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Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Mindset

Finish the hill.
Greg LeMond, American Cyclist

Like all but the very shortest of sporting events, an endurance bicycle race cannot be won at the start. There are too many variables, over too much time. As a race lengthens, the variables increase in number, complexity and unpredictability. Preparation and experience certainly help to successfully finish a long race, but the right mindset from the start is the most powerful tool in your kit.

On the other hand, the wrong mindset can lose an endurance bicycle race before the start. I know it, because I have done it. So, how to create, develop and maintain a successful mindset to finish? There is no single, right answer. You must get out there and learn how for yourself.

One thing is certain. No matter how prepared or experienced you are at the start, or how great you feel during the race, you will go through a rough patch. Something will go south. Emotional, intellectual, physical, mechanical, maybe more than one thing, maybe everything. It won't last forever. Find a way to stay positive and keep moving.

That mountain looks a long way away. Or, that's a lot of great country to ride through to get to that mountain. 

As I consider events for next year that may be a bit of a reach, I find inspiration in the thoughts of endurance cyclists who struggled through difficulties and broke through their perceived limitations. A common thread is positivity: focusing on the positive present, visualizing a positive future, or recalling the positive past. Remember the positive reasons for undertaking such experiences in the first place. Here is a short collection of thoughts from some folks who have the mindset to successfully finish.

"There is no room for negative thoughts. When Jay is on the bike, it's only positive thoughts. For Jay, it approaches a near-Zen mind state. He teaches that a negative thought must become so foreign it's as if you have an inability to even process it. Instead, focus on how you can succeed and be thankful for your ability to ride your bike."

Tom Puzak, GearJunkie contributing editor interviewing legendary cyclist Jay Petervary

"But gravel racing is not always about fitness and who is fastest. It's about decision making, mental toughness and being humble enough to let go of your expectations and embrace the struggle and adventure of the day. A day spent with like minded people who enjoy that kind of experience is a day well spent."

Sarah Cooper, endurance cyclist, Odin's Revenge Champion, Spotted Horse Ultra Race Director

Positive focus on what you can see.

"But, even as uncomfortable as it is, becoming better acquainted with myself is one of the reasons I seek out difficult cycling challenges. They afford me the opportunity to stress myself while working to stay positive, to stay patient, and to keep problem solving and moving forward."

Nick Legan, endurance cyclist, author of "Gravel Cycling"

"Adversity:  Your proving ground. There is no greater opportunity in life than to be presented an enormous obstacle and a chance to overcome it. Embrace adversity and find calm within the chaos to grow. Discomfort is common on the path and an indication you're headed in the right direction."

Todd Poquette, 906 Adventure Team, HAMR & Marji Gesick 100 Race Director

"Just because you feel bad now, does not mean you will feel bad later. A short stop to drink, eat and stretch can do wonders. On a hot day like this past Saturday, a long break to fully re-hydrate can renew the body and spirit, and can enable you to go on. The most enjoyable part of these long rides is the evening, as the temperature subsides and the winds calm. If you can get to the early evening, all will be good."

OldGravelGuy blog, 2013 Gravel Worlds

"He hath need of his wits who wanders wide."
Odin, somewhere out there at the 2016 Odin's Revenge.

"Try something crazy hard every once in a while, just to see where you stand. The Almanzo is the mirror that shows who you are, not who you tell people you are."

Paul Krumrich, endurance cyclist, GearJunkie contributing editor

"The demons live within us all and to willingly push ourselves into something that invites them to open doors most would keep locked forever is a peculiar thing. I've met my demons, I've embraced their company, and I've had them turn and exit through the door I unlocked. It's a good feeling to see them leave, but it's also a good feeling to understand what they've brought to the fold and what to do with it. It's during those confrontations that I've forgotten I was even on a bike despite the gravel rushing under my wheels. It is during these moments that we begin to truly understand who we are."

Tim Ek, long time sponsored endurance cyclist

"I need to get more fundamental than that. I need to realize that this thing -- that I have done obsessively for 44 of the 48 years I've been lucky enough to be above ground and breathing, this thing that has given me most of the most memorable moments in my life, that has taken me to most of my favorite places, desert and arctic, peak and valley, and brought me back home again -- is not a right, not a given, not to be taken for granted.

The simple act of experiencing the world from the saddle of a bike is, like the most important people in our lives, a privilege. It could, can, and might be taken away at a moment's notice. Happens to other people all the time. Could happen to me tomorrow. Maybe today. Time for me to flip the conundrum on its head and stop taking this thing for granted. Time to get inspired again."

Mike Curiak, endurance cycling pioneer

With no electronic communications out here, other voices may be heard.

"Cyclocross Magazine:  You mentioned 'growth of people.' What do you mean by that in terms of gravel riding?

Guitar Ted: I suppose it would make more sense to spell out what I mean. The thing here is that, in my opinion, our culture, our world as we have it now, is far too inundated with information, time-chewing, soulless relationships and vapid consumerism that when you extricate yourself from all of that and get away in the country, it can have the effect of making an imprint on your spirit and soul. You can experience a sort of growth from that or maybe you won't. I'll leave that up to the individual, but that's what I am talking about here."

Mark Stevenson, Trans Iowa Race Director, grandfather of today's gravel scene

"Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere. And sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself."

Candy Hersch, my much older sister who always works in the last word, quoting a coffee house chalk board

Monday, December 3, 2018

Head for the Hills! It's the Mother Lode!

The Black Hills Mother Lode is a 210 mile gravel road race out of the college town of Spearfish, South Dakota. Organized by the folks behind the popular Dakota Five-O and 28-Below bicycle races, the Mother Lode is the big sister to the 110 mile Gold Rush and the 70 mile Gold Dust running the same day. Put the three together and it's a weekend gravel festival for everyone, featuring live music, a catered picnic at the finish line park, a high energy awards ceremony and tables filled with door prizes.

Over the years, I've ridden and enjoyed each distance. Chose one based on your conditioning and ambition and you're bound to have a good time. For 2019, I plan to return for another run at the Mother Lode.

Early miles at the 2015 Mother Lode, about to turn onto Sand Creek Road to enter the Black Hills.
Jason Thorman, Craig Groseth, Luke Meduna (photo by Randy Ericksen)

What to expect on the Mother Lode course? Gear up for long, steady climbs measured in miles. For the most part, the roads are hard packed, lightly graveled U.S. Forest Service "primary" roads with relatively long sight lines, low traffic and uncomplicated navigation. The country is rolling forested hills and meadows with little development of any kind, other than some logging operations and an occasional campground. After climbing the 70 miles up O'Neil Pass, the following 100 miles are particularly remote, with cell coverage sporadic at best. Carry everything you need between the four check points, including water, food, repair supplies and foul weather gear.

Of all the things to bring to the Mother Lode, pack a bottomless bottle of optimism and a flask of your best judgment. In the words of Odin's Revenge, "He hath need of his wits who wanders wide."

Boles Canyon Road not long after crossing O'Neil Pass at the 2015 Mother Lode.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)

For more event details, start at for maps, gpx files and cue sheets of all three courses, as well as a photo gallery and other essential information. There's plenty to prepare you to get out there and have fun.

For my first account race reports and related observations of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder races, go to the following posts on the Black Hills BackBone blog. Back in 2013, I managed to finish the inaugural Gold Rush on my single speed cyclocross bike with 32 mm knobbies, a couple of water bottles and a few gels. A Taste of Gravel. That was a rough introduction to gravel, but two years later I returned for the inaugural Mother Lode. 2015 Mother Lode. After riding the Mother Lode in 2016 (Cooked at the Mother Lode), the Gold Dust in 2017 (A Friendly Little Ride) and the Gold Rush in 2018 (A Single Speed Gold Rush), it seems right to return for another Mother Lode in 2019.

Heading for the Hills! For another Mother Lode!

Already cooking at 5:00 am in the 81 degree start of the 2016 Mother Lode.
(photo by Randy Ericksen)