This was my first Unbound Gravel so I had no idea what to expect. Emporia is an adorable, welcoming, super-friendly community and the race was dialed from packet pickup to shake-out rides, to post-race support. My nutrition was carefully planned but I knew that my legs did not have 100% of the needed training and I would be gutting this out at some point. You can’t cram for a physical event. Boy was that an understatement. Prior to leaving town I pulled the Four of Wands tarot card so that gave me some hope (it’s a card of celebration) and I changed our return flight for later in the day on Sunday to give us all a little recovery/breathing room.
My amazing wife Amy Bastman made me rest for much of Friday so I felt rested on race morning. Wake up, instant coffee, French toast sticks and it was time to line up. It was exciting to catch my teammates, Tyler Reid and Kevin Summers for a quick photo. I lined up with the ‘Race the Sun’ people and crossed my fingers I could hang with them. I knew there were 22 ladies in my category and my plan was to take it easy the first half of the race so that I could hopefully have enough in the tank for a negative split and strong finish. My goal is always the podium - but with racers from literally all over the world attending, my goal was a bit lofty. But I digress…
And we’re off! And then 1/4 mile down the road we all have to stop for a train.
Oh, there’s mud on this course. Super thick, sticky mud. Hang on, why won’t my tires spin? Oh, it’s the 17 lbs of mud literally caking my tires, forks, and drivetrain. Oh, look at these smart people carrying their bikes - I’ll do that too. “The fuck you are” says my bike. “I weigh 50 lbs now.” Damnit! Now the sun is up and hot and I’m sweating and the hours are ticking by as I lumber on mud slippers for MILES. I try to scrape off the mud while walking and puncture my thumb with my front sprocket. Blood goes everywhere. FYI, mud works as a skin sealant.
I see my teammate on the side of the road working on his bike. I stop to see if I can help. He’s been there for almost an hour trying to convert his bike to a single speed because his derailleur is trashed. I am no help whatsoever.
My legs start cramping…horrible, life-ending cramps that go from my quads to my calves. I scream and literally don’t care who hears me.
Holy shit it’s only mile 45?
Aid Station 1. I’m COVERED in mud and my bike is making noises I’ve never heard before. Paul at the The Wrench House dials me in and gets me going. My legs are involuntarily spazzing out. I prepare to leave the parking lot and my wife calls telling me I forgot my bottles and glasses. I circle back around lamenting the extra 1/4 mile added to my day. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to her for yelling.
Mile I’m not sure
The dark and ominous clouds bear down. Lots of riders take shelter in nearby barns. I ride on, defiantly. I know lightning won’t strike me. I won the lottery with my wife. That shit doesn’t happen twice. I tell the cows sorry that I ate some cheeseburgers recently. Bring on the cooler temperatures. The the heavens open up and dump on us.
I refill my pack and leave the water station shivering with my teeth chattering. I wonder if I can do this.
I feel amazing and start hammering. No one passes me and I pass about 40 riders. My plan is working!
I start imploring any UFOs or Aliens to please abduct me.
Aid Station 2. My wife tells me I’m currently in 7th (up from 11th at the first aid station). She also says I’ll be lucky to finish by 11pm. The doubt starts creeping in. I add my lights to my bike. My leg cramps are back with a vengeance.
Mud? Again? You have to be fucking kidding me. This is cruel. I repeat my routine from earlier in the day: walk, scrape, walk, try to ride, scrape, repeat. It’s pitch black. The full moon has risen. Still no UFOs. Such bullshit.
The emotional wheels fly off. I’m demoralized. I feel like a total failure. I start sobbing. I call my wife and tell her I can’t do this. She tells me I’m so close and to keep pedaling. So close means about 2-3 hours left. Two hours feels like two years at this point. I start hyperventilating and my fingers start to go numb. I pull my shit together and keep pedaling.
Pavement again! Oh thank goodness!
I cross the finish and start shaking and crying uncontrollably. I’ve never been so spent physically and emotionally. My wife tells me I came in 5th place. I totally lose my shit. I did it!
I can’t even pick up my leg to get into the car to go back to the hotel. I’m elated and empty at the same time. I can’t stop crying. I’m so happy and grateful for the nice guys who weren’t scared by my crying and rode with me a bit in those last few miles. Thank you so much.