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Can you hear it? The distant calling of a familiar tune. Yo, ho, yo, ho… Don’t you feel the urge to soak in the warm winds of exploration and adjust your sails to capture the current to your next spiced rum and dirt road isle? For me, gravel races are the X that marks that spot in the cycling world, and I am headed straight there. If you can’t be the captain, then be a pirate, they say.
While some professional cyclists refer to this as the “silly season,” I call it the best time of the year. Gone are the stresses of the cold Spring Classics and some of the most iconic race days in cycling. Yes, we love those races, but sometimes you just need to let loose a little and open that treasure chest of fun. Or pull up the anchor and put a little gravel in your travel.
Many professional cyclists are resting up and beginning their last build into the end of the season for the UCI Road World Championships, but I have my own world championships to attend: Gravel Worlds 2017.
Haven’t heard of it? You have now. Formerly known as “The Good Life Gravel Adventure,” Gravel Worlds is a tongue in cheek poke at the ‘real deal’ and organised by Nebraska’s Pirate Cycling League. The challenge and competition, however, is no joke. Adventuring through the rural farmlands of Southeastern Nebraska, the race course covers over 11,000 feet (3352 metres) of climbing in 150 miles (241 kilometres).
Now I have never been to Nebraska, but there is an adventure beckoning me like a siren song, and I will be there with my Cannondale Slate and treasure map in hand. Sounds like a pirate’s life to me.
They say that a good traveller should not have plans and never focus on the arrival. Even though I agree with this to an extent, I will still plug in the coordinates of the race into my bike computer and make it to the finish eventually. The fun is there and everywhere in between.
The lead-up to Gravel Worlds: lots of pain
Last time you saw me, I was becoming royalty at the Dirty Kanza 200, or as I like to call it, the Dirty Kanza 206. Since then, I have indulged in an excessive amount of showcasing the prized belt buckle. Truth be told, I have yet to take it off. Growing up as a cowgirl on a ranch, I always imagined myself as a rodeo queen and now I am finally realizing those dreams.
With a quick rest and my DK200 belt buckle in my jersey pocket, I headed to USA Pro Nationals with Cylance Pro Cycling.
After the DK200, people would ask if that was the hardest thing I have ever done. The good thing about the sport of cycling is that we have a broad range of ways to select our suffering mechanisms. Whether you are riding your bike all day on dirt roads or clinging on to the back of a hard charging peloton up the Mur de Huy, bike racing offers a gamete of challenges and tortures uniquely crafted for you.
There is nothing quite like testing your fitness after 11.5 hours on the bike with some short hard efforts. My Nats started off with me in the hot seat of the time trial for over 90 minutes, only to ultimately end up sixth. I entered the road race full of anticipation to finish this part of the year with positive contentment and followed by a celebratory cold brew. It was anything but that. Well, minus the cold drink. At least that still happened…
When we talk about the pain of bike racing, we are hopefully referring to the searing lungs and burning legs. Having a meeting with the asphalt delivers the undesirable type of hurt. I already have a healthy dose of respect for the pavement and did not need the friendly reminder. I have read that chapter many times before. With two kilometres to go, I was involved in a crash and ended the day with two broken ribs, a partially collapsed lung, and a cracked tibia.
Needless to say, it has been a painful few months, yet something kept pulling me back on the bike. We have all been there. The people at the airport look at you incredulously as you tell them of your weekend glory and demise. At least you know you still have your crazy crew on the boat with you.
I raced the Cascade Cycling Classic and the Colorado Classic. I even crammed in the Tour de Big Bear, which covered over 125 miles (201 km) and 11,500 feet (3505 metres) of climbing. When completely remedial tasks are painful, I figured I might as well just keep pedalling my life and bicycle forward.
Sometimes the course is set for us without us knowing the destination. Life delivers elements of surprise and detours just like a gravel grinder. I am on to my next adventure with the person that started me on this path in the first place. I have spent the last week in Colorado with my grandparents and taken some great rides with my grandpa. At 86 years old, Paul Tetrick, is still riding bikes daily and showing us that bikes are for life. Bikes can become your ship to sail into uncharted waters, bringing you treasures of challenges, belt buckles, and tales. Bikes can deliver you harsh blows of humility and injuries. But regardless of the end results, bikes give us the opportunity to be explorers.
Bikes can become your ship to sail into uncharted waters, bringing you treasures of challenges, belt buckles, and tales. Bikes can deliver you harsh blows of humility and injuries. But regardless of the end results, bikes give us the opportunity to be explorers.
So in true pirate form, may your anchor be tight, your cork be loose, your rum be spiced, and your compass be true. See you at Gravel Worlds 2017!
Tetrick and her competitors will take off at 6 a.m. from Lincoln, Nebraska. Check back early next week for Tetrick’s post-race diary.