What happens when two of the best gravel riders in the world find their race season canceled? If you’re Ted and Laura King, you do the longest, hardest rides of your life.
By Lisa Lynn and Ted King
Photos by Ansel Dickey and Nick Keating
The weeks after your first baby is born is a time most parents find challenging. There’s getting enough sleep, feeding the baby, changing diapers and, this year, maintaining a work schedule during Covid-19.
It’s not a time when you would expect both parents to do the longest, hardest single-day bike rides of their lives. And to do so mostly solo.
Unless those parents are Ted King and his wife, Laura Cameron King.
On March 7, the day before she gave birth to Hazel King, Laura went out for a two-and-a-half hour ride. “I was surprised to learn what my body could still let me do, “ she said later.
On April 18, the day Vermont’s legendary Rasputitsa ride was scheduled to happen, Ted King rode the route of the 40-mile-something NEK event —which had been canceled due to Covid-19—on his own. May 3, the same day he had been planning on racing in California’s premiere gravel event, the Belgian Waffle Ride, Ted hopped on his bike at his house in Richmond and rode to the Canadian border and back—141 miles, half of those on dirt or gravel with 11,220 feet of climbing. A week later, Laura rode that same route to Canada and back.
Later that spring, Ted worked with gravel guru Joe Cruz, of Pownal, Vt. to map out a mostly gravel ride that would take him from the far northeast corner of the state, where Vermont rubs shoulders with New Hampshire and Quebec, to the southwest border with Massachusetts and New York—a 310-mile dirt and gravel ride with 35,000 vert. It was King’s tribute to the mother of all gravel rides, Kansas’ 200-mile Dirty Kanza. (See “Ted King’s Wildest Gravel Ride”, p. 12.)
That same first week Ted did his big ride, Laura took off from their home in Richmond and rode, unsupported and mostly solo, 203 miles to Portland, Me. She hit 52 miles an hour roaring down the Kancamangus Highway in New Hampshire and averaged 17 mph. And that was with stops to pump breast milk and get a sandwich.
“I didn’t start out to do a 200-mile ride or to prove myself or do a #DIYGravel or anything like that,” she said by phone a few weeks later. “A friend told me it was about 200 miles from Richmond to Portland. Ted’s brother lives there, so I figured that would be a good place to ride to.”
Ted King is, of course, the former Tour de France pro rider, a Middlebury College grad and a two-time winner of Dirty Kanza, the 200-mile gravel race in Kansas. He’s also led the pack at Rasputitsa, the Vermont Overland and the Vermont 50, among other races. At 37, he is one of the best gravel racers in the world.
Laura, 34, a former elite triathlete, has been quietly carving her own path in gravel racing. In 2017 she entered one of the most grueling gravel rides, the Belgian Waffle Ride, 133 miles of Southern California dirt with 10,000 feet of climbing and over 1,000 competitors. She dropped out that year but came back in 2018 and placed second, just ahead of pro rider and Dirty Kanza winner Alison Tetrick.
Ted, who grew up in New Hampshire, and Laura, who is from the Seattle area, moved to a farmhouse in Richmond, Vt. in 2018 and a year later launched their own gravel ride, Rooted Vermont, out of Cochran’s Ski Area. With a “mullet protocol” (‘business up front, party in the back’) it sold out.
In 2020, as gravel rides around the country were cancelled due to Covid-19, Ted began replacing them with what he dubbed #DIYGravel, a challenge to ride similar distances and elevations to what say a Rasputitsa or a Belgian Waffle Ride might entail. The rules are simple: you have 9 days from the date of the ride to do your own ride, you ride alone and then enter your ride (or Strava link) on Ted’s website, iamtedking.com.
More than 2,000 people signed up.
For Ted, the #DIYGravel challenge has been a way to maintain his race schedule and the training it would have taken and to keep his 42,000 Instagram followers and sponsors —Cannondale, UnTapped (which he is co-owner of), SRAM, ROKA, Velocio and others happy.
For Laura, who has also been helping to host weekly webinar series, Girls Gone Gravel, the motivation has come from a different place.
“When I decided to do 140-mile distance I had some hesitations and thought maybe I’d design a course that had a little bit less of an elevation gain and was a little easier than what Ted did. But after some thought, that’s really not how I operate. I thought if he can do the course he put together I am just as capable of doing it, too,” she said.
“I love this feeling of questioning whether I can do something and being nervous about it. It feels like the same as when you enter a race. I have ridden 200 miles before in the Seattle-to-Portland ride but that was maybe 10 years ago.”
Riding mostly alone and subsisting on a piece of banana bread a friend baked for her, UnTapped waffles and Lemon Tea Mapleaid mix, Laura followed the back roads on a course Ted had laid out, only rerouting once when she came to a dirt road and an area she describes as “a bit sketchy.” Ted and Hazel met her briefly mid-route and then waited at the end with Ted’s brother, a former pro bike racer, Robbie and his family.
“I didn’t really put this out there on social media ahead of time because I wasn’t sure I could do it,” Laura admitted.
But, as she posted following her March two-and-a-half hour ride:
My recent routine: wake up, feel tired and lethargic, lacking motivation with pregnancy aches and pains—I think of cancelling my plans to meet a friend to ride—but then I don’t. Without fail, the fresh air, exercise endorphins, friend time and outdoor beauty have me returning home energized, body aches gone, 100x more positive and motivated and with more patience than I woke up with. Get outside and move today, I promise you’ll feel better!