One Mother of a Mother Lode
By: Jason Chase
Stay strong! Be tough! Never give up! There are no shortage of one liners out there. A few words of wisdom that are supposed to make us feel better, go faster, be tougher. Most times we forget these words just as quickly as we hear them, or more tragically, they are useless to motivate us when we need them. Occasionally though, we find ourselves in a unique position to call upon these ideas and we come out the other side understanding a little more about what it really feels like to “Never give up”.
I recently competed in the 207 mile Gold Rush Mother Lode in South Dakota. It was a race that I was well prepared for physically, but mentally was outside my comfort zone. I had completed the Dirty Kanza the year before so I was initiated to the demands of 200+ mile gravel races. However, I had never ridden in areas that had climbs that were 10, 20, 60 miles or more in length. It was this fear of the unknown that had me a little nervous going in. Less than 30 riders were gathered at 5:00 am for the start of the 200 mile Mother Lode. Far fewer than most races, but those that were there were eager to get out and take in the immense beauty of the Black Hills. Race Director Perry Jewett led the neutral roll out from the city park in Spearfish. As soon as we hit gravel though, the race was on. Six of us jumped out ahead and started into a fast, but not overly aggressive pace. We rode together till the first water stop at mile 35 where the first major climb started. I laid off and let 3 go on as they attacked up the hill. I knew that burning matches in the first half was the surest way for me to DNF. I rode with Joshua Krabbe from Ft. Collins, CO for a few miles until a dropped battery cord caused me to stop and we separated. So there I was, completely alone with 160 miles of isolated Black Hills gravel ahead of me. I did my best to stay up on hydration and nutrition while holding a conservative pace. I remember thinking that the 2-3% grade of the climbs was “no big deal”. However, after over 3 hours of nearly nonstop climbing, my legs and motivation were waning. It was near mile 100 that I hit the lowest point I had all day. I had just come off of 6 Mile Road. It was newly grated, and I was definitely fighting myself, the bike, and the conditions. I was halfway up a climb and had been suffering for miles already. The isolation was taking its toll and I was having serious thoughts of dropping out. I pulled the bike over at one of the rare shady spots and got off. It was there that I made a deal with myself like many of us have done before. I told myself that if I could just make it to the top of this climb I would have a long descent down to the first SAG and I would reassess there. Plus, I knew that if I were to drop out I would have to come back and try it again! I ate a pack of Sport Beans, took a big pull from the water bottle and remounted my Raleigh. In just a few minutes the sugar boost hit my system and I started to perk up. Shortly after that I crested the hill and began a long 12 mile high speed descent to the SAG. The rest of the race I was riding the high I gained from conquering that low point. I even managed to catch one of the 4 riders that were ahead of me which boosted my confidence even more. There were other trials later in the race, but there was never any more doubt about a finish. The last hill was crested with 23 miles of sweet, sweet downhill left to go. The last 13 miles was a smooth, paved descent through the stunning Spearfish Canyon and into the finish. It was an amazing reward after so many hours of the toughest gravel grinding I’ve ever been through.
The moral of the story is… you guessed it, “NEVER GIVE UP!” No matter how bad you feel, or how dark of a place you descend into, as long as you’re not injured, there’s still a way to recover and obtain that glorious finish. Eat, drink, rest, make deals with yourself, do whatever it takes to keep going because nothing hurts worse than a DNF.
There are so many people to thank for this endeavor. First, my amazing wife for not only allowing me to drag our entire family out to South Dakota for a race, but also for spending an entire day being an amazing support person. Driving back and forth navigating the Black Hills alone isn’t the best time in the world, but seeing her at each stop and the speed at which she was able to get me in and out with a fresh resupply and clean drive train made a huge difference in my performance. Second, I’d like to thank Perry and Kristi Jewett for hosting such an unforgettable race! They are amazing ambassadors of the sport and their community. Even if you can’t make it for the Gold Rush race, make it a point to travel to Spearfish and the Black Hills for some of the most beautiful riding in the world. I know I’ll be back next year (though probably in the 100 mile option). I also have to thank my friends and teammates on DDRP. We have so many amazing examples of grit and determination displayed by everyone out there from Land Run and Dirty Kanza finishers, to the guys putting it on the line for the Tour Divide, to all the other amazing races you all are doing. It’s that high bar you set that motivates me to keep going.