Oklahoma...barron, grungy, and windy. In other words, a miserable place. For all of our friends in Oklahoma, please don't be offended. I'm just saying this past weekend's weather conditions made for one hell of a gruesome ride. But who am I to make these accusations against the Mother's good will. Here in good 'ole MO we've been covered in snow for over two weeks making it nearly impossible to get outside on a bike. So, all in all, OK thank you for playing host to Team Red Wheel.
Obviously the gravel thing is taking off. Everywhere you look there is a new gravel race, ride, whatever you want to call it, popping up. We're not complaining...of matter of fact we're LOVING IT! So, not too long ago, Nick heard about this Land Run 100 in Stillwater, OK. Not too long after, many of us were signing up. So Nick, Turbo, Stoney, myself, and Nick's Dad made a jaunt down south to infiltrate the land of Cowboys. We were nervous, excited, and completely oblivious to what we were going to get ourselves into. Not many of us have spent much time in the Sooner state. Hell, with the weather we were having it had been nearly 3 weeks since I had rode my bike outside. The one thing we knew about this race was rain was in the forecast. Rain or not, we didn't care. We were just looking forward to being outside.
So...much kudos to the Land Run 100 promoters. Once we rolled up to the starting line, it was obvious that this crew was putting on a class act event. It almost had the feel of a minature DK 200 (or the DK before it blew up). The lead promoter gave his pre-race speech laying down his vision of,"Unlearn Pavement". Then...it began to rain. Not for long...thankfully...and we began to roll out.
TRW was giddier than 3yr old at Christmas. We were actually riding our bikes...riding on gravel...red clay gravel that is. A surface we are not accustomed to here. At times is was smooth and fast, at other times it was loose and sandy, and other times it was ripped to shreds. Who cared...once again we were outside on our bikes!
For 15 miles we rode due east without turning...then we turned south (and I'm not saying that as a figure of speech, a pun, you know what I mean). Riding south on this very day was very similar to receiving a continuous punch in the face for 40 more miles until we reached out checkpoint. Oklahoma played host to possibly the worst head wind that one could ever experience. I wish I had a metaphor that truly embelished the suffering it provided. One gentlemen after the race said it was a sustained wind of nearly 25-30mph...and that's not mentioning the 45mph gusts. Our checkpoint was south...there was nothing we could do except get in a line and keep turning the cranks. At one point in a flat section (which there weren't many) I looked at my computer and it said 8mph. I was hurting. Turbo turned to me and said he was hurting (which when Turbo is hurting something is not right). We even passed a storm chaser on the side of the road which left an unverving feeling in my belly.
From the start to the checkpoint it was 57 miles. It may have been the slowest 57 miles I've ever ridden. As we rolled in my legs were cramping and what started out as a great time had turned into a state of misery. Grinding through the wind didn't give much opportunity to fuel the body as for we were to concerned about keeping control of our bikes and not being blown over. I was contemplating throwing in the towel. Many of the locals were, but after eating a half dozen pickles, a banana, taking some endurolytes, an ibprofen, and guzzling some fluids, the entire TRW took out to finish the race.
Just think...Stillwater was north of the checkpoint, so we should get an awesome tail wind right? Well, I do think we got a tailwind, but of course the wind died down. Oh well, the second leg was like an entire new ride. There was a slight drizzle when we left, but it went away, I was feeling great. Turbo and I took off. Of matter of fact, I felt like we were flying. Rolling hard, keeping a good clip, and feeling nice and healthy. This is what gravel was all about...seeing rolling hills out in the distance, dodging gun shots fired by Okee rednecks, weaving out of the way of armadillos, and counting the number of old toilets and bed matresses lying in ditches. This was all fun until Turbo said, "We're at mile 90!" Hell yes! None of us could ever think of a time we'd rode a century this early in the year, especially with not much training under our legs. Then at about mile 95ish the rain came...it didn't just come though, It flowed with anger.
Turbo and I stopped, I put on my rain jacket, and we tried to push through as fast as we could before the roads got nasty. Now, please remember that the Okee gravel is unlike the gravel of MO. It's that red sticky crap. We pedaled hard, but the roads kept getting slicker, then mudier, and then we crested a hill. At the bottom of that hill we saw a couple of riders just standing there. I'd seen this before. I started having flashbacks of Dirty Kanza from two years ago. Turbo flew down the hill with no problem. Myself on the other hand began to collect heavy clay that was sticking in my fork. My wheel wouldn't turn. Hike a bike it was. Turbo turned and waited, while the other guys were like, "how is that dude riding through this stuff?" I had to explain some simple laws of physics...Turbo weighs a buck ten and had a much larger tire clearance with his 38c's and fork (wish I was riding Continentals on this day). Turbo kindly waited for me. I cleaned off more crap from my bike and tried to ride. My deraileur was making funny sounds and I was just collecting more and more Okee dung. Soon we saw more riders with broken deraileurs, broken chains, and pissed because they couldn't ride.
The sticky roads are just beginning.
A couple of stranded guys said we were about 5 miles from pavement and they called in the race director to bring in the sag. Turbo went ahead because he somehow was able to pedal through the quagmire. Myself...I put the bike over my shoulder and kept walking. All this time I started to wonder, how freakin' long am I going to hike-a-bike and what the hell are Stoney and Nick doing. It wasn't long before the sag wagons rolled through. They pulled up right where our next turn was. There was about five of us. Knowing that we were close, the first thing I asked the guy was how far we were from pavement. He kept saying we were about 3 1/2 miles from pavement. OK...but how were the roads???? Were they rideable? The fella said no freakin' way and they were telling sag wagons to not even come if they didn't have 4-wheeled drive. One sag dude said they were beginning to think that only 20-30 riders would probably finish now. 3 1/2 miles of walking...I thought no way. I could hike another mile, but not 3 1/2 more. Disappointed, I through my bike in the back of the sag crews truck...less that 10 miles to go.
So, as the sag truck dropped us off at the finish, Turbo rolled through the finish line. High fiving Turbo, he asked, "What the heck happen?" I told him the story. He then told me those dudes were full of it. I would of only probably had to hike a little over a 1/2 mile to hit rideable rodes. Anger boiled...it's my first DNF ever, and it wasn't because I didn't have enough energy, I was just so damn disappointed in myself. It wasn't much long after Nick came grudging through telling stories of his Okee survival. We drank our free hand crafted beers. Stoney finally rolled in finishing a big fat 3rd in the single speed division. Nice freakin' work Stoney!!!! I couldn't imagine suffering through those 107 miles on a single speed. That's why you're a bad ass Stoney. By the way Stoney...as it always seems to go, when we ride together crazy shit happens.
As miserable as a day it was, there were no regrets. The Land Run 100 is an event I can definitely see many of us going back to. This was a top class event. Well organized, great people, a great community, an awesome block party, and a bunch of people that love the dirty roads of gravel just like we do. Thanks to Terry, Nick's dad, for being our sag for the weekend, and a big thanks to the folks at District Cylces and Bobby the race promoter. Our fist century of the year under our belts and only more gravel to come!