Gothenburg, Nebraska – the setting for the epic Odin’s Revenge race. Now, this is not your typical USA Cycling sanctioned Category P12, 3, etc. race with support and officials. No, this is more of a race, no not a race but rather a battle, against an enemy that is not totally known. An enemy that is partly, if not mostly within. An enemy aided by wind, 6300 ft. of climbing in steep 200 feet spurts, heat and soft sandy/powder “roads.” This summer, my 40th, I’ve set out to do a few events that challenge my mental fortitude and my aging body. This was the first. I have to say, it may end up being the toughest.
This battle began with a meeting the night before where the organizers handed out the 1st 98 miles of directions. The course was not disclosed until 7 PM the night before and then it was only the 1st half of the course. The southern loop would comprise of 3 sheets of directions and what felt like 50 turns to get us back to the to the start where we would again launch off into an unknown 2nd half of 80 miles. My brother and I set up the bikes the night before with our directions laminated and zip tied to the stem.
The 6 AM departure the next morning was a cool, dark and humid event without too much fanfare. We were led out of town by a truck that would get us to the first gravel section. We stayed in the front and launched into the race at a rather feisty pace. The first 40 miles comprised of talcum powder roads, blinding dust and steep, rutted climbs and descents. My HR was quite high as we conquered 2000 ft. of climbing at a 16.4 mph pace. I was feeling OK, but I was a bit concerned about holding this intensity for 140 miles. As luck would have it, I experienced my only mechanical as our group of 7 hit the last climb to the first water station. My rear derailleur cable shook loose and I went into my 11 on the back. I stopped immediately and my brother came back to wait. I had all the tools packed that I needed and was able to get it fixed and shifting with about 80% accuracy. This took a good 5 minutes and we were back on the bike and filling up with water at the first station. Now the aid stations are really there to keep you on track timing wise and to provide water. Any other sustenance or support is a bonus. Luckily, a few had homemade goodies and pickles to help with the unnatural mix of bars and gels that mostly sustained me for the duration.
We set about an easier pace for the next section, passing a rider with a broken spoke and hitting the next aid area at an average of 15.76 pace that included some relatively unimproved roads with a nice mix of cows to chase off the road and very rough terrain. At one point I got enough fine sand in my eyes that I couldn’t keep them open. I stopped and tried to clear the grit out as best I could, but 10 minutes of agony was a great addition to the rest of the suffering on the bike. Eventually I just decided to continue on half blind. At some point, my eyes got used to the pain and I was able to ignore the feeling of sand paper in my eyes. Although I was having a hard time seeing it, I was truly impressed by the scenery on this ride. I will go ahead and say it, central Nebraska is beautiful. The rolling green hills, narrow canyons and cool roads gave the senses plenty to occupy the mind during the race.
We nailed the last section to the original starting point to finish our initial lap at 16.3 mph average on the bike. At this point I was feeling pretty bad. I have had some stomach pain on my right side during runs (maybe a slightly torn ab muscle?) and I was starting to have some cramps in that same spot during the race. Plus, I was tired. So I decided I was going to quit. Fortunately, my brother was not into that concept and told me we were still going. So after I laid around for a solid hour we were back on the bike. In regards to placing, as we arrived into the checkpoint, the top 2 riders were heading out. So we were in 3rd and 4th place at his point. 2 riders came in while I was belly-aching about moving on and headed out as well. So as we left, we were in 5th and 6th places. Thank goodness some clouds had begun moving in and the temps had cooled down. It had gotten up to about 92 degrees at 67 miles in and was really affecting me. I just couldn’t feel comfortable and had my jersey wide open after the 1st checkpoint. However, by the time we got to the ½ way checkpoint it was a more tolerable 77 degrees. I can honestly say that if it was full sun and in the 90s that I would not have been able to continue on.
The second half of the race was much easier than the first. Only 2200 ft. of climbing and mostly better roads. Generally, we went into a head wind out as we headed north and had an OK tail wind on the way back. This loop was on loose sandy stuff and was pretty good for cruising as long as you were able to continue to find the hidden gem lines that were less soft than most of the road.
After some eastward slogging we turned north into a pretty hefty wind on a pretty soft road. Since my bro knew I was less than thrilled to continue on, he was kind enough to pull me around most of the way. Between the 2 of us we managed a whopping 11.6 mph average for the 11 miles. It was so miserable that we started coming up with ways to make it even worse. Popular notions included setting us on fire and tear gas. We eventually made mostly good turns and made it to the final checkpoint before the finish. We were still in 5th and 6th, but moving at a good pace. After some impromptu accordion play and fun, we were back on the bike and were immediately greeted by a climb that required walking. No surprise since I was expecting to hit some impassable situations. What came as a real surprise was the sort of road that we experienced at the top of the climb. It was basically a weed filled field that had some tracks in it somewhere. After spending 5 minutes trying to figure out if we were on the right track, we decided that we would continue on and carry our bikes so that we wouldn’t have to worry about flatting or getting tons of weeds stuck in our chain and ripping off our derailleurs. Plus, this would only be the condition for a few hundred feet. Right? We ended up walking 1.5 miles in 29 minutes. And after getting passed by someone we decided we would just have to risk it and ride. Turns out that it was actually quite easy to ride and we were back on “real” roads in no time. The walking was quite good for the legs and I was able to push the pace a bit for a while. We pushed a solid 20 mph pace back until I finally pulled the parachute and sent my brother on to seek the finish ahead of me with about 10 miles left to go. He was clearly feeling better than I and I’d rather cruise in than feel like my head was going to explode the rest of the way. The temps were good at a cloudy 82 degrees and I felt that finishing wouldn’t be too much of a problem.
About 1 minute after that thought I really started to suffer. My stomach cramps never really had gone away, which kept me from eating like I should have, and I ran out of water. So I was about 11 miles to the finish and I was not having fun. So I stared at my wheel and told myself that all I had to do was keep pedaling and eventually I would be at the finish line. At one point I debated a head on collision with a semi-truck as an alternative to continuing the super suffering I was experiencing from bonking after 170+ miles on the gravel. So I slogged my way through until I pulled average speed of 13.5 mph all the way to the finish line for 6th place. Which sound a lot better than it really is considering only 9 people finished and I think only 7 in the 10 mph time limit.
The volunteers were amazing and the day was unforgettable. I love being in the heartland of America. It is an easy drive from Colorado front range. Of course, I never want to do this again. However, upon the next day I was immediately thinking about next year and whether I would go back. (Even if I told the organizers to punch me in the face if I showed up again next year) This kind of experience is addicting in that you consider how you might have done it better or different. The winner finished 1 hour and 33 minutes ahead of my brother and I. I know we stopped for an hour and 47 minutes total based on my Polar V800 (mechanical, water and sifting through directions) and then we also spent 29 minutes walking a section that should have taken 5 to ride. If we were to take a set 5 minutes per station to refuel, road at a slow pace instead of walked and had perfect luck, we would have finished 13 minutes faster than the winner. That is a lot of ifs. For example, that we could do the same pace without stopping as long.
Anyhow, that is the kind of intrigue that brings me back. So I don’t know what next year brings, but it might be more gravel roads and more slogging.
I pulled a few pics off of the interweb, Instagram and Facebook.. I also added a few we took on the way. If anyone see a pic they want removed, let me know.