When Plans Changing = An Amazing Experience

The weekend of October 6-8th my husband and I were looking forward to a fun getaway camping (for the first time in our new camping gear!) and mountain biking at Whiterock Conservancy.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas…and the trip ended up getting cancelled.

I hadn’t really had a chance to consider options, except that there was also a cyclocross race that weekend and we had several friends that were racing.  My husband races on the DMOS Race Team so over the years I’ve taken many photos at races and we know a ton of friends there.

Late Thursday night….I get a cryptic Facebook message from a biking friend asking me to call her when I get the chance.  Hmmm…what’s up?  She proceeds to ask what I’m up to that Saturday, October 7th.  She was volunteering at Sarah Cooper’s Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra event and heard Sarah needed another photographer and she thought of me.

Side bar here…I’m gonna just go ahead and admit it…I’ve been sorta “fan girling” over Sarah ever since she came to speak at our Des Moines Cycle Club meeting back in March.  She’s an amazing athlete, a total badass, and an “average” Iowa mom who just happens to love biking and is kicking butt doing so.  We’re friends on Facebook and know many of the same people, but I doubt she would recognize me out and about or in a crowd.  To have the opportunity to be involved in an ultra race she’s Race Director for?  Hell yeah!

I’m like that sounds fun and so I proceed to message Sarah and get the skinny on the event and what she’s looking for.  I laughed out loud because one of the first things she mentioned was something about not really having a budget…which to me was a foregone conclusion.  Yes, I take pictures as a “side hustle” to earn money to buy more camera equipment.  However, I’m also a volunteer photographer at cycling events (mostly because my hubby started racing), at my church and at the Animal Rescue League.  I knew that if I did this gig, it would totally be volunteering of my time and talent. And, hello, it’s SARAH COOPER…I’m totally in!

We chat about conditions (it’s been raining…a lot…) and where she would like to put me on the course (I have NO IDEA what the route is).  I grew up in rural Eastern Iowa, so I’m not concerned…gravel roads are my old stomping grounds.  She mentioned something about near Orient (there’s actually a town called Orient, Iowa?? Who knew…LOL…) and that she would call me or text when she had an idea when the first riders would be coming past.  We knew it would be around 1-2pm so that was perfect as I could then still take pictures of my cyclocross buddies in the morning.

On Saturday as I’m heading out to Orient from Des Moines, it is torrential rain.  I’m feeling a little nervous about the possibility of shooting pictures all day in the rain (not exceptionally fun), but I have all my rain gear and you just never know about Iowa weather.  It stops raining for the most part by the time I get to Orient.  I haven’t heard from Sarah, but I’m referring to the Cue Cards for the race and driving around north of town trying to figure out which direction they’ll be coming from.  I land at the corner of Pinewood & 290th.  290th is a Level B Road…which is currently looking like a muddy nightmare.


“Wow…sucks to be you” is what I’m thinking of the bikers that will have to deal with that.  LOL… However, I also know that anyone who signs up for a Sarah Cooper race…and a 150- or 200-mile gravel race…is a little bit of a different breed to begin with.  I say that lovingly…I had several friends doing the race.  Ha!

Scott comes by and promptly gets his truck stuck going the other direction on the Level B road…


Sarah and Steve come over to save his butt and we chat for awhile.  I make sure to document that adventure…pretty sure Scott’s never going to live that down!!!


About the same time, we see the first racer coming up the road!!  Wahoo!!!  Now the fun begins…


Amazingly, the day went fast.  I texted with my friend Holly off and on most of the day – she was on the other side of Orient seeing them before they went through town. The riders came through mostly one at a time…sometimes in pairs.  All of them were awesome and smiling through the mud.  I was wishing I had a shot of whiskey to offer them rather than just a camera and a smile.

People might ask…why? Why did you do it…spend all day in the middle of freaking nowhere taking pictures mostly of people you don’t know when you’re not getting paid to do it?  I got paid in spades…  I got to meet amazing people, determined to finish something they started.  I was given the chance to chat with them a bit, find out where they’re from, what brought them to this backroad in the middle of nowhere, take their pictures looking like a total badass, and give them a smile and cheer them on toward the finish.  I got the chance to make a difference…if only for a moment…in their long mentally and physically exhausting journey. Maybe it didn’t mean anything to some of them, but I know it mattered to at least a few.  And if I ever decide to do a gravel race myself, I got a lot of tips and information…first and foremost, carry a spatula (best suggestion ever from Mr. Bike Iowa for getting the mud off!).

Not to mention…the photographer in me was super excited about some of the photos I got telling the story of the day.







I ended up being out there until about 8pm…waiting for 3 more folks that my friend Kyle had said were not too far behind him.  I got to see the sunset over the Iowa farmland, which to me is always beautiful…


Most of all, I got to be a part of an adventure that I’ll never forget!!  All because my plans changed unexpectedly…

How cool is that?!?!?



To view/download all my pictures of the Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra follow this link: https://carolynmarsh.smugmug.com/Spotted-Horse-Gravel-Ultra/

For more photo albums and race reports from the Spotted Horse see this link:  https://spottedhorsecycling.com/photos/




One thought on “When Plans Changing = An Amazing Experience

  1. Pingback: I Love Many Things… | Adventures of an Iowa Girl

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