The Bikepacking Super Bowl: 2023 East Texas Showdown

Dennis Lastochkin walks, or rather rides, us through his win at the East Texas Showdown. Brainchild of Patrick Farnsworth from the Bikes or Death podcast, the early March event feels like a season opener of sorts for the multi-day endurance crowd and traverses 400 miles through southeastern Texas. Check out this from-the-saddle tale of bikepacking’s “Super Bowl.”

Our Bikepacking Superbowl in Texas is the East Texas Showdown, a 400-mile non-stop mixed-surface bikepacking race. The race starts at Bullet Grill in Point Blank, Texas, and goes north across a scenic bridge that spans Lake Livingston into the beautiful Davy Crockett National Forest. Here’s my story of the event.

Let’s start with the race breakdown. The weather forecast for race day was pretty subpar: rain with temperatures in the low 40s. The forecast did not disappoint. We started on time. At 8am, Patrick shouted his trademark slogan—”Go ride your damn bike,”—and off we went. For the first few miles, we rolled at a neutral pace while following Patrick’s car as he shepherded us across the long lake bridge before the real race kicked off on the other side.

Shortly after, we turned onto the first and probably one of the worst sections of gravel, mud, and sand. The pace picked up. Mud was quickly clinging to and clogging my wheels, drivetrain, frame, and myself. Disc brakes were making rubbing noises from hell as they choked on more grit and sand than they could handle while we plunked down and up, navigating all the mud puddles that the overnight precipitation had wrought. Out of nowhere, the pace grew even hotter as some unknown rider, dressed all in black, put in an attack to create a huge gap at the front. After another 30 minutes of this, we were left with just three riders in the group: Kuya who’d won the previous year in 23hr54min, a 17-year-old kid named PJ fresh off his big win in another long bikepacking race in Georgia, and me. I looked at Kuya, and we both wondered who this all-black-clad rider was that had just dropped us all and disappeared. I said, maybe it’s this guy that flew in from Iceland. We had no idea. In any case, there was a 100% certainty that we could not hold his pace for 370 more miles.

As we continued navigating the mud, my wheels inevitably plunked down into a big puddle filled with premium soft, sticky light brown clay. The clay immediately clagged my front derailleur. Five minutes later, when the road allowed for faster speeds, I tried to shift into the big ring. Nothing! It wouldn’t shift! This can’t be happening, I thought. The mud had coated the shifter cable, and the front mech didn’t want to move. Pushing the lever harder meant that I was risking tearing the cable apart. What to do? I couldn’t ride another 300+ miles in the small ring. My next option was to risk my water supply, spray it on the front mech, and hope it cleared some of the mud off. That worked! But it cost me half a liter of water, and took some manual nudging with my hand while the pace was on and a small gap opened! But at least now I was in the big ring again. Phew, crisis averted.

A couple of miles later, we crossed what looked like several small rivers, each a couple of inches deep. It wasn’t too big of an issue for us as we slowly rolled our tires while slightly tapping the cranks so as not to get our feet wet. However, the group behind us wasn’t so lucky. Later on, we found out that the rain had created a flash flood, and some people had to wade through this area waist-deep in the gushing water. Definitely a significant change from the 2022 edition of the race, which was almost entirely dry.

It was still the three of us, and around mile 80, we all agreed to stop at a spigot of water to refill. That saved me because I was running low on water from wasting it on the front derailleur. We each took turns refilling our bottles and hydration packs. I was carrying 5L and Kuya had 4L. It took me a bit longer to mix my water with my hydration mix, and I was left 60 seconds behind, chasing again.

Right before Jacksonville, TX, we hit what looked like a rollercoaster of red gravel hills. The perfect place for Kuya to put some hurt on us. I knew what Kuya was up to but I also knew that I shouldn’t match his speed on the inclines when I was pretty sure I’d be able to make up some time on the descents. It’s a risky strategy because I increase my chances of getting a flat or crashing on some of the off-camber downhill turns. Luckily for me, it worked, and we distanced PJ and never saw him again.

As we passed our favorite course photographer, Maxwell Johnston, we saw some dogs that were chasing something. It couldn’t be! We were gaining on our lone front leader, Travis. Travis had some experience in bikepacking; he even did some portion of the Tour Divide with his dad. Kuya was all smiles when we caught the front guy. We were curious about who he was. So many questions? Why? As we rolled up, we were shocked. Travis was on a single speed. Unreal! However, the crazy effort that he put in meant that he was fading! He tried to stay with us for a bit, but the single speed was biting on the hills. At this point, I noticed that both Kuya and I were climbing a pretty steep gradient at the same speed. I thought to myself, something is wrong here, and decided to pay back a favor for earlier by adding a bit of pace once the road flattened. I quickly got a gap on both Kuya and Travis right as we were arriving in Jacksonville at mile 137 and settled in a comfortable pace.

My gap wasn’t meant to last. Kuya got a second wind and caught up to me, and now, with his bounce, he was putting the pressure back on me. We navigated through the maze of Jacksonville pretty quickly, and now, with the sunset roads in the lead, both of us were in a very good mood. I decided for the first time to get my phone out and record a video update for the team. We never saw Travis again. He would end up finishing more than 24 hours behind us. We both kept wondering what would have happened if he had gears on his bike.

The night was falling, and we wondered where our second stop would be. We wanted to shoot for the gas station at mile 215 but were surprised when we saw fellow 280 riders stopped at a small restaurant at mile 186 called 4J’s. Having a solid lead at the time, we decided not to kill ourselves and stop. It was a super small place. The hosts looked surprised and probably wondered what the hell we were doing there. The selection was limited. We had their gumbo, a bit of leftover potato salad, and a small Styrofoam bowl of pickles with two Cokes each. That was 1000% better than what I had been eating earlier, which was basically drinking pure honey and chasing it down with more sweet sugar water.

As we left the restaurant, both our legs got a second wind, and we were flying again. Kuya was pressing the charge as we passed more 280-mile riders. As the night hours passed, we both settled down a bit but kept a solid pace. This was the first time Kuya asked me how I was feeling. I was okay, but my knees were starting to show signs of fatigue from the cold and the miles, and they were slowly starting to lock up. Kuya said his shoulder, leg muscles, and left knee were hurting. Kuya does not complain, so if he says something is hurting, he’s not messing around.

Our next stop was Bullet Grill—back where we’d started—before going again on the final mental death loop. Right before we got there, before sunrise, Kuya was not having a good time. He’s a morning person; I’m a night person. Kuya has an insanely large amount of energy in the morning. It takes me hours to become some sort of semblance to a human being in the morning. But today, I was awake and Kuya, on the other hand, was falling asleep on the bike. Every 10 to 20 seconds, he would yell something to wake himself up, do pushups on the handlebars, or howl “Okiro” in Japanese, which means “wake up.” Luckily, we were on a small road without much traffic, but that soon changed. We turned onto a highway, and I kept asking if he was awake. I think the adrenaline shot we both got when an 18-wheeler passed us woke both of us up. From that time on, he was awake. Phew! It could have been bad. We got to the Bullet Grill and met Patrick, who greeted us both. We quickly refilled our water bottles and restocked our food.

We left the Bullet and entered the death loop; the last 65 miles. The death loop is probably the most scenic part of the route. A section of red gravel with a large canopy of trees and the sun’s rays shining through the foliage. Worth the ride. Super scenic. As we left the last gravel part and got onto the road, I was thinking about the sprint we were about to have at the end and how much it was going to hurt. If I was pedaling down the hills at the beginning of the race, now I was strictly super tucking every descent, no matter how short it was. I was basically just laying my whole upper body on the handlebars to give myself some rest. It’s a great way to recover your upper body a bit.

On one of the downhills, I opened up a small gap between myself and Kuya. On one hand, I felt really bad leaving Kuya after going through hell with him for 27 hours. On the other hand, it’s a race, and if the coin were to be flipped, and Kuya was in front, I would be content with the outcome. I was sure Kuya was fine with it. I cruised through more of those downhills with some uphills and saw that I had extended the gap to about 1 minute. As I was coming to the finish, I saw a bunch of people standing there on the road and cheering for me! Finally, the race was over, and with it, the 29 hours of pain. It seemed like it was all worth it.

The after-race vibe at the Bullet Grill is the best part of the whole event. I woke up after a critical few-hour nap in the tent that I set up the night before the start and ordered a well-deserved burger at the restaurant. The finish line is right at the turn to the big parking lot where everyone is hanging out and having a great time. The vibe is off the charts. As more and more people come in, cheers can be heard throughout the parking lot. First impressions are shared. Some with tears of joy, some with relief in their voice, but every story is unique and special. Some are greeted with a cold brew that’s being passed to the heroes. This continues well into the next evening, at which point, at 8pm, the official after-party starts.

Patrick took center stage and, wielding a microphone, or a megaphone when the microphone stopped working, delivered the well-deserved award ceremony, prize raffle, and other speeches to a captivated packed audience. The stage was overflowing with prizes from many sponsors, and the majority of the riders got to leave with some sort of box, fork, hat, cap, handlebars, nutrition product, or even a brand-new bike. While all this was happening a local band set the perfect vibe while playing an acoustic guitar rendition of Purple Rain on the opposite stage.

Currently, this event is unique in Texas. If you want to experience what Texas bikepacking racing is all about, this is the event for you!