Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spinistry's Red River Riot — Muenster, Texas

Photo by Jessica Lee/Spinistry
The road to happiness isn't always paved. In the case of the 2013 Red River Riot, only the beginning and a few stretches of the 50K, 100K and 200K courses were paved. The majority of the roads were dirty, muddy, slippery, challenging and fun gravel.

Straight-up posin' for y'all.
Another weekend, another race that's down and dirty. The second installment of my all-things-dirt series (part one) brought me to Muenster, Texas — a small city just barely on the right side (read: correct side) of the Red River. Muenster is well known for its German heritage (strudel!!!) and ... well, that's really about it. Unless, you're a fan of football; then, by all means, read about the Kraut Bowl.

All kidding aside, there's much more in Muenster, actually. It turns out, there are the necessary gravel roads and significant hills for another Spinistry event — the Red River Riot. If you didn't read about Spinistry or gravel grinding in my Texas Chainring Massacre recap, here's the gist: Spinistry puts on kick-ass, tough races in farflung communities for mountain bike and cyclocross riders. The races are laid-back and an absolute blast. I intend to race as many as I can.

That's one clean bike. Not for long. 
The night before RRR, it rained heavily throughout the region. While the storms didn't hit Muenster too hard, the precipitation was enough to turn many of the roads into a muddy mess for the approximately 130 riders who dared to grind gravel for distances of 50, 100 and 200 kilometers.

I signed up for the 200K (route actually equalled 130 miles). I figured it could take me 10 hours to complete, depending on the terrain and weather. It would be a perfect training ride for 24 Hours in the Canyon and a good test of my recently purchased Orbea.

I started the race spinning fairly easily, not succumbing to the excitement of the race and overexerting myself early. The 29er sure does pedal smoothly — much more bang for your effort buck than my old 26-inch-wheeled MTB (my review of the rig coming soon). Still, I wasn't hauling much ass. I happily allowed the cyclocross riders and quick-paced MTBers to roll right past me. As wet as the roads were, they didn't kick up much mud. That's not to say it wasn't messy; it sure was. It took a few miles to get a feel for the way my bike handled on the terrain — getting comfortable with the way the rear tire would drift, following well-worn tracks and picking lines that would offer the smoothest ride. You can't ride these roads with your brain completely shut off. You have to be engaged. And it's a blast. Riding them on a bike is one thing, but I couldn't imagine the fun of driving on them. I figure tooling around in a 4X4 is good sport and cheap entertainment around Muenster — as evidenced by the varieties of light-domestic empties lining the sides of the roads.

Riders ahead and wind turbines on the horizon. As is the case for smaller races that cover considerable distances, most of the ride is a very solitary experience. This picture shows some decent elevation, but nothing close to the most challenging hill later in the race.
All smiles on the flat sections!
The sights of this part of the state are limited, but none the less interesting. The sky was endless and blue, punctuated by at least 50 wind turbines sprouting from the ground that used to be oil rich. Amid the few remaining derricks, there were plenty of cattle (even longhorn), horses and a couple of sheep "mowing" their owner's grass. But it's unwise to admire the surroundings too much during a gravel grinder. The route is marked with orange rectangles. I almost missed one while taking the picture on the left. Not my best moment of the race.

Need more incentive for paying attention and not mugging for an effin' picture: Apparently the locals can be troublesome during these kinds of events — either removing those orange arrows or turning them in opposite directions. Utilizing GPS is a good idea, as race director/Spinistry founder Kevin Lee advises. I had printouts of the route and the map on Google Earth just to be safe. Fortunately, I didn't need either. Thanks, Locals for not jackin' with the signs!

So, yeah, those hills. There were a few of those bastards. Dry gravel would have been challenging, but doable. A little bit of precipitation made them damn tough. I resorted to walking the last large climb when I realized spinning my granny gear was wasting more energy than pushing a bike would.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but that's a 17 percent grade (better evidence in subsequent shot). It kicked my ass. 

Throughout the race, I went back and forth in my head — "Will I do the full 200K, or will I call it a day at 100K?" Thinking about friends who have accomplished bigger, badder and tougher races kept me motivated at times. Then I would lose focus and daydream about being done. And then a well-timed Lara bar would revive my spirits ... and then dropping it in the gravel after a single bite would deflate me. (I almost stopped to pick it up. No lie. I wanted it soooo bad.)

Ain't that a sight! Well worth walking, too!
By the time I finished the first 100K in a little over 4 hours, I was 50/50 on finishing or quitting. It was sort of nice having the option. See, the route wisely led all racers back to the start/finish — 200Kers had to check in before starting the second half of the course. I built a bitchin' veggie burrito (respect to Spinistry for providing vegetarian-friendly food) and enjoyed it as I mulled my decision.

Sitting in the parking lot near Muenster High School, I watched other racers load up their gear and clean up before heading back to their homes for the day. All of that was very appealing to me, more so than completing the day's challenge, I'm afraid to say. In the moment, it was the right choice — I enjoyed the ride, felt strong and wanted to end the day that way. Finishing the 200K probably would have felt great. An accomplishment. But I pondered if finishing might be more punishment than training. We will never know. I'll live with it ... until next year, when I will finish the whole damn thing.

Up next

After spectating the hell out of Ironman 70.3 Texas in Galveston, the plan is to camp at Bastrop State Park before racing the Austin Rattler 100K. I have no doubt I'll be ready for that. I received extra motivation the other day when I watched the two "Race Across the Sky" documentaries about the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. I highly recommend both if you're looking to get pumped; however, I will say that the second doc is better because it highlights more everyday riders than the first (that 2009 doc is a Lance Armstrong highlight reel). If only I had watched them before RRR; those mountains make gravel roads look like child's play! See for yourself.


Michelle K said...

I have been learning so much from your adventures in the dirt. Who knew such opportunities even existed! Way cool! Congrats on a strong effort on a tough day too.

That Pink Girl said...

17%? Whoooo weeee, that is a steep climb! And only 5% "flatter" than the steepest portions on the Assault on Pike's Peak, to put it in perspective. And that's a legit mountain. Wowza. Great job riding a strong race and knowing when to say when. You're absolutely right - this is training to make you stronger, not break you down. You'll see that 130 miles - and more. And you'll conquer that with the same fortitude you are known for displaying. Congratulations!!!