TLDR Version: Thank you Michael Marckx, Andy Brightman, Phil Tinstman and all the countless others and volunteers who bring this insane event to our community. Thank you cycling community for being awesome. Thank you to Nick, Steve and Ned for putting up and being involved in this nonsense. Most of all, thank you Adam Mills at Source Endurance for giving me the tools I need to be able to do this stuff. Why do I have a coach? So I can have more fun. And it works.
Lining up for this year’s BWR I was feeling stoked, happy with my fitness (if not my freshness… #DK200 problems….stay tuned for that write up in a few weeks), feeling confident in my equipment and surrounded by more friends than I can possibly count. BWR is always the event that’s most important to me, but I had to prepare a little differently this year because of that Kansas problem. Lots of higher volume training left me spending lots of time thinking about why I do this and what’s important to me, and making sure I hang onto that. What’s important is having fun, and doing my very best to hopefully spread that to as many other riders as I can.
Well, fun was not had by me in the “neutral” zone Wave 1 with the Pros. My plan to stay attached at all costs fell apart somewhere around Country Club Drive when I realized that I was going to run through half my matchbook before I even got to Lemontwistenberg. Fortunately there were others in the same situation and we coalesced and traded pulls to the first dirt. I ended up getting there just 2.5 min slower than last year, but I’m not mad about it, happy with my decision to get dropped. Yes, I’m pretending I had a choice in the matter.
The upside of being off the back of Wave 1 was that I got to ride Lemon Twist my usual efficient way, calm like a Hindu Cow was my mantra in my head, minimal downhill brakes, picking all my favorite lines, passing at least 11 riders changing flats. Hindu Cow. But maybe with better handling. Blaize passed me after fixing his flat, and I encouraged him to keep both his lungs fully expanded all day. He never fails to make me smile on a ride, such a positive force in our community. I spent some time riding with Kristen Mayer at this point, stoked for her on how she was riding in the dirt, and savoring briefly hanging out with a friend since I knew she was gonna drop me like third period French up Highland Valley Road.
Next on the Del Dios pavement I rode with small groups and yelled to my Wave 3 and Wafer friends I saw as they headed for the first dirt, Renee I have a feeling you’ll be Waffling with me next year. I kept up my Hindu Cow plan through Hodges, smooth is fast, smooth is fast, DON’T FCKING FLAT HERE THIS YEAR, wanting to redeem myself after my rage riding double flat on Hodges last year. I warned as many people who would listen about the new “fixed” off camber hairpin and my group made it around that corner safely. Then at the water crossing I witnessed one of the few moments of poor sportsmanship I’ve seen at any BWR. I guess some people just don’t appreciate local knowledge, we were very rudely snapped at for pointing out the safest and shallowest line. A friend and then had a little “chat” with that rider, it ended with “with that attitude, honey, you’re gonna have a really hard day today.” I’m all about equal payouts and equality for women. Can we get a Purple Jersey for us too?
On the way to aid station one, I saw Seth Graham, he’s heading to Kansas soon too. We chatted a little on the way to the aid station. I had a “three bottle plan” going on, so I ditched an empty and kept riding, impressed to see that hand ups were still being offered for us mere mortals, not just to the front group. Mule was it’s usually sandy AF self, fun and fast. I had a feeling there would be traffic at the biggest pit, I can normally clear it, but I’m not gonna be mad about unclipping if it keeps all of us safe. I do think Marco Terengi’s idea to put a time lapse camera there next year is a great idea. Should be good entertainment, and as long as Josh Stockinger stays away from the fence. The sand is so deep it’s pretty hard to get hurt even if you fall down. Soon after the pit I saw Kristen again, doing awesome on her 28s, I hollered out that she was riding great, knowing that I’d see her on Highland as she passed me for the last time of the day.
At the base of HVR, Andy passed me “COUREUR COMING THROUGH.” He was looking very fast and strong, and I needed to recover after the first forty miles. Recover up HVR, great plan right? I kept my pace reasonable for me, maybe 80% and got up to the top comfortably, even though Todd Preece scared the crap out of me half way up. He slowed way down but made sure he kept pedaling so his free hub was silent and just gave a “Hey, what’s up” inches from my ear. Epic stealth, hilarious move. Friends having a good time on bikes, making each other smile. He gets it.
At the top of HVR, I knew my early dirt had gone well enough that there were plenty of riders behind me, so I chilled out and waited for the right group to come by. Within three or four min I had a group of around five going, and then we coalesced with another 15 or so on the way into Ramona. I let them go on the rollers towards the Black Canyon aid station, knowing they’d make me ride harder than I wanted to for not that much benefit, so I did my own thing for the next couple of miles and then onto Black. MoReese was on the street cheering, love seeing friends spectating. After a super quick pitstop and photo op from Steve Driscoll, I was off.
Echo and I had driven Black and saw the new grading happening so I knew to expect an interesting surface. The first climb was no problem, then the descent was predictably sketchy. I wasn’t in a hurry, and while I’m not fast, I’m getting pretty comfortable in sand. I got to the bottom easily, passing quite a few riders. My IRC sand cerac CX 32mm did their job. I saw Amelia, fellow future DK200 rider near the top of the first climb, she didn’t seem too happy, you know that dark hole when you see it. Then unfortunately I came across my friend Jay sitting on the side of the road, with that classic shoulder/clavicle hold, that I know only too well. Andy McClure, such good man, was sitting on with him and waved to me to let me know they were relatively ok. Andy, I’ve seen your pink kit in multiple photos this year giving aid to riders who have fallen. Your’e doing it right. Jay, I’m so sorry that happened and I hope you heal quickly.
On to the long part of the Black Canyon climb, I felt great, if not fast. This is one of those moments were I don’t love my 1x drive train and it’s big jumps at the top of the cassette. I know I’d be happier on that climb with more gear choices, but I also know NOT having a front mech has saved my butt on multiple other rides, so I’ll deal. Here it dawned on me that I was actually still having fun, feeling good, and not deeply and darkly questioning my life choices as I normally do up Black at this point in the race. Tons of riders passed me, but they were all in a good mood too. I got asked “Hey…. Are you the NoFcks Given architect?” “Why yes I am?” “You’re awesome, keep it up.” Little moments like that just made my day and gave me an extra ten watts up the rest of the climb, as did the laugh I got when I stopped to pee and somebody yelled “HEY CASEY” as I was trying to keep my shoes dry.
Quickie bottle fill stop and I was off for the long pavement loop after Mesa Grande. This is always my least favorite part of the day. Headwinds, close passes by angry farmers. I’d been passed a lot up Black Canyon but I was fairly certain there were plenty of people behind me. I found a group of four, my pavement descending skills are slightly less sucky this year than previous so I was able to stay attached to the Pie Shop, and the guys soft pedaled a little at the bottom and waited for me. They get it. Then the magic happened. Our four became ten, became twenty, became thirty. I found my teammate Linda Vigil alone and screamed, JUMP ON GET ON THIS THIS IS GOOD! Thirty of us rode together in a fantastically cohesive group, tight, fast, not surging on the climbs. We stayed safe, had fun, didn’t die and got to the Sutherland turn off in great shape. I tried to as loudly as possible thank every rider in that group. Y’all were phenomenal. You get it.
I sang Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live songs with a group of dudes on the climb out of Black. “OW!!! Too HOT in the HOT tub. Gonna make you sweat-AH”. Random amazing BWR moment right there. Linda and I rode together out of Black Canyon, both of us actually having a blast on the two mile downhill sand pit, we chatted about our plans for the rest of the day, how once we got to the base of the 78, it was just gonna be time for fun home dirt, one climb and then home. Can we break ten hours, I kinda knew by then it would just be out of reach for me, but thought Linda could make it with her superior climbing skills. I lost her down the 78, then she dropped me up Bandy, but I could just tell the tide had turned for her and she was in a great place, both mentally and legs-wise. I was stoked for her and yelled “see you at the finish” knowing she was about to tear up the dirt all the way to Lemon Twist.
I rode Mule solo, which was actually kind of nice, terrible headwind, but Mule doesn’t really lend itself to drafting off of strangers, especially as sandy as it is right now. I had a good time and heard Nick’s drone overhead filming me as I shimmied through the sandpits, clearing the big one this time. Then there he was at mile 99.8, Andy Brightman. Pulled over, waiting for me, he screamed “QUIT FCKING AROUND LETS GO” just like he did last year after waiting for me on the other end of Mule after all my mechanicals. “I checked your location and realized I was riding 15-20 min in front of you for the last 70 miles, and though, I’m gonna watch the Strava fly by and think that was stupid. Why ride with strangers all day, at the same pace, when I could ride with my friend. Let’s Party!”
We rode all the next dirt together with a small group, including Cyndi Wong, who I’d been passing and being passed by all day. She was riding so well and has such a great attitude, total pleasure to ride with, rad woman for sure. I tried to ride Westbound Hodges like a Hindu Cow, but I sort of couldn’t. I get this HOME DIRT mania and can’t help but ride it a little hard. Andy got in front of me on the downhill I usually bomb, I think he was trying to keep my tires intact and keep me from making bad decisions. Smart man. Lake Drive and Twist were fun, feeling good. The rocky Hodgendam section where I flatted two days before the race got in my head, and I picked the wrong line and very lightly crashed into a tree. Andy yelled “You dabbing back there?” “NAH! Just crashing into a tree! I’m good!” I wasn’t planning on stopping at the Lemon Twist aid station but there were so many smiling faces of friends there including Laura May, Todd Huckins and Dave Cyclin. We had to stop and thank them. Awesome job, my friends. Thank you for being out there all day.
Then the dark hole. Del Dios Pavement. I can’t not be in a hole there, better than last year though. At the top of the climb Amelia caught us and Andy said at the stop light “Casey’s in a dark place right now.” Amelia laughed and said “I know that place, was just there”. We all rode together with five other dudes to the Oasis. Andy pulling most of the way, Amelia and I each taking a couple of turns on the front as well. She’s rad. That’s the mark of a great endurance athlete, when they dig themselves out of the darkest places, well done Amelia.
After the Oasis the long slog to the top of Double Peak commenced, and here’s where the training paid off in a completely unexpected way. I wasn’t going any faster, I didn’t hurt any less, but my brain and attitude and joy for the event and experience were intact for the first time ever. Last year at this point, Andy was forcing me to keep talking so I literally didn’t tip over and crash. This year we were making jokes about….. well….. never mind…. and actually chatting with other riders. It was awesome to be in a place where I could tell the two girls passing us up the Questhaven wall how great they were looking and poke fun at myself, laughing as I paper-girled, rather than just drooling on my stem.
We got to the base of Double Peak and I said to Andy, you know what’s great about this? It’s not Mt. Woodson. Sometimes comparing something bad to something worse actually helps. We rounded the corner and saw Nick, Steve and Ned near the water tower, cheering us on. Love seeing my boys out there. The pups were casually regarding riders as they passed but got all excited and jumped up, recognizing me. Fortunately Nick had them leashed to a pole so they didn’t clothesline me. They were just the boost I needed to get to the top of Double Peak. Quick stop for a coke and for Andy to get some pics with his wife and daughter, and down we went, carefully preserving our tires down Twistenweg.
As we got finished off the tail end, Andy was on his phone and rode up to me “You want some chocolate milk?” “Sure!” “Yeah, get some for Casey too!” He was on the phone with his wife hooking us up with finish line chocolate milk, and it was magical.
We crossed the finish line of his 8th, my 4th BWR thankful for this amazing community of people. Fast friends Echo and Ryan held my bike and took pics of us with an adorable penguin. Sonja, you’re rad. At the finish line I could not have been happier to see my friends pulling it off, Shelly and Tanya, one of the toughest women I know, digging sooooooo deep and getting it done. I watched Djohara cross the line of her first full Waffle with boundless joy. My friend Terry who had never ridden more than 50 miles six weeks before BWR cracked the puzzle and finished strong, it’s science YO! And finally Michael Macare who did all the work, all the stuff and the things right in the lead up and rolled across the line finishing this year! Michael I’m so happy for you.
Why do this to ourselves? For me, number one, its FUN and number two, I think I’ve found ways to help spread that joy of riding and suffering and playing in the dirt to as many others as I possibly can. BWR and the gravel scene has been absolutely life changing for me and I love it and each and every one of you so very much! Thank you all for a great day……