Trail Ramblings: Beautiful And Brutal.

Having missed the Bohemian Sto Mil hundred mile gravel race through the rugged hills around Prague the past two years, two days before the event, I pulled the trigger and registered late. People kept asking if I was riding it, and with my knee on the mend, I couldn’t see a reason not to. Except for the heat. Riding through these past weeks I figured had hardened me off to that. Though I can do it, I do prefer riding in cold to riding in heat.

Photo Credit: Doug Dittman

The Bohemian Sto Mil (hundred mile) is a good example of grass-roots gravel racing. Registration by post card (unless you’re like me, sorry guys), and no entry fee, though merch is available to help defray costs. There was a manageable number of participants, and I had nice chats with riders from other states, as well as old friends. There was an opportunity to enjoy and support the small town of Prague with a polka party and camping the night before at the Czechland lake. Also, kolaches, BBQ, and after-camping for those who wanted the entire weekend experience.

Photo Credit: Doug Dittman

My favorite parts of the course were the slightly sketchy surprises involving bridges, and the great minimum maintenance roads (mmrs) which reminded me of western Nebraska. There were great segments towards the end, but by that time I wasn’t able to really enjoy them as much as I would have earlier in the ride. I do appreciate going down Bohemian Everest rather than up it, though I have an abundance of respect for long, steep descents on loose gravel, especially in a cross-wind, so I really didn’t feel I could cut loose and pick up a lot of speed, not riding a fat bike, as one does on pavement.

Photo Credit: Joe Billesbach

So why do we do this? Well, people who enjoy racing, and even just riding, 100 miles of gravel in the summer in the Bohemian Alps of Nebraska don’t do it because it’s easy (there was between 6000 and 8000 ft. of elevation, depending which device you believe, and in 98 degree heat). I Suppose we do it to see if we can, and some to see if they can do it faster than anyone else. Many didn’t love the heat, and combined with the hills, bailed on the course. The way I see it, any ride is better than no ride, so kudos to you that gave it a go.

In those conditions I decided to just ride the course, more than race it. Still, the problems I had were not the problems that I thought I might have. My fickle knee caused me no grief this time. I was able to drink enough, even giving Isabel some water when I came across her doing her own unsupported version of a short course. My problems really began around mile 50. I’d been eating enough early on going into that headwind, using extra calories, but I don’t think I was keeping up by mile 50, and I should know better by now. In my case, I need a lot of variety in very easy to grab form, and sweet snacks become increasingly revolting the more miles I put behind me. My home-made energy bars are good at the beginning, but not a steady diet of them. My sweet potato was good, I should have packed another along with some regular fingerling potatoes with salt. A peanut butter and banana sandwich would have been good. They’ve served me well in the past but I didn’t want to over-pack. This was 100 miles, not the 150 of Gravel Worlds, so I under-packed. The bags of nuts I usually enjoy became increasingly difficult to eat. At czech point 3, mile 71, on a hilltop shared with a Czech cemetery, the cold front came through and the temperature dropped. That meant we’d be riding into a headwind, but for the first time I can recall, a headwind felt good, it was cool. Eventually though, by the time Noah and I were at Michael and his sister’s angel oasis close to the end, I could only get one bite of banana down and speak in two-word sentences. I felt better on the bike than off though, and had no trouble continuing, I just couldn’t seem to re-fuel. The last four miles revived me. Railroad avenue was flat and shaded, much of it double-track, so I could put on some speed and finish feeling strong. As soon as we got under the park shelter, it started to rain, though I was happy to stand out in it.

Photo Credit: Isabel Berry

My finishing time wasn’t great, but finishing was. I was even able to eat, something that has taken time to happen in the past. There was great company, good food and drink, and the memory of the difficult parts was already fading, replaced by the elation of finishing. Who knows, there may even be a next year.

Finally, congratulations to you mountain bikers out there who competed in the State Games at Branched Oak State Park. You had the same grueling temperatures we did. Also, have fun you riding Ragbrai, but I don’t need to tell you that, you’ve got it under control.