The Salty Six – Epic 2017

By: Joe Kleidosty

The Epic delivered epicness in more ways than one. First, the original 150-mile race was shortened to 128 miles, due to weather conditions prior to the start of the race. Crybaby Campground, where the start/finish was located, was a wet, sloppy mess at the start.

DDRP teammate Chris Orr visited with Greg Vaught and Joe Kleidosty prior to the start of the race. He talked about all of the negative things that awaited them as soon as the race started. Eventually, after a few minutes of Orr’s ‘pep talk’, Kleidosty had to tell him to get out of his sight, for he knew The Epic was going to deliver an experience that would compare to no other! Kleidosty would learn this would be a bit of an understatement later in the day.

Greg brought his 14-year-old son, Nigel, to the event, so he could put in a personal best on mileage and also get a good taste of what riding in a gravel event was like. Upon seeing the conditions and weather forecast, Kleidosty decided to change to the 80-mile route, as did Greg, so they could guide Nigel along the course.

Fortunately, at the start of the race, the rains held off. Josh Schrock, in his designer blue jeans, counted the start down for all of the brave souls, who got past their initial trepidations to even start the race (Tom Duffy from Iowa started his first gravel event in these epic conditions and loved it – look for a separate story from him!), and we were off! Just out of Crybaby Campground, the epic climbing began!

Orr jinxed himself with all of the negative talk, as Kleidosty, Greg and Nigel passed him on the first climb. He was off his bike. They would learn later his saddle bag somehow fell off his bike. Orr eventually made it back to Kleidosty, Greg and Nigel, and the foursome rode together for most of the race. Orr reported that Mike Malone and Anatolie Juncu, also DDRP teammates, were up ahead on the 80-mile route. They actually saw Malone on the out-and-back portion of pavement from Checkpoint 2. Kleidosty yelled at Malone, “Slow down!” He did not comply.

Along the way, the riders rode through some thunderstorms with lightning and thunder, while some of the rain stung the faces of the riders. Greg got something in his eye and had issues with his vision. He was also dealing with the issue of having no brakes since about the 30-mile mark of the race, an issue experience by multiple riders. Juncu inspected his brake pads after the race, and they were completely gone!

Juncu and Malone finished the 80-mile race first and second, respectively, ahead of the microburst that occurred around 1 p.m. Orr had pulled away from Greg, Nigel and Kleidosty, in an attempt to secure a podium spot. Just prior to reaching the final 4 miles of pavement to the finish, Orr experienced a flat and were passed by Greg, Nigel and Kleidosty. As the trio neared the promised land of smooth pavement to the descent to the finish, Kleidosty suggested they cross the finish line together for a good photo opportunity.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had plans to deliver one final sonata in The Epic Concerto that the trio had experienced throughout the day. After hitting the pavement, Kleidosty drove the pace a little higher to catch a couple riders, not knowing several riders on the 80-mile course were turned back to return to the finish line due to impassable conditions at water crossings.

After passing these riders, Kleidosty noticed a gray mass coming in from the West. It did not look like a normal, run-of-the-mill heavy downpour. With trees to their left, the wind started viciously shaking the trees. The winds had been fairly light out of the northeast for the better part of the day. Weather stations recorded 38-mph wind gusts from the West with this microburst! The gusts threw a 20-foot branch into Kleidosty’s path – he swerved left and Nigel and Greg swerved right to avoid it. Just after that, they could hear trees, yes, trees crashing down! They were able to keep the bikes upright in the gusty winds and crossed through one more storm-produced water crossing just before the finish, which had cut out deep ruts in the road. After crossing that, they came upon the finish area, which was completely blown down.

Epic views. Epic climbing. Epic water crossings. Epic experiences. Epic friendships fortified. Epic volunteers. Epic promoters. Epic roads (all roads were rideable, even after more than 3 inches of rain). Epic bridges. Epic potholes (we would later learn that Malone took his hand off his bars to wave at volunteer Craig at a SAG – he lost control after hitting a pothole and crashed – stitches were required, but he was still smiling at the finish!). Epic everything.

In the end, there were only six riders who completed an official Epic course. The 128-mile riders were stopped around 96 miles due to dangerous weather and water crossing conditions. Juncu, Malone, Kleidosty, Greg and Nigel Vaught, and Orr ~ all Dirty Dogs, er, Salty Dogs, if you count some of the treacherous water crossings they traversed ~ The Salty Six ~ completed the 80-mile course.

It can be guaranteed that riders will have Epic experiences at The Epic in 2018. What will be your Epic story in 2018? Stay tuned for epic stories from Nigel Vaught and from Tom Duffy!