Unbound Gravel 100 2022 Ride Review
Unbound Gravel 2022, was awesome…
Planning for this adventure started in 2019 after I completed the 100 mile event at what was then known as Dirty Kanza. In July 2019, Wagner (Wags) and I went to Emporia for the Lunar Kanza, there I got a golden ticket, allowing me to bypass the lotto for 2020.
I signed up for 2020, covid happened. I deferred to 2021. 2021 happened. I had a worse year in 2021 than I did in 2020, found out I had a heart issue (Afib) and kidney stones, random other things. I deferred out of 2021. Wags and I went to Emporia in June anyways. It was an absolute f’n blast.
This year was going to be different, I used my 2021 deferral, Wagner used his 2021 volunteer hours, and we brought Myckel along with us as well as he had also gone and volunteered in ‘21. Myckel and I signed up for 200 Miles, Wagner was realistic and signed up for 100 miles.
Training for 2022 was off and on. I ended up going into AFib again in February, so I was derailed for a couple of weeks with that, and then came down with a cold. Outside of that, life simply got in the way, kids sports, work commitments, weather, etc, led to not riding near enough to try and ride 200 miles.
Going into the weekend, Myckel had switched to the 100 route, I knew I was going to when I got onsite, but I was hoping I could get my number plate with my name on it, so I didn’t change until I was onsite (more on that later).
We left St. Louis Thursday morning. The group this year was Myckel, Wagner and myself, along with Wagner’s wife there to provide SAG for us misfits. Myckel picked me up, I got a few work calls in on the drive. The Wagner family left town around the same time. The drive out to Kansas was easy, St. Louis to Emporia is not a bad drive at all, ~5.5 hours I think for us with a stop along the way to grab some Chick-Fil-A outside of Kansas City.
We arrived and went straight to the hotel, I had two rooms booked at the Econolodge (same location we stayed in 2021) and Myckel had a room booked at the ESU dorm. He dropped me off and I got checked in, things loaded into the room, and then got the bike ready to head downtown for a shake out ride. The guy at Econolodge tried to offer us two connected rooms, with only one working bathroom, for a $10/night discount. I declined, the discount got moved to $20 a night, but still declined. If it was 4 dudes in the two rooms, perhaps, but with Wags’ wife there, it didn’t make sense to try to save a little dough for the inconvenience.
Once we had the room squared way, we suited up and headed downtown. The goal was to get in on a group ride with the Major Taylor Cycling Club out of KC, and also spend some time walking around the Expo, in addition, we needed to get checked in for the weekend.
The check in for Unbound is always in the same place, a beautiful three story building, the https://www.flickr.com/photos/chammond/47997788691. We trek’d upstairs and got into our appropriate check in areas. I checked in to the 200 route, while Wags checked into 100. I then immediately got into the “change” line. There I was easily able to switch from the 200 mile route to the 100 mile route. But I was told I had to turn in my 200 mile number plate and timing chip.
After a few attempts at asking very nicely, I was able to get the lady who helped me to rip the timing chip off the plate so I could keep the one with my name on it. I was given a different plate, with no name, for the 100 route. I totally get why they wouldn’t want to have extra plates out there, and extra timing chips. I was very thankful that she let me keep mine.
After check in, we headed to the Expo. I think this year there were something like 290 vendors at the expo. This expo at Unbound/DK is just amazing. The swag you can get, the gear you can buy, the people you can meet, is absolutely one of the best parts of the weekend! One thing to keep in mind with the Unbound Gravel expo is that it ends at 5pm on Friday evening, it is gone by about 5:15pm. You won’t find 99% of the vendors on Saturday or Sunday, though you can find Muc-Off after the event (more later).
I saw Isabel King taking a selfie with someone, so I went up and asked if I could have one too. She’s easy to spot as she is almost always in bright orange, I dig that look.
Wags and I also make it a point to get a selfie with Big Tall Wayne, Stetina’s mechanic. He’s a great guy, and always up for a chat whenever we see him.
Shake out ride
After the expo we headed back to the car to get ready for a group ride. Group rides are a plenty at Unbound. Thursday afternoon’s ride was our first, but not the first of the weekend, and not our last. We met at the Major Taylor booth in the Expo and headed out with a couple hundred people for a 13-14 mile ride south east of Emporia.
The ride was tame, not a race, not very well organized. A couple of times the lead group didn’t know where to make a turn and would have to turn around to catch a turn they missed. I had the route on my computer, so I knew where I was going. I spent a bit of time talking with a guy from Smithville, MO. He was in town just for the group rides and the expo. He told me his first gravel ride was about an hour earlier when he joined a different group ride. He mentioned that he helped with the Humphrey’s Gravel Grinder put on in Smithville, which happened a few weeks earlier. I may have to try to put that one on the calendar next year.
The ride was good, nothing too technical, not too fast, not too slow. Nelson Vails was the guest for the ride, he spoke before the ride, and then was friendly and chatting it up with various folks on the ride. I passed him at one point because he was slowing down on his cell phone, of course I chose the muddiest section of the ride and coated my Grizl in mud.
Post ride we put the bikes back on the rack and walked around town a bit to find a place for dinner. We ended up at the Mexican place right on Commercial St, putting our names on the list and then wandering a bit more. The restaurant was packed with gravel riders and crew. We had a good meal, though service was slow, it was packed as previously stated, so I am completely fine with the slowness.
Friday morning started with a 730am wake up. I haven’t slept well in hotels in years, most definitely not when I am coming up on a big event, so sleeping until 730 was a pleasant surprise. A quick shower and then we headed out the door to get over towards the next group ride. This group ride was supposed to be the Chamois Buttr ride, we found the CB tent setup behind Mulready’s, grabbed a little swag from the HED table, and then walked up the street to the donut shop on Commercial. We learned last year that their donuts are excellent, and we weren’t disappointed for 2022.
Shake out ride
After a few donuts and juice we headed back to the car to get the bikes ready. A quick check over, change into our riding gear, and we were back at the Expo lining up for the ride. If there were a few hundred at the Thursday evening ride, it felt like there were a thousand for this one (likely 500, but maybe more). Once again I had the ride loaded up in my Garmin, so when we took off, and the entire group took a turn that wasn’t on the route in my computer, we went off on our own. Exactly one block later we were back with the group as they simply took an extra turn VS the route we went.
The ride was uneventful, but once again beautiful. Post ride we loaded the bikes back up on the car and ventured into the Expo again. Grabbing swag, and a few selfies along the way. I went to the Canyon booth and had them swap out a chain ring on my bike that I’ve had bend 3 times since I received the bike back in December. The tech there was super helpful and had it swapped out in a few minutes. I am still waiting on Shimano to send the replacement ring, fortunately my brother sent me one earlier in May. I tried to stop by the Orange Seal booth to get my sealant topped off, but was told I would need to come back because it was too busy. I stopped at the Polar Bottle booth and had a great conversation with those guys. I got a bottle or two, along with a t-shirt, for posting a dirty bike on social media. Little did they know that the next day they would have plenty of dirty bikes to post.
Around 1230 we headed over to the Granada Theater to catch a presentation from Nelson Vails. I’ll be blunt, it was an odd presentation. He talked about his pro riding after his olympic medal, mostly time spent in Japan I believe. Why was it odd? I am not even sure, the way he talked about himself I guess. I was hoping to hear more of his life story, I honestly had never heard of him prior to Friday, so I was hoping to learn more. Instead we got an overview of how racing in Japan in the 90s worked. It sounded like Horse racing, but guys on bikes instead.
After that we spent another couple of hours in the Expo grabbing more swag for the kids (right?). A guy that I know from work (Matt) arrived that afternoon and joined us. His hotel was closed even though you could make bookings online, so he bunked up in my room as I had two beds.
The prior two years while in Emporia I was able to get a selfie with Alison Tetrick, so this year I wanted to make sure and try to make it three times. I was able to get a photo with her in the Expo this year, as opposed to at the finish afterwards. I figured I would get one on Friday, knowing I might not be around the finish line much on Saturday.
We made a stop at the local Wal Mart to get a couple of supplies, primarily breakfast for Saturday morning. I think I grabbed a couple of donuts, and some pop-tarts, a super healthy setup for sure. I also picked up a gallon of water, being not 100% sure what the water situation would be like at the checkpoint.
Friday evening was spent with a quick meal, a local food truck that has a building they attach to for normal business. Then final prep getting everything ready for Saturday. I made it a point to try to have the lights off and be sleeping by 10pm. Did I meet that goal? Perhaps, closer than I figured I would be at least.
Saturday morning started early. I think I had my alarm set for 4:40am, possibly a little earlier. My daily wake up shower followed by getting into the bike kit for the day, lathering up with Chamois Buttr. I scarfed down the donuts at the hotel and a Starbucks Frappuccino as we got into town. We wanted to try to get over and catch the start of the 200 mile ride. I ran up towards the front and watched those riders take off. The 200 ride was delayed by about 5 minutes as there was a train crossing the road not too far from the starting line.
After that it was time to start getting ourselves ready. We headed back to the car, got the bikes off the rack, took any extra layers of clothing off. Final prep on the bikes, ensuring that we had all the appropriate gear, helmets, glasses, gloves, water bottles, food, etc.
From there we made a quick stop at the local church. I knew from 2019 that the church offered up breakfast, and even more importantly, bathrooms! Indoor bathrooms even, always a plus!
From the restroom we headed up into the starting shute. I went towards the 10 hour finishers section, knowing that I wasn’t planning on finishing much faster than that. My time in 2019 was 11.5 hours I think, with a 1 hour break at the aid station. This year I was hoping to minimize the time spent on my stop, and also just overall ride faster, knowing that the weather was looking cooler than the prior 2 years I’ve been in Emporia.
The ride started out slowly, as one does with over a thousand people starting out. We headed south out of town with a police escort, after a couple of miles we hit gravel, then things got REALLY slow. I guess some people went down in the first corner on gravel, my assumption is that slowed things down to start. We ended up getting slowed mainly by a mud puddle pinch point. Basically a section of gravel road that was wet on both sides, but there was a dry route through it, but it ultimately choked things down as everyone was trying to stay dry and mud free (heh, more on that later).
Shortly after this, I was riding solo. Wagner and Myckel were off, I figured that would be the case, I just didn’t figure I would be solo before 10 miles. Oh well, I was going to go my pace and make sure I finished.
The weather for the first 40 miles was simply amazing. While it did spit rain here and there, it was not enough to collect anywhere, or even make the road wet. I tried to make myself drink fluids ever 5 miles to ensure I stayed hydrated. It was cool, some might even say chilly (not me), so I was trying to be diligent about drinking my Scratch Labs mix. I started out with a frozen water bladder, so I couldn’t drink a lot at once as I was waiting for it to melt.
The first shot of fluid I got was shocking, apparently I hadn’t mixed the Scratch in very well before freezing, so I got a super rich burst of flavor. I immediately thought that if I had a full bag of that much flavor there was no way I was going to be able to drink it, it was far too strong. Thankfully as the rest of the ice pack melted it watered things down.
Those first 40 miles, the route itself was absolutely beautiful. We went though a section they called the Cattle Pens, I feel like some of this was private land, not public roads. We crossed over the highway a couple of times, we saw a big life sized Lama (cutout) and people cheering us on. There was also a printed sign about Nickelback, I don’t remember exactly what it said, but I was highly offended by it, as with anything Nickelback related.
At one point I had two riders in front of me that I was coming up on. Off to the right was a lone cow that was making its way over towards the gravel road, and more importantly, making its way to us. Based on what I had seen from a ride earlier this year, where a bull charged and hit multiple riders I had no intention of being someone hit by a cow. I did however pull my camera out and take some photos as I started speaking with the cow, saying something along the lines of “Hey buddy, how are you? Good buddy, good buddy, stay over there”. I passed the cow without incident, and then noticed that both the riders I was coming up on, had put themselves to my left, placing me directly between themselves and the cow. Thanks guys.
Around mile 41 or so, we came across the neutral water stop. This was an area where everyone could reload on water, but not via the help of your support crews. I stopped here and filled up my now empty water bladder, had a couple of snacks, and then got back on the route. Shortly after the stop was a Y, where you could go right for the 200 mile route, and left for the 100 mile route.
Shortly after the water stop, the skies opened up. It rained pretty darn good for the next 30 miles. I think at one point I heard thunder, but only once that I recall. At another point I had a rider ask me if I heard thunder (at that point all I heard was wind). The more it rained, the less photos I took.
I felt like the surface conditions of the route, at least one the 100 mile route I did, were actually far more tame than those conditions I remember on the northern route from 2019. I don’t recall any really rocky areas, maybe they were there but perhaps masked by water later in the ride.
The only real dangers I saw were the cattle grates, as things got wet, they definitely could have caused some issues, but for me, I didn’t have any problems with them. I did come across one group after going through what appeared to be an entrance to a ranch, that was stopped to help a downed rider. I had flashbacks to Big Sugar 2021. I don’t know what condition the rider was in, but it didn’t look good as I went by.
The 30 miles after the water stop were pretty much all rain, all the time. At some point I realized I could see WAY better if I took my glasses off, otherwise they were wet and almost fogged over. I was riding pretty much solo, so I didn’t have to worry about rooster tails from anyone else covering me in dirt or water from the gravel.
I do recall at one point thinking, it’s raining hard enough that my tires are actually clean, there was so much water that they simply weren’t covered in dirt.
I pulled into the check point looking for Wagner’s wife in the sag vehicle. I ended up almost out of town when BigTallWayne came over and asked me if I needed any help. Told him I was looking for my SAG vehicle, parked in front of a church. His response was “that could be anywhere in Kansas”, which was accurate. A local overheard me, and told me where I needed to head to to find the church, a quick backtrack with a right turn and I came across Mrs. Wags.
The aid stop was much appreciated, I had 2 or 3 Uncrustables (fake PB&J sandwiches), swapped to my second frozen (mostly) water bladder, chugged another bottle of water, emptied some trash and refilled some food. I also took off my gloves, sticking them into a jersey pocket. My gloves were actually difficult to take off, I don’t know if my fingers were swollen, or the gloves were just super wet.
I considered changing jerseys, but figured it was pointless, it was still raining, or supposed to. I changed to a different pair of glasses that were in the SAG vehicle. This pair was setup with trail lenses, which I figured would be easier to see through in the overcast conditions.
After the aid station I got another loud cheer from the Canyon guys and headed out of town. There were a couple of folks heading out around the same time as me, but I was off again essentially solo. Wags and Myckel had gone through the aid station at least 45 minutes ahead of me, if not more.
From the aid station, the rain got worse. Around Mile 71 I came across the muddy section of road. Up until that point, even with the rain, the surfaces were great, but this mud was thick. People were starting to walk, but I wanted to try to ride as much as I could. I ended up passing by a guy who fell pretty hard, but was okay. Shortly there after I decided I was going to jump from the right track to the left track on the road, that was my mistake. I hit the thick soft mud and fell down to my right side. So this was two 100 mile rides in a row in Emporia where I fell. In 2019 I took a spill in the aid station, I got myself off balance when trying to get on the bike and went down on the same knee.
After taking the spill I decided I would walk. People were walking up the left side of the road, in the grass, along a barbed wire fence. I went that route, for a brief moment trying to carry my bike, but ultimately just walking with it. Eventually I got to a point where the grass was a good 5 to 6 feet above the road itself. The grass was all mashed down from the thousands of feet that had passed before me on the ride. The area to walk was getting narrower, and harder to walk and maintain control of the bike, so I decided I would try to get back down into the mud.
As soon as I started to try to scale down the hill, I slipped and flailed my arms. I managed to scratch my left arm down one of the barbs on the fence. I checked it out, fortunately it was just a scratch, but it was a good four to five inches in length, and immediately started to bleed.
I walked my way through the muddy section, occasionally stopping to scrape some of the peanut butter off the bike, though I found the most effective way to do that was simply to pick the bike up and slam it back down a couple of times.
Just after the muddy section was a water crossing that was probably 4 to 5 inches deep. I took this opportunity to wash the bike off, laying it down in the creek to try to help clear off a majority of the mud. I was just about to consider laying down in the water myself when I look back and see the 200 mile leaders racing through the mud right towards the group of us washing off in the creek.
We all cleared out of the way as they made their way through, never stopping or getting off the bike through the mud section as far as I could tell. Four or five of the leaders came through then Peter Stetina came by, he stopped and washed his hands in the creek before continuing on with the race.
As I recall, after the mud/water, the weather turned for the better. We were heading north, back into mostly dry and even sunny country. The course ended up back on some of the routes we had done in the pre-rides, though coming in from the opposite direction. At one point I came across a guy, about my size, who was standing on the side of the road working on his bike. I asked if he needed any help, to which he replied: “I’ve only got one gear”. I was slowly climbing up an incline, couldn’t really help him, so I kept going.
Still heading up the climb a short time later, I heard a voice behind me. It was the one gear guy, he was on my wheel (or close enough). We had a brief conversation, I learned he was from Hays Kansas, I mentioned to him I was from St. Louis. Once we got onto flat ground I pulled away from him a bit, having multiple gears and all. He did end up passing me a later when I stopped to refill water from my bottle into my backpack, and cleaned my glasses. I recall seeing him on one of the final climbs near the finish, I cried out “You’ve got this Hays”.
After stopping and talking with the family who was passing out water at the end of their driveway, I headed for the final ~12 miles of the ride. I was feeling pretty good, definitely getting tired, but not bad by any means. Normally on long rides between miles 85 and 95, I get pretty beat down and just want to be done, but on this ride I never got into that lull. It was definitely warming up, and I was ready to be done, but I was happy.
As I came under the highway and started into the final hill I was ready to be done and ready to get the last hill out of the way. There was a KOM (King of the mountain) challenge on the hill, I knew I wasn’t going to be competing for that. I figured maybe I was in for a PR, but looking at the Strava data, it was my slowest climb up that hill (4th attempt), oh well. It was my highest heart rate effort of the day, closing in on 170 BPM.
A quick jaunt through campus and you are back on Commercial street heading towards the finish. This is where I sprinted, best I could, towards the finish line. In 2019 I finished with my buddy Steve at the same time, for 2022 I was on my own, so I took off as hard as I could. I finished this segment 7 seconds faster than I had in 2019.
Post ride I grabbed my finisher’s bag and immediately got in line for the Muc-Off bike wash. The line was enormous, and I ended up waiting in it for well over an hour. Totally worth the clean bike, but it was pretty darn warm standing there. I saw Wags and Myckel in line, they finished about 45 minutes ahead of me, and were about 45 minutes ahead of me in the wash line as well.
Matt brought me a nice cold Coke, at my request, while I waited in line. Writing this more than two weeks after Unbound, I question if I should have just requested he bring me a water. More on why later. He had done the 50 mile route and spent most of that 50 miles in the rain as well. Though he finished early enough that he had already been back to the hotel, showered and cleaned up.
Once the bike was cleaned up, Wags and I grabbed a bite to eat from the food trucks. Finishers had a $10 credit for food and a free beer. I don’t even recall what I got? I think maybe a couple of hotdogs and another soda. We planned to grab a bigger meal after cleaning up at the hotel, but figured it would be good to get something in us before then. We made our way back to the Econolodge. I made sure to not actually lay down, knowing that if my head hit a pillow I would likely be out for too many hours.
For dinner we found a pizza place that was open and ordered a pie. It was easier to eat out on the west side of town, rather than trying to find something around the start/finish area with thousands of other people hanging around. After dinner it was an early night in. I brought along my camera equipment in case I was motivated to try to get out on the course and take photos as Wags and I had done last year, but there was no way that was happening after riding 104 miles.
I thought I slept okay on Saturday night, but when I woke up, I looked at my resting heart rate data from my Whoop I noticed it was about 35 BPM higher than normal. I immediately knew what was wrong. I was in Afib. This would be the 4th time I have gone into Afib, and the third time it has happened after a bike ride. Unfortunately I didn’t have the brains to bring my blood thinner with me on the trip, which I am supposed to start taking if I am in atrial fibrillation, so I would be spending time in Afib without blood thinner until we got home to St. Louis later in the day.
Sunday morning was spent packing things up, albeit a little more slowly because when in Afib my heart rate pretty much runs really high, and I get winded easily. Myckel came and helped me load up my things into his truck and we hit the road back to St. Louis. The ride back to St. Louis was a little faster than our trip to Emporia, but it was Sunday morning, so we expected less traffic. We made a stop at a gas station to grab some breakfast before leaving Emporia then one more stop in Kansas City.
I got home and unloaded the bike and the rest of my gear from Myckel’s truck and then planted myself on the couch (after taking my blood thinner). The bike didn’t get physically touched for almost a week, maybe more. Sitting in the garage in the exact same spot from when I got home.
On Monday morning I started calling my cardiologist. I knew I was in Afib, I wanted to get converted as quickly as possible so that I could get back on the bike. I spent all day trying to get an appointment setup, and finally into Tuesday they set something up for Friday. Riding my bike while in Afib is not advised, why? The one time I knowingly rode while in Afib, my heart rate was north of 220 BPM. At the time, I didn’t know I was in Afib, or that I even had Afib, but I know from looking at data from September 2020 that I was in it. So, while I might be able to get out and ride, riding at 220 BPM is definitely not something I need to be putting my heart through, the real problem is that it isn’t even beating normally when it beats that fast, so it is not efficient at all.
I ended up getting scheduled for a cardioversion on Friday, basically they put you under, send a probe down your esophagus to check for blood clots in the heart, if they don’t find any, they shock you back into a normal rhythm and I would be good to go. Unfortunately when they did the check for clots, they found one. As of right now, that means I am stuck in Afib (I have only self converted once, the first time in September 2020) until the clot dissolves, then they will convert me. That means another 5 to 6 weeks of no riding. No real activity or exercise. Another summer shot (last summer it was a combo of kidney stones and recovery from a cardiac cath).
What’s next in 2022 and 2023?
Well, my plan was to keep riding all summer, keeping up the fitness I had going into Unbound so that I was ready for a couple more rides later this year. Here in St. Louis I ride Pedal The Cause every year, this year I’m planning on 150 miles over two days, towards the end of September. Wags and I are also signed up for Big Sugar Gravel in Bentonville in late October. I still hope to ride both of those, but I don’t know if I will have my fitness back or not by then, so we will see. I also need to see about getting a more permanent fix in place to try to prevent Afib from happening again, so that recovery will likely cut into training time as well.
I still have every intention of riding Unbound 2023. I am also hoping to do the 200 mile route for the first time, but we will see how training goes as I get back to health and start riding again.
A big thank you to LaDonna Wagner for providing SAG support for us boys out there playing around on our bikes. Your help was appreciated! Thanks to Matt for helping out as well with things around the hotel and post ride. Myckel, thanks for the ride and all the training time we managed to get in. Wags, also thanks for the help training all spring.
To the event organizers, thank you for a great event! I had a blast, and look forward to doing at least one more (never say never after that).