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US road race champion Alex Howes (EF Pro Cycling) has recalled the mental and physical challenges that formed part of his 355km (220 miles) ride from his home in Colorado through the state to Kansas on the other side of the border last week. While he'd originally planned to tackle the ride alone, Howes did it in the company of a friend, with a photographer to document their adventure.
Howes tackled the ride as an "ode" to the postponed Dirty Kanza gravel ride, which takes place in Kansas, and which Howes was due to ride on Saturday. The event has had to be rescheduled for September due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 32-year-old tackled his own ride alongside his friend, Spencer Powlison, with pictures of the pair's mainly off-road challenge documented by photographer Joey Schusler. The 355 kilometres, often into a headwind on gravel farm tracks, were completed in 14 hours.
"That headwind was brutal," Howes said on his team's website. "There was a stretch of road that was dead straight for roughly 40 miles [64km], without a single bend or turn, due east with a block headwind.
"The road was soft and sandy and slow, and would have been a mental and physical challenge even with a nice tailwind, but with it blowing straight at us, we were in a rough spot. There was nothing we could do but buckle down and press on as best we could, and watch our average speed plummet," he said.
"Over the years when I'd imagined this kind of ride, I assumed there'd be a solid tailwind and little to no hills," Powlison said. "However, once we reached mile 100 or so, it was clear we'd face both of those challenges. The dirt roads were loose and sandy, and some weren't more than just a couple of tire tracks through the prairie."
One aim of the ride was to not have to stop for supplies, which meant taking all the food they needed with them, plus a water filter, due to the limited amount of water they could carry.
"Water was hard to come by, and at one point we were contemplating filtering some pretty sketchy water from an old stock tank, but luckily we stumbled upon an old spigot out in the middle of nowhere," explained Howes.
"Gear-wise, everything held up great. We had zero issues," he said. "Had something gone wrong, equipment-wise, I like to think we'd have been OK. We had tools and repair items for virtually everything."
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The two riders agreed that one of the highlights of their trip was the wildlife they saw while out on the plains.
"Antelope, deer, coyotes, turtles, snakes, massive birds of prey, a strutting Tom turkey – the prairie was alive," said Howes.
"I loved its subtle beauty – all of the animals, from pheasants to pronghorn antelope to birds of prey," agreed Powlison.
"We also stumbled upon some of the coolest roads," added Howes. "Roads with signs, and on the map, but that probably hadn't seen a car, bike or person for years."
Howes was grateful for the human company, too.
"We've all been sealed up on lockdown for a while, and just having the opportunity to do something big and different together was a real treat," he said. "My original plan was to do this completely alone, but sharing the experience just made it so much richer.
"Training during the lockdown wasn't ideal," said Howes, "so I was a bit nervous about how the body would react to the longest ride I've ever done. I was quite tired after around five-six hours, but I was amazed how a switch flipped on after eight or so hours of riding. From eight hours to the end I felt great.
"My wife woke me up at 7am this morning because I was sleeping so hard she thought I was dead," he said of the morning after, having driven back home and arriving at 2:15am. "Turns out, I'm still alive, but I'm definitely pretty rough around the edges."
You can read more about Howes' ride, and see more pictures, on EF Pro Cycling's website here.