Photos by: Kris Hull, Will Tracy, Ben Delaney, Alejandro Mallea, Will Matthews "We're not…
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!
Three lucky UNBOUND Gravel finishers ended up with a surprise email in their inbox after this year’s event! Our friends at Lauf Cycling stepped up and helped make our athletes feel so special. HUGE Congrats to these rad finishers that won a big ol’ $1000 gift card! These 3 folks took the time to share each of their unique journey’s through the Flint Hills:
Race The Sun Winner – Quincy Simon
“Being in Emporia is always something I look forward to. The flint hills for me like so many others made me fall in love big for gravel cycling. This year was my fourth unbound and third 200 and I was dreading riding it alone as I was supposed to be riding with my dad for his fifth 200 but he had to defer. I had my hopes set on beating the sun but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off alone. Imagine my surprise when I came upon my old friend Jake around mile 80 just before little Egypt. We took turns pulling and made it through the rest of the day together. And just like that the flint hills do what they always do and turned my day from daunting to magic.”
PC: Adrian Munoz
Midnight Club Winner – Katie Aguilar
“I’m a triathlete and 11 time Ironman finisher (going for number 12 this fall). I love riding my bike and have even completed a 12 hour bike race. I bought a gravel bike last July wanting to explore something new after the patient prompting from a friend for a few years. I loved it and was ready to jump into a big goal. Unbound Gravel seemed the perfect way to go based upon conversations with that same friend. Unbound Gravel provided me with my biggest endurance race challenge yet, and has left me excited to explore new challenges.”
Breakfast Club Winner – Jamie Fitzgerald
“I would like to give my thanks to everyone at Unbound Gravel and all the sponsors, volunteers, residents of Emporia and fellow racers!
This was my first Unbound Gravel race and of course, I decided for the 200 mile distance. I have been a long-time road rider, occasional mountain biker, but only started gravel riding in late 2019. I’ve done many century charity rides, but have never been a racer and my longest rides were previously of the 100 mile variety. I live in southern New Hampshire, about an hour north of Boston, which is a great place for outdoor activities. We ride all summer and ski all winter. It does make cycle training a little more difficult – I was still skiing in April! I did get a fat bike this year to get some winter miles in, but I did have as much time to train as I would have liked.
As riding on the road has become a little more stressful, my interest in gravel grew. New Hampshire and Vermont have a significant number of gravel roads and plenty of beauty to behold. I was initially entered in the 2020 race, but with Covid and the cancellation, deferred to this year. I was better prepared last year. As a family medicine physician, Covid has been a significant challenge on all fronts, including limiting riding time while caring for patients. I considered deferring one more year, but decided instead to seize this opportunity, not knowing what next year will bring. I trained as much as I could, but was limited due to work demands and living in the Northeast. A speedy finish was never my goal – I wanted the challenge, the experience, the camaraderie and the memories. I wanted to push myself a little farther and see what this 49 year old could do.
This was the most difficult physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken, but I am so glad I did it. I haven’t previously spent time in the mid-west, so this was a great way to see much of it. The gravel riding is very different from what we have in the Northeast, but no less fun. I stuck with a group in the first leg, and spent about 30 miles getting to know Rocky from Missouri! I was an hour ahead of the cutoff at the first checkpoint, and ahead of my planned pace, so I was feeling optimistic. The second leg I found to be much more challenging! I was often alone, not seeing anyone ahead or behind me, and I think that’s what made it the most difficult. The exposure to the sun and the heat were conditions I don’t often experience in NH. I definitely ride stronger when with others, but I also enjoyed some of the solitude of that leg, solitude I don’t often get in my usual day. Still, riding solo was much more difficult. As I pulled into the second stop, it was already dark, and I was a bit shocked to find that I had made the time by only 10 minutes! I had to pick up the pace for the last leg – being 50 miles and in the dark! As I set off, I didn’t doubt that I would finish the distance, but the first doubts of making the 3 am cutoff began to creep in.
I was alone at first and struggling, but soon found myself riding with several other riders. The last 40 miles or so found me riding with Kiersten from Seattle. She was stronger than me on the flats, and I think I was a bit stronger on the climbs. We worked as a team, determined not only to finish, but to make 3 am as well. We encouraged each other, spoke only positively, and set about the goal of finishing in time. It didn’t matter that the leaders had finished some 10 hours prior, or that most of the fans would be gone by the time we arrived and the party long ended. This was our race, and we were determined. 20 hours and 41 minutes after the start, we crossed the line to cheers, clapping, smiles and our “medals.” The crowd was small, but that didn’t matter – we’d done it!
All of these were great memories – but one of the best was being supported by my 20 year old daughter, Whitney, and having the support of my wife, Beth, and other daughter, Ginny, back in New Hampshire. Whitney had recently finished her 2nd year of college, and would be leaving for summer studies in Spain the following Saturday, not enough time to work. I had planned on making the 1500 mile drive from NH to Kansas alone, and returning alone as well. My wife had planned to fly to Kansas to support me, but when Whitney volunteered to drive with me and be my support, it allowed Beth to stay in NH with Ginny whose academic year had not finished.
Seeing Whitney at the first stop and having her encourage me was amazing! Seeing her at the 2nd stop, and encouraging/pushing me, telling me that I could do it and that she had faith in me, was incredible. Seeing her smiling face just before 3 am when most others had already gone home and were in bed, and hearing how proud she was of me – that was the best! My wife called shortly thereafter and my youngest and I spoke the next morning. I loved the challenge, the terrain, pushing myself, seeing the other riders, finishing something that most people will never attempt – but having that family support – that is my best memory!”