I've been keeping tabs on the Pirate Cycling League for some time. I think ever since it started, but never made it up to the gravel that Nebraska had to offer, till now. There were many reasons to do this World Champion Event. But the main reason was for fun. Fun was what it was.
I think the longest time I've spent on a bike ever was a ride to Lawrence and back with my wife from KC. It took us maybe 7 hours, 3 hours there, 4 hours back, but it was a comfortable pace.
We got to Lincoln at 10pm Friday night, I finally fell asleep at 1. Woke up at 4:30am, ate some cakes, drank coffee, and we went to check-in. There wasn't much of a line, but well over 100 cyclists ready to race. Checked in, aired up my tires, and got to the start.
I basically had 2 options for a bike. I could have built up my cx frame as a single speed, or just put some bomber tires on my spooky havocstaff and race open. I chose the latter, Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. The rear had plenty of clearance with the 28s, but the front ritchey wcs fork had very little.
The start was insane. 135 racers, pitch black, 100 meter sprint over a bridge that launched you into some loose gravel, then a 300 meters to a left, then some work to a right, then the hills, the hills man.
I was staying top 10 for the first 5 miles, then some dudes started working harder. Soon there was a guy off the front, and I was hitting 190bpm at the top of each climb. It was way harder than anything I'd expected. Going 150 miles is hard on gravel, so going that fast from the gun surprised me.
By mile 10 I was covered in sweat. I wore a midweight jacket, was freezing at the start with it on, 52 degrees, but we were going so hard, I was on fire.
We averaged over 18mph the first 26 miles.
At about mile 25, I had figured out the rhythm of the pace, I felt way more comfortable and soon enough a guy wanted my spot, so he sprinted around me down the hill, as we started up the next hill the pace slowed, and he had no choice but lock up his rear wheel and cut me off. As he did this, he shot a bunch of rocks at me. It wasn't intentional, the rock throwing part, but it did bend a spoke bad and broke my valve stem on my front wheel, letting all the air out of my tire.
I didn't pack a co2, but I did have a small lezyne hand pump that works well.
5 minutes later I was up and rolling again. I knew there was no chance at winning one of those sweet jerseys at this point. Flatting at one of the fastest sections of gravel there was, when there was a strong group of 20 going for it.
I don't recommend riding a road bike for this event. There were 26" mtn bikes keeping up, it hadn't rained much either. Had it rained more, I would have been walking. I knew a road bike would be a challenge, even with the strongest possible tires. But I did not expect to be at a disadvantage. I think maybe 6 miles of the 150 I actually felt a real advantage, but the rest was pure work.
I can tell tons of stories of white squirrels, creeks to cross, rain, cold, sweat, tons of big hills, fun checkpoints, layers of agricultural smells I didn't know existed, bridges, farm roads that only tractors and four wheelers can pass, big hills, friendly people, and good spirits, but it would take a really long time.
In short, it started raining around 9am, and I was already in an uncomfortable place. My legs were locking up really bad and I realized my seat was 1.5 inches too low. I swapped out my seatpost and seat for a arione saddle and a set back carbon post for more comfort. I stopped raised my seat, and started again, slowly my legs got back and could turn without pain. Eventually I got to a place where I was 1/3 of the way done, 50 miles and committed to finishing no matter what. I had to walk a few sections, stop a bunch of times to p, and stop to true my front wheel once in a while. I was by myself for 90% of the last 100 miles, it was a good ride. Knowing you have that ground to cover, it was easy to pedal nice, and enjoy the sounds, smells, and sites. There was a white squirrel, and I kept going, probably the cleanest squirrel I ever saw.
Mile 140 was my destination, a keg of IPA, pizza, and barrel of snicker bars awaited me. All the pcl people were cheerful, happy to see you people, very good. I sat in a lawn chair for a while, then made my way back to finish, 9 miles left . Still probaby 20 hills left to climb. I got passed by the single speed winner, here, a nice man, who had 2 broken spokes on a rear wheel that normally needed 20 to go straight, straight it was not.
I finished at 11 hours, 5pm, and was immediately given handshakes, well done good sir's, and my choice of beverage. Beer, coke, or water. I chose the beer. The PCL Crew are an abundant group. If you ever have money sitting in your paypal account you don't know what to do with, go click on their donate tab and put it to some good use.
The course went counter clockwise. The last 40 miles or so were going straight north with a tough E crosswind. Just going straight for miles over hills, hoping the next hill was the last, it was hard . 9938 total feet of climbing.