Gravel grinding is a super cool, hip club that they let a 56-year-old Mom (and librarian…shhh) into. Lots of tattoos, long beards and hipster style. What was not obvious when I walked up to the registration table at Cycle World in Lincoln, Nebraska is that I’ve been a long haul cyclist since I was 24 and I’ve done some badass gravel including Dirty Kanza and the Hellhole Gravel series (SC). And while I will never be the fastest, I came for the epic adventure.

Traveling to Nebraska from North Carolina to cycle in Gravel Worlds was an epic quest for me. My grandparents and my Dad were born in the Swedish community of Wausa, NE and five generations of Johnsons have called northeast Nebraska home. I cycled through Nebraska on a cross-country bicycle tour in 1984 but had never bicycled the gravel backroads. I flew in a week early before the race to take my time exploring the gravel roads around my grandparents’ farm in Osmond.

I knew the Nebraska hills would be punchy, but wowza. My pre-rides quickly got me prepared for what was to come. My best cycling friend was not able to race GW due to a cycling accident that has her recovering from three broken ribs. So, I rolled up on race morning without knowing anyone. Always a nervous Nellie about mechanicals and navigating the route, I was relieved to get rolling. I knew the fast pack would head out quickly and the second half of the field would be left to ride in smaller groups–twos, threes and individually–as the day wore on over the 150 miles.

With a largely Midwestern crowd, folks were friendly and jovial all along the route. The oasis stops were a blast and I admit to lingering a little too long at the store in Malcolm and at Checkpoint 2 at mile 128. A guy discovered leftover cold coffee and we lounged painfully in soccer chairs and enjoyed a few quick slugs of refreshing iced coffee before tackling the final miles of the course and the last McKelvie Road hills.

The hills were tough, but I think the heat took more of a toll. The water hose at Checkpoint 1 was awesome. From then on one water bottle was dedicated to dousing my head, shoulders and torso as I rode along.

All day long I tried to take in the endless rolling hills, family homesteads, barns and the alternating fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. I love the wide open spaces of the Great Plains even though I was bleary-eyed and cursing them toward the end. I spent the day meditating on my grandparents, Dave and Irene Johnson, and my Dad Willis, who moved to Florida in his twenties–and all of the Johnson grit and determination as I attacked the endless, punchy hills. Hell yes, Nebraska is hilly.

I want to come back next year to shave an hour off my time. I stopped way too much and carried way too much in my Camelbak not knowing what to expect. I’m proud to be one of the forty women who conquered Gravel Worlds. Gravel girls are badass, for sure.on my grandparents, Dave and Irene Johnson, and my Dad Willis, who moved to Florida in his twenties–and all of the Johnson grit and determination as I attacked the endless, punchy hills.

Hell yes, Nebraska is hilly. I want to come back next year to shave an hour off my time. I stopped way too much and carried way too much in my Camelbak not knowing what to expect. I’m proud to be one of the forty women who conquered Gravel Worlds. Gravel girls are badass, for sure.