The most common theme when I talk to someone about an event that has never been is I can't really race so I don't want to go.....Those words have ALWAYS struck me as odd. Yep, we have some killer photos of me at events with a wth did I do look on my face. And yes, I will never podium at a major event. Really my "racing" is just against myself and the course.
I'm a back of the pack rider at every event.....I know that the front of the pack leaders are racing to win and I am a little jealous on inside that I can not be one of them. My competitive spirit is alive and well, watching them go up a hill standing up on their pedals gives me goosebumps....heck it gives makes the hairs stand up on my arms when they take off! As much as I know I will never win I also know that I never want to quit trying!
There is so much more to an event that the podium. To me, it is a race against myself. Truly the only one I have to beat is ME! And that's enough most days. Sure, I try to catch the person in front of me and I try not to talk negative things in my head when someone passes me on a hill. That's human nature I think. But the "race" happens hand in hand with the adventure.
It's not every day that someone lays out a course through remote gravel roads for you to ride. It's also not every day that thousands of your closest friends will ride that same route with you. Go experience what each location has to offer. One of the great things about gravel is it different in every part of the US. Some locations are sandy while others are clay and still others large rcoks that want to slice your tires. The common factor though is the people.
The Land Run 100 in 2018 was my first large gravel event. I was told about the "gravel family" and what a stellar experience it would be. What I was not told was that I would leave smiling ear to ear and make friends that are still people I talk to regularly today. EVERYONE was SO NICE! I was about two miles from the finish line that year and the leader of the LR100 blew by me on the last hill like I was standing still, BUT he yelled "Almost home Crystal!!! loudly and with conviction. If I had the "I can't race attitude" I would have never gone. But it was an adventure to me and one that I can not wait to do every year. There is something special about hugging Bobby Wintle every year in Stillwater!
I have no definitive answers on why the gravel family is where I belong and where I want to be. I can't explain the amazement that I feel when the only thing I can hear is the crunch of my bike tire on gravel. I also can not explain how freeing it is to me when the only thing left for me to do that day is hydrate, eat and keep moving forward. Yep....life gets that simple on my "races". It's an adventure every time....and every time is different.
The back of the pack has people who are WAYYYYY outside of their comfort zones. Maybe it is their first event and maybe it is the twentieth but they are giving it their all and doing what they can to get to the finish line. Take the time to say hi, learn their stories, dig a little deeper with them.
One of the things I am most proud of in 2023 was not the miles I rode or the battles I won with myself. In 2023, I told EVERY person that I passed or that passed me "Good job, looking great, almost home, We got this" or something similar.....it was my private goal to bring something positive to everyone out on course.
I hope I never lose the wide eyed, blue eyed distant stare, that I have when a race starts. I hope that I never lose the adrenaline rush of going down a big hill or the thrill of seeing my friends on course. But most of all I hope I never lose the will to try something new.....heck I tried gravel and look at the things it has brought to my life!