Sunday, June 7, 2015

Iron Horse 100 Gravel Race

Toeing the Line

There are brilliant shafts of sunlight intermittently piercing the canopy over the trail, slightly more vertical, and you'd fully expect Captain Kirk to appear with a landing party. 8 to 10 riders, myself included, have set an aggressive pace for the first few miles of the Iron Horse 100 mile gravel race. The first 16 miles outbound are on the rail-to-trail Frisco Highline. I'm near the rear of this pace line and trying not to do anything stupid.

I can hear the off-and-on ratcheting of my friend Jonathan's Industry 9 free hub, and know he's working hard to be with this group. He's riding single speed, and 20+ mph pace lines are not his friend. Limbs and vines are swatting at me. I'm bobbing and weaving like a guy just a bit to tall for the room. The actions of the rider just a few feet ahead are the only indication of the next low hanging branch or vine. I do some quick math in my head...........let's see, 36 inches at 20 mph..... and determine that I can't do the quick math to figure out how much time I have to react.

At 16.5 miles we exit the trail and hit the punchy rollers to the North, working our way toward the southeast tip of Stockton lake. I stay with the group for the first few miles, and eventually have that conversation with myself, "Don, this is not your pace!". The temps are near 80°F and the humidity feels like I'm wearing a plastic jogging suit. The group splinters a bit and I'm riding with my Dirty Dog Race Pack friends Anatolie and Josh. Anatolie hits one of the low water crossings a bit hot and pinch flats. I watch the remainder of the group gain ground and eventually go out of sight. I get my heart rate down to a point where it doesn't shake dust off my chest and focus on the task at hand. I'm riding solo.

The chainring church is in session, my Garmin and cue sheet have worked things out, they're on the same page and preaching it to me straight, down to the 10th of a mile. I'm using every smooth section of gravel (all 3 of them) to to eat and drink, working on that 200+ calories per hour. I quickly determine that water will be a problem and chastise myself for not sticking a 3rd bottle in my jersey pocket. I hit a sketchy descent and drop off into a rut that recent torrential rain produced. I blurt out an expletive, one that fear of a gravel face plant produces. This is not allowed in church. I am excommunicated.

Around mile 53 Josh and Anatolie ride up beside me. I ask, "How far to the aid station?" Josh says it's at mile 55. I was out of water. When you're riding in these conditions, and you run out of water, your thirst immediately goes through the roof. It's one of those immutable cycling laws, like Sir Isaac Newton's, or Dade County's. Notice how those guys back in the 1600's could rock the Robert Plant hair, make up cool laws, and still be called Sir. Newton would have been called a peace lovin' hippy in the 60's. But I digress.

Leaving the 55 Mile Aid Station

I make quick work of resupplying at the 55 mile aid station and head south. Around mile 63 there's a left turn in the course, immediately followed by a punchy climb. It's here that I'm passed by a fellow rider on a single speed. This guy is climbing strong, he's on a mission. He's also got a .50 caliber Browning M2 mounted to the rear of his bike, and he's shooting Fat Cyclist pain pellets at me! This guy obviously has friends at DARPA, because he's shooting smart pain pellets at me. They go directly to my legs and lungs. He rides on, I assess my wounds and keep pedaling, albeit somewhat slower. At this point the wheels start coming off, (keep in mind, I only have TWO!). I chomp down a banana, drink some GU Brew, chase it with water. I ride on. Several miles later, I hear a rider bearing down on my 6 (still on the military thing), it's the black ops single speeder! AGAIN! "I've gotta quit adding extra miles", he explains. I do my best to hide the wounds he inflicted earlier and shield myself as as he hammers around me. Mental note: don't follow his turns. Later I pass the black ops single speeder with double flats. He implied that he had what he needed and I rode on. Even though he'd nearly killed me with machine gun fire earlier, I couldn't help but sympathize with his plight.

Soon Josh and Anotolie catch me....again, and ride on looking strong. I start a downward spiral of self doubt and loathing. "You're a pudgy, out-of-shape old man!"......"You should've stayed in bed this morning and binged on Mad Men re-runs!". "This is too hard an effort after last week's Dirty Kanza!" Around mile 78, I climb out of rocky creek bottom road and continue East on some pool table smooth chip-n-seal. I see Josh and Anatolie in the distance, but I'm out of water........again. I see a farm house with a family outside and beg some water. They not only provide water, they gave me water with ICE CUBES! Ice cubes, yes, ice cubes. This brings my core temp back down to the molten lava range, I thank them profusely, re-mount and ride on. A mile or two down the road, I hear someone yell from a farm house, it sounded like water, but I had just filled up, and waved my right hand in the general direction of the yell. I find out later it was Josh and Anatolie yelling at me, they had stopped for water as well.

I'm on the last page of the cue sheet....YES! I know we hit the Frisco Highline at mile 88ish and I'm counting the miles off in my head.......82, 83, 84, 85, 7C's Winery!.....mmm wine, "Don, stop here and drink some wine, it'll be okay."...."Don, you're an idiot". 86, 87. It was in this area that Miles Hamilton met me and yelled words of encouragement. I was hoping to still be in the top 10 finishers, not realizing I was currently in 2nd place, behind Jake Bradley. I found a little spring in my pedal stroke, (think small spring, like a ball point pen).......there it is, the Frisco trail. I stop in the shade, combine my water bottles, slam a GU, and set off in the shaded, flat comfort of the trail. I find it fairly easy to maintain +15 mph and was feeling much better.

A few miles on the trail and I hear riders coming up on me. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, It's Josh and Anatolie. Josh is a big man, and a strong rider, he leads the charge. The three of us kick it up to the 17+ mph range and head back toward the finish line. The trail switches from chat to pavement near Willard. Ahh, this is nice. The miles click off quickly and soon we're turning off the trail and onto the mini storage entrance that is the finish line. Josh and Anatolie sprint toward the finish. My sprint looks a lot like soft pedaling. I roll across the finish line and find some nice green grass to fall on. Both of my hamstrings are still suffering from the pain pellet attack and take this opportunity to make me look like a guy being attacked by an invisible grizzly.

My good friend Jonathan Graif quickly comes too my rescue, chasing away the grizzly with some cold SBC root beer. I'm handed a cold, wet towel and place it around my neck. I'm thankful to be done.

7 Hrs; 2 min. 102.7 miles, +6000 ft. climbing, 88°F at the finish. Butter me up, I'm toast.

Josh, Anatolie, and I finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively. Huge congrats to Jake Bradley on the overall win. A hard days work.


  1. LOVE your opening paragraphs! Great report, and seriously impressive performance one week post-Kanza!

  2. Kate, Thank you girl. I appreciate your thoughts. That was a tough race. It hurt. Keep doing what you do!