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Friday, February 24, 2017

Odin's Revenge - Team DSG

"I realized between CP 1 and CP 2, this was the best ride I've ever had.  Not the fastest or anything like that.  I just realized I couldn't wait to see what was around the next corner or over the next hill because it just kept getting better and better after Effenbeck.  Government Pocket was good for the soul."  Scott Ideen, comment on the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page, June 30, 2012.

That sums it up.  The course always delivered.  Team DSG always delivered.  Top shelf.  The best.

Had I known then that 2016 was to be the final Odin's Revenge, would I have done anything differently?  I don't know.  I just hope that those who created and nurtured this event know how much their service to the cycling community is appreciated by all those privileged to participate.  And I hope that those who were never at Odin's Revenge may somehow come to understand the impact of such a race on those that experienced it and, by extension, on the gravel scene itself.

Here's the official race report from Odin's Revenge of the inaugural race, posted on the website, followed by a longer narrative posted on FaceBook on July 1, 2012.  These reports show the love Team DSG poured into this event, from the very beginning.

From the website:

"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."

From the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page in 2012: 

"Odin's Revenge was dreamed up by a small group of gravel/dirt cyclers out here in west central Nebraska in early 2012, the actual race that is, a couple of us had been scheming in the back of our minds for way longer & Chad Quigley seemed to have the perfect spot to pull it off & DAMN did he deliver! We formed Team DSG in early 2012 as well with a core group & some honorary outside members who all pitched in to help with the race or ride it & it could'nt have been done without everyones help, to those members, THANK YOU.

And so it came down to yesterday when the premier Odin's Revenge riders lined up to take a crack at this event, 25 riders from as far away as Brooklyn, NY were there for the start, some seasoned gravel veterans, some rookies but all with something in common, the love of riding for hours on backroads & in yesterday's case, getting their asses handed to them! The course along with the weather made this possible & when the seasoned veterans arrived proclaiming it the toughest ride of their life with the most beautiful scenery, well, that there made us realize our dream had been fulfilled.

Thank you Chad for being on board with one of my longtime dreams of holding an event like this & to all the work you & Merrie put into laying out the course, IT DELIVERED! Also to the rest of the Team DSG members for all the work of getting sponsorship, promoting & actually getting it done from the pre-race meeting to manning checkpoints & an emergency rescue of a rider in distress, Bob, Kyle, Nate & Neil. Thanks Paul Siebert for being the official Odin's Revenge musician bringing your own special flair to a unique venue.

Thanks to our outstanding sponsors for DELIVERING some outstanding swag, Waltworks Cycles, Rawland Cycles, Titus Cycles, On One Cycles, Banjo Brothers, Revelate Designs, Climb On, Salus, Q7 Cycling, Twin Six, Mike Dion Productiions, Backcountry Research, Dirt Rag & the more local sponsors, Good Life Cycles, The Bike Shed, Gothenburg KOA & Gothenburg Comfort Suites.

Lastly, THANK YOU RIDERS! It was for YOU that we put this evil little plan together in hopes you'd want to ride in a very unique, remote part of Nebraska & when word gets out of this perhaps a few more of those folks hauling ass through our state on I-80 with bikes in tow in a hurry to get to the mountains may slow down, pull off & want to ride a bike closer to home, there's a lot of unique riding out your backdoor folks, just get out there & try it! We only had 25 riders but the quality of you riders that were willing to take a chance on our humble little race more than made up for the quan
tity! THANK YOU ALL! Now get your ass out there & ride a bike & we'll see ya next year!"

Team DSG set the standard for creating, hosting, and nurturing a gravel road race.  They were the inspiration behind my Thanksgiving post in 2015 entitled Thankful for Volunteers, reproduced below.

Thankful for Volunteers

I am thankful for volunteers, those people who give their time, energy and talents to serve others.  They pour part of themselves into making this broken world a better place for someone else.  Seeing that service sparks hope.

Gravel bike races are not tackling any of the big problems of the world.  It's a smaller environment, where folks challenge themselves, create memories and build relationships.  But they have made a  positive, lasting impact on me.  This post goes out to the volunteers of gravel races, and their supportive families and friends, for making such experiences possible.

As representatives of gravel race volunteers everywhere, here are the people behind creating and working Odin's Revenge.  Thank you and thanks to all the volunteers of other events.

Here's a few more pictures showing Team DSG at work.

Thank you, Team DSG.  Thank you.

Omnivores Matt Bergen and Garrett Olson at an Odin's Revenge start/finish party zone.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Chad Quigley, the Revenge behind Odin's, preaching to the pilgrims at a pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Kyle Vincent getting folks registered at a pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
For this snapshot in time, Scott "JackRabbit" Redd was not at the Claw Machine in the background.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Nate Bell brings his time, talents and treasure, including his very own Kinkaider Beer, to Odin's Revenge.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Paul Seibert entertains the gathering gravel clan at the pre-race gathering at Walker's Steakhouse.
Paul even took his show on the road, with music at checkpoints.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Merrie Quigley and Della Brock Hengen welcoming riders into a check point.

Merrie Quigley's renowned "Protein Balls."
1 cup oatmeal, 1/2 cup ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup chocolate chips, 1/3 cup honey, 1 tsp vanilla.
Mix.  Form.  Refrigerate.  Enjoy.

Gordon Peterson, Mr. Culligan Man, volunteering his time and giving out his cold water.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Check Point volunteers with cold water, treats and cheer!

Motorcycle course marshall George Evans on patrol, with cold water ever at the ready!
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Paul Seibert living it up at a really remote Check Point.
(photo by Scott Redd)
Matt Bergen, Garret Olson and Bob Wieck, in the zone.
(photo by Odin's Revenge)

Chad Quigley, about finished, near the finish line.

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.

Friday, February 10, 2017

2015 Odin's Revenge - Gettin' After It

By 2015, Odin's Revenge is a fixture on my summer calendar. Due to the Platte River flooding the KOA camp ground, Team DSG shifts the pre-race gathering to the Walker Steakhouse, a fabulous environment for folks to meet and re-connect over music, drinks and dinner. That kicks off the weekend just right. The party then rolls to the City camp ground, as folks share stories and laughs over the camp fire well into both Friday and Saturday nights. It seems that the only interruption in all the festivities was a little bike ride on Saturday.

Oh, but what a ride. A classic Odin's Revenge course. 180 remote miles. Short, steep, powdered dirt climbs and descents. Longer, steeper, more powdered dirt climbs and descents. The torrential rains of 2014 had cut deep, irregular shaped channels down the steep, non-maintained dirt roads, creating a white knuckle focus fest to keep your wheels from being swallowed whole. In many cases, the descents are harder for me than the climbs. Fortunately, those 35-40 miles of dirt roads are connected with miles of great gravel. As usual, the hills, heat and winds test all, but the primo gravel conditions lead to twenty-four racers eventually finishing.

For a race report by the overall winner Greg Gleason, go to his blog. 2015 Odin's Gleaso.

For yet another comprehensive, five part race report by the prolific Mark Stevenson, go to his Guitar Ted blog. 2015 Odin's (part 1)2015 Odin's (part 2)2015 Odin's (part 3)2015 Odin's (part 4)2015 Odin's (part 5).  

For a rider's view of the 2015 Odin's Revenge, go to the FaceBook photo album of gravel photo journalist Scott Redd, 2015 Odin's Scott, or Odin's veteran Kevin Fox, 2015 Odin's - Kevin. For more photos, go to the FaceBook page of Odin's Revenge, 2015 Odin's - home.

Professional photographer Wally Kilburg journeyed from Illinois to shoot the event and captured many amazing images, some of which appear in these race reports. He also posted a gallery of many more images on his website, but I cannot access those now.

Here's my race report for the 2015 Odin's Revenge from the Black Hills BackBone blog.

Following that post are the race results from the Odin's Revenge FaceBook page.

With the dirt roads dried for the 2015 Odin's Revenge, it should be smooth sailing.  (photo by Scott Redd)

Odin's Revenge 2015 - A Fresh Approach

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 Build The Body ride. On that day, folks all over the country will be participating with their own rides, races and events to support Christian Cycling 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. Dave 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 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. 180 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.


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 less than 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.

Here are the results of the 2015 Odin's Revenge. Despite the hills, heat and wind, the primo road conditions result in a relatively high number of finishers (24 out of 36 starters).