Race Report: Eager Beaver 100
Race Report by Ben Eagan.
As a long time mountain biker, I remember dipping my toes into gravel racing for the first time in 2016 at ‘Paris to Ancaster’. As a 70km race, it was the furthest I had ever biked - with plenty of climbing - and I was happy to have reached the finish. At the end of the race, a friend was chatting with an oddball named Dan Marshall about another race they were starting up again later in the summer called ‘Eager Beaver’. I heard that it was 100 miles of gravel racing, and I laughed to myself at the thought that anyone would sign up. It seemed like pure insanity. But I kept an eye on the race out of interest, and actually began to see some people I knew complete it. "Hardest day of my life" was a pretty common sentiment among them. They survived though, and at some point the race began to seem possible. So I set a subconscious goal in my head to ride it someday.
So here we find ourselves: 2019. I joined Lantern Rouge this year and had been riding with some fast and dedicated folks, inspired by their efforts on gravel at Berry Roubaix, P2A, and the Butter Tart 700. I had the right equipment, and no excuses. With one week to go before race day, I decided it was time to tackle the 100 mile giant - so I signed up. I then spent (too much) time at work reading the Strava analysis from previous years racers; visualizing the front loaded climbs, and smooth sailing the second half. My race strategy was to keep my heart rate under 170bpm, so that was all I displayed on my garmin as I lined up near the back of the pack.
I set off at an easy pace and it seemed a lot of 100 milers had the same idea; by the first road crossing there was a pack of about 8 of us self organized and spinning along. After one of the exciting first descents, a Team Bateman's rider named Grant beside me asked if his back tire needed air - it sure did. He had one C02, but since it was so early in the race, I gave him my pump and said, “catch me later”.
When we made it to "Section 1" and the first brutal climb of many, the mountain biker in me took over. I quickly broke my 170bpm heart rate rule, and had a blast just trying to keep the wheels spinning up the steep and sandy climbs. By the top of the section our group had dissipated and I had a relaxing spin as I worked back down to a reasonable heart rate. The forest and morning sun were straight out of a VR meditation app, so it didn't take long to get back into a relaxed pace. People started popping up after the climb, and by the time we hit the pavement there was a solid group of 8-10 of us again. We were really moving too...so fast that all but one of us missed our turn. Luckily we were within earshot of the clever navigator, and got back on track pretty quickly.
It was around this point that we hit the first aid station, and the 50km races split. Most of us were in it for the long haul though, so none of my pack split off at this point. A few kilometers later though the group split again and the 100km crew went right. This thinned the herd and only a few of us continued left. At this point I found myself on a seemingly endless straight road with rolling hills and a generous tailwind. Some Instagram-in-motion ensued for the fans at home.
Eventually, a left turn arrived and I got my first taste of the truly brutal headwind that would be a companion for the rest of the race. It was short-lived (for now), and quickly turned into a massive descent. Sustaining 50km/hr is always nice, but in the back of your mind, you know that you will pay for the speed you earned. Payback arrived in the form of the toughest single track on the whole course. A narrow ribbon of dirt through the woods, and climbing for what felt like a few kilometers, complete with ruts, rocks, and roots. I let my inner mountain biker take over again and attacked. In the end I was walking, but had conquered some great terrain. Eventually I was spit out back on the road, and my legs started to give hints of cramping. Note to self: take it easy. Ate some snacks and dedicated myself to finishing a water bottle, and the legs were happy again. With over 100km remaining though, this wasn't a great sign for things to come.
I had just tackled some pretty rough terrain, and passed at least 5 people fixing flats, so my pump’s absence was starting to weigh on me. Luckily, the pump and rider caught up just before the next aid station. Aid Station 2 supplied some bananas and chips, and the guarantee that after “just one more”, the climbing was pretty much done. That was ok by me. I refilled my water and set off once more onto some narrow gravel roads winding up and down a valley. By my count it was more like five real hills before the climbing actually stopped. When the climbing finally ended, the wind began. There was a long straight stretch with a fierce headwind. I could see a lone black speck on the horizon, and was determined to find someone to work with to get through the wind. I gave chase for a solid 15 minutes and eventually I caught up, but not before the wind was once again at our backs. The cyclist in the distance introduced herself as Taryn, and I realized we had actually crossed paths the weekend before in the tiny village of Kinmount. I had seen her yellow Santa Cruz Stigmata resting outside a convenience store all loaded up with bike packing gear. She confirmed it had been hers, and this is how I earned the nickname "Kinmount".
We sailed into the next aid station, and Taryn continued on. I took my time refilling water and eating chocolate. I got chatting with a single speeder named Jon at this point (who joined the single speed race as a dare), and we decided to try working together for the next section. The climbs were not as brutal now, but Jon and I still spent over an hour grinding along at under 15km/hr into a relentless wind. We kept our eyes on the horizon hoping for fortuitous course turns, and let out some whoops of joy after one particularly long section ended with a right turn. With about 40km remaining, we caught up with Taryn braving the wind alone once more and she joined our group.
We kept our heads down and our pedals turning and eventually came across the last aid station. Taryn continued on and was not seen again until the finish line, where she got herself first place! Jon and I took our time refueling, and set off together. By now there was about 20km remaining, and Jon had a little more in his legs that me, so we said a very slow farewell on the first windy incline. I didn’t see Jon again until the finish, where he also got himself first place for the single speeders!
At this point I was alone again, with about an hour left on the bike. I took my time and absorbed the scenery. When I had 5km to go, the course turned into a field and followed some tractor ruts (and would stay offroad until the finish line). At this point there was a farmer on a tractor baling hay beside the course, who gave me a wave of encouragement. It seemed fitting to see someone working on the round bales that had littered the landscape for the past 6 hours. As I continued through the field, I had nobody in front and nobody behind, so got lost in my thoughts. The trail was freshly cut, so there were clear signs from all the other racers (50km, 100km, and 100 mile) who had cut the paths through the grass and dirt I was seeing now. I wondered what stories unfolded for them in the final kilometers.
As I rattled down the final hill the finish line was in sight (and so was the BBQ). I was met with some great cheers of "Go Kinmount!" as I rolled across the line. I conquered hills, made some friends, saw some amazing scenery, and most importantly I had survived the race that seemed like pure insanity only a few years earlier. And I look forward to doing it all again next year.