Pulling the Dirty Kanza hat trick or: If you want it then you shoulda put a single ring on it.

Preparation.

Any event of this scale takes some amount of planning, so I guess I’ll touch that briefly.

I had done this event twice before, finishing on a geared bike in 2012, and on a single speed bike in 2014. I really enjoyed my single speed ride in 2014, so I signed up that way again in Janurary.
Most of my training over the winter was more focused on getting ready for Trans-Iowa, but I did happen to do a lot of my winter riding on a single speed. I did the usual indoor trainer rides, and I was also running and lifting weights in a gym at least twice a week, which I honestly find has a substantial benefit to riding single speed. In addition, I did a 8 day gulf of mexico tour in Feburary, on a 93 pound bike, with one day as long as 180 miles.  I have trained through the winter the last three years, and by keeping everything so varied this winter I really feel like it kept me from getting burned out on the bike before spring hit.

Trans-Iowa came around, everyone froze and suffered, and no one finished. Despite what you might expect, everyone had a great time, it was a nice big family reunion and I loved every second of that weekend.
Afterwards, people back home were saying things like “All that training for nothing”, and I would respond in a way such as “You know, I plan to keep riding bikes still…”.
Also, whenever someone asks me how I train for a 200 mile event like Dirty Kanza, I respond with “I train for a 330 mile event,Trans-Iowa.”

I basically took the month between Trans-Iowa and Dirty Kanza off the bike. I did two rides that were 100 kilometers, one on my geared warbird, and another on a Brompton folding bike. There were a couple 10-20 mile rides in there also. All this time I had the dumb idea of riding Kanza on a fixed gear in my head. My buddy Jay Barre had done it at Trans-Iowa(A significantly harder event) after doing it geared and SS, a term I call “The Barre Exam”, and so that was the spark in my brain. I am very curious, and I simply didn’t know if I could. I already knew I could finish Kanza geared and single speed, I had already crossed those finish lines in the past. I guess the best way to say it is I just wanted to ride into the unknown and discover something new, I quickly get bored with repetition and certainty.

My bike was a 58c Surly Cross Check with Woodchippers, Aerobars, an Ergon magic seatpost and SM3 saddle, 42c Soma Cazadero tires, and a custom 3rd water bottle boss brazed on my downtube by the fantastic folks at Comrade Cycles.

Blood Wagon

Blood Orange , post ride

So 12 days before Kanza I laced up a fixed wheel. I played around with it, but found it was hard to stretch the legs and that the saddle hurt since you can’t really stand up, ever. After 30 miles I was really on the fence about showing up fixed, and was thinking of just riding my cross check single single speed again. Pedaling down every hill seemed like a cruel joke.
The thing that pushed me over the edge happened 6 days before at the Gravel Metric, which I spent riding with my friend John from Brompton, on Bromptons. We were talking about all sorts of good stuff, business at the time, when he said “If you hit every goal you set, then your goals are not very ambitious.”

Kansas, Leg #1.

At the 6am starting line I was pretty comfortable in what I was doing. I had done the event twice, so I knew what to expect, and I was just out to have a good time with other people out to have a good time. I was conflicted on where to start at the line up, because I felt that I would be quick during the starting flat miles, but get passed on the future hills when I was forced to pedal down each hill. I ended up starting near the rear, simply because I found some great friends there that I don’t get to see often enough.
The herd started moving and away we went. Once on the gravel the line of riders were slowing drastically for any small puddle on the road, and so my 42c tires and inability to coast would decide to hit the shoulder and hold my pace, usually passing a few dozen riders at a time. I did this over and over before a dozen or so miles in we hit the now infamous death march. At first glance of people getting off their bikes I yelled “No gears no fears!” and charged into the mud. Everyone laughed and 30 feet later I picked up my bike and joined the hike line.

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It went on a while, well over an hour in fact, but it wasn’t terrible due to there being a grassy shoulder on one or both sides most of the time. I was able to roll my bike on the cleaner vegetation the majority of the miles. To be honest, it was a lot easier to make forward progress then the B-roads in Iowa that have 45 degree shoulders and leave nowhere to hike. I ate 300 calories and marched on.

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I dig this one. It's hard to get this perspective in an event like this without participating.

I dig this one. It’s hard to get this perspective in an event like this without participating.

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Look at the horizon. Look at how expansive this place is.

Afterwards I heard people had found snakes during this hike, and looking at their pics I believe they were Massassauga(Sistrurus catenatus), a pygmy species of rattlesnake which I have wanted to find since early childhood. Massassauga are nearly extinct in my home state due to habitat loss. My buddy Bailey joked that had I seen them, I would not have finished, instead choosing to play with snakes all day. This is now in and of itself a reason for me to return to the Flint Hills, to find the Massassauga, but I digress.

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At the end of the mud it was carnage. I took my front wheel off to scrape mud out, and noticed my chain was oddly sitting on top of the chainring at a 45 degree angle. I swiftly cleaned what I could and fixed my chain, before clipping into my mud shedding crank brothers pedals with my brakes still unattached. At this mud to gravel transition my bike was barely rolling, but my plan was to start riding to see if mud would fly off the bike at a certain speed, and see how long it was till I saw water. About 2 miles later there was a nice water pool I was able to efficiently clear a lot of mud off the bike with, and also reattach my brakes. Mission successful.

Around this point we really entered the reason I come down to this event, the Flint Hills. I love nature, and being in an ecosystem unploughed and so expansive makes me smile. Miles 20 through 77(Checkpoint #1) were sort of euphoric, and I was just stoked to not only be on a bike in such a beautiful place, but have nothing else to do that day but ride.

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The first neutral water stop was at mile 32, and I stopped to assess my bike, as the chain felt slack. The reality was that my hub had come loose on the bearings and it had 2cm of lateral movement and had been bouncing side to side the last few miles. I was pretty shocked, but the mud had froze the preload adjust and when the wheel spun it threaded out. Worse yet my multi tool did not have the 2.5mm allen to adjust the hub. Thankfully a rider next to me had a massive tool with just what I needed, and I lubed my chain before clipping in to keep the smiles going.

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I made up the time lost hiking to safely clear the checkpoint, and after a 10 minute pit stop with Joel Hukill I was smiling on to leg two.

Leg #2

Aside from the cattle drive of the 3 mile b-road, I hadn’t really ridden “with” anyone all day, just a bunch of touch and go conversations with a few friends. Even more so then when riding single speed, fixed gear was a lone ranger ride. My 40×17 gear made me climb faster then most around me, but I still was swiftly passed on the downhills.

There were some really rough water crossing this leg of the course, and charging down a hill at 25mph, before jumping off a concrete pad onto a rock garden while pedaling a 140rpm cadence the whole time really reinforced my decision to run 42c tires. Everyone talks about Dirty Kanza flat tires and sharp gravel, but from my experience at three separate Kanzas the majority of flats come from pinching the tube on creek crossings. Run big tires.

Another mud section happened, we walked some but had enough of a time buffer to feel secure in doing so. I ate some calories during this walk. One of the things I’ve learned from Trans-Iowa is anytime you are walking, you are eating. It is those little tips early on that make the late hours more comfortable.

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Some of the cattle road in this area were rough, and really wet. I don’t think my feet ever dried all day. From mile 100 on there was also a strong headwind, which I would duck into my aero bars for to push my gear.
Eventually I came to the neutral water station, shortly before a few riders showed up with a dog in tow.
“This dog has been running with us for 30 miles, it wont leave.”

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I filled my bottles, ate a few hundred calories, and rolled out solo, besides a dog as a shadow.

Along this section of the route before we hit checkpoint two I spent a solid chunk of time with a guy named Matt from Lawrence, and a few other riders. It was nice to have conversation, and these miles were really enjoyable with gentle sweeping hills. I was getting bloated in the gut by mile 140, which is a recurring issue I can’t seem to figure out. We rolled into town and went our separate ways to our support, and the Legend Bobby Wintle grabbed my bike and directed me towards some fancy indoor plumbing which I used to it’s full potential. I returned to a smoother, faster bicycle with smoother and faster body. I walked down a few cars to Joel and my Dekalb friends and they got my bike restocked and another thick PB&J sandwich in my mouth.

Lately I have been big on foods that I ate as a kid. I think it is interesting how taste can take us way back to a period of our lives so clearly. PB&J is pretty easy to eat, tastes amazing, and remind me of when I was 10 years old and riding around my neighborhood on my bmx bike doing tricks all day.
I like to think that on some small level it helps me remember I am still just a person, experiencing a big vast world, by making small circles with his feet.

I was shivering while siting around eating my sandwich. I felt pretty great and alert, so I think it was more the fact that I had been splashing through water puddles and it was cold then that I was calories deficient.
My friends mentioned my shivering and kindly pushed me out of the nest to get moving and warm again, friends are so awesome.
I decided at this point that I wanted to finish by midnight. That was the 18 hour mark, and 2 hours before the the cutoff. I said this because that is when they stopped pouring beer on the main street. That was 42 miles in 3.5 hours. It was reasonable even this many miles in, considering we only had another 11 miles of headwind and the last twenty miles were pretty flat, as I recalled.

Leg #3

Shortly after rolling out I saw Matt again, who’s family forced him to continue on. He was feeling fine and riding strong all day, but he felt that due to the weather and hike he was riding slow enough to inconvenience his family’s travel plans. He considered stopping at the 2nd checkpoint in order to have the evening with his family, however, his family would not let him stop now after such a distance. Thus we were once again riding together, as we would until the finish line.

The sun set an hour or so into the last leg of 42 miles, and we navigated partially by maps, but also taillights and memory. We had both done the event at least once before, so some of the route was ingrained, or at least we recalled it once we made the turn.
The last hour or so was pretty painful for me. Once the hills ended there was no way to get out of the saddle well, and 17 hours of fixed gear pedaling was about my limit. I thought back to Jay riding for 34 hours to finish Trans-Iowa, and the deep respect I had for his ride increased even more so.

A few miles out of town Jeremy Kershaw passed us as we hit the final pavement run into town. Matt and I chatted and thanked each other for the company, and followed Jeremy across the finish line to great our family and friends, just 7 minutes before my goal of beating a midnight finish.
I heard I was only the second person ever dumb enough to finish The Dirty Kanza on a fixed gear. My words, not theirs.

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I felt pretty solid afterwards, all things considered. I reduced some more bloating, got multiple jimmy john’s sandwiches, and spent time with friends waiting for other friends among the amazing Emporia festivities. That town is incredible. The locals, riders, families, and everyone else create the best finish line atmosphere I have ever seen.
Eventually I left to take a shower, before returning to the finish line to great more friends crossing over to the recovery side. I ended up being out till quarter to 3am.

Home

I am pretty glad I took the leap and risks I did. Sure, fixed gear was more difficult then had I rode single speed, but it was a new experience and better story then had I simply repeated the same thing over again. It added another color on my three years of Dirty Kanza painting.

Bad ideas make good stories. 

40x17, I think I am in love.

40×17, I think I am in love.

Onward, to suffering.

…I hope.

I don’t doubt the fact that the start of a hard ride will be in 19 hours, I just hope that it ends up being a long one.

Physically and mentally preparing for the big dance called Trans-Iowa has gone great this year, and up until 3 days ago I was completely at ease with few butterflies. Not because I felt like it was in the bag or going to be easy, I am just very happy with my progress as a rider since last year. I am significantly stronger in the legs and heart then I was one year ago, my bike fits way better then it ever has, my gear is more dialed, my nutrition easier to swallow while riding, I know how to climb out of holes more confidently, and I have some solid uncomfortable weather training and multi day sleepless nights under my belt in the last 3 months.  I am really excited and pleased with my last year of training.

The thing that has me, and all the rest of the riders worried is the weather. Rain the day before, rain at the start, and temps hovering just barely above freezing both nights, and 20+ mph winds.

I am no too worried about my body in relation to the weather, I will have all the rain and cold gear I’ll need to stay cozy(Thanks Dean!). I am mostly worried about what the moisture does to the gravel and dirt we will be spending 331 miles on. Bikes getting caked with mud preventing wheels from spinning, derailleurs getting ripped off, cassettes getting packed to the point that the chain can’t sit on them, these are the worries running through my brain. I am worried about a short day on the bike due to mud.

Pic by the wonderful Jeremy Kershaw, of Heck of the North fame.

Pic by the wonderful Jeremy Kershaw, of Heck of the North fame.

The funny thing is, I am not worried as much about not finishing as I am about not getting the chance to battle the dark places. I am worried about not making it into the second night to fight the demons that only come out when you are on the bike for 24+ hours in a row. It takes a long time for the inoculation of Trans-Iowa to set in, that state of being entirely one with the dirt, where it seems there is no dividing line between the earth below and the rider above, and your mind becomes one with the darkness that surrounds you.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm  24 hours in is crushing.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm 24 hours in is crushing.

It’s a level of suffering you don’t get with single day events that start at sunrise and finish shortly after sunset. The sun is incredibly comforting mentally, and each time it comes up you get the sensation that everything is going to be ok. Riders get two such sunrises during this event, and I hope to be comforted by both.

The weather will start bad, and get easier after about 2pm, when the rain might let up. This will be a proverbial rabbit for us to chase, or oasis for us to look forward to, a literal bright spot on the horizon.  We will tell ourselves it will keep getting easier the deeper we go, that the best is yet to come, and we can look forward to a different set of challenges. Those are the challenges I am looking forward to, the notion of being on the bike for 24 hours, and knowing you only have another 10 hours to go.

Whatever happens, we will all have stories to tell, experiences we will never forget, friendships created and strengthened, and deep appreciation for the true privilege of finding out how deep our breaking points lay. Onward.

2014: The best cycling year ever

WARNING: PHOTO HEAVY SENTIMENTAL POST AHEAD. 

Lately it has been sinking in just how good 2014 was for me in regards to cycling. I accomplished some goals for sure, but I am most reminded of the new places explored, the new friends I made, the existing friends that I grew closer to, the intense suffering we shared, as well as the beers and laughs.

I am not going to recap all of the things that happened, but I am going to post some of my favorite photos and memories from last year. Thank you for sharing miles and smiles with me in 2014, and if you didn’t, hopefully I’ll run into you during a ride in 2015.

But really, I can not believe all of this happened in one single year.

Topanga Creek bicycles: In Janurary I spent a week  just outside L.A. in the mountains with our good friends at Topanga Creek Bicycles. Chris and the locals showed me some awesome riding, food, and people.

Topanga Creek bicycles: In Janurary I spent a week just outside L.A. in the mountains with our good friends at Topanga Creek Bicycles. Chris and the locals showed me some awesome riding, food, and people.

Topanga:

Topanga: Chris and I drove a few hours up a mountain to Idyllwild, where we visited The Hub cyclery, and went off roading in the hummer. Chris handed me the wheel off roading back down the mountain, and I was freaked. it was awesome.

Topanga: Chris and Rover, excellent hosts and companions.

Topanga: Chris and Rover, excellent hosts and companions.

 

Grumpy Grind was a fun, rainy day in Milledgeville IL. Next one is this Sunday, see you there.  http://www.grumpygrind.com/

Grumpy Grind was a fun, rainy day in Milledgeville IL. Next one is this Sunday, see you there.
http://www.grumpygrind.com/

Grumpy Grind: Camped out in this barn the night before. Pretty sure there was a tornado, and a giant dog smelling us the entire night. W/Bailey.

Grumpy Grind: Camped out in this barn the night before. Pretty sure there was a tornado, and a giant dog smelling us the entire night. This was the first occasion I spent a good amount of time with Bailey, and I liked it.

Trans Iowa, the paradoxical best and worst thing ever. The depth of the lows just make the highs even higher.

Trans Iowa, the paradoxical best and worst thing ever. The depth of the lows just make the highs even higher.

I spent 24 hours with these gentlemen. Dave and Jerry are great guys.

I spent 24 hours with these gentlemen. Dave and Jerry are great guys.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm  24 hours in is crushing.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm 24 hours in is crushing.

 Matthiessen Mountain Madness: Getting that wet single speed racing in.

Matthiessen Mountain Madness: Getting that wet single speed racing in.

Dirty Kanza 200: This was my first year riding the event on a Single Speed, and it was very enjoyable.

Dirty Kanza 200: This was my first year riding the event on a Single Speed, and it was very enjoyable.

Dirty Kanza 200: I spent the last 110 miles to the finish with John Welsh, another single speed rider. I had met him at Trans-Iowa in 2013, and always look forward to riding with him. He is a really great guy.

Dirty Kanza 200:
I spent the last 110 miles to the finish with John Welsh, another single speed rider. I had met him at Trans-Iowa in 2013, and always look forward to riding with him. He is a really great guy.

Chequamegon 100: My first 100 mile race mountain bike on a single speed. I rode all day with Christopher Jensen, who I spent so many great summer weekends with. I wish I had more pics of the day, but I lost my nice camera during this race. This photo was taken by another friend and camera ninja, Craig Smith.

Chequamegon 100: My first 100 mile mountain bike race on a single speed. I rode all day with Christopher Jensen, who I spent so many great summer weekends with. I wish I had more pics of the day, but I lost my nice camera during this race. This photo was taken by another friend and camera ninja, Craig Smith.

Ten Thousand Recon: These dues went out to proof read the Ten Thousand course with me. Such a fun day.

Ten Thousand Recon: These dues went out to proof read the Ten Thousand course with me. Such a fun day.

Ten Thousand Recon: Looking back over Morseville road.

Ten Thousand Recon: Looking back over Morseville road.

Ten Thousand Recon: Apple River Canyon river soak.

Ten Thousand Recon: Apple River Canyon river soak.

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Ten Thousand Event Day: I did not ride the event I organized, but getting that many people out to explore those roads was a highlight of the year for me.

Ten Thousand Event Day: I did not ride the event I organized, but getting that many people out to explore those roads was a highlight of the year for me.

Driftless ride: Super fun day with friends Peter, Jon, and a really happy dog that chased us for many miles.

Driftless ride: Super fun day with friends Peter, Jon, and a really happy dog that chased us for many miles.

Driftless ride: The driftless is packed full of secret spots everywhere. If you have never been, come out on a ride with us sometime.

Driftless ride: The driftless is packed full of secret spots everywhere. If you have never been, come out on a ride with us sometime.

Single Speed USA: Copper Harbor is nuts. This was probably the best long weekend all year. We suffered climbing big hills for 4-5 hours each day, and relaxed harder each night. I love these guys.

Single Speed USA: Copper Harbor is nuts. This was probably the best long weekend all year. We suffered climbing big hills for 4-5 hours each day, and relaxed harder each night. I love these guys.

SSUSA: Copper Harbor

SSUSA: Copper Harbor

Moots and Colorado Experience:  Rocky Mountain N.P. This was surreal and serene. We went the the highest lake, way up there.

Moots and Colorado Experience: Rocky Mountain N.P. This was surreal and serene. We went to the highest lake, way up there.

Moots / Colorado: The riding was so good. I need more of that in my life. ASAP.

Moots / Colorado: The riding was so good. I need more of that in my life. ASAP.

Moots / Colorado: This picture always reminds me how much non stop fun we had. So many stories.

Moots / Colorado: This picture always reminds me how much non stop fun we had. So many stories.

Moots / Colorado: Speechless

Moots / Colorado: Speechless

Cyclocross: I raced the majority of our local CX series this last fall, and had a ton of fun. It stretched me in ways I haven't been before.

Cyclocross: I raced the majority of our local CX series this last fall, and had a ton of fun. It stretched me in ways I haven’t been before.

Cyclocross: I accidentally won a race.

Cyclocross: I accidentally won a race.

Georgia: I closed out my year with the holiday trip to the in-laws in Georgia, where I got some relaxed road miles in.  Always a chill, lazy time.

Georgia: I closed out my year with the holiday trip to the in-laws in Georgia, where I got some relaxed road miles in. Always a chill, lazy time.

I don’t know if it’s possible to outdo that year, but I am going to try my best. I have to keep exploring.

Dirty Kanza 2014

Ok, so this event was 8 months ago, and I failed to write about it because I was sad when I lost my camera with all of my full quality photos of Kanza while riding Chequamagon 100(I did have some low res ones on Facebook I pulled for this post). Recently however the buzz around registration got me jazzed to pound keyboards with fingers before spinning circles with legs again this year, which I am quite excited for. So anyway, into the time machine set to 8 months ago…

The week leading up to Kanza was a whirlwind, and I ended up having to find both ride down and place to sleep a few days prior to the event. My friend Jeff invited my buddy Derek and I into his car for the drive down, and we ended up sleeping at Eric Benjamin’s house.  Eric is also known as Adventure Monkey, the guy that takes all the incredible Kanza photos you see.

Going into the event I already had one Kanza finish under my belt in 2012, so I figured I would ride this one single speed.
I’ve always loved single speed rides, because it makes you hurt on the hills, relax on the downhills, and think about what is around you instead of cadence and what gear you should be in. Not to sound cliche, but you really do become more intimate with the roads underneath you in a way that gears make you numb to.  I setup my Warbird Ti with a 36×17 gearing, thanks to input from Don Daly and Mark Stevenson.

Salsa Warbird Ti Single Speed

Salsa Warbird Ti Single Speed, sans bags.

Derek and I rode a few miles from Eric’s house to the start and lined up. Once the 1,000+ group of riders was rolling I wasn’t in a hurry, and was finding friends here and there in the crowd I was chatting with. I found a species of snake I had never found before, and a whole lot of turtles, which I stopped to set off the road to keep them safe.  We rolled at a pretty casual pace, enjoying some pretty great fog along the roads during the early morning sunrise.
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These cute little mobile road mines were everywhere.

These cute little mobile road mines were everywhere.

People always talk about how bad the Flint Hills are for flat tires, and I have never had that experience personally. In 2012 I had zero flats, and then this year I got a single flat. The flat this year was from a metal nail, through my tire, twice.
My Bontrager tire was setup tubeless, so I pulled the nail out, popped a tube in, and finished. No more flats.
I love these things. Tough, supple, and light.

Bontrager CX-0 38c

Bontrager CX-0 38c, with a nail through it, twice.

One of the big reasons I go down to the flint hills is because I love the terrain and scenery. I live in a corn industrial district, so to get out into a remote area with nothing but nature around is pretty special.  Having my single speed set to auto pilot I was able to zone out into relaxing and enjoying everything that was around me, stopping to take a few hundred photos.

See that rock in the bottom of the frame? That is why all of this land was never tilled into corn for cattle and destroyed. Those rocks are HEROS.

See that rock in the bottom of the frame? That is why all of this land was never tilled into corn for cattle and destroyed. Those rocks are HEROS.

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It was around mile 85 at this point, and after getting the flat, stopping to take pictures, and my buddy Jeff crashing hard on a downhill, I had been riding by myself mostly the whole ride thus far. At this point I looked over and saw my friend John Welsh grinding his single speed past me up Texico Hill. I spent some dark hours with John at Trans-Iowa in 2013, and reconnected a few months earlier, and was happy to see him now. I ended up riding with John the rest of the day, and I really enjoyed the miles. Both of us on single speed worked out well, and we seemed to be on the same page pace wise.  John was getting support from the DDRP crew of Don Daly, Charles Showater, and Craig Irving, and they helped me out as well since I was riding without support.  Those are some great guys, and some strong riders also.

We avoided cows on the roads(literally bovine, not a euphemism for slow riders), and ran into more riders we knew. I looked over and saw Wendy Davis, whom I finished my first Kanza with back in 2012. It was great to see her, she was riding strong.
One thing about these events, is after you do a handful of them and met people, you keep seeing them over and over. It becomes a big family gathering at various places around the country. It’s one big gypsy gravel ramble. It is the best, so I’d encourage you to met the people around you on these rides.

Some of the hills on the single speeds were a challenge, and one or two we simply walked, knowing it would gain us less time then energy we would expend. Even on the geared bike I walk some hills on rides this long, it’s efficient and stretches the legs in ways spinning circles doesn’t.  The hardest part is getting over the pride to prove to someone you can climb anything and everything.

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The last 30 miles we set the pace a little higher, simply because the finish was near, and ended up catching and dropping group after group. It was nice to feel that we still had energy left in us that late in the day. We rolled into the finish, relieved, satisfied, and hungry.  The finish festivities are simply incredible. If you do the ride plan on hanging around and eating and drinking hours after the ride. I think I ended up getting three beers handed to me by friends before I had a chance to eat anything, and then I went back to Adventure Monkey HQ and sleeping a few hours. I then woke up at 7am, hoped on the bike again, and went on the prowl for a big, well deserved, breakfast.

Can’t wait for Kanza 2015. I see a ton of friends names on the roster.

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Pushing yourself out of the nest in order to fly.

Pretty often I will get asked about an event, like Dirty Kanza, or Ten Thousand, and any advice for riding them.  I love helping riders with bike setup,  technique, logistics, and the mental aspect of all day or longer rides.  Helping people get out there and push their boundaries and see new places is probably the single best part of doing what I do, for both work and play.

Not uncommonly though after these conversations the person will say something along the lines of “I might be able to do it, but I will probably wait a year or two and train more first so I am totally prepared”.

This kills me.

First of all, only doing events that you feel confident with is the best way to progress and learn as a rider, really, really slowly.

You know that old adage about learning from your mistakes? Well it shouldn’t just be treated as advice for after the fact of misfortune, it should be treated as encouragement to get your hands dirty in the first place. Making mistakes and getting in over your head will make you progress ten times faster then doing the same thing you have already done dozens of times.

When I made the mistake of eating 400 calories in 100 miles.  I passed out cold, woke up 40 minutes later, learned from my mistakes, and finished. I eat more now and am structured about it.

When I made the mistake of eating 400 calories in 100 miles.
I passed out cold, woke up 40 minutes later, learned from my mistakes, and finished all 200 miles. I eat more now and am structured about it.

When you get into a situation that you are unprepared for you learn quickly either what works, what doesn’t work, and what changes you can make the next time you are in that situation.  It teaches you problem solving skills, and it teaches you how your body and mind react when pushed in ways that they will be pushed again in the future. Reduced to the simplest level, it is practicing. It makes you resistant to future mistakes and misfortunes that without experience would derail your entire effort.

Now, this is not saying come to events unprepared, it is just saying come as prepared as you can, and expect the unexpected.

Second of all – and those of you that found the fountain of youth can ignore this section – you are getting older.

There are so many places to see, and so much to experience, and putting things off year after year just checks item after item off your list of things you wont have time to do before you are forever bound to your memories and experiences accumulated.

Thankfully, cycling adventures are one of the best activities to enjoy even late into your life. That said, the world is immeasurably larger then our lifetimes ability to take it all in.  Make a bucket list, set goals, but instead of saying “I want to do this someday, before I die”, change the verbiage to “I want to do this in the next 3 years”. Set goals for the next year, next 3 years, and decade. This is what smart business do to keep themselves on track to achieve goals, and it’s what we should do to achieve more. That said, stay flexible, and don’t pass up a good opportunity because you have a rigid list to obey.

Another rule to follow though when jumping in over your head, have a good life guard on hand.

When on a long event, you are all alone. The only people you have are the riders around you for mental support, and the person you have arranged to pick you up, should you quit.

Believe it or not, this is a good thing for you. There has been at least a time or two that the only reason I kept pedaling was because I was too proud to make a phone call. Had there been a bailout point, I would have taken it. Sometimes the fact that the bailout has to come to me is what gets more miles out of my body. But none the less, a friend on stand-by is as crucial to getting in over your head as an extra tube is, if not more. Don’t show up to an event without knowing how you will get home should you taco a wheel, hit a deer, fall alseep, etc.

Lastly, and most importantly, there is nothing wrong with failing an event.

You know that person you ride with that has never failed to make the finish line of an event? They are sandbagging life.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.~ J.K. Rowling

Failure is not in any way an indication that you suffer from inadequacy as a rider. Failure can be an indication that you are striving for more, pushing your boundaries out, and working hard.

If there is one thing more successful people in all walks of life will tell you about achieving success, it’s about building off of failure and using it as a teacher and as motivation.
In a similar lemonade making style, adversity is always the best breeding ground for stories and memories. Talk to people at the past Gravel Metrics, and the year of the flash flooding and almost tornadoes is treated as legend.

The new year is coming up, the thing to do is set New years resolutions, and coincidentally many of the summers events open registration around the first of the year.

Pick an event or two, register so there is no backing out, work hard until the day arrives, and learn a bunch regardless of the outcome. Make 2015 a year you accomplish something you never thought you could, or at least lays the foundation for it.

Dirty Kanza 200

Dirty Kanza 200, 2012

 

Trans-Iowa V10 (2014)

When you fail you learn from the mistakes you made and it motivates you to work even harder.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/fail.html#FueudLBLDzATI went into Trans-Iowa this year with a prior years experience, which both helped me prepare logistically, and motivated me to no end.

This has been put off for long enough. Partially because I wanted to settle into my myriad of emotions, and partially because I needed a good bottle of beer to write with.

I went into Trans-Iowa this year with a years experience in the event, which both helped me prepare logistically, and was great motivation. After making it 240 miles the prior year, and having to bail due to mistakes made with insufficient calorie intake, I had a bonfire under me to defeat my demon.
I restructured my sleep patterns, riding lifestyle, thought process,  my food, coffee, and alcohol consumption in order to optimize myself for this event.
Equipment was detailed and over thought. I rode every single day in the hardest winter in half a century. Two great nights of sleep were achieved the prior nights, and it was 4am Saturday downtown Grinnell. Game on.

This year entailed 336 miles of gravel, and Mark had said that there would be a considerable amount of hills and 10 B-roads. What Mark did not predict was the 30mph winds from the east all day.

Riding out in total darkness from the start with 103 other riders, my plan was simply to ride whatever pace my body was most comfortable with, and see who was around me an hour or two into the ride. I had numerous friends participating in the event, but I felt that getting into my personal pace was most essential at this stage of the event.  After fifteen or twenty miles I was grouped up with two guys by the names of Dave Weis and Jerry Bilek.  We chatted and got to know each other as we cruised over rollers at a reasonable speed to checkpoint #1 at mile 55 in Lynnville. The winds were starting to pick up from the east, and we rolled into the gas station to grab calories while some strong riders like Matt Gersib, Paul Carpenter, Mark Johnson, and others were hopping back on their bikes. If I recall correctly, we put about about 1.5 hours in the bank this leg, finishing in about 4 hours, about 8am.

This is about where we figured out the tempo for the rest of the day. We had previously been riding east to get to Lynnville, but while the winds had been substantial, we had no idea how long we would be riding into them. Turns out it would be just about all day until sunset.

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The first of two sunrises.

Our group of Dave, Jerry, and I worked well together. Both Dave and Jerry were rookies, but both were quite strong and optimistic. I think one of the defining qualities of being able to ride your bike for a long duration is persistent optimism. All day long, we would talk about how many miles of tail wind we were putting in the bank for later. This type of thinking gets you through the day, and over the challenges that you are enduring. If you have to walk a B-road, that is simply a chance to eat some calories and stretch your legs.  If you are in the middle of a 20% hill, well that one is a hard one.

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1 of 11 B-roads. Some were ridable for me, some had to be walked, depending on if you were in a rain storm or not.

It was 120 miles to the next checkpoint, and during this time we saw a lot of riders. Sometimes they joined our group for a bit before falling off, and sometimes we joined their group before falling off.  One instance was when we stopped to recruit a rider sitting on the side of the road hoping to increase our wind blocking numbers, and the Jeremy Kershaw train rolled up behind us. Jeremy had Andrea Cohen and another rider in tow, and apparently he had been the locomotive on the train for numerous miles. We figured we could boost our numbers to 8 and save some leg into the wind. Turned out Jeremy was pretty nonchalant about continuing to block the wind for everyone else as long as he could.  And so the Kershaw Express continued into the 30mph winds.

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Kershaw Express. Choo Choo.

After ten or fifteen miles our original group fell off of the train, feeling as if we couldn’t keep that pace and be fresh for the 220 miles to come. Dave was the only other one in the group that took a pull for the train and he was the first to fall back. I could tell him and I were in the same spot and needed a few calories, and Jerry had the same pacing feeling as us. The Kershaw Express roared into the distance as we sat up and ate some food.

We found a wild Doge.

We found a wild Doge.

A gas station came at mile 120 or so. During the stop I inhaled two pieces of Caseys Pizza. I noticed on the second slice that there was canadian bacon under the cheese, only notable because I haven’t ate (non-fish)meat in 11 years, and because I thought it was just cheese pizza. I removed the ham and ate the rest. Yum, calories.  I also had another pepsi this stop, which while I rarely drink soda, the sugar and concentrated calories taste so good when you are trying to eat 300-400 calories every hour. I’ve heard sports nutritionists say the high fructose corn syrup is only bad if you are overweight, and is really good at packing on calories. Sounds like perfect fuel for a 34 hour long race, although they usually say to serve it flat to athletes.  Dang Casey’s, you taste soooo good. I wonder how much Trans-Iowa helps the Casey’s economy? I probably created an entire gas station job personally. We devoured said food and about 15 minutes later we were pedaling again. About 11 hours of riding and 35-40 minutes of total unclipped time. Back into the wind.

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Even if you were riding alone, you would always find a group of riders at the gas stations. Circa mile 120.

To give a quick spoiler, Dave, Jerry and I ended up riding together about 26 hours total. I couldn’t have had better guys to ride with. Dave was from Milwaukee and had been down to one of our shops gravel events before and was carrying our water bottle paraphernalia. Jerry owned a book store and was a multiple time Arrowhead 135 competitor. It was obvious that both these guys were very strong, and all of us being on the same page as far as speed and efficiency was amazing. If I was honest I would say both these guys were a bit stronger then I, but they seemed to appreciate the fact that I had experience from the year prior. Riding together never felt like anyone was off pace or being held back, and this is exactly what I was hoping would happen.  Riding alone at my own honest pace the first hour or two was a good strategy.

Jerry Bilek is a good riding partner. He is tough as nails.

Jerry Bilek is a good riding partner. He is tough as nails.

 

Fast B-road, shortly before checkpoint #2.

Fast B-road, shortly before checkpoint #2.

Rolling the rest of the way to Checkpoint #2 the hills continued. Dave would routinely mention the last hill hit 18% grade, and then we would be on the downhill and pedaling  to keep our speed into the wind. It was relentless in a way that can only be endured if you remember that you are putting tailwind in the bank.  Even when the wind was at our side, it was a struggle to keep the bikes vertical, but as a whole we never seemed to end paying into our savings. We finally rolled into the mile 176 checkpoint #2 at about 8pm, shortly before sunset. We had the last set of cue sheets in our hands now, there was only 160 miles to go!

Riding the ten or so miles from the checkpoint to the gas station at Norway the sun had set, and we arrived to find a plethora of riders looking shelled and waiting for rides. 185 miles of 30mph winds on hilly gravel will do that to anyone. I have to admit, sitting in an actual chair, eating “real” food, and being out of the wind felt incredible. I could just hear the sirens off in the distance, promising more. While taking oasis I proceeded to consume another pepsi, a quart of chocolate milk, mozzarella sticks, a fish sandwich, some trail mix, and another gel.  The prior year my critical mistake was not eating enough and falling victim to sleeping on the bike, so I had been extra careful to eat a lot this year. As such I had been eating tons of food all day and hitting my 300 calories/hr goal, so I was feeling strong, but gas stations are always an uplifting oasis. Warm food tastes so good 200 miles into an event.

Rolling out into the night we were excited to cash in on the tailwinds we had been banking away, while also conscious of the 120 miles till the next gas station resupply. We made good time this stretch, but our pace was brought back down a bit by a flat tire, and trepidation from an imposing lightning storm. We caught Charlie Farrow(SS), and then Jay Barre(Fixed) along the road, and then went on ahead into the storm, which got nasty quick. It rained here and there, propelled by 30mph winds, and you kept looking at the cue sheet hoping you weren’t turning east into it, but sometimes you were.
During one particularly heavy rain fit we took shelter behind a barn, probably around 2am or so. During this respite I decided to satisfy an urge I had for the prior few miles, one that I was hoping would be a one hit wonder. Something had happened in my stomach during the 4 hours since we were at the last gas station, and it wanted out fast. Thankfully, I always pack wet wipes.

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Something like 23 hours of riding at this point. Raining, windy, walking a B-road.

Bibs shorts are the best. I mean they really are better then any other option out there when it comes to comfort. Perhaps the only exception is when they require you to strip down completely naked in the middle of a cold 2am April thunderstorm, with varying amounts of shelter.  Perhaps the only time they are even worse is when it’s not just a 2am thunderstorm, but also a 3am thunderstorm, and a 4am thunder storm, and a 5 am thunderstorm.

I don’t know where I went wrong. Most people think it was trusting a fish sandwich from Casey’s. Some people think it was eating 20-30 gels over the days course(recent study backs this up). Others think it was that tiny bit of Canadian Bacon hidden in the pizza. Jerry gave me some pepto bismol and we kept riding. Those guys were so good, they stopped and waited for me as I hid behind middle school garbage bins doing terrible things to the areas that janitors would see the coming days.  Dear janitors, I am sorry. Love, anonymous.

I pressed on. I had told myself I was going to ride until I was passed out in a ditch, and had an emergency bivy in my bag to prove it.  So I kept eating as much as I could, putting miles behind me, and waiting for the second sunrise of a long day on the bike. During the night, as we had made our numerous  stops, we had been leap frogging a few riders for a while.  We eventually formed a group of 7 riders as the sun rose over the horizon, for the second time. The group consisted of Dave, Jerry, and myself, plus Jay Barre, Jake Kruse, Agatha, and Peter. Jay, Jake, and Agatha have been riding friends for years, so to be with them this late into the event was pretty special for me. I was really pleased to see how strong and steady they were riding. We rode on, up more big hills, some hills walked for efficiency and some hills rode for pride. Into the growing sunlight we rolled.

After a while, the inevitable happened. Somewhere around mile 265-270, I did the one man wrestling match with my bibs behind a tree again while the others briefly changed clothing before remounting. I hopped back on my bike and pedaled off to catch the group a bit up the road, and it took effort to catch them.  I had been getting mentally tired the last hour or two, and I was constantly thirsty despite drinking a large quantity of liquid.  I could tell that my body was simply not absorbing any water or calories, and just spitting it out the back each hour. I had tried to push through the inconvenience until the end, but with seventy something miles left and no possibility of my body letting me refuel, I knew it was too far.  I told Dave and Jerry, whom I had spent the last 26 straight hours with, to keep going without me. I crawled in a ditch for a few hours and waited for a ride. This was heartbreaking, as my legs felt strong, my bike was still comfortable, and all my prep had worked well. I need to be more cautious with what I eat apparently. There is always more to learn.

After a few hours of laying in the ditch, Gumby found me and took me back to the hotel to shower. I then ate some food and headed down to the finish line party.
I walked up the drive and gave Mark a hug, a tad bit moist in the face as I was hopping to do so under different circumstances. I gave a brief ride synopsis, he got me up to date on finishers, I walked briskly to an outhouse, and then we waited for more riders. Soon enough Josh Brown, Steve Fuller, Pat Lackey, and Mike Johnson all rolled in within minutes of each other. Steve Fuller won the race to empty his beer first, and exchanged words with Mark about how hard the course was.

After another half hour we realized there was less then an hour till the 34 hour time limit, and our friends were still battling the wind out there. The suspense was palpable, and we discussed how we thought they were doing. Ironically, just after we finished this conversation, another rider rolled down the last hill, it was Jerry Bilek. It was amazing to see Jerry roll into the finish, knowing that we helped each other get as far as we did. It made all of my expended energy valuable for a purpose other then my own memories and gratification. I shook his hand, retrieved my gore pants off his legs, and while I was talking to him another herd appeared over the hills crest. It was Jay, Jake, Agatha, Sarah Cooper, and another rider. We went nuts, and got quite emotional. It was an incredible experience to see our friends across the line, and intensified both my joy and heartbreak of sharing miles with them for so long, yet falling down short. We hugged, laughed, and did our best to look composed as everyone told stories. It was one of those grandiose moments that had it been a movie would have played in slow motion, with booming music, just before the credits rolled.

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I drove home immediately following this. It was hard, and those 43 hours beginning at 1:40am Saturday were the longest I have ever stayed awake consecutively. So many thoughts. Probably why I haven’t put anything into words until now.
Trans-Iowa is an emotional experience. It is not a small investment of ones time and commitment if taken seriously, and I did.
Coming out the other side of this one, two weeks after the fact, I do find some solace in how well my preparations and training went. A lot of things went very well, and while the heartbreak is still there, I can look forward and know that what I learned getting ready for Trans-Iowa V10 will help me in what else is coming up.

I wouldn’t trade the memories and experience of April 26th-27th for anything. Thanks to Dave and Jerry for being the best guys I could have possibly rode so long with, all the other riders I shared smiles and miles with, everyone who helped volunteer, all of Grinnell, Salsa and Ergon for making bike stuff that I can ride forever and still smile, Wally and George for taking awesome photos, Slender Fungus for their work and for picking me up from a cold ditch, Ari for inspiring this madness in me years ago,  North Central Cyclery for letting me go on so many adventures, and Mark Stevenson, for all the hard work in putting on the high water mark of all gravel events, ever.
I deeply love all of you.