our outstanding sponsors for DELIVERING some outstanding swag, Waltworks Cycles, Rawland Cycles, Titus Cycles, On One Cycles, Banjo Brothers, Revelate Designs, Climb On, Salus, Q7 Cycling, Twin Six, Mike Dion Productiions, Backcountry Research, Dirt Rag & the more local sponsors, Good Life Cycles, The Bike Shed, Gothenburg KOA & Gothenburg Comfort Suites.

Lastly, THANK YOU RIDERS! It was for YOU that we put this evil little plan together in hopes you'd want to ride in a very unique, remote part of Nebraska & when word gets out of this perhaps a few more of those folks hauling ass through our state on I-80 with bikes in tow in a hurry to get to the mountains may slow down, pull off & want to ride a bike closer to home, there's a lot of unique riding out your backdoor folks, just get out there & try it! We only had 25 riders but the quality of you riders that were willing to take a chance on our humble little race more than made up for the quan
tity! THANK YOU ALL! Now get your ass out there & ride a bike & we'll see ya next year!"

Team DSG set the standard for creating, hosting, and nurturing a gravel road race.  They were the inspiration behind my Thanksgiving post in 2015 entitled Thankful for Volunteers, reproduced below.

Thankful for Volunteers

I am thankful for volunteers, those people who give their time, energy and talents to serve others.  They pour part of themselves into making this broken world a better place for someone else.  Seeing that service sparks hope.

Gravel bike races are not tackling any of the big problems of the world.  It's a smaller environment, where folks challenge themselves, create memories and build relationships.  But they have made a  positive, lasting impact on me.  This post goes out to the volunteers of gravel races, and their supportive families and friends, for making such experiences possible.

As representatives of gravel race volunteers everywhere, here are the people behind creating and working Odin's Revenge.  Thank you and thanks to all the volunteers of other events.

Here's a few more pictures showing Team DSG at work.

Thank you, Team DSG.  Thank you.

Omnivores Matt Bergen and Garrett Olson at an Odin's Revenge start/finish party zone.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Chad Quigley, the Revenge behind Odin's, preaching to the pilgrims at a pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Kyle Vincent getting folks registered at a pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
For this snapshot in time, Scott "JackRabbit" Redd was not at the Claw Machine in the background.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Nate Bell brings his time, talents and treasure, including his very own Kinkaider Beer, to Odin's Revenge.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Paul Seibert entertains the gathering gravel clan at the pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
Paul even took his show on the road, with music at checkpoints.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Merrie Quigley and Della Brock Hengen welcoming riders into a check point.

Merrie Quigley's renowned "Protein Balls."
1 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 1/3 cup honey, 1 tsp vanilla.
Mix.  Form.  Refrigerate.  Enjoy.

Gordon Peterson, Mr. Culligan Man, volunteering his time and giving out his cold water.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Check Point volunteers with cold water, treats and cheer!

Motorcycle course marshall George Evans on patrol, with cold water ever at the ready!
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Paul Seibert living it up at a really remote Check Point.
(photo by Scott Redd)
Matt Bergen, Garret Olson and Bob Wieck, in the zone.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Chad Quigley, about finished, near the finish line.

Friday, February 17, 2017

2016 Odin's Revenge - Back in the Saddle

I love Odin's Revenge, and the folks involved, and wrote an extended report of the 2016 race at the time.  But there's always more to say about such experiences.  So many sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, pains, struggles, joys.  Some solitary.  Some shared.  

I certainly would have liked to have ridden more with others in 2016, but that would have required me to ride faster.  Not possible.  I knew that to have any shot of merely finishing the race, I needed to ride at a disciplined, measured pace from the very beginning.  I had not recovered, physically or mentally, from the stifling heat and exhausting effort at the Gold Rush Mother Lode, just two weeks prior.  So, with my slower pace, I rode more miles by myself in 2016 than in any other year, including the Mud Year.

But not the last hour or so into Check Point 3 at mile 96.   Turning north onto the first steep roller on Gillman Road at about mile 80, I churn uphill into the growing heat and building wind.  Atop that hill stands Scott Redd, the maestro behind the Omaha JackRabbit gravel race.  In addition to being a strong and accomplished cyclist, Scott has an engaging intellect, eclectic wit and ready smile.  We ride the next 15 miles together, talking of the day, of days past, and of days to come.  A highlight of the weekend for me.

Unfortunately, Mark Stevenson did not ride Odin's Revenge that year, so there is no multi-post race report on the Guitar Ted blog.  His presence is missed that weekend, but a few days before the race he wrote the following.

From the Guitar Ted Blog of June 24, 2016:

"Odin's Revenge.  This weekend is Odin's Revenge, a race that I have participated in several times now. I've never been able to pull off a finish there. There are many reasons for that, one of the biggest being that it is an insanely difficult course and usually the event is run when it is very hot. I don't do well when those two factors come together.

Still, it is a "vision quest", a "sweat lodge", or maybe it is a Don Quixote kind of a deal for me. Perhaps it is all of that. I love the event, I really enjoy the people that put it on and how they do things, and I absolutely love the area. I wanted to go this year, and I fully intended to until just after the DK200 trip when I found out that my sister had planned a little something and it requires my attendance, so I had to back out. Honestly, it bums me out that I am not on the road with my friend Tony, headed west to the hills and canyons of West Central Nebraska.

Then again, I am also kind of glad I am not going. It's going to be brutally hot there this year. I'd have a really rough go of it, I am sure. Still........ I'll miss the deal. But the reason I am staying is undeniably a good reason. Can't argue that. More on that after the weekend......."

For a race report by 6th place finisher Mike Campie, go to his blog.  2016 Odin's Campie.

For yet another montage of photographs from the day, go to the FaceBook page of Odin's Revenge, 2016 Odin's - home, and that of the indomitable Scott Redd, 2016 Odin's Scott.

Here's the 2016 race report of Scott Redd.  He posted this on his FaceBook page shortly after the race.  Because I cannot link directly to the post, I copied it here in its entirety:

"Make a plan and stick to it. That was the theme of this weekend's adventure at the 2016 Odin's Revenge gravel roads race in Gothenburg, Nebraska. And it worked.
This was my fourth attempt in as many years. I finished on time the first year I did it when the course was only 150 miles. The next two years found me abandoning the course at about 140 miles on the 170-180 mile course.
The plan this year was to simply finish and not worry so much about the clock. I am slow, but usually as long as I can keep eating, drinking, and don't let the mind games get to me, I can keep on pushing. Basically I was 1 for 3, and wanted to even up the score with a finish, even if that meant coming in late.
Emilie and I drove out Friday afternoon and rented a cute little cabin at the Blue Heron Campground. The log cabin style "tiny house" had a deep porch with a swing, had electricity and air conditioning. Also notable was the fine screen door to help keep out the mosquitoes. The pool was closed, and that was a bummer, but the bathrooms and showers were pretty nice, and very close to the cabin.
We went to the Walker's Steakhouse & Lounge for the meet up and check in. These meetings are one of my favorite things about the grassroots gravel racing events. It's like a family reunion with lots of stories and catching up. Emilie pointed out the claw machine, and I can't resist that. I put in a few bucks and won a prize for Craig Schmidt and Merrie Mitchell-Quigley.
Saturday morning came soon. We lined up just before 6am and headed off with a tailwind.
I rode with Craig Groseth for the first 10 miles or so. Craig was settled into a good consistent pace that was a little slower than I wanted to go at that time, so I bid him farewell, knowing full well he would catch me on the hills and at the checkpoints, and pedaled on along for the next 30 miles or so, occasionally passing another cyclist here and there (Greg from Colorado, Eric from Lincoln, and couple of others).
Many miles passed. I took some photos. I arrived at the first checkpoint where the Culligan Man (Gordan) was there with chilled water. Merrie and her crew provided a buffet of home made treats, fruit, and lots of Skratch Labs hydration.
More solo miles.
I rolled into the second checkpoint at Potter's Pasture staffed by Garrett Olsen and Jen at about 70 miles. I tried to make this one quick. I borrowed a Kinkaider Brewing Company IPA from Garret, and ate some hummus on a tortilla, filled up with water and headed back out. Craig caught me here just as I was leaving.
I was about 15 miles from the second checkpoint back in Gothenburg (96 miles or so). I stopped at the top of a hill to grab a few photos, and was considering my plan for the rest of the day. Should I stop in Gothenburg with nearly a respectable century and hang out with all the short course finishers, drink beer, and relax on the rented cabin's porch swing with Emilie? Or should I check in and head back out? I had about 90 minutes in the time bank at this point. I was just about to sit down for a break when Craig came up the hill. Craig was a man on the move, so I settled back on the saddle and rode with him, happy for the company.
Craig and I rolled the next hour or so together and had a nice chat. That's definitely one of my favorite things. Thanks, buddy.
So, I had a beer at the checkpoint with some of the short course people. At this time Janine Copple rode up. I was sure she was way ahead of me, but a few wrong turns put her behind me a bit. Janine said she was also thinking she might think about whether or not she wanted to continue. I went to the cabin and cleaned up a little, ate a burrito I made the night before. Since I had time to think about it, I did take a few moments to sit on the porch swing.
The weather was nice. It wasn't too hot. The roads were dry, with just a few sprinkles here and there. I really couldn't think of a good reason not to go, other than how comfortable it was sitting in the shade with a cool breeze on a porch swing. So I decided to finish it out. 
I pedaled back to the checkpoint from the cabin and told Kyle Vincent that I was headed back out. 
Janine decided to go with me. We cruised down the super pebbly but gorgeous Willow Island Road. When the road turned north and into the wind, Janine steamed off until she was just a speck on the road ahead.
The 20 miles or so going uphill into the wind out of Gothenburg are some of the most miserable I've ever ridden. I knew what to expect, as it was similar in 2014. Wind. Pedal. Hills. Pedal. And watching the road continue to rise up as the route heads into the sandhills. It's all a little demoralizing.
I promised myself that I would stop for a water break once the road crested. As I pulled off to the side, a pickup truck waved at me and asked the usual "What's going on out here?" I smiled and explained the farmer and his wife how much I and my friends enjoy spending the day on a bike on the gravel and dirt roads. I also got the usual "You guys are crazy" comments along with "You came all the way from Omaha?" as he noticed my Omaha Bicycle Co. jersey. I was cautious not to use the "race" word, since that sometimes turns people off. However, I slipped up and mentioned it was a race that brings people from all over the country.
At that point, the farmer's wife hit him on the shoulder and said, "I told you it was a race! Let him go. You're wasting his time." I assured them that I was in last place and in no way worried about the time spent talking to him. I must have looked hot, since he looked at my dusty bottles and asked if I wanted a cold bottle of water. I had plenty of water, but said somewhat jokingly that I would love a cold beer. He smiled and said, "Well, I go that, too. But are you sure you don't want a bottle of water?" Thirty seconds later I had the best damn Busch Light ever, along with wishes of good luck for the rest of the day.
I headed back down the road feeling pretty good. Doing the math, I knew I would made the last checkpoint with about 30 minutes to spare. My plan now was make the checkpoint on time and then take however long necessary to finish out the course. At about 140 miles, I came in to the checkpoint where Lane and Matt Bergen waited to record my arrival while Paul Siebert serenaded me with his squeezebox.
I sat down for a rest, ate some more hummus, had another beer and a liter of water, and chatted with Lane and looked at pictures from his Tour Divide adventure. After about 10 minutes, Janine rolled up. Again, I thought she was way ahead of me, but some more navigation issues cost her some extra miles and time.
As the sun was getting ready to set, Janine and I headed off for the last 40 or so miles. Now it was my turn to make navigation errors. First two miles off, then back, and then later, a mile or so out of the way added an extra six miles on my odometer in this last leg. Some of the most gnarly and overgrown segments were accomplished in the dark. It was kind of surreal to ride in waist high grass in the dark.
Fortunately the course trended downhill for the last 25 miles or so. Although with the loose gravel and sand, it was easy to outrun our lights, so there was a lot of riding the brakes to keep from going too fast. With about 20 miles to go, Chad and Merrie found us to check in on our well being. I got a good hug from Odin and he sent us on our way.
Miles. More miles.
Finally we arrived at the finish line. Understandably, everyone had gone home. As we rolled back into the campground, Emilie and Janine's husband, Steve, were there to congratulate us. It was so nice to finally be done.
A shower, some dinner, and then I crashed into the bed at the air conditioned cabin, feeling pretty good about finally finishing the 178 mile course, plus six extra miles.
I also found that Chad had left me some sweet Bar Mitts as a prize.
Despite being on the slow side, it was a great weekend on the bike. I'm pretty sure I'll be back, and gunning for an on-time finish next year.
Thanks for Chad QuigleyMerrie Mitchell-QuigleyKyle VincentLane BergenMatt Bergen, and everyone else for making this event so much fun. Thanks to Garrett OlsenCraig GrosethSkratch Labs, and Bar Mittsfor donating prizes and swag.
HUGE thanks to the amazing Emilie Kenoyer for her unending support and encouragement on these adventures. Be sure to check her Facebook page for some great photos that she took out on the course."

Here's my race report for the 2016 Odin's Revenge from the Black Hills BackBone blog.

Following that post are the race results from the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page.

Steaming toward Check Point 3 at the 2016 Odin's Revenge, I'm glad to ride up to Scott Redd.
It looks cool, calm and flat.  It's not.  Not a one.  (photo by Scott Redd)

Odin's Revenge 2016 - Back in the Saddle

Back to Odin's Revenge.  180 miles of the toughest gravel and dirt roads winding through the rolling hills and steep ravines of remote ranch country in central Nebraska.  Adventure gravel geeks of all sorts, seasoned and green, fast and slow, journey here to challenge themselves and each other.  Even more so, they look to the open western prairie for an experience to share with each other and with the friendly folks that put it all together.  Odin's Revenge represents the best of the gravel scene.

Finding my way, out there somewhere on the Odin's Revenge course.
Relishing a return to Odin's Revenge for the fourth time, I carry the unfamiliar weight of a DNF ("did not finish") from the 210 mile Gold Rush Mother Lode, just two weeks ago.  In addition to the emotional baggage, I know there's a physical one, as well.  I've ridden to work every day since without issue, but harder efforts on single track reveal the truth.  I have no power.  I still have not physically recovered from the heat of the Mother Lode.  Not sure Odin's Revenge is the place to do that.

So, I roll into Gothenburg with considerable concerns about the race ahead, while quietly hoping for a solid finish.  Seductive whispers of dropping the mileage down to the 60 mile "short course" creep into my thoughts during the six hour drive.  Such a decision would be easy to rationalize, but hard to live with.  I know, when it comes right down to it, I'm all-in for the full 180 mile course.

Chad Quigley, the Revenge behind Odin's, setting up the pre-race gathering at Walker's Steak House.
Nothing lightens the heart quite like the Odin's Revenge pre-race gathering at the Walker Steak House. Folks filter in over the next few hours, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.  Some talk of rides in the past, but mostly of the day ahead.  What did Chad and Team DSG cook up this year?  Even more Minimum Maintenance Roads, or worse?  What about the heat, the wind, the rains?  Oh, what are you running for tires?  That may all sound like a bunch of Nervous Nellies, but, with this crowd, it's more like being excited to face whatever comes our way.  Anticipation fills the old dance hall, mixing with the aroma of sizzling steaks and cold beer.

Chad announces that he designed the course along the lines of the inaugural 2012 race:  two odd shaped balloons connected at a start/finish area, with a meandering southern loop of about 100 miles, followed by a northern loop of about 80 miles.  Racers must reach four check points along the way at miles 42.6, 69.6, 96.5 and 138.5, each with a time cut-off.  The finish arrives at mile 178.1, for those that manage to make it.  It all looks reasonable enough on paper.  Of course, those miles cover what most cyclists would not consider normal roads or, in some cases, roads at all.

If you're looking for sweet gravel, you'll find plenty at Odin's Revenge.  Just know that there's some other stuff, too.
Having finished the last three years, I recognize enough of the roads on the cue sheets to know that this course will be at least as difficult those in the past.  My game plan is simple.  From the very start, ride moderately, with just enough effort to complete the 100 mile first loop on time to get the cue sheets for the second loop. Then take a break, refuel, assess how you feel for the 80 mile second loop, and head out with an appropriate plan to finish within the time cut-off of 12:30 am.  No attack speed today.  This is all about finishing.

Back to the Blue Heron campground, I enjoy the camaraderie of several other racers preparing for the day ahead:  strongman Jeff Caldwell and his irrepressible daughter Piper of North Platte, NE joyfully spinning around on their fatties; gravel veteran Shane Buscher of Lincoln, NE; tip-of-the-spear racer Daniel Schneider of Colorado; Omaha JackRabbit guru Scott Redd of Omaha, NE; and the ever-smiling, fast-roadie-racer Lawrence Fitz of Champaign, IL.  Some familiar faces.  Some new.  All having fun.

That light must be an angel looking over me, as we prepare for the 6:00 am start.
(photo by Emilie Kenoyer)
As usual, I awake moments before the alarm is set to go off.  The forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 80's, with morning winds from the south, the direction we're starting into, and then shifting to be from the north late morning, the direction we'll be riding then.  So, warm and headwinds all day.  All the more reason to ride conservatively.

The start line at 6:00 am is a festive happening, with pictures and well-wishing all around.  It's easy to get caught up in all that energy, but I remind myself to ride conservatively.  Many, many unknown variables about the course, the conditions and, most importantly, my body.  Go slow.

Cruising past one of the very few structures out there on the southern loop.
Only twenty-five of the forty registered racers actually start and, at the first hint of gravel, most of them disappear over the first hill.  I feel much better turning pedals than expected, but resist the temptation to respond.  This in not the day to chase rabbits.  Let them go.  Let them all go.  Find your pace.  Keep it mellow.  You're in this one to finish.

I soak in the moment.  The slow awakening sun greets lazy clouds, light breezes and mild temperatures, as the low hills of the Platte River Valley roll by.  This is my favorite time of day and I'm doing my favorite thing at my favorite event.  So happy to just be here.

The difficulties of the hills pick up, both in pitch and in surface, but it's a kinder, gentler ride when not pushing the pace.  The hardest part of these early miles is riding alone.  Even at relatively small races,  I enjoy riding with others, off and on, at least through the first few check points.  Today, with my measured pace, that isn't happening.  I'm at the blunt end of the spear.

Topping another small rise, I spot Check Point 1 at mile 42.6, managed by Merrie Quigley and her enthusiastic crew of cowbell clangers.  Merrie's famous "protein balls" are always a special treat, along with the cold, crisp water served by Culligan Water man Gordon Sanders.  Notwithstanding my pedestrian pace, it's only about 3 1/2 hours into the race, almost an hour before the cut-off time.  I feel fresh and energized.

Now come steeper climbs, more deeply rutted roads and thicker talcum they call dirt around here.  This is much more work, particularly with temperatures and winds rising.  With each turn, the names of the roads evoke memories of challenging sections of prior races :  Cut Creek Road, Hansen Hill, Effenbeck Road, Cottonwood Road and the renowned Government Pocket Road.  But the climbs don't seem as steep, the ruts as deep or the talcum as soft.  Maybe it's the relaxed mindset, but I'm feeling strong.

I cruise into Check Point 2 at Potter's Pasture at mile 69.6, hosted by artiste Garrett Olsen and Jen Wilson.  Very upscale, with a party tent, cheese and crackers, and adult beverages.  It's a peaceful spot.  Sweet.  I lie down for just a minute, top off water and get back out there, with still almost an hour in the time bank.  That was nice.

Picked up this cool print from cyclist artiste Garrett Olsen, who volunteers every year at Odin's Revenge.
Not long thereafter, I find Scott Redd at the top of a hill on Gillman Road, taking pictures, of course.  Scott is a cycling aficionado who has ridden many gravel events, including this year's TransIowa, and is the creative force behind the eclectic Omaha JackRabbit ride in October each year.  Just a few uphill pitches and "it's all a downhill trend," he says as he gazes into a Garmin digital map he created last night from the written cue sheets.  We ride together the hour or so remaining of the southern loop, sharing our time and encouraging each other.  What a great way to spin into Check Point 3.

Cruising along the canal with Scott Redd, a strong rider and great companion as the day grows longer.
Sticking to the plan, I put my feet up in the convenience store at the Blue Heron Campground, inhale a bottle of chocolate milk and a can of Coke, study the cue sheets for the northern loop and assess the eighty-two miles ahead.  There's at least twenty miles straight north, maybe thirty, into the now stout wind on a variety of unknown, numbered roads, with stretches into uninviting places as "Roten Valley."  I also hear whispers in the air, cautioning of unrideable, even indiscernible, paths unworthy of the name "road," lying in wait to lure and entrap the unwary.

Whatever, dude.  I now have about an hour and a half in the time bank and I feel really good.  The slow, steady pace is working.  Let's see what's out there and get to that next check point, about 42 miles away.

The next 30 miles or so are the least pleasant part of the entire day:  generally uphill on a false flat or a real hill, directly into a headwind, temperatures in the low 90's, thick gravel everywhere and not nearly as scenic as the southern loop.  All pass from memory as I spin into the raucous, rocking venue that is Check Point 4.  Lane Bergen, just back from his 1400 mile bike ride along the Continental Divide, and his proud dad Matt, hoop and holler to the squawking squeeze box of musician Paul Siebert.  It's all quite the mix of sights and sounds, planted on an intersection of a primitive dirt road and a barely maintained gravel road in the middle of nowhere particular.  What a fun stop.  And, despite the difficult section just covered, I still carry a solid hour and a half in the time bank.

Matt Bergen at Check Point 4, as I take off for the final 40 miles.  Or so.
(photo by Lane Bergen)
Now, I know I'll finish this.  Whatever lies ahead in the final 40 miles will have to include at least 20 miles of riding south, some tailwind and mostly "trending downhill," as Scott would say.  After a quick few miles, my optimism for a fast finishing forty miles fades upon turning onto a series of "Minimum Maintenance Roads," where I am abruptly reduced to walking, dragging and carrying my bike, while attempting to navigate through waist high grass.  Fortunately, these parts of the "roads" are relatively short connectors and soon I'm back to cruising on gravel.  

I zone out for a couple of miles before noticing that a road sign does not match the cue sheets.  Oh, no.  This is not the time to go off course and get lost in unfamiliar, remote country.  I backtrack and eventually get back on course, losing maybe half an hour or so and a lot of enthusiasm for that fast finish.

Yes, this is the "road" on one stretch of Odin's Revenge.  Does that look like "Minimum Maintenance" to you?
(photo by Scott Redd)
But I carry on, now finally back on solid gravel roads, for the most part.  As the sun slides away with a glorious farewell, I'm determined to stay on course now that it's dark.  I stop frequently to ensure that the cue sheets and road signs stay true.  The miles grow longer, but pass.  I'm certainly ready to get off the bike when crossing U.S. Highway 30 and then the bridge over Interstate 70 to take the turn onto Willow Island Road for the final 6 miles.  Not even the chunky gravel here dampens my spirit.  I will finish this race, on this day.  

A truck approaches from ahead, flashing its lights and stopping for me.  It's Race Director Chad Quigley and his wife Merrie, out checking on the racers still out on the course.  He's the force behind the fabulous team that puts together this great race, taking care of everyone within the spirit of such events.  A few minutes later, Chad and Merrie drive off to find Scott Redd and Janine Copple, who apparently are somewhere behind me.

Eventually, the heavy gravel of Willow Island Road T-bones into paved highway 47 for a short coast to the finish line at the Blue Heron Campground.  The handful of volunteers, racers and crew still hanging around bring me home to a chorus of cheers and cowbells, right at 11:27 pm.  That's 17 hours and 27 minutes after the start and just over an hour before the final time cut-off.  While snapping my finish line photo, Emilie Kenoyer exclaims, "Craig, you're just beaming!"  

That I am.  Still.

There's a finish line photo of one happy camper.  (photo by Emilie Kenoyer)
  Epilogue:  Scott Redd and Janine Copple knew they had become too late to be labeled as "official finishers" on some list, but kept pedaling well into the night to finish the entire course at 1:21 am.  Such determination represents the spirit of these events.  And Odin's Revenge itself, created and nurtured by Chad Quigley and the rest of Team DSG, represents the best of the unsanctioned, grass roots gravel race scene.  Support them and others like them.  The experiences they help to create are worth having and sharing.

Here are the results of the 2016 Odin's Revenge.  Another amazing race.