“When you can’t run anymore, you crawl… and when you can’t do that … you find someone to carry you” — Firefly
This weekend offered up a new opportunity to test and to suffer. I took on the AntiEpic 150 (AE) gravel grinder down just south of Castle Rock, CO. Although, that’s just where it starts and certainly isn’t the only place it ends up.
I felt confident about finishing, but knew that it was just going to be an OK ride. Going into DK last year I had more miles and probably a bit more climbing under my belt. Last month I had some miles, but don’t know that it translated well to AE. And here’s the thing: if I tell you we’re going to go ride on the plains of Colorado you likely think “eh, it’s pretty flat out there.” The rub is that as the miles pile up, so do the challenges.
Ben from Mountain Bike Radio correctly called the weather for the day: freezing cold at the start as the sun came up, cool and nice most of the day with some warm in the afternoon, and then some threatening clouds. The cold was indeed cold enough that most people had frozen hands and there was a cheer for the sun coming out from behind the mesas. We did get to see some mule deers crossing the road at this point which was a good start to the ride.
For the first 20-odd miles I mixed it up with a couple groups but my climbing just wasn’t there to hang out. I often played the climb-slow-descend-fast game with a few groups. Having done a preview of the course the opening section was easy to navigate and fun. When the course started to head north I caught a couple people and had a few people to ride with here or there. CR30 was the worst of the roads here and there was a bit of a navigation error here but several of us corrected and pointed the back on course. As I approached the halfway point in Deer Trail, CO I toyed with not going into town but am glad I did. Grabbed a coke and some water to top off the tanks and ate a bit of food.
Leaving Deer Trail my legs were sluggish but started to feel better after warming back up. But soon I was just a lead weight. There were a couple mountain bikers that kept a decent gap on me through this section except a couple times I would get closer. From my pain cave I watched them working together and hated that they were out of reach. The area around me was beautiful when I allowed myself to look. Around 90 miles I started playing a game of wanting a break, but telling myself to just ride a bit further. 100 miles came a bit faster than I would have expected in just under 7 hours, even with all this suffering.
Eventually I found another group that was just out of reach and chased them along the appropriately named Ridge Road. At the end of the road a larger group waited and I tagged along with them. We finally crossed back over 86 and I was off the back. Soon I came around one bend and noticed a bunch of arrows and some bike tracks heading onto a B-Road. The road was fun, soft and mostly uphill. It was a fun diversion from bumpy dirt and gravel.
At this point I got a bit lost. My cue sheet was off and hadn’t taken the B-Road into contention. After the B-Road I followed the tracks down CR98, but kept going to Fondis, CO (which consisted of two run-down building and two homes and a church). From there, I knew I needed CR94, but headed north and met up with CR102. Luckily, my pre-ride saved me again because I knew how to get back onto the route up ahead.
CR94 offers one of the biggest challenges as it crests steep 1.3 mile climb (after a couple rollers of course). I had been taking a couple breaks on hills at this point but this hill did me in. The granny gear felt like pushing the big ring. I ended up walking this hill sadly. I had already predicted this hill would hurt after 130 miles.
From here, things went down hill riding wise. It seemed I would stop almost every mile; steep hills were horrible affairs. At one point after hiking up a hill, I stopped to change lenses in my sunglasses. A lady came out to ask how I was doing and offered me something to drink. I told her I didn’t have too much to go. On another steep hill, after I put on my light I watched some deer jumping the fences across the road. A nice family stopped to see how I was doing on my hike. At that point I believe I was less than 10 miles from the end. I rode on, walking hills, riding flats or descents. Eventually I came towards the end. In the end I was the last one done and the last one to leave.
This is a very challenging route, but insanely fun. There is some beautiful country out there and Ben has created a great loop. But bring your climbing legs! This offers everything you could want: being chased by dogs, beautiful views, gravel, bumps, dirt roads, sand, chances to go sideways. Personally, I hope to see some of this gravel again … but not for a month or two :)