Dylan Morton takes a sip from his hydration vest and surveys the Expo before him. It’s a scorcher of a day in Emporia, Kansas; the wide, cloudless skies giving no respite to a growing group of cyclists as they move toward the Unbound Gravel XL start line. Dylan is in good spirits: he poses for photos, greets friends as they pass by, and even shimmies into dance aerobics while his fully-loaded Otso Fenrir Stainless models for its own glamor shots. The All Things Gravel Expo is conveniently located right next to the start chute, which is quickly filling with fidgety riders, fans waving beer cans, and fast-melting Untapped Maple creemees. Unbound security volunteers are desperately waving spectators toward either side of the timing barrier, but to no avail—cameras and phones jut into open spaces, trying to capture friends and family as they prepare for one of the largest, unsupported, ultra-endurance bicycling challenges they’ll face this year.
It’s chaos personified. It’s, as Morton says, “a pregnant moment.” He’s right: the air is palpable, almost electric. “There’s an experience that’s about to happen,” Morton continues, and you can sense that each rider is interpreting this knowledge as best they know how. Briefly he ducks under the shade of the shared Wolf Tooth Components/Otso tents and soaks in the last portions of cool air he’ll find before grabbing his Fenrir Stainless and saluting the fanfare around him. He walks toward the back of the start line where he’ll review on-bike nutrition, determine he’s carrying too much, and give a big bag of M&M’s to a less fortunate friend. The start gun goes off in a flash, and Morton starts rolling.