Fun Hurts!

I race gravel, enjoy XC, and miss the NorCal roads (maybe)

I don't remember how many soccer balls I had in my childhood (not a lot though, it was a tough time). But I vividly remember one of them – it was a classic black and beige-white, vintage AF. Maybe it left such a sharp footprint in my memory because I also remember my father stitching it up after some good beating in the mud. Can't really imagine myself doing the same nowadays. With modern goods, you don't even have a chance to express love and care; that opportunity has been taken from us by mass manufacturing, for better or worse. Open “my orders”, click “buy it again”. Problem solved. Convenient and soulless experience.

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Grassroots Gravel is a new event on the calendar. It's a successor of Gravel Locos, a well-known bike race that took place in Pueblo, Colorado in years prior to 2023. They share many of the roads, yet an offspring is not the same old candy in a fresh wrapper. As the old Russian saying goes, “What's good for a Russian equals death for a German”. No offense to German people, though, as the saying comes from ancient times when the term “Germans” was used to refer to all foreigners. What I'm saying is that the passing of Gravel Locos, whose paramount desire to attract professional riders of the highest level was unachievable anymore at this time of the year, emptied the room for a cozy gathering of homies on a chilly Saturday morning.

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Kowtown wasn’t supposed to be my first-ever gravel experience. I ordered my Fezzari Shafer back in May 2023, and when it was finally built and shipped in the middle of June, FedEx gave me an estimated delivery of Friday night. And I was stoked enough to do something as foolish as to assemble the machine before midnight while registration for Pony Xpress Gravel is still open, then pay the dues, and in the early morning head over to Pueblo for a proper field test. Perhaps it’s for the better that the purple-orange truck didn’t show up that evening. The mind-blowing experience that I’ve ended up having in Kremmling could have been instead an endless miserable bike fitting session in the wilderness (hence the above picture of a brand new but half-ready bike, these handlebars alone would've cost me a major pain in the lower-lower back).

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I decided to do this race as a part of my preparation for Leadville Trail 100 and did that for several reasons. First, because your finish time in SR50 helps to improve your starting position in LT100. It’s extremely important if you’re aiming at a sub-9 hours finish or faster. But even with more modest goals, getting out of the white corral makes your day in Leadville a lot more enjoyable than it would be otherwise. Second, because it gives you a sense of how your body performs at high altitudes. And lastly because among all of the LT100 qualifiers, this one is the closest to where I live, just a 3-hour drive. And given that the race starts late in the morning, I don’t even need to stay there the night before. All are extremely practical.

But all that doesn’t do justice to the event. If you ever decide to go and do it — don’t be such a dork :–) Explore the town, spend time with good people, enjoy the ride (for the most part), and keep it fun. I was lucky to correct my course of action and had a lot of joy on that day, but I get no credit for that. Even for the race-related part of fun, I should “thank” the circumstances. That’s how it happened…

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My second gravel race is in the books now, and it only gets better! Love it, want more of it. And here’s my recap.

The picture in the header is what I would call perfect. Look, it hits all the boxes: made by a professional photographer on a camera almost as expensive as my bike; it captures the details that are event-specific; it's relatable to me because it has my finishing time on the clock (I was right there a second before); and there's no unphotogenic me in it to screw up the perfect shot. What's not to like.

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Lake City holds a special place in my heart. I did this race last year, and it was the first mountain bike race in my life. That in itself would’ve been enough for the warmest feelings, and it is. But with only a few dozen racers gathering in a small town (with a population of slightly over 400 people), it has the vibe of a family gathering. And I’m warning you: after you do it once – you will feel guilty if you don’t come back next year.

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I don’t really remember the exact moment when I learned about Leadville. And even though it wasn’t a long time ago, at this point, it sure seems like I’ve been dreaming about doing this race my entire life. However, I vividly recall my last days in Northern California before we said goodbye to old and new friends alike, and moved to a wonderful state of Colorado (my dear California, wherever I am, you’re in my heart until I die). And in those last few days, I was going through a virtual list of climbs and routes in my head, that I wanted to do, but never felt ready enough. And what I thought was not the best time to do them, actually was the one and only moment I had, and I lost it. And that did change my perception of things quite a lot.

With that kind of mindset, I entered December 2022, when the lottery for next year Leadville opened. Was I ready for Leadville? Hell no (spoiler alert – I wasn’t ready on a race day either). Did I have full confidence that I’m gonna be ready for it when/if the time comes? Nope (because I’m smart, not pessimistic). I put my name into the hat anyways. And at 10 o’clock in the morning of January 9th, 2023 I was jumping to the ceiling, running around the house, and texting my best friends to share the excitement that I’ve got a chance to do the race of all races, the hunt for a coveted buckle, the infamous suffer-fest up in the Rockies. One email (along with a $500 transaction on my credit card) flipped my life upside down for the next 8 months. From now on I was asking myself the exact same question a couple of times a day: how that (whatever I was about to do) fits into my Leadville prep plan. Like a certain part of my brain became fully devoted to that until it's over.

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