Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dirty Kanza 2013 - It's more than just a gravel race

 Lis and Wills preppin' for 200 miles of gravel goodness

It's been almost two weeks since DK and I am just getting around to a blog post.  Life has gotten busy.  Finding time to sit down for a few hours and blog just hasn't been feasible.  Work has been very busy as well as projects at home and in the community. 

Monika on one of the Downtown Emporia pianos - in her kit, of course!

Endurance riding results in endurance blogging!  Especially when I take so many pictures!  The passion for sharing my experiences is still present, but when it boils down to it, I'd rather ride than write about riding.  So I apologize for the delay. 

 Nebraska Crew lined up and ready - Rafal sportin' his 2012 Gravel World Champion Jersey

The Dirty Kanza has come a long way.  Back in 2007 (or was it 2008 - this was my seventh figure it out!), when I first lined up for the event, I had no idea what to expect.  The Flint Hills were new to me.  Yeah, I had heard of them, but didn't know much about them.  Then my good buddy, Matt Wills, who had raced in the Inaugural Dirty Kanza, told me of the vast natural grasslands which were navigated by gnarly chunky gravel roads.  Remote.  Peaceful.  Beautiful.

 Gravel family reunion! 

That sounded like something I wanted in on.  So I signed up.  And that first Kanza was something special.  It was my first successfully completed Gravel Grinder.  What made the event even more special was the fact that I was able to ride most of the day with close friends.  We overcame challenges, celebrated small victories, and eventually closed the line...together.

 The majestic Granada Theater in Downtown Emporia

And that's what makes these gravel grinders different from other events.  It's not a solo effort.  Teams are formed out on the gravel.  A camaraderie among the riders is glaringly palpable.  Why?  I believe it's because we all have the same goal first and foremost....finish. 

 And we're off!  Lance Andre rockin' his 2011 Gravel World Champion jersey

And finishing is a victory in itself.  Two hundred plus miles on Flint Hills gravel is nothing to shake a stick at.  Factor in whatever Mother Nature throws at ya and you have an event that is a life changing experience.  Personally, I feel that completing the DK200 is empowering.  It makes the everyday challenges of life seem insignificant and minuscule.  Anyone else feel that way?

 Eric and Monika sitting behind the tall drink of water

The DK is more than just a race.  It's a celebration of all that is good in the Gravel Grinder cycling community.  Friendships, adventure, overcoming insurmountable challenges, tests of mental and physical fortitude, hardships, disappointment and victories.

 Hi, Lance!

During my tenure at the DK, I think I've been through just about every imaginable situation and emotional experience possible.  Multiple flats, severe dehydration, parts falling off my bike, getting lost, chased by dogs, almost run off the road by unfriendly motorists, helped by friendly country folks, frantic convenience store binges and then unfortunate involuntary roadside purges, debilitating muscle cramps, frustration with luck, ridiculous cartoon-sized saddle sores, random rural encouragement, soul crushing bonks and finally, elation.

 Garth Prosser and Joe Fox early in the day - both rode great and finished well!

And that's why I keep going back every year.  The experiences have formed memories that I will never forget and have shaped the person I am today.  I can honestly say that I'm a better person due to my passion for gravel and the community that has developed over the past seven years.  Thank you to all that have been there and crushed gravel beside me.  Same to all the promoters and volunteers.

 Sittin' in early

Ok, ok, enough of the mushy stuff....on to the recap!  Sorry, I got a little carried away there.

 Double pace line formed with the sun peakin' over the horizon

Anywho...Lis, Wills and I headed down to Emporia on Friday afternoon.  We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our packets at the Granada Theater in downtown Emporia.  This theater is quite the venue.  Whoever restored this beauty is a genius.  It's a majestic reminder of days gone by.  I would love to see a show there someday.  Hmmm...that sounds like a great gravel bike tour idea!  Who's with me?!

 All business...

After picking up packets and visiting with gravel brethren, Monika and I went for a short shake down ride on the first 5 to 10 miles of the race course.  Monika broke her frame prior to the race and was using a borrowed bike.  Ugh.  That would suck to hafta ride the DK on a bike other than your own.  Any small change in fit is magnified over 200+ miles. 

 It's going to be a beautiful day....

After the ride, a large quantity of calories were consumed at the local pizza joint.  You gotta love guilt free binge eating!  Yay!  We met some new and current friends while dining.  Stories were shared as well as lots of encouragement.


We were all excited about the prospect of very mild temperatures, but were also well aware of the wind situation.  The forecast was for a stiff Northwest wind.  Based on the DK route, we would have headwind for a significant part of the day.  It wasn't going to be easy, but everyone had to do it and for some reason, that makes it better.

 Two track goodness

Hit the hay relatively early and got a restful night's sleep.  That's a bonus!  Usually I only get a few hours at best, but I got a solid six.  Lis, Wills and I rolled to the start and unknowingly passed Lincolnite, Jim Winklepleck.  He rolled up beside us and chatted us up.  We were shocked to see him and forgot that he had signed up.  It was great to see you down there, Jim! 

 Flat, drat!

The start was a bit different this year.  In year's past once Jim Cummins said go, we would take off rather quickly through downtown Emporia and race to the first right hander onto the gravel.  This year the police escort kept the pace a lot slower.  There was almost a pile up behind the cruiser!  That would have been a bad start to the day.


I led the pack out for the first stretch of gravel and was able to get some shoots with the point and shoot camera (see above).  Then I settled in and got more shots.  It's what I love to do.  The pace picked up on the first few climbs.  At some point, there was an unmarked turn.  The first 15 riders went blowing by and another 15 of us sat up wondering if we just missed our turn.  I asked Rebecca Rusch if she knew we were on course.  We fumbled around our maps...with memories of last year's missed turn fresh in our mind, we didn't want to make the same mistake twice.  We soft pedaled for a bit while the folks in front got a big gap.  Eventually we made it to the next intersection which confirmed we were on the right path.  By then the group out front had gotten away.  And that was the last I saw of them. 

 Trying to get a draft...

We hit a large mud crossing and knee deep water crossing in the first fifty.  That was fun!  The scenery was beautiful and we had a nice tailwind.  I rode with a guy from Chicago for a bit until I flatted about 5 miles from checkpoint one.  I had just passed Garth Prosser changing a flat and thought how sucky that must be when I noticed the back end getting soft.  A large piece of barbed wire went through the rear tire.  Bummer.


The flat was changed and I rolled into the first checkpoint to refuel.  I was rockin' the no support this year, but eventually found some friendly faces that offered to fill my bottles.  Thank you!  The first fifty went fast. 

 Chuggin' along with the German Diesel

I saw Monika roll through the first checkpoint and caught her shortly after beginning the second leg.  I was stoked to ride with her! She has been tearing up the gravel scene over the past year and is all day strong.  Especially later in events. 

 Pinch flat for Monika on the chunky descent

We rolled together and battled the wind and the rocks.  Lots of epic gravel on that stretch.  Stuff more suited to mountain bikes.  We only had one flat on that stretch.  The pic above was a short downhill that claimed many pinch flat victims. 

 Absolutely beautiful!

The scenery was breathtaking.  I had to remind myself to look around once in awhile.  If you're riding on the rivet you could miss out on the best part of DK. 

 Lonely roads

Those fifty miles were my favorite.  Everywhere I looked I couldn't help but smile.  Lots of wow moments.  Anyone up for a bikepacking trip?  I'm sure the night sky out there would be amazing.  


We made great time, but were only two riders.  We needed more to help fight the wind.  Plus, Monika likes to ride in the drops.  She doesn't provide much draft!  I'm like a frickin' UPS truck.  Ha!

 Rollin' into checkpoint two

By the time we got to checkpoint two I was hungry.  Real hungry.  We quickly grabbed provisions and took off.  After a small stretch of tailwind we had more headwind.  I'm not sure of the wind speed, but I'm guessing a sustained 20 with 25 mph gusts during the middle part of day.

Regardless, we were doing well and consistently picking folks off while we clipped along.  We picked up good buddy Eric Brunt at some point and rode together for awhile.  My stomach began to take a turn at some point.  I thought it was just hunger, but something wasn't agreeing with me.  Monika began to pick up the pace and I eventually asked her to go.  I had to get through that dark spell alone.  Adding insult to injury, I missed a turn along with 20 other riders and went an additional 9 miles.  That was just about the final nail in the coffin.  I convinced myself that I would not give up!  I didn't care when I finished, but I was going to finish.

Cottonwood Falls

I crawled into checkpoint three.  Full on bonk.  It was sad.  It was tough to muster 10 mph.  Best friend, CVO was my savior at checkpoint three.  He rode a rented Harley down from Lincoln with our friend Emily.  They brought a bucket of KFC fried chicken and biscuits.  Now, I have a degree in Dietetics...fried chicken, especially KFC, is not something I eat on a regular basis....or ever for that matter, but damn, the chicken was goooooood!  And was exactly what I needed.  After an extended break at checkpoint three and plenty of fried chicken, I finally began to feel better.  I looked at my Garmin...I had three hours and fifteen minutes to make the "Race the Sun" cutoff of 8:42(?).  I knew it would be close.  Fifty miles in a little over three hours doesn't sound like much, but it is after 160 miles and a bonk.  But if I was gonna go down, I was gonna go down swingin'.  I would make a run for it.

I assumed the last fifty would be all tailwind and flat, but I was wrong.  The first ten miles were headwind.  Then the hills began.  It was a tough stretch regardless of what point in the day it came.  As the miles ticked away I kept a close eye on the time.  I was doing alright, but wasn't exactly meltin' butter.  Peanut butter M&M's that Emily gave me at checkpoint three kept the blood sugar above the bonk threshold.

Americus was in sight.  As I rolled through Americus, I calculated my odds of making the cutoff.  Only ten miles away and 30 minutes to go!  It might just be possible!  The sun was going down quick.  I had to boogie!

The legs were cooked, but gave it everything they had.  Soon the Emporia Water tower peaked over the horizon.  I was close!  Finally I made the familiar turn onto the pavement, crossed the Interstate, and rolled through campus.  The roar from the finish resonated off of the brick buildings of Emporia State University.  Ugh!  Less than a minute!  I sprinted to the finish through a tunnel of cheering spectators and crossed the line.  Did I make it?

Jim Cummins congratulated me, shook my hand, handed me a "Race the Sun" lithograph and told me I had seconds to spare, but had made it.  By an eyelash.  Another rider behind me made it too, but crashed into me when I stopped just across the line.  Sorry! 

Wills and Lis at the finish!  Smiles abound!

What an experience!  To top it off, most of the Lincoln crew finished.  And did really well to boot!  Plus, good buddy Rafal made the SS podium!  Monika did awesome too!  She was second overall to Rebecca Rusch.  Not bad when you finish second to a World Champion.  I was proud of the folks who got it done.  Several first time finishers in 2013.  Congrats!  

Thanks to all that had any part in making the DK200 happen.  Also thanks to all my friends, family and sponsors! 

It was a glorious day on the gravel...

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