Gravel Bike race (Gravel/pavé) 11:31:14  125.5 mi (10.9 mph)
Pony Express Gravel Dash
Includes aid stations, nature breaks
Moving time 10:44
We rolled out of Marysville at 7 am just before the sun came up. There are some beautiful pictures posted of the race! Gravel, B roads that would've been a disaster if it had rained (i.e. mud), loose gravel, dusty gravel...... I went out faster than I usually do, having found a small group of guys to ride with (Paul took off 'way faster than I wanted to). But in time, I moved ahead of some of those guys, and rode with some others who I actually would pass on up hills (!!!!), but then they would catch me on the flatter bits. And for once, I had to slow down on downhills as I got behind guys were were actually more timid than I on the knarly gravel.
I made it up the KOM hill, thankfully. There was a photographer and I really didn't want to get a picture of me walking! About 30 miles in, I caught up with Paul and we rode into the first CP together. By now the temperature was above 30C and the persistent S winds (we were riding south) meant that 2 water bottles and a Camelbak needed topping up.
Then we were on to the 2nd leg.....with the advertised hike a bike section. Yup, I don't know if a side-by-side could make it through this next stretch.....maybe a 4 wheeler. Most of it was rideable though, especially for fat bikes, mountain bikes, Paul and his Lefty, and me and my 42 mm tires. Slow going, but rideable. And thankfully in the shade. And net downhill on the way out. The second leg was a lolly pop shape, so we knew we'd have to do this section again, but uphill. But that would be later, after battling it out on the windy plains down by Randolph, KS. That was kind of neat, as there were stone houses and actually some stone fences, and big hilly pastures. Sort of like Yorkshire, where we were cycling a year ago. But hotter. And windier. And without the sheep.
The cue cards mentioned a house where you could get water in this leg. Thank goodness! I hadn't run out of water, but it felt SO GOOD to let the cold water run down my back for a minute to cool off a bit. 36C and persistent S winds were getting to me. Thank goodness Paul was feeling OK through here so I spent a good chunk of time tucked behind him. In this stretch, we would see a rider or two behind us, then not see them again. We weren't sure if they were falling behind or short-coursing themselves (if you wanted to bail out, you could jump on a paved highway, and with a 20+mph tailwind, sail back to Marysville.) Of course, we did the uphill hike a bike section to get back to the CP#2 (which was the same as CP#1). A solo woman moving well caught up to us in this section, but walked the whole hike a bike section, then caught up to us again on the way back to the CP. Unbeknownst to me, she dropped out at that CP.
We refilled water bottles and hydration packs, took in a few more calories, and set off on the next leg. By now, we knew that guys were dropping out, and we really didn't see too many riders on this leg (other than 2 guys fixing flat tires....yuck). More hills, more loose gravel, more roads that weren't really roads (hunting access routes)......but the wind was more or less at our backs now. However, when it is that freakin' hot and the wind is right at your back, it seems VERY hot. I had put a chunk of ice down my back at CP2 and really couldn't feel it melting and running down my back like I had expected. Sublimation, anyone?
At Blue Rapids (CP3), we knew we had about 20 miles to go. Easy, right? Kind of like riding to Harrow and back. Yeah, right. I was really overheating, so went into the Casey's c-store and bought a popsicle and a cup of ice cubes. I put half the ice cubes down the front of my bra and the over half in the back. I think they just evaporated as I didn't feel any cooling water dripping down my torso. The popsicle did eventually make my mouth and throat feel cooler.....until they got clogged with dust again.
In this final leg, the organizers wanted us to experience the new mountain biking trails at Alcove Springs. So new, they aren't packed down yet, like some of the "trails" I was riding in Sudbury last Friday. And....in this section, was "Brewski Hill". If you made it up this hill, you got a free beer. I saw the hill from a distance on some of the earlier single track, and thought, "screw that idea", but by the time I got there, I figured I'd give it a go......and made it up the hill. I'd asked a woman who was waiting for another rider at Blue Rapids if there was rain coming, as the sky was looking a bit threatening to the NW. Yup, there was rain coming. So we had a good incentive to get the heck out of the boonies (and B roads) and get this show wrapped up, not wanting to repeat our Dirty Kanza mud experience. We caught up to 2 guys in the last 5 miles, but decided that we could go faster than they were moving, so rolled past them. And since we had checked out the last few turns of the course the night before, we didn't have to check our cue cards for the last couple miles, and boogied our way to the finish line.
I was shocked when a woman came up to me as I was catching my breath and told me I was the 2nd woman to finish the 120 mile (well, actually 125.5 mile) course. There had been at least 5, maybe more, women signed up for it the last time I had checked (a couple weeks ago), but some had switched to the 75 mile course, some had DNF'd. Paul and I finished exactly half way through the 33 or so men who finished the 125.5 mile course (and I don't know how many DNF'd from that group), so we were pretty happy with how it turned out.
Later, we saw a Facebook post from a fellow who had also done the 125.5 mile course, saying that it make DK seem like a walk in the park. Honestly, we were more beat at the end of 125.5 than we were after 141 miles at DK. The heat may have had something to do with it, but the course was tough.....the organizers threw everything that the backroads of Kansas could offer at us.
A wonderful, grassroots event. This is the 3rd time we've done The Pony, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to ride some Kansas gravel in September (it isn't always this hot!)