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Saturday, December 10, 2016

The End of Odin's Revenge - One Rider's Retrospective

For five years, Odin's Revenge threw down an annual 180 mile remote road bicycle race that captured the very essence of the storied Mid-Western gravel scene.  Now, the downright neighborly folks behind this remarkable event are pulling up stakes and moving on.  I appreciate all their efforts over those years and cherish those experiences.  I know they care deeply for the event and all the people with whom they shared it.  But I'm still sad.  I cranked, pushed and dragged my bike almost sixty-eight hours of official race time to reach four finish lines.  That leaves a mark.  So, I'm not letting this pass without at least one retrospective from this grateful rider.

Chad Quigley, the dastardly mastermind behind Odin's Revenge, surveys his far-flung realm,
the breadth and depth into which he dispatched willing subjects eager for adventure.  (photo by Wally Kilburg)

As a start, the beautiful, brutal, mysterious course is legendary.  Miles of rolling primo gravel wind through remote backcountry, connected by stretches of deeply rutted, washed out, powdered dirt near-roads.  Twisty-turvey ridgeline spins precipitously drop into deep, forested ravines before nasty  steeps claw back out.  Miles pass, sometimes hours, without the sight of a single occupied building, let alone a town.  You are immersed in the depths of an endless central Nebraska prairie.

The pre-dawn start of the inaugural 2012 Odin's Revenge, where just six of the twenty-eight starters endure the blazing heat to finish the brutal course.  Pictures and reports of that race spark my imagination and draw me to Gothenburg the following year.  Jazzed, I return each of the next three years and would love to return again.  (photo by Odin's Revenge)

Then the weather chips in.  Mid-summer midwestern heat and humidity, whipped up by persistent, unbridled winds, extract every ounce of fluid from the body and dare you to think a positive thought.  But you do, because that's what you do and because anything less dooms the day.

If, by some Norse god treachery, those powdery near-roads turn to mud, forget about riding and maybe forget about some of your expensive bike parts.  Listen to any survivor of the 2014 Odin's Revenge, the infamous Mud Year.  Here's one story, just a flashing moment of my 21 hour day that year.  On a particularly steep, rutted, muddy descent, I actually slid down sideways.  Yes, my bike was perpendicular to my direction of travel as I feebly maneuvered between wheel-gobbling ruts.  Only the bottom of the hill stopped me.  That kept the heart rate up.

A real treat at my first Odin's Revenge is meeting and riding with a host of talented, engaging bike geeks from all over, including the gregarious Mark Stevenson, code name Guitar Ted.  A better riding companion you will not find.
Here's Mark towing me up the final climb to Check Point 1 in the 2013 Odin's Revenge.  (photo by Odin's Revenge)

The conditions vary from hero gravel to ghastly, and you never know how long a particular elixir or witches brew of conditions will last.  The DSG crew change the course every year and divulge it only by paper cue sheets at the start and at a half way checkpoint, if you somehow survive to make it that far and on time.  The mystery and eventual discovery of the route are all part of the allure.  What form of beauty or beast, or both, lies in wait around the next bend or over the next rise?


At the 2014 Odin's Revenge pre-race gathering, the DSG crew lays it out there.  Consistent, torrential spring rains have saturated the countryside.  Good gravel roads are barely rideable and the non-maintained dirt roads are barely walkable.
Do the riders want to race an alternative, shorter course?  The resounding response - NO !!!    (photo by Odin's Revenge)

More amazing than the Odin's Revenge race course, however, are the friendly folks behind it.  Chad and Merrie Quigley, Matt Bergen, Bob Wieck, Garrett Olson, Kyle Vincent, Nate Bell and Paul Siebert.  They envisioned, created and nurtured a unique, home-spun event for everyone to enjoy.  They cater to the adventuresome spirit, with a focused guidance for everyone to share the experience with each other and to take care of each other, all in the context of an unsupported, remote road bicycle race.  To put all that together, and keep it together, is a remarkable achievement.

Inspired by Friday night campfire tales and encouragement from gravel royalty Greg Gleason,
I lighten my payload and reconfigure my race plans at the 2015 Odin's Revenge.  I push the pace early, and hang on.
The final 40 some miles were unforgettable, steaming out of the last Check Point in a six rider peloton
destined for a joyous finish before dark.  (photo by Odin's Revenge)

People responded.  They sure did, from all corners of the cycling world, from the fastest to the slowest, the expert to the novice.  They ventured to a speck on the map of flyover country for Odin's Revenge.  This eclectic assortment of certifiable bike geeks breathed life into the communal experience envisioned by the DSG crew.  Together, everyone at Odin's Revenge demonstrated that a bike race can be more.   So much more.

Flooding in 2015 forced the DSG crew to move the Friday pre-race gathering, at the very last minute,
to the Walker Steak House.  Of course, it turned out awesome.  That's just how DSG rolls.
Here's the Odin's Revenge clan beginning to gather at Walker's in 2016.  (photo by Odin's Revenge)
(Don't miss Mr. Omaha JackRabbit, Scott Redd, emptying the claw machine in the back.)

The vibe generated at Odin's Revenge reverberated throughout the gravel scene and through all those who were privileged to participate.  

Experiences shared.  Friendships forged.  Relationships strengthened.  Futures shaped.

Those endure.  

Thank you.


2 comments:

  1. Great write up Craig, this is a race that will surely be missed by those who have done it, those who were hoping to do it and those who will hear about it around campfires as former participants spin their yarns about the Great Odin for years to come.

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  2. Great retrospective, Craig. I think there will be memorable experiences to come in that area... It's just too good.

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