Keeping with travel-race tradition; our crew of 3 stopped for a predictably sad and heavily oiled breakfast which was mostly unmemorable save for the newly formed urgency to find a bathroom. Luckily we were close to the destination. Packet pick-up was the first order of business. Number two followed shortly thereafter. All other tasks were completed out of logical sequence, as is tradition. The weather was mostly perfect, the roads were mostly gravel, and I was mostly prepared for an 8:00AM start from the parking of 5 Lakes Brewing Company. As the neutral rollout ended, the race picked up to speeds that elicited a few warnings regarding the 90-some miles remaining in the race, but these pleas went unheeded. The lead group kept the pace up. Only a few remained in sight before disappearing into the hills no more than 20 miles into the race. I sat in with a chase group consisting of 3 onespeeders, a fat bike, and a varying number of geared racers. It wasn’t long until my legs would indicate that I couldn’t keep the groups pace. I sat in as best I could for a few miles but the gaps were widening and I lost both the ability and want to close. I settled into a sustainable pace under the assumption that I’d be able to pick off and/or pick up those that dropped back in the miles to come.
For me, the best part of the race is when you’re finally on your own; especially in long distance events. Gaps between riders tend to stretch out and you can ride your race without dedicating much brainpower to worrying about your position provided you’re able to stay on course, remain mechanically sound, and escape any acts of dog in your vicinity. You get to unwind a bit. I spent some time thinking about mistakes made and what I could have done better; some from earlier that morning, some from decades past. Beyond that, I was simply enjoying the ride and returning the enigmatic, unblinking stares from bovine spectators. At some point, it occurred to me that my favorite gravel race terrain feature is an unobstructed view of a right turn to flat, about one quarter of the way up a steep incline.