It's 10:00 pm on a pitch black, cold October night when I putter onto a gravel back road outside Blair, Nebraska, seeking a manicured acreage hosting the start/finish/campsite for this year's Omaha JackRabbit. No street lights, no yard lights, no movement, no activity. All I have is an address that looks like a foreign zip code chicken scratched onto a napkin. With over 39 hours passing since I last slept, things are getting more than a little fuzzy. I spot a solitary light.
A helpful night man explains where to drop off equipment, where to set up camp, where to park, where to get something to eat, where to go to the start in the morning, where to, WHAT? I process none of it. Confuzzled, I simply ask, "Where do you want my car parked in the morning?" He says, "Follow me." When he stops, I stop, turn off the engine and fall asleep.
|Ere the sun rises over harvest season in middle America. (photo by Rob Evans)
I've already missed all the pre-race social activities that I enjoy so much at these grass roots gravel races: the Friday afternoon pre-registration at a bike shop or restaurant, the Friday night gathering around a campfire at a campsite, and the Saturday morning pre-race meet-ups and re-connects. Now, as the flock of blinking red lights disappear into the pre-dawn darkness, I miss the start.
|Yes, that's the road we take and the bridge we cross. Early signs of a creative course design. (photo by Rob Evans)
|One room school house, taking a well deserved rest.
|Flushed from the corn field on my right, a rooster pheasant nearly takes me out here.
|Why, we've got both kinds, country and western.
|V Road, one of 25 miles of Minimum Maintenance Roads. When dry like this, they are great. (photo by Rob Evans)
|Harvest season in the Great Plains. (photo by Rob Evans)
|Corn. To infinity and beyond.
|I'll let this little guy pass. Many, many combines, tractors and trucks all over the back roads today.
The next 35 miles are flat, but not always fast. The gravel roads are in pretty good shape, but most of the dirt roads are rough, a few miles sporting washboards created by large tread farm equipment. These hardened washboards are 2-3 inch wide, and about that deep, making it tough pedaling to ride even 5-10 mph. But those sections are relatively short and soon I'm climbing out of the flood plain back into the river bluffs.
Those last 6 miles were not without drama. Cruising a rare downhill at maybe 25 mph, I round a corner to go eye-to-eye with an enormous raccoon loitering in the middle of my line. With no instincts to swerve or brake, I unload my best attempt at a bunny hop over the snarling beast, fully expecting at least a rear wheel collision. He must have moved fast enough, though, as he scampered off. The few downhills after that I took much slower.
|2015 Omaha JackRabbit Finish Line, marked by Pell Duvall and captured by Scott Redd. Thanks, guys.
My take-away from a sleep deprived gravel ride: you can ride a long way without much sleep and have a lot of fun, but it's going to be low energy and slow. Enjoy it for what it is.
|Scott Redd and Pell Duvall: the indomitable force behind the Omaha JackRabbit.