DUST LUST 170
It all started a few years ago, when I watched the movie “Ride the Divide” for the first time. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched it since, but every time I need some inspiration that movie does the trick. I knew about this kind of thing before – the long distance race, unsupported, individual and heroic – but that movie brought events like this closer to me than I could have ever imagined. From there on, I’ve sought inspiration by following events such as the Almanzo 100, Dirty Kanza 200, the Transcontinental race or the ill-fated Oregon Outback. My desire to be part of something similar grew, and while some of these races were financially unreachable, the lack of training and experience that resulted in a “I’ll do it next year” kind of a situation was the real mind killer.
And here’s where Klemen steps in and plays an important role in my life. Through the years of our friendship, we’ve shared a lot of common interests, especially when it comes to cycling and adventure. We’ve built trails together, rode BMX together, we work in a bike shop together, and we both have that itch to explore and challenge ourselves. Therefore, it was by no surprise that Klemen became my partner in crime in this thing that we decided to call the Dust Lust 170.
The urge to seek adventure and set new goals runs along nicely with the desire to live. Live your life to the fullest, set yourself free, explore, challenge yourself, try new things. Live! You see, if you’re a kid with a different mindset than the majority, you have to accept that more times than not, you’ll have to rely on yourself to make things happen, to live. The sooner you realize that the trails are not going to build themselves, and that the skate parks are not going to just appear in front of you, the better. You’ll have to do these things yourself, and at times it will suck, but by the end of the day you’ll see that there is nothing better than to ride the trails that you’ve built with your own hands. This world is ripe with opportunity, or so they say. And with that in mind, the foundation for the first ever unsupported gravel race in Slovenia was laid.
The Dust Lust 170 is exactly what the name implies; a 170km bicycle race on dusty roads. Most of the roads are gravel, some of them are dirt and some of them are paved, but all of them remote. The race itself covers roughly 2500m of elevation, and is suitable for variations of road bikes as well as mountain bikes. The racers have to navigate through the race by themselves, they can ride in groups but they must be self-reliant, meaning; if anything goes wrong you might as well figure it out on your own. The winner of each category takes the prize money, which comes out of the registration fee of the competitors. As simple as it all sounds, the amount of thought, work and stress that goes into such an event is overwhelming, though if done right, totally worth it.
Find new roads, connect them, keep up to date with the condition of those roads and then change some parts of the route a week before the race because of recent heavy rains. After that’s kind of taken care of, think about the racers, about informing them and wrapping that information into something that’s interesting. Write the rules, collect registrations, print the starting numbers, take care of social media and sweat about logistics for the race day. Last but by no means least, assemble a crew of volunteers that you can rely on. And since apparently organizing an event like this is not challenging enough, make the “wise” decision to try and race it. The latter is also what I’m going to write more about. First of all, my body needs an explanation, and second, it might seem unfair to compete in a race that I co-organized. Luckily for me, the people who helped the event come to life, those solid and dependable volunteers, are all really good and reliable friends. They afforded me the luxury of being able to pull this off without affecting the race.
After everything was taken care of, I didn’t really have a hard time finding reasons to join the racers on the starting line. And although an opportunity to race something that you partly came up with is a big enough reason on it’s own, there was one thing in particular that convinced me to actually do it. I wanted to soak in the whole experience! Document it, take photos and off course, see how well I can place. I wanted to push my limits but still keep in mind that the race is supposed to be fun and that the camera in my accessory pocket is not just dead weight, but should be used as much as possible. To say I’ve raced the race would be a bit of an exaggeration… sure, I’ve done the best I could, but with only three hours of sleep, a whole week of occupations and no training at all, my race pace ended up being a normal ride pace, and that turned out to be just what I needed. I was still able to take a lot of photos, make an unnecessary coffee + coke stop an hour before reaching the finish and even check my mobile phone in case there were some urgent matters to deal with. During one of these mobile phone checks, I’ve noticed a text message from a friend who also participated in the race, it read like this: “ If I wouldn’t have sex, I’d say that this is the nicest thing I’ve experienced in life. Thank you. Honored to know you guys.” It brought a smile to my face that lasted for the entire race, and from that moment on, I knew that the race was a success.
My plan for the day was to try and keep up with the front group for as long as possible and then slowly drift back. While this may have sounded like a good plan before the ride, it was compromised by two major problems. First, the riders in the front were some of the best cyclists from Slovenia, so keeping up with them worked only until we reached the first climb of the race. Second, the rough terrain combined with the length of the race created huge variety in the pace of the riders. For example, it took 6 hours and 24 minutes for the first guys to finish, and it took 11 hours and 39 minutes for the last rider to finish. I soon realized that it would be impossible for me to document everyone, and I found myself riding either too slow or too fast for those racers who I had met along the way. For the first time ever, I fully realized how much I love to ride alone.
One aspect of the event that I can’t leave unrecognized is the bike that carried me from start to finish. In the days before the race, the Specialized Diverge was the only thing that I didn’t have to worry about; I’ve had total confidence in it since I first swung a leg over the top tube, and I knew that it would be the right tool for the job. If I think back now, there were moments when I might have been over-confident… with 30km to go I gave my only spare tube to a fellow racer because I was so sure that nothing could go wrong. Luckily, that didn’t backfire and I came home without unnecessary trouble. Despite everything, I finished the race in 7 hours and 49 minutes, which was enough for 7th place in the road category. It’s hard to explain how good it felt to be racing the race that I was so deeply involved in, and even finishing faster than expected. The finish line brought with it a mix of relief, exhaustion, satisfaction and pride. I cannot stop thinking about next year, what and where and how we can improve, but one thing is for sure; The Dust Lust is here to stay! Only next year, I’ll let Klemen do the racing.