Much of the internet buzz the week before the race was about the weather. It was occupying my thoughts as well. Riding 100 miles on gravel and dirt roads can be a daunting challenge. Riding 100 miles in thunderstorms with 25 to 30 mph winds on Oklahoma’s red clay mud could make for an all day suffer-fest. I checked the weather daily (maybe a few times per day) hoping it would change to sunny skies with light breezes, but if anything, the predictions for rain and storms just got worse.
We arrived in Stillwater the night before with just enough time to get checked in for the race at District Bicycles, which was convenient because I had forgotten to get a couple supplies from my local shop before leaving town. The shop is owned by the race director, Bobby Wintle. Shortly after walking in the door I was shaking hands with and being welcomed by Bobby. This guy is passionate about cycling and community and it really shows.
The morning of the race I woke up feeling good. I immediately checked the weather one last time, no change. As soon as I rode out of the hotel parking garage it started sprinkling and I thought to myself, here we go. It was close to 60, though, which is actually a decent temperature for working out in the rain. Fortunately, by the time I had ridden to the starting point of the race a couple miles away it had stopped. We were starting in front of a coffee shop and I made sure to get there early so I would have time to get a cup and spend some time milling around meeting new people. I love that pre-race vibe. Racers are running around making last minute checks of their gear, everyone is standing around in small groups talking about how they think the day will play out.
About 15 minutes before the 8:00 am start we all moved into the road. I positioned myself towards the rear of the group. One of my goals was to stay patient and ride my own pace. Knowing the race would take all day, I didn't need to get caught up in a sprint from the starting line. Bobby got up on the back of the pickup that would lead us out of town to give his pre-race briefing. He told us about his passion for riding gravel and about the race motto, how we all needed to “unlearn pavement.” I agreed. He told us the rain looked like it would stay away from us. A minute later the rain began to pour. Everyone, including myself, scattered off the street and took shelter under the awnings of the businesses that lined the road, like we weren't lining up to ride all day in the rain anyway. It only lasted a minute or two and then we all got back on the road ready to go. There was some sort of countdown, or go, but for the life of me I can’t remember it. The pack of 121 riders rolled out of town together.
We were only about a mile into it, I don’t think we were even off the pavement yet, when the first crash happened. I didn't see them go down but there were two bikes on the ground and the riders were limping around trying to shake it off. I don’t know if they got back on and finished the race or not, I hope so, but I remember thinking what a tough way to start the day out.
The pack spread out quickly as we turned out of town onto the first gravel road. For 15 miles we pretty much rode straight east and weren't feeling the direct effect of the strong winds too badly, but when we turned south into the full brunt of it, that is when the going got hard. It was the kind of wind that sucks the life out of your legs and makes you feel like the brakes are on. If you coasted for even a second the bike would quickly come to a halt. I kept my head down and the cadence high while trying to stay on the aerobars as much as possible. Between the wind and hills, it seemed difficult to maintain 10 mph for most of this section.
I always thought Oklahoma was a fairly flat place, but race directors have a unique ability to find plenty of hills to test you with. Mine read 4,900 feet of climbing for the race, but I've seen several gps readings on Strava closer to 6,000. There we no mountainous climbs but the terrain rolled constantly. This is most of what I remember from the first half of the race, rolling hills and fighting a relentless gusting wind.
One of my goals for the race was to spend as little time stopped as possible. I managed to keep the bike rolling for all but 16 minutes of the race. Not too bad considering this total includes the incident you will read about in a paragraph or two. I only stopped moving twice in the first half of the race. The main reason I stopped was because I have the bladder of a pregnant woman. It’s probably because of all the coffee I drink. The second reason was because my behind the seat bottle cages kept rattling loose. I managed to take care of both problems at the same time, however, I have to apologize to the couple of riders who would pass me each time. I had my legs spread wide and was bent over with my junk pulled out the front of my bib shorts peeing at the same time I was tightening the bolts of the bottle carrier. I’m good at multitasking.
It took me a little over 4 and a half hours to push through the wind to the 58 mile mark, the first checkpoint. This was also the only place we could meet our crew for re-supply. As I grabbed my new map from the check in tent I prayed it took us north with the wind for awhile. I lubed my chain, Jake switched out my bottles, and Sara helped me shed arm and leg warmers while stuffing more gels in my pockets. We kept the stop under 3 minutes. Everyone needs a crew like Sara and Jake.
I pulled back onto the road and the course finally headed west and out of the wind. It sprinkled for a few minutes but it felt warm and the roads were pretty hard packed so I was moving fast and really enjoying myself. It was about 30 minutes after leaving the checkpoint, flying down a steep hill made of red clay mud going close to 30 mph that I lost control of the bike and crashed hard. I was in the drops and up off the seat sailing, and then suddenly there were these huge deep ruts in the road that I didn't see coming in time. I tried to steer through it and keep the bike pointed down the hill. The back end skipped side to side about 3 times, and for half a second I thought I had it under control, and then all I remember is going down and rolling several times.
|28.8 to face-plant. |
I recommend a slower crash speed if at all possible.
|I never really figured out what caused the blowout |
but that's a pretty big hole!
|If you aren't bleeding, |
you aren't trying hard enough.
The final miles were just about keeping the cadence up and moving forward. As I turned onto the paved road into town, 7 miles from the finish, the rain started to fall. It felt cool and refreshing and went quickly to work washing the sticky and now dust filled blood off of everything. The finish line was a welcome sight. Blocks before reaching it you could hear people cheering for you and Bobby was on a megaphone congratulating and encouraging you. I saw him drop what he was doing and run to do this for every person coming to the line. His enthusiasm was contagious and much appreciated after all that suffering!
The rain I had worried about so much ended up cooperating, for me at least. There were many riders that were still out on the dirt when the rains came through. Not only that, they lost the tail wind that had helped the front of the group back to town. I heard people had to pull out of the race in the final miles when the mud on their bikes got so thick it ripped their rear derailleurs off! That would be a hard way to end a day of all out battle with the elements.
|Check out the mud stuck on that rear brake!|
|I was assigned the same number from last year's Dirty Kanza. |
I thought that was kind of cool.