There is so much more than a podium!

There is so much more than a podium!

There is so much more than a podium.

Unbound…..It is special to so many people. If 3900 people ride through the Flint Hills the first weekend after Memorial Day I suspect that there are 3900 different experiences. Everyone has different expectations, dreams and realities that happen on that day.

This is my sixth time doing Unbound. Each course, temperature, time and group I rode with was different. The constant is the wind, sun and fun. If you are having fun or struggling….wait because it will quickly change.

The first time I did Unbound I rode with my sons and a very close friend of the family, Brandon. It was my second gravel event and I had no idea what was really going to happen. I ended my day by crawling under a ranchers scraggly tree somewhere on the last 50 miles dehydrated and cramping. BUT that day lit a fire in me that is still burning today.

This year was different. I knew that I was coming into Unbound as the athlete/teams manager at Eliel. I also knew that we would have the Eliel Gravel Team present along with my expo activities and that by race day I would be exhausted. As part of the Shimano Gravel Alliance I was presenting to the 25 and 50 mile riders what to expect on course. I knew the courses well and knew what lay ahead….this time was different and fun! I wanted to ride a leisurely pace, no expectations and take as long as I wanted to get “back to town”. I just wanted to enjoy my bike in one of the most special places I get to ride all year.

There is not another place in the US that ranchers come and stand beside cyclists at a finish line ringing cow bells until Midnight. No where else will the locals drag coolers and hoses out to the road offering assistance. Small children stand sun burned on the side of the road cheering riders on all day long. Emporia is special!

However, if you want to see an event through totally different eyes bring someone who has never been. I knew this from years past and reached out to Brandon’s gf Jade. This was Jade’s first gravel event, longest ride to date and first time in the Flint Hills. My promise was to take our time, take lots of photos and take all day if we wanted….We had one job and that was to finish.


You see there is more to gravel than the podiums. Yes, we saw some podium winners pass us. And yes, I understand the contracts that are won and lost at Unbound. But that is a small percentage of the field.

To everyone else the podium is in their hearts and heads. The best part about our ride was that we really got to talk, enjoy the gravel and just “be” in the Flint Hills for the day. I picked my head up and looked around at the beauty of what surrounded me.

There is an adventure to gravel. I hope that I never lose the starry eyed stare at the beginning of an event when I think about where we will go that day. I hope that I never lose the fun and thrill of climbing a big hill just to soar down the other side. That is what makes gravel fun to me.

Thank you Jade for spending the day with me! Thank you for showing me that we can have fun as we ride along. Thank you Brandon for slowing your race down on the last 17 miles and riding into town with us. Thank you to every brand supporting me that day so that we can have fun vs being pressured to “perform”.

Somehow riding into Emporia that afternoon full of mud, soaking wet and grinning from ear to ear closed the circle of fun that day for me. The very person that had been with me at the first Unbound was there again that afternoon!

I got to watch Brandon and Jade enter an adventure together and finish at the same time.

Pick your head up off the bars, look around and remember that there is much more to the ride than the time and the podium! And even better that podiums come in all sizes and styles….we finished first on our podium that day!

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