I'm beginning to think that Cool Hand Luke is not the race for me, last year a slice of meatloaf had me spending more saddle time on the toilet than the bike in the morning and sidelined me for the first half of the race. Fast forward to this year, the week leading up to the race I found myself once again sick, not meat induced this time but no less ill, by the time Thursday evening rolled I was starting to feel somewhat normal again but not quite at 100%. I could certainly relate to the two photos we took in Craig Missouri on the way down to CHL but registrations were already in and hotels already booked so for better or worse, CHL was a go.
Since it was a Sunday race, we all decided to coordinate our departure times so that we would arrive in Leavenworth around the same time. I met up with Dave, Carlos and Roy at the junction of Hwy 2 and I-29 so that Roy and I could ride down the rest of the way together. Last years hotel was a bit of a shit hole so I was glad that we decided to switch it up this year. Never stayed at a Hotel2 Suites before but it was pretty swanky and brand new, only opened in January of this year and just down the street from Sante Fe Bicycle and Coffee Shop where we needed to pick up our packets. It also had an outdoor patio with a gas fire pit, I knew where we would be spending the evening.
After throwing all the luggage in the rooms, we unloaded the bikes and rode the three blocks to the shop to take care of the administrative needs for the day.
We were turned onto a little Irish Pub by the name of Marfield's while at packet pickup, supposedly not too far from our hotel and despite it's "hole in the wall" looks, it promised to have good food and beer.
Originally a carriage house built in 1889 for the Ward mansion, it was converted into a tavern and cafe in 1903 with two separate entrances; one for the drinkers and one for the diners. What it might have lacked in size it more than made up for with great character and plenty of cool bike parking in the form of a custom made bike rack converted from old kegs.
As promised the food was excellent, I opted for their signature Pigwich (smoked pork loin, slaw and then topped with their own secret recipe mustard) and an Irish dry stout in the form of a Guinness to wash it all down.
Last year we didn't spend a lot of time in Leavenworth since our hotel was outside of the town itself, so this year we decided to explore a little. Not that we needed to explore too much since David lived in the area previously so he was somewhat familiar with things. We did go take a look at the river before heading back to the hotel, it was water alright but had some pretty cool older houses in the neighborhood.
Back at the hotel we had them fire up the pit and settled in for a night of serious race prep planning before eventually retiring for the night.
Bright, well not so bright actually, and early in the morning we hit up the hotel breakfast and then scooted on down to the ball fields where the race was to begin and met up with a few hundred of our friends.
Sorry for the blurriness but low light and moving will do that to ya. The roll out to the gravel was about a mile of pavement in a neutral start, with pace car... like them NASCAR fellers and then the race was on once we hit the gravel and the first climb of the day.
Despite a few showers/sprinkles the day before, the roads were in great shape and maybe even a tad on the dry side in places. Course was fast rolling and I settled into my usual pace, I actually was feeling pretty good even though I didn't quite have the energy at the end of the week I hoped I'd have due to being sick.
Even ran into a local guy that we had meet the night before at packet pickup, we talked his wife into taking our group shot before they left, he had heard all about the world famous Pirate Cycling League and was eager to try to make it up our way to give Gravel Worlds a try either this year or next year. Rode along and talked with him for a bit but he was on the 50 mile route and was kicking things along a little bit faster than I felt comfortable trying to maintain for too long so eventually we parted ways.
Spent most of the day riding solo but did ride along with both Michael and Bruce for a bit and we all sort of yo-yoed back and forth for a bit.
Bruce and I normally ride at about the same pace before he kicks it into grizzled veteran high gear later in the races, we spent a good part of last years Gravelluer's Raid in close proximity, but he was too quick on Sunday and took of sooner than usual or I was dragging butt more than usual. Either way it was more Michael and I riding along on this one but that's ok, Mike was good company.
Normally on gravel you have to worry about farm dogs that are loose coming out to greet you so you're always on alert for animals in the yards... had to do a double take on this one but, yep, that's a goat tied to the tree in the front yard. I guess it beats mowing.
Was pretty happy to see McLouth, at about mile 72, as I was starting to fade plus it meant that there was only about 40 miles left and we were on the downhill side of the race. Figuratively of course, some of the best climbing comes after McLouth when your legs are nice and tired. I feel like I was maintaining a good 12 mph average up to the halfway point and then slowly started to drop on the average, by the time I got to McLouth I was probably at 11.5 mph or less. Overall I still felt good, just didn't have much oomph left in the tank even though the legs weren't especially tired but the effects of being sick and not feeling all the way back was starting to rear its head. It doesn't help that CHL is a climbing course, David said something like 75 feet of climbing per mile or something crazy like that and they aren't all gentle rollers, there are some sustained climbs upwards of 12% out there that will make your legs scream for momma.
Grabbed some food and some drink and then headed out, I was pretty surprised to see Joe was still at the gas station when I got there and he had indicated that Roy and Doug weren't too far ahead. The SAG truck followed me out of the gas station, thought I might be DFL since they followed me for a good portion of that last 30 miles but looking at the results there were at least a good bakers dozen that finished after me or that didn't finish at all so I'm not sure what that was about. I can tell you one thing though, that truck plays with your mind late in a race where you aren't feeling like you're at full strength. I caught my mind a few times thinking that it would be so easy just to pull up and catch a ride back to the finish, I mean it was right there... wouldn't have to call anyone, wouldn't even have to wait for a ride... just... so... convenient, way too damn convenient.
But while the legs are still spinning and the bike is still upright, the fight goes on and so it did for me despite the easy ride home that loomed just over the shoulder and finish it I did. I managed to finish with a moving time of about 9 and a half hours for an 11.1 mph average, I don't have a full course time from last year to compare it to but I kind of feel like if I had been healthy the week prior I could have ticked it up to a 12 mph average but I guess we will have to see about that next year. Race itself was good, I felt good for most of it even when I was tired; the Fargo performed well and I felt less beat up than I usually do after a gravel century so we can put that in the positive category. I do have to figure out a few minor things, one being the non drive side hood wanted to creep around counter clockwise on me a little since there aren't any shifty parts in there to help keep it solid; that resulted in a little more pressure on my palm from the sharp "finger mold" they have on their hoods not being where it should be. But all in all a good race and I feel good that I was able to grit it out and stave off the voices in my head that wanted me to get in that truck, next year lets do this thing at 100% and see where we get.