Words By | RE/MAX Rider | Gordon Way
Sancho. 200 miles. With a lot of climbing. It’s not what you think it is.
I signed up for the 2018 Sancho Spring Race this year with a vendetta to settle.
Here’s the back story.
Sancho last year in October has been the only race so far that I DNF. I was 35 miles and 4 hours in during near freezing rain and high cross winds. Riding on tires better suited for the hard-packed roads around Grand Rapids. My brakes were failing and so were my hopes of making it another 165 miles. The sand had coated my rotors and ate away at my brake pads. Even with adjustment, I couldn’t really slow down much less stop. I was also last out of 9 riders and the next guy was 45 minutes ahead of me. I didn’t care that I was last. I just wanted to ride. To feel that freedom of putting all those miles under my wheels. So, when the Guy running the mobile aid station; I say mobile aid station, because he was to stay at mile 41, but instead drove around to better check up on the riders; Drove past and asked if I needed a lift. I threw in the towel.
Over the past several months between October and Early June; it ate at me that I had given up so easily. Like I couldn’t sleep well some nights thinking about what happened. I had endured tougher situations in the military. Why did I fail to better prepare? Why didn’t I have extra pads since I knew the weather would be bad? And on. So, I Tried to better prepare myself for this year. Failure WAS NOT an option. Going into this year’s event; I had only ridden a Metric Century “62 Miles” once or twice. But I’ve gone a max of 110 on pavement several times last year. That was also my furthest distance ever leading up to Sancho. This race was going to be tough.
This time around having known where I failed at last fall. I brought extra brake pads along. Better lighting and more battery packs for power. More grippy tires. More water and gear storage. All totaled; I was rolling a 60-pound rig. My bike of choice was and still is my 2013 Salsa Fargo. Comfortable, versatile, and reliable. With Schwalbe Racing Ralphs tires and a Brooks C17 Carved Saddle on a Dimension Suspension Seat Post. I knew I would be set to go for the day with all the water and food I brought along.
Now onto the race.
We started at 6am on Saturday June 6th. I note this for later reference. I was at the back of the pack on purpose with one thought in mind. “YOU WILL FINISH THIS!!!! Come hell or, high water or, noon tomorrow.” I felt like the Stig from top gear. I don’t know anything but ride. I don’t care if I finish last. Just do it! Sorry Nike, I needed the Motivation. I knew that the first 60 miles or so would be mostly climbing. I settled into a nice easy pace of about 15 mph on the flats as I made my way up Bunker Hill Road and out of Traverse City.
I had Planned to stop about every 20 miles and eat some food, plus give myself a break. The first 20 miles went buy without much of a problem. I rode with a few others in the race and enjoyed some conversation for a while. I Bid them a far well and made my first stop at mile 23 just after crossing M113 near Kingsley. Took about 15 minutes trying to pace myself and save it for later in the day. I knew that between 25 and 35 “miles in” there would be a lot of soft sand that I would have to hike-a-bike through. I got across the Manistee river without too much of a problem and made my way to checkpoint 1 at 41. I hung out for a while and made an adjustment to my seat post to soften it up a bit. I rolled in at about 9:30 and left around 10am. I was in no rush for time. The check point crew left a little while later and passed me around 11am.
That would be the last time I seen anyone else from the race. I knew that from here on; I was on my own. Maybe I could make it to checkpoint 2 by the time they wanted to roll up shop at 10pm; but I wasn’t counting on it. Just north of M115 I was almost attacked by a Pitbull. I have a few dogs of my own and one is a Pity-Mix. So, I know the difference between a dog just wanting to say hi and one that wants a piece of my leg. This one was out for blood. I just made the top of a steep big climb. Maybe 300 feet in gain; when this dog came tearing out towards me. I took off hearing the owner yelling for the dog to stop. I was going almost flat out to stay ahead; swatting at the dog saying that it was bad and a stern “Go home”. Eventually it gave up and turned for home.
My Pity-Mix, Star.
I kept riding on and now I was starting to put down some miles. Passing Galvanic’s auto on M55 gave me some throwback. I had sold a few cars in auction to them years ago when I was a teen. Then going on some of the dirt roads just south of there where I played rally at night with an old beat up pickup truck. An; still more climbing.
I stopped for a bit and got the picture above of my bike. The mosquitoes were starting to get bad in the shade around this point. It was around noon or 1 in the afternoon. I don’t really remember. In a race like that; time of the day doesn’t matter as much as time in race. I checked Facebook for any updates posted on the race. The leaders were already over 100 in. I got back on my bike and kept going. Now the climbs would settle down and the miles would pass even faster. I was running a moving average of just under 12mph. My elapsed speed was around 10mph.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much between 60 and 100. I know at I stopped at a gas station at 83 for some Gatorade and Jerky. My Protein bars weren’t sounding so good at this point. I was following my turn-by-turn on the Garmin and just riding. I was getting a little tired with climbing and the high gearing on my bike with a road triple crankset; plus, that 60 pounds. I knew I stopped at about 93 and found a nice spot for a 20-minute nap in the afternoon air. I haven’t done that in years while out riding a bike and it felt so refreshing. The First 100 was almost 5,000ft of Climbing according to my Garmin and Strava. I do Remember stopping to take a Picture of the Sign in Bristol. My parents had a house not far away near Leroy. I sent the Picture to them saying “Guess where I’m at”? I figured that would also be a good way to check in with them that I’m ok and still going.
At this point; fatigue really was starting to settle in. I was in uncharted territory both in what I could do and the fact that I didn’t have a clue where I was at or in what town. I just now looked it up on Strava. I was in Wellston. I was low on water after last filling up at the first checkpoint. I stopped at a gas station and with that; I will always remember that place as where the Monster Incident happened.
Now I usually hate monster brand drinks. But on that day; nothing sounded better. I don’t know why? I went in and got 3-1-liter bottles of water. A high carb monster drink of who knows what flavor. It was high in carbs. That’s it, drank that bastard quick! A pack of gummy bears. And, lastly, a chocolate milk. I didn’t care that I might get busted for a monster in the middle of a race. I was last, darn it. Got outside to my bike. Filled the camelback up with the water. Then proceeded to cram the monster, gummy bears, and chocolate milk. In, like, a minute flat. I was hungry; ok.
Then I was like “That didn’t do crap”. “I want another one”. So, I went back into the store for another. I got more gummy bears too. The guy at the counter thought that I had turned around and came back to the store. I said that I hadn’t left yet. Got outside and crammed the second monster. I decided to keep the gummies for the end. As a little victory snack. I rolled out a little after 6pm.
At this point I was also starting to slow down in speed and distance between stops. I wasn’t making it 20 miles at a shot anymore and knew that it was time to abandon that plan. I knew it was going to happen even before the day of the race. I was so happy with the refuel stop that I missed a turn about 5 miles later and quickly wondered why my Garmin was looking to recalculate the route. I don’t even think I went about a quarter mile before turning around.
At this point I knew it was getting late and the second checkpoint would want to roll up soon. But they also had riders to check up on. Luckily the organizers gave out the phone number for who manned the aid station. I called him and told him where I was at. That I was good to go. Had enough water, food, and light power to get through the night; along with tools and repair kit. This is where I really knew that I was on my own. It was getting dark.
Now it’s night time and I can’t climb anymore. With all that weight and high gearing, I just couldn’t push it anymore. I started walking the bike up the hills. This was getting painful. Numb hands and feet. But I was happy to know that I finally made it into Ultra Endurance Territory. The bugs had gotten really-bad over that last few hours. I should have had bug spray.
I knew that this was the area for the last big climbs of the day. Ok, race. It was already into Sunday at this point. I just kept riding and stopping every few miles. I was starting to get dizzy from the exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I got up at 3:30 on Saturday.
At this point, I’m Digging; deep to keep going. And the Rain started around 4am. Heavy, driving rain. At least the Bugs are now gone.
I was at a point that I didn’t care if I sounded crazy for babbling out loud to myself. I was motivating myself to keep going. Saying “Ok body, 10 more miles. You too brain”. “You got this dude”. I was hiking the bike saying that and something to my left caught my attention. It was a guy in a gray sweatshirt passed out on an 80’S style quad. In the middle of the woods no less. I was like “I’m going to get back on my bike now”. I didn’t want the dude waking up and freaking out; and took off. A few miles later I stopped again and listened, just in case. I figured that if in some weird case that he would follow me; I could duck off the trail and turn my lights off.
4 Mile road.
I was so close. The feel of being back on pavement and the cool rain; felt like I had transcended to another life. To the other side of this ride and to bigger things to come with riding. It was also 5am and I was dog tired. Ready to be done.
I rode around the building a few laps as was trying to get my Garmin to roll over 200. I was done. I had Set out and done it. The single hardest thing I’ve ever taken on! I rolled up to the door and got this picture below.
I might have been late to the party; but I made it!!
Now it’s Thursday and my toes are still having some numbness issues. I know its due to the weight, high gearing, and being on my feet for 24 hours. Some people I’ve talked with have said that going that distance is crazy, or that they would never do that. Then occasionally I get asked if I want to do it again. I’m already picking out gear and figuring out how to lighten up for next time. I hope to run it again in 18 hours or so. Wider tires, lower gearing, less weight. I’ve already figured out how to cut out 15-18 pounds and have purchased new tires. Schwalbe Thunder Burt’s from GRBC.
What can I say, I’m hooked!