On Saturday, September 29, with the sun just rising over the Pine Ridge, we headed east from the Wyoming-Nebraska border on a beautiful fall morning for an attempt to set a record for crossing Nebraska in a West-East direction. The route was on US Highway 20 from Wyoming to the Iowa state line on the Missouri River near Sioux City, IA. The day of the ride was clear with light winds forecasted to be a headwind gradually swinging around to the rear.
After riding along the top of the beautiful Pine Ridge, the road drops down to historic Fort Robinson and then continues east past Chadron and into the Sandhills. I didn’t want to push the pace too hard early on, but conditions were ideal for the first 100 miles. Cool temperatures, light winds and descending elevation helped me come through the century mark in just under 5 hrs without even feeling like I was working all that hard. As we got into the rolling Sandhills, I dropped the pace, especially on the climbs because I didn’t want to wear myself out too early in the ride. But I continued to get a periodic tailwind and it turned out I was maintaining a 20 mph pace through the first 8 hours or so.
I’ve had some trouble with stomach issues on these ultra rides before and my plan was to avoid pushing too hard and hold back on nutrition until my stomach had a chance to adapt. Hopefully, when I felt like I was over the chance of getting sick, I could pick up the caloric intake and maintain my energy. Well, it worked better than when I did the Race Across Oregon, but about 7-8 hours into the ride I started feeling a little nauseous. It wasn’t too bad at first, but then about 10 hours in, I got light headed and dizzy. Trying to hold down on my intake had left me dehydrated. It took about 30 minutes to rehydrate and feel like I could get back on the bike. Over the next 4-5 hours I had to periodically take longer breaks off the bike from nausea. It also sapped the strength from my legs and the pace dropped way off. I finally took a 45 minute sleep break about midnight and woke up feeling much better. From that point, once my stomach got with the program, I was able to start eating and drinking as necessary to maintain energy and hydration. My legs got stronger and the pace stayed pretty constant.
The night ride along the flat Elkhorn River valley was uneventful except that the headwind never switched to the rear as was predicted. I also got pretty sleepy the last couple of hours before sunrise. The last 60 miles before the finish in Sioux City was the hardest part of the ride. I was getting pretty tired and an unending series of long, steep rollers really took it out of me. I had not scouted the route well enough and I didn’t expect to find so many long steep hills. I was riding with an 11-21 cassette and I had to use more energy than I really wanted to power over the climbs. It would have been nicer if I’d had the 26-cog on the bike so I could spin up the climbs easier. It was a big relief when the crew announced that I had crested the last hill and was finally dropping into the Missouri River valley. There was still another hour to the state line, but the worst was over.
Approaching the Missouri River bridge at the state line, the road shoulder had lots of debris and I got my second flat of the ride just a couple of miles from the finish. Traffic was heavy and when we topped the bridge over the river, we just kept going to the exit ramp where we could get off the road and load up the bike (and me). It was time to clean up and celebrate by feeding both crew and rider.
I had two goals for this ride. I wanted to break the existing best time and I would have liked to do it in less than 24 hrs. The previous record was 27:05 for the 18-49 year age category. My final time over the 438 mile route was 28 h 42 min (15.26 mph). This did set a record for my 50-59 year age group but didn’t break the previous overall best time. My speed on the bike was fast enough to break the previous record but I lost too much time off the bike to stomach problems. I’m hoping to figure that out…. I think the 24 hour time would have been within reach except for the persistent headwind the last 12 hours. All in all, it was a good ride considering that this time of year I don’t really have enough time on the bike to be in top shape.
Last year at Race Across Oregon, I felt much stronger overall – even though my average speed was much slower. It is a longer race and much, much tougher with all the climbing. But I was a lot more ready for that race than for this one. This time, I was more tired after 24 hours than after 40+ hrs in Oregon.
You can’t do a ride like this without lots of help and support. My fantastic crew was made of my wife, Judy and Valentine friends Greg and Tammy Gass along with EVCC friend Glen Houts. Tammy helped Judy with support crew duties and Greg was the observing official for the first half of the ride. Glen met us in Valentine and then worked as the official through the night back to Sioux City. Thanks! To all of you. It’s no exaggeration to say “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
If you haven’t done any long rides I recommend you give it a try. You probably don’t want to start out with 400+ miles, but saddle up for a century (or two), head out over the horizon and see what you find.
See you there.