Months went by and bit by bit we realized the day of the event was drawing closer and closer. Other commitments meant we really had to save the bulk of our training for the few weeks leading up to the event. We wondered if you really could train yourself for 200 miles of gravel. We did our best and managed a few gravel and road rides close to or a bit over 100 miles and felt like we were ready.
In the weeks leading up to the race, Kansas was getting hammered with more rain than Washington. Mix in a few tornadoes here and there, and we were a bit apprehensive to say the least.
We arrived in Kansas with just enough time to drive to the start in Emporia, put together our bikes, pick up our race packets, eat dinner and settle in for the night only to get up early for the big day.
With a start at 6 am, it meant an early wake up and dark commute to the start. The streets were full of racers, 1200 or so people were lining up to roll out. Temps were cool in the morning, but we knew that would not last. It is quite different hitting gravel roads with that many people, so we kept our cool and stuck together - that was the plan all along. No matter what, we were in this together.
We figured out that the gravel in Kansas is nothing like home. If you stayed in the tracks that cars had carved out, it is practically like riding on the road, which is why the pace was quick. It was cool to watch Jen weave in and out of crowds and even have strings of people line up behind her to follow the excellent lines she was carving. We made it to Aid Station 1 averaging a pretty good pace. We felt confident, but apprehensive too. The next stretch was over 90 miles with only a water stop in between. Riders were responsible for all their own food. Temperatures were starting to rise into the 90’s at this point.
But just before that stop is where Jen started to fall victim to the heat. I was turning the corner of heat exhaustion, but it felt like I had only handed it over to her. When we arrived at the 2nd official Aid Station at mile 150, the volunteers were fantastic, rushing around to bring us whatever we wanted. Coke, pickle juice, sandwiches, Snickers, bottle refills, chain lube, you name it, they had it. After an hour or so, as sunset was fast approaching, Jen was ready to give the last 50 miles a go. We strapped on our lights and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for what we knew was going to be a hard push to the finish, most of which was going to be in the dark.
Soon, with 20 miles to go, we arrived at the Salsa Chase the Chaise lounger where we gladly stopped and posed on the chair. This is fun right? Let’s prove it--anything for a laugh helped. I tried to use my second wind to keep a steady pace to get us to the line before midnight, so we could be members of the (before) Midnight Club. We rolled on and could tell when we were getting closer to Emporia, as townspeople were still out on their front lawns cheering riders on. It was surreal, but we were going to finish this thing. We rolled across the line 3 minutes before midnight, nearly 18 hours after we had started.