The Death March is a seriously fun bike race. Some people might even call it more of a scavenger hunt than a race. My partner Eric and I were not going to take it particularly serious – we planned on riding a comfortable and sustainable pace throughout the day. It would be more of a training ride than anything else. Most teams map out which checkpoints/cemeteries they want to hit prior to the race start. Eric and I figured we would wing it – about five minutes from the start, we pulled out his map and pointed at some spots. That was about the extent of our planning. Since we had a decent amount of rain, we figured a lot of teams wouldn’t be going for Elkinsville or Callahan since both require quite a bit of singletrack trail to get to them. We would slightly regret this decision by the end of the day.
The race started, and we went right with most of the pack. We immediately flip-flopped on our decision to go for the Gil Gal cemetery checkpoint like we had discussed. We decided to skip it and just hit Hawkins instead. Less than a half mile down the road, Eric’s tire was rubbing his frame quite loudly. I almost couldn’t hear it, because I was laughing so hard. We were only a couple minutes into the day, and we had already changed our route and now were stopping to fix a mechanical issue. We were hardly ‘racing,’ and that was just fine with us. We rolled pretty well for the next hour, picking off three quick checkpoints before heading to the fire tower and climbing it for our fourth checkpoint.
From the fire tower, we cruised Tower Ridge until it runs into West County Road 1000 North. A quick 4 miles of paved road and we were in Houston collecting the Houston and Lutes cemeteries. Back to some gravel climbing and we nabbed Hanner and Cornett. Then we took Hickory Ridge Trail 21, so much fun in the mud on a cross bike! Five miles of gravel road and we were at Hickory Grove Church, checkpoint 8. Despite the rain, the gravel roads were quick – and our day seemed to be close to over. Neither Eric or myself felt challenged. Oops. We probably should have gone for a few more checkpoints farther out. Oh well, at this point, we had less than six miles to the finish. We hit it pretty hard on this fast section of gravel, averaging almost 19mph for the last 5 miles. We obviously hadn’t pushed ourselves very hard. But the beer at the finish line was calling us home.
We crossed the finish line with about 44 miles and 3 hours of ride time on the day – not terrible, but a lot less than we figured we would hit. Talking to others at the finish later on, we learned that a lot of teams actually did go for the checkpoints with a lot more trail. We should have done the same. Maybe next year we will plan a bit more ahead of time – either way, the Death March is always a great day on the bike. And you really cannot beat the gravel roads in and around the Deam Wilderness. Eric and I will likely be back. Next time, we will plan a little better I think.