St. Joseph GranGravel 500
Headed north to Argyle, Tx to catch up with a few ole friends and do the Red River Riot. This will be the first year for it to have a 200 mile option and yes I’m in for it. Although, as a cyclist Ill start up front with my excuses, because we all have them. Just recently bought some new shoes and only did a few rides with them before having an irritation on the top side of my ankle. But I had my mind set to go play bike on some gravel roads with some friends. So I arrive at Brad’s house around 5 that evening and he and Mike have the smoker fired up and all of the meat for the event is on . Man hugs are had, and they get that sorted so we go for a short gravel ride that we all used to do on Mondays. Adam and Cope came over and join us and have a beer when we are done and tell lies for a bit. Brad and I set up our hammocks for the night, which turned out to be a bad idea. It got down in the mid 30’s and I was not prepared so not much sleep for me. I awake early morning and head to Muenster. In short, I was toast at mile 90ish, and already cramping. My feet were killing me and the top of my foot was no bueno. I ended up with only 140 miles and calling it a night.
RRR was to be a good training ride leading up to theGranGravel500. Now, not only do I have feet problems but I bonked hard and cramped early in the event. Needless to say I did not feel good about how GG500 was going to turn out. I ended up returning the new shoes and getting something different. Also, I had not used liquid calories in years and was thinking it would be a good idea to include that since RRR went south for me. Adam told me to try Tailwind. I did a little research and figured it couldn’t hurt so bought some. I rode only a few short casual rides and honed in on my nutrition for the upcoming GG500.
Now it was here. I was headed to Bryan, Tx this evening to meet and hotel up with Dana and Tim which were two of a few that completed the 200 at the RRR. We had been a part of a multi-message with a few other guys that were doing the GG500 and we had shared with each other the loads we were bringing and not bringing. That night I watched Dana and Tim ditch their air mats and sleeping bags to get the weight down some more. I was determined that my load was as light as it could get without ditching those two items. I thought these guys are crazy and aren’t gonna sleep too well when they need to. I was also thinking, what have I gotten myself into?!, I had not trained up for something like this and I’ll be real lucky to finish it. I laid awake most of the night going over it in my head and trying to sleep on a fold out couch. Ugh!
Bryan, Tx- Richards,Tx
NOPE! ITS NOT A DREAM! Its really the alarm going off at 3 a.m. And I’m fixing to get my arse handed to me. We gather our things and drive to the starting location and get sorted amongst the other racers. There were to be 15 racers toe the line. We had a brief pre-race meeting and at 5a.m. sharp we fall in behind a police escort for 14 miles thru town and across three dangerous bridges to get out of harms way. All the way out I’m at the front of the group riding and thinking what a barney I feel like. I imagine the escort car pulling over and race is on, and everyone blows past me and thinking and laughing saying well I was in first for a little while.
So then it happens, police escort pulls onto the shoulder and we all shuffle past him up a hill and the next right we take is GRAVEL. Now it’s on! But no one is blowing past me. The pace picks up a bit and two guys come around me but I dont get dropped. I turn around and Dana is the only one there and there are lights a few hundred yards behind us. I rode amongst those guys for a bit on some really nice gravel with the sun starting to come up and there was no wind. A beautiful morning for a long ride. It would not last long. We came down a hill into some rough gravel and my bottom water bottle goes flying out. As I stop to pick it up the other three carry on away and around a curve. As I make the curve I see Dana had to stop for a potty break. Still no one one is coming up from behind us. Dana and I pick up the pace again and settle into a respectful speed. We see one of the two guys that ran off had stopped with some wheel issues (flat?). We carry on to Richards and there is a gas station and Dana pulls in for a few things. I don’t need for anything but pull in as well. A few folks were there cheering for us and said that we were the first two there. We knew the other guy had already been thru there.
Richards, Tx- New Waverly
We were not there but a few minutes and no one had caught us, so we are feeling pretty good about it. As we continue East into the Sam Houston National Forest we begin to be covered by pine trees and eventually are riding gravel roads that I am familiar with, and are not so much gravel as they are sand and loose sand in places that make the legs work a little harder. As the we get further into the day it gets warmer. I stop to make a minor seat adjustment and mix Tailwind into my last bottle that was only water and as I throw a leg over the seat I see an orange helmet and its Jose, the one guy that had went off the front. As he rolls up and rides with us he begins to tell us that he took a wrong turn and it cost him a couple of miles. We chat a bit longer but our pace is not his. This guy is strong and we had heard that he had finished the RAM several times and was pro. All along i’m dealing with the foot pain and as it got warmer the hot spots added more pain. Just before we reach FM1375 we see Erik clicking pictures of us and say hello and only talk a few seconds. Five miles later we hit New Waverly and all my liquid is gone, so its time for a full on pit stop and get my tires armor all’ed. Jose stopped as well and rolled out a few minutes before we did. I mix all my liquid fuel up and choose to not buy anything solid. All along thus far I was munching on some magic calories that my beautiful and awesome wife had made for me along with some homemade calorie mix that I throw together for rides like this. Dana did his sorting and ate a sandwich. We now had figured that the pace we were keeping was comparable and the company was nice. So many times in the past Dana and I were always riding together on similar rides. Plus it was safer.
New Waverly100-Point Blank125-Onalaska135-Groveton150
As we rolled out of New Waverly I had wondered if someone had passed us while we were in the store. We would later find out that Billy Rice did in fact. As the course started heading North and a lot of this section was paved, it was actually a nice change and a little stiffer pace to cover some ground. We knew we did not need to stop in Point Blank or Onalaska and some of the gravel prior to that are roads that I frequently ride. As we went thru the two small towns that had plenty to offer we ended up stopping in a drive way under a tree so I could let my feet rest a minute before crossing the long bridge over Lake Livinston and eat a bit of food. We had planned earlier that Groveton would be where to stop for lunch. Just East of the bridge we headed north awhile on paving into a slight head wind and the road turned to gravel/ sand and it went on forever. Between the wind and the loose sand it was taking a toll on my legs. I thought we would never get to Groveton and our lunch became a late lunch at The Groveton County Seat Cafe (in which I highly recommend). We had a hamburger and fries, and coke. I added coconut pie to my lunch and we sat there for awhile studying where we were amongst the other racers all along thinking Tim would be catching us soon. There was another racer, Russell, riding close to Tim that we wanted to keep an eye on. By this time I was starting to get some minor rubbing in the undercarriage. I cleaned up a bit in the restroom while at the cafe. We left the cafe and went across the street to the gas station to load up with water and food supplies before heading out because the next stretch would be 100 miles before fuel of any kind.
As we head out of town and hit a FM road we encounter a couple of dogs that wanna chase, so we play their game. This section of the route is 100 miles before having any supplies, so I know it will become mind numbing thru the night. Its just a few miles and we are in Davy Crockett National Forest and the gravel turns to a red base with more gravel than sand, so less taxing on the legs. As we come to an intersection that we cross I notice an old run down house on the corner. Wow! We are on the same road that 25 years ago I used to hunt this area. As we carry on, it seems very little had changed. A few miles later we take a left and head west. The sun is starting to set and there are a couple of guys on a ATV that obviously knew Cooter Brown. They are looking for their hat that blew off there head. This particular road was the worst we had been on, and it was because of these two relatives of Cooter Brown playing on it all day. As we carry on the sun starts to disappear below the trees. We come to a cemetery at mile 192 and its nearly dark. There is a covered pavilion with pews. Dana and I decide this is a good place to rest the legs a few minutes, eat a bit, and get lights on. There is no phone service so there is no way to see where our competition is at. At this time I realize that my bibs and jersey is wet from sweat and the sun is going down. I also realize that I didn’t think I’d last much longer than where we are at and I had not planned or prepared to ride thru the night. I had not packed anything to stay warm except some pajama bottoms to sleep in and a light shirt. But here we are about to do more miles in one ride than either of us had intended. Dana’s goal was to hit a personal record of 300 miles in one ride. I was happy with somewhere around 250 miles. Dana’s farthest ride prior was around 210 and mine was 205. Off we go again and now its like riding in a tunnel, there is nothing to see other than a small section of gravel directly in front of us. By this time my feet quit hurting, I guess because of the colder weather and and feet were not swelling from the heat like thru the day. Or, maybe I just finally manned up. As we carry on thru the night we have a bit over 50 miles to Palestine and there is not much talking going on. By this time I start realizing how late it will be when we stop in Palestine and what tomorrows riding will be like with no sleep yet. I start thinking about Natasha and that I miss her and i’m usually hanging out with her in the evening. Since we had moved to Crosby almost two years ago we spend more time together. I start hearing my new grandson cooing in my head and now im getting depressed while riding wondering why I am out here. But here I am and the only way to get home is to keep riding. Thru the night we both passed our longest ride goal and bump fists and carry on. If memory serves me right we stopped at a little white church and I changed batteries in my light and we rested around 15 minutes or so. I believe its at this time that we learn that Billy Rice had pulled out of the race due to peeing blood. We find out later that he is ok but it was a scare and made me think what causes that?! Don’t want that happening to me.As we get closer to Palestine and now we are seeing blue signs that say Anderson County and all we seem to be doing is climbing hills and there is no gravel but old black top tar roads. By this time we had been chased by numerous mean and hungry dogs. It gets to the point where we dreaded going down a hill because we knew we had to climb a hill directly after. As this went on for eternity we finally roll into Palestine and plant ourselves at the Whataburger for quite awhile. I eat a taquito with potato egg and cheese, fries, a coke, and an apple pie. Not sure I had anything else. We shed our shoes and charge batteries and phones. We check the status of the other racers and Jose looks to be 40 miles in front of us and Russel looks to be almost 40 miles behind us along with Tim in his same vicinity. As we regroup and replenish our supplies Dana had found a church along the route that might serve as a good place to actually close our eyes.
We walk out of the Whataburger and I was freezing. I throw a leg over the saddle and sit down and the rear end was mad. I managed to wiggle into a position that I could bare with. At mile 257 or so there is an old Baptist Church on the right. A house back beyond the church must be the where the preacher lives. We find a flat spot under a bunch of trees that is elevated above the roadside bar ditch. I believe its around 5:30 in the morning and the faster I can get in my sleeping bag the more sleep I can get. Ya, not gonna air up the air mat, because that just means more time I don’t get to sleep. Its at this time that I wished I had not brought that extra pound. I do shed my my bib and put my pajama bottoms on along with my light shirt. We managed to get about 30 minutes of sleep before Dana’s alarm went off. With out hesitation we both jump out of the sleeping bags and bivy and pack up. As I pack I am shivering. I brought an extra jersey so it was nice that I had something dry to start off the day. Pedaling on in the wonderful County of Anderson we climb more of the hills like the ones we encountered before Palestine. Up and down for another 50 miles and plenty of dogs to chase us and most of them did not think it was a game. They wanted our worn out tender legs for breakfast. We found nothing in Elkhart for supplies and pushed forward. The gravel from this point to Trinity proved to be the most brutal. From all of the rain and flooding the week before had created little run off ruts what seemed to be every 20 feet or so and my raw hamburger meat butt hated the sudden impacts. I did stop and let a bit of air out of the tires to give some cushion. As we moved slowly thru the day except when racing away from hungry dogs we every so often checked the dots on trackleaders to see Russell was not letting up. Tim had stopped at Mission Tejas Park around mile 204 for the night. We new Jose was out of reach. But we realized we were running 2nd and 3rd and did not wanna give that up. Heck I had only set out for this adventure with hopes of being able to do the whole thing. We came to a section in the road that was under water and there were railroad ties beneath it. We shed our shoes and waded across the cold water, which was really refreshing and I wished there was more of it. We even walked barefooted for awhile just to give the feet a break from the shoes. The heat during the day really zapped us. Totally exhausted and needing a break we came to another little white church (The ole Shiloh Methodist Church) with a pavilion that had a concrete slab. We stopped for a short break and laid on the cold slab for about 15 minutes. Checked to see if there was a water spigot which there was not. We finally got to Trinity that evening and hit the Dairy Queen for a hamburger, fries and a blizzard. I wanted to stay there longer than we did but we did not put any more distance between us and Russell.
We decided to ride down the road to Riverside to refill bottles and get some food for the next section of the route. As we headed out from Riverside it was beginning to cool off and the sun was starting to set. We hit a pretty long section of road and believe it or not our pace picked up, even on the gravel. We started to get a bit excited about what we had put behind us, but still had aways to go. We took a short stop to get the lights out and pushed forward. More dogs and really sketchy not what I call a neighborhood kinda freaked us out and hope to not see this in the years to come. Directly after that we pop out on 190 and head west for 8 miles into Oakhurst. I realize now that we were on 190 from the last minute reroute due to the deep mud of the original route. At this time I was a bit scared riding at night on this highway with long sections that did not have a shoulder. I also started having a negative feeling about doing this event again. It just kinda ht me at one time with the amount of dogs chasing us and the no shoulder highway. A short time later we were on familiar gravel back in the SAM and I was calming down. A bit later we rolled into Huntsville and stopped at a gas station off of I45 that was already closed for the night. We rested there a little bit and checked the racer dots to see that Russel was a little closer than before. That meant that were going to have another sleepless night. We crossed over I45 and headed up the service road which had some huge rollers to go down but then also go up. My backsside was in such pain by this time that I began to stand a lot and climb standing everytime. The cooler weather made it possible to do. We came to another convenient store and they were locking the doors when we pulled in. Now we were thinking we had never even heard of Bedias so chances are there nothing to get there. We broke it down to 40 & 40 and we are done. There was quite a bit of paved riding headed to Bedias then we hit the gravel with more dogs up for racing in which we were not. The night drug on and we began to doze off while riding. We came across another church (Ebenezer Church) at mile437 and stopped and slept for about 15 minutes. We checked the dots and we had kept the same distance. The next 20 miles or so into Bedias was uneventful that I can remember because I was pretty much asleep on the bike. As we rolled into Bedias only to find the one gas station closed, we noticed a Post Office and new sleep was needed. We rolled our bikes in and laid down on the floor and went to sleep on the floor. We were too tired to even unpack a sleeping liner or anything else. We woke 45 minutes later and it was cold. I put my pajama pants on and tucked them in my socks and crawled out of town. We had checked the race dots and I guess Russel was as tired as we were because he had stopped somewhere as well. With no chance of him catching us, we barely moved as the gravel road on the route actually started in town. Forty more miles to go. As the sun came up we seen a couple of groups of deer. It could not end soon enough. The gravel between Bedias and Bryan never ended. Finally we came out on the road where the escort police had pulled over on the shoulder early Friday morning to let the fresh clean riders let the hammer down. Now there was no hammer left. Overwhelmed inside that we had accomplished this 500 miles of gravel, endless climbs, mean dogs, rumors of BigFoot, lack of sleep, but we had one thing on our mind it was not the finish line, it was breakfast. We pulled into the first gas station and ate and drank. Billy Rice pulled in and grabbed a chair and we sat there for about 30 minutes. The police showed up to escort us across town for 8 miles or so. As we crossed the finish line with a fist bump that morning there was a small crowd there to welcome us.
A week later I do this write up which I had no intentions of doing. I literally just wanted to finish this event and did not feel I would be able to. We shared 2nd place with a time of 2 days and 5 hours, with under two hours of sleep. Today I wish I were out there again.
WHAT AN ADVENTURE!!!
Dear God for the strength and ability to endure
Natasha Wyatt for supporting my love for this sport and being my backbone
Dana Burch for insisting to reach your goal and carry it to another level
Billy Rice for creating an awesome epic event right here in Texas
My heart goes out to all of those effected by Cancer. Those that have it or have had it. Those that stand by their loved ones and fight it.
Thank You CHI Saint Joseph Health for creating the event to raise funds to fight cancer.