WHY DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS FUN?” I screamed to no one.

“OOOooooohhh, hey, look at me! I’m a gravel promoter; I’m going to make you race your gravel bike down bullshit enduro roads. I’M SO COOL.”

“F THIS FING DOWNHILL MAKE IT FING STOP”

After Unbound, I heard some people say that you find out who you really are during Unbound. They’d say, “The race is so hard; it’s written on your face. You can’t hide.”

Yeah, maybe. That could be other people’s experience, but setting aside my first Unbound in 21′ when I nearly died of heat stroke and limped in from the second aid station at Zone -5, every Unbound since then hasn’t taken me to that place. I know how to manage myself over 200 miles in Kansas. Or, maybe I’m too conservative and subconsciously unwilling to take myself to the depths like I should at the Super Bowl of gravel. Either way, every picture of my face I’ve seen after 2021 of me during the race betrays nothing.

As I limped down the final, hairpin, rock-infested downhills back into Gypsum, I realized that perhaps Unbound didn’t reveal my true self, but Big Horn Gravel did.

A bitch? Nah.
A coward? Maybe.
Weak? I mean, sure.
Uniquely deficient? It depends on who you ask.

Sadly, the reality is more ordinary than my narcissistic underbelly wanted to admit – I lack the basic technical skills to descend washed-out, loose, steep gravel descents at speed because I don’t feel safe.

Even when I say that, it’s not entirely true. During Big Horn Gravel, I did pass a few people on the downhills. That could be comforting, but everyone at my w/kg poker table (top 15-25) was lightspeed better at descending.

Honestly, I rarely allow myself to be swept away by the ability of others because, in most of the races I’m in, the differences I feel between myself and everyone else aren’t oceanic but fractional. I seldom feel like I’ve accidentally lined up against motorbikes rather than humans.

But on these technical descents, the difference in ability was shocking. I witnessed racer after racer cooly shoot past me through loose gravel into a blind curve, bouncing over ravines on a line I didn’t even realize existed, and then swiftly merge into the horizon after a few more switchbacks. They descended like angels, seeming to float over terrain I bungled through, my fear fingers bottomed out on the brakes, guts clenching into concrete, hoping the laws of physics wouldn’t suddenly suspend and send me hurtling over the edge into the abyss.

I have to say, Big Horn Gravel was a humiliation, and I found myself relieved that I’d procrastinated the development of Gravel God Cycling kits so my cringe wasn’t bottomed out by the comedy of a ‘Gravel God’ running down a mountain bike trail because a brief MTB drop spooked me.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic. After the opening struggle session on mountain bike trails, I sat in about 70th place, getting tailgated by huffy neck-beard IPA drinkers who really, really were aching to blast past me as I ineptly fear-fingered every stretch of a single track. Their petulant urgency to pass me was intolerable, and the dismissive way racer after racer loudly yelled ‘ON YOUR LEFT’ heated my insides to a molten rage, but my nerves were shot, and I could do nothing to stop them.

And then a 4,000-foot uphill began.

I mashed the turbos and ROCKETED past trains of people pinned to each other’s wheels with death stares. The front of each column of pain would briefly try to maintain contact with my wheel while I nose breathed. They quickly blew off my wheel like a roadie on a pump track.

Oh, that’s another thing I learned during Big Horn – I am one petty bastard. I love shredding uppity try-hards that had proudly clowned on me as I stumbled through the single track. I loved seeing the faces of formerly sneering weekend MTB bros as I diseled past them like a RAM 1500, watching their arrogance melt into desperation and then defeat.

Did I say ‘On your left’ on the broad uphill climb to a few people who had screamed ‘On your left’ on the single track a half hour before?

Yes. Yes, I did.

By the time I reached the summit of Cottonwood pass, I had clawed my way from 70th place to top 25, enough to earn a few muttered ‘WTFs’ from some rail-thin killers I’d last seen at the start line.

But then we began descending again, and all I could do for the rest of the race was try to minimize my mediocrity and try to resist the urge to amputate my back, which wouldn’t stop screaming at me.

Ah – yes, my back, that old dance routine returned with a vengeance at Big Horn Gravel.

I thought the fifty hours of yoga I’d done since November 2023 had buried that demon, but it turned out that my old friend hadn’t gone away. It had just been biding its time for a proper Colorado gravel race—brutal, high-torque uphills and screaming, highly technical downhills—to reemerge and torment me.

It turns out that if you spend all your time sitting in the office, relaxing, or on the bike, even consistent yoga isn’t enough to break up calcified hips. When the hips don’t show up, the lower back does. Eventually, my poor left side, Quadratus Laboratum, had to do the work of about ten muscles and shortly died under the onslaught of violent pedaling and death claw hinging on the downhills.

After it broke, the only thing left for me to do was yell in agony, which is what I did until I crossed the line at the Gypsum rec center.

“How was the race?” my wife said.
“Worse than Unbound.”
“Oh my God. Will you ever do this again?”

Scrolling through my Twitter timeline the other day, I came across a Carl Jung quote:

“Where your fear is, there your task is.”

“I loved it,” I said to my wife. “I can’t wait for next year.”

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