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Gallery: Alex Howes’ long grind to Kansas

How does it feel to ride 355 kilometers from the Colorado mountains to the Kansas border? Alex Howes and former VeloNews staffer Spencer Powlison share their experience.

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U.S. national champion Alex Howes (EF Pro Cycling) and former VeloNews web editor ground their way from the Colorado mountains to the border of Kansas Thursday in what they called ‘an ode’ to the postponed Dirty Kanza.

Riding for 355 kilometers directly east across Colorado took the pair on a mixture of surfaces in a grueling 14-hour ride marked by a rare headwind. Riding unsupported, Howes and Powlison relied on a water filter and single headlight to see them through the journey, with a photographer documenting the ride from a safe distance.

“Turns out, I’m still alive but I’m definitely pretty rough around the edges,” Howes said the day after their big ride east. He and Powlison share their experience.

All images: Joey Schusler / EF Pro Cycling

Alex Howes: I felt great out there for the most part. Training during the lockdown wasn’t ideal so I was a bit nervous about how the body would react to the longest ride I’ve ever done. I was quite tired after around five to six hours, but I was amazed how a switch flipped on after eight or so hours of riding. From eight hours to the end I felt great.

Spencer Powlison: I loved [the] subtle beauty — all of the animals, from pheasants to pronghorn antelope to birds of prey.

AH: We saw so much wildlife out there! Antelope, deer, coyotes, turtles, snakes, massive birds of prey, a strutting Tom turkey — the prairie was alive. We also stumbled upon some of the coolest roads. Roads with signs and on the map but that probably hadn’t seen a car, bike or person for years.

AH: Overall, I think the coolest part of the ride though was just sharing the whole experience with Spencer and Joey, the photographer. We’ve all been sealed up on lockdown for a while and just having the opportunity to do something big and different together was a real treat. My original plan was to do this completely alone but sharing the experience just makes it so much more rich.

AH: Our only stress point was water. Water was hard to come by and at one point we were contemplating filtering some pretty sketchy water from an old stock tank but lucky we stumbled upon an old spigot out in the middle of nowhere.

SP: Over the years when I imagined this kind of ride, I assumed there’d be a solid tailwind and little to no hills. However, once we reached mile 100 or so, it was clear we’d face both of those challenges. The dirt roads were loose and sandy, and some weren’t more than just a couple of tire tracks through the prairie — I love that, but it was way harder and slower.

AH: That headwind was brutal! There was a stretch of road that was dead straight for roughly 40 miles, not a single bend or turn, due east with a block headwind. The road was soft and sandy and slow and would have been a mental and physical challenge even with a nice tailwind but with it blowing straight at us we were in a rough spot. There was nothing we could do but buckle down and press on as best we could and watch our average speed plummet.

SP: It was a really tranquil and memorable way to end an epic day [to finish in the dark]. I’m not sure if everyone would want to do this exact route, but it’s worth exploring at least some of this vast sea of farms, grass, and dirt.