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Friday, January 27, 2017

2013 Odin's Revenge - Eureka!

Seeking to experience a piece of the storied MidWestern gravel scene, I stumble across Odin's Revenge in the spring of 2013. A post card entry foretells the folksy character of the race and the people behind it. The six hour drive to Gothenburg, Nebraska flies by, as I ponder the day ahead.

Knowing nothing about the course but a few pictures, I choose to bring my 1999 Torelli cyclocross single speed, sporting 33 mm knobbie cyclocross tires. Built for sharp turns and rapid accelerations, that quick handling bike is not at all optimal for a 180 mile gravel road race. But no other bike in my stable seems to be better suited. At the pre-race, folks share thoughts about equipment choices for the day ahead. All were welcomed and I hear nothing but encouragement from more experienced racers.

I do make one change from my long standing cyclocross setup. After struggling with the extended, steep climbs late in the race at the Gold Rush a few weeks before, I switch out my cyclocross 42 x 18 gear for a slightly more hill friendly 42 x 20. That is a good decision for the brutal course at Odin's Revenge.

The early start rewards racers with clear skies, cool temperatures and a light breeze. By mid-morning, however, it is mid-summer hot and humid, with a howling wind. Loads of racers drop out at the 100 mile check point at the KOA camp ground. I take a long break there, douse my steaming noggin under cold running water and chug a bottle of chocolate milk.

The next ten miles are a solitary slugfest. A false flat uphill, through thick gravel, into a steady 20+ mph wind in 100 degrees, with not another rider in sight. It is all I could do to ride station-to-station. That is, pedal for one mile to the next intersection on the gravel grid system, gather myself for a moment, and repeat. Finally, the route changes direction and enters more interesting minimum maintenance roads.

Late in the race, I ride up on a small collection of precocious youngsters walking their spiffy geared bikes up a particularly steep and rutted pitch. What? Walking? OK, that dirt road looks nasty enough to just walk, but I choose to help them see the possibilities. With powdered dirt up to the rims and ruts all around, I stay in the saddle to keep traction and drive that single speed up at a painfully ponderous rpm. With a cheerful "Hey!  Howdy!," I maneuver around those walkers and clean that pitch. Here endth the lesson. Maybe that will get those kids back pedaling.

It doesn't take long. The course soon turns back to fast, down wind, gradual downhill primo gravel for a glorious twenty miles to the finish. Sure enough, those guys on their shiny geared bikes fly by, with the greatest of ease, while I furiously spin out that single speed. "Grab my wheel!" shouts one in jest, as he gleefully pulls away. Thanks. I guess I deserve that.

Eventually rolling to the finish, I am exhausted, relieved, overheated, overjoyed, and hooked.

In the way of the gravel scene, I later meet those guys that passed me near the end and share many miles at subsequent events with them, including Omaha JackRabbit Guru Scott Redd and Omaha Bikes visionary Pell Duvall. I believe that fellow endurance cyclists Lane Bergen, Paul Brasby and Mike Wagster also conspired in the schooling of that single speeder. So glad to have met them. All strong riders and great companions, on and off the course.

For a race report of the 2013 Odin's Revenge by women's winner Elizabeth Reinkordt, go to her blog. 2013 Odin's Grindcore.

For a comprehensive, five part race report penned by the prodigious Mark Stevenson, go to his Guitar Ted blog.
 2013 Odin's GT (part 1)2013 Odin's GT (part 2)2013 Odin's GT (part 3)2013 Odin's GT (part 4)2013 Odin's GT (part 5).

For a race report by one of the overall winners, Corey "Corn Bread" Godfrey, go to his blog. 2013 Odin's - Corn Bread.

For a race report by gravel veteran Matt Gersib, go to his blog. 2013 Odin's MG.

For photographs galore of the 2013 Odin's Revenge, go to Scott Redd's photo album on his FaceBook page. 2013 Odin's Scott.

I did not write a race report back in 2013. The following is a reproduction of my blog post about the impact of that 2013 race, published in December 2015 as part of a series entitled "A Journey to Gravel Races."

Following that post are the race results from the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page.
2013 Odin's Revenge. (photo by Scott Redd)

2013 Odin's Revenge - Eureka!  The Gravel Experience
Riding the inaugural Black Hills Gold Rush introduces me not only to the adventure of gravel races, but to the colorful assortment of cyclists drawn to them. Yearning for more, I sift through the storied MidWestern gravel scene to unearth Odin's Revenge, a second year race smack dab in the middle of Cornhusker country. What a gem.

Odin's Revenge is the brainchild of a motley group of local Gothenburg cyclists known as Team DSG, an acronym with a story for them to tell. The prior year, 28 cyclists embarked on an unmarked, unsupported course of 180 rough, hilly miles through remote backcountry in the heat of summer. Six finished. There's a challenge. And the vibe feels legit. Post card entry mailed.

Mid-afternoon Friday, I pull into the campground serving as the start/finish/gathering place and immediately see that the people here make the race special. The proprietors are immigrants from Great Britain, bringing a fun, friendly mix of sights, sounds and tastes of the British Isles to middle America. Even with their campground bustling with typical mid-summer tourists, Gwen and Barry cheerfully carve out some space to stage a Friday evening pre-race gathering, as well as a Start/Finish area. Off to a rousing start.

Guitar Ted and Paul Siebert kick off the pre-race party at Odin's Revenge 2013. (photo by Odin's Revenge)
Setting up my little tent, I watch a steady stream of vehicles pull into the campground, many sporting bikes on board. Before long, a small community forms, as folks set up camp, wander around to other camps, and strike up conversations. Cyclists of all kinds are here, allured by the challenge of an unknown course through unknown country under unknown conditions, with only a simple set of written directions to follow, the gear on your bike and your own gumption. The air is electric, as we compare thoughts and hopes.

Wandering over to the pre-race meeting, we find an enthusiastic group gathering, with local musician Paul Siebert playing a variety of instruments and Mark Stevenson himself, Guitar Ted of TransIowa and Gravel Grinder News fame, joining in. Microbrews and other sports drinks flow, as folks meet and reconnect. Eventually, Chad Quigley and Matt Bergen of Team DSG describe the course, walk through opportunities for water and supplies, explain emergency and bail out procedures, identify check points, point out particular highlights and hazards, and answer questions. The evening is ripe with anticipation.

Spinning into the hills at the start of Odin's Revenge 2013. (photo by Mark Stevenson) 

The predawn glow on the eastern horizon hints of the glorious morning to come, as a primed peloton of 40 or so pedals out of town for a couple of neutral miles on pavement before the gravel, and the racing, starts. Soft, muted sunlight reveals a stunning landscape of rolling hills. Wow.

There are no strangers in this peloton, only kindred spirits now connecting. I enjoy the company of many, but seem to leap frog repeatedly with Mark Stevenson, grizzled old timer of the gravel scene. He's the real deal. Even to this new comer, he is genuine, encouraging, open, and chatty to the point of loquacious. It's a real treat to share some early miles with him.

Mark Stevenson pacing me up the final climb to Check Point 1 at Odin's Revenge 2013. (photo by Odin's Revenge)
As the miles pass, the small field stretches and I ride more by myself. But my sporadic encounters with fellow racers are consistently positive and upbeat, as we crank through the rough, hilly roads in the growing wind and heat of the day. The cheerful check point volunteers add to the festive vibe, offering encouragement, along with cool water and homemade treats. I'm loving everything about this.

Up another dirt road at the 2013 Odin's Revenge. (photo by Mark Stevenson)
After about 13 1/2 hours of remote road bliss, I spin into the finish to the boisterous cheers of the gravel clan reassembling at the campground. That's good for second place amongst the single speeders, out of four starters. More importantly, that's a great day on the bike. Ahead lies a relaxing evening around the campsite, sharing stories of the day.

What an experience. I'll do this again.

Addendum.  For a detailed race report on the 2013 Odin's Revenge, here are links to Mark Stevenson's five posts on his blog. GT-Odin 2013-1;  GT-Odin 2013-2;  GT-Odin 2013-3;  GT-Odin 2013-4;  GT-Odin 2013-5.

Here are the results for the 2013 Odin's Revenge, where I shared an amazing experience with a bunch of new friends. I knew I'd be back.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2012 Odin's Revenge - Seeking

After five years of hosting Odin's Revenge, the friendly folks at Team DSG recently announced the end of that amazing 180 mile gravel race. Saddened by the news, I wrote a blog post last month entitled The End of Odin's Revenge - One Rider's Retrospective. It was well received, but just didn't seem enough. So, I'm writing a post for each of the five Odin's Revenge races from this rider's perspective, along with the race report of my four finishes and links to race reports by others.

I did not ride the inaugural race in 2012. However, discovering the existence of Odin's Revenge almost a year later, I marveled at the compelling reports and pictures of that race. A self-supported, 180 mile race over unmarked, technically challenging, remote prairie gravel and dirt roads in the heat and wind of mid-summer Nebraska. Revealingly, only six racers finished out of the twenty-eight starters. This was grass roots bicycle racing at its core, with a nasty streak of adventure, route finding and self-sufficiency. And long enough and hard enough to present a real challenge for me. The saga of the 2012 Odin's Revenge sparked my imagination and triggered my exploration of grass roots gravel racing, with memorable road trips to Gothenburg, Nebraska the next four summers.

For a race report of the 2012 Odin's Revenge by gravel veteran Matt Gersib, go to his blog. 2012 Odin's Matt Gersib.  

The following is a copy of the 2012 Race Report from the website.

Following that race report is my post on the Black Hills BackBone blog about the impact of that race, published in December 2015 as part of a series entitled "A Journey to Gravel Races."

2012 Odin's Revenge pre-race gathering. (photo by Odin's Revenge)

From the Website:

April 30, 2012 / 2012 Event
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. More pictures and commentary can be found at the Odin’s Revenge Facebook Page.

From the BlackHillsBackBone Blog:

Having bailed from a misguided plan for a big production 24 hour mountain bike race, I tasted a gravel sample at the inaugural Black Hills Gold Rush. Now, I'm eager to experience the storied MidWestern gravel scene. For several years, I've followed on the internet the groundbreaking TransIowa and its progeny Almanzo and Dirty Kanza. Those big races were done until next year. What else is out there?

The start of the 2012 Odin's Revenge gravel race. Looks like a mismatched group of bike geeks that I'd like to join.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)
At that time, searching for unsanctioned, under the radar, grass roots gravel races would be hit or miss. That is, except for Gravel Grinder News, an obscure website started by TransIowa guru Mark Stevenson, aka Guitar Ted, as a clearing house for folks to post their gravel races. It quickly becomes the de facto online calendar of gravel races all over the country.

Mike Marchand, Corey Godfrey and Matt Gersib lead the way at Odin's Revenge 2012.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)
These gravel races are popping up like dandelions all over. Many are in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa,  Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. None are very close to Rapid City. Then I spot Odin's Revenge in Gothenburg, Nebraska, about 350 miles away. That's a haul, but less than almost all the others.

The race itself looks interesting. 180 miles of gravel and dirt roads in central Nebraska through country that I had driven past many times, but never stopped, let alone explored. The course pictures show miles of rough roads and surprising scenery. This looks good.

Race volunteers check out conditions of a Minimum Maintenance Road in advance of Odin's Revenge 2013.
The prerace pictures stand out even more. Folks on Friday night gather around a campsite with picnic tables and pop up tents. A mixed group of 28 racers await the start, straddling everything from front suspension mountain bikes to cyclocross bikes to old road bikes. The 2012 race recap reveals that only 6 of those 28 starters actually finish the race, due to the difficulty of the course and the heat. Now, that sounds like my type of race.

I send in my entry form - a post card. Who still sends post cards? You do, if you want to race Odin's Revenge.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Call to Support and to Mentor

Architect:  Just how long do you think this peace is going to last?
Oracle:  As long as it can.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003).

The gravel scene has been percolating on the back burner of the cycling world for years, marginalized and misunderstood by the powers that be. But the vibe created and nurtured at gravel events drew cyclists from all corners of the cycling world. Numbers grew organically, persistently, quietly. That's what happens when something genuinely builds from the ground up.

Now it's 2017 and gravel events seem to be everywhere, all over the country and even abroad, with all sorts of newcomers to the scene. New riders, new races, new sponsors, new interest in a different mindset. For the most part, these events are still grassroots at their core, so you see a wonderfully creative variety of races and people. For the most part.

Cruising the early miles at the 2015 Gold Rush Mother Lode, with Jason Thorman and Luke Medina.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)

The gravel scene is worth protecting.

If you're a gravel veteran, please support the folks putting together the events that connect with you. Ride those events. Bring a friend. Tell others. Spread the word on social media. When patronizing event sponsors, thank them for supporting a valued event. Contribute to the organizers some schwag, some dollars, some brewskis or some other tangible thanks. Be part of making it happen.

Equally important, continue to welcome newcomers, as I know I was welcomed. Keep hanging out at the pre-race gathering. Keep helping each other out on the course. Keep sticking around a little after the race. Keep sharing your experiences. Keep listening to the stories of others. Keep mentoring newcomers of the vibe that makes the gravel scene special. Keep adding them to the gravel clan. Keep it going.

If you're a gravel newcomer, please leave at home your expectations of conventional bicycle races and launch into a brave, new world of self-sufficient discovery and interdependence with fellow racers. Accept the event for what it is and experience all that it offers, especially those aspects that seem foreign, quirky, or even non-sensical. Pedal out of your comfort zone. You may find something out there worth exploring, in body, mind and spirit.

It's not for everyone. That's OK. If you ride a gravel event and prefer the trappings of sanctioned bicycle racing, there are plenty of those races for you to enjoy. Return to them. If, instead, you try to graft the gravel scene into the tyrannical bureaucracy of homogenized USCA racing, expect to encounter resistance. Grass roots riders are a force. A friendly force, but a force nonetheless.

Back in 2014, I wrote an introduction to gravel road bicycle races that was published on the website and social media of, a group with members all over the United States and throughout several other countries.  Gravel Grinder 101. At that time, very few of those avid cyclists had even heard of, let alone experienced, the grass roots phenomena of gravel races taking root in the Mid-Western United States. This was the gravel scene as I had experienced it at such races as Almanzo, Dirty Kanza, Gold Rush, Gravel Worlds, and Odin's Revenge. Like a well worn saddle, I think it still fits.

Protect the grass roots gravel scene. And enjoy it as long as you can.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

An Invitation Renewed

To folks that put together gravel events, here's an invitation from 2016, now renewed for 2017.

If you would enjoy a unique remote road experience in or around the Black Hills of South Dakota, I'll help you create one.  My way of saying thank you for your service.

For details, go to my blog post of January 2016, reproduced below.  Hope to hear from some of you.

Here's an invitation to folks that put together gravel events.  If you're looking for a road trip this year, I'll design for you a memorable gravel experience in the Black Hills or the surrounding prairie, based on your time, abilities and ambition.  You may use our Rapid City house as a base camp, if you'd like, and I'll help with logistics, as my work schedule allows.  My simple way of saying thank you for your service to the community.

Ridge line primary USFS road reveals a valley leading to the prairie, with Crazy Horse on the horizon.
Gravel events exist only by the selfless commitment of individual cycling enthusiasts who spend many, many hours creating and running an event for others to enjoy.  They draw from their deep pool of back roads knowledge to craft a unique experience showcasing local landscapes, lifestyles, culture and history.  Often, the road itself is memorable.  Absent such local knowledge and such passion, one would not be able to piece together these routes.

All this reflects an enormous investment of time and self.  But most gravel events don't even charge an entry fee.  Rather, they only ask that participants respect the land, the people who live and work there, and each other.  After racing in a few events, I realized that these are folks I want to support.

At first, I considered putting together my own event, but it never felt right.  Then, riding buddy Shaun Arritola mentioned that I was supporting the people behind gravel events and the overall gravel scene, just by attending races and writing about them.  OK, maybe, but that's not much and there's only so many races I can do.  Besides, I wanted to do something more direct for those putting the events together.

While all this has been swirling around inside the past couple of years, I have been riding all kinds of gravel and dirt roads throughout the height and breadth of the Black Hills and out into the surrounding prairie.  Gorgeous country sporting all kinds of roads and trails.  Possible rides are limited only by imagination and time.

So, if you're one of those folks that put together gravel events for others, and you would enjoy a unique gravel experience in or around the Black Hills of South Dakota, let me know.  I'd be happy to help put one together for you.  Add a comment here, message me on FaceBook, or email me at  Hope to hear from some of you.

As an introduction to some of our local remote roads, here's a few pictures from some rides in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota.  Lots more pictures and stories throughout this blog.

Barely a road in the Northern Hills.

A secondary USFS road in the Central Black Hills follows a creek dammed by beavers.
 A USFS dirt road somewhere in elk country southwest of Deerfield.

New growth forest emerges years after a big fire in the Southern Hills.  
The forest thins and skies open in the Southern Hills.

Nothing quite like riding through herds of grazing bison in Wind Cave National Park.
Serpentine prairie gravel up a ridge line toward Badlands National Park.

Out onto the prairie north of the Black Hills toward North Dakota.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Black Hills BackBone - It's Still Out There

It's out there, somewhere, calling your name.

A thought that passes, yet never seems to pass away.

A word, unspoken, waiting for the right moment that never arrives.

A vision, clear and fleeting as a prairie sunrise, that surfaces at random.

It's out there.  You know it.  You need to do it.

Two years ago, I dreamt up the odd idea of a riding gravel and dirt roads across the state of South Dakota.  Not West-to-East, as many think of a cross-state ride, but rather North-to-South on some of the most remote roads around these parts.  Immersed in the prairie.  Deep in the Hills.  Out there.

This idea started at the North Dakota border with over 130 miles of open prairie, climbed into and through the Black Hills for 125 miles, and dropped back to the prairie for a final 55 miles to the Nebraska border.   It's so remote that there may well be more miles without cell coverage than with.  The first 200+ miles offer a single convenience store/bar and enter just one town.  Since the envisioned route traversed the spine of the Black Hills, I christened it The Black Hills BackBone and set out to scout it, map it, and eventually ride it.

It's still out there.

Oh, I've scouted it, mapped it and photographed it.  It's documented all over this blog.  I've even ridden every mile of that route, at one time or another.  Some more than a few times.  But still not the entire route in a single ride.

That is not from lack of preparation or effort.  Here is the post of my first attempt in 2015, when I stumbled into a ferocious prairie wind with horizontal rain that eventually spit me out in Spearfish, barely able to stand.  A Rancher's Kindness.  And here is the post in 2016 of my second attempt, when I rode into a freaky snow and ice blizzard climbing O'Neil Pass, shaking in a trail head shelter like a frozen leaf.  A Sudden Turn.  My third attempt is still undocumented.  I'm still processing it.  It may be awhile.

This route is a beast.  It will take more than a little conditioning, preparation, experience and good fortune to successfully cover those 300+ miles.  Certainly more than I've brought so far.  I don't know if I ever will make it, but I will try again.

It's out there.  Waiting.  Go for it.

Addendum.  The Black Hills BackBone route is posted, with lots of details and pictures, if you're looking for a nice, long ride.  To save a trip through the blog archives, here are links to prior blog posts for the route.  Introduction;  Overview;  Final Cut;  Digital Map;  Cue Sheets.