Sunday at 10 p.m., our Latern Rouge rolled into the Bullet Grill in Point Blank, Texas, signifying the end of the inaugural East Texas Showdown (ETS). Sitting here on my couch the morning after, it’s hard to put into words the range of emotions I’m feeling. Fourteen months ago, I created the first version of the ETS in Ride with GPS, and since then I have been obsessing over the route. Ultimately, I created 13 different versions of the route before finally settling on the right one. After 14 months of hard work, I’m happy to report that the inaugural East Texas Showdown and Slowdown was a total success, and I’d like to share a little about my route, the event, and what I learned along the way as a first-time race director.
This event has two route options for participants to choose from. The Showdown Route is 380 miles with 15,900 feet of elevation gain and about 60% unpaved surfaces. There’s also a Slowdown Route that is 280 miles, 11,500 feet of elevation, and 64% unpaved. Both routes start in the Sam Houston National Forest and wind their way north through the Davy Crockett National Forest and back again. This region of Texas is often referred to as the Piney Woods for its lumbering loblolly pines that tower above and line the gravel roads. I picked this region of Texas for its proximity to my hometown, and it also happens to be one of the largest swaths of public land in Texas, making it an obvious starting place.
A personal goal for me was to create an event that would be fun and challenging for more experienced riders/racers while also encouraging beginners and weekend warriors to participate. Being a single dad with a couple of jobs, bigger events aren’t feasible from a training perspective and time away from the “real world.” I felt like there was an opportunity here to introduce more folks to endurance bikepacking. And 380 miles is almost the perfect distance to temp some folks to leave their bivy and sleeping bag at home and go light and fast, while others may find this to be a perfect distance to challenge themselves in their first bikepacking race.
Still too much? No problem! The 280-mile Slowdown route is a great option for the same adventure with a little less mileage. Let’s not kid ourselves: 280 miles on a bike self-supported is a big deal, and at the ETS we celebrate the first-place finishers all the way to the Lantern Rouge. I had a personal goal of being at the finish line for every single finisher. Unfortunately, I missed a few in the wee hours of the morning, but that just means I have room to improve next year!
We’ll be doing a full write-up of the event very soon, but here’s a snapshot of this year’s race. We had 47 people register, 40 lined up at the start line in pouring rain, two people wore sandals, two others had rim brakes, and we had two single speeders, but everyone got wet!
On Friday at about 5:30 a.m., the skies opened up and it rained steadily throughout day one for a solid eight hours, soaking the course with a few inches of water. The rain laid carnage to brake pads and electronic devices, causing some to DNF and others to find creative ways to finish their race. Fortunately, around 3 p.m. that day, hints of blue started to appear in the sky, and by the time the sun was setting the clouds had cleared to reveal a beautiful blue sky and a crimson sunset that turned into a starry moonless night. This was just the mental boost riders needed to keep pushing forward into day two and possibly three. Everyone who survived day one ultimately made it back to the finish line. After all, the worst was already behind them.
As the race director of my first event, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I should be out there riding with them, not documenting from the comforts of a truck, but it did give me an opportunity to see most riders on course, and even during the heaviest rain, I only saw smiling faces. This was the overriding theme to the weekend that really stood out to me. I’m humbled by the spirit and determination of everyone who lined up at the start. Even getting that far is a huge accomplishment that many people won’t ever attempt. It takes courage to load up your bike and head off into unknown terrain in heavy rain, and we appreciate everyone who participated whether they were first place, last place, or DNF! We are all on a journey, and everyone’s journey is valuable and deserves recognition.
We wrapped up the weekend with a celebration of everyone’s accomplishments, which gave participants an opportunity to share war stories over a burger and beer at the Bullet Grill in Point Blank, Texas. In bikepacking, it’s not uncommon to show up to the finish line with only the sounds of crickets to acknowledge your effort. That’s another cool thing about a shorter event, it allows almost everyone to get done in time to celebrate together. This was the highlight of the event for me. I spent most of Saturday and all of Sunday at the Bullet Grill welcoming in racers and listening to their experiences. As the days grew, so did the number of participants who were huddled in their chairs recounting their experiences. This would only be broken when it was time to go out to the street and cheer on the next finisher, and so it went until every rider crossed the finish line.
In total, out of the 40 starters, we had 26 finishers. Most of the people who dropped had mechanical or technical difficulties from all the rain, sand, and mud from day one. Here are the top finishers for this year’s ETS:
2021 East Texas Showdown Results
Showdown – Men
- 1st – Alex Maldonado – Single speed, and first bikepacking race
- 1st – Dave Easley – Single speed, first bikepacking race
- 3rd – Thomas Lane
Showdown – Women
- 1st – Hannah Simmons – First bikepacking race
- 1st – Alicia Danze – First bikepacking race
Slowdown – Men
- 1st – Davis Sims – First bikepacking race
- 2nd – David Richey – First bikepacking race
- 3rd – Nathan Marquez – First bikepacking race
- 3rd – CJ Rhodes
Slowdown – Women
- 1st – Katya Morzhueva – First bikepacking race
Stay tuned for more coverage and stories from this year’s East Texas Showdown!
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.