Sickness kept me out of last summer’s Cornhusker State Games. And ever since, the course download has just sat there on my Garmin, mocking me.
“You feeling better yet, Sunshine?”
“Up yours, Gary,” I’ll say. (Gary is short for Garmin, if you didn’t know.)
Last week, the conversation went like this.
“My Sunday just opened up, Gary,” I told its flat face. “And guess what? I’m ‘bout to cross you off my little list of to dos.” (I lack the fortitude to talk smack with actual humans, but I get extra saucy with inanimate objects.)
So I set out alone on a windy Sunday morning to tackle the 2019 CSG Gold course. And I learned what Josh Shear, Steve Morin, Jeffrey Bedoya and a couple dozen other finishers all learned last summer: That course is flipping hard.
Working alone, without rabbits to chase or wheels to suck, I knew my speed wouldn’t match the leaders’. A 25-mph headwind also saw to that.
Part of me likes long, lonely pushes into the wind. I like the heavy dose of know-thyself.
In a group, if you overcook at the front, you can rest in the back a little longer or shorten your next shift and bounce back.
There’s none of that when you’re by yourself. You have to know the pace you can hold. Selling yourself short just leaves you longer in the wind. Go too hard and you’ll crack like cheap grout.
Lots of riders wisely use data to help them find their sweet spots. Good on them. But I don’t have a power meter. And my heart rate monitor chose that morning to crap out. So I got to play it totally by feel, which I liked, even if the main feeling felt a lot like hurt.
Headwinds crisscrossed with crosswinds as the route bucked and jived north toward Dwight. Then came the B roads.
I don’t know what state these roads were in during the State Games, but on March 1, 2020, they were mercurial. There was hardpacked dirt; cracked earth; and dry, calf-deep ruts. There was loose powder that would’ve made an impressive dustup had I been a pack of hellbent racers and not just some guy pedaling by himself.
Then there were the snowmelt holdouts—sheltered B-road bogs where the surface dropped from wicked fast to impassable in the span of an oh-fudge.
I didn’t pack a measuring tape, but I hiked through two stretches totaling many-hundred yards of shoulder-aching clown-shoe tromping slip-n-slide muck.
With that mess behind me, the course soon relented and pointed me back south. Now, that windy foe became my pal. Flying on Ridge Road north of Garland, I saw the subtle snake of a bike track in the gravel. And my loneliness subsided.
Here was a carrot of a different sort. Forget chasing competitors. There was a sister or brother ahead—another solitary gravel grinder! I accelerated on the hope I might get to say howdy.
I realized this was silly. I couldn’t know whether this track was three minutes or three hours old. But why not try? Why not hope?
And what do you know? Just outside Garland, I saw the telltale speck in the distance: the vertical rice grain of another rider several hundred yards ahead. And I was closing fast!
I hunkered down on my cheater bars and got my howdy ready. But he or she beat me into Garland and turned a direction I did not see. Oh well.
Garland spat me west into a gnarly crosswind. I much preferred going south and told my Garmin so. Then dumb Gary did something kind. He told me to turn left (with the wind) onto 210th. And then he said go that way for 15 glorious, uninterrupted miles.
Gary, I love you. I dove into the tailwind. Gary, forget all those horrible things I said.
Fifteen southerly miles on 210th meant two things.
- I’d get 45ish minutes with God’s mighty breath on my shoulder blades.
- I’d also get to see my dad at church.
Some Dad Time would be even awesomer than a howdy in Garland. I hopped out of the ocean current at Superior and snapped this image near where my dad’s buried.
I left church feeling good and anxious to get home.
Dickish Gary compels me to admit to you: I didn’t ride the complete CSG Gold course. I snipped it off at Wittstruck and fought my way toward Lincoln as crosswinds played a sorrowful note on my disc rotors. Oh, it’s a soul-scratching howl, that sound—like Edvard Munch whistling.
But those dark stretches don’t last.
On the Jamaica, 116 miles into my day and nearly home where the trail ducks under Van Dorn, I met family one last time. Teammate Addison was standing there, straddling his bike with a bottle outstretched for me. Behind him: His young son smiling on the hitchhiker.
“I thought you might be dry,” Addison said, correctly.
“I thought you might like some company the last mile home,” he said, correctly.