East Texas Showdown 2023

Report Date
Friday, 24 Mar, 2023
Our bikepacking Superbowl in Texas is the East Texas Showdown, a 400-mile non-stop gravel bikepacking race. The race starts in Bullet Grill @ Point Blank Texas and goes north across a scenic bridge that spans Lake Livingston into the beautiful Davy Crockett National Forest. I won the 2023 edition and this is my story on how it went. I want to break it down into 3 sections: the Race, the Bike, and Nutrition. 

Let’s start with the race breakdown. The weather forecast for race day was pretty bad. Rain and temps in the low 40s. The forecast did not disappoint. We started on time. At 8 am Patrick shouted his trademark slogan: “Go ride your damn bike” and off we went. The first couple of miles were neutral. All of us followed Patrick's car as he shepherded us across the long lake bridge before the real race started on the other side. Once he gave the command we took off. 5 minutes in and there were only about 10 of us at the front. Kuya was leading the charge. Since we can’t draft on this race I had to match watt to watt what Kuya was doing and then some. I was looking down at my power meter and it says 300 watts. I turn to Kuya and suggest that this is crazy. He turns back to me and says 120 watts. I look again at my power, I look up at the nice flat road we are on, make some quick calculations, and tell him: “No way bro, your power meter is broken!”. As Kuya keeps hammering and being all happy that he’s flying and dropping everyone at 120 watts, I try my last ditch effort at convincing him: “What’s your heart rate?” He looks down and says 150 BPM. A sense of relief! Thank god! Finally, we both agreed that he was not doing 120 watts at 150 BPM and the pace settled down a bit.

That settling of the pace wasn’t meant to last. Shortly after a couple of miles of road, we turned onto the first and probably one of the worst sections of gravel, mud, and sand. The pace picked up again. Mud was flinging onto the wheels, frame, all the components, and myself. Disk brakes were making rubbing noises from hell as they were choking down on more grit and sand than they could handle as we plunked down and up navigating all the mud puddles that the cold front had created overnight. Out of nowhere the pace picked up even faster as some unknown rider dressed all in black passed us and continued to create a huge gap at the front at a crazy pace. After another 30 minutes of this, we were left with just 3 riders in the group. Kuya, a 17-year-old kid named PJ, was fresh off his big win on another long bikepacking race in Georgia and me. I looked at Kuya and we both wondered who was this, all in black, dude that has just dropped us all and disappeared. I said, maybe it’s this guy that flew in from Iceland. We had no idea. In any case, there was a 100% certainty that we could not keep his pace for 370 more miles.

Now that we firmly had a group of 3 and nobody in sight in front or behind us, we started chasing. For the first 3 hours of the chase, I averaged 251 watts. That’s average, not normalized power, average! Just for comparison, I’ve averaged less on some @drivewayseries criteriums that lasted 1 hour or less. If I did the same wattage on a similar elevation course on a road surface with my road bike I would be going 21+ mph or maybe even faster. Here on soft muddy gravel roads with a loaded bike, we were averaging only 15mph. So slow! Huge difference in speed!   

As we kept navigating the mud inevitably my wheels plunked down a big puddle filled with premium soft sticky light brown clay. The clay got all over my front derailleur. Five minutes later when the road allowed faster speeds I tried to shift into the big ring. Nothing! Doesn’t shift! F$@k! This can’t be happening. The mud coated the shifter cable and the front mech didn’t want to move. Pushing the lever harder meant that I was risking tearing the cable apart. What to do? I can’t be riding another 300+ miles in the small ring. My next option was to risk my carb water that I needed, spray it on the front mech, and hope it clears some of the mud off. That worked! But it cost me half a liter of water, a small gap opening, and manual nudging with the hand while the pace was on! But now I was in the big ring again. Phew, crisis averted. The next upgrade would probably have to be a Di2 GRX 12 speed groupset when it comes out.

It was still the 3 of us and around mile 80 we all agreed to stop at a spigot of water to refill. That saved me because I was running low on water from wasting it on the front mech. We each took turns refilling our bottles and hydration packs. I was carrying 5 liters. Kuya had 4 liters. It took me a bit longer to mix my water with my hydration mix, more on that later, and I was left 60 seconds behind chasing again. I caught up, but it was another match that I had to burn.

Right before Jacksonville TX, we hit what looked like a rollercoaster of red gravel hills. I looked at PJ’s cadence and it was pretty low and he was rocking on the bike. I mentioned this earlier to Kuya and he decided to test us both knowing PJ might be in trouble and that I am 55 pounds heavier. Perfect place to put some hurt on me. Very good move! I knew what Kuya was doing but I also knew that I shouldn’t match his speed up the inclines when I can make up some distance on the downhills. It’s a risky strategy because I increase my risk of getting a flat or crashing on some of the off-camber downhill turns. Luckily for me, it worked, but we dropped PJ and never saw him again. 

As we passed our favorite course photographer, Maxwell, we saw some dogs that were chasing something. Can’t be! We were gaining on our lone front leader, Travis. Travis had some experience in bikepacking. He even did some portion of the tour divide with his Dad. Kuya was all smiles when we caught the front guy. We were curious about who he was. So many questions? Why? As we rolled up we were shocked. Travis was on a single speed. We got dropped by a guy on a single speed! Unreal! However, the crazy effort that he put in, meant that he was bonking and bonking hard! He tried to stay with us for a bit but the single speed was biting on the hills. You either had to go fast up every hill or do crazy low RPM. Neither option is good. At this point, I noticed that both Kuya and I were climbing a pretty steep gradient at the same speed. I thought to myself something is wrong here and decided to pay back a favor for earlier by adding a bit of pace once the road flattened. I got a gap quickly on both Kuya and Travis right as we were arriving in Jacksonville at mile 137 and settled on a comfortable pace.

My gap wasn’t meant to last. Kuya got a second wind and caught up to me and now with his bounce, he was putting the pressure back on me. We navigated through the maze of Jacksonville pretty quickly and now with the sunset roads in the lead both were in a very good mood. I decided for the first time to get the phone out and record a video update for the team. We never saw Travis again. He would end up finishing more than 24 hours behind us. We both kept wondering what would have happened if he had gears on his bike? 

The night was falling and we wondered where our 2nd stop would be. We wanted to shoot for the gas station at mile 215 but were surprised when we saw fellow 280 riders stopped at a small restaurant at mile 186 called 4j’s. Having a solid lead at the time we decided not to kill ourselves and stop. It was a super small place. The hosts looked surprised and probably wondered what the hell are y’all doing here. The selection was super small. We had their gumbo, a bit of leftover potato salad, and a small styrofoam bowl of pickles with 2 cokes each. That was 1000% better than what I was eating earlier which was basically drinking pure honey and chasing it down with more sweet sugar water. More on that later. 

As we left the restaurant both of our legs got a second wind and we were flying again. Kuya was pressing the charge as we passed more 280-mile riders like they were standing still. I just barely had time to say hi without opening too big of a gap to Kuya. As the night hours passed we both settled down a bit but kept a good pace. This was the first time when Kuya asked me how I was feeling. I was ok but my knees were starting to show a sign of fatigue from the cold and the miles and slowly started to lock up. Kuya said his shoulder, leg muscles, and left knee were hurting. Kuya is not one to complain so if he says something is hurting he’s not f%@ing around. Our next stop was Bullet Grill, before going again on the final death loop stretch. Right before we got there, before sunrise, Kuya was not having a good time. He’s a morning person. I’m a night person. Kuya has an insanely large amount of energy in the morning. It takes me hours to get to some sort of resemblance to a human being in the morning. So naturally, mentally I was just fine cruising at 5 am. Kuya on the other hand was falling asleep on the bike. Every 10 to 20 seconds he would yell something to wake himself up. Do pushups on the handlebars. Howl “Okiro” in Japanese, which means wake up. Luckily we were on a small road without much traffic but soon it changed. We turned onto a highway and I kept asking if he was awake. I think the adrenaline shot we both got when an 18-wheeler passed us woke both of us up. From this time on he was awake. Phew! It could have been bad. 

We got to the Bullet Grille and met Patrick who greeted us both. The first thing that he asked me was “So who is going to win this?” I replied: “We’ll see”. However, I got the feeling that what he truly was saying and I’m paraphrasing his look with my own words here: “Yo, this is not a group ride, it’s cute and all that y’all are riding together and I know y’all are tired but go out there and scrape that barrel one more time and show me what you got.” I wasn’t about to disappoint Patrick. There are however several advantages to riding in a group even though you can't draft. Here are some of them: safety in numbers, navigation, each turn gets checked twice, and moral & mental support for sanity when everything hurts.

We left the Bullet and went on to the death loop and the last 65 miles. The death loop is probably the most scenic part of the route. There is a section of red gravel road with large canopy trees that hug the road around you with the sun rays shining through the foliage. Worth the ride. Super scenic. As we left the last gravel part and got onto the road I was thinking about the sprint we are about to have at the end and how much it was going to hurt. If I was pedaling down the hills at the beginning of the race, now I was strictly super tucking every downhill no matter how small it was. I was basically just laying my whole upper body on the handlebars to give myself some rest. It’s a great way to recover your upper body a bit. On one of the downhills, I opened a small gap between myself and Kuya. Just like Kuya’s weight gives him an advantage on the uphills. My weight gives me the advantage on the downhills. That’s what makes us so equal. In any case, right after the downhill, there was an uphill climb coming up. I wanted to see how much ground Kuya would make up if any. If we don’t have to sprint even better. I climbed the hill, looked back and the gap was still the same. On one hand, I felt really bad leaving Kuya after going through hell with him for 27 hours. On the other hand, it’s a race and if the coin were to be flipped, and Kuya was in the front, I would be content with the outcome. I was sure Kuya was fine with it. I cruised through more of those downhills with some uphills and saw that I extended the gap to about 1 minute. As I was coming to the finish I saw a bunch of people standing there on the road and cheering for me! Thank god! Finally, the race was over, and with it, the 29 hours of pain. It seemed like it was all worth it. 

Let’s move on to the Bike. Riding 400 miles on gravel roads is not easy. You can’t just take any bike and ride it. You need a special gravel bike with fat enough tires and ideally some sort of suspension. Gravel bikes sit somewhere between road bikes and MTBs, and gravel bikepack racing bikes are slowly moving towards the MTB side as more and more people realize the benefits of suspension for comfort. To ride 400 miles you have to be comfortable. Every person has a limit on hours and distance they can ride before falling asleep, even while riding the bike. As a true night owl, I can go at least one night on no sleep without any problems. Considering all this, my choice was a fast but comfortable bike with just the required storage for nutrition and hydration without any sleeping gear. 

I rode the Cervelo Aspero with a Redshift pro stem and seat post for comfort, with ENVE aero bars for speed. My tire choice was s-works pathfinders 42mm, sitting on ZIPP 303 firecrest wheels. I ran Shimano 2x setup for downhill speed and gear range. And for the bags, I had @southcitystitchworks make 2 custom bags that I specifically designed for ETS. One custom bag sits between the aero bars for easy access and one wedge bag sits right behind the head tube. Plus, a rear seat bag for tools.  

Now, let's finally talk about nutrition and hydration. I burned about 22,000 calories in 29 hours. That is 5.5kg or 12 pounds of pure sugar or carbs burned and converted into CO2 and water. Our muscles require glucose which is converted to glycogen and oxygen to function. Your body cannot convert fats directly into muscle-ready glycogen. However, through a series of metabolic processes that result from conditions of depleted carbohydrates, it is possible for stored fats to be broken down into glucose, which can then be converted into glycogen. Meaning - yes, you can run your body on fat but it’s not the most direct way or the most efficient. Furthermore, fat oxidation reduces substantially the higher the power requirement is, as you climb up the zones. All that meant was that I needed to supply my body with glucose. Now, there’s a limit on how much glucose your body can absorb per hour, usually around 60 grams per hour. Moreover, pure glucose or dextrose, which is corn-based glucose, is very sweet, not ideal. 5500 grams / 29 = 189 grams per hour. So 60 grams/hr is not going to cut it. Luckily there’s another fructose channel in your body through which you can absorb more carbs. So, if you mix fructose with glucose now you can absorb more. Now, you can take it a step further. You can chain glucose into maltodextrin which keeps the same glycemic index but reduces the sweetness substantially. 

The end result of all this research was that I created my own carb drink mix formula with 0.8:1 fructose and maltodextrin and loaded it 10 to 1 with water or 10% carb-to-water mix. That’s right below the 12% which is considered the max you can absorb without stomach issues. 

However, this is still not enough to cover my 189 grams/hr caloric needs. We stopped 3 times to refill the 5 liters I was carrying plus the original mix minus leftovers. All in all, I consumed around 18 liters of water/carb mix or around 1,800 grams of carbs from hydration or around 60 grams per hour. 

From my research, I read that some athletes can consume around 100-120 grams of carbs per hour. That meant that I could add another 40 g/hr via gels or….. Honey! Honey is the perfect mix of fructose to glucose. I had a regular plastic bottle of honey directly in the front aero bar south city bag. I would open the bag and squeeze a gulp of honey every now and then. In total, I consumed 700 grams of honey. I also had 7 Roctaine gels, each containing 21 grams of carbs for a total of 847 grams of carbs. That adds up to about 30 grams per hour. Which brings me to 90 grams per hour. In addition, I also had 8 rice cakes, each about 120-130 grams, which contain about 30-40 grams of carbs per cake. In total, I was consuming about 100 grams of carbs per hour. The remaining 89 grams of carbs/hr was coming from my fat reserve oxidation.

Some final numbers. I averaged 200 normalized watts, 985 TSS, 22K calories, 27:52 moving, and 29:04 elapsed time for the whole race. 

Are you still here and reading all this? Congrats! You have the willpower to suffer. Maybe you should consider entering ETS next year.

As a kid, he used to ride his city bike to after-school basketball team practices. He got his first road bike when he was 18 when he moved to Austin from Haifa, Israel for work and ... moreschool at UT Austin studying computer science. Well, more partying than studying... At UT he was part of the UT cycling club for a brief period. After a short relationship with Ironman triathlons following school he decided to participate only in the fun part which was riding the bike.

He met the nice people of Violet Crown that have a great welcoming group ride selection and eventually got elected to help lead the racing team there. That’s where he met Alan and Freedom and the 3 of them decided to start a new team called the Night Owls Racing because they rode at night most of the time.
Master Roshi
Home Town:
Austin, TX
Group Rides:
Sprinter, Puncheur