I finally pulled away from small talk with folk and pedaled over to the Hardee's gas station combo. Man I love this place. Jeff does a two day CX race at this same venue in the little city park, so I've had many a morning before Hermann races to get my Hardee's breakfast fix. In fact, for the most part its the only time I really eat fast food. Its just their Bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits are so good. Along with them being super calorie and salt dense its the perfect pre big ride meal.
Sorry, so i get my hustle on over to Hardee's and while standing in line decide I'm gonna try something. Get the breakfast meal for breakfast and a extra sandwitch for later in the day. Perfect! I order get food and head back over to the park. Where I see an old friend Christine Ford, and sit down by her and play catch up while shes getting ready for the ride. A few years back Christine was on a big mountain bike New Years Day group ride and a deer ran into her and knocked her silly. It was totally bogus and she suffered some lingering ailments from it for awhile there after. Then last year when she was finally able to safely start riding again she broke her foot. So now she is finally recovered enough from that and made it out to Hermann. Christine is bad ass, She also crushed me at the first Ouachita Challenge I did years ago in 2011. So catch up we did, and sandwich, coffee, and hash browns were consumed. The clock was counting down though so I wished Christine good luck on here first gravel event hustled to the van to get kitted up.
I talk too much sometimes. While getting my kit on I just kept getting distracted with chatting with folks I hadn't seen in for every. Which isn't a bad thing but I need to get my stuff together. Before heading to the start line I snapped this shot.
My eyes are still abit sleepy and best of all, Patrick's face hiding just under my beard and Coach's half face. Cracks my shit up!
We then roll over to the start where I get a few more good pre-ride shots with Jeff Yielding and start line. Not bad.
There were 175 people at the start, not sure on the dnf rate. Later in the day I learned that most a lot of people only finished loop 1 and 2. Good for them, cuz loop 3 was brutal.
Ok so I really don't think that I'm that cool. I know the Tifosi's make me looook like a tool, but there is a story behind them. I got them in 2005 I think from a bike shop that doesn't exist anymore. It was when I was still kinda wearing contacts before my eyes started rejecting them. Now I found some contacts that don't totally destroy my eyes and well since I still have these shades I'm gonna wear 'em till I break or loose 'em. So hello sunglasses sponsors, I'm up for some shades if you wanna see me in them.
I line up next to Turbo(Bryce Hilton). He's the one up front in the red helmet and grey white black kit in the above photo. I've been racing with him like five years now since he was 18. As of recently he has been training under the wing of Drew Edsall's coaching. A good coach and a good student makes for a fast force to be reckoned with. Over the two days of the gravel challenge Turbo held on to the lead group. Its good to see the coaching worked.
So Jeff gets on the back of his truck makes some announcements and then leads us out with a neutral start through little Hermann to the bridge. I'm originally thinking that I'm just going to chill in the group and then destroy it after the first climb thats probably 8 miles out. With the exception of the slight pavement climb and then short decent down to the bridge within the first half mile its all flat. So what do I do, when we crest the hill I remember that you can draft the pace vehicle and god dammit my boy Josh (butthead) Johnson is already up on the bumper. Just a fyi, Josh is a cx/gravel institution. He's been around for along time and is always fast. So its never a bad thing to take a cue from him.
I'm in mid conversation with Turbo as we all crest this hill to head down to the bridge when I turn off talk and turn on attack. I freaking bolt up to that trucks bumper, and its just when we are getting to the bridge and Yielding guns it to drop our ass' and to say its go time. I immediately hop on Buttheads wheel and we are instantly up to 26mph. Then float around the 26, 27, 28mph range. Now I'm on the Bocomo. Its SS with a 38/19, and pushing 29-2.2 tires cuz i'm prepping for Cohutta 100 in two weeks. I'm spun out dooods! At first it wasn't bad then I start to get the blow up feeling. I hang on and just stay in his draft. I'm also positive the whole rest of the field is on my wheel. Well ends up they're not, haha. Just this dude Brian Bradley. Here is the three of us crossing the bridge. We have about 3 more miles of fast open pacelining. I know that where my fitness is this speed is unsustainable. I know because I'm starting to see stars. So I hold on longer. Whats the worst that will happen, I'll blow up and everbody will catch me. Well its not a race, just a competitive bike ride so what do I care plus this is training for Cohutta. Lets just see how ramped I can get my heart rate and still recover. I then begin to fade right about 3/4 of a mile from where we dump into the Katy Trail so I wave Brian on and him and Butthead creep away. Its cool, I've made my bed now time to sleep in it. I look over my shoulder and impressed with the gap we put on the rest of the field, but they are gaining so I get as aero tucked and I can and continue to drill it still holding about 22mph spun the "F" out. I get to the Katy Trail which is a "rails to trails" gravel path and just continue on knowing that my capture is eminent. At about a mile down the trail sure enough the rest of the pack gets me. Its no ish, I just fall into place and try to recover and hold a draft. Its cool, abunch of great folks catch me and we begin small talk. Wes Boyce another dude I've been racing with for years rolls up. He's SS too! We are all cruisin along for the next 8 miles and finally hit legit gravel roads. After a few rollers we hit the first climb that really helps thin the lead group. Its when I first get crazy dropped from the lead group. Also when I realize that big gears with slightly over inflated mtb tires are a bad combo for loose gravel. A real catch 22. The gear was just big enough that I couldn't stay seated on climbs to maintain traction so I'd spin out, but any easier and I couldn't keep up with the fast dooods on the flats and rollers. So heres me grinding up the first major climb after watching the fast guys ride away. Well time to just ride.
So now I just ride my ride and chill with some folks. At mile 17 we hit another decent climb and drop the folks I'm rollin win. I then ride pretty much by myself till I get to back on the Katy trail, when I see my friend Hunter whose last name is also Henry. I work my way up to him and we work together the remaining 8-9 miles back to Hermann park finishing up the first 30 mile loop in 1hr 41 min.
We had pretty much given up any hope that we would catch the lead group, but upon arriving into the park there they were soft pedaling out the driveway beginning the second 32 mile loop. Hot Damn, we got this shit. Hell I still hadn't even really touched my bottles yet and still had a cliff bar so I was good to go. Hunter agreed so we boogied to rejoin the lead group.
Leaving the park we make a few turns and immediately hit a gnarly beast of a paved climb. I start to get slightly boxed in by some of the geared riders which then messes with my natural kick up the hill. I decided to pull around and make a pass to get in front and drill it up to the top. It wasn't an attack, but reason to be the first to rest. The other SSer's were right behind me. Oh yeah there were 3 other SSer's in the lead group which was so rad. Everybody then swallowed me up again and then began a eyewatering super fast long paved decent. I think I was holding 44mph for awhile, when we then hit the next gravel road. Some of the faster geared riders tried to give a little shake out, but we all held on, and then it wasn't more than 5 miles into the second loop when everybody decided on a group potty break. I was good so felt it would be way better for me to just soft pedal until out of distance. Figuring there is no way I will drop them, but at least I won't have to try and hang on and get shelled on the steep gravel climbs again, yeah so I mosey along and let them play catch up.
These games are always fun. Looking behind you knowing its only a matter of time before you get caught, but also knowing that the group is working real well together and being ok with the capture. Cresting big climbs and catching a glimpse over your shoulder across valleys and seeing the group beginning the previous decent into the valley down the gravel road. Not attacking on them, but not soft pedaling either. It cool. After awhile they make their ground on me and I'm in the group again.
After another few climbs we shake out a few more riders. Turbo gets a flat, and says he's cool and will catch up. I don't doubt it. Then I get shook out, too. Man they are pushing a pace! And there are still two SSer's up there. Wes and the other guy. No prob just chill and things will work out. It wasn't long before I catch up to the other SSer who got pooped out not much longer after me. Dude, if you read this my apologies, but I can't remember your name. I do remember you were on a purple Nature Boy and had a little claim to fame by riding a Cannondale CAD9 or 10 or some roadbike last year for this ride, so kudos to that. This SSer and I cruise together for awhile when up comes Turbo, man that kids got power now, and he asks how much further up the lead group is. I guess and say about 5 mins. I then find it a good idea to use Turbo's motivation to cover some ground and almost instantly drop this other SSer with in a few rollers. Turbo then drops me, thats fine, and I fall back to my fast-ish pace.
Ok, so this is where Saturdays ride gets aggravating. After Turbo drops me I'm riding for about 10min by my self I make a turn and get a good view of the lead group about 25 seconds up the road. Awww Shit! Ends up they stopped for another pee break. Really? I proceed to KILL myself to catch 'em. Unfortunately, that 25 seconds then turns into 50second time gap and then they are just out of sight. Harumpff! Back to my pace I guess. So I kick out the remaining 5 or so miles till I get back to Hermann Park. Roll in with cashed out bottles, grab new ones and get none other than that extra bacon egg and cheese biscuit from the morning! In theory its awesome in reality its meh.
Second 32 mile loop is completed and its 3hrs 45 min and about 62 miles into the ride. Not bad i guess. Now is the true test of strength, though. I'm heading out for the last 32 mile loop starting with a 4-5 mile road section by myself spinning my tushy off trying to scarf down this cold dry breakfast sandwich, AND not knowing exactly where or how far up the lead group is? So what do we do? Eat Drink and Motor!
And motor I did all the way until mile 80 where I hit the wall. Not the figurative I bonked wall, but the 1 mile steep as hell climb that literally felt like riding up a wall. I make it about halfway when I begin to think "Walk or Ride?" I'm almost track standing going up this climb, but still going 1mph above walking. My decision was made specifically because of Cohutta once again. Peat, this is good training ripping your own arms off from tugging on the bars and all. So I sally forth, and just barely make it up to the top. Every back tire spin out temping fate on whether I will be forced to walk or not. Moments later I'm rolling with relative ease with only thick lactic acid in the legs to prevent much faster speed. I move forward at least.
Carrying on I begin to think and analyze the lead group and the soul crushing pace they were putting down and start to know that at this mileage is when they start to crack. So I start begging to nobody to please give me just somebody and it wasn't more than a mile later at about 85 miles in that I have my first mirage. It somebody standing next to their bike at the top of one of the last crippling climbs. Of course when I get there their is no one. So I continue on. With in another crippler with a very long straight view I see them, but can't make them out. They are walking their bikes, YES, thats good for me! I have suspicions, but give up on caring who. All that matters is that I have prey, and I am now the predator again. Heads down and I grind up this last beast climb.
After cresting the hill these two mystery riders are in and out of view. I know they are hurting bad though and on the run. They sense that I sense them some. I finally gain on them, and they are two Walt's riders. Petey and some other dude that I kept getting his name wrong so I'm not gonna try now. I make a brief look over on them and well decide to just go ahead and attack on them. I'm feeling good and we have about 4 miles with two really decent road climbs and then about 2 miles of roller down hills back to the park. I think and then know that I got this. I ended up putting such a hurt on those two that they weren't even in sight behind me when looking back on the longest of vantage points. I've got this in the bag, man. Spinning my butt off floating around 20 mph, I keep it a potential concern that they could catch me in these last 2 miles so I keep a watchful eye over my shoulder.
And what happens? I'm sure you can guess. They caught me with in a mile and a half of the finish. These two had gears and mostly down hill. I have a one speed and me with cashed out legs to work with, but I did give it one last valiant effort. Just before they caught me I wound my legs up and was holding 26 mph for until they passed me like I was on blocks. I yell "Where'd you guys get power from?" Petey just looks over at me and smiles, that jerk. There was noway I could hang with that for over a mile so I reigned it in, stayed aero, and kept my spin up. Petey and that other Walt's dude slowly road out of sight. It happens. I was destroying it all day so I wasn't mad, and Petey's young and getting fast so I'm psyched for him. He beat me on day one, but I can still hold it above his head that he didn't show up for day two where I would have crushed him, haha!
I roll into the finish at 5hrs 57 minute with 97 miles on my little 8 function Bontrager computer. I was actually really pumped on that time. Because with the 100 mile NUE mountain bike races I can usually tack on about 1 hr to my 100 mile gravel time. Hermann is not exactly a easy ride. Not saying it compares to Cohutta 100, but it gives me a reference point, anyway. So even if I tack on a hour and a half then my potential Cohutta time will be 7hr 30min. I'm not holding my breath, but it gives me a goal to shoot for.
Can't forget that I was totally wrecked for a little bit after the ride. I just laid in the van for about 20 minutes allowing my body to decompress. It was also then when the theme for the weekend became "There are fast guys, and the guys that can suffer. If the guys that can suffer can hold on for just long enough, then they can over take the fast guys." Now I didn't overtake the fast fast guys, but I was always nipping at their ankles, and thats ok with me for now. Also, remember that beginning of the race
pace line I talked about where I was seeing stars. My heart rate didn't recover from that until about the end of the first loop 30 miles in, haha. One hell of an effort for the start of a 97 mile ride I'd say. Its all fun though to see how the body and when the body will finally crack. And my body did pretty ok. It got me 9th finisher out of 175ish.
But things don't end there my friends.
After cleaning up I got ice for some beers that I had got on the way down. Pounded some Fireball whiskey with Don Daly and friends back at his truck. Then was invited to mexican food with the Dirty Dog Race Pack.
Schrock Bikes & Brews in Mexico, MO straight up caught my bill and what was even funnier is that Don Daly ,mentioned before, started to fight over who was going to pay for my burrito! You guys are too good and much love to ya.
But with every good comes a bad. As every body was leaving and Josh and I finishing up and talking, I get the text from my friend Dwayne that I posted about 1 week ago. The text of our friend AJ Linnell dying in a plane crash. My heart was crippled. I didn't want to be a buzzkill on Josh, but had to mention it so he would understand my change in mood. He understood and had a good heart to heart about life and doing things while we still can and in general just LIVING and being awesome.
So judge if you want, but its what I do. I've had alot of friends pass away on me so what I do is talk to them. I tell them how rad I thought they were in life and how I wish them the best where ever their soul may be now. If you think thats weird or too spiritual or hippie, then you can go suck an egg.
Also,its not that AJ and I were best friends, but I did think he was a super rad dude and felt he had a great positive energy. Well, Saturday night before I passed out I gave AJ a "Whats up man?" and apology for what happened to him. I told him that he will be missed and to not worry, that he's got a bunch of people that care about him. I also, asked him that if he can hear me to do me one favor. Tomorrow, during the Sunday ride, to give me a push every time he thought I needed it. And then wished him a farewell and tried to pass out for the night.
Trying to fall asleep after days like this is always hard. The body is still buzzing, but at some point I was out. One long hard day in the books. One more to go. Hermann Gravel Challenge day 2 is on its way with a quickness. How will it unfold?