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Nov 21, 2023

This week we are joined by Eric Sutter, race director and founder of the Open Range 200k in Kansas. Learn Eric’s unexpected journey to becoming a race director and why the southern region of Kansas deserves its own exploration.

Open Range 200k

Episode sponsor: Hammerhead Karoo 2 (use promo code: TheGravelRide for free HRM)

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Automated Transcription, please excuse the typos:

[00:00:00]Craig Dalton: Hello, and welcome to the gravel ride podcast, where we go deep on the sport of gravel cycling through in-depth interviews with product designers, event organizers and athletes. Who are pioneering the sport

I'm your host, Craig Dalton, a lifelong cyclist who discovered gravel cycling back in 2016 and made all the mistakes you don't need to make. I approach each episode as a beginner down, unlock all the knowledge you need to become a great gravel cyclist.

This week on the podcast, I'm welcoming Eric Sutter. He's the race director and founder of open range gravel in Kansas . The event takes place in April every year and is going on to its seventh edition in 2024. I'm going to flag this right away. Registrations opening this coming weekend. November 25th after Thanksgiving.

So make sure to check it out. If you're interested after hearing. Eric's journey to becoming a gravel race organizer. It's quite a fascinating journey. It's not as someone who started. Riding gravel bikes ages ago. He picked it up

after coming into the world of endurance athletics via kayaking. Of all things. I hope you enjoy the conversation, but before we dive in, I do need to thank this week sponsor, hammerhead and the hammerhead crew to. Computer.

It's been a minute since I've spoken about the hammerhead crew to computer. It's my daily computer on my gravel bike. I enjoy it. A whole hell of a lot. If you'll pardon my French. It's one of those devices that continues to grow and evolve over time.

And I think that's what I like so much about the hammerhead device. I'm getting a software update every few weeks and sometimes it's spot on and something I'm using. And sometimes it's something that I don't know, I need to use. Or would even want to use. For example, it was probably three or four months ago.

I got an update around accommodating e-bike features. And since I wasn't an e-bike rider. I didn't have a lot of need for it, but lo and behold, and this is my dirty little secret. I am now the owner of a mountain bike. So I'm excited to explore the features and functionality that I can bring to the crew too.

Just to understand battery life of my motor and my battery and make sure I don't get lost out there without the power to come home. Don't worry. I'm still a fan of peddling my bike. I just thought it would be a lot of fun. Getting an E mountain bike. The other thing, as you know, if you've heard me talk about the hammerhead career to you before. I love the elevation and climb feature that they rolled out quite some time ago with the climbing feature, you can see what's ahead of you in any climb that you're approaching, whether you have a map loaded or not.

For me, it's really helpful if I'm a new terrain, just understanding am I in for a long grind or is this a shorter climb where I can really push. As we're coming into winter, it's important that the crew too has both touchscreen capabilities. But also physical buttons. So if you've got some heavy duty gloves on, you can still manipulate the device and go to all the screens. You need. Right now our listeners can get a free heart rate monitor with the purchase of our hammerhead crew to simply visit right now and use the promo code. The gravel ride at checkout. To get yours today. This is an exclusive offer.

So don't forget that promo code, the gravel ride. You'll get that free heart rate monitor with the purchase of your career to go to today. Add both items to your cart and use the promo code, the gravel ride. Would that business behind us let's get right into my conversation with Eric.

[00:03:39]Craig Dalton (host): Eric, welcome to the show. Thanks, Craig. Thanks for having me on. I didn't think this was a long time coming, but as we just remembered, this is about three and a half years in the making since our first email exchange.

[00:03:52]Eric Sutter: That's right. Yeah. We, uh, we sent a couple of emails back and forth and then I think life just happened and, you know, stuff gets, uh, gets passed on and, and, uh, but it's good to, it's good to be here.

Good to finally be on and, uh, and get to talk with you and your, your listeners.

[00:04:05]Craig Dalton (host): Right on. Yeah. Shout out to Wade for reconnecting us. Telling me a little bit about your story, which I see you gave me in your 2020 email. So I'm excited to talk about both the OpenRange 200k, but also I think it's important when we talk about events and event organizing, just to hear a little bit about your backstory.

So to set the stage, why don't you just let the listener know, where'd you grow up? What'd you do as a kid? How'd you get into endurance athletics? I know there's a lot to this story, so we can take it

[00:04:33]Eric Sutter: slowly, bit by bit. Yeah. And feel free to interrupt me at any point to, to dive in more. Um, so I, I grew up in Pratt.

Um, it's about a, uh, an hour and a half West of Wichita, which most people were probably familiar with the general area of where Wichita is, uh, in, in South central Kansas. Um, it's a town of about 6, 000 and, um, just a small. Independent, isolated community, um, and so in high school, uh, played sports, played, uh, baseball and football and wrestled.

And then, um, yeah, uh, went from there, went to college at Kansas State. Um, I did Army ROTC. And so I knew, I knew at that point, like, going into the Army is what I wanted to do. And, uh, and so did that commissioned, um, and actually, uh, went into aviation. So flew, um, and still currently fly helicopters, uh, for the army.

Um, and

[00:05:25]Craig Dalton (host): did that initially take you outside of Kansas when you first

[00:05:28]Eric Sutter: deployed? Yeah, it did. So, um, and, and I really had, had only lived in the Midwest, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma growing up. And so, uh, my first, uh, first kind of visit outside besides just. You know, uh, having vacation somewhere was, yeah, down to Southern Alabama, yeah, which was kind of a culture shock.

So, um, went down there for, for flight training and then, um, I lived in, uh, Tennessee, Kentucky area for, uh, for most of my active duty, duty years.

[00:05:57]Craig Dalton (host): Okay. Yeah. I mean, I imagine most of us who haven't been in the military have an understanding that there's a physical fitness component of it. Do you, did the soldiers tend to recreate athletically?

Did you tend to? Yeah,

[00:06:10]Eric Sutter: yeah, definitely. So for, for aviation, uh, ultimate frisbee is kind of a, the, uh, the sport of choice. Um, okay. We play. So, uh, you know, and some people have like, you know, are, are doing marathons and stuff like that. But, um, you know, and I, I, I tried to keep, keep in shape, uh, it's always been important for me.

So, you know, trying to do, um, you know, we have our, our physical fitness tests and everything like that. So, uh, try to be in, in this.

[00:06:36]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, so it sounds like probably a little bit of running here and there. Oh yeah, definitely.

[00:06:40]Eric Sutter: Ultimate frisbee.

[00:06:41]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Where else did the military journey take you?

[00:06:46]Eric Sutter: So yeah so, um, you know, Tennessee and Kentucky is where I was stationed, uh, and then did some deployments.

So, uh, deployed to Iraq in uh, 2005, 2006. Then went to Afghanistan in 2014, and then another deployment to Kuwait in 2017, 2018. Okay. So yeah.

[00:07:02]Craig Dalton (host): And then. Yeah. Go ahead. Then you end up back

[00:07:05]Eric Sutter: in Kansas. Yeah. So then, uh, so then ended up back in Kansas and kind of in the middle of that went off active duty and joined the National Guard and in reserves.

And so now I'm a reserve pilot.

[00:07:15]Craig Dalton (host): Okay, great. Well, first off, thank you for your service. Yeah. And it sounds like along the way you were sort of, as many of us do in our twenties and thirties, kind of Dipping a toe in the water into different sports. Yeah. So what

[00:07:29]Eric Sutter: were you doing along the way? Yeah, so Really is when I came off active duty and we moved back to Kansas City.

I was looking for something to stay active and I watched the news one night and they were showing these Kayakers that were going across the state of Missouri and I looked at my wife. I was like that that sounds kind of neat You know, I think I think I'd like to do that and again, looking for something to stay active.

I was, I was playing, um, uh, ultimate Frisbee with, uh, with a local little club, but I wanted something a little bit more to, to, to, um, really stay, stay involved in something to stay active. So the first year

[00:08:06]Craig Dalton (host): of waterways, did you have access to, to kind of learn the sport of kayaking?

[00:08:09]Eric Sutter: Yeah. So, um, we've got a couple of lakes around.

Um, and so Uh, we'll, uh, we'll do that. And there was a club that, that would meet up. And so I, you know, that's the great thing with like Facebook and, and things like that. It's finding these little clubs and organizations. And so, uh, yeah, I met up, I found a race that was happening. Um, oh man, going back, just thinking about this, like the first race, I think it was 12 miles and it was kind of a show and go.

No, you know, no awards or anything like that. Just, you know, bring your boat and let's go, go race them. I had no clue what I was doing. I had no

[00:08:47]Craig Dalton (host): idea how long a 12 mile kayak race would take someone. Um,

[00:08:51]Eric Sutter: so generally, uh, you know, in our, our kayaks, you should be able to do about, well, five miles an hour. Um, is, is it kind of a moderate to fast pace?

Um, seven miles an hour, you're, you're, you're looking at, um, so especially on flat water. Uh, so yeah, so a 12 mile would be, yeah, it'd be about two hours. Gotcha.

[00:09:15]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, I've done a little bit of paddling and there's definitely an analogy to pedaling in just in terms of the cadence of your arms and your body and that repetitive motion that every time I've rode or paddled, like it does appeal to me much in the same way riding a bike appeals to

[00:09:29]Eric Sutter: me.

Right. Yeah. And it's kind of the same thing, you know, you can go to a certain level of exertion, um, and then like your gains just don't go much higher for the amount of energy it takes to go faster. You just hit that, that drag, uh, coefficient and it's, uh, but yeah.

[00:09:47]Craig Dalton (host): So it sounds like you got sucked into the sport of kayaking at that point.


[00:09:51]Eric Sutter: did. Yeah. Uh, like I said, the first time it was, I was terrible. Uh, I didn't have any technique. I didn't know what I was doing. Uh, got out there, had this boat that was like 60 pounds, just this heavy plastic boat, um, with a paddle that, you know, was not efficient in the water at all. Um, but what I found was like, the people there were awesome.

They were just, you know, they didn't give me a hard time for having a shoot. Plastic, you know, boat or anything like that. And they're all in these, as you'd know, in California, like the surf skis, I mean, these 18, 20 foot long, you know, um, 22 inch wide, uh, sit on top kayaks. And, um, and they just, like I said, they just.

And so, but again, what I kind of, what I learned was that, you know, these people are just really good people, um, really great people. And I just, that's, that's probably more of what sucked me into it was just these, these awesome people that I was, I was getting to meet and everything. So, and, and the benefit of staying, staying active.


[00:10:50]Craig Dalton (host): You know, it's so interesting with endurance athletic and particularly like the more extreme ones, like. Ultra running or something like that. The communities are just like where, what you want, show up, show up with a good attitude. Let's all get this done. And it is so refreshing

[00:11:05]Eric Sutter: and inviting. It is.

It is. Yeah. I can't say enough. And those, those people still good friends with, with several of them that I've met that first, that first race. And this was 10, 10, 12 years ago now.

[00:11:17]Craig Dalton (host): So, so tell me about this event across Missouri. One, I have to ask what Waterway goes all the way across Missouri. So

[00:11:24]Eric Sutter: it's the and two, how long is it?

Yeah, so it's the, uh, it's the Missouri River. Uh, you start in Kansas City and it, uh, it's a 340 mile race. Um, and that generally takes the fastest, can do it in, um, the mid 30 hours, 36, 35 hours, I think is the. The fastest time, uh, and you benefiting

[00:11:46]Craig Dalton (host): from a bit of current a little

[00:11:47]Eric Sutter: bit so you can get two, two to three mile an hour, uh, add on to your, your flat water speed at that point.

And it, and it varies in different places, um, where other, um, other waterways come in, you know, other, other rivers will, will meet the Missouri, you kind of get a boost and whatnot. So as you get closer to St. Louis, uh, you get a little bit faster. Okay.

[00:12:11]Craig Dalton (host): And, you know, with a 35 hour race for the fastest people in the world, you know, many are going 40, 50 hours.

I imagine. Are you, what does it look like stopping and refueling? How does that work in a kayak event? Yeah. So

[00:12:23]Eric Sutter: every, I'd say. At least every 50 miles is a, is a ramp, a boat ramp on the Missouri river. And so you, um, you have a ground crew and they meet you at each place and they've got, you know, all your, it depends on how you set them up.

I mean, mine was my parents. Um, and so I had set up bags and resupply and stuff like that. And they would have some extra water bladders. And so I'd swap, swap out water bladders and swap out, um, you know, my nutrition and put it in a little cooler behind my, my seat and then, uh, and then go on. And so. Yeah, it's, I did it three years, uh, the first year I, I, I was, uh, I was in an outrigger and I DNF'd, uh, that year I made about a hundred and...

I think 130 miles and, um, I just had a tremendous, uh, back pain and, um, and just wasn't, wasn't going to work to, to go on. And so I kind of came back after that and figured out, okay, I want to do this a little bit different. So I got a canoe, uh, that was really light, uh, carbon, uh, or I'm sorry, Kevlar, um, Kevlar fiber canoe and did that the second, uh, my second event.

Um, And then, um, and the third time I got to a surf ski and did it in a surf ski. Okay. And so that was, was a lot of fun and, uh, and it goes a lot, a lot faster.

[00:13:42]Craig Dalton (host): Well, listener will have to forgive me in this detour down to kind of racing, but I just, I just find it fascinating.

[00:13:49]Eric Sutter: Well, and it's, you know, it's interesting, uh, being a race director now, like a lot of the things that I.

Uh, I, I learned it's from, you know, it's from the kayak world and go into different kayak races, uh, things I wanted to do and things I, you know, I wanted to make sure that we, we didn't do. And so, um, so yeah, it's, it, it played a role into the creation of. And of what I do and the race.

[00:14:14]Craig Dalton (host): Interesting. So at some point, do you wind down your kayaking career, or are you

[00:14:19]Eric Sutter: still doing that?

No, I, I wound it down. Um, I think I own, I own a, a paddle still and a life jacket, but I don't have any boats anymore. Um, and so I tried doing both for awhile and I just found, like, I wasn't, I wasn't doing anything in the kayaking side. Um, and the long distance kayaking. It really takes a toll on your ground crew and my parents don't live local.

Um, and I was, I was using my, my wife's father. Um, and they're just, you know, they're, they're getting older and it's just, it wasn't fair to them to, uh, have to, uh, have them help me out. And, and, um, and my parents would help on the MR 340 that I went across Missouri. And, uh, yeah, it was just getting to be to where that long distance was, was.

Kind of a struggle for, for getting a crew to help me out. Yeah, it makes

[00:15:09]Craig Dalton (host): sense at this point in the podcast. I don't think we've mentioned a bicycle once. When did bicycles, when did bicycles and gravel riding come into your

[00:15:19]Eric Sutter: life? Yeah. So that's an interesting story too. Like you said, we got all these different little, uh, uh, tidbits that, that, uh, spider webs or however you want to call them.

Um, but, uh, in 20. See, in 2017, I was getting ready for a deployment to Kuwait. Um, I, I, I knew I wasn't gonna be able to kayak in Kuwait and I was kind of looking for another challenge and I started getting into running. I did a half marathon in April, uh, of that year and, uh, thought, well, this is, you know, I really liked it.

And, and equipment wise, you know, running just requires your shoes. And, um, and so I thought this was. This would be kind of a neat, uh, neat sport to get into. Uh, and I think it was May, May or June of that year. Um, I was running and injured my knee and I, I don't know what happened. I had an MRI done on it.

Uh, it was kind of inconclusive, but it was enough to where, um, I knew that running was now not, not a good choice for me to continue on doing if I wanted to walk, uh, later, so. Uh, so I kind of hung that up and then as I got into Kuwait, uh, got involved with a site, they had a cycling class there. So I got involved with, with cycling, um, overseas and, uh, I've had some friends that did, um, dirty Kansas at the time and, um, talked with them.

And I kind of looked and I was like, man, this, this, this looks like fun. Like this could be the sport I get into next and didn't need necessarily didn't need a ground crew to. Uh, to shuttle my, uh, nutrition from one spot to another. I can carry it on me or on the bike or have a, you know, aid station. And so, uh, so then I just kind of got the bug and got interested in looking at different gravel races and, and I knew.

I knew based on just a little bit of watching and the friends that I knew that did gravel, um, like my personality wasn't a road, road type, um, you know, it wasn't necessarily mountain bike type, but like the gravel seemed to resonate with, with my personality and the stuff I had done before with the kayaking.

[00:17:22]Craig Dalton (host): Were you able to acquire a bike while you were in Kuwait or did you have to wait till you came

[00:17:26]Eric Sutter: back home? Yeah. So in Kuwait, um, they have a program over there where. Uh, we could rent a bike over there. Um, they were nothing, they were nothing special. They were Mongoose, um, you know, Walmart, uh, kind of mountain bikes, full suspension, you know, but it was something and it, uh, at least got me back into cycling.

Uh, and I wrote that thing, I mean, I probably wrote it more than anyone else, uh, around there. I wrote it when it was 120 degrees out and, uh, and whatnot. Um, and it was kind of interesting because as the idea for, for open range was, was kind of festering in my head. Um, and I knew it was sandy out in, in, uh, around Pratt.

Um, of course, I'm in Kuwait, which is a big desert. So I would test the bike on different types of sand there and like, okay, yeah, you can do this. And so, yeah, it was, uh, it's kind of an interesting go with that. But yeah, they do have bikes over there and was able to get miles in there.

[00:18:26]Craig Dalton (host): When you came back to the States, did you get your first proper

[00:18:29]Eric Sutter: gravel bike?

I did. And in fact, I ordered it while I was in Kuwait. Um, I ordered, uh, it was a Diamondback Honjo off of Amazon. It was on, on sale for a really. Really good price with, with pretty decent specs. And so, uh, I had it, uh, delivered, uh, to the house. I just told the wife like, Hey, you're going to get this box.

It's going to be, uh, pretty big. Yeah. Just be careful with it, you know, and whatnot. So yeah, so she got it and, uh, had it ready for me when I, when I got home. So, and were you in Kansas city

[00:19:01]Craig Dalton (host): at that point? Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So you, you come home, you got your, your diamond back finally on a proper gravel bike.

Did you sort of immediately start getting into the community and talking to people and figuring out where to ride or did that take a while?

[00:19:17]Eric Sutter: Yeah, no, it, it, uh, well, so I guess we should really even back up. Before that. So, um, cause we, I, we can't go on without talking about, without actually starting to talk about open range.

If, if that's cool with you, um, because that, that really became, that came first in a way. That's so interesting.

[00:19:36]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. Walmart, uh, mongoose in the desert and you're thinking about creating a race.

[00:19:42]Eric Sutter: Right. So, and even to, to back up even more, um, if, if the, the listeners and the viewers can follow, but, um, while I was kayaking, I wanted to become a race director and set up my own race, uh, kayak race.

And so, um, I had an interest and I, I kind of figured out a place to do it, uh, down in Wichita. And I was just, I mean, it was very early on in my, my process for kind of researching it. But, um, but I wanted to, I really felt like I wanted to. Put something together. So then, uh, now fast forward back to Kuwait, uh, as I'm getting into looking at cycling and going to spin class.

And I've got this Mongoose mountain bike that I'm, uh, riding all over, over the base. Um, I get this feeling again that, you know, I got this calling that I need to put a, put a race on and it's not going to be a kayak race. It's going to be a bike race. And so I had some time and, and just started researching, uh, gravel bike races and, um, and.

Uh, where I'm from in Pratt, just south of there is the, the Gypsum Hills, Medicine Hills or Red Hills. They go by several different names. And uh, I remember when we first came to that area, just how beautiful it was. And so I thought at first that I was just going to put this, it wasn't even going to be a race.

It was just going to be me riding from, uh, Pratt where I have some family still. I was going to go down, there's a, uh, a little, uh, bar in a very sleepy town of about maybe 200 people, if that, and, uh, go down there and have a burger, and then, uh, ride back, and that would be about a 60 mile ride, and then it kind of just, one thing led to another, and I was like, well, what if What if, what if we made this a race?

What if we made this, you know, a ride down there? People get to see this awesome, uh, area of the country that no one knows about. Um, and so it kind of, one thing led to another and it just, it developed in. And okay, well, what if we did this and what if we did that? Um, and so, yeah, it just, it just blossomed from there.

I don't know if you've ever had anything, but it just, it wouldn't leave my mind, uh, for like three or four months. I mean, it just, every waking moment I was thinking about it, I was thinking, okay, what, how can we do this? How do we solve that problem? What do we do for this? And, uh, yeah, I just, I just, it really felt like a calling that like, it would feel weird not to do it, you know, at that point, even though I had never, I'd never been to a gravel race, uh, myself.

Uh, it just felt weird. Like if I didn't do this. And if we didn't do it at this point, it was never going to get done. And yeah, if I didn't do it, it just, it was going to feel weird. It's

[00:22:22]Craig Dalton (host): fascinating to sort of learn about, and you'll tell us about in the future, like how the event ended up not having the context of.

Trying to be an unbound or trying to be a BWR, any of these other things you may have seen or heard about, you had this unique experience with kayak racing and endurance athletics through a totally different filter and came back with this vision for creating the open range. It's super interesting. Yep.

[00:22:47]Eric Sutter: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. It's, uh, it, it was, it was interesting the first, you know, the first year and. And I think it went split. I mean, it really had a lot of great comments. Uh, in fact, the timer guy, uh, he, uh, he saw that I was a first time race director and, and, uh, he said later, he's like, yeah, I was, I was really worried because usually first time race directors, you know, don't know what they're doing and I've got to do everything for them.

And, and, uh, he's like, you, you had this thing. And, uh, and they'd actually asked later on if I would help out with some, some of their races, uh, stuff like that. But, uh, yeah, it was, you know, not having the, not having been to one, I didn't know, You know, besides doing some research and watching YouTube videos, I didn't, you know, I didn't have anything that I was trying to, to make it.

I didn't, you know, road wise or terrain wise, um, everything was open game to me because I wasn't trying to be like another race. So yeah,

[00:23:45]Craig Dalton (host): you, before we started recording you, we were talking about the state of Kansas and how different the geography can be as some listeners may be familiar with the Flint Hills where unbound gravel occurs.

Maybe take a moment and describe in your own words, how is it different around Pratt compared to what people may have seen around

[00:24:06]Eric Sutter: Emporia? Yeah, so, so Pratt, like right around Pratt, it's actually fairly, fairly flat, um, some undulating hills, but as you go south, and it doesn't take long, um, coming out of Pratt.

And as you go south, you start getting into the gypsum hills and it starts off a little bit like Emporia, just some nice rolling hills. Um, and then about Medicine Lodge, um, just south of Sun City. Uh, so about 35 miles in, it's just, it's like nothing you've ever seen. It's like, uh, it looks like Arizona, uh, Mars.

It's, uh, I've heard, you know, all, all of that. It's, um, it's red dirt, it's mesas and buttes with white gypsum rock. So you've got these colors that are just. Beautiful. I mean, red dirt with white rock and green grass, uh, just, just amazing. And then just the topography, just these steep buttes and bases that are out of nowhere.

Uh, just, just an amazing, uh, amazing course. Yeah, that's

[00:25:07]Craig Dalton (host): so, it's so unexpected sort of as someone with, with very little to no experience in Kansas and certainly not on the, the dirt roads and more rural areas of Kansas. So for the listener, we've been talking about it. It's sort of. It's on the southern side, the southern tip of, uh, of Kansas and also sort of the western.

Is that

[00:25:25]Eric Sutter: right? Yeah. If you,

[00:25:28]Craig Dalton (host): as the route goes, you're heading towards Oklahoma and then back.

[00:25:31]Eric Sutter: Right. Yeah. If you were to take Kansas and, um, and fold it in half, uh, east and west, and that line right there is about where Pratt Medicine Lodge is. And so we are, uh, yeah, basically in, uh, the start of western Kansas, uh, and then, about, uh, we're about.

Forty five miles north of the Oklahoma border is where Pratt is. Okay. Gotcha.

[00:25:54]Craig Dalton (host): Gotcha. And you were describing the terrain. I mean, obviously like these vistas and buttes and red dirt. Are you on dirt roads? Are you on double track? What's sort of the mixture that you ended up achieving?

[00:26:06]Eric Sutter: Yeah, so it's a little of both.

several different, uh, types of terrain. Um, Pratt is known for a lot of brick roads. So when you're actually in the town, you start off on a brick road. Um, and there's several brick roads in town. It's kind of a neat, uh, just, you know, I grew up on Main Street and at the time it was a brick highway. Um, but yeah, you start off on brick, you get some asphalt, um, and then you go into some, some dirt.

More dirt roads, um, there is some gravel, but a lot of it is, is more of a, a dirt, uh, sand base and, um, yeah, you go down there and then when you get down into, uh, the gypsum hills, we've got, um, permission from some landowners and they let us go on their, uh, their ranches. And so then you've got in, you go into the double track, uh, and sometimes, uh, sometimes it's just cattle trails.

Uh, sometimes it's. We're trying to connect areas and, uh, the rancher just mows a swath of grass and you've now got to go through the grass to get to the next spot. So, um, it really is a. It's a unique type of course. Um, there's, you know, we do put some pavement in there, so it's not completely all gravel.

Um, but that pavement, I think, helps, uh, helps people a little bit get a break from some of the rougher stuff. But, uh, but it's just a good mixture of Of, uh, pavement and, and dirt roads and just some incredible, I mean, there's, there's almost places where you think you're on a cyclocross course, places where you think you're on a mountain bike course, places where you think you're on a road race and people, places where you think you're on a gravel race.

So it's got, it's got something for everyone. Yeah.

[00:27:47]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah. It's got something for everyone to love and probably something for everybody to hate, depending on their skillset. That's


[00:27:53]Eric Sutter: Yeah. In fact, somebody once said like. It was like, man, your race is like the great equalizer. Like there's no, like there's no bike or no style that is suited for that rate.

Like that is just suited exactly for that. So yeah, I took that as a great compliment.

[00:28:10]Craig Dalton (host): As you should. That's awesome. So let's get into some specifics. What are the distances of the

[00:28:16]Eric Sutter: events? Yeah. So we've got a 200 K, which is our main, uh, main event. In fact, I was, when I created it, that was the only. Only distance I was gonna do.

I didn't care about a shorter distance, just gonna do a 200k. And as I was developing it, I had several people ask me if I would put together a shorter, shorter course that they didn't feel comfortable doing, uh, doing 200 K, uh, or about 126 miles. And they wanted a shorter, uh, shorter version. So, um, we have, uh, I call it the 100 K plus, and it's a 100 K plus because one year somebody got upset because, um, I was calling it the 100 K and it was like 68 or 69 miles.

And so they're like, you know, a hundred K, 63 miles, this is 68 miles. So, okay. I'll put a plus on the end of it.

[00:29:01]Craig Dalton (host): As someone who watched their odometer in the Leadville 100, click over to 100 and find myself not at the finish line, I definitely resonate with those remarks.

[00:29:10]Eric Sutter: Right. No, I did the same thing too when I raced, and so yeah, I get it.

[00:29:16]Craig Dalton (host): Um, and is it, is it actually an out and back on the same, same roads?

[00:29:21]Eric Sutter: No, so, uh, the 200 is, is almost a complete loop. Um, it, there's very few, uh, roads that you'll be on twice. The, the, the 100 K plus is a kind of like a, a little bit of like a lollipop. So you go out, you make a, a. Fairly good size loop, probably about a 30 or 40 mile loop.

And then I get, well, maybe a little bit less, but yeah, 30 mile loop. And then, and then ride kind of the same road route back. And then we also have, Oh, go ahead. Yeah.

[00:29:50]Craig Dalton (host): I was going to say there's a third option for how to participate.

[00:29:53]Eric Sutter: There is. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so there's the tour. And so, um, that goes on the 200 mile or the 200, excuse me, 200 K course.

Uh, but it's. It's split up into two days. And so you ride about 78 miles the first day, uh, camp at a, uh, authentic guest ranch out there. And then, um, and they have, uh, catered, uh, dinner and breakfast for you. And then you, you ride back. And so, yeah,

[00:30:19]Craig Dalton (host): it's an option I hadn't really seen before in that same context.

There's obviously like the XL version of any given race that you're out there on your own and you're expected to sleep in a ditch. But I really liked, as I was reading the description of the 200k tour, that you go out, you could have dropped your camping gear off, or you could stay in the lodge. Now I'm learning that you can get a nice meal.

Yep. That sounds like a great way to spend a weekend. It

[00:30:42]Eric Sutter: really is. And I wanted, the purpose of that was I wanted riders. To see, cause, and the reason why I only wanted the 200k course is because that's where the really cool, uh, route is, and the really cool topography, you still get some of it on the, the 100k, don't get me wrong, but the 200k you see quite a bit more, and I knew there were riders that wouldn't feel comfortable in their ability to, to do that all at once, and so by putting this together, Tour together it kind of your own pace.

It's non competitive you get to see it and then spend as much time as you want And then and then finish it up the next day.

[00:31:20]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah for the 200 K and the 100 K is the Orientation that this is a race and some people are going for it and there wants to be a winner

[00:31:29]Eric Sutter: Yeah, definitely on the 200 K that Yeah, we we do podium for that the 100 K I never did a podium for until last year and, uh, and so finally last year, and we'll see if I keep doing that.

I mean, I'm most likely we'll keep a podium for the 100k, um, because there are people that were taking it pretty seriously. And so, um, so I felt like it was worth it. Awarding those people, uh, for, for doing that. Yeah. And so, yeah. But yeah, the 200 K is again, the big one. Uh, the 100 k, uh, yeah, we'll still, we'll still give you an award for the top top three male and female, but it's just those, those two categories.


[00:32:08]Craig Dalton (host): And what year, so 2024. How many additions will we have seen at that point?

[00:32:13]Eric Sutter: Yeah, so this will be our seventh year, which is just, yeah, it's just incredible. Um, our, you know, our first year I, I told my wife, I was like, we need. We need about a hundred, I think I counted like a hundred and six people based on, uh, Uh, our, our fees that, you know, to, to kind of break even.

And, uh, and I told her, I was like, you know, if we don't get that, um, we'll count this as kind of a learning lesson, you know, uh, you know, some people pay for an MBA, some people pay, you know, for other experiences, um, you know, this will be an experience and this will be a learning experience, uh, whether we have a hundred people, whether we have 50 people or whether we have 300 people.

Um, and, and if we have to pay. Pay for that experience. Great. Um, you know, hopefully we can, you know, have a success and, and whatnot. So, um, so yeah, our first year, like I said, I, I, my goal was to get right around a hundred, I think the first day we had like 60 or 70 people registered the first day and it was just like completely blew my mind.

I was like, okay, this is interesting. You

[00:33:16]Craig Dalton (host): know, that's what I think that is interesting about the Midwest. I think, you know, obviously there's so many passionate cyclists there, so many of them either have done Unbound or can't get into Unbound or are training for Unbound because I think your events a little bit earlier in the year.

It's pretty natural that there's just going to be this pent up demand. And if you give riders a good experience, they're going to come back and they're going to tell their

[00:33:39]Eric Sutter: friends, right? Yeah, yeah, that's, uh, and we've grown, we've grown every year since then. Um, we've, we held it in 2020 when, um, a lot of races were, we're kind of taking a break that year.

Um, and we had to adjust it and that was a learning lesson too. Cause we, uh, you know, the race is at the end of April COVID hit, uh, what about the middle of the end of March? Yeah. So we knew, you know, we had to make a decision pretty quickly, uh, that we're going to have to at least postpone it. Uh, we moved it to June, um, and it's kind of funny if you watch the COVID numbers, like it took this dip right the weekend of the race and then the weekend after it climbed back up.

Not, you know, we weren't a super spreader by any means, but, uh, you know, it's just the way it happened. Uh, yeah,

[00:34:25]Craig Dalton (host): it's, it's, I think it's so interesting, just the business of event production as well that people tend to forget about. I mean, you look at how much it costs to register, but. On your end, as I know and understand, you know, there's just so much that goes into it from catering to, you know, about podium structure to PA system, to making sure there's safety out there on the course, a sweep aid stations.

Like it's definitely to your point, like you, you couldn't start that first race without committing a certain amount of dollars out of your pocket, the unknown, whether you were going to a hundred, more than a hundred people that's joined.

[00:35:02]Eric Sutter: Right. And that's what, that's kind of like, I'm, I'm very passionate about like grassroots cause I get it, you know, for the people that are starting races, um, that they're taking a, you know, they're, they're taking a chance on, you know, creating something and, and potentially being out of money, uh, you know, potentially not going how they wanted it to go their first year, uh, learning lessons.

Um, so, you know, we, uh, we had a. A local race, uh, in Kansas a couple weekends ago, and I wasn't able to attend it, but, um, I, I, they would hit me up with questions and I would kind of give them some, some help and whatnot. And so it just kind of neat to watch them and then to get, hear the responses that people that went to that race, uh, that absolutely loved it.

And so it's like, okay, cool. This is, this is neat. That's

[00:35:47]Craig Dalton (host): great. How many people are you hoping to get to the 7th edition of the Open

[00:35:51]Eric Sutter: Range? Yeah, so I think 500 is, is our, kind of our sweet spot. Um, we've been, uh, we've been right around there the last couple of years. So, um, yeah, we, we kind of capped it right around 500 and, and kind of hope to get, get to that amount.

It's, uh, it works well for the community. We can do more, um, and if we get that. I think if we get that continually, then, you know, we'll look at that, open it some more. But, uh, yeah, we can, that's kind of what we're looking at.

[00:36:24]Craig Dalton (host): What day is the race on the

[00:36:25]Eric Sutter: weekend? Yeah, it's on a Saturday. Um, and then the tour again would be a, uh, the Friday and Saturday, but yeah, it's Saturday for the majority of the people. Um, yeah, what's great about Pratt is there's a community college there and because of the community college, there's a lot of hotels and decent hotels, uh, too.

So, um, there's, yeah, there's always plenty of room, plenty of hotels and, and they're cheap. They don't gouge, um, you know, the riders coming in for open range. Yeah. So, I mean, for under a hundred bucks, you can get it. A decent hotel room. So it works out, works out real well for him. Just to give

[00:36:59]Craig Dalton (host): me a sense for, cause obviously 200 K in Kansas might be different than 200 K in California.

What are the, you know, what are the fastest men and women tend to finish in?

[00:37:08]Eric Sutter: Yeah. So, um, we've had a couple of years where the leaders are, uh, they're riding above a 20 mile an hour average, which is just incredible. Like that is well beyond my ability. Um, I don't, I, I don't get how they do it. I really, because if you see some of our terrain, uh, I mean, you have to dismount.

We, in fact, I put a post out today, uh, a reel on Instagram and, um, the leader, you see the, the two, the one of the two, um, they're actually dismounted and running their bikes up of a hill, um, in that, that little reel. And so, uh, yeah, for them to maintain a 20 mile an hour. Um, I'd say the average is probably a 15, 14 to 15, uh, pace, uh, and so, and then we have a, a nine hour, uh, cap on the, the 200 K.

[00:37:58]Craig Dalton (host): Gotcha. And are, are people able to ride together in some sections and, you know, ride in a Peloton or does the terrain not allow for that?

[00:38:04]Eric Sutter: Yeah. Yeah. In most sections they can. Um, I do caution them because the roads there are sandy, um, that, um, You know, you can hit a sandy spot and then not be going as fast as you were a second ago.

And if you're too close, then that can cause some issues with, with some riders. But, um, but by and large, it's, uh, like I said, it's, it's, it's, it's usually a hard packed, uh, sandy, not, not like beach sand the whole, whole way.

[00:38:31]Craig Dalton (host): Got it. And then at the completion of the event, what kind of experience do the, uh, participants get to enjoy?

[00:38:37]Eric Sutter: Yeah, so we have live music. We've had live music every year. Um, we've got, uh, Aaron Travis Band is a local, uh, he calls it ag rock. So kind of red dirt, but, uh, he's, he's actually a farmer. Um, he lives in a town, the same town that, uh, Martina McBride is from. Uh, and sharing Kansas. And so, um, yeah, he's, he's a great, uh, great asset to have.

And he, he gets, uh, several of his friends to come and play. And so they have, um, you know, we usually have live music from, uh, right around noon till, uh, six or seven in the evening. And so, uh, so, and it's right on the finish line. So as the riders are coming up, uh, the brick road, uh, they've got a band there playing, cheering them on people, you know, sitting out watching them come across the finish line.

And so, um, they come across the finish line. They get a, a pint glass and a finisher patch for, for finishing. Uh, and then every year we, we change our logo just a little bit. Like we have our, our general logo that we've used from, from year one. Um, and that's kind of our, our standard logo. Uh, but then, uh, we kind of make a tweak every year to, to logo design.

And so like the pint glasses are kind of collector's items because, uh, each year is different. Same, same with the t shirt each year. You've got a different design, uh, on the t shirt. Um, and that's one thing I took from back to the kayaking is, uh, uh, the race had a, a, a decal and every year was a different.

And so, um, so you always wanted to see the different, and you could look at one and they never have the year on them, but you can look at them like, oh, okay, that was a, you know, a 2012 a year or whatever. So, uh, kind of the same, yeah, same way with us. So, yeah, so, yeah, so they come to the finish line, they've got, uh, we give them a free meal as well, uh, some good old Kansas barbecue and, um, and, uh, they pick up all that stuff and, and have a, have a good old time.

[00:40:29]Craig Dalton (host): Yeah, sounds amazing. So, I mean, I love how you've described the terrain and the challenges the riders are going to undertake and the different formats you have remind us again the date of the event. When's registration opening up and what's my final question? I can't even remember any, Oh, how, how do people can find you?

[00:40:48]Eric Sutter: Yeah. So, uh, so, so registration actually opens up on Saturday. Uh, Saturday is the 25th, uh, for, uh, those that, uh, may be listening to this later of, of November. So, uh, 25th, November at nine central. Um, and we have kind of a, a neat thing where it's a race before the race. So, um. We, uh, we kind of want to have a little competition to see who can be the fastest to register.

And if you are the fastest, the fastest male and female that register for the 200k, We actually refund your registration fees, so you get to ride for free. So, uh, I love that. It's, it's kind of neat. Uh, one, it was kind of interesting. One year we had, had a gentleman that, uh, I think for like two years in a row, he was like the number two guy.

It was just like, I felt so bad for him. Like, dude, you are so close every year. He just could not crack the, uh, Crack the, the win on that one, but, uh, yeah, so you don't have to be fast on the bike. You just gotta be fast on the keyboard and, uh, you'll get your registration fee, uh, fee comped. I'd love that.

I'd love

[00:41:50]Craig Dalton (host): that. I'd love to see others figure out how to do that in their registration process.

[00:41:54]Eric Sutter: Oh yeah. It's, it's, it's fun. So yeah. So this Saturday, November 25th at nine, uh, nine central, nine a. m. central is our open registration. And then the race itself is April 27th is that Saturday. So if you're doing the tour, of course, that'd be the 26th and 27th, but.

[00:42:11]Craig Dalton (host): Okay. Amazing, Eric. Well, thank you for all the information. This conversation was a long time coming, but it was well worth it. The event sounds amazing. I love your story and, uh, I wish you all the best of luck this

[00:42:23]Eric Sutter: year. Thanks so much. And yeah, yeah. You can check us out, uh, openrangegravel. com. And that's kind of our handle as well for, uh, Instagram and Facebook is at Open Range Gravel.

So perfect. I appreciate you taking the time and, uh, let me kind of tell the story. Of course.

[00:42:39]Craig Dalton: That's going to do it for this week's edition of the gravel ride podcast. Big, thanks to Eric for coming on and telling us all about his journey to creating the open range gravel event. I hope you go check it out. He's got some great videos on his website, which will be linked to. In the show notes.

Big, thanks to our friends at hammerhead and the hammerhead crew.

To remember that promo code for a free heart rate monitor strap is the gravel ride. If you'd like to support the show, please visit buy me a gravel ride or ratings and reviews are hugely appreciated. For those of you who are celebrating Thanksgiving this week. I wish you a great holiday. And here's the finding some dirt onto your wheels.