A Roadies Landrun 100 Perspective!
By: Neil Chanter
Well, it official the gravel (a complete misnomer – just FYI) gurus are all mad. I knew it was going to be a weird day, when as we left the comfort and beauty of OK asphalt in the first few miles after the start, everyone literally started screaming and hollering – it’s kinda like riding behind a hill climber when they see a hill you can tell they’re getting all excited – except on steroids – it actually frightened me initially – you know how on the road is mostly so quiet – “left turn” “right turn” “slowing” – that’s about it on a road race/ride that’s pushing pretty hard. Here, once we left pavement it was like William Wallace’s Braveheart pre-battle speech had just ended and everyone went nuts…………………if only I knew then what was to follow.
Almost immediately we hit gravel (to start with there actually was some) I could tell my wheel set up was not right. Here came the first rookie mistake. My wheels were too wide for my frame with almost no extra room for clearance and I could feel that sensation of breaking/friction almost immediate with debris between wheel and frame. But we were still going hard, the gravel (there actually was some at the beginning – although it retrospect it might just be a fantasy) was still pretty fast, it wasn’t raining and the wind was behind us. I was hot. Overdressed. The heavy below freezing winter gloves I had on were way too big, way too heavy. And here was rookie mistake number 2. The 50 mile race had rest stops and we were coming up on the first. I threw my gloves to the folks manning the station. Almost immediately two things happened. We turned into a cold cross wind and it started to rain. My hands were literally freezing with 5 minutes of giving up my gloves. I spent much of the rest of the day berating myself for being such an idiot.
Next came the mud. Oh My God. As soon as I hit it, my wheels with no clearance to my frame literally just stopped turning. Literally. Stopped turning. Guys were flying by – “Hey Neil – you ok, man?” I was like “I donno – my wheels won’t turn” – like a baby deer stuck in headlights – I couldn’t really believe what was happening as people kept flying by. Your swag bag at Landrun has the usual bottle and samples – oh, and a paint stick in it. Paint stick? That’s weird. Here’s why – you starting scrapping mud off your wheels, forks, frame, etc as you carry the bike out of the mud – yeah you can’t event push the bike because the wheels, gears, chains convert to solid clay and stop working. And when you’re carrying a bike covered in thick red clay – it’s heavy, really heavy. At some point – I think it was here – I had a vision of the BMC engineers in the lab in Switzerland designing their CrossMachine – how proud they were for the streamline design – the technical brilliance of their engineering – “uhh, lads – I think you forgot the OK red clay test?”
So folks keep flying by you as you continue to hike your bike to the next patch of ridable surface. And here’s where the misnomer began to sink in – there’s no fucking gravel. Anywhere. Gravel Race? LIE. Gravel Guru’s – Wrong. Mud. Mud. Mud. Thick, OK Red Clay Mud. For miles. Eventually, if you are patient enough you get to a stretch you can ride again. If you’re not patient enough, you tear your derailleur off and you’re done – unless you know how to convert to a single speed [insert laughing hysterically emoji here because I am clueless mechanically – see definition of irony later].
After 3 hrs and maybe 30 mins – my Garmin stopped working (turns out that would be a general theme for what was to come), we rolled into the half way mark where the bag drop was. My hands and feet were literally numb. The SBC_DDRP guys (who you all should figure out a way to meet sometime – they have an awesome group going in the Gravel (or as it turns out sometimes, mud) world – had a sag van supporting riders and they had a used (and turns out tiny) pair of gloves I could use. This was better than no gloves – but they were so tight – the cold still kept biting at my hands – I would soon lose use of my left thumb completely – I knew Jim Phillips had warned me that at 40- degrees and raining hypothermia was an issue so keep moving – but I was becoming too hazy to do the math on whether it could cause frost bite and that’s what me left thumb was dealing with. Why wouldn’t it work and why did it hurt so bad?
And then following the lead from my Garmin, came the breakdowns. More mud. Mile after mile after mile. First my gears went. Ironically I had apparently converted my bike to a single speed after all, without any mechanical wherewithal. Then went the brakes. Which was actually really really scary. Downhill on sliding mud with no brakes will give you some perspective on things (more on that later). Gabe Montgomery from Springfield went down super hard and I think may still be in hospital with many injuries. Thoughts and prayers to him. I am guessing he had no brakes and went down on one of the muddy descents but I don’t know that. And then after mile after mile after mile of hikeabike, ride a little, hikeabike, ride a little. No brakes. No gears. And now, I was struggling to keep the chain on the front chain ring. I wondered if I had bent something – why would it not stay on the front ring for god’s sake? Eventually in my soaking wet, freezing stupor (it rained all day once I took my gloves off – if I didn’t say that already), I realized the chain, cassette and derailleur was so chocked full of clay mud, they couldn’t spin. Jonathan Graif on a single speed stopped to help me – Jonathon you’re a star – thank you so much for helping me and congrats on finishing in an amazing time on a single speed – just mind boggling really. So liquid was the key top my salvation. If I could keep the chain and cassette clean I could keep the chain of the front ring. I used all my hydrating fluid to do so and it worked. I was back in business until it stopped. Jeeps sagging folks off the course would stop and give me a bottle – I’d clear it off and get some more miles, if not hikeabiking.
And then things got quiet. Really weirdly quiet. No one was around. No jeeps. No riders. No one. Chain, cassette, derailleur – all stopped up with mud – I had hikedabike to ridable road (misnomer) – but had no fluid to clean off the chain, etc – and no way to keep the chain on the front chain ring. But I needed to pee. Bingo. Turns out urine is a natural cassette, chain and derailleur cleaner. My next rookie mistake – I didn’t save any pee – instead I peed until I could pee no longer – and for a few moments my bike chain etc looked almost miraculously clean. It was actually kinda beautiful. But the next time my bike stopped working, I had no more fluid. Like literally I had none. So I dug a deep puddle in the mud road and watched the water collect in it. Scooped it up in my bottle and tried to use that but it was just too muddy – almost like soup. By this time I may have gone off course – it’s all a bit blurry. I hadn’t seen anyone for hours and there were no longer markings at intersections and I could barely see bike tracks anymore. But I do next remember stopping a pick-up truck – not race related – this guy was a super nice, African American, oil driller. “Hey man, you have any water – I need to clean my chain, etc – nothing works – I have to be able to clean the chain.” “Sorry man – no I don’t. What the heck are you doing out here?” “Hey man – this next question is gonna be really weird – but can you pee on my bike for me?” And I shit you not, this was his answer: “Man, if I needed to go, I would – but I just went before I left the house.” What a great guy. So this was it – nothing left to clean off anything – one last try to see if chain would stay on – bang – derailleur into rear wheel. It was a mercy killing. For 93 miles I had been trying to figure out how to break my bike. At mile 94, I finally figured it out. Engineers in Switzerland were shaking their heads. Hard to know for sure but I’m thinking I was probably 8 ½ – 9 hours in.
The nicest man in OK then loaded me in to the bed of his pick -up – yes, I was already freezing, and soaking wet, but I was literally all mud – there’s no way I could have gotten in the cab, even if he said I could. And so l laid there in the bed of the pickup, shivering literally uncontrollably with now 40-60 mph winds swirling around my soaking wet, and now not moving body – thinking about Jim Phillips’ warning to keep moving – it seemed like a long ride back to town. The nicest man in OK got me back. I was done and wanted the heck out of Stillwater as soon as I could. I literally could not get out of town quick enough. I made it home by 10.30ish to maybe the best Greene Ghost of all time.
Honestly – I’ve read the posts this weekend from folks who love the race, love the challenge. Revel in it. I can totally respect that – and am in awe of folks who finished and do this all the time (Don B, Collin Little, Jake Bradley, Jonathon Graif (on a single speed), Don Daly and all the SBC_DDRP guys) – you guys are all amazing. But I literally don’t get it. I mean – at all. As I was sliding at high speed down muddy slippery descents on a bike that literally had nothing left on it that still worked(except by blinky red light – it lasted all the way back to Springfield), I couldn’t get my girls out of my mind. Emme and Lotte. What the hell was I thinking? We ride for fun. And for some of us – to not get fat(er). But this was the least fun I have ever had on a bike, bar none. I’m not ruling out the possibility of riding gravel one day – when there is actually going to be some gravel – but Landrun104 is in my rear view mirror. I behaved really badly the whole day. Cursing. Yelling at myself for the gloves fiasco. Yelling at the rain. Yelling at the mud. At my bike. At faceless engineers in Switzerland. At the State of OK for not have real fucking roads. Berating people I’d see about how mad they are for doing this. I literally saw some of the worst in myself – and what’s horrifying is as I look back, I think a lot of it was out loud. It’s hard to tell. It was indeed, 94 miles of self-loathing. I’d really like to go back and apologize to all the folks I was rude to, but there’s no way to track them down. Anyway – this was therapeutic to write – I am frankly stunned if you made it this far. Sorry to take up your morning. Props to all the SBC’ers and SBC_DDRP’ers who went and especially to those who found a way to finish. And yes- you’re all mad. Completely mad.