BaseCamp alumnus Kathy Duryea shared her experience at Unbound Gravel 2022.
Unbound 200 Gravel Bike race recap! Warning: keep reading only if you have time for 1,500 words.
Unbound 200 – June 4, 2022
A 6:06am start time for a 200-mile gravel bike race through the flint hills in and around Emporia, KS.
I was mesmerized by the gravel roads leading us through lush meadows, rolling hills with cattle sprinkled on both sides of us.
I felt at home on my bike and the first 40 miles of the race flew by. Several packs of riders formed making for a fun, brisk pace.
I rode with T.J. Morton (a fellow Basecamp member) to the neutral water stop at mile 40. This checkpoint sat at the top of a hill. As soon as I could find a place to pee behind a few volunteer cars in the meadow, we got back on the gravel road. On the bumpy downhill descent that followed, I immediately threw my chain off and had to stop and put it back on. In the process, I lost contact with T.J. for most of the day. I would not see him again until 15 miles before the finish.
The area had some pretty heavy rains a few days before the race, and the course was rerouted from the original planned 205 miles down to 200 (to avoid 2 unsafe flooded river crossings). The rain created some muddy sections that were like peanut butter (black gumbo dirt and red clay make peanut butter when wet, as well as some brown mud as found here in the flint hills of Kansas).
Michelle Hildebrand had warned me, "When you see the mud bogs, don’t try to ride them. Get off and carry your bike before the mud builds up on your frame and it gets too heavy to carry."
I dismounted, carried my bike for as long as I could, then had to put it down. I'll just "roll" it for a short time, I thought to myself. What about that hay-looking grass off to the right of the culvert? Everyone before me has beaten down a path through it. That won’t cling to my tires, will it?
Well…yes, it clings and clogs just as well, pulling not only the mud into your cog set and chain, but also the grass. Before long, a combination of mud and grass was jammed in my frame stopping my wheel from turning, and I was dragging, then cleaning out the mud (with a mud tool Elizabeth Aguilera "SoloWatts" told me to take) and carrying my bike some more. Soon, I gave up hopes of not getting too much mud on my shoes – it was futile. Our shoes became oversized, and we all looked like we are walking in clown shoes. I laughed at the thought of it.
I grew to enjoy each separate mud section we faced (I think 3 in total). It was a chance to stretch my back and use different muscles. It added an element to the race other than cycling. At the end of the first mud section, Kuat was having a contest to win a free bike rack. All I had to do was throw a disc toward a disc golf goal and get the closest. The Kuat guy told me to aim to the right because the wind would pull it left. I aimed so far right I threw it in the deep grasses of the meadow, over the fence. Winning a new bike rack was not in my cards today.
With mud comes flooded creek crossings, and a great place to rinse off our shoes and our drivetrains. As I was stood in the fast-flowing current, scrubbing my bike, the current caught my mud tool and took it from my hand. The water was so brown from the flooding I could not see it on the bottom of the creek. Now I’m scrambling, holding my bike up with one hand, while fishing around in the knee-deep water for my tool before the creek washes it away. I found it! Thank goodness, as it would come in handy twice more down the road.
I saw Johnan and the pups at mile 80 checkpoint, received my resupply of bottles and food, got a quick chain lube by Johnan while I hit the port-o-potty, and I was off again. It was a fast transition, and I was thankful for how great things were going.
This was a race of attrition - not much worry about dehydration with the overcast and rainy sky most of the day, but I saw hundreds of flat tires, as well as crashes or broken bikes in creek crossings from hitting cracks or hidden rocks under the surface of the water. I was happy to stay upright, “no whammies”, and no flats.
And…my nutrition was dialed the best I have done in a long time, thanks to Namrita Brooke.
For each hour, I wanted to consume 24oz of water, 60-75g carbs and 400mg sodium for my body weight. The days leading up to the race I had powder mixes, bars and energy chews calculated into my plan on a spreadsheet I had built. I made sure I hit those numbers in my water bottles per hour. I did supplement with a Bobo bar, a banana, and some Skratch Energy Chews taken with plain water, just to keep my stomach happy late in the race. Nutrition is key in a good performance. I always seem to err on the side of carrying too much (my provisions). But I am Sagittarius and I need provisions, whether I use them or not.
Mile 120 was a neutral water feed, and my fastest transition of all. A kind volunteer held my bike while I filled my bottles with my nutrition, and then she added water to them and rinsed the lids off. At the same time, another volunteer cleaned my glasses and my face with a rag. And I was off…
I started the race with 104 oz of fluids on bike (3 bottles and my hydration pack). I topped off at each checkpoint. The last 40 miles my body craved plain water, so after another mud bog and then seeing Johnan at mile 160 checkpoint, I requested extra water. We ran into Bryan, a friend from TX, and he rinsed off my drive train and lubed my chain. And after a failed attempt to pee using the two truck doors as cover, but then realizing the light was on in the post office, I became too paranoid and shut 'er down.
Another mud bog later, and with about 15 miles to go, up rides T.J. on my wheel and I asked him where he has been. I thought for sure he had already finished. He tells me he had a long checkpoint stop and I probably passed him there.
I was running on fumes by now for lack of enough carb intake in this last segment. I had stopped ingesting my drink mix because my digestive system was not cooperating. My stomach was protesting.
T.J. was riding strong, and he took a pull at the front. I was too toasted to accelerate and stay on, so I continued at my own pace, knowing I’m well on track to beat the sunset. You receive a "race the sun" award if you make it back before 8:45 p.m. (sunset).
A small pace line formed behind me on a straight, flat section, and we rolled into town. I heard a woman’s voice in the line. It was Alabama, who I nicknamed earlier on the ride when we rode together for a brief while and her southern accent gave her home state away.
My second and final wind came on Main Street heading to the finish line. It is a long flat lead-in to the finish with plenty of time to battle it out with your competition. At this point I was riding with Alabama. I had already resolved in my head not to contest her. I doubted she was in my age group. However, it is a race, and I found it easy to get my bus (my 3T bike loaded down with all my provisions) up to speed on a flat road with no wind resistance, and so I cranked it up as high as I could and tucked into aero until I could hear my Enve wheels purr. I didn’t know if she was going to try to come around, but she didn’t, and I crossed the line in front of her, and I heard Johnan cheering on the side. It is always more exciting to me to win a sprint from the front!
There are snapshots etched in my memory forever of this race – the lush meadows and cattle hanging out in the middle of the road, the bull-frogs croaking in the flooded fields, the random squares of Gu Energy chews dropped on the road - a vivid red color contrasting against the muddy film coating the flint rocks, scores of hands digging out mud from between their tires and frames, the mud covered clown shoes, the patterns of pee decorating the sides of the gravel road when a guy was skilled enough to turn to the side while riding and urinating at the same time, the hundreds of smiling volunteers on the course in the middle of no-where, KS, the children clapping, the families in lawn chairs cheering as we passed, not a single chasing dog at our heels, the hills…plenty of hills, the rock…plenty of rocks, and the epic weather (at least it wasn’t hot!).
Many thanks to Johnan, Gracie & Howie for supporting and following me around the 200-mile course all day. Johnan says that Howie said, "It's hard work following you around" as he and Gracie are still in bed (the next day) and being very lethargic.
I had a wonderful time and though I probably could have finished on my own without being a part of Basecamp, there is no way I could have had everything pull together and be so dialed in to have a truly epic ride on this particular day! Basecamp gives me the proper training, motivation, nutrition guidance, comradery, and knowledge to take my abilities to the next level. I was very stoked to have this race under my belt and appreciate the entire Basecamp crew!