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Photo by Truong Nguyen (Katy in light red shirt)

A handful of miles out from the finish line of a 142-mile gravel bike race skies moody from a day of thunderstorms, I found myself letting the wheel in front of me go, slowing down, sitting upright, taking in the landscape around me, and pulling myself out of the get-to-the-finish-line mindset to a stay-and-appreciate-this-moment mindset.

I wasn’t quite ready to finish. I wanted to keep biking, to hold onto the simplicity and beauty of spending all day on a bike, and I wanted to hold onto what had been such a powerful four days with the Ride for Racial Justice (RFRJ) Cohort at Steamboat Springs GRVL (SBT).

Ride for Racial Justice is an organization founded in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. RFRJ exists to ensure access to resources, education, and community for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) cyclists and to dismantle systemic racism so that EVERYONE can feel safe, free, and empowered to ride a bicycle.

One of their programs is the SBT GRVL Program in partnership with SBT GRVL, where they offer 25 scholarships for BIPOC athletes to attend and participate in SBT GRVL - fully supported.

As of December 2021, I had never done a big gravel event. So I asked my friend, who had gone to a lot of them in the past year, what gravel events were exciting to go to and which ones really felt like they were providing an inclusive, welcoming environment. She mentioned SBT GRVL in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and encouraged me to apply to be a part of the RFRJ Cohort. After attempting a dozen or so 2-minute videos for my application (recording two-minute videos was tough!), I finally just said good enough, crossed my fingers, and sent it in.

When I heard I got accepted, I was surprised and stoked. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, but over the next 6 months of monthly cohort meetings with 25 other BIPOC cyclists, I was starting to see relationships with the other cohort members growing and hype for the event building.

In the blur that is summer, August came quickly.

Before I knew it, I was packing my bike and creating a long list of things I was anxious about - spending 4 days with new people, finishing the bike race, adjusting to altitude, putting the rear derailleur hanger on my bike correctly because I’m always nervous putting my bike back together after traveling.

Photo By Cameron

But, from the moment I landed at the Denver airport and was welcomed by excited hugs from my RFRJ teammates hanging out in baggage claim, my anxieties released, and I knew this event was going to be fun and different from anything I’d ever done.

At the welcoming dinner, the RFRJ leadership shared the importance of this space and what we were doing. While representation isn’t everything, it does matter. For many of us, myself included, being the only person of color in cycling spaces is all too common,

so being in a room filled with BIPOC cyclists, each involved with making biking more inclusive and welcoming in their communities, was powerful.

On the RFRJ kits, it says Bikes=Freedom. For me, that means wanting all people to experience biking and the freedom, self-confidence, adventuring that it allows, and wanting people to see themselves as part of this community.

The two days leading up to race day involved panels from the RFRJ cohort and the All Bodies on Bikes cohort. I caught myself crying on more than one occasion as I listened to speakers share their stories of fear, overcoming, and of joy and the power of being in a community and in solidarity with one another.

We don’t want to be defined by our trauma, but also the realities of being an “other” in our society are real, and I appreciated athletes using the platform to really orient towards inclusivity and culture change.

So all of this was going on, and I haven’t even mentioned the race!

Photo by Truong Nguyen

The events and people I connected with leading up to race day were so soul-filling; the race day itself felt like a bonus. I’m not gonna lie. I was nervous about the race course. At SBT GRVL, they offer 4 different courses (37 miles, 60 miles, 100 miles, and 142 miles). As someone who loves a long day on the bike, I chose the Black Course - 142 miles, 9,200 feet of climbing. I’d never done that many miles on gravel at elevation.

I also learned when riding gravel, it’s difficult to estimate how long rides would take. What’s the gravel like? How steep were the climbs? How much single track was involved? Well, for SBT GRVL, the rumors were true. The gravel was super plush, and the landscape was gorgeous, rolling prairie hills that just carry you along.

Waiting at the start line on race day, I was nervous but also felt so buoyed by the people around me. I had so much support - my partner Franz - my #1 supporter - came out, my parents drove up from New Mexico, my Oregon homies, and my RFRJ teamies. As I rode, I carried those people and those experiences with me.

When rain and hail dumped on me at mile 100 at the base of the longest climb of the day, I just grinned, thought about how many cold, wet rides I’ve enjoyed with friends, and carried on.

When I was slogging through the worst sandy false flat section ever, I had “Deeper” by Riton & MNEK. A tune from a playlist of songs friends sent along to prep for this ride - stuck in my head, urging me forward.

My spirits were lifted when I crossed paths with fellow RFRJ teammates at the last aid station of the day, where we exchanged hugs and drank some cokes (my SBT ride was fueled by coke). I continued as they were just starting the long climbing loop I had just finished. At every possible corner accessible on the course, Franz was there cheering for me, reminding me to eat, and letting me know when I was close to reaching my time goal.

When I hit that point in the ride where I didn’t want to see another climb, I just repeated the words my friend Molly would use for cyclocross races, “keep moving forward.” I also loved how the landscape, with the gold grasslands, rolling hills, and open sky, kept giving me the energy to keep going.

When I finally crossed the finish line, a little over 10 hours later, I was embraced with so much love and energy from the RFRJ crew I was brought to tears. We all did it together. Every RFRJ rider finished that day.

Would I do SBT GRVL again? I don’t think so. I don’t think big gravel events are my jam. I know. I just went on and on about how amazing the event was. It was, and I encourage folks to go, especially if you can go with a crew. In reality, though, it’s really expensive once you include travel, housing, and race fees.

I think I’d rather go out on a ride with friends or rock a solo effort. I’ve also found I don’t like time constraints during events. I would love to ride the course but not feel rushed. I’m sure I’ll still add some local gravel events on my calendar because I really like testing my limits and maybe use gravel events as a way to see friends from around the country.

The RFRJ WhatsApp thread is still lively, and I hope I can ride with some folks this coming year. Again, monumental appreciation to the RFRJ leadership for supporting such a beautiful experience for a group of BIPOC cyclists - seriously, the support and care were top-notch - and to my RFRJ teammates for being such rad humans. We’re out here. We’re riding.

If you’re thinking about going to SBT GRVL, here are some hot takes:
  • If you can, arrive at least 3 days early to acclimate to the elevation.

  • Go with a group of people if possible.

  • Prep for all types of weather - it was rainy while I was there, but I heard that many years it was HOT.

  • Attend the panels! Attend the shakeout rides or at least start some of them - my legs felt so tired the first few days I didn’t ride too much.

  • I rode 44 slicks, and it was great. People rode 38 file tread, which was totally fine; you could even go thinner if you wanted.

  • I wore a hydration pack which I found helpful to ensure I was drinking enough during the ride, but most people didn’t have one.

  • Have fun and enjoy the experience!

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