The Race: DAMn Gravel Road Race. 240 miles of mostly gravel, farm roads, and MMRs, with a bit of pavement to link together the goodness. Starts at 12a on 8.15 and ends at 12a on 8.16. 24 hours for 240 miles. Starts in Gary, SD. Ends in Hager City, MN.
Pre-Race: We arrived in Gary right on schedule around 745p. We got a prime parking spot for the night right in front of Buffalo Ridge Resort. First order of business was packet check in. Due to COVID this was an outdoor and masked affair. My brother Eric, Father, Norm, and Girlfriend Alycia took some photos and looked around while I checked in. Pretty standard affair for a race check, minus the waiver we had to sign for COVID. Received my goodie bag, shirt, bib etc. I even won a prize. $40 gift card to Pactimo! I never win anything so this was a surprise.
After the packet check in, it was time to eat. We set up our little bike packing stove to boil water for our Backpacker’s Pantry meals and oatmeal right there on the sidewalk. At this point we had about 4ish hours to kill before the race started. Perfect time to digest a good meal. While the water boiled, I got a chance to look around Buffalo Ridge and see the blocks around the buildings continue to fill up with excited racers and crew. The stoke was high. After about 4 packs of oatmeal, water and good conversation it was time to try and settle in and catch as much relaxation as possible. This moment was kind of surreal for me. This was the first gravel event I have read about in 2017, one late night in my brother's kitchen while deciding what to do for an endurance event. Reading about this race was what got me into gravel biking and down a more adventure side of cycling. It was great to finally be here, preparing to race. Around 11p and 2 hours of rest and watching Netflix, it was time to dress and assure my bike was ready for the challenge. I dressed and went through my pre-ride routine of filling bottles, checking air pressure, lubing my chain, and assuring my bags were packed right. I also took the time to assure my crew knew the nutrition plan and bike work due each aid stop. Due to COVID, there were no official aid stops. You were allowed to select three spots on course to meet your crew for aid. And just like that it was time to make way to the start line… I felt good. I have never had this consistent of a year of training and prep work for anything. I have done the work. I am where I am supposed to be. It was chilly. My body was primed and ready.
Once at the start line, my crew and I got some photos, exchanged our good lucks and see you soons. I went off to join the other riders and wait for the start. This race has a very unique start with fireworks! Very exciting way to start. After a few moments of reflection and excitement, there were fireworks in the starry sky and it was time to roll.
Start to Mile 60: Just like that we were off into the dark for 240 miles of awesome gravel. I was very excited and couldn’t believe I was here doing this race. I had a bit of uncertainty of what laid ahead. The first 60 miles was pretty straight forward. Right turn, then left and straight for 18 miles, right turn, left turn, straight. It was a gorgeous night to be out. It was exciting to be riding in a group. Got a great draft for the first hour. Roads were dry and dusty, which made the lighting challenging at times. My expectations for this section was to start off with good fueling and eating habits and to settle into a good rhythm. These were easily accomplished. It was quite nice to bike through the night. Time and distance become relative. Time melted away. I did my best to look up and enjoy the sky and stars and darkness. I had a few moments of totally aloneness and they were amazing. To be with oneself, in the middle of nowhere, doing what they want. Had to stay focused though on the roads. Most of the roads in this section were good, a few questionable sections and areas, but easily navigable in the dark. Body was feeling good. No pains, issues or niggles to start. All of a sudden, I was at mile 55 and almost to my first aid stop at mile 60ish. Things were just clicking along. Navigating was proving to be much easier then expected on the cue cards. Using my headlamp to read the text on the cue cards was key. Also, if unsure of a turn you could see taillights for quite some distance and could trust they made the right turn.
I rolled into the first the first aid station right on time at 430a. I set a goal of 10 min in each aid station. Crew had a chair and was ready for me. Little bit of coffee, gatorade, and a croissant for me while the crew lubed my chain and refilled h2o. It was nice to check in and see my crew. The next 60 miles I knew was going to be tough for me. Sunrise.
Mile 60 - Mile 122: I was encouraged when I left the first aid stop. Sun was going to be coming up, I was fed and watered and I had just seen my crew. In the first 30min I had some of the best solo dark gravel road bike riding ever. I felt so free and remote. I felt strong and a cyclist. That feeling didn't last long. We were following a river and there was more undulation and the sun was starting to peak beyond the horizon. The fog was beginning to show. I felt sleepy and time became long. Weird how elastic time is. As the sun continued to rise I found myself with another cyclist. No one else around. We biked up, down and around. In the rising sun, fog burning off the farm fields. It was almost spiritual. No words were spoken. Just silently moving forward together.
The river road dumped me into Morton, MN around mile 85. Stopped refilled my bottles, had a snack, used the bathroom and I was off again. The next gravel segment took us to a beast of MMR at mile 94. Steep grades 15%+, super rocky. Hike a bike. I was able to ride a small segment in the middle. Then more hike a bike. Then boom, dumped us into the middle of a farm field. This was the beginning of the middle section of DAMn, straight farm roads.
The sun was rising as was the temperature. I knew I had about 27 miles to the next aid at mile 122. Now that it was light, I was actually taking stock of my body. In the dark, there was just movement and all senses directed towards biking. My body was feeling good, very good. Seat was starting to get a little sore but nothing unusual. Some of these gravel roads had loosish rock with some fresh poured sand in the middle strip. Picking a correct line became critical. I threw on some Kill Rob Bailey in my ear phones, went into my drops and just went for the next 20ish miles. I was actually passing people. Some looked like they were struggling. This to me was quintessential MN gravel. Straight roads, corn, soy beans, and sun with the odd cow in the mix. I loved this. These roads can be a mental struggle, due to the straightness and lack of cover. Not today, I was game ready. I continued on, savoring that I was in DAMn and feeling good. I fueled with Clif chews, Untapped maple waffles, Clif bars, water, and salt pills. Just clicking along. Not much up and down, more straight and flat.
I came in mile 122, aid station 2, feeling good and right on schedule about 930a. Crew was ready for me. Took a seat in the chair, had a croissant and gatorade. Nice to catch up with my crew about what they were up to. They once again lubed my chain, checked air pressure. Refilled me with a gallon of water and fuel. I knew this next section was going to get warm, not hot. I was excited. Before I took off I turned on my David Goggins “Can’t Hurt Me” audiobook. Who doesn't stay focused listening to David Goggins? Mile 122-181: Heading into this next section I knew things were going to start to get interesting. We had a mix of straight flat farm roads then into more hilly terrain as we moved near Henderson, MN. This was also going to be the warmest part of the day as well. I knew it would be key to stay on top of my hydration, nutrition, and mental game.
The first 20 miles of this section were consistent and pretty even. What a great way to see our state! Not much to report on, just eating and drinking. Around mile 144ish, a few miles before Henderson, is when things got interesting. I also believe this where a bike shop had a tent up offering cold drinks. I had the best cold Sprite ever. We started to have some pretty serious rollers and then a fast downhill right into Henderson. I stopped in the shade of a tree to refill bottles from the bladder and have a waffle. Then through town over the river and up a monster gravel climb. I believe it was a category 4 climb? Steep pitches. I didn't know if I should do it. I didn't want to burn too many matches. I was with 2 other cyclists and I decided for my ego to gut it out. Ha. It was a rewarding climb. Probably the hardest gravel climb I have ever done. Little did I know there was more to come in the last section. It was amazing to see all that we were seeing. Parts of what we were seeing only people who lived there will see. Some would call the landscape boring. To me it is unforgettable. After that climb, the mini rollers started to become the norm. My quads/knees were feeling good but I was unsure. In the past for long rides over 100 miles I have had issues with quad/knee pain cramps. So far so good. All my rolling and trigger point work over the past several months has helped. The landscape was starting to change with the rollers. More population. More trees. More residential houses. Gravel was in good condition. Amazing part of biking across a state is you can see how the geography and farm land and towns changes each mile. The scenery was unforgettable. We had some pretty cool “wild” plains sections here. The grasses and crops added to the humidity. Around mile 170, south of New Prague, the rollers started to become more serious. I knew this was going to be the rest of my day. Rollers and they were only going to get more serious. My mental state was good but tired. My seat was hurting. I started to stand on the pedals a lot more. I listened to my audiobook and music throughout this section. The miles clicked by. Machine at work. Pedal, eat, drink. Time was elastic again. Parts flew by, other parts dragged. I tried to focus my best on one cue card at a time. That's all that mattered. There were still a lot of miles left. Food and water were sitting well. I was having a lot of hunger in this section. I continued to shovel in the calories. I attempted to eat a bit more than scheduled to help stave off hunger. The hunger did not affect my energy. Luckily for us, we were having a great day weather wise. Never got too hot. Never got too humid. We even had some decent cloud cover at time.
All of a sudden I was at mile 180 and knew Aid 3 was going to roll up soon. I was excited. I rolled into the van with encouragement from the crew! I arrived right on time around 315p. Once unsaddled, I was informed that that was a very good section. It was faster than my section 2! I was surprised. It didn't feel faster. It was geographically hard then section 2. My consistency was paying off. I might not be the fast rider, but I am consistent. This boosted my confidence.
At the aid I had a gatorade and about a half of croissant. I took a bit longer as I felt dehydrated/thirsty a bit. I drank all 120 oz over the last 5ish hours. I knew higher sodium protocol was working. I was thirsty but not over thirsty and I had no salt stains. My seat could also benefit from a bit of an extended break. The gatorade never tasted so good. I grabbed a light jacket and stuffed it into my cargo bibs. I was excited! Only 60 miles left to WI and the end! Man how the day flew by. It was like all of a sudden I was almost done! I was determined. This last section was going to be the hardest physically and mentally. So close but yet so far away. So many giant rollers ahead. I saddled up fully refilled. My crew had attached my handlebar lights, a new rear light, and put my headlamp on my helmet. I felt confident and proud. Off I went towards WI. I was doing it!!
In my head I was thinking, I never thought I would be here. I dreamed of this race. Wondered about this race for 3 years. I was here doing it and doin it well. That's an amazing feeling. I had done the work to be here. Mile 181-241: I left aid 3 ready for the challenge ahead. I was excited. I knew I could finish. The main thing I remember from this section is rollers. Up and down, up and down. I have never seen rollers like this before. My quads never stopped screaming. About 3-4 miles after the aid stop, I hit the first monster roller. I recall 4 monster rollers in this section that I had to walk up. The first one had loose gravel. I got a terrible run up and spun out about a ¼ of the way up. This was actually a good thing. I knew I could make it up but I would burn too many matches and sabotage my legs for the lesser rollers. Many of these roads were just rollers upon rollers. It was great fun to scream downhill. I was so focused on the ups and then downs, all i really remember for the first 35ish miles of the last segment was rollers. Focusing.
There were quite a few more paved segments in this section compared to the first several. We were nearing more populated areas. The race was really starting to string out. I was alone more and more. Only seeing the same few people as we yo-yoed. The setting sun was still hot and I could feel myself burning. I did my best to stay on top of water and calories. I could feel my focus shifting from nutrition and hydration to focusing on the hills. We crossed Hwy 52 around mile 213 and hit the biggest monster of the day. What a climb. It was hard to hike up. It was due east so the sun was on backs. Just felt the heat. There were several cyclists resting along the way up. Most of us hiked up. At the top there was a surprise from The Hub Bike shop. Water and pickles. I got a fresh bottle of ice water and ate a couple of the best pickles ever. Amazing. I felt instantly refreshed. The next 25 miles were pretty much solo. I felt alive, engaged, and free. Just focus on one hill at a time and one cue card at a time. There was some pretty neat scenery throughout this section. Rolling farm hills with the setting sun. I loved it.
We hit another giant hike a bike hill around mile 220. A few cyclists rode/hiked by and I was alone again. A small pavement stretch through White Rock, then back to gravel for one of the mentally longer rolling hill stretches. Just seemed to be endless up and down. With the sun at my back, this was the most memorable scenic part of the race.I just kept moving forward. I came to the end of that stretch and stopped to savor what I had just experienced. I was at mile 230. I was almost done. The sun was setting on a perfect day. My nutrition had gone out the window on this section. I was just drinking and eating enough to keep moving. I was powered by motivation and guts. I had 3 miles of pavement to the right turn on to a MMR. I was ecstatic. This last section was the hardest but I seemed to be enjoying it the most. Joy in struggle. I took that right turn and down we went on a very nice MMR. We had a great down hill for what seemed like miles. I was all alone and I savored the moment. It was a green tunnel. The last bit of dirt before the end. My emotions were high.
I rolled into Red Wing as it was getting dark and I was right on pace to finish right at 9pm. There were even hills in Red Wing ha. Legs were beat. Made my last few turns and I was going up and over the bridge into WI! I was so excited. I fist pumped and let loose a yell! I did it. Getting to the finish line was a bit tricky coming off the bridge onto a construction road and torn up sidewalk. I navigated that and put some power down to get into the finish line fast! All of a sudden I was there! I could hear my crew cheering for me as I rolled across the finish! I finished right at 9p. 21 total hours! I was excited and tired. The finish didn't seem real. The finish line was a blur. Photos. Good jobs. Hugs. Receiving my finisher beer glass. Feeling of accomplishment. The true feeling of accomplishment had not settled in yet. Everything felt right. What a day. A true gravel grinder. I was a DAMn Champion.
The Crew L to R: Eric, Dad, Alycia
The trusty steed.
Totals for the Day: Time: 21 hours Moving Time: 19:25:06 Overall Avg Speed: 11.4 mi/hr Elevation Gain: 7,444ft Calories Burned: 15,446 Calories Ate: 6,475 Calories/Hr: 308 cal/hr Water: 472oz Water/Hr: 22.5 oz/hr Sodium: 15,830 mg Sodium/Hr: 753 mg/hr