Thursday, June 9, 2022

I want to tell you 'bout Texas radio and the big beat

The west is the best *in Jim Morrison voice*. I guess to be fair, the east coast is pretty great too, but when you've lived in Pennsylvania your entire life, there's a certain allure to the big mountains of the west. For the first part of my trip, I was heading to Texas to do the Gravel Locos 150 race on May 14. I left home early on Tuesday, May 10, and drove all the way to western Arkansas, where I got a cheap hotel. To be honest, that part of Arkansas isn't great (near Little Rock). It's definitely what I would consider the "Deep South". The next morning, I took advantage of the free breakfast voucher at the little restaurant across the street from the hotel and got some bacon and eggs. It was a common place for truckers to stop, and there was this older trucker at the bar area with me picking up some food. He was talking to the waitress, and with a heavy southern accent, he said some pretty good advice. 

The waitress asked him how he was doing, and he said, "Well shoot, I've woke up to a day I've never seen before, and I'm feeling peachy!"

I honestly thought about that a lot as I was passing the time driving. Each day is something new, and even if western Arkansas isn't what you'd call an oasis, it's an entirely new experience and the unknown is something that always excites me.

Breaching the Texas border. Plus some really good gravel I rode from my campsite.

Anyways. I drove to a state park in eastern Texas (Jim Chapman Lake), where I went out for a little 50 mile gravel ride. It was insanely hot, and I was sweating like crazy just putting on my biking clothes at my car. The ride was more scenic than I expected, and the Texas gravel roads I did were pretty fun. After the ride, I set up my tent near the lake shore and just hung out (by myself, haha) by the lake. It was still really hot, and there were lots of bugs, but it was enjoyable to just unwind by the lake.

A pretty cool campsite near the lake. But the photo doesn't capture the fact that it was humid, 95 degrees, and bugs everywhere. Plus some large fishes jumping in the lake. And turtles. Or crocogators?

Around 7pm that night, a middle-aged woman walked down to my campsite and started talking to me. I assumed she was in the big tent a hundred yards away from me at the neighboring campsite, but something did not seem right to me. She kept talking and talking; she was asking me about a phone charger, my bikes, the trip I was doing, my tent, pretty much everything. I started to get very nervous because my car was parked out of sight, and I began to think she was distracting me while her husband aka accomplice smashed my windows and robbed me. 

To make matters worse, I heard a banging noise while I was talking to her. Finally, after maybe half an hour (seriously, she talked that long!), she walked away. I waited a few minutes and walked up to my car. To my honest surprise, nothing was broken. Apparently I was wrong about her. But still, it was extremely weird. She kept talking about how she had been camping with her boyfriend for a few weeks now, but they got into an argument and he drove off to find some camp supplies without telling her when he'd get back. All I can say is, Texas seemed extremely weird, and I was glad to be meeting up with Will the next day.

Dinner, I didn't realize I bought the "no beans" chili. So it was basically just a can of beef.

I actually slept pretty well that night, and the next morning I drove to Dallas (under 2 hours of driving) to pick up Will at the airport. 

The Dallas airport is gargantuan. There are six terminals, and it's hard to get around. After much thinking, texting, and trying to determine where Will was, I finally saw him walking out of one of the terminal doors. It had only been a couple days since I left Pennsylvania, but I think the Deep South and strange Texas occurrences (some NSFW) made it seem much longer. All that to say, I was very glad to see Will.

We drove a little bit, stopped for some breakfast at IHOP, and then got to Hico, Texas. That's where the race is, and also where we got a cheap hotel. It was scorching hot, but we went out for an hour ride after putting stuff in our hotel room. The gravel roads were really fun - different from where I rode the day before, and it made me look forward even more to the race on Saturday.

Packet pickup on the left, and a fancy tent (also known as a house) on the right

After the ride, we got some Mexican food, but sadly, the place did not have margaritas. Much sad. 

Texas roads were pretty cool, better than I expected and very different from other places I've ridden

The next morning, Friday, we went out for a ride and then headed to registration to pick up our packets and meet up with Flow Formulas friends who were driving in for the expo. I was able to snag some pretty funny pictures and videos on the the little ride we did, and all that reminded me that I ride bikes for fun. Sure, I want to compete and be as fast as I can be, but in the end, I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't enjoy it.

Influencer in the wild. I don't think Will reads this far on my blog, but if he does, he won't like that picture I put on. But to be nice, I'll tell the truth that the didn't ACTUALLY take a selfie, he was just doing it for a funny picture

At the expo, we waited around for a little for the Flow people to get there. As we were sitting at a picnic table, Will and I played a game of "flick the piece of wood across the table to see who can get it closest to the edge without going over" to decide who had to go get the Pedialytes from my car. I won.

Eventually, the Flow friends got there (Ian, Caleb, Jack, Hannah) and we met up for a little bit. Will and I then headed to the AirBNB that Flow Formulas had gotten, and then got some dinner. Of course, I wore my jorts to dinner, but seeing as it was Texas, Will said I should make sure I keep a long inseam with the jorts. Either way, I actually got a positive comment on my jorts at a restaurant, #winning.

Got back to the AirBNB, and Will and I put on some classic television: Ancient Aliens. You know it's gonna be a good episode when the *scientist* starts off by saying, "We know aliens have visited Earth for thousands of years, so why wouldn't they have visited the Old West?"

After a little bit, the rest of the Flow crew showed up and we got the bottles and rest of the stuff ready for the race tomorrow.
Caleb adding some Super Secret Chain Lube to our bikes the night before the race. Yeth, that's the actual name of the chain lube.

Race day morning came around and we were slightly delayed waiting for Ian to get ready (hahaha, I doubt he reads this), but nonetheless, we made it to the race with plenty of time. On the start line, Ian and I share some Red Bull to make sure our wiings were ready.

The race started with a neutral start, about 7-8 miles, in part to honor the late Mo Wilson, one of the best gravel cyclists in the country who was murdered just a couple days prior on her way to the race. It was a very well-done remembrance, and it really makes you think about what's important in life.

After the neutral start, we stopped at the first creek crossing, where the race director said some more words about Mo before starting the race for real. It was an unfortunate place to start racing, because everyone was all bunched up at the creek and people were practically running through the water and into mud trying to get a good position as the lead group sprinted away.

Like you'd imagine, much chaos. To be honest, the first 50 miles or so of the race was complete and total stress. Riding in a tight peloton at 40mph downhill as people elbow you and push their way to the front is not exactly fun. Will and I agreed to stay together for as long as possible, seeing as we're both not experienced in this kind of race. Sure enough, Will and I found ourselves at the back of the pack and we missed a break. We worked together and put some hard efforts in, and eventually caught back up to the front group.

The first aid station was complete chaos. Not everyone stopped, but all the Flow people - including me, Will, Ian, Caleb, Jack, and Dylan Johnson - stopped at the van where Hannah quickly handed us bottles. This meant the leaders put some distance on us, which means it was an all out sprint to catch back up. Luckily, Will and I latched on to Jack, who thankfully pulled us most of the way back. Will and I caught back on to the lead group, and before long, we passed up Ian, who wasn't having a great day. Shortly after that, I lost contact with the lead group on a short punchy pavement section, and I knew there was no chance of catching back up solo.

From there on, my race was mainly just riding with a mix of people and trying to push the pace as much as possible. I knew, obviously (and I never expected it to begin with), I had no shot at a win or even a top 20, but I was determined to just ride as hard as I can. I knew I would be satisfied with my race if I finished completely exhausted.

I rode with a good group of people for almost 100 miles, and we were generally pretty friendly. We waited (within reason) at aid stations for each other to leave together, and we took turns pulling. There was a friendly kid and his dad in the group with us, and it was nice to have some people to talk to.

With about 12 miles to go, I was feeling pretty good and decided to "attack" (or whatever it is you call it when you're in about 40th place). I sprinted off the front of our group, and only one person tried to follow. They didn't really stick with me at all though, and within a minute, I had a pretty good gap. Then I just rode in the aero bars as much as possible and pretty much rode full throttle for the last 40 minutes. It was actually extremely fun.

When I crossed the finish line, I had no idea how I placed, and I really didn't care. I was happy with my race, and especially happy about how amazing I felt after 8 hours of racing.

After crossing the line, I sat/collapsed on the pavement where Will, Caleb, Jack, and Ian were sitting. Ian, who pulled the plug on his race at the 3rd aid station, was kind enough to bring me over a can of Coke. We were all talking, until all of a sudden, Caleb started to throw up.

Before long, Caleb was looking super rough. He was laying on the ground, and medical personnel came over to check on him. He was extremely dehydrated, and had to get taken away in an ambulance. It was a little scary at first, but everything ended up alright.

Looking to get out of the heat, Will and I stopped for some ice cream and sandwiches before heading back to the AirBNB. It felt really good to take a cold shower and sit down on a soft couch.

Eventually, Ian, Jack, and Hannah made it back, but Caleb was still in the hospital. We ordered some pizza (after much difficulty and bickering about who would call to order, haha) and waited for Caleb to get back. I really did not want to drive anymore, so for the only time in the 6,000 miles on my trip, someone else drove my car. Ian thankfully drove to get the pizza, and when we got back, Caleb was almost home from the hospital. 
The mighty Flow Formulas van

When Caleb got back, he was surprisingly in good spirits. We talked for a little bit, and then we went to bed. The next morning, I drove Will back to the Dallas airport, and then I turned west to continue on the rest of the trip.

Next up will be the rest of my western trip, including New Mexico, Flagstaff AZ, Lake Tahoe, Park City, and Moab.

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