The Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. One of the best organized, toughest, perfectly to the point 200 miles I have ever ridden. For some reason this race didn’t pop up on my radar until some time in September. Well…the reason is probably because I usually don’t ride too many events after August, or something. I have no excuse. Seeing that I had that weekend off it was an easy answer, go ride 200 miles.
*Read normal type as normal voice. All the caps locks are me yelling. In whatever tone you want, just MUCH LOUDER.*
Some five years of doing this long-gravel-bike-riding thing and this is the hardest part for me. Getting there. Having a vehicle makes things worse. I had “planned” to sleep in my truck, at the race starting place, which was far away from the registration place, which I didn’t check, because why, and of course this was a solo mission. See. Logistics are hard.
Friday morning was spent driving a school bus, going to class, and packing….
Anyways, my little red truck and I left Iowa City around two. Then we drove into a pouring rain for 2 hours or so, to the wrong place. I drove to the place where the race started, not the right place. So I turned my butt around and went to the right place, Kyle’s Bikes. There I found Sarah, my registration packet, and Scott Sumpter. Scott offered me a couch. A much needed couch. Getting myself ready to ride 200 miles out of a little red truck surrounded by torrential rains would have sucked.
Lemme just outline what Scott helped me with that weekend. His garage space,a rear fender, a couch to sleep on both Friday and Saturday “night”, a shower, someone to ride with for like 11 hours, and probably something I am forgetting, but we will get to that. The gravel family is strong. Scott is one of a kind.
A 4am wake up call. Then we drove to the start, which was forty minutes away, that’s OK, gives me a chance to warm up and wake up. It was started raining at the start, that’s OK, gives me a chance to put on all my clothes right away. We gathered around Sarah, huddling under Goretex and wool. After a few words the race was on. The start was quiet. Everyone adjusting lights and settling in. The sun wouldn’t come up for a couple hours, my least favorite.
I settled in for the first 50 miles. The gravel was soft and it was hard to find a line. You had to make a line.
My time was spent wondering where the checkpoints were, talking with some fellow riders, and zoning out. Honestly…I didn’t know where the checkpoints were, just that there was a couple. I trusted Sarah’s method of race directing. The cue sheets were handy and I had at least checked over them, so I knew checkpoints existed.
The course we were riding was the rain course. Sarah had created a separate route to get us around the 40 miles of B-roads that had been soaked the day before. I appreciated that, she wanted us to finish what she created…..right???
Anyways, I kept rolling onwards. I use the start of these rides as a time to clear out my brain, prep it for the shit that is coming up. Zoning out. Ignoring most of what is around me, people included, sorry guys, and making sure I remember why I am on my bike, to ride 200 miles.
There was a b-road or two before the first checkpoint. We were re-routed away from some other b-roads too. This was one of those b-roads.
It is Iowa. The mud is terrible. Pushing on to the first checkpoint we rolled past a town called Hopeville. I missed the town entirely and instead saw the sign that says, “You are now past hope…ville.”
HAHAHA THANKS TINY SIGN.
Next up in my view was a oddly placed flag. Rolling up to the flag I was already curious. What is it for? Why is it all alone. It was not alone. Beneath the red, white, and blue was a cemetery. Four grave sites, all squished together into a 4×4 foot space, surrounded by a very low fence. It looked like the graves were sinking into each other.
Still don’t know what that was or why it’s stuck in my brain.
Iowa you are weird.
The first checkpoint was around some more corners. Manned by Jess and another lady who gifted me pickles and a sparkly pipe cleaner. Everything I am handed during gravel rides should be glittery. It made me happy. At this point Scott Sumpter was around, just hanigng out on his fat bike. Listeining to tunes and generating light with his hub. I rolled on in good spirits. Scott would be somewhere near this whole time.
After this checkpoint I nearly crashed my face into a b-road, but then I saw Sarah in a big ole vehicle. She rolled by and cheered for me. I felt like a champion. Sarah Cooper cheered for me. I didn’t smash my face into mud and the lady who won RAAM this year was cheering for me.
Then I rolled by some dude who was bummed that he didn’t get a Sarah cheer. I would be too. But then I passed him.
That good feeling would continue. The headwind, which had been constant since the start, and the rain and the spongy roads and the mud was present.
Just eating, drinking, riding bikes, leaving my headphones out. Which is new and exciting. It’s nice to not have the jams blasting and listen to rain and your tires. My happy mood hit it’s peak when I saw the windmills. Pushing into a headwind, I must have thought it was great to see windmills using the wind instead of hating it.
See below, I loved the windmills, but was hating the actual wind. More about this later.
I kept on biking on. Over 60 miles in and faced with my least favorite section of any long ride. The middle 70-80 set of miles. I try my best to ignore these miles. Especially the ones leading up to the and heading out of the middle.
My tailwind was gone. Some 90 miles into the ride and we had to turn into the wind. NO.
I ALREADY RODE IN THE WIND.
Time to shut off that brain, time for zoning out, which meant the happy mood faded.
Zooming out the Garminzer 3000 I could guess that there was some amount of miles heading this way. Somewhere in these miles I found Scott again. The tunes were drowned out by gale force winds, but his beacon of a headlight was still going. It was nice to see him.
We battled onward towards the RIPPY DUMPS. Which are actually just some BIG ASS HILLS. MADE OUT OF THE MOST SQUISHY GRAVEL. THERE WAS A HEART SHAPED POT HOLE AT THE TOP OF ONE, but I was too sad and hurty to take a picture. I did however take a video and I remember saying, “this is the last video you take, go be serious now, finish bike ride.”
It wasn’t the last video I took. Next video I took was sad. Just watch.
Stay tuned. Let’s see what happens.
What happened…I had been running. Starting school had cut into everything. Running was easier than getting all ready for biking fitness. Running fitness felt good, and kept me sane. Apparently it also made my knee mad.
Nothing like this had ever happened during a ride before. Sure, normal aches and pains, but not the kind that make me question whether or not it was causing damage.
It scared the shit out of me. I had to calm myself down, catch my breath. Walk up lots of hills. I even saw Scott at this point. He had made a wrong turn and came rolling up behind me as I was eating. I thought I was going to quit. Scott gave me the phone numbers so I could drop out.
But first I would text someone who gave me the best advice.
“seat height feel off at all? Mine happens when my knee tucks in on the downstroke so if I focus on flexing the outside of my quad (IT band area) it helps keep it straight. And then just keep it spinning, don’t fuck with a heavy gear. You got this dude. Music or singing or meditating on something would help distract…..I know it’s easier said than done but if anyone can put up with this shit, it’s you. “
That got me. Right in the feels. I pulled my self together and walked up some hills. Then I rode for 15 minutes.
Then the sun came out. FULL FORCE SUN. Or it had been creeping out and slapped me. YOU ARE GONNA DO THIS. My knee felt OK, it wouldn’t cause damage.
Walked up more hills.
Took my last Ibuprofen.
Biked some hills.
Put in my headphone.
Walked some hills.
Then finally I could continue riding. Nearing the halfway point I ran into some volunteers who were issuing a reroute. Thank gosh for them. I tried to ask how far until the next checkpoint.
“You’ve only gone 70 miles.” Says one dude.
The look on my face must have given it away.
“Wait you are doing 200?! Then you’ve got like, 100 left.”
The other volunteer added in, “You are 2/3rds of the way…somewhere.”
Honestly the best answers. No answer. Why the heck would they know. They are just making sure I don’t go get stuck in the middle of some shit road.
Riding continued all the way to the halfway. Orient? Pretty sure that was the place. Still was not oriented. Had no clue what mile we were really at because of the reroutes and it was messing with my brain. Was I past mile 100 or was it somewhere within my reach.
Well..in the town of Orient I was in some convenience store, sipping on cold chicken noodle soup, chomping on Ibuprofen, and chatting with Scott. Lee was there too, Matt and company rolled up right as Scott and I were leaving.
We left with the sun still up, but setting. Turning out of town we were herded straight onto a b-road. A terrible bastard of a road, all mud, which pushed us to the ditch, which was filled with sharp stumps from terrible plants that would jump up at you every once in a while, SO IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO NOT TRIP ON ALL OF THEM.
So not happy. Mood was mad.
It was worse than the knee. Those little stumpies were sharp!
At the end of the road was Scott, with a spatula. A nice white spatula, one you might use to wipe up all your pancake batter with. We used it to wipe mud off everything. Scott and I rode into the sunset. Making quasi plans to finish together. Doing the math we knew finishing was a reality. Satisfied with the idea of riding until 2am. Just keep riding.
Sarah did want us to finish.
But we would have to stay on it, not even push it. Into the dark we went. Both of us were quiet, wondering where the next convenience store would be. Somewhere. My mind was gone again. Zoned out. Waiting for that store. We found it with 35 miles to go. This was where I ate a hot pocket.
A HOT POCKET. WHY. Scott stared at me like I was nuts.
Worst idea, never eating that again, and never have before. What was I thinking.
It was getting colder and we had to leave. It we didn’t leave then we would have to push the pace, which didn’t seem possible. Right at that time Matt showed up. Remember him?
“Can you guys wait for me?! Lemme just go get a muffi…”
And he was in the store as I gave out an “Of course!”
And out. We were on our way, now with more Matt.
This guy was from Iowa City, I am from Iowa City! He is riding a bike I used to own. I loved that bike!
It was nice to have more company.
Matt helped us push the pace. 35 miles seemed like cake.
It was not any sort of cake or pie, but it was nice. It was serene. As long as nothing blew up we would finish.
We would finish at 1:30am. With 30 minutes to spare.