BaseCamper Jill White shared her experience at the 2023 Unbound Gravel 200 event in Kansas.
I was a DNF, missing the last checkpoint cutoff by ten minutes at Unbound 200 this year. I'm processing and settling into it, but what I want to say is thank you BaseCamp for incredible PMA (positive mental attitude). It was an epic physical battle with navigating mud and some water supply challenges—I feel proud I fought hard and smart, and sometimes there are no finisher medals …. and I have no regrets. Also, my bike handling skills in storms mud wet rocky sketch increased incredibly over 177 miles and almost 18 hours of fight. I did not give up. You all taught me well!!!
The Full Story
I was a DNF. It was epic.
Grow with the moon. It is what I settled into as I looked at the words written on a bandanna that means a lot to me… Unbound Gravel.
"There is something so beautifully irrational about the love of a landscape, we ought not to be afraid to be guided by that. It is a subtle beauty, it's a quiet beauty. The Flint Hills give you a chance to catch your breath. There are very few places a person can go and feel the connection to the earth, to that history. Like the Tall Grass Spirit, there is a presence in these hills that seem to hold the enormity of time. You have to tune your thinking, tune your seeing and hearing to the pace and the rhythm and the moments of this place, and all of a sudden you are given this great gift."
I was a DNF at Unbound 2023. I fought an epic battle. I reflected on my beautiful life and my family. I stayed bound to that. I was unbound from time, expectations, & medals. I accepted humbly the skill it takes to be here and the work yet to do in my life. That was wonderful. I also smiled at my mud skills as they kept getting better and better for 177 miles. I never quit. I kept PMA despite knowing I was about to fail.
What do you say when you know you are failing? Okay. Keep pedaling.
Start 0600 was magic. I felt that magic just like last year. I had big goals today. My cheeks actually hurt from smiling at my family, seeing all the racers—watching the deep pro women ready to fight. Feeling my amateur fight space as well. I love that feeling.
I rolled perfectly as planned through the start. I reflected on all the words of my coach Kate, I was feeling free, wild, ready. I had my heart rate dialed in for the beginning of the day…was with an amazing group, a mountain biker from Moab was my partner at this point…I mention him because he reminded me of my friend Jacob Moss. He said, "Momma, this is going to be a long day, keep that joy." I responded later, as we were full on bikes thrown over our shoulders 2 miles deep into that action in the mud, "Moab, challenge accepted." Moab did tell me I hauled my bike like a mountain biker, keeping that girls derailleur clear—I knew Kate would be proud as we practiced so much bike carry. 😊 I stayed in the moments and just carried. I thought about my friends Jacob and Ellen through that 5-mile, no-way-to-ride mud walk. Sometimes you just have to be "I am here for it" "for the long road." We don’t quit.
I also knew sunset time was gone. This took so much energy and time. My dragon to fight was going to be time.
I rode well after this section and a few more bike carry sections. I smiled often at the improvement of my bike handling through some rocky areas with intermixed sand, dirt, and mud. The temperatures began to rise. I felt the sun.
I made it to water oasis at mile 41 to find limited water. Okay, recalculate, Jill. This is okay, and I will just have to readjust to make it to my family at mile 79. (I heard later there was no water, so I am thankful I got a bottle there.) Also, side note: I found the best behaviors in people, as there was a lot of calculated sharing between strangers. People dug in with all ten fingers and toes to show up for each other and care for one another. That was worth the lack of water to see! I decided my strategy to handle this was to not mix the bottle of water but sip that and eat my gels to keep some calories maintained. I also watched my feels—I slowed as I felt need, and I took very good caution and care of myself, I respected the heat and knew she demanded me to go slow and cautious. I did.
Epic story…there was a rocky decent I was side by side with a woman I had been leapfrogging with for miles. She abruptly stopped, put her bike down, and walked back up the rocks. I stopped to make sure she was okay because it was so sudden. She had seen a bottle that had been lost due to the rocks, she grabbed it, shook it (it was full), and I started to laugh as she guzzled it!! Pure SAVAGE. She looked at me and handed me the rest. My heart exploded at that kindness. I sure did drink it!!!
Crawled into mile 79. For reference, I had made it to this point by noon last year. It was now after 3:00 p.m. I have never been so happy to see my team/family. I cried a bit with happiness to see them. They fed me, fueled me, put cold towels on my back, Brooke Snell, and gave me encouragement to keep on— my husband said, "Give your body a minute, you're a bit behind." He was so spot on. They also gave me my lights. "You are going to need these." They thought that out for me. I am so thankful they did. Saved me. It was the only time I felt a twinge grief/disappointment; I recognized I might not make the next cutoff, they knew it too. In this recognition, I wrestled the concept of failure. I decided to fail is okay. Keep pedaling.
I was totally back on track with my heart rate and effort. Mile 79-124 gave me everything the Flint Hills has to offer.
Those miles/experiences are for me to hold quietly in my heart. Thank you to this land. This was a space that shared 40 miles of headwind, massive rain, hail, no visual fields, and friends. When we were through the storm, one guys yelled, "Can we do that again? I deep down felt the same.
Time, again it just took more time. And that dragon would not let me alone.
Mile 124. (TIME…I made it here last year around 5:30 p.m. It was now after 8:00 p.m.)
I love Hamilton. The people, the vibe, the support. This is where I saw so many people being rescued. They knew what I was also haunted with: time was closing in. I never felt that from the volunteers; they treated me like I was a pro. Full on filling my bottles, patting me on the back, comforting me. "You can still do it."
I knew the course, knew the next section was the hardest part, then after Madison it is like flying—and could be my fastest time. Just make it to Madison, was what I was thinking, then Coach Kate will be so proud because you will have negative split from Madison to finish! My legs began to feel refreshed. My body was taking fuel better. I was settling in.
Then another long mud section.
I smiled and thought of Moab. I just squatted down and tossed my girl up on my shoulder. Here we go again, girl, have you been putting on weight?
DARK. Lights now on. For a minute I felt that initial dark fear: damn it, I am on roads no cars can get to in the dark with snakes in the mud. I pushed that negativity out quickly. I had so many people in front and behind me, and I like snakes.
No one talked now, but we smiled at each other as we leapfrogged lights.
I loved this part of the course. In fact, it embraced me with love, wildlife, peace, and good riding. I was handling my bike well. We flowed. I knew it would be close to make it in time to Madison. I did not force the pace or my skill level just to make it in time. I stopped looking at the time. I thought of my adult kids, who I promised a clean, no-crash ride. I thought of my skills and how I was staying well within them—but knew the edge was close, and I stayed on the safe side of that edge. It was what I knew I needed from myself. This time. This race.
When I crossed the timing mat to Madison checkpoint 2, the volunteers cheered. "You didn’t make the time cutoff for DNF, but damn girl, you sure made it." My family were all smiles as if I had just won the race. I received that joy, as I felt so good. My legs, my body, my mind fully intact.
I got the very best version of myself. That is my ultimate WHY.
"I also realize that winning doesn't always mean getting first place; it means getting the best out of yourself.” Tim Cusick
I got to spend seventeen hours and twenty minutes in an adventure. This is what fairy tales are made of. My bike is fully intact. So am I.
"Can we do that again?"
"Mom, you smell so bad." Mitch Snell. Best thing my son has ever said to me.