March 9th 2013 was a life changing day for me. I participated in my first cycling event, the Land Run 100. I didn't really know what I was in for but I had Andrea as a great support crew. Some how I finished. It might of taken me 11 1/2 hours to ride 107 miles of muddy gravel but I did it.
March 15th, 2014. Time for the second annual Land Run 100. This year was going to be a little bit of a different ride for me.
First, I had a year of putting miles of gravel in with the Stillwater Gravel Grinders. In August, I began working with Bobby and District Bicycles to build my dream gravel bike that I was planning to take to Gravel Worlds in Lincoln Nebraska. I would not make it to Worlds. 2 weeks after my first gravel ride on my dream bike, a Foundry Auger, I found out my daughter had cancer.
During our month long stay in the hospital many friends and family helped us and helped transform our house to make it a better living space to bring Ainsley home to. One of the groups that took charge was the Stillwater Gravel Grinders and Jim Bruer started the #Iride4Ainsley movement with the cycling community. Cyclists all over the country put handmade stickers on their bikes for Ainsley. It was an overwhelming show of support for Ainsley and our family.
Needless to say I had new motivation to cross the finish line again this year.
Friday night we had the rider's meeting at the new, bigger, better, District Bicycles. Bobby opened his heart about gravel and graciously invited Seth Wood and I to do the raffle drawing for some amazing items donated from Kuat Racks, Stillwater Summit Co., and Oakley. All proceeds went my family and Seth's family. Please read more about Seth and his story here. He was a great source of inspiration for all of us last year and even more so this year. You'll see why in a bit.
In the middle of all this little Emory, Bobby and Crystal Wintle's daughter, grabbed the mic from her father while he was telling everyone about Ainsley and her fight. If I can paraphrase what she said:
Ainsley is my best friend. I love her very much and I want to go to her school.
She attended Andrea's montessori school last year and was classmates with Ainsley. If someone got video of this I would trade you anything to get a copy. It was precious and moment I wish Ainsley was there to witness.
I am so grateful for what everyone has done for us. I felt like every rider, support crew, and volunteer was on our team. Cyclist are a great class of people. But gravel grinders step it up a notch and you all showed it.
Like last year the talk was all about the weather. 2 weeks out we were looking at clear skies and highs in the lower 70's. 2 days out and we were looking at light showers all day with highs in the lower 60's. For some this chance of rain was a no go. Either they had gotten stuck in last year's red clay or they had heard the stories and seen photo's of destroyed derailleurs. For me, it's part of the challenge. What clothes to wear, what size tires to go with, do you spray down your frame with PAM?
This year with more experience and a new proper "gravel" bike I set my goal to finish in 9 hours. The day had potential for light rain in the afternoon. I was mentally prepared for hike-a-bike during the last 4 hours. Thankfully the rain never came and unlike last year we had a bit of a tail wind.
The ride started out beautiful. As soon as we hit the gravel on 19th we had the sun shining through the fog and dust cloud created by the lead packs. I purposely took it easy this first section. I've ridden this stretch so many times I know how fast I can go and too fast means I would burn out before the climbing began. The first 30 miles were good. Though I was having issues getting food in my mouth. I picked up a Hammer Gel Flask and filled it with orange Gu. In theory this would give my less wrappers and trash to stuff into pockets. What I learned was when it's cold enough the Gu is too thick to squeeze out. I then learned to store the flask upside down in my jersey pocket and let gravity help me. I was also having a terrible time opening a Lara Bar. The usual teeth ripping wasn't working. So I then moved to a lovely salted carmel Gu. Ripped the top open and then it flew out of my hands. After that I decided I would have to stop. I was staying ahead of a pack if I remember correctly contained Eric Benjamin and AJ Van Grinsven. I stopped to eat at a turn and they blew past me. Then I see Trevor Steward roll up. He asked if I was good, gave him the thumbs up, and proceeded to jump back on the bike to ride with him. Turns out we would ride together most of the day.
Going west on Grandstaff was tough. The climbs were starting to build up in my legs but I knew Brethren was coming up. The biggest decent of the day. It's one of those roller coasters hills where as you ride up to it drops off sharply. You can see the bottom way below. Coming up on the turn onto Brethren I see Adam Gribben stopped at the turn. I gladly stop next to him after the climb up Grandstaff. This is one of the knuckleheads responsible for the Land Route. I got a laugh out of a couple guys making the turn and warning us of the fast decent and "sharp turn" at the bottom. We know all too well and they didn't know that sharp turn is pretty wide now. Still fast though. You'll hit 30+ MPH while dragging your brakes the whole way down. The hydraulic Hope V-Twin brake system worked great on the bike.
I pulled away a bit from Trevor and Adam because I thought I was feeling good. But what always comes after a big descent? A big climb. I'm still figuring out my legs on these long rides but it seems after 35 miles they like to cramp up. And on Deep Rock road they did. This time as soon I started feeling it I hopped off the bike to stretch and walk it out. It wasn't working at quickly as I liked. Took some margarita shot blocks, ate a banana, drank my water with Aclimate in it. After 5 minutes I got back on and took it easy. Then around mile 40 on a little climb my right hamstring and quads locked up. I didn't make it up the hill. I instead sat down in the grass and tried stretching. Many people passed asking if I was OK.
Here's the thing with these gravel rides. Almost every single rider I believe would stop and help another rider if they asked. And asking is by no means looked down upon. I hear this is not the same with other cycling events.
After sitting and stretching and eating for another 5 minutes, Trevor and Adam caught up to me. They stopped to make sure I was alright. I got back on the bike again and we rolled on together. Turning south towards Carney we tried our best to work together against the head wind. This is the section of the course that has a guaranteed head wind no matter the forecast. I'll want to call it little Kansas. The higher elevation and openness just encourages the wind to punish you.
I pulled for the group for a bit and then dropped back behind Trevor and Adam. We were working together and for the first time I felt the benefit of this kind of team work. After maybe 2 miles Adam mentions that Trevor was going to pull us both the entire way to Carney. As soon as he spoke those words Trevor pulled off. Then we got split up at a road crossing. Adam was falling far behind. Trevor decided to slow down and see what Adam wanted to do. He was hurting. Trevor then caught back up to me. Adam has given us permission to drop him. I honestly didn't think I would see him again.
The last couple miles heading into Carney as so deceiving. I think it's the slow elevation gain mixed with the winds. We finally pulled into the check point and found my marvelous wife with a table full of food. I don't know if the pros get this good of treatment. As we rolled Brett Stevens was rolling out. Andrea had cracked the whip and wouldn't let him stay and wait for us. Good thing too since we took about 15 minutes. I got my wonderful Chipotle bowl in my belly. Trevor got his bibs changed and we were ready to roll out when Peter Barlow came up. I hadn't seen him since the start. Was glad he made it. But once again Andrea would not let us stay. As we left it started to mist on us. I was having flash backs of last year's checkpoint and the rain. We left before 1 pm. Last year I didn't get to the check point until 2 pm.
Heading west we rolled on not looking forward to the last southern turn and the wind. We were moving good, taking it easy on almost every climb. The food, pickles, and brief sit down at the checkpoint restored my legs but I knew I couldn't push it. The sandy sections made sure you didn't go too fast.
Heading north things got fun. Wind at our backs and we were rolling fast. Well fast for us. Heading into the tiny town of Meridian you think your getting a nice stretch pavement. But the next 2 miles is long uphill climbs. I've been told this is the highest point on the course.
Crossing highway 105 and we are back on gravel. At this point I knew some rough roads were in store for us. As soon as we turned on College Ave. we decided to let some air pressure out of the tires. I wish I had done this sooner. It made the ride much more comfortable. The new CX0 tires worked great at what I'm guessing was around 30-33psi tubeless.
College Ave. is the road I passed multiple riders last year. Some with broken bikes and some just calling it quits, not knowing how far they would have to walk their bike. This road was absolutely unridable last year. The mud stuck to your tires and kept laying on. Just like making a snowman in good packing snow. Tire clearance didn't matter on this road. This year the road was still rough but thankfully dry.
The infamous Triple XXX road. Yeah that is how they spell it. We just call it Triple X. Last year a lot riders got caught in the rain on this road. A lot of derailleurs were sacrificed. This year it had a secret oasis. And we had passed the point at which Trevor's bike blew up last year. Things were looking good.
Triple XXX leads us into Coyle. Here you start feeling so close but still have 20 miles to go. Crossing the river and going down to 128th, that is just one twisty long climb back to the highway. I don't think Trevor and I said one word to each other during this climb. Crossing the highway by taking the detour around the construction be catch up to another rider. Didn't catch his name. Just that he was riding a Surly with bar end shifters. We are riding through the detour and many of the ribbon between the stakes we broken and flying across your path. Trevor the nice guy that he is stopped and retied them all. It still seemed like it could rain any minute and I knew 44th St. up ahead would be a trap if it did let loose.
Heading north on Hackleman I started feeling the yearning to finish this thing and it looked like I could still hit my goal of 9 hours. Around mile 91 Trevor pulled over, waived me on. Didn't think anything of it and pushed forward. I kept looking in my mirror for him and the other rider but I couldn't see them. I slowed at the 44th St. turn and looked back but no one was around. Looking at the time I knew I couldn't wait. 44th St. is just a series of rolling red dirt roads for 3 miles. If you can keep some speed you can make it a fast 3 miles. But when your legs won't let you push and you've got a head wind they are the last stretch of tough gravel/dirt road.
Cottonwood was a pleasant way to finish the gravel but it leads to the very unpleasant expletive, expletive, 19th St. A crappy paved road leading up to the Stillwater water tower. The highest point in Stillwater. The worse part is the depiction. After a steep climb you think you're near the top just to have a quick down hill and one last steep climb. God I hate that water tower. The rest is pretty much a long downhill coast into town. Should be relaxing. But no, enough of a head wind to make me work. I kept looking down at the time. 8:40. I can do 6 miles in 20 minutes right? 12th St. felt forever long. I finally turned onto Duck, stopping at a red light then turned on good old 7th street. The Finish line was in sight and the best part was you could hear it. I was still chasing 9 hours and speed up towards the finish landing in the arms of the now dubbed Bobby "Huggy Bear" Wintle. The emotional high you get from that Finish Line is unreal.
After finding the arms of Andrea at the finish line I looked down at my computer. 9:00:20 is where it stopped. Clearly I didn't stop it right at the finish but it was a nice confirmation of my goal. My official time was 8:57:40. Finishing 90th. Amazingly ahead of 51 other riders. Last year I finished 57 out of 63. One benefit of this finish that I didn't expect was the ability to cheer on other riders as they came in. I clapped for every single one. Some got me a little teary eyed.
Seeing Trevor get to cross the finish line in his own style. A can of PBR that he picked up at the secret oasis spraying all over himself and Bobby. Turned out he stopped for a pee break and then later hit a rock hard enough to lose half of his tire pressure. He spent some time pumping it back up. A mechanical with 10 miles left would be tough to swallow. But he eventually made it.
A couple minutes later our local pirate/professor crossed the finish line. Seth Wood had done it. Going from possibly never riding a bike again to finishing a super tough 107 miles of gravel. Inspiring to say the least.
Later on Peter Barlow rolls across the line. I honestly wasn't sure we was going to leave the check point. But with Andrea's motivation and enthusiasm he kept moving. So glad he did.
More riders were coming in when suddenly Adam Gribben rolls across the line. I hadn't seen him since about mile 50. I know he was hurting but he freaking did it.
Two more SGG riders were still out there. Keith Reed and Austin Turner rolled in together. Neither got to finish last year. It was so cool to watch everyone cross the finish line this year. I also have to give an honorable mention to Sally Asher. She was dealing with some severe knee problems leading up to the race. She could of given up and thrown in the towel. But she pressed on and made it to Carney. Read more about her experience here.
Looking forward to the rest of this year's rides. Gravel Slayer in Elk City, Oklahoma, Dirty Kanza in Emporia Kansas, and the gravel adventures around Stillwater. Land Run 2015 let's go for 8 hours.