Spotted Horse Ultra Gravel DNF or Downgrade

I’ve had this race on my radar for over a year. I lost a chunk of my last season to shoulder surgery. While spectating I vowed to race Jingle Cross in ’17. While volunteering at SH, I vowed to race 200 in ’17. Don’t make vows when you can’t ride; it skews your judgement!  I cried during both races but also survived.

I had a pretty good inaugural season of Ultra Gravel racing TIv13 was a DNF  A great learning experience.  The race of a life time ( hours under goal time) at Dirty Kanza 200.  Race like a gastro nightmare in deep, hilly sand at Gravel Worlds 150. So coming into SH I had no idea what to think

Packet pick-up went, chatted with folks I hadn’t seen all summer, met new folks and old friends  Wig n Pen pizza and off to bed,  I had spent minimal time getting ready and took the I’ll buy it attitude   My plan was to hang as long as I could with fast folks then settle in.  I figured so could outlast many with strategy and strength My first plan was to go 65-85 miles without a stop.  I knew I was good for close to 8 hours before stopping

The early hours were easy for me.  I welcomed the warm temps and didn’t care about rain:  jersey, arm warmers and my Bike Iowa cap was all I needed  A voice said to take the lightest jacket in case it poured   I had lights, backups and batteries and a Twix bar if it got really tough

Such a glorious morning.  Rain packed the gravel, rain was gentle AND I was riding my bike for 20 hours!  Booyah!!!

Eventually it became apparent that we were riding south to MO straight into the wind  I like hills even ones like walls  The wind added to it but I was still OK  However,  having to pedal downhill IN ORDER to move stinks   I always pedal down as it feels great and evokes power  There’s a difference.  The sheer beauty of Iowa outplayed riding alone.

I made it past the first Cstore.  Kept going even though I knew that folks that I passed would come back to me. Better to be chased than to be dropped off the back was my philosophy.  Folks caught back up and I held on to a line.  Working together into the wind is always the preferred way  I rode with others when it presented itself.  Mostly I rode with my mind and my mind did not like me. Quitting is not a common theme in my races.  It was the only theme for much of this race.   I knew that 200 would be tough in these conditions but I am stubborn as all get out. They’d have to take me off the course with a fight if I ran out of time.  By the time I got to Afton at 65 it seems like everyone was calling for a ride.  That feeling is contagious when the conditions are tough.  I went inside, got a slice and cocomilk.  Walked in and out and in and out.  Rides were offered.  In and out; in and out.  I wanted all 200.  Time just was not going to allow that.  I was pissed.  I could ride it and nature was not working with me.  Maybe I should just F-it.  I have other things going on in my life that were way more important than a gravel race.  OK it would feel like giving up on myself but I’d drop to the 150.  I went outside, met Jeff and we took off.   Crap—no bathroom stop, no water picked up, no additional food.  How long to the next stop?  No idea.  I had not gotten familiar with the 150 route but I had the GPS file and KR gave me her cue cards (had mine but they were not waterproofed).   I was off with a cohort in crime!  This had to get better.  Not heading south so the wind had to be better.  We went west and hit strong headwinds again.  I struggled.  Stopped to lube my chain.   Got so sick I dove into the ditch.  Came out to Mr Bike Iowa checking on me.  I just wanted to stop.   Scott had encouragement, music and good banter.  Also a nice pull in to Orient.  Trust me, I would not have made it to Orient without that bearded angel.  We ate.  Jeff joined us.  We were off.   All good to the first mud road.  Make it through via the ditch.  I had learned that just cuz I could ride down the middle, it may not be worth it due to time to clean the bike.  Got back on the turned the corner to another sea of mud!  Rode and walked the shoulder.  Came out and lost Scott to the front and Jeff to the back.  On my own again. Chatted with volunteer photo gal Carolyn and hit the road.

I saw the most beautiful scenes including the largest harvest orange moon ever.  I could have picked the man in the moon’s nose!  I’ll never forget this.  Then it was back to suffering. The tailwind never materialized.  I saw a light up ahead of me.   Ah, I was on the right track, at least.  I eventually caught up to the person in front of me.  I checked to see if she was OK and pedaled on.  I really expected her to ride with me.  But that did not happen.  I am not much of a chatty rider so silence was all good with me.   All I had to do was pedal and stay the course.   I got excited to see Carver Rd but also knew that my Garmin was funky in this area.   I tried to reply the winding road in my mind.  Cue cards and Garmin were no help. I kept hoping to see the hospital.  Then out of the night it was there as was Winterset!
SH B road side Carolyn

The next big question was to stop or not at the last Cstore.  I was not sure how many miles were left between reroutes and bad math.  I knew I was close but that it was deceptive.  I had volunteered out here somewhere last year. All I could recall was how far it was from the Cstore and how far after I left the spot to the finish.  Neither was a helpful thought.  I made a quick stop, chatted with local and then booked it.   I saw lights coming in as I was leaving.   If it was folk I had passed I did not want to get caught at the line no matter what place it was.   I rode hard getting excited that I was getting close.  I wish I had practiced this section so that I  knew where I was at relating to the finish.     I saw two lights behind me again.  I thought maybe it was Jeff and a friend to work with at this late and tired stage was appealing  But I did not know who owned the other light……

Some folks say I a competitive which I do not always agree with that one.  But the last time I saw the lights it looked like they were on the hill behind me (I heard later less than .5 of a mile).  I took off like I was in a Cat 2 mountain bike race.  Stand up and push up each hill, crest and pedal like made.  Over and over and over again.  I’d fall of in exhausting before I would get caught. Finally vehicle lights appeared and I pulled to the right to give the vehicle room but it was not moving.  I crossed the line like I was in pursuit of a world record, must to the surprise to Sarah and Steve as there was no one  in site. I was stunned to hear that I was third.  I just knew I was being chased.  I should have acted like,  yea I knew i was racing for third!  ha ha   Of course I got lost on the way back to the ranch!  Finally I made it.  I was so warmly greeted and so darn spent.

This concluded my ultra gravel year of racing.  I learned more about myself than I could have dreamed.  Finishing o the podium will be my highlight.   Cementing friendships with Newbs, Sarah, Steve was priceless.  I conquered lots of fears.  Learning to trust myself is the most was the ultimate lesson.

Thanks to my bike shop which is also full of my friends  Rassmussen’s Bike in West Des Moines.    I could not have done it without each and every one of  you.  Thanks to Zoom Performance and my coach Julie Kirkpatrick who has never said, “No, that distance is not a good idea” which I love and hate her for equally.  I could not have trained myself for this type of success.

 SH dirty face smiles Eric

Photos by Carolyn Spies Marsh, Steve Fuller, Eric Roccasecca

Author: chasingrainbowsbybike

I ride my bike.

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