The Lincoln crew headed down to the Flint Hills of Kansas on Friday afternoon in the War Wagon. Skip had just gotten back from the airport after his trip to Michigan for the Rapha Continental. He had little sleep and a century in his legs in the last 48 hours. Now it was on to 200 miles of Kansas gravel. Ouch.
Skip, Troy, Aaron, Jim and myself were part of the Lincoln crew for this journey. A few other Lincolnites were racing as well, but found another way down to Emporia. Several of the usual Lincoln gravel crew (Matt Wills, Matt Gersib, and Jeff Bonsall) were sitting this year out to enjoy a Wedding. Congrats Jesse and Francis!
We ran into a bunch of our gravel brethren as we checked into the hotel. Always great to see friendly faces. After getting settled into our rooms we hit the rider check-in and the mandatory meeting at 7 PM. Jim Cummins, Joel Dyke and the rest of the volunteers were gracious hosts and hostesses. Class acts.
We hit the sack early in anticipation of the early start.
Alarm goes off at 4 AM (camera comes out at 4:55 AM). Skip and I slowly awaken, eat some breakfast (Jimmy Dean's sausage egg and cheese biscuits - I don't recommend as a pre-race breakfast), and get prepped for the long day ahead.
My bike set up pictured above. I always try to get the weight off my back and on the bike. Three bottles, Epic Ride Research Mountain feed bag, and a saddle bag. I didn't learn my lesson from last year and only took three tubes. Luckily I had a patch kit because I flatted three times and one of the tubes I thought was good was actually an old tube with a pinch flat.
Skip's set up. Flyin' the new War Axe fork! Two bottles, saddle bag, and stem bag.
Aaron getting ready to roll. Mountain bikes were in the minority (barely), but a very sensible choice. The fatter tires provide additional comfort over the rough bumpy rocks of the Kansas Flint Hills gravel roads.
Troy and Jim at the start line (the Guest House Inn in Emporia). Troy munchin' on an Odwalla bar.
Dennis at the start getting ready for gravel goodness Kansas style.
Dennis' ride! Wicked! On Friday evening while I was chattin' with Dennis a woman from a fast food drive thru window nearby yelled in our direction, "I love your bus!".
Jim says a few quick things prior to the neutral roll out. The field was big this year. 85 riders at the start.
6 AM the group takes off! No Emporia Police escort this year, but we had a film crew to lead us out!
Mark Falloon and Rick Dockhorn (pictured above) as well as Steve Hurless (not pictured) were the other Lincolites in attendance. Lincolnites love gravel!
As we rolled through town a group of spectators cheered us on and rang some cow bells. I love cow bells at 6 AM.
Skip and Guitar Ted chattin' as we rolled out of town.
As soon as the group hit the gravel, the race was on! The pace picked up a bit, but the group seemed to stay relatively together which provided a great opportunity to chat with some folks I haven't seen in a while and get some pics.
Steve Fuller clippin' along during the first few miles of gravel. Steve would go on to finish! Congrats! I heard a great story about Steve's ride. At the last checkpoint in Alma (mile 145ish), Steve went into the convenience store and purchased a 24 oz. of Bud and a burger. He walked back to the checkpoint and one of the volunteers noticed his purchases and said, "So you're callin' it quits, huh." Steve's reply (as he's crackin' open the tall boy of Bud), "Nope, I'm finishing."
Tough as nails. A beer at that point would have sent me to the ground.
The group stringin' out a bit during the first 20 miles of gravel. The best lines down the gravel road follow the automobile traffic. The trucks and cars smooth out the surface.
Mike Beck and Skip rockin' the single speeds. Two fast and fit dudes on one gear. Mike would go on to win the SS division and finished 7th (with a few others) overall! Congrats Mike!
Lots of new faces as well as veterans at the 2009 Edition of the Dirty Kanza 200.
The sun slowly began to rise and cast long shadows across the gravel and into the fields. The sun would menace the riders the rest of the day.
Dan Hughes leadin' the charge early and controlling the pace. Ahead of the group is the mobile film crew.
Jeremy Fry enjoying the fresh morning air on the Kansas gravel.
Big toothy grins were abundent during the first few hours. The sun, wind and humidity would soon change most folks' demeanor as the day wore on.
Cattle are a big part of Dirty Kanza. I was a bit shocked during my first DK200 event to find loads of free roaming and/or loose cattle along the course. It's a bit un-nerving to ride past a 500 pound animal that is scared shitless. Just ask Jim Craig (he named his business after a run-in with some cattle during last year's DK200).
Most of the time it doesn't take much to scare the cattle out of your way, but sometimes the cattle will do something unpredictable. That's when it gets dangerous. It's best to keep your distance and make a lot of noise. If one gets runnin', the rest will soon follow.
The first 20 or so miles were relatively flat and fast.
A small group of riders formed off the front. Troy, Dan Hughes, Joe Fox, Skip, Mike Marchand (the eventual winner!) and myself were among the riders.
Mike leadin' the charge through the cattle gauntlet.
Eventually the group whittled down to Troy, Mike, Dan, Joe and myself. Dan, Mike and Joe were runnin' tubeless set ups, but were all having trouble with punctures. We called a truce and took a break while Mike worked on his tire.
Joe rode great all day and finished 4th overall! Excellent work!
Dan and Troy refueling during the break.
Soon Mike and Joe had to stop again due to tire problems and Dan, Troy and I pushed on. We worked together and took turns at the front. The wind was pickin' up a bit and the temperature was definitely beginning to get uncomfortable.
Dan, Troy and I rolled into the first checkpoint at Cottonwood Falls (mile 61), grabbed our next map, and hit the convenience store to refuel. We were there less than 6 minutes. Quick and effecient stop.
The next leg of the journey was quite a bit shorter (~40 miles), but had some challenging loose rocky climbs and the persistent head and cross winds. Dan and I got a slight lead on Troy during that next stretch. It wasn't intentional, Troy was playing it smart by racing his own pace and not over reaching to maintain Dan's crusher pace. That would prove valuable later in the day.
Dan and I rolled into Council Grove (mile 105) a little after noon. Troy soon followed. The sun was really starting to take a toll on me at this point. We refueled and prepped for the next leg of our journey. Right before we were ready to take off, Mike rolled in. He was lookin' strong.
The Lincoln Support Crew - Debbie Sue and Tyler
Thanks again for all your help! Couldn't have done it without you!
Dan, Troy and I rolled out of Council Grove together and it became quckily apparent we were all riding different paces. Dan was pulling off the front as I tried to cling on his wheel while Troy rode his own pace. We hit Lil Egypt Road and I promptly flatted and Dan crashed. We all linked back up as Dan tried to fix his tire.
Dan is one tough dude. After crashing he patched up his tire and got right back on the pace. He was bloodied on the left side and tweaked his back, but mentioned nothing of it to us. He just kept on turnin' the pedals over.
Eventually Mike caught us (which I knew was gonna happen after seeing how strong he looked in Council Grove) and rode off the front. He looked fresh and was blastin' up the climbs effortlessly. The heat didn't seem to bother him. I knew when he passed us that he would go on to win it. Troy, Dan and I were withering in the heat and Mike seemed to thrive on it.
Dan pulled the plug and took a short cut into Alma. The crash took the wind out of his sails. Can't blame him. He must have been clippin' along pretty damn fast when he crashed. Luckily he didn't get hurt worse than he did.
Mike rolled into the final checkpoint in Alma (mile 145) ahead of Troy and myself. I was barely hangin' on by a thin thread at this time. I was cramping up badly since mile 105 and had lost all desire to eat or drink. Especially when all I had to drink was hot energy drink. No thanks! As a result, my dehydration only worsened and a full force bonk was on it's way.
Mike, Troy and I took an extended break in Alma. Mike looked fresh and was optimistic on the next 60 miles. Troy had looked good riding into the checkpoint, but began to feel the effects of the heat while refueling. I noticed him standing over his bike with one hand against the wall and his head hanging low while taking long slow breaths. I thought he was going to pass out. I quickly opened the convenience store door and asked him to come on in and sit down in the air conditioning for a while. He mumbled something and staggered in. He was lightheaded, nauseous, and looked lethargic. I was a bit concerned because I didn't feel much better myself.
Mike took off after I told him to keep moving. Troy and I needed a bit longer. Eventually we began come around and mustarded up enough courage to continue on.
Eskridge wasn't an official checkpoint, but it was only 20 miles from Alma. Eskridge had only one convenience store and it closed at 8 PM. We had plenty of time to get there and worked on rehydrating as we hit the next 20 miles of grueling grinders. Those twenty miles cooked me, literally. The heat index was in the mid 90's and the slight tail wind only made me feel hotter. I told Troy to keep going and I'd meet him in Eskridge.
I rolled into Eskridge completely shelled. I was done. The legs were locking up, a massive bonk had ensued, and I hurt just about everywhere. Now, why the hell do I do these events? I was asking myself that question several times throughout the day.
Troy looked great and was chatin' with the locals as I dragged my sorry arss into the convenience store in Eskridge. I purchased a couple of drinks, an ice cream Snickers bar and plopped down in a chair next to Troy. Eventually I convinced him to leave me and carry on to the finish. I had some demons to battle.
Slowly, over the next hour, I was able to force down all kinds of highly preserved convenience store garbage. Eventually enough sugar had saturated my blood to convince me to carry on.
The next 40 miles were rough. Two flats, several lock ups, one shooting star, one massive storm cloud in the far distance with lots of lightening, thousands of fireflies, and one very loud expletive later, I crossed the finish line. Third place. It was the hardest day on a bicycle for me in a very long time.
Troy took home second and Mike won the event. Top three all Nebraskans! Jim Fobben, Lincolinite, would go on to finish around 2 AM. Awesome!
A total of 15 riders out of the starting 85 finished. A very high attrition rate. The heat claimed many victims throughout the day. Skip was riding very strong and was up with Joe Fox in 4th/5th position and eventually had to pull due to heat exhaustion. Aaron had the same problem. I'm just thankful no one collapsed out on the gravel.
Jim, Joel, and the rest of the Heartland crew hosted a top notch event. Definitely an event worth putting on the calendar a year in advance! Thanks again for all your hard work!
Congrats to all the finishers and much respect to all riders that toed the line.