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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.

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