Due East, for miles and miles

Alex and Spencer reflect on their ride to the Kansas border

“Still ticking.”

 

That became Alex HowesAlex Howes and Spencer Powlison’s slogan throughout the dusty, slow miles. The national road champ traveled from his home in the Colorado mountains all the way to the Kansas border. Howes was joined by his good friend Spencer on the 14-hour journey, who successfully crossed the border with him after a scenic, grueling ride. We asked these two all about their epic 220-mile haul, from the strong wind, sharing a headlight and a water filter.

 

Photos by Joey Schusler

How did your body feel on the ride and how’s it feeling now?

 

Alex: 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 5-6 hours, but I was amazed how a switch flipped on after 8 or so hours of riding. From 8 hours to the end I felt great. My wife woke me up at 7 this morning (we got home at 2:15am) because I was sleeping so hard she thought I was dead. Turns out, I’m still alive but I’m definitely pretty rough around the edges.

What stands out to you about the ride?

 

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

 

Alex: 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.

Do you think you could have done the ride alone?

 

Alex: 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.

Did you expect the route to be as difficult as it was?

 

Spencer: For how tranquil it is, it slowly grinds you down on a bike. 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.

 

Alex: 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.

Did you feel prepared with the right gear and food?

 

Alex: I think we did a great job being prepared. Food-wise we did great. I think I ate 12 SkratchSkratch bars. 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. Gear-wise, everything held up great. We had zero issues. Spencer was giving me grief because of my old front tire (I have no idea how many miles it has on it but it’s the same one from Kanza last year) but it held up just fine. Had something gone wrong equipment-wise I like to think we’d be ok. We had tools and repair items for virtually everything.

 

Spencer: Alex totally saved us with his water filter, because we literally didn’t see a single convenience store or gas station.

Were you expecting to finish the ride in the dark?

 

Spencer: No, but it was a really tranquil and memorable way to end an epic day. 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.

For anyone thinking of taking a long bike ride this summer, what’s one tip you’d give them?

 

Alex: Trim your toenails first.