Throughout December and now into January, we’d like to share some of the Salsa Crew's and our sponsored riders' favorite moments from 2015. By all accounts, it was a great year!
The moment of clarity, stillness, and pain: The moment when I noticed the small triangles next to the cue that marked my next turn during 2015 Gravel Worlds. This race seems simple enough. Ride around in Nebraska for maybe 15 hours. I mean, how challenging can Nebraska be? You will quickly find out, as I did, that Gravel Worlds asks a lot of everyone--a lot of cut-off times and small nuances to remember. Intense heat and barren landscape, not to mention the 150-mile course is not marked.
The little marking had showed up on the previous cues--I just never noticed, I guess. A silent killer. 150 almost seems like a manageable distance, but throw in August heat and 11,000 feet of climbing, and you better be ready to get the snot beat out of you. The gravel is thick, and the wind sneaks up from every direction. The hills are relentless. Trees are few and far between, similar to the riders who signed up for this beast. You are lucky to have riding companions during this race. Maybe that is why those little triangles got to me so easily. If I had been riding with others, maybe I never would have seen those marks. I would never have spent so much time cursing them. I would never have heard the demons in my head laugh about finding a new way to torture me. When I am riding with others, quick glances at my cue sheets are enough to share confirmations about mileage and directions within the group. This time, it was just me, myself, and the searing Nebraska sun.
I looked at those triangles and then up at the road ahead of me or, I should say, the tops of the hills that stretched over rolling hills. Mile 136 and I bet there was still some 1,500 feet of climbing left, which at this point felt like climbing to Mars and back. (Someone get me a space ship to finish this thing!) There had been occasional threats of rain, but nothing yet. Gravel dust clung to my legs as I turned down Mill Road, the fateful left-hander marked by tiny triangle mountains. My face contorted into a painful half grimace, half smile. I was so close. The last cue sheet. Five more turns, 14 miles, and countless hills. I knew I wanted to drag myself over those hills. Up one side and down the other. The temperature had dipped from the high of 97 degrees to something in the ballpark of 80, and the rain began.
Just a gentle sprinkle. I shut my eyes only for a second and felt the dust wash off my legs. A real smile crept onto my face.
I didn't care how far I had to go or how far I had gone. The finish was within my reach. I would never have had this moment without battling the tiny cue marking and demons in my head telling me to quit. A moment of pure joy. Everything I could see, feel, hear, touch, and even taste was exactly what I needed. All of my attention was given completely to myself and where I was. Now that I look back and think about these little markings, I realize that they might not have symbolized anything at all. But then again, nothing matters if I don't pay attention to it. The little details get lost in the chaos that sometimes defines my life. No matter how quickly I try to ride 150, 100, or even 300 miles, it always turns out to be the place where I am the most patient and calm.
I crushed each hill exactly how I wanted to in those last 14 miles. Shocked, I finished in third place. The finish line is always my favorite place to be, and I earned it that day. That clarity and stillness are things I strive for in life, but usually only come after lots of pain and confusion. But then again, just like never noticing the tiny triangles, how would I ever know what keeps me calm and clear if I never fought through the hills and heat to the other side?
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I live, work, and play in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa may not have epic mountains or vast skylines, but it boasts hundreds of miles of gravel. That is where I found my true calling. In 2012 I attempted my first Trans-Iowa, got lost, and was instantly hooked. I have been there every year since. I am constantly looking for that next adventure to keep me teetering on the line between insanity and clarity. Bring it on! andreafromiowa.wordpress.com.