A year ago, if you would have asked me if I would ever gravel race, I would have told you, “there is no way in hell, I will ever gravel race”. I guess those are some of my most famous last words.
Here’s the thing, my teammate Chuck built a gravel bike and he was having all kinds of fun on it, and having the fun without me. I did some adventure riding with him, but on my mountain bike, and it’s no fun trying to keep up with a gravel bike when riding a mountain bike with fat tires and weighing about two tons.
I started thinking, I would like to do some CX races this year, so maybe I could get a CX bike that could double as a gravel bike. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea, but I would not be doing any gravel racing, I would just use it as an adventure bike to ride with Chuck for training purposes. More famous last words, I guess.
Chuck and I also work together, so when it was bonus time at our company, Chuck encouraged me to take my bonus and use it to purchase a gravel bike. I did research for months and had my choices down to two bikes, the Trek Cronus and the Cannondale SuperX. I ended up choosing the Cannondale SuperX, more to come later on the bike, I will be posting a review, but let me just say right now, I made the right choice.
|Robin's Cannondale SuperX|
Now I had a gravel bike, but unfortunately, I also had a broken tailbone and a heart problem, so I was not able to ride it yet. As soon as I got released to ride, I got on the bike and tried it out. Problem was I didn’t have a lot of time, so I rode it twice, then I rode the Tour of Herman gravel race with Chuck, it was only my 3rd time on the bike. Remember a few paragraphs back when I said, I would not be gravel racing, well that didn’t last long, but I was mainly doing TOH for a training ride, not a real race. Well we finished the first two legs of TOH and missed the cut off to start the 3rd lap by 30 seconds, but that was ok, the hills almost killed me on the first two legs and I wasn’t all that ready to go out for a third. After the TOH, I was wondering why in the world I signed up for the DK half pint race. I had heard that the hills at DK were worse than TOH. Once again Chuck talked me into doing something I knew better than to do. He had decided to do DK200 and I said no way, I won’t be doing it, but when he said Lori was doing the Half Pint 100, which was really 110, and for me 119, more on that later, I thought well, I will do that, not really race it, just ride it for training. Of course I had already signed up for DK before I actually rode TOH, so hide sight is always 20/20.
Next on the list was to ride Cedar Cross as a training ride, but I had decided to sell my house and to my surprise it sold in 24 hours and I had little time to find a new house and needed Cedar Cross weekend to look for a house, so I had to skip CC. Now I had a total of 3 training rides on my gravel bike, with the longest ride being the TOH at 67 miles. But hey, being prepared is overrated. I mean who needs to train after having tailbone surgery and heart surgery in the last 4 months.
As DK neared my reluctance grew, I had no training in, I didn’t even start doing anything until March and here it was the 1st of June and I was going to ride 110 miles of gravel in the Flint Hills of Kansas. What was I thinking, how could I be this stupid. So 4 days before the race, I got the ok from my heart doctor to go back to normal workouts, I wonder if I should have mentioned that I planned on a 110 mile gravel race on the next Saturday. Maybe it’s better I didn’t mention it.
My life had been crazy for the last couple months, my youngest daughter China was graduating from high school, and I was planning a big BBQ, plus my house was sold, so I had a million house things to do, and to top it off my planned support crew, which was China, had to back out because of her best friends graduation party being on the same day. Now, I had no support crew, was feeling overwhelmed with life and had no real training under my belt, again what was I thinking, I should have backed out, but I didn’t.
When Chuck figured out a schedule so his boys could support both him, Lori and I, I thought it must be a sign that I should go to the race.
Now with only two weeks to go befor the race, I decided that the tires on my bike would not do well in this race, so Chuck ordered me some Schwalbe Marathons, Schwalbe is ROCK Racing’s tire of choice. They came just 3 days before the race and I tried to put them on, which was a mistake, I ended up taking them to my favorite bike shop, the Cyclery and had the guys there put them on, since I really sucked at it.
Friday morning came, I loaded up the adventure van and took off for Kansas, all the way there my reluctance grew more and more. The ride seemed too lonely, I called my daughter China 4 times, just to talk to her, she was getting really sick of me. I drove through a few storms, thinking, well maybe it will storm and the race will be cancelled then I won’t have to ride it or back out. I was kind of praying for that.
I checked in at the hotel, then Chuck called and said they were at the theater checking in, so I drove over and met them. As I parked the adventure van, I saw Emma, who is always smiling, it just made me feel better to see a happy person, of course Kyle and Derrick were there also and some other adventure racing friends. I got checked in and still wasn’t feeling like I wanted to do this. Oh and somehow my entry said I needed a large shirt instead of a medium so, I was feeling like, I won’t even be able to wear this shirt because it’s too big, but I guess since I didn’t think I would finish, it didn’t really matter.
Plus, I was calling home trying to line up stuff for the new house financing, and feeling like I should be home doing that and not be spending a weekend at a race.
The pre-race meeting went well, and I bought a DK beer glass that said crew, I figured that might be the only way I was going to get a glass, I knew for certain there was no way I would be making the cut off times. I figured it would be legal since after I got tossed from the race, I would be crewing for Chuck.
After the meeting we headed to the Pizza Ranch, one of the volunteers recommended it. When we got there, we ran smack into Team Virtus and their crew, we said our Hi’s and started chowing down, the pizza was extremely good, but of course I ate way too much.
Since we had to be out the door of the hotel by 5 am we headed off to bed, of course I could’nt sleep, I think I may have slept 3 hours that night. So to pass the time I went through everything in my race packet and found instructions on safety for the DK200. It was not what I would have thought the safety tips would be.
|All about Kansas Snakes|
Soon, it was 5 am and we were off to the race, we found a good parking spot, moved my gear into Lori’s van, got our bikes ready and were set for the start.
While talking with Team Virtus, I ended up in one of their group shots, I guess I kind of photo bombed them.
|Photo Credit: Team Virtus|
The 200 took off and Chuck was gone, Lori and I lined up with a Virtus friend, Jessica, ready to roll out for the half pint race. Lori checked her tires and realized that her back tire was low, but here we were with just 9 minutes to the start and we can’t figure out how to use the frame pump. Emma, sprinted down to her car and brought back a floor pump and we put air in Lori’s tire. Once again Emma saves the day!
|Race start from the back of the pack|
The Gun went off and Lori, Jessica and I rolled out only to see a train crossing the tracks ahead, but by the time we rolled up, it was gone and we just kept rolling out. I kept thinking that I may have to pull over and puke, but my stomach finally calmed down after a few miles. The pace wasn’t bad and I was just rolling along listening to all the conversations around me. We fell into a nice comfortable pace and the rolling hills were not too bad. We came to a muddy section of road and had to do some bike trekking, but it really wasn’t that bad.
|Photo Credit: Chuck Vohsen|
I had lost Lori somewhere just before the muddy road, so after I made it to the top of the next hill, I pulled out my camera and started taking some photos, while I waited for Lori. Jessica was gone, I didn’t think we would see her again. As I was goofing around with the camera, a few groups passed me, I thought I saw Lori, so I put my camera in my pocket and chased for a while to catch up, to my surprise, when I caught up, it wasn’t Lori. Now I had no idea where she was, in front of me or in back of me, so I just kept riding.
|Many long hills ahead|
I kept moving along, just taking in the beauty of Kansas, when I came across some free range cows, one was at the side of the road, and doing a little dance, like he just might bolt in front of me. As I rode by him, he just kind of gave me the evil eye, like get out of my yard.
|He was not happy to see us|
After passing the cow there was a steep incline, as I was riding up, I could see everyone walking their bikes, so I figured I would have to walk too, but surprisingly it wasn’t too bad and I rode to the top, just as I crested the hill, I saw Team Virtus take off, I thought about trying to get on back, but then I knew we were close to the 110/200 split, so there was no real reason to chase. I watched them about 100 yards in front of me until we came to the split and they went one direction while I went another.
At the bottom of a steep gravel hill, there was a crash, a girl with a bloody face was on the ground and a guy was holding her head up telling her to just stay still. There was a guy in a truck there to pick her up, so I rolled on. Soon I came to the 200 split off from the 110 and I kept riding, right through a couple of creeks, and I made it through them without taking a swim. Some guys riding in front of me got off and walked through, I’m not sure why, it was easy ride through, the water was only about a foot deep.
I rode a few more miles and caught up with Jessica, we talked for a while, then I stopped to get some food out. I really had to pee, but there is no place to hide in the middle of Kansas, so Jessica said there was no one in the distance, so we just moved to the side of the road, dropped our shorts and pee’d. I felt so much better then, but I could already feel some chaffing in places that no girl should ever be chaffed, I would have to deal with that for the rest of the race.
|Photo Credit: Chuck Vohsen|
The wind just kept howling and there was nowhere to hide from it, no trees to break it, no valleys that blocked it, so what’s a girl to do, my thought was just keep moving forward, maybe it would die down soon. Finally I got a break the route turned and I got a tailwind and some pavement with a downhill to boot. As I hit the pavement a rock blasted me in the face and hit my xx2i sunglasses, it hit so hard I’m surprised my glasses didn’t break, but they did a great job protecting my eyes, had those glasses not done such a good job, my race would have been over right there. After shaking off the thought of losing my eye, I just coasted for 3 miles into the checkpoint.
As I rounded the corner, I could see my crew, Sam and Jacob, they were cheering me on. I asked if Lori had come in and they said no, so I headed to the tent to check in, got my new map and headed to the van to refuel.
The boys were a great crew, they filled my bottles and pack, got my food out, washed the salt off my glasses, and got my bike ready to go again. They gave me a report on how everyone was doing and who had already gone out. I made a mad dash for the Johnny, then took a look at the map and headed out.
|Leaving CP 1|
I was really worried about getting lost because I’m a terrible navigator. I hoped someone would be on the road in front of me to follow, but no such luck. I was looking at the map and knew there was a turn at 63 miles, but I totally missed it. This is where things went wrong. I kept riding seeing no one, finally I hit W road, and knew I had gone too far. I rode back, stopped and asked a lady mowing her grass where I was, she said I missed the turn and pointed me in the right direction. Of course I made another wrong turn and hit W road again, I knew it was wrong so once again I rode back, saw another lady mowing, she sent me through her driveway, to another road, where I made another wrong turn and hit W road again. I turned around and by now I was really get frustrated, plus I had already added on an hour riding in circles. Finally after an hour and twenty minutes I found V road and got back on course. At this point I was so frustrated and worried about missing the cutoff time, that I really considered calling my crew for a ride. I just kept thinking, by the time they got there, I would have probably had time to ride another 10 miles, so I should probably just keep riding. I thought finishing over the time limit would probably be better than not finishing at all.
I figured by now I was the last one on the course, but to my surprise, I started seeing people and passing people. I was talking to them as I rode by and I asked one guy what his mileage was, that is when I realize that I had added an extra 9 miles to my route. Just what I needed, I signed up for 100 miles that turned into 110 miles and would end up riding 119 miles if I finished. All this riding on 3 training rides, the longest one being only 67 miles. I just wondered how I got myself in these situations.
For the next 4 hours I would ride past people and when I would stop to grab food out of my pack, they would ride back past me. I was starting to get cramps in my legs, my back hurt and I felt like I was going to puke. I made a new plan, to stop every hour, take an enduralyte and eat while standing still instead of doing it while riding. This way I could stretch my legs and back out. I was able to get peach cups and cans of V-8 energy drink down and keep it down, so that’s was I kept eating, good thing I had put enough in my pack. When I ran out of those, I started eating the KIND bars in my pack and was able to keep them down also. I really needed some salt and the dark chocolate sea salt flavor worked perfectly.
Riding into the last town before Emporia there were 5 riders somewhat together. With just 12 miles to go we started to break up, but one guy who I had talked to earlier in the day, came upon me. He told me there was one last hill before the finish line. He also had a big bubble in his tire and was just praying he made it to the finish line before it blew. As we rode though the campus of Emporia State University, another guy caught us and the 3 of us rode to the finish together. We knew we were going to miss the cutoff time, but by just a few minutes and we were all talking about all we wanted was that stupid finisher glass and we hoped that we would still get it, even if we were a little late.
We rode under the finish banner and into the chute where people were high fiving us, and cheering, and one guy was handing out beers.
|Photo Credit: Lori Vohsen|
It almost had the same feel as the Finish at the Ironman race, except it was hundreds of people, instead of thousands. At the end of the chute, we were handed a glass and congratulated on our finish.
|Ahhhh, the coveted glass|
I was all smiles then and the guys I was riding with were the same, we held our glasses up to each other because we had finished an epic gravel race just to get that 2 dollar glass, and it was all worth it.
Lori and the boys were waiting for me at the end of the chute and they grabbed, my bike and all my gear. We headed to the van, loaded stuff up, I got changed, then we went and got a burger before heading to the CP 3 for Chuck. At the CP we talked to other crews and watched friends come in and go out, next thing we knew, Chuck was in and looking relatively good and in good spirits. He sat down and ate some salty chips while the crew went to work getting him ready to go out again. We told him that we had found out a lot of our friends had abandoned the race just past the 100 miles mark, so he was really doing great. I told Chuck where I missed the turn at, and warned him to make sure he didn’t miss it to. Not like he would, he is the world’s best navigator, but he was tired so I thought it was good to mention. A group of 6 guys went out and Chuck jumped on his bike in hopes of getting on the back of that train for a while. We all yelled our goodbyes and good lucks, then we headed back to the finish. Since we had some time we decided to go back to the hotel and take showers then go watch Chuck finish. We got to the finish line at about 1:30 am. We cheered for every rider, hoping that every head light we saw in the distance was Chuck.
The race organizers started taking down banners and people started leaving, it made me sad to know that Chuck would finish to no fanfare. I mean we would be cheering as loud as we could, but it would be like finishing in a deserted city. At about 3 am, we saw three headlights in the distance and one of them belonged to Chuck.
|Chuck crossed the finish line|
He rode in under the finish banner as we cheered, as soon as he got his glass the finish banner was coming down. We quickly headed Chuck over to it and the guys taking it down pulled it back up so we could get a picture of Chuck under the banner.
|One last finish picture|
The race was over, Chuck had the coveted DK200 pint glass in hand, the crew was beat and we all headed back to the hotel.
QUESTION: Will I ever do this again, well at the end of the race, I said “never, ever, ever, ever”, but now, I’m thinking I might do the half pint again, hopefully without getting lost. I mean looking at my time with the extra mileage added on, well I would have had a pretty decent time, had I stayed on course.
The best part of the entire race, I mean besides the glass, was that I finished on hardly any training, with a good ride time average and I really never felt like I was going to die, I really never even felt like crying. I was frustrated over getting lost, but I was never on the verge of tears. I hope this means that I’m making a comeback, that my heart issues are over and my tailbone is fixed and in time I will be fast again.
|This was a happy finish|