BaseCamp alumnus Jeffrey Cory shared his experience at the Dead Swede gravel race in Wyoming.
Race report from the Northern Rockies: Dead Swede 100 miler gravel race, Sheridan, WY. Same day as Unbound. Thinking about fellow BaseCampers out there in Kansas (well done, everyone!) turning the cranks just like me (albeit with mud to deal with, whereas my gravel race roads were pristine) kept my motivation high. My goal was to finish, as this was my first gravel "hundo." Spoiler alert — mission accomplished. Read on if you want, or just check out the pics if you don't. I'm verbose. But I had fun writing it…
Weather was amazing. Low 50s to start, mid 70s in afternoon. No T-storms developed till evening. Hardly any wind, head or tail. Well organized event. No mechanicals, no flats, AXS battery didn’t run out. Lauf True Grit bike was awesome. One numb/tingly pinky finger post-race is nearly all better now, some 24+ hours later. No migraine (I get them, triggered by exercise and sunlight, but thankfully not too often; snow glare is the worst). Did better with eating necessary fuel than I often do on long rides, so that was a good feature of my race. Some calories by Tailwind in my large bottle; drinking calories can be easier than eating them, sometimes. Oh, and no saddle sores! Thanks Steve and Chamois Butter; and good thing I brought one of those little single-use CB thingies to reapply a couple times mid-race.
Due to the fact that Sheridan on Memorial Day got 2.5 inches of rain (yep, 7th highest single-day total there, on record — ever, like, in recorded history) thus putting wet heavy snow up in the Big Horn mountains, that single track course portion had to be scratched. That meant that we did one loop of the main course two times instead of a planned once, for the 100-miler, with the second loop starting at the start/finish line (see more of the story below). Hundo racers like me started 7 AM, then 60-milers, then 40-milers, respectively on the hour later.
As we rolled out from the start and the lead group took off (nearly 70 hundo racers, total), I was (seriously) thinking about Amber Neben telling us in last December's fondo challenge on Zwift that staying with the peloton makes for conserving energy with drafting. Yeah, I'd like to draft. But I couldn't burn all my matches right at the start, and pretty soon (um, less than a mile into the race) I was back of the pack. No drafting for me. In fact, after the first aid station 10 miles in, I was nearly last. But my passion is bikepacking, and many of those long miles are solo, so the beautiful landscape (see pics) and sky kept me company. I ended up riding almost all of the hundred miles solo (I know you Unbound-ers didn’t have that experience). Fun socializing with aid station volunteers, anyway. Definitely topped up my 3 water bottles at all station stops.
The picture of the "can we still be friends" sign is from the steepest hill, near the top. I'd say it was 9-12% max grade for about a quarter mile. I guess it was still my friend, as I like climbing, and in fact, I’m happy to report that I actually rode every foot of all the climbs (except about 10 feet on the penultimate climb of the day due to cramps, before realizing riding staved off the cramps more than walking). The race route all told had 6500+ feet of climbing (would've been more, but again, no single track into the mountains due to snow).
So by about 20 miles in, I was In. Fact. DFL. I didn't really care that much, since I knew I had to ride my own race in order to get to 100 mile finish. And did I say that the landscape and weather was gorgeous? However, many of you may have never had the experience I had, there in DFL, which was that a black truck ("race support," aka, Dead Swede sag wagon, aka, the one who makes you get in for a ride home when you don’t make the time cutoffs) literally, and I mean literally, followed me (I'll give him credit — at a distance of maybe 100 yards) the entirety of the course (till about 10 miles from the finish; see more of the story below). Kind of a sort-of-demoralizing reminder of being DFL. But he was a nice guy (kept talking to me when he stopped "with me" at aid stations). Still, a 3/4-ton rig putt-putting along behind ya kinda crimps a guy's solitude out there. New personal race goal: stay ahead of DFL, don’t have the sweeper truck slowly follow YOU.
So I fully figured I'd finish DFL in the end (and have truck company all the way). But I planned to finish…
Got to the "bacon" aid station at mile 49 (only one with a pan of bacon; not appetizing to me, but I got cold Coke or Pepsi at nearly each aid stop) at the top of a long hill. The volunteers pepped me up. First pee of the race that I could muster, and a bit concerning I wasn't making much urine; but in the second half of the race, for whatever reason, that problem went away, which I figured was a good sign. More pee stops. Anyway, at the bacon station, I got a bit of a second wind, not only because it was mainly downhill(ish) back to Sheridan for 10 miles, but also because I told the volunteers I'd see them in 3 or so hours, effectively saying that goal out loud. They thought all the 100 mile racers were through, and when they realized I was the lanterne rouge, they got all whoop-y and jumpy and said they'd see me again on my second loop, and get back out there and get 'er done! So I headed back to Sheridan (start/finish area) not really even thinking about pulling the plug there.
It would have been so easy to stop there, though, back at the finish, and that start/finish point was actually mile 60 of my 100. Sixty miles is respectable… Mind games… And all the 60-mile, 40-mile, 20-mile racers who had already finished were already there at the finish line party, music blaring and all. But I really wanted the 100 finish. I've DNFed before, and it eats at you later. So I rolled on through (weird to go under the finish line when I wasn't finished…) and headed out again. Oh, and before I hit the start/finish area, I got "lapped" (on their second loop, my first) by the first- and second-place 100-miler guys. Wicked fast (or I'm wicked slow, or both). At least I didn't go under the finish banner at the same time as either of them. That would have been supremely embarrassing (or I could have tried to outsprint the lead guy in the finish chute and fake the crowd that I won the whole thing).
At the first aid station on loop 2, I found out I might not be DFL anymore! A guy was there making some unhappy sounds. He also said he had been walking the hills, and in fact, he left and walked up the "can we still be friends" hill (lap 2 version) as I did more aid stationing. But when I rode (!) to the top and took my pic of bike with sign, he was pedaling off into the distance ahead of me. I didn't see him again until the last big hill right before the bacon aid station (at mile 90, at that point). He had been sort of my rabbit out front for about 30-ish miles, till the bacon hill. Anyway, that other racer was walking that hill, and despite some cramps (first of my race), I was damn well gonna ride it. Here was my chance to not come in DFL (I know I said I didn't care, but it is a race, and if I could just beat him back to Sheridan…). And also, I quite seriously wanted to saddle him, and not me, with the damn sag wagon truck — an added benefit to passing the last racer I could, 10 miles from the finish. (Kudos to him, as he did eventually finish.)
So I cruised on past him ("cruising" at probably 3 mph in my granny gear) and got to bacon. About 1.5 hours before the DNF cutoff at that station. The vols (who, bless their patience, could finally pack up after these last two slow-ass 100-mile racers got on through) were super supportive, all cheers and cowbells and offers to feed me. They had lots of PBR left, and did in fact suggest I should have a beer. I'd love to, but not just yet… One said I looked more fresh than the first time she saw me come through (WTF?!?, but I guess I'll take it). I still didn't eat bacon, but I did accept a couple shots of pickle juice for the cramps. Handful of Swedish fish, chewing so full the juice went down my chin, and I was off. Downhill! I think I may have been in the high 20s mph on the few flats, imagining the newly-DFL guy trying to chase me down.
That feeling of knowing you're going to accomplish a desired goal — you know, that feeling when you have some "finishing miles" left to savor a basically assured success? Pretty sweet. Maybe like Unbound racers hitting the city pavement in the last miles in Emporia… Anyway, I went under the finish banner just as they were getting the afternoon podium awards going. Kind of ironic. Or something. But mission accomplished — the first-of-my-season target race goal I set back in November when I first stumbled happily into BaseCamp. Yeah, the free race beer at the finish party tasted pretty good. Then I learned back at the hotel that it had a pool but no jacuzzi…
Some of the pics posted here I snapped. The one of me with the horseback riders was by the race photographer (about mile 75), and the one of me with BaseCamp Train Where You Belong shorts was by the same photographer at the beginning of the race. My race number 11 seems ironic in light of my finishing position.
Stats (if you’ve read this far) for the guy who finished 64th out of 65 finishers of the hundo: 103 miles; 6516 feet elevation gain; 8 hrs 45 minutes total race time; 7 hours 45 minutes total ride time (and yes, I did need 60 minutes of aid station resting and fueling, I guess; didn’t think I was dawdling that much…); 485 TSS; HR zone percentages — Z2 AE 32%; Z3 Tempo 52%; Z4 Threshold 15%. As to my NP, let’s just say it was in my Tempo zone, well, well below my FTP.
I’d have to say I pretty highly recommend the Dead Swede gravel race, especially if you aren’t doing Unbound next year on the same day. Make it a family trip to see Yellowstone, too. First weekend in June, each year.
Next up for me: JayP's Gravel Pursuit 60 miler, mid July, just west of Yellowstone N.P., and then early September, RPI French Fry (see you there!) as a warmup for the 430-mile Smoke ‘n Fire 400 bikepacking ultra race, Boise-Ketchum-Stanley-Boise, a few days after RPI. For now, resting and eating, and back to work.