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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Odin's Revenge

Odin's Revenge.  The gravel scene at its very best.  In a small Nebraska town of about 3,500 folks, a small group of friendly, thoughtful cyclists took the time and energy to create a wonderful grass roots event that showcases the natural beauty of their area.  Those fortunate enough to experience Odin's Revenge invariably ink it on the calendar for the following year.  Not to be missed.

Team DSG Chad Quigley surveys the path ahead for those undertaking Odin's Revenge. (photo by Wally Kilburg)
This year I'm riding Odin's Revenge as part of the ChristianCycling.com Build The Body ride.  On that day, folks all over the country will be participating with their own rides, races and events to support ChristianCycling and our ministry partners Samaritan's Purse, Teen Challenge and Athletes in Action.  One of our slogans is "Unite and Light," that is, to bring Christian cyclists together in fellowship and show Christ to the cycling community.  I'll be the only one wearing the team kit at Odin's Revenge, but I won't be riding alone.

Ready to roll to central Nebraska.  Yes, it's the Build the Body Ride, not the Already Built Body Ride.
(photo by Chani Groseth)
The gathering of the Odin's gravel clan starts in earnest late Friday afternoon at the old school Walker Steakhouse in Gothenburg,  Nebraska.  You know the drinks will be cold and the steaks will be fresh, with a stockyards just up the road.  Laughter and boisterous banter rock the old dance hall, as friends, new and old, share stories of days past and anticipate the day ahead.  Race organizers Chad Quigley and Matt Bergen, and the rest of Team DSG, brief the course, checkpoints, conditions, forecast and expectations.  A bounty of swag is scooped up.  Folks linger, savoring.

Reluctantly leaving the pre-race social for the campsite, I prepare for the early start while fellow racers and crew filter in.  It's another special time, hanging out with the camping sub-clan of the gravel clan.  It's a real treat to share the campsite with Wally Kilburg, the professional photographer for the event, and gravel royalty Greg Gleason of Sioux Falls.  Too soon, it's time to try to get some sleep before that 4:30 alarm.

But not before I adjust my gear to lighten my load.  Greg's enthusiasm persuades me to try something different.  I pretty much know how to meter out energy over a long race to finish within typical time limits.  But I didn't really know what would happen if I deliberately push the level of effort up a couple of notches from the start.  Hit it hard early.  Travel lighter.  See what happens.

Riding to the start with Greg Gleason, a great gravel ambassador who happens to be a fast, tough champion.
(photo by Matt Bergen)
Mingling at the start in the pre-race darkness, I search in vain for Kevin Fox, who is just starting a college campus ministry in Omaha and was driving in on virtually no sleep to get here.  I had hoped to share a prayer with him, but he is not to be found.  Moments before the race starts, I hear a voice say, "Craig, would you join us?  We're going to pray."  It's Ben Cooper of Team WhiteTail, a small, passionate group of cyclists from nearby North Platte.  Build the Body, indeed.  Thanks.

We anxiously roll out for about 15 miles of dry, relatively fast gravel roads, before abruptly turning 90 degrees onto what looks to be barely a cow path.  It's Brushy Road, our introduction to 35+ miles of "Minimum Maintenance Roads."  Time to turn it up a notch.

You're at Odin's Revenge.  Leave those skinny tires and low-spoke wheels at your business park crit.
(photo by Scott Redd)
These barely built and not maintained dirt roads offer very loose, almost talcum-like powdered earth, often several inches deep, with occasional pools even deeper in the drainages.  All the spring rains shape teeth-rattling ruts and wheel-gobbling gullies into the steeps.  This calls for fatter tires and mountain bike skills to just get through.

Really good idea to hold your line here.
(photo by Scott Redd)
Pushing harder than normal early, I was determined to ride all those nasty steeps that were a hike-a-bike  mud fest last year.  I even cleaned a deeply gullied drop that had me sliding sideways a year ago.  Finding a comfortably hard rhythm, I pull into Checkpoint 1, about 48 miles in a little over 3 1/2 hours.  I may pay for this pace later, but I feel good.

Rolling on down the highway.  Some spots were without ruts and without deep powder.  None were without beauty.
(photo by Dan Buettner)
I top off fluids, grab a renowned Merrie Quigley "protein ball," or two, thank the volunteers and get back out there.  Checkpoint 2 is 40 miles, and many dirt roads, in the distance.  The day is fully awake, the sky clear, the sun bright, the wind quiet.  Odin beckons.  What 'cha got, kid?

What I now have is a strong start to a very good race, if I can keep my rhythm and focus.  Over the next several hours, I ride with a host of others, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for a few miles.  Jeff Bloom, a Lutheran pastor from Lincoln and a fast new friend.  David Mizzelle of Oklahoma, a compatriot at the Gold Rush Mother Lode a few weeks ago and a fellow survivor of last year's Odin's.  Kevin Dogget of Oklahoma, another fellow survivor of last year.  Robert Ellis, a single speeder from Missouri and a near finisher last year.  Paul Brasby of Team Whitetail from North Platte, another Mother Lode veteran.  Marc Pfister, a bicycle frame builder from Colorado and Odin's veteran.  All these, and others, helped me steam into Checkpoint 2, 87 miles in under 7 1/2 hours.  For me, that's cruising.  I'm getting tired, but I'm still feeling good.

Good representation of much of the powdery dirt at Odin's.  (photo by Scott Redd)
It's now early afternoon and down right hot.  I douse my head under cold water at the Curtis city park and take a break in the shade.  Ahead the hills get longer, but not any less steep or any less rutted or any less powdered.  Time to attack the next 46 miles to Checkpoint 3 at Potter's Pasture, a local single track mountain bike trail.

There's my rabbit, a dot on the distant climb.  It's hot and the course does not get any easier.
Maybe attack is too strong a word.  I'm still racing, still pushing the pace, but the growing heat and the long hours of hard effort conspire to wear me down.  The hot, long, steep climbs up Ridge Road, Hansen Hill Road and Government Pocket Road seem endless.  The rutted downhills offer little relief.  I'm really slowing down.  When I finally pull into Checkpoint 3 at mile 133, I'm pretty cooked.

The Team DSG volunteers, with their water, treats, camp chairs and enthusiasm, revitalize me.  As I try to visualize the final 36 miles to the finish, a steady stream of riders pull in.  Now the energy level spikes, as we encourage each other to bring it home.

A group of six spin out about the same time.  It's a great morale boost to ride with others at a time like this and the miles flow again.  When we hit a sustained climb, I fall back a bit, but that's okay.  I cover over 14 miles in the first hour out of Checkpoint 3 and should finish before dark.  The brutal series of long, steep rollers on Gillman Road, at about mile 150, are hard body blows that knock the wind out of my pace.  But they do not dampen the spirit.  I'm closing in on the finish.

As I time trial the last couple of miles into town, determined to beat the darkness, I see a truck stopped ahead on the road.  I soon pass it and wave in response to some kind of shout out.  Then the truck pulls around and catches me.  "Hey, Craig!" yells out a friendly voice, "Nice race!"  It's Randall and Amy Smith of North Platte, who were a big part of my being able to finish the Gold Rush Mother Lode race a few weeks ago.  They knew I was out on the course, coming in, and wanted to say hi before driving home.  What a treat!  That's the gravel clan, taking care of each other.  Thanks!

The sun is down, but it's not yet dark, as I float into the Blue Heron Campground to rousing cheers.  169 miles in 15 hours 36 minutes.  Well faster than any reasonable expectation.  The Greg Gleason inspired strategy of going out hard early had to result in a faster overall time, but it's hard to tell how much.  I know that I covered that course on that day as fast I could.  And I cut over 5 1/2 hours over the ordeal of last year.

Always good to see Odin himself, Chad Quigley, but especially so at the finish of Odin's Revenge.
(photo by Merrie Quigley)
Thanks to Team DSG for all the work putting on this special event.  You are creating memories and relationships that are meaningful and lasting.  I do not believe that is an overstatement.  Thank you.


Addendum:

Team DSG Chad Quigley awards a special prize to Jeff Caldwell and his 7 year daughter Piper, who ripped the 60 mile course on a tandem.  (photo by Odin's Revenge)
Finally, a special nod to Jeff Caldwell, a very strong racer who last year broke a derailer just 10 miles into Odin's, converted to a single speed and caught nearly everyone to finish second.  This year, he signed up intent to make another run at the crown.  Then his 7 year old daughter asked if she could ride.  So, Jeff changed his entry to the shorter course option, a 60 mile ride, and rode it on a tandem with her.  Reports were that she was grinning ear to ear at the finish.  Nice work, Jeff.  Best ride of the day.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Build the Body Ride



As part of the ChristianCycling.com Build The Body Ride next Saturday, I plan to race Odin's Revenge in Gothenburg, Nebraska.  On that day, folks all over the country will be participating with their own rides, races and events to support ChristianCycling and our ministry partners Samaritan's Purse, Teen Challenge and Athletes in Action.  I look forward to sharing the day with everyone, as we each continue our own unique journey through this world filled with wonder.  For more information about the "Build the Body Ride," simply go to ChristianCycling.com.  Or ask me.  God bless.  

To set the stage, here is my race report from last year's Odin's Revenge, which appeared as a FaceBook photo album.  Hopefully this year will be a little less mud and a little more speed.


We each have our journey on this earth.  Part of my journey led me to Odin's Revenge, a 170 mile gravel and dirt road race in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Through the mud and miles, the moments shared with fellow riders and volunteers, the hours alone, and the simple joy of riding a bike through the wonders of creation, I will cherish this experience. Thanks to all who shared their weekend.


We're all smiles at the 06:00 Odin's Revenge start. Shaun Arritola again demonstrated wisdom beyond his years by opting for the 60 mile "short" course.  Me, not so much.  It's go time for 170 miles of whatever the day brings. (photo by Scott Redd) — with Shaun Arritola in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Friday night's downpour onto supersaturated soil turned Gothenburg gravel into quicksand and dirt into greasy muck.  These early miles were challenging. (photo by Scott Redd) — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




An early dirt road, or "minimum maintenance road," that was actually rideable.  Most were ankle deep mud slides with wheel-sucking crevasses.  My advanced mass was not an advantage on the slick steeps. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




A more typical "minimum maintenance" road prominent throughout the first 30 miles or so.  Most walked, or even carried, their bikes up.  Whether up or down, I rode less as the miles, and fatigue, accumulated. (photo by Scott Redd) — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Somewhere at a spot much like this, I was about done.  The computer said 29 miles, the clock said 4.5 hours, the body said you're working far too hard this early and the mind said the 87 mile time cutoff was impossible.  My spirit said keep moving, but even if the conditions changed radically and immediately, I had neither the strength or the time. (photo by Scott Redd) — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




I was done.  I closed my eyes.  I said, "Lord, my big plans for today are over.  I cannot even make the race cutoff time.  This day is now for You.  I'm sorry for not doing this before, but I'm committing to this now. Whatever You have in mind for me today, I'm all in."  A great burden was lifted.  I practically pranced up that hill to find what lay ahead. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Within a few minutes, I crested that hill. There stood Chad Quigley, one of the race organizers, proclaiming that we had come through the worst, that the sun had poked through the overcast skies and that an unexpected wind had picked up force.  Roads were drying quickly.  He then added that, due to the conditions, the 87 mile time cutoff was extended 2 hours.  Wow.  How could I stop now?  How could I stop at all?  I had His purpose, at least for this day.  Ride.  Just ride. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Grateful to finally pull into Check Point 1, I found cyclists sprawled about like a M*A*S*H triage unit.  In stark contrast, the ever-smiling, friendly face of Mark Stevenson greeted me and encouraged me, even as he called his race over.  Those first 47 miles took me almost 6.5 hours, but I now had the strength and time to continue to hope for making that cutoff. (photo by Merrie Mitchell-Quigley) — with Mark Stevenson in Gothenburg, Nebraska.



Now, with many of the gravel roads firming up and the worst of the dirt roads behind us, I'm cruising in high spirits.  It's well into the afternoon and the 87 mile cutoff is hours away, but riding with purpose is a game-changer. (photo by Scott Redd) — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




By late afternoon, the sun and wind worked wonders on the roads.  The cutoff time was now in reach and hope began to stir for an opportunity to keep riding.  I enjoyed riding with Scott Redd during this stretch and even stopped for a cemetery shot to commemorate the winter prairie training rides with Shaun Arritola. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




I spun into the 87 mile cutoff with an hour to spare!  I'm still able to ride!  The next 30 miles or so were some of the best miles I have ever covered on a bike.  Early evening on Ridge Road revealed 5 miles of stunning prairie panorama.  Some of those miles were less than smooth due to a pockmarked pattern of sun baked cattle hoof prints.  But, all told, those early evening hours were filled with the simple joy of pedaling a bike through God's creation. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Sunset at Government Pocket Road, yet another "minimum maintenance road" that was a joy to ride, now that it was mostly rideable.  When I eventually reached the 137 mile Check Point 3 at Potter's Pasture, the jet black night sky simply burst wide open with stars.  I'm sorry that I didn't take pictures of the awesome volunteers along the way.  Please know that your efforts were greatly appreciated. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.




Flying into the finish to the roars of the crowd?  Better yet. Shaun Arritola sets his alarm to wake up to meet me at the finish at 03:00.  And he brings a cold bottle of chocolate milk, my go-to emergency energy source and favorite recovery drink.  Thanks, so much, Shaun.  Turns out I finished both 6th overall and dead last.  No way was that possible alone.  God bless. — in Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shake Out Ride

All this talk about routes, logistics and bikes leaves me yearning to put it all together in a shorter, more controlled environment before launching into the 300+ mile remoteness of the Black Hills BackBone.  Time for a shake out ride.

In late May, a scheduling break at work fortuitously opens up the first weekend in June.  Having missed a return to the 162 mile Almanzo Royal in mid-May due to a last minute family trip to Denver, I leap at the chance to enter the inaugural Gold Rush Mother Lode.  Hosted by Kristi and Perry Jewitt of  Dakota Five-O fame, the Mother Lode promises 210 miles of gravel and dirt roads in a grand loop out of Spearfish, right here in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  I sign up first, ask questions later.

Rifle Pit Road on the Gold Rush Mother Lode (photo by Les Heiserman)
As a shake out ride, I aim to replicate my BackBone approach, including route finding by cue sheets and cyclometer, water for 6-8 hours, drink mix and food for the entire ride, clothes for expected rain, wind and temperatures, tools and parts to handle mechanicals, medicinals for those contingencies, lights for helmet, bars and seat post, and bags to carry it all.  Oh yeah, and my beloved Black Mountain Monster Cross bike to haul me with all that stuff.  Self-supported.  Just scrounging for water now and then.  Not dependent on stops for food.  Details of my plan are spelled out in a series of prior posts.  Water. Fuel. Cue sheets. Bags. Mechanicals. Single speed. Bike.  Time to put that talk to the test.

Ready to roll.  My Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike is built for this.
Water
At the start of the Mother Lode, I carried a BackBone-load of water:  a 100 ounce bladder of water in a Revelate Designs Tangle bag, one large water bottle of HEED and one large water bottle of Perpetuem.  That's about 156 ounces, which is about a gallon and a quarter, or almost 10 pounds of water alone.  No, I did not need that much water to get to the first Mother Lode Checkpoint at Mile 69.3, let alone a water stop along the way, or the other checkpoints.  But on the BackBone, I will need that much to cross the remote northern prairie.

Although that was a lot of weight to haul up those hills, my only stops were the 4 checkpoints.  There I drank more than a large bottle worth of water to sustain the next hour or so, refilled the HEED bottle and topped off the Perpetuem bottle.  I never added water to the Tangle bag, even though I sipped from it all day as needed.  All said, I kept plenty hydrated, only stopped for water at the required checkpoints and carried less water as the ride went on.

Plenty of water on the Gold Rush Mother Lode.  (photo by Les Heiserman)
Food
At the start of the Mother Lode, I also carried 2/3 of a BackBone-load of food to cover 2/3 of the distance.  That's also some bulk and weight to carry.  Following a Shaun Arritola suggestion, I mixed 6 servings of Perpetuem (almost 800 calories) in a single water bottle and metered caloric intake by estimating fractions of the bottle consumed.  That translated to mixing a first bottle before the start and a second bottle at the Mountain Meadow Checkpoint.  That worked really well for me, both in fuel performance and convenience.

For the HEED, I tried the same approach, by doubling the amount of mix I normally use in a water bottle.  At each checkpoint, I refilled the HEED bottle.  That also worked well.

So, as a test of performance and convenience, my food plan worked well.  I had the fuel I needed, without depending on caloric sources along the way, although I did drink a small coffee from the Mountain Meadow Checkpoint and a small COKE from the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.  This food plan easily scales up for the BackBone.

I exceeded my low gear limit for this type of riding with the 11-34 cassette.  Back to my more roadie-like 12-27.
Gears
As planned for the Backbone, I switched to an 11-34 cassette for the Mother Lode, thinking that a couple of easier gears would be good for all that climbing carrying all that extra weight.  However, the extra low gears just felt slower, not easier, on the tougher climbs and I stopped using them early on.  Worse, I always felt like I was in between gears on everything else.  I didn't like it and missed the relatively closer gear range of my standard 12-27.  I'll switch back for the BackBone.

Other logistics
Everything else worked well.  The cue sheets and cyclocomputer were flawless, I never referred to the map or compass and I had no GPS to misfire.  I pulled out a rain jacket twice, each time briefly, for late afternoon showers, while the other layers and articles remained packed.  I fixed a broken chain with a chain breaker and spare PowerLinks, never using other tools, parts, spare tubes, pump or mud shank.  A helmet mounted light properly lit up the cue sheets after dark, while my Cateye head light amply lit the road ahead.  Spare batteries not needed.   I used some sun screen and lip balm, but not the aspirin, Alleve, Advil or TUMS.  The Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike was, of course, perfect.  But regular readers know that.

All told, this was a successful shake out ride.  I had everything I needed and I don't think I'll remove anything from the list.  Basically, with just a cassette change and more food, I believe this plan is ready for the Black Hills BackBone.  Whoo hoo.

Out there.  (photo by Les Heiserman) 
Addenduum:  not a great approach for the Mother Lode
Now, this BackBone approach is not my recommended way to race the 210 mile Mother Lode, which allows support crews to meet racers at 4 separate checkpoints at miles 69.3, 123, 152, and 172.7.  A far better approach would be to carry as little as possible, just enough to successfully reach the next checkpoint, and then meet your support crew to resupply, or even change supply, depending on the circumstances. Traveling as light as possible would be prudent, with the sheer distance, 12,000+ feet of elevation gain, uncertain road conditions, and unpredictable weather, let alone the time cutoffs.

With favorable conditions like that race day, I think that one could comfortably cover the Mother Lode carrying just 2-3 water bottles and maybe 400-600 calories of food at a time.  With proper use of the allowed support crews at each of the checkpoints, one could carry just enough supplies for 4-6 hours to Trailshead Lodge (69.3 miles, Checkpoint 1), pick up just enough more for 3-5 hours to Mountain Meadow (123 miles, Checkpoint 2), pick up a little for 2-3 hours to Moonshine Gulch (152 miles, Checkpoint 3), pick up a little more for 2-4 hours back up to Trailshead Lodge (172.7 miles, Checkpoint 4), and then little or nothing more for the 2-3 hours to the finish (207.3 miles). By eating and drinking just a bit at each checkpoint, one could carry even less.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Speed Work at the Gold Rush Mother Lode

Nothing like a race to check your level of fitness.  How about the Gold Rush Mother Lode, a 210 mile gravel race with 12,000+ feet of elevation gain out of Spearfish over roads similar to portions of the Black Hills BackBone?  Reconnect with some distant friends.  Make some new ones.  Support a local event.  Maybe get in a little speed work.  Sounds like a plan.

As the June 6 race day approaches, it dawns on me that I have not ridden long in awhile.  A last minute family trip to Denver in mid-May nixes a return to the 162 mile Almanzo Royal.  Graduation festivities seem to fill every weekend.  I have to go all the way back to the 110 mile Bad Buffalo ride on April 5 to find something more than an hour.  That's two months ago.  Hmmn.

Much of the day looked just like this - rolling along on primo Black Hills gravel.
To my Midwest brethren, it's more like gravel sprinkles on dirt.  (photo by randy ericksen)
At the pre-race meeting Friday evening, high spirits fill the back room at Killian's Tavern in Spearfish, as race directors Kristi and Perry Jewitt hold court before an enthralled gathering of gravel geeks.  Ahead lie long climbs on remote gravel roads saturated from heavy spring snow and rain.  But I know these roads, the course looks fun and, if no more rain falls overnight, the overall race cutoff time of 21 hours for 210 miles seems reasonable enough.

Then a closer look at the course map reveals a bigger obstacle.  In addition to the finish line, we face four additional checkpoints along the way, each with a time cutoff based on a 10 mph average speed.  The fourth one leaps off the page.  Just two hours to climb the 20.7 uphill miles from the Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford to the Trailshead Lodge at 6,683' O'Neil Pass.  That would be a challenge for me with fresh legs, let alone 15 hours into the race.

To have any shot of climbing O'Neil Pass by the 10:00 pm cutoff time, I must reach Rochford well before 8:00 pm.  An hour time cushion would do nicely, but that requires averaging almost 11 mph for the first 14 hours.  With the amount of elevation gain, unpredictable weather and uncertain road conditions, that is a tall order.  I just had to go as hard as I could for 152 miles, to go even harder up a 20.7 mile climb for any chance.  No mistakes.  No mishaps.  No room for error.  But if I could just make that, the remaining 35 miles of mostly downhill would be a breeze.

Pre-dawn start with race director Perry Jewitt leading a neutral roll-out to nearby gravel, where the racing begins.
(photo by randy ericksen)
The 5:00 am start brings cool temperatures, no wind and some clouds, but also reports of no overnight rain.  Perfect.  Racers share greetings and best wishes, as the countdown triggers the familiar nervous excitement of the beginning of a long bike race.  We roll out of town, hopeful that the weather would hold, the roads would be firm, our bikes would survive and that we would persevere. 

Enjoying the comraderie of Jason Thorman and Luke Meduna as the day emerges.
(photo by randy ericksen)




The early miles of a long bike race are special.  Pedals turn quickly, hills disappear, friendly banter amongst kindred spirits fills the air and the miles flow by.  Before long, we're into Wyoming, steadily climbing Sand Creek Road and then Grand Canyon Road all the way to Trailshead Lodge, Checkpoint 1 at mile 69.3.  The long climb is behind me.  Nice warmup for the day.

Mist below Crow's Peak brings the promise of a good day.
(photo by randy ericksen)
With about 40 minutes in the time bank, I drop off O'Neil Pass south onto Boles Canyon Road, the roughest road so far.  Where wet, the dirt road is greasy and where dry, it is deeply rutted.  But after a few miles, I'm back on primo gravel, cruising along a ridge line for a short peek into the distant Wyoming prairie before dropping to Beaver Creek and rolling to Deerfield Lake.  Keep in mind that Black Hills "rollers," although generally not as steep as Midwest "rollers," often are measured in many miles, not fractions thereof.  The accumulated elevation gain and miles conspire to erode my climbing speed as I pull into Meadow Mountain Resort, Checkpoint 2 at mile 123.

Flying towards Check Point 2 at Deerfield Lake, I'm 40+ mph on gravel, one-handed, taking this picture.
Just saying that my Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross bike is built for this.
With about 40 minutes still in the time bank, I spin out of Meadow Mountain with a coffee to go, determined to at least keep that cushion for the next stage, about 29 miles to Rochford.  Then maybe I'd have a shot.  Almost immediately, I run smack into the first real headwind of the day at the base of yet another 5 mile climb.  Then it begins to sprinkle.  This is not going to be easy.  Thankfully, I have some friendly company with David Mizelle of Oklahoma and Don Daly of Missouri, both experienced, successful endurance cyclists.  Good folks to have around.  We crank into Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford, Checkpoint 3 at mile 152, without losing any more time.

With bloated creeks all over, early evening showers soften the Mickelson Trail a bit approaching Rochford.
But the showers stay intermittent and light, and the roads stay firm, for the most part.
With earnest urgency, I spin out of Rochford with a full-bodied Coke to attack the long-awaited climb back up to O'Neil Pass.  Dave Mizelle lingers a little, unconcerned about the ticking clock.  Don Daly calls it a day, unfortunately, due to stomach problems.  So, I climb alone, on a focused mission of pedaling 20.7 miles uphill in less than 2 hours and 40 minutes.

To a seasoned cyclist, that just doesn't sound very hard.  It doesn't sound very hard to me sitting comfortably at home, either.  But, at the time, I had been out there over 14 hours, working hard all day to build that slender 40 minute cushion.  Despite my intentions, too soon I am reduced to spinning a low gear at about 6 mph.  That simply will not do.  So, I abandon the steady effort approach and decide to time trial this climb for 1 hour, see where I'm at and just deal with it.  Time to go all in.

I jump several gears, stand and crank, determined to ride as fast as I possibly can for 1 hour.  I find myself riding like the single speeder I have been for over 12 years, rarely sitting while turning a big gear.  The familar rhythm of climbing out the saddle restores some speed and confidence.  This is fun again.  The relatively steady grade, while most definitely up, is not overwhelmingly steep.  The miles pass.  Hope flickers.

About 45 minutes into this effort, I stand to clear a short, steeper pitch and bear all my weight repeatedly on the pedals.  SNAP!  Something breaks, hurtling me onto the top tube.  Surveying the carnage, I find only a broken chain.  The rest of the drivetrain, and the bike, looks OK.  But I am not.  I'm mad, and then despondent.  I have no time for this.

Just then, Dave Mizelle powers up to help.  I bark, "I'm OK.  I broke a chain.  I have the tools and the know how to fix it.  Get on your bike.  I'm not going to be responsible for you not making the cutoff."  Taken back a bit, Dave graciously offers a helpful tip and pedals off.  I'm sorry, Dave, for being so rude.  I wanted you to make that cutoff.  I thought my race was over.

I carefully examine the chain and remove two links, one broken and one twisted.  Rather than replace them, I decide to just pop on a spare PowerLink to save time.  The chain will be a little shorter, but I have no use for those easy gears anyhow.

Back on the bike, I expect to channel that negative energy directly into climbing fiend mode.  But my mojo is gone.  My legs have no strength.  I cannot find a rhythm.  My speed drops back into single digits.  My addled mind keeps running numbers that sound impossible to achieve.  I slip away.

Although I'm still turning pedals, it is without passion, without focus, without joy.  I'm done.  I can't make it.  It's too much, for too long.  Soft-pedaling to an intersection, I stop to confirm directions from the cue sheets and then just slump over the handlebars.  Resignation reigns.  I offer a short prayer of thanks for the day, for all the folks who helped make this day possible, and for the opportunity to share this day with them.  A heavy burden lifts.

As I'm about to remount, two cyclists streak by, Amy and Randall Smith in an all out pursuit of the summit.  Hey, they must think they can still make that cutoff.  They would not be working that hard otherwise.  Is it possible?  Really?

Suddenly, I don't care what my mind says about the numbers, or what my legs say about my strength.  My heart says go for it.  I jump back in the game, spending whatever it takes to keep those tail lights in sight.  It hurts.  A lot.  But I'm back.  And I'm not losing those lights.

After a few miles, I check my watch.  Is it possible?  Really?  For the first time in a long time, I think maybe. After what feels like several more miles, I check my watch again.  Not a minute had passed, as if time itself stopped.  What?  In a race to catch a cutoff, time now had no meaning.  Stop thinking.  Keep pushing.  Don't lose those lights.

I round a corner and, to my amazement, see the lights of the Trailshead Lodge in the not-too-far-off distance.  I jump another gear, now in a full sprint, head down in the drops.  Abruptly, the gravel road turns to asphalt and I fly into the parking lot to rousing cheers from a handful of volunteers.  9:57 pm.  After nearly 17 hours of racing, I made Checkpoint 4 by all of 3 minutes.  Wow.  Did that really just happen?

Thanks Amy and Randall Smith for the spark to attack that final climb.  Thanks Dave Mizzelle and Don Daly for the company during those long middle miles.  Thanks Kristi Jewitt for the encouragement for the final stretch.  And thanks to all the other racers and volunteers who made this experience special.  We never race alone.
Race director Kristi Jewitt makes sure I'm OK.  Of course, I'm the last to make Checkpoint 4.  It doesn't matter.  I made it here and I will easily make the finish line, about 35 mostly downhill miles away, by the 2:00 am cutoff.  Kristi expresses concern for me and offers encouragement.  I tell her not to worry, that I'll be safe and I'll pick up any stragglers.  I think she found that amusing.

The finish line is 35 miles away, with some hills, rocky double track and other challenges.  But this is an all out celebration on the bike, with cascading memories of sharing similar experiences with so many friends over the years.  All of them were with me then.  New friends, too.  A party on wheels.

The finish line appears almost too soon.  It's 1:00 am, but there's still a raucous gathering of folks to cheer me in.  The last place finisher.  19 hours and 58 minutes.  What a day.

207 miles of Black Hills gravel, 12,000+ feet of elevation gain, 1 broken chain and 19 hours 58 minutes later, I'm finally back at the Spearfish City Park at 1:00 am.  I still need to thank someone for those Finish Line tacos and potatoes.