Some companies have picnics or weekend getaways in order to bring employees together and build team unity within the ranks. For ENVE, racing across the unforgiving gravel roads in the Flint Hills of Kansas during the Unbound Gravel (Formerly DK) is much more our style for building stronger ties between company team members.
It all started just over a year ago when ENVE became the wheel partner for the DK200, which has become the most reputed gravel event on the globe due to the sheer mileage, a roulette wheel of weather conditions that riders face, and the town of Emporia that makes each and every rider feel like they have rockstar status. Being there last year to experience the scene, talk with the riders, and see the equipment demands allowed us to come back this year in a different capacity.
This time around, it was all about experiencing the scene on the bike as opposed to watching everyone else have all the fun. Considering DK also served as the release event for our two new purpose-built gravel wheels, the G23 and G27, it only made sense that we threw ourselves into the deep end. Four of us lined up for the namesake 200-mile distance, while company president Sarah Lehman rode the 50 miler and VP of research and development Scott Nielson rode the 100-mile option.
These are the stories of the ENVE four that committed to, raced, and finished their first Unbound Gravel.
Jake Pantone, VP Product and Consumer Experience
“Tell anyone you’re going to Kansas and the first thing they ask is, ‘Why?’. I can’t really blame them. Before going to Kansas for the DK in 2017 I too believed that Kansas was flat and hot. While I was right on one account, Kansas is hot, Kansas is not flat. Emporia is middle America to the T with one exception, they love bikes and specifically gravel racing.
“After attending the DK in 2017 to support our ENVE loyalists I swore I’d never show up again to watch. I’m a connoisseur of sufferfests and sitting on the sidelines last year was more painful than racing the event this year. I simply knew that as an endurance racer, I had a responsibility to myself to race the DK200.
“The biggest barrier to entry in my mind to doing this race is not the training, rather the logistics – 206 miles, 3 feed zones, no outside support, etc… In my experience, races over five hours are not completed, let alone won unless good luck aligns with good preparation and a strong mental constitution.
“Off the start line DK did not disappoint. The energy of the crowd and fellow riders was palpable. While I, along with my fellow ENVE employee and long-time partner in suffering Jonny Hintze were crashed onto the Kansas gravel twice in the first 40 miles, we weren’t relegated to the sidelines fortunately and the wounds were superficial. Again, luck plays a big factor in your experience at a long-distance events. All in all, DK is an amazing event highlighted by the rolling flint hills and community support under some of the biggest skies you’ll ever see. Will I be back next year? I’d like to think so…”
Jonny Hintze, Art Director
“When I was first invited, I thought, that sounds miserable. Two hundred miles of gravel on the exposed roads of Kansas–why would anyone want to do that? That aside, how would I have the time to train for it? A few weeks passed and I found myself pressured into signing up. I thought, what the hell. I guess I’ll give’r a go. I’ve got the opportunity, I might as well take it. After all, I’ve got a few co-workers to help me along the way. I trained as much as I could, which wasn’t much, and I started prepping. I thought, ‘if I can just finish before dark, I’ll be stoked.’
“When I arrived in Emporia, three days before the race, there wasn’t much to see. Not many riders had shown up yet and the town was pretty quiet. As the days went by, more and more riders started showing up and the town became alive with excitement and anticipation for the race. I was blown away by how much support the local community gave the race. The town was there to support the racers. This helped ease my anxiety a bit.
“Race day was no different, the crowd, the energy was off the charts. All the participants were there for the same reason, to challenge themselves. Some were there to race, some to just ride, but the end goal was to finish. And finish safely.
“I won’t go into all the details of my race, but let’s just say it was challenging. I had my ups and downs. Physically and mentally. At moments during the race, I had to remember to look up and enjoy where I was and what I was doing. The vast expanse of green fields and dirt roads were quite surreal. The support and encouragement from fellow riders along the way made the long ride bearable and even fun. The welcome home at the finish line was no different. It was great to be welcomed by racers and the community. I was able to finish before dark, and with an even better time than expected. There were a few mishaps along the way, but I had made it. It was definitely a race I will remember and talk about for years to come.”
Mark Currie, VIP Consumer Experience
“DK was without a doubt, the most memorable day I’ve ever had on a bike. Standing on the start line felt a bit surreal, thinking back to the long winter training rides and countless hours spent thinking about the race that lead up to that moment. Our crew of four were lined up together, admittedly all a little nervous for the task at hand. After the race start, however, nerves calmed down and I thoroughly enjoyed the first hundred miles.
“As soon as we hit the first unmaintained road, I vividly remember watching three or four guys absolutely blow out tires right in front of me. I knew at that point that the rocks in those hills are no joke! I found myself in some great groups, and the miles seemed to tick by pretty quickly up until about mile 150 or so. The section from checkpoint 2 (mile 100) to checkpoint 3 (mile 163) was where I expected to have some deep, dark, soul-searching moments. Sure enough, that segment delivered punch after punch, and a lovely 25 mph headwind, and at about mile 150 I really had a tough time mentally. Thankfully, a couple of wonderful local farmers were on the route with a cooler of Coke which perked me up enough to keep rolling to checkpoint 3.
“At checkpoint 3, I learned that my brother who I hadn’t seen since mile 50 was only a couple of minutes up the road, so I set out like a bat out of hell to try and catch Ryan. I would end up catching him about 180 miles into the race and we rode together the rest of the way. Although these were the hardest miles of the race for me, they were absolutely the most memorable. Ticking the miles off with my brother, both of us about to implode at any moment was pretty special. We rolled into Emporia together, both absolutely astounded that after 12 hours of racing that we managed to re-connect and cross the line together. I’ll remember that ride down the finish chute for a long time.”
A.J. Turner, Associate Product Manager
“DK was a bit of a homecoming for me, although I’d never before done the race. Having been born and raised in Iowa – I cut my teeth riding bikes on gravel, and was anxious yet nervous to return. Overall, the race reminded me what is so great about gravel – community. I was reunited with old friends in the gravel community and made many more new friends in that same community. Misery loves company, and I certainly needed all of the DK riders, volunteers, support, and townspeople to finish. Without each and every person in that town or on that course – this whole thing wouldn’t be possible. Thank You, DK.”