The torrential rains blessing our farmers this past week ended the journey of several bicyclists participating in an ultra-marathon called the Ride Across Texas 1000, referred to by the riders as, R.A.T. 1000.
The R.A.T. 1000 began in Texarakana Friday and Saturday (October 5 and 6) depending on the category of ride, and ended in Tucumcari, New Mexico., on the following Sunday (Oct. 14).
According to participants, 70 percent of the roads traveled are gravel and dirt roads.
The leader of the self-supported rider division, Dana Burch, age 48 of Frisco, Texas, arrived in Vernon late Monday evening. Dana said he had finished the race in years past but this year Wilbarger County’s wet clay roads were impassable.
In 2017, Burch was one of only four riders completing the self-supported 1,000 mile race. He said he didn’t believe it was safe to divert to the paved roads and the clay-based roads would remain impassable long enough to prevent him from completing the course in time to return to work on Monday.
Burch had cycled on muddy roads for over 200 miles, and through the night, to try and slip between the storm fronts that dropped up to six inches of rain across North Texas. He recounted how, in the dark, he had dodged wild hogs and two snakes in the small beams of his bicycle lights.
Fellow rider Matt Murphy, age 42, of Conway, Arkansas, added that night riding the dirt roads in this area comes with its own challenges.
“You need to watch for deer coming unexpectedly from across the fences, and the 2D effect of the bicycle lights make it difficult to read the potholes.” They both agreed that dogs were the worst surprise from beginning to end. The two cyclists carry bear spray to fend off the occasional dog charging them as they ride. Dana said, “the worst thing is when you’ve been riding for an extended period and about to take a break, going up a hill, legs are a little tired, and then the dog comes out of the dark. You just don’t have the reserves to out pedal the dog otherwise you can simply speed up and they lose interest.” Matt said,” when it comes to dogs, the East Texas side of the state is a lot worse than West Texas. Once they get to the other side of Vernon the dogs become much less frequent.” Matt grinned and said that typically their cans of bear spray are empty by the time they hit Vernon and the load they are carrying becomes a little lighter.
Last year, the two started on Friday and finished on Saturday. However, from the moment the R.A.T. 1000 begins, the ultra-marathoners ride at their own pace and the contingent spreads out across the route by as much as days. Some riders won’t finish until Tuesday.
It was evident the two were packing light for such a long journey. Dana and Matt said they don’t carry much extra food or water. Instead, they navigate by Dairy Queen and Allsups. Their water bottles are topped off at every opportunity, but Allsups is the first choice because it is faster to get in and out and back on the course.
Stopped by flooded roads, Matt and Dana checked into a room at a local motel while they assessed their options. They decided for evacuation and were waiting for a friend and fellow cyclist returning from Colorado to pick them up and deliver them to the Dallas area. Dana is a sales engineer for Cisco and Matt is an IT consultant and sits on the board of a bicycle advocacy group in Conway, Arkansas.
The event is organized by Spinistry, led by Kevin Lee, of Fort Worth, Texas. Kevin arrived in Vernon with the group of supported-riders on Wednesday evening. (Supported-riders have their gear carried along by a chase vehicle each day.)
The group had taken a day in Henrietta on Tuesday to let the roads dry out and for Kevin to travel ahead and search alternate roads that were passable.
The group straggled into Vernon throughout the afternoon and evening and camped at D.L. Green park. The city of Vernon opened the public bathrooms and provided a water hose for the group to clean up their bicycles and gear. The group then met for dinner at Duncan’s BBQ and said the authentic western fare deserved serious respect. After burning five thousand calories in the days ride, several barbeque sandwiches were justified.
Lee said they started with approximately forty riders, but the miles, and the weather had reduced the ranks remaining in contention to completing the race by roughly sixty percent.
A rider coined the “guinea pig” had ridden ahead on Thursday and found a combination of dirt and paved roads that would be passable for the riders following a day later. He believes the remaining competitors can still make it to Tucumcari by Sunday. I inquired about the weekend snow forecast for Amarillo and eyebrows raised among the stragglers who were slowly leaving the park. Lee replied with a big grin, “we haven’t got that far yet, let’s cross the rivers of mud first.”
Of note, Harrold is the half way point for the intrepid gr
avel cycling adventure ultra-marathoners.
The Vernon community was happy to host the adventurers for a day or two and we wish them Godspeed in their journey West. We’ll be looking for them next year.