Hey #Gravelfamily. My name is Sofia Gibson.
I’ve been known as the daughter of Randy Gibson, but in the last year, I’ve discovered a new identity. A gravel cyclist.
As many of you know, my dad was taken far too soon by a drunk driver while out on a century ride just over two years ago. Before his death, Gravel Worlds was always a huge part of his life, so in turn, it stole a piece of my heart. I vividly remember being curled up in a blanket in the Reincordt’s front lawn at 6am watching a much smaller group than these past few years, take off into the dark. I always thought they were crazy. I told myself I could never do it, I would never live up to the cyclist that my dad was. I thought I was meant for the sidelines.
Last year, I was supporting another gravel event in South Dakota, the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder. They honor my dad each year, and I in turn love to honor him as well by attending the race. I had bought my first bike the day before leaving for the trip. I was riding around and talking to the race organizer. Suddenly something came over me as I told him I was considering racing next year. Me. Someone who was riding around on a little commuter bike had word vomited that I was going to race gravel in one year, something I previously never had any interest in. I left that event with a new inspiration. I was going to trade my bike in, get something more suitable for gravel, and train for next year’s event.
I got back to Lincoln and started to throw around the idea of riding gravel with some of my family friends. I was invited by my mom to start the Monday women’s only rides sponsored by Cycle Works. The first time, I showed up in Lululemon leggings, Chacos, and a not very gravel friendly commuter bike. I felt so much encouragement and support on that 20 mile ride. I left feeling a tight embrace from the #gravelfamily that was different from being a spectator. I finally got it. I was no longer an outsider, and I was quickly becoming one of those “crazy bike people.”
A month later, my heart was set on fire for gravel, bikes, and the people who ride bikes on gravel. My weekends consisted of riding with like-minded individuals who supported and pushed me to my goals. When I spent time with them, I couldn’t help but smile. When I left, I felt full of life. That’s when I knew I had found my #gravelfamily.
What’s your favorite Gravel Worlds experience?
From being on both ends of the Gravel Worlds event, both volunteering and riding, I can confidently say that riding in the 2019 GW was one of my favorite experiences. The whole thing. Starting in the days leading up to the race, the welcome dinner, the expo, the check in, the whole week was full of memories that I wouldn’t have traded for the world. Race day came and I was NOT one of the fastest in the Privateer division by any means. It took me a whole day of cussing at every. single. hill. To cracking a smile as I saw the 150 milers riding by in the opposite direction. I saw familiar faces cheering me on, as I’m hollering to them, and that’s all I needed to get through the last 20 miles. As I pedaled through the round about, I saw my people cheering for me and supporting me. As I crossed the finish line, I was enveloped with hugs from the people I loved most. I was on top of the world. About ten minutes after finishing my 75 miles, I saw Alison Tetrick, for the second year in a row, cross the finish line winning the full Gravel Worlds PLUS the climbers jersey in honor of my dad. Out of pure exhaustion, I hopped out of my seat and sprinted to congratulate and hug her. It was one of those feel good, girl power moments that can never be recreated.
I spent the rest of the day sitting at Shillingbridge eating and drinking, while cheering on the flood of riders accomplishing their goals. The high of not only finishing something that five months previously, I never thought I would be able to accomplish, plus being in the midst of good vibes and pure positivity; was a feeling I’ll remember forever. If Gravel Worlds wasn’t my favorite day of the year before, that time solidified it forever in my heart. It wasn’t about a race for me. It was about camaraderie with other cyclists. It was about stopping at the snack stand my nanny kids had set up that was decorated with motivational posters. It was about my 8 year old nanny kid telling me he wants to do Gravel Worlds when he grows up. It was about meeting people from all over the world who came here to enjoy OUR tiny part of the world. It was about sharing five minute stories with other riders as we passed each other and introduced ourselves. It was about embracing the hugs of all my gravel friends who I now understood on a deeper level. It was about stretching what I knew to be possible for myself. It was about honoring my dad, while also making this event my own. It was about so much more than a race. It was the experience of a lifetime.
What’s your funniest gravel event story?
Okay, well it didn’t take place at the event and it’s only funny if you know my always smiling personality… But the night of last years Gravel Worlds, my favorite artist Lizzo was playing at a music festival an hour away. I was exhausted after riding 75 miles and being out in the heat all day, plus let’s just say I didn’t hydrate with the bestttt kinds of drinks for recovery. My friends and I got to the festival early so we could get a good (standing) place. About 30 minutes before the concert started, I felt like I was about to pass out from dehydration so I left our spot to get some water. On my way back, the concert was just starting. I was shoving my way through the crowd, and some guy had the audacity to call me out for pushing through. I told him that I had run to get some water and I was going back to my friends. He scoffed and said, “Yeah okay sure.” I turned around real quick and snapped, “Did you just ride 75 miles on your bike on gravel? No? Then I suggest you shut your mouth as I get back to my place, because I just did and I have no energy for this.” I spun on my heels and walked away. Whoops. Hopefully he learned not to mess with a cyclist who rode their bike in the heat all day.
How long have you been riding? Has gravel changed your perspective on riding, and if so, how?
I’ve only been riding for just under a year. Before that, I kinda thought you guys were all kinda insane. Riding 50 miles, 100, 150? Heck no. Not for me. But then I set my mind to it and actually did it. It was hard, but it didn’t kill me. And actually, it was really fun. I don’t ride the entire time. I stop at the top of a really steep hill and looked back down it while muttering, “Holy shoot. I just did that.” I rest while I take a picture of the gorgeous horses up in the grass with the sun setting behind them. I stop at small town gas stations for snacks and to people watch as I sit on the curb while eating my pop-tart. Riding isn’t a chore like I thought it was. It’s a way of life. It’s an adventure that I get to live. It’s an accomplishment that I am proud of.
Has gravel brought you closer to your community and if so, how?
Oh definitely! I have befriended a lot of really inspiring people I never knew before. I make a conscious effort to frequent more bike friendly local restaurants and stores. I meet cool people during my rides. Farmers. Small town store owners. Cute dogs… Ya know, the ones that don’t wanna chase me. It’s that aspect of riding that keeps me going when the hills get tough. I think about those experiences and how lucky I am to ride my bike through these small towns and gravel roads.
What does #GravelFamily mean to you?
The Gravel Family is a group of people that I couldn’t imagine my life without. There’s just something about those who ride bikes. They are the good kind of people. The kind of humans that have your back no matter what. The kind that care about everyone and will stand up for what’s right. They’re the people I always want to surround myself with, and bring new people into their circle. They have a zest for life that is contagious, and the ability to make you laugh until your stomach hurts. They care about things that matter. They are encouraging, and above all, inclusive. They don’t care if you’re a pro that’s been riding for 15 years, or if you are a first timer (hi) that is just in it for the fun. They will welcome you in with open arms and treat you as special as the rest. The day’s spent with them are days that I never want to end. There are no words to come close to my appreciation for them and the love they’ve shown me. They are my people. That. That is my #gravelfamily.