There’s an immense network of gravel and dirt roads to the southeast of Denver. The endless undulations of “West Kansas” are a prime home for many of the front-range gravel ride with beautiful country side, dirt roads everywhere you turn and views that stretch from more country to towering peaks. And it is home to the front range’s most difficult gravel grinder: the AntiEpic 160. Proof that you can pedal up hill all day long while starting and ending in the same place!
Last year’s race started in the Greenland area between Denver and the Springs, but this years moved further south gaining a bit of mileage and a bit of climbing (but the gravel crowd rarely complains about this … until a ride is done at least!). Once again the day’s start was under a clear, pre-sunrise sky. After getting back over Monument Hill, the fields were covered in a good amount of snow, but the roads were clear and dry. The fast guys had attacked already although for a time I would draw back one group by bombing down the downhills. That didn’t last too long though.
When headed towards Highway 86 for the first time, I worked with a couple people while I could. After getting onto Commanche Creek I felt a bit like I was riding with a cold, just a bit nasally, a bit achy for only 40 miles or so. There wasn’t much to do but to keep pedaling. Once you’ve made your way a dozen or so miles up the road here, you’re options are to turn around or maybe to head east … but no real options for cutting this loop short if you wanted.
A few people came by and I felt a bit like I was just pedaling squares. Eventually I could see one rider about half a mile to a mile ahead of me. Where Commanche Creek turns into Co Rd 149, he turned left and I thought it odd since the course heads the other way. But I had no way to signal him and kept pedaling. I also thought it was odd that I passed another rider that I’m pretty sure didn’t start with us. I pedaled on.
After finding Qunicy Rd rather pleasant (last year it was a sandy washboard that felt like it could snap a bike in two), I turned and found another rider pulling up with me. I changed up my cue sheet and we chatted and then headed out. JB, who was the rider I saw previously, and he had set out to do 120 miles but decided to finish up the 160. We rode together and he hung with me while I changed a flat on Co Rd 42. As we approached Deer Trail (the halfway point and only place to get water/food), we found another rider’s wife was providing a bit of water for riders. We filled our bottles happy not to head down the hill to Deer Trail (and then back up to get back on course!).
My legs were feeling heavier as the day went on. I tried to drink and eat but really failed here. For a long time I felt like I was holding JB back a bit (I was) but eventually he started to suffer too. After we climbed out of an open range area, he flatted on a cattle grate. I waited for him and then he realized he had put the wrong tube into the tire and sent me ahead. I figured, particularly now that I was feeling a bit off, that I would see him shortly. I stopped at a turn that I thought I had marked wrong (it was marked correctly but the road sign didn’t have the state road number on it). I grabbed an old fence stake and put an arrow on the ground hoping that JB would see that in case he was confused.
Again I found the “SAG” vehicle and chatted with her a bit and assured her that her husband was still ahead of me if he was still on course. I told her I was arranging a ride back to the car but she mentioned they could give me a ride if her husband was stopping. Turning the pedals. I was on Ridge Road which has several climbs and I briefly would feel better and then feel tired. A friend was able to come get me so I picked Kiowa as a nearby place that would be easy for giving directions (seemed better than “I’m on the corner of a dirt road and another dirt road by a fence”). Just getting to the highway was nearly the end for me. I walked two short steep hills and eventually made it to the highway.
After I had pedaled maybe a mile or two of the highway, the SAG vehicle came by and offered to give me a lift. They stopped and I found they had two guys in the back who had tried out the “b-road”, found it muddy and opted to head back to town. So with four bikes loaded into the back of the truck with two guys, a dog, his wife, I got a lift down into Kiowa. Not long after grabbing some provisions my friend pulled up and was able to give me a ride back to my car.
I hate ending a day like that but I was approximately 50 miles from the finish with the hardest hills and a difficult B-road. If I was already bonking on hills … getting back to the car on my own power was going to be pushing 13-14 hours.
Gear Notes: this year I rode the familiar Stans Alphas with Clement MSO 40s. The tires were very comfortable on the dirt/gravel roads and felt like I could fly through downhills and turns. I did have one flat from a goathead so I was slightly disappointed in the puncture resistance but it was also in a situation that would be tough to avoid. I also realized a bit of reorganization of gear would be good: I had two feedbags, a framebag, and a hydration pack. For the AE you have to take a bit more with you for the entire ride than rides like DK200 where you have aid stations but there were a few things to move between the feedbags and framebag. I’d also be interested in trying a Gas Tank bag instead of the feedbag(s).