A belated Spotted Horse 2019 recap...
So I had such a horrendously amazing time in 2018 at Spotted Horse that I found myself with a driving companion on the road to Madison County, Iowa this year. After 6 hours and a few coffee detours, we were back at Madison County Winery for packet pickup. For the first time this year, they also offered camping up the hill onsite. We hung out and chatted with familiar faces for a little while. I was prepared for a nice long ride...under-recovered from Delta Epic
, work and coming off night shifts (how does this always happen??), and the resulting upper respiratory infection. I joked that I at least had had the sense to gear down to 42x20. Southwest Iowa gravel doesn't mess around.
I knew we were in for trouble a week before, when Sarah Cooper wrote in an email to me, "looks like the weather should cooperate!" This is the equivalent of saying the s-word (slow) or the q-word (quiet) in the ER. It's basically an invitation for shit to happen.
Sure enough, we awoke at 4am to rain and the promise of lightening storms for the next few hours. Riders hung out in the winery barn waiting for it to pass. The 6am start ended up being delayed until more like 6:30 (Sarah and Steve may be sadists, but they're still human and would prefer you die by collapsing on a 20% grade gravel hill, not by being struck by lightening.) I felt better seeing all the Iowans bundled up too, concerned that the 90 degrees I'd left behind in Oklahoma had made me overly soft. Although more than one person commented that I was already off to a better start this year, as at least everything was appropriately attached to my bike (see 2018
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
After the first storm cell had blown through, we took off in the rain and dark, with the warning that we may hit a second round of lightening in the first few hours, and, you know, exercise common sense and try not to die. 50-some people departed, but the cacophany of wet brakes squealing on the descent out of the winery made it sound like 100.
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
I kept the boy in sight for the first five miles and then let him go. On a titanium Fargo he was well-equipped to handle wet slushy-chunky gravel (also, you know, gears). I settled in somewhere in the middle, letting my SS gearing dictate my pace and rhythm as I've learned to do. It got lighter outside, although calling it "sunny" would've been an overstatement. I rolled into the first Casey's at mile 34...it seemed too early to stop, but I had to make some adjustments to my gear anyway. I pulled off my Pogie lights and stowed them in my seat bag, as a pair of Handup Chill gloves + surgical glove liners were proving to be sufficient, and adjusted the unfortunate self-loosening Boas on my beat-up Northwave mtb shoes as well. I have a new pair of Shimano RX8's that I'm reviewing, but I couldn't fit my thicker socks into them well, and to be honest, they're pretty and I didn't want to destroy them on only their second voyage😂 A stop inside for coffee, snickers, and a pee break again seemed like a luxury this early and certainly ate up more time than I would've liked, but rule #1 - take care of yourself first. I left this Casey's with Cory Rood, who reminded me that this was the same fated place we found each other last year...except that was 30-some miles from the end, and not the start. And just like before, we were cold and wet.
|Photo credit: David Markman Outdoor Photography|
Another handful of miles up and down and up and down (seriously, that's all Iowa roads do), and there it was. B road #1. Single speeds at least allow the luxury of not worrying about shearing off a derailleur, but I stopped riding after about 5 feet when the mud started to pile up. God bless this bike but there's not a heck of a lot of clearance (read: any.) I could see a smattering of people in front of me hoofing it; at the same time, thunder and lightening started up again. I swore for the first time - not at Cooper, but at The Boy, whose tire tracks I could definitely identify alongside a lot of footprints. Of course he was able to ride this.
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
At the end of the B road, after much scraping of mud, I went back to riding the rolling hills, pounding up the first few just to get warm again. Not that you have much choice on one gear. Because it wouldn't be Spotted Horse without at least a few mishaps, my Camelbak spout piece randomly fell off the hose in the middle of one of these uphills, around mile 60-something. This has never in my life happened before. There I was, just chillin' going up another 12% grade, probably singing out loud because that happens a lot, and WHOOSH. Total emptying of Camelbak contents on right leg/ground. Also a trek back down the hill to retrieve the Camelbak doohickey. Swearing. Going back up the hill. Contemplating of the two half-full bottles on my frame, which were absolutely covered in muck after the B-road. Contemplating of what all the Iowans had said about the proportion of cow dung likely to be in that muck since it hadn't rained in a while. Contemplating of definite dehydration vs definite giardia. Decisions, decisions.
Cresting a hill, I saw photographer extraordinaire/gravel friend David Markman (Markman Outdoor Photography
) pointing a camera my way. I made some faces, as one does. I also assumed correctly that this meant there was another B road right behind him. F&ck.
|Mud or chocolate on face. Photo credit: David Markman Outdoor Photography|
At the entrance to B road #2 I found my Iowa spirit brother Lucas Barloon and his stoker pulled over for a break and some bike maintenance. Yes, stoker, because they were doing this on a tandem for some strange reason. They had been having some technical difficulties with chains and bottom brackets, and may have capsized or launched each other off the bike a couple times. They looked like they were still having a blast though. Lucas yelled "Giardia party!!" as we began another ankle deep mud-trudge, which was absolutely hilarious in the moment. And hey, the sun was out this time, at least it wasn't lightening?
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
Whatever came between B road #2 and B road #3 is just a black hole in my memory, but all the pictures of me are variations on going-uphill-covered-in-varying-degrees-of-mud-and-wet, so it's a safe assumption that it was sunny but still wet, and I went uphill a lot. The whole course is quite pretty, even in the rain.
B road #3 was the muddiest (well, I dunno about 4 and 5 because it was pitch dark, but we'll get there.) This was where I first crossed paths with my new friend Rob (more foreshadowing.) I mumbled some epithets about Camelbaks since I had now been dry for a long time thanks to the earlier Camel-gate (and had drunk from my giardia bottles, deciding to deal with the consequences later). We wobbled largely independently up a decent pitch, and cresting the hill, saw the Cooper-mobile in the distance. At the end of the B-road I stopped to de-mud my unfortunate bicycle and talk to Sarah and Eric.
Sarah said, "Are we still friends?"
"Ugh ghjdkfh yes," I said. "I'm just not friends with myself."
While I sat in the grass, she also told me that I was the third or so woman overall. I wondered how that happened on one dumb gear, but whatever. It got me moving again.
I gave her my shoe covers, as she was collecting various people's destroyed covers and taking them to the finish to be retrieved later. Seriously, I'm just going to start buying a new pair of shoe covers in anticipation of Spotted Horse every year. See the end of this post for "shoe cover graveyard" photo.
|Even my uber-mountain biker had to walk this section. Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
The checkpoint just past mile 100 was not that far away. It helped that the checkpoint consisted of some of my favorite volunteers who had the back of their car stashed with chips, cookies, and water. Deanne was excited to offer me plastic bags (after 2018's plastic bag-enabled finish), but I was super smart this year and had actually managed to start the race with my feet already in plastic bags, which is the ideal way for that to happen. I know I was already a little gone at this point, because she tried to give me a yellow pipe cleaner, and I got mad and demanded a pink one 😆 I believe I was then offered as many pipe cleaners in as many colors as my heart desired. I also asked after the boy, and was told that he was approximately 50 minutes ahead and had continued on the 200 mile route.
Part of the mind-f&ck of Spotted Horse is that the 150 & 200 mile courses diverge only at this checkpoint. You have the option to drop down to the 150 here. Presenting people with the option to take the short route when their brains and bodies are depleted...evil. Pure evil. I love it.
Well I sure as hell wasn't going to bring shame upon our gravel-power-coupleness by being the one to drop down. I had figured on around a 10pm finish, but a few hours of hike-a-bike had, um, greatly extended that time estimate. I rode to the Casey's just down the road to re-supply, and it was littered with haggard, muddy people dropping down to the 150. I had a brief conversation with myself about how dumb it was to keep riding the full 200 given that it was going to get cold and involve a lot of hours in the dark with lights I wasn't sure would last the whole way, and then went and did it anyway. A group that I thought contained my new friend Rob from the last B road rolled out a few minutes ahead of me, and I got my act together in hopes of rolling back up to them when dusk hit. See 2018: "find a friend for the dark."
Somewhere in this time interval, I got a text message from The Boy that just said "dropping to 150." I yelled a lot out loud and then called him to try and yell at him, but his phone wasn't working. I should really thank him because I got a good ten or so rage-fueled miles out of this. A car of random dudes also rolled by me and asked me if I was on the 200 course? They were looking for the 150 to SAG some more people in. They were stoked to find a single speed woman still hammering out 200, and offered me a Starburst. I told them that if they ran into a tall man on a titanium Salsa Fargo on the 150 course that that was my boyfriend and to please PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE for taking the short route, and also to please tell him to have fun waiting for me until 2am. They looked very serious and a little scared of me and said, "No Starbursts for him."
I rode solo and pulled over when it got dark enough to need lights to hook my main light up to its battery pack again. Just as I was getting ready to roll again, I heard someone coming up the hill behind me. It turned out it was Rob. This was a huge weight off, as I was worried about my light situation. I had two cheap-o Amazon.com lights that get about 50-100 lumens for backup, but that's less than ideal. Also, night riding tends to go way better with some company.
The following miles could be entitled "how not to go about your evening on a bike."
We did a lot of stopping due to my dumb brain. First, I decided I needed my jacket back on (it was actually getting really cold, and got back down into the 20s overnight.) I didn't want to bother to take my Camelbak off, so I put my jacket on over my Camelbak. Then, my light died, and my first backup light was in the pocket of my Camelbak, which was under my jacket. I promised my new friend that I wasn't crazy or dysfunctional at baseline, just loopy. He cut me a lot of slack on account of my one gear 😅 Then we both missed a turn and ended up on a bridge, and since we were stopped, I put my Pogies back on to save my now-freezing hands. While we were standing on that bridge around 10pm, there were several LOUD splashes. We peered over into the water and then decided we didn't really want to know what was going ker-plunk in the night.
After all this stop-and-go finally sorted itself out, we made a turn and hit...mud.
"But she said there were no more B roads," we said (dammit Cooper!)*
"Maybe there was a re-route stake that we missed," we said.
"I guess we're walking down this damn road in the dark," we conceded.
Fortunately, it wasn't a long one. Unfortunately, a couple miles later, there was a second bout of mud-road. Hilariously (and no doubt, purposefully), there's a perfectly good stretch of actual ride-able road in between that would've totally avoided these sections. Of course. Thanks Sarah!
*Cooper claimed after the fact that she didn't count them because "they weren't B roads a few days ago." Sigh.
|Photo credit: Eric Rocasecca|
The Murray Casey's occurs 35 miles from the finish, and we dreamed of hot coffee while watching the clock. We were cutting it close after another round of extra B-road time. Just about a mile away, Rob's light was failing, and he stopped to replace the battery, telling me to go on ahead. I was hesitant to leave him alone since he'd stuck by me through my light kerfuffles, but I was freezing and promised to plow through to Casey's and wait for him there. I pulled into the parking lot at 10:52pm, smiled real nice at the young lady behind the counter and mentioned that there was another desperate rider just a few minutes behind me. They'd already dumped the coffee so I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and another protein bar, paid and asked to use the restroom before she closed. Jenn Borst and another Bike Iowa rider were getting ready to leave as I was still messing around inside, and I think the poor Casey's staff just resigned themselves to waiting on us. My restroom stalling bought enough time for Rob to show up, dash in and grab a cup of hot chocolate. I stuffed a bunch of newspaper someone had left behind down my coat and jersey for insulation, and we headed back out, half-delirium mode in full effect. Someone had left a can of WD-40 outside Casey's which brought back memories of last year (I actually messaged Cory the next day to see if it was him.)
We leap-frogged each other small distances which is just what happens when a single speed and a geared bike ride together, but mostly stayed in step. I was out-running my 100 lumens on those downhills fast, and thus riding pretty cautiously. The only moment I have specific memories of is when I was scared by a large cow. I heard a lot of rustling over to the right while halfway up a steep climb, and my brain started to try and figure out my bail-out strategy if/when a deer dashed in front of me. Instead I looked over and saw a very large cow shuffling around. I yelled "COW" in surprise and Rob, behind me, said "oh."
In the last ten miles, Rob brought up the fact that we were probably some of the last people out on the course, as we were among the last people to actually make the checkpoint cutoff, and to decide to actually continue on. He really wanted the Lanterne Rouge award. I figured I was winning the women's single speed 200, and he had put up with me for hours, so he could have whatever he wanted as far as I was concerned. Our spirits definitely picked up as we came within 5 miles of the finish. We doubted there would be anyone actually at "official" line (which is on the last gravel road), but there was one of the RDs, hanging out in the Jeep. Official times were recorded. Things were probably said that my brain does not recall at all. We rolled from there back up to the winery, where a good number of people were still hanging out. I wasted no time giving the boy hell, and here's how that conversation went, for your entertainment:
AT: "WHY did you drop down to the 150 and :LEAVE ME OUT THERE?"
SD: "My feet were cold."
There you have it. His feet were cold.
AT: "ALL OF ME HAS BEEN COLD FOR THE PAST 6 HOURS."
SD: [puppy dog face] "But...I won the 150??"
And, lest you think I'm the only crazy one:
SD: "Also they said all the B roads were done by that point, and that was the most fun part."
Then I ate the remaining chips and salsa at 2am in the winery barn while Sarah pulled my wet muddy socks and shoes off my feet, even though I told her she really didn't want to touch my feet right now. Rob got his DFL award (a nice headlamp.) People stood on podiums.
The date for 2020 has already been set for October 24th. So...snow?