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Jill's story: Gravel Worlds

BaseCamper Jill White shared her experience at the 2023 Garmin Gravel Worlds.

This is long. Feel free to just read the cliff notes.

Worlds of FRICTION

Gravel Worlds 2023. 300 mile Long Voyage

“I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the center of things but where edges meet. There are interesting frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency, you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one.” Anne Fadiman

Cliff notes

I made it 154 miles ( +31 bonus miles to rent a car to drive my bike back to Lincoln).

I was full of joy until I was afraid—which is a battle of the mind I will need to sort out.

I found so much beauty and difficulty.

I have many opportunities to grow in this endurance world. I have yet a lot to learn.


The heat was hard to wrestle with. I camped in a tent solo this trip due to conflicting events. I felt ready for this; however, I underestimated the work to keep oneself cool, rested, and fed at a campground in the heat. My trip was 14 hours. I stopped halfway because I felt illness hitting me. I was seen at an urgent care and prescribed prednisone, antibiotic, and nasal spray. Slept that night and actually felt a little better each day leading into the race.

Arrived at campgrounds Thursday as planned to the welcoming of the Majestic Blue Angels practicing for the weekend airshow. The airshow was 1.2 miles from the campground. I had first row seat for the practice. Breathtaking and deafening (friction). Thursday was 102 degrees with 120 "feels like" temps. All shakeout rides were cancelled for safety.

Friday I tried to rest. I did my best to stay cool. Hydrating and feet up trying to stay cool. It was a battle. In hindsight I should have messaged Coach Kate to reevaluate my hydration plan in the impending race heat. I also remembered we hadn't set an "at what cost finish plan." I had this in my mind, as we had discussed this for my last 300-mile attempt and decided even if I missed the cutoff, I would continue to finish. Finish even if cutoff is missed What would a failure look like? I thought about this a minute, then dismissed it. "I am going to finish in time," I told myself. I was ready. Fantastical thinking and data (friction). **Truth later at mile 132.

The start was hot, my heart racing a bit more than usual. I saw a friend from BaseCamp, Tina. We had never actually met, but when I saw her, I felt instant connection and had a thought: She is going to race an amazing race, I feel it. Later I found out she won. I knew it the minute I saw her. I felt her relentless work this season, and her mind was on point. I clumsily said, "Relentless forward motion." I wanted to express better….but those were the words I found. I appreciated her for giving me a minute of encouragement and belonging. I was struggling to believe this race that I really belonged here. I still will sort that out, but I felt that belonging at that moment. Value of the human connection.

The first 40 miles I just grinded. The heat was stealing watts, the gravel was not what I expected to find, and I found it to be much more challenging than I had anticipated. I wrestled that to find myself handling it; I actually said out loud, "Bean (that's what my soul calls me when I am being kind to myself, hahaha), you are really doing great handling this; don't worry, it won't all be this way." Oooops, I lied to myself. It got slippy and loose….but I kept handling it. Its difficulty was stealing more watts.

When I got to the first stop at Weeping Water, I was a bit shaken by the effort it took to get 46.7 mi. Proud of myself I was still on time, but noted the effort. Fighting spirit and spirit and losing watts, I felt that (friction).

Next stop 79.9. I just pressed. Mind just humming and legs just pedaling. I noticed two things in a big feelings way:

  1. The huge flocks of a peculiar bird swooping in to eat swarms of cicadas in the air/or dragonflies (my eyes could not be sure).

  2. Frogs on the dirt on the side of the gravel eating the cicadas. They made the most unusual noise.

Oh wait, and one more thing. Snakes. I saw snakes stretched on the gravel. I now wonder if they were eating the frogs that just ate the cicadas???? One can't be sure, but this was the land I was present in. I felt peace in this space. I enjoy those moments so much when nothing else matters but being in the space making my way through it. I forgot I was racing. I got to next stop feeling great. Saw a few other racers; we were kind to one another and moved on. I was aware acutely of my slow moving. I felt the first twinge of tears welling up, and I said to myself, "You have to speed up."

I made it to mile 109, which was the race directors' parents' home. I had not seen another racer or blinky link or sign of humans since mile 79. When I rolled in, there were five men totally smashed: vomiting, chilling. One was not making good mentation—it took me by surprise because I still felt so good in my body. But I looked at my times and realized just how truthfully slow I was progressing. Something happened in my mind here. One well-meaning boy said, "I don’t think you are going to make the cutoff." It was 0408. I spent a minute refueling, checking in on the wellbeing of the others—everyone had rescues coming and were safe. I left. Went two miles down the road and called my husband, crying, "Is it true? Do I have no chance to make the cutoff now?" He helped me calculate and gave encouragement that I was still on pace. He was getting on a plane and said, "Keep pedaling, sunrise is coming, you can still make it." The moon was beautiful, and I whispered to it at this very moment to give Tina all the strength it could. I looked at her dot and knew she was doing something powerful. Fight. It felt good to think of someone else. I also pedaled onward.

The sunrise was breathtaking, but with it came fear and an overwhelming can't. I spiraled into "I am not going to make the cutoff." The wind was howling and powerful, those very words in my ears. I could not get them to go away.

At mile 132 I had full-on panic. "I won't make it, my legs are too slow." I tried everything to shake this. I couldn't find watts. I was under the emotional waves, and they kept crashing. I looked at track leaders and saw dots that had been sitting at the mile 154 stop in Missouri Valley for a long time. Now I was in full-on planning mode. I had a plan to get to that stop and figure a rescue. I couldn't get my head out of the panic. "I am too slow to make it." Water for air. I cracked. My body...fine, my mind...full cracked (friction).

Funny thing. I suddenly found watts when I had decided to full make it to the 154 gas station to tap out. I am searching for honesty with myself here. Was it the load that I wasn't prepared for and that demonstrated itself in my mind crack? I have so many questions for myself. I will process them all.

I scratched at 154. Met a cool kid who had been watching my dot as he rested and regrouped, knowing he was not able to make the cutoff, so we connected and rented a car (a 31-mile ride away) and drove back to Lincoln.

Side note: When I returned to Lincoln, my tent had been flooded, and everything was soaked. I laughed (friction).

I will put a little science behind all this and start figuring out where I am losing watts, time, speed, energy. I will lean on my coach a minute to help me sort and process. I know I have heart—I want to keep trying.

I am leaning into something my husband gently said to me: "You always say your why is to be able to handle the hard things in life better and the bike helps that. Well, maybe you should evaluate the hard thoughts when you feel you are failing in cut off times." I heard him.

I also want to give the respect to the time and hard work it takes to keep looking at these distances—I am asking myself what that balance looks like.

Again, so many questions for myself right now. Let me rest a minute and regroup. Stay tuned.

"The bicycle is in a sweet spot of projecting vulnerability. It meets a kind of (abstractly) spiritual need of our own in moving through space…." Joe Cruz

Relentless forward motion.


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