As the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and no truer statement can describe my Cool Hand Luke experience last weekend. Cool Hand Luke is a 100 mile, self supported gravel race in Leavenworth Kansas that shares some of the same roads and one checkpoint as the Gravelluers Raid 100 mile gravel race out of Lawrence Kansas that we rode in two weeks prior. I was really looking forward to the race as the gravel, people and atmosphere was absolutely amazing in Lawrence and I expected more of the same from Leavenworth.
Joe, Dave and I met up where Hwy 2 and I 29 meet and convoyed down to Leavenworth Saturday afternoon, arriving at the Santa Fe Trails Bicycle and Coffee Shop around 4:30 pm for packet pickup. The folks at Santa Fe Trails were great and well organized, we were in and out in no time flat. Dave had been stationed at Leavenworth some years ago and lived in Platte City so he was our tour guide for the weekend, after we left Santa Fe Trails we headed over the the Quality Inn in Platte City to drop the bikes and gear before finding dinner. Our guide had us get back on I 29 and head down to the Zona Rosa Town Center to find something to eat and maybe a beer or two, there were a ton of great places to eat so maybe Dave knew what he was talking about. We decided that Granite City sounded good because it had a wide variety of food types and they brewed their own beer, some really good beer at that. In retrospect perhaps this wasn't the greatest choice, now a preface for this part of the story, there is the caveat that I can't swear as to what actually caused the issue it's only my best guess. Anyway, Joe had the chicken and asparagus linguine, Dave the Mediterranean shrimp scampi and I opted for the tried and true meatloaf; one of my favorite dishes at GC. Joe wasn't having the greatest luck as far as silverware went and had to get three separate sets before settling on one that wasn't exactly spotless but didn't have visible chunks of food on them so he tidied them up with a napkin... at the time I felt kind of bad for him, little did I know the sweet hell in store for me. We finished up dinner and beers before heading over to Culver's for some frozen custard and then went back to the hotel to meet up with Doug who was arriving a bit later than the rest of us. We chatted until about 10:30 pm when we all decided it was time to turn in for the night as all of us were pretty tired and we knew it would be a long day with an early start tomorrow. That is when the fun really started for me, I laid down and started to doze when I felt like I had to use the restroom; normally not a huge deal so I got up and went. Things just went down hill from there, I was up about every 20-30 minutes for most of the rest of the night, "pooping" in quotes because what was coming out can only qualify as poo based upon where it was coming from and certainly not by consistency. Early on I was hoping it would pass fairly quickly and thought maybe I had just eaten too much or something simple and it would be done soon... that thought went out the window when this continued on for several more hours, the last time I looked at the clock it was 2:30 am. I was up a few more times after that but didn't pay attention to the time as I had given up on getting anything close to decent sleep. When the alarms went off at 5 am I was no where near ready for 100 miles of gravel, very little sleep and a stomach still causing me to visit the throne often were not playing into my favor. Joe got up and jumped in the shower and I laid there and thought over my options and decided that I wasn't making the race. Two things seemed almost certain, the chances of me needing to continue the events of the previous evening every 30 minutes or so were high and by doing that I'd would certainly slow myself way down and quite possibly the rest of the group if they decided not to just leave me to my suffering. When Joe got out of the shower I let him know I wasn't going to make it and that they should just go on without me. Once everyone was gone I laid down and continued the little dance a few more times, then at some point around 7 am, everything I had to give was given and I was able to drift off into to a fitful sleep. I woke up at 10 am the second time not feeling fantastic but also not feeling like a zombie either, I took a shower and tried to eat a Clif Bar to see how things would go. Surprisingly there was a little queasiness but it stayed put. I contemplated my next move for a few minutes, just pack up and head home or go talk to the race director and see if there was a way to ride out to where the rest of the group would pass and latch on to them. I decided that I'd go down to the start/finish and talk to Brendan, the race director, and A) make sure that if I tried to meet the gang I wouldn't jeopardize their race as I might be viewed as "outside support" at this point since I didn't start the race and B) if he could show me a route I could ride out on with a likelihood of intersecting with the group before they got there. To my surprise not only was he OK with the plan but he offered to give me a ride to McLouth, the third and final checkpoint, since he needed to go out that way anyway. I jumped at the offer and loaded my bike in the back of his truck and hitched a ride to mile 72 of the Cool Hand Luke 100 mile race; making my effort around 38 miles for the day.
I got out to the checkpoint with a little bit of time to kill, I figured at least an hour if the group was moving and probably 2 hours if they were struggling a bit, I hung out with the great volunteers at the checkpoint and chatted with them and the other riders as they came through. This is a great corner for Harley watching BTW, probably saw 3 or 4 groups of at least 10-12 motorcycles ride through in the time I was there.
Since I had a little while to kill and the volunteers would get busy with riders, I wandered around a little bit but not too far in case the group game through quicker than expected. I also tried to eat and drink a little bit. slowly and ever so cautiously. I had gotten a ride out but getting one back might be another matter if my nightly visitor returned with a vengeance now. Luckily for me it seemed like the worst was behind me and everything stayed where it should, still I was a little tired and not at 100% due to the events of the previous night but I figured the gang probably wouldn't be at 100% after riding for 72 miles, so we should be almost on a level playing field.
In addition to a ton of motorcycles, there were also a fair amount of tractors rolling through town and even stopping at the gas station across the street for fuel. Not something your used to seeing in a larger town but kind of quaint in it's own right.
After an hour and a half had gone by I started to get a little concerned, I figured if they were maintaining 12 mph they should have been here by now so I was hoping everything was going OK. As it turns out they were doing just fine and a few minutes later I saw Joe and then the rest of the gang coming up the road toward the checkpoint. I think Joe was a little surprised to see me as it took him a few minutes to register that I was standing there, in the middle of the road, waving at him like a mad man as he came in. In addition to Doug, Dave and Joe who I expected, the group had grown by an additional three riders. Along the way they had picked up M.K. Thompson, Brock Corby and Mike Oliver; all three of them from various parts of Kansas. One of the best parts in my opinion of gravel racing in general but in racing on a fat bike specifically is that I'm not hyper focused on trying to go fast but staying more focused on pacing and survival so meeting and riding with new people is not all that uncommon and always a welcomed distraction. 100 miles on a bicycle sucks, 100 miles all alone sucks even worse so it's always good to have someone to talk to. Gravel racers are a weird bunch, I'd be willing to bet that nobody isn't cursing the course at some point while riding it but as soon as it's over you're already looking for the next race to sign up for; it's really kind of a love/hate relationship in it's truest form.
After the group had a chance to rest and refuel we set out, them again, me for the first time this race. Speaking of first times, both Doug and David had never done a 100 miles on gravel or on a fat bike at all up to this point but they were both killing it! It's amazing what the body will let you do once you stop listening to your mind telling you that you can't. I tried not to be out front since I had zero miles on my legs and they all had 72 on theirs but I kept finding myself out front anyway so I did my best to try to keep it at a steady, moderate pace and make sure I wasn't killing anyone with too fast of a pace.
The course, like the one two weeks prior in Lawrence, was in absolutely perfect riding condition for the most part. There were some sections of loose gravel but most of it was super fast, packed down dirt and this time we even had warm temps and lots of sun to help with the mood.
Also like the Gravelluers Raid two weeks prior, there were hills, lots and lots of hills. Some of these might have been slightly worse than the previous ones if that was possible, even my fresh-ish legs were not liking one or two of them; I imagine the rest of the group was enjoying them even less on tired legs.
With about 15 miles left in the race we hit a fairly lengthy flat section followed by a decent section of pavement with a good downhill on it, followed immediately by a wicked, loose gravel downhill and another flat section. Everyone seemed to be enjoying these section, hoping that this would be how things ended. I didn't have the heart to tell them that we likely were going to pay for those easy sections soon if the thoughts in my head were right. Seems like in a gravel race you never get a downhill for free, you end up earning it shortly after with at least one if not more killer uphills. In gravel racing what goes down, must come up.
I hate being right sometimes but sure enough there was a pretty long, pretty steep climb up out after the last flat section. It doesn't look like much in the pictures but it might have been one of the worst hills on the course I had ridden so far and walking was necessary for some. At the top however was a furry greeting party, all four of the pups were friendly, two were shy and wouldn't get too close to you but the other two (especially the white dog) were lovers and came right up to you all waggling from head to toe.
After the climb we were within spitting distance of the finish and rolled in pretty much as a group and quickly found the delicious beer and food that was catered in from Grinders High Noon in Leavenworth. Both really hit the spot.
Couldn't have asked for a better start/finish location, I of course forgot to get any pictures of the outside of the place so all I have is the Google Maps screen grab. The spot is a personal residence and the guy and his wife are kind enough to allow the Cool Hand Luke folks to use it for the race. The picture from the street is the house itself but the event is held in the guys barn/garage/man cave and it is amazeballs.
It wasn't all fun and games, beer and BBQ though, our little group did pretty darn well for themselves. MK finished 2nd in her division, she is a super strong rider and it was great getting to ride along with her. Joe finished 2nd and Doug 3rd in the fat bike division, Dave just missed the podium finishing 4th! All great rides for the guys, especially Doug and Dave who can now say they raced in and finished a 100 mile gravel race on a fat bike. Not a feat many people can say or even want to try to achieve it seems; kudos to those two for the strong finish and to Joe for stepping down from the skinny tires and slumming with the fattys. I wonder if they realize they'll need to race them all on fat bikes now or feel like they are cheating? While my time didn't official count for bupkis, I did unofficially win the "I didn't poop myself out on course" award. Given the fact that I was a little questionable about that in the morning, I'll take it as a victory.
Our group after the finish, minus Mike... not sure where he went but thanks to all for the ride! Photo courtesy of James Castle.