“How can we help you?’
“I booked a hotel room for the night.”
“First and last name?”
“Matti Rowe. That’s R-O-W-E! Could also be under Gravel God or Diesel Daddy.”
“Nothing in our system for you…today. It looks like you booked the room yesterday.”
“You’re joking.”
“FML. Ummm…You don’t have any vacancy tonight, do you?”
“I do, but you won’t like the price.”

I looked up at the Hotel clerk for the first time. He was well groomed, short, blue eyes, with a plug in one ear. He reeked of aftershave or cologne, as if he had stepped out of an Old Spice commercial which he used to cover for a fondness for tobacco. His tasteful Hawain patterned clubbing shirt couldn’t disguise an encroaching paunch from a lifestyle of benders and deli meats, despite that he couldn’t be more than 32. 

Still, he wasn’t an easy mark. Thus far in our exchange, I had barely finished my sentence before he had cut in, steering the conversation forward with perfectly delivered, textbook customer service lines, which reminded me of trying to argue with my brother or, worse, my friend Airik.  

I glanced at his name tag – Kevin. Of course, he was a Kevin. I stole another look behind him and saw a plaque on the wall. It said, ”Manager on the floor – Kevin.” 

I knew then that Kevin was going to win this one. I wasn’t getting any credit for my room last night. I would probably be paying double what I did the night before, and if I gave him so much as a whiff of the lip, he ‘wouldn’t be able to find a room in the system,’ and I’d be sleeping in the back of my car.

“Try me,” I finally said.
“‘$298 BEFORE fees and taxes.”
“I’ll need your credit card and ID.”

I handed him both.

“Just so you’re aware, if you say you don’t have pets and have pets, we’ ‘ll charge you up to $2,000 to remove the pet hairs from the room.”
“Are you sure you don’t have pets?”
“I’m sure.”

I wondered who had hurt him as a child and also how many people stayed at the Wyndham Motel 8 in Fruita, Colorado, and lied about bringing in a pet.

“OK – here are your room keys. Breakfast starts at 6 am. Note that it’s not a warm, continental breakfast; it’s expired Hostess Danishes from 1995 and lukewarm, diluted coffee, so you may consider dining out.

“Can’t wait.”

CO2UT bills itself as a race with the dinosaurs. Since a giant asteroid struck the Earth at approximately 45,000 miles per hour 65 million years ago, no one has worries about dinosaurs unless you possess some deep-seated fear of chickens (CHICKENS ARE DINOSAURS!). I dismissed it all as a marketing scheme to get people to sign up.

What they billed as racing with the dinosaurs turned out to be cattle tracks pressed into the gravel trail of approximately a third of the race course, hardened into brutal footprints that looked, if you squinted, like dinosaur tracks, albeit hoofed dinosaurs. Eighty-five miles into the course, I no longer found them a benign novelty.

Every second rolling over these nasty tracks was like being passed through a combine. At first, I thought maybe I was picking a bad line, but after experimenting over every inch of the road, I realized it didn’t matter – I would take a beating regardless of where I rode.

I could feel blisters covering my hands from gripping the bars so tight. My triceps, which I usually never notice while riding, threatened to stop contracting. And my gooch? Oh, my gooch. Every few minutes, I’d get tossed so hard I’d almost get bucked off the bike only to land hard at a particular angle that rendered a vasectomy pointless.

For years, I’ve watched Paris Roubaix, the famous one-day classic in France where cyclists ride over cobbles, and listened to the commentators go on and on about how much they beat up the riders. I’ll admit between bites of waffles and a mimosa, I assumed the riders were soft, and all of this was nonsense, but now I realized how horribly deluded I was.

There was nothing to do but keep pedaling and finish the damn thing, yelling involuntarily every time I smashed into a pothole that gouged my tender bits and tried to convince myself I was enjoying this.

“What do you have going on this weekend?” my wife asked.
“Oh, you mean Mother’s Day Weekend?”
“Nothing really, except there might be a gravel race five hours away that could eat up every waking hour of a national celebration of you.”

My wife looked at me, and the last syllables hung in the air like a bad fart.

“Oh, I don’t care, Love,” my wife said brightly. “I’m not YOUR mother. Go for it! We’ll have a grand time here without you.”

I trusted that statement with the same confidence as sticking my hand into an open bear trap.

“Are you sure?”
“Heck yeah! I’m going on a girls’ trip the next week! Go have fun.”
“Ooooookaaay. I’m going for it.”

The run-up to CO2UT went about as poorly as a trip could start, and I’ve already mentioned miss-booking the hotel room and that it overlapped with Mother’s Day.

My workdays before leaving Saturday involved putting on TrainingPeaks University with my colleague, which forced me to not just present but talk to people for 16 hours in two days. I usually work from home and talk to three people, two of whom aren’t solid at executing whole sentences yet. When the final person left TrainingPeaks offices, I was socially annihilated.

Then, as any fellow gravel racer knows, I had to pack a list of bike-related gear and travel essentials that rivals the wedding preparation and stuff it into a car before blasting a five-hour drive, knowing that in my haste, any seemingly small, insignificant item I forgot could lead to a disastrous race. But, hurrying to grab my race packet, I drove off without double-checking everything and hoped my freewheeling pack job didn’t miss anything significant.

As I ripped down I-70 at 85 mph, I called everyone I knew to pass the time instead of listening to another Huberman lab podcast on the evils of seed oils or cold plunges. As I was chatting, I’d often look out my back window to see how my Aspero was doing on my rusted 2015 Thule bike rack. While engrossed in a conversation with a good friend, I stopped checking on the bike until I glanced back and noticed, with horror, that the Aspero was no longer visible. That’s when I saw people overtaking me in the left lane, pointing at the back of the car, trying to get my attention.

I threw on the hazards and dove into the shoulder. While still connected to the call, I leaped out of the car and checked the bike rack – the bike was still there, albeit entirely detached from the wheel arm, which had somehow released and sprayed open. The bike was still attached thanks to a partially missing ratchet mechanism on the rear tire.

That’s what you get for trusting Swedes for engineering quality.

CO2UT was my second gravel race of the year, so I knew, going in, that as soon as we hit the dirt, I would be exposed as the roadie I am.

Sure enough, as soon as we made a left turn onto the dinosaur tracks, it was as if a parachute unfolded behind me, and the lead group instantly rode away from me. It wasn’t because of pedaling; it was because, with every twist or downhill, my fear finger closed like a vice over my right brake shifter and halved all the speed I earned going into the downhill or corner.

After the first set of dino tracks, we merged onto the pavement, and the lead group dangled in the distance. I pulled out my matchbook, dumped a little kerosene on it, lit it all on fire, and bridged back to the leading group just in time for the next section of dino tracks to start.

The process repeated itself until I decided that despite having God Legs (Thanks Tour of the Gila!), I wasn’t in good enough shape to do 40/20s for 100 miles.

So, as we entered a section of gravel road that swooped up and down like a rollercoaster, I pulled out my scarf and waved goodbye to the technically gifted and settled into the roadie walk of shame – blasting the uphills, babying the downhills.

Happily, I caught my teammate Gabe. Unlike me, Gabe could descend well – the uphills unsettled him, so we entered into an uneasy alliance of me pulling like a maniac on the uphills while he swooped the downhills.

This went on, improbably, for about an hour, until after a particularly nasty downhill, Gabe dropped me definitively, skipping over ravines and bumps like an angel before disappearing into the distance while I haplessly blundered my way down in his wake.

But don’t count out Diesel Daddy. I saw his red kit in the distance, pounded a gel, placed my head so low it almost touched the front tire, and DUB DUB DUB DUBED my way to the group to which Gabe had bridged.

As I approached, I saw someone in the group I never expected to see until after the finish – my handsome, mustachioed teammate Alex Marr. He was trading pulls with Gabe as I snuck up to them and entered the rotation. The band was back together again!

For miles on end, we made the miles rip by taking turns charging into the wind while the rest of us took turns hiding in our respective fragrant drafts. I thought this would go on forever. I thought we would never leave each other. I thought we were meant to be together.

And then Alex’s back seized up, and the honeymoon period ended.

Gabe and I kept going but soon separated as the lights went out in both of our houses, and I charged through a sand pit in desperation.

In the distance, I gradually caught someone wearing a mountain bike kit. As soon as I caught him, we entered into a charming pattern. Every downhill, he rode away. Every uphill, I caught him. This went on for twenty minutes. He never formally acknowledged I was there, but I caught him stealing a look behind a few times after the downhills.

Finally, a long, sustained uphill loomed. I caught him and rode behind him. For a minute or two, I sat behind him, not really interested in passing him if he would pass me on the next downhill. But, F it, I went. As I slingshotted out of his draft, he yelled, “Fucking Roadie!”.

I never saw him again.

“Uh oh.”
“What’s up?” Gabe said.
“I may or may not have forgotten to pack a flat kit?”
“Yeah, I forgot that also,” said Alex. “The shops were closed, and no one at the expo had anything I could buy, so I might just wing it and pray I don’t get a flat.”
“You’re going to do a 100-mile gravel race over dino tracks without a flat kit?”
“Christ. It sure is amateur hour around here.”
“Did you guys load the course on your Garmins yet?”
“Nah,” Alex said.
“I haven’t either,” I said.

I opened up my backpack, where I kept my Garmin, but it wasn’t there. I double-checked. Nothing.

“You guys haven’t seen a random Garmin lying around here by chance?”


Forget missing out on ride metrics – the main reason not having a Garmin would suck is that that is what I needed to give me step-by-step course directions. The organizers put out a file, you upload it to your device, and you follow the on-screen prompts so you don’t get lost on the course when you come up on an intersection without an arrow because some disgruntled rancher or rebelling youth dismembers the sign the night before the race.

If I had forgotten my Garmin, what else could I have forgotten? I realized with a start that I couldn’t find my bibs either. While I usually celebrate my own incompetence, forgetting bibs is so egregious that I didn’t even want to verbalize this oversight before I was sure I had forgotten.

I looked everywhere, and nothing. In the meantime, I asked Gabe to text everyone he knows at the race (Gabe knows everyone because he’s lovable and says hi to people) to see if he could get me a flat kit.

Dejectedly, I sat on the edge of the hotel room bed while I tried to visualize doing the race without a flat kit, bibs, or my preferred head unit (I had a wristwatch that could have worked).

Then, a miracle happened. Past Matti, who I had forgotten about, wasn’t, in fact, a knucklehead. Past Matti had randomly packed things I usually stored elsewhere in a separate bag which I had tossed underneath an inflatable Serta air mattress in my Subie. Probably.

“See you guys in a second.”

I rushed down, lifted the deflated air mattress, and underneath it saw my flat kit, bibs, and Garmin, which glittered like jewels in the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.

Current Matti might be a dumpster fire, but Past Matti came through for the first time in living memory.

I finally crossed the line and leaned against my bike, broken. For fifteen minutes, I kibitzed with randos that crossed the line, lamenting the inadequacy of my kit in comparison to finishers rocking jorts and floral party shirts.

Eventually, after Gabe finished, we wandered over to the food tent. Someone said, “Matti?”
“Probably?” I said, crushed.
“Erin McKinnes!”

I coached Erin years ago, and we caught up and bonded over race stories and the joys of parenting.

“You sticking around for the podium?”
“Yeah, I think you finished well! I bet you placed, at least, on the age group.”
“No chance.”
“You should double-check.”
“Yeah, I gotta roll. It’s Mother’s Day, and I have a five-hour drive ahead of me.”

After finding Alex, smashing fast food, and fueling up, I left. Coverage is spotty through the passage of I-70 through the canyons of Western Colorado, but randomly I got a group chat through the Team Rio Messenger App.


Erin was right. I missed the age-group podium and finished 9th overall – Not Bad For Dad!

Luckily, an old coworker, endurance junky, and shockingly emaciated friend, Aaron Calhoun, had handily beaten me and gotten a snap of the podium, which I could neatly photoshop myself into.

I ticked off the miles for home, nervously watching my bike in the rearview mirror. Not a bad weekend! Never mind, my next race is Unbound, and I was completely crushed by CO2UT, which was half the distance. It’s probably fine. What’s the worst that could happen?

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