Finally, after years of anticipation, i was at the starting line of the Dirty Kanza 200.
Just getting to this point took quite a while. You see, i had wanted to give this race a go for close to three years, but different reasons like getting married, and breaking an arm, had really kept lining up for the DK200 from being a possibility. But this time, with some generosity from Ben Witt, i had actually made it into Emporia Kansas by 6am on June 2nd, and now i merely had to ride my bicycle over rough gravel roads for 200+ miles.
Lining up in Downtown Emporia was an experience, hundreds of riders all around, talking, planning, and taking a spot in the pack appropriate for when they expected to finish. It was only in the 50s temperature wise, quite cold for a Kanza morning. I donned my packable Bontrager windjacket and munched on most of a muffin and awaited the starting gun……..and we were off rolling the streets south out of town.
Segment One: 0-62
The first segment from Emporia to Checkpoint #1 in Cassoday was about 62 miles(100k) long. It is worth noting that during each segment not only are there no gas stations, and zero support from your crew, but you will probably pass 3 houses and a bunch of open fields. Anything you need you better have on you, or your game is over. My bike was loaded up like any good swiss army bike would be, with 142 ounces of water, multiple spare chain links, tubes, tools, and anything else to ensure i get me to my destination.
The roads and views were both phenomenal, and every time i was at the bottom of a climb i was excited to get to the top just to look at the surrounding countryside.
And i was instantly in love with the Flint Hills. All of its desolation, beauty, and purity had captured me, i was enjoying every aspect of this ride.
Basically, the Flint Hills are 80% of all the natural tallgrass prairie that still exists in America, and i was getting a good cross section of it.
During these miles there were riders all around in groups, the pace stayed steady and moving along at a quick but responsible effort.
I felt strong, and enjoyed this first section immensely, but there were some long climbs and some that were steep, and during each one i was doing mathematics in my head. “One gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds………..128 ounces of water in a gallon……….142ounces of water on my bike………why did i bring 10 pounds of water………”
As i pulled up to Checkpoint #1 my support crew flagged me down and i sat down and ate a pb&j sandwich and downed a bottle of water with 2x nuun tabs before heading back out for more gravel. 62 miles down, 140miles to go.
Segment Two: 62-105
By this time we were enough distance into the ride that groups had started to fracture and i was riding solo more then not. I would see lots of riders, but we were usually at different paces, one of us passing the other, so conversations stayed short. By mile 75 the noon sun was high and i no longer felt strong. The thing about riding a bike for so many hours, is that after the first few honey stinger waffles, bike food just doesn’t seem like the tastiest thing you could think of. I mean, honey stinger waffles are really tasty, sometimes i eat them when i am not even riding or need them, but sometimes your body just does not want bike food.
Times like this are dangerous if you follow what you want to do and not what you need to do, and i just kept riding without taking in more calories. silly mistake. I had bonked hard with 30 miles till the next checkpoint and 130 miles left for the day. I made a simple mistake and was going to pay for it.
Up until this point i had remarked to myself how quickly the hours had gone by so far, “That was really 6 hours ago?” Never say things like this to yourself, because the next three hours took me seemingly half my life to get through, and i was in a dark, delirious place. My eyes were half open, and twice i got off the bike to lay down in a sunny ditch because my head was too heavy for my neck to support, but i quickly got up in fear of falling asleep.
Endurance riders get the reputation for liking suffering, or enjoying hurting themselves simply because they do longer rides, and i do not think that is true. The true statement would be to say that Endurance riders are better at convincing themselves that what they are trying to accomplish is worth the suffering, regardless of events.
We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
After rolling through the deserted downtown that was completely boarded up like a western ghost town, i climbed up a hill up to the checkpoint, feeling both complete relief that i made it, and anger at whoever said “lets put the checkpoint at the top of another hill!” I was greeted by my crew and i fell on the ground next to the car. For the next 30 minutes i lay on the ground while eating sandwiches, hint of lime Tostitos, and drinking 5 bottles of water with Nuun tablets that Liz was making while Matt, who is a close friend though not a cyclist, perfectly adjusted my derailleur, lubed my chain, and filled my hydration bladder and bottles like a pro. As i continued to lay down Matt and Liz went to find some shade, and i literally passed out. Liz woke me up after 15 minutes, and an EMT walked over because he heard there was someone that was pale white in my area. After i assured him i was always pale white, and that i was going to keep riding, i climbed back on my bicycle, and pushed off, feeling like a cadaver that just woke up after a 15 minute death bed. I knew i would feel better someday. Just keep pedaling, i will get there someday.
Segment 3: 105-162
I was pedaling like a zombie still, but i knew there was food in my belly, so i knew i would feel better. These are the things that you tell yourself when things are hard, it will get better. Optimism is a virtue.
At 57 miles this was going to be the second longest segment of the ride, so i had to take anything i would need to keep my body running for 4-6 hours.
As my body started to metabolize the food from checkpoint #2 i started to feel much better, and by mile 115 i felt downright strong again, and i decided that no matter how strong i felt, i would stop each hour, and eat something before i let myself get back on the bike. Once again time was going by quickly, and i was stopping and eating the food i had stashed. Gummi Bears, Probars, Honey Stinger Waffles, Stinger Blocks, cashews, no matter how much my body said it looked unpalatable, it was in my mouth. By forcing myself to stop and eat i ended up seeing a lot of familiar faces over this section of road. I would pass them, they would pass me while i was eating, i would pass them again, repeat. I met a lot of nice people during this section.
This part of the course was a lot of half mile climbs and half mile descents, and i was able to keep a strong pace while i was rolling. My new eating strategy, while not the quickest, kept me fueled the whole segment well. Leading into Checkpoint #3 at mile 160 i was on gravel easily pushing 20mph. I felt great, had a smile on my face, and was making jokes with event volunteers as i stopped to picked up the route map for the last segment. Not only did i feel better then i had at checkpoint #2, but by mile 162 i felt the best i had all day. After stopping for a short refuel with Matt & Liz, i rolled out of Council Grove for what felt like a victory lap, we had more then enough time to ride easily and make the finish line 40 miles away.
Segment 4: 162-205
Darkness had set while i was at Checkpoint 3, so it was always easy to see where riders were at from everyone’s lights flashing all over.
I found a few of the riders i had met and played leapfrog with earlier during my eating campaign and decided to ride the remainder of the day with them. We all had rode far enough to know we would make it in the time cutoff, and having company in the darkness was better for not only navigation, but for morale and mental alertness.
One of the riders who i had made friends with was Wendy, who had raced DK last year only to get taken out by the legendary storm that ended many riders days. She was taking no prisoners this year. (Her account can be found here. http://apabstsmear.blogspot.com/2012/06/riding-my-ass-off-dirty-kanza-2012.html)
There was a few big hills in the last section that put the hurt on, but overall this was the easiest section of roads we had been on all day. Besides following another rider a mile off course and backtracking to find the route, everything went well. I continued to feel strong despite the miles, a stark contrast to how i felt earlier. It is amazing what eating an enormous amount of food can do for you.
Together our group rolled through the college campus and down the main street, and crossed the finish line to a bunch of cheering people. Finishing brought an emotion i have not felt after a ride before. It was like when you read a great book and after the last page there is nothing left, but you feel like there must be more, you just don’t want to close the back cover and finish the story leaving the world you were immersed in. The Flint Hills had infected me, i wanted more pages.
Wendy, the rest of our finishing crew, and i hugged and congratulated each other, all very proud of our day in the saddle. I then searched Emporia for even more food, with a strange craving for mayonnaise in particular. Sometimes it is strange what your body craves when you ride your bike all day, but i digress.
Thank you to everyone i rode with, everyone with a hand in creating this event, my support crew Matt Carlson and my wife Liz, The Crew at North Central Cyclery for the weekend off and for being so awesome, Ari of the Slender Fungus Cycling Association for teaching me things, Ben Witt for giving me his registration, Tostitos for making a hint of lime flavor, This American Life for the roadtrip entertainment, and the town of Emporia for going all out in supporting this event. This event is something special.
Go ride your bicycle.