What’s your favorite GW experience?
During my first GW (2016), I stopped at mile thirty-something to admire a farm cat along the side of a road. To my delight, she ran up to me, scampered straight up my fat-bike tire, and begged for cuddles. You’d better believe I took the time to scritch that kitty. I will always stop for kitties.
What’s your funniest gravel event story?
During last year’s Tour de Nebraska, the handful of us who rode the gravel routes quickly formed our own little #GravelFamily. Several of us knew each other from eastern Nebraska, but our crew also included a rider from western Iowa and a couple of guys from the west coast (California and Washington) who were a bit newer to gravel. The morning we left Kimball en route to Gering was one of the most beautiful rides I’ve ever experienced, the roads winding up and down through hilly, piney bluffs, right past Lover’s Leap Butte. I had to stop and admire everything and take photos every few miles. It was a pleasant 51 degrees. Our luck changed abruptly after we passed through Harrisburg, NE, and headed east on County Road 26. Our Washington rider, Bryan, was the first to flat due to a goathead. We laughed it off and went on after a fix. I don’t think we made it twenty feet before our next victim flatted. Then another. Then another. No one in our group made it down County Road 26 without goatheads. I pulled sixteen goatheads out of my tires, which somehow kept holding air even though (I discovered later) my sealant was dried up. Paul from California asked, “Is this normal??” At one point, we all stopped and looked at each other like, well, what now? And we just broke out laughing at it all. You know you’re with gravel family when you laugh off a crappy situation and keep on going.
How long have you been riding? Has gravel changed your perspective on riding, and if so, how?
I’ve ridden bikes for as long as I can remember, but I was greatly limited in my range as a kid, and I lost interest in bikes for a bit in high school. When I lived on campus at the University of Nebraska, I bought a step-through Giant Cypress hybrid that was two sizes too big to ride around campus with. I was overweight and physically inactive, but I kept toodling around on the trails, going farther and getting fitter little by little. Most of the bike people I saw then were into road bikes, so I got a road bike and had a wannabe-roadie phase. I signed up for BRAN in 2013 and was so proud of myself for making it across Nebraska. I always hated most highway riding, though. I mostly stuck to Lincoln trails and I started commuting, but I wanted to go farther and see more. A few of the bike people I was meeting were getting into gravel. Gravel scared me – until I picked up an Ice Cream Truck during Surly’s blow-out fat-bike sale in 2015 and worked up the nerve to try the Saturday Morning No-Drop Fat Bike Ride (SMNDFBR) at Cycle Works in Lincoln. I finally found my people. It wasn’t so much a change in my perspective as it was me finally finding the niche in cycling that suits me: I love wandering. I love seeing places I haven’t seen yet, especially off the beaten path. I love eating. I love being with easygoing people. I prefer to avoid cars. And now I have a community of like-minded people to ride with, any time I want to ride. We like to say “Embrace the suck.” We’ll ride in any conditions and still have a good time.
Has gravel brought you closer to your community and if so, how?
Garland-area resident and 13th US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, who can sometimes be spotted picking up his mail at the Malcolm post office, writes in his book Local Wonders: “If you can awaken inside the familiar and discover it new you need never leave home.” This is gravel riding to me. I grew up in Lincoln, but I’d never seen anything outside of the city until I started riding the gravel roads around the county and beyond. I do also enjoy leaving home to see new gravel roads, but I know my own area far better now. Lancaster county and its adjacent counties – the setting for Gravel Worlds – are beautiful, and at GW I enjoy seeing riders from all over experience our area. I focused on the Great Plains in college and I enjoy any opportunity to share fun facts. Here’s a freebie: Although the Plains might look like a vast expanse of… well… nothing, just a single acre of tallgrass prairie contains about a hundred different species of plants. (There is too little tallgrass prairie left, but that’s a topic for another day.) Obviously, our local riders calling ourselves the Pirate Cycling League is tongue-in-cheek, when we’re about as far from a sea as one can possibly be – but our “seas” of grass and corn and soybeans, like the real seas, have more going on than initially meets the eye. In the Cretaceous, we were actually under the Western Interior Seaway, but – okay, that’s two facts, and that’s enough for now.
What does #GravelFamily mean to you?
I have my local #GravelFamily, the people I ride with all the time – and they really do feel like my chosen family. But I’m also finding that I have this huge extended family anywhere people ride gravel. You go to any event where people are riding gravel, anywhere, and you’re going to find really welcoming people who will immediately take you in as one of their own. They don’t care whether you’re out there winning races or just mostly putzing around (like I do); they’ll respect you just for showing up.