Ridin’ Wide at the Dirty Kanza
In the weeks leading up the 2012 Dirty Kanza, nearly 500 riders lay sleepless in their beds wondering if they’d chosen the best tires for Flint Hills gravel. Worry and wonder about race-food, how much water to carry and whether or not the human taint can endure 200 miles swirled through their brains. I wasn’t much different, but I did have to ponder one question most others didn’t:
Can a 260 pound man finish this race?
I’d already tried twice and failed spectacularly, never making it past the halfway point. 102 miles is nothing to scoff at, but I wanted that damn Finisher’s glass. I had planned to train a lot more this year, but preparations for Cedar Cross had pretty much taken over my life since January. Trail work, (not trail-riding), had become my new way of life. If there had been an endurace weed-eating/chain-sawing/leaf-blowing event, I probably would’ve dominated.
Unfortunately, weedeating endurance doesn’t really transfer over into cycling endurance . Luckily, The Cedar Cross was an enormous success, ($800+ raised for the animal shelter), so it was totally worth the sacrifice.I’ll leave out about a thousand details and fast forward this story to race-morning. Pulling into a parking spot about mile 1/4 from the starting line, we almost immediately ran into Travis Hammons and company. Travis and I have raced together a few times and it seems like something “epic” happens each time we’re together. Whether it’s bike-whacking across private property or eating wild onions because we’re out of food, there’s always a story to tell. I certainly count him among a small number of people I consider real friends. Here’s a pretty good shot of Travis later in the race:
I hadn’t seen any of my TRW team-mates yet, but I knew they were around. I had to assume they were lined up closer to the front, so I probably wouldn’t see them til much later in the race. Gear assembled, we lined up for a quick pre-race photo.
Note that Austin is suited up and riding in Casey’s place. Casey had some super-shitty leg problems and was unable to race, so we were all very proud when Austin volunteered to Casey’s spot. At 62 miles, the 1st leg of the race would be his longest ride to date. That kid is more of a man every time I see him.
Making our way to the starting line, I spotted a kindred spirit and it was time for a photo:
Jim Cummins gave the order for the race to start, and the mass of riders crept forward. There were so many people attempting this year’s DK that it took a good minute or two before we even got to start pedaling. It was an odd thing to be wearing arm-warmers at the Dirty Kanza, but I was damn glad to be doing it. The longer it stayed cool, the happier I’d be.
Prior to race-start, we’d all agreed to work together as much as possible while recognizing that this was an individual effort. 200 miles is a long haul, and everyone was bound to have a problem or two throughout the day. There would be no joy in it, but stragglers would have to be left behind. I think everyone had their own private fears about slowing down the rest of the group. I know I did.
We were probably only about 20 miles into the ride when my stomach started cramping. Having my guts all tied up was making it hard to keep the pace, and I was getting worried. I kept thinking about Dan Dougan’s experience 2 years ago, when he earned the nickname “SPD.” (Shit-pants Dan). Not me, buddy.. I’d drop trou and paint the gravel before that happened. I talked to Luke about the stomach issues and he suggested eating a FOOSH.
“Remember how Scott Fredrickson said they helped his stomach during long races?” he said.
Scott is basically the man, so anything good enough for him is good enough for me. I ate a Foosh and 5 minutes later my stomach felt great. I’m sure that sounds like a commercial, but I’m not bullshitting one bit. I couldn’t believe how quickly it worked. I’ve always liked Foosh for the caffeine boost, but after that experience I’ll never race without it. Those little mints totally saved my ass….from itself. My chamois stayed clean and my breath smelled fantastic, I was back in the game.
I think Robby was off the front first, followed shortly by Austin. The rest of us stayed pretty tight for the first leg. I remember we were being very casual, just taking in the scenery and stopping to “water the grass” quite a bit. Time was passing quicker than we realized, though… and with about 12-13 miles til the first checkpoint, we found ourselves in a bit of a race against time. We formed a “not-screwing-around” paceline, went to work and shit got pretty serious for about 45 minutes. Luke was out front and the rest of us were just doing whatever we could to stay on his wheel. We made it with time to spare, which is good because I couldn’t have held that pace much longer.
We rolled into the CP, grabbed a chair and marveled at how quickly our support crew switched out all our water bottles, brought us food and serviced the bikes. You would’ve thought these people were getting paid or something. We literally did nothing but relax in the shade while they worked. It was great. They even took care of Adam:
I think we hung out for about 25 minutes. I ate half of a Jimmy-John’s Gargantuan and a bottle of strawberry Ensure. Heading out for the second leg, I had 4 water bottles and a 3 liter camelbak. I had frozen the entire pack before the race, in hopes that the icy-cold bladder would be soothing on my back. Sprinkle some ice in the jersey pockets and we had a recipe for success.
I felt a lot better now than I had for the first 62 miles. My stomach was settled and my legs felt fresh, but I knew it could fall apart at any time.. just as it had on both of my previous DK attempts. We left the aid-station and it seemed like hardly any time had passed before we reached the area where Travis and I had fallen apart last year. Rolling past the turn where he and I had parted ways, it was plain to see that he was much stronger this year. I think he had me gapped by half a mile by then.
I can’t remember who I was riding with when I saw the water spigot that had saved my life last year. It was crazy to think that at this point last year I was out of water and afraid for my life. The cooler temperatures were really helping out.
To be completely honest, I don’t remember very much else about this part of the race apart from getting a flat tire. We had just gotten to the bottom a very sketchy, fast and FUN downhill when I realized I had popped the rear tire. I pulled over to fix it under some trees and pretty much everybody stopped to wait for me. When we stopped, the sweat really started to pour in my eyes. It hurt like a sumbitch and I couldn’t see anything. I had to have Luke spit (clean water) in my face just to rinse it off, which was pretty hilarious and reminiscent of our experience at the Thunder Rolls. Travis loaned me his quick-inflator and the bike was ready to roll in no time.
I felt bad that everyone had stopped for me, but I don’t think we really lost a lot of time. All the sweat that had built up on my arms/jersey while we were stopped felt like ice when we started rolling again, and I have to say it felt pretty awesome.
About 2o minutes before we hit the 2nd checkpoint, my body started the downward spiral. I was dizzy, had some back pain, my stomach was sitting heavy and I had to wonder if I would eventually barf. I had clearly become the weakest link in our group, or at least it felt that way. Not wanting to make a spectacle of myself, I figured the smart thing to do was sit in the grass and wait it out. I remember Michelle running up and asking me if I wanted anything.
I told her “lemonade and pickles”. The look on her face was priceless,(and it sounds disgusting now), but at that moment my body needed lemonade and pickles. Next came the other half of my sandwich and a bottle of Ensure. I also ate another FOOSH…just in case.
Everyone else was ready to go, but I needed more time and told them not to wait around. Self-doubt had started to creep in, and I was about 90% sure I’d never make it to CP 3. I just felt run-down. After a brief talk with Becca, (who wasn’t having any of my crybaby crap), I was back on the bike and heading out of town.
The third leg was 59 miles long and it was all new territory. Rolling out of town, I was thrilled to have made it this far and really tried to commit the moment to memory. I’d say the first mile or two was paved and downhill, which was awesome… until I realized my headlamp was still back at the checkpoint.
Turning back just wasn’t an option, so I convinced myself that the full moon would provide all the light I needed. With the way I was feeling, I couldn’t even be sure I’d last long enough to need a headlamp.
The first climb after leaving town was a beast, and I wound up pushing the bike for most of it. I was really in pain at this point. My legs still felt good, but every breath I took sent a sharp pain between my ribs and shoulder blades. Further “enhancing” my mood, the sun was starting to really beat down. The temps weren’t anywhere near as hot as last year, but I was definitely feeling it. Sweat burned at my eyes, but rubbing them with filthy hands wouldn’t have done any good and I definitely wasn’t going to waste my water flushing them out. Out of options, I just squinted and hoped it would subside. It really sucked ass.
That hill went on for what felt like an eternity. Halfway to the top I was pretty much demoralized and didn’t give a shit anymore. Pulling the cell phone and calling for a ride sounded like a pretty good idea, but I couldn’t make myself do it. When I finally got to the top of the hill, I just stopped. All I could do was lay over the handlebars, gasp for air and think about all of the horrible dietary decisions that had lead me to this moment. The fried food, beer, chips, hotwings, dark beer, pizza, nachos and more beer.. it had all culminated into this masterpiece of failure. This would have been so much easier if I just would’ve committed to a diet and lost weight.
Luke’s famous quote,”You can’t out-train a shitty diet” echoed in my mind. I was so embarrassed and pissed off at myself.
I stared down at my frame bag, knowing my cell phone and the freedom it could bring were only inches away. I wondered if anyone else had dropped out. Would I be the only one? How terrible would that be?
Finally catching my breath, I turned to look at the hill I had just climbed. I was surprised to see that it was pretty enormous, affording me a view for miles in either direction. It was a magnificent view I never would’ve seen if I hadn’t stopped and turned around. I stood there gawking for a moment.
Hmm. I might as well take a leak while I’m stopped.
Then came another surprise. My urine was clear…and that’s a really good thing after 100+ miles of riding. I stood there for a moment thinking about my situation. I had already climbed the biggest hill I could see for miles, I was apparently well hydrated and there was plenty of time to get to the last checkpoint.
Right there, my attitude changed completely and I started to believe again. Sure, I’m a fatass.. but I’m an endurance fatass.
I don’t have to be fit, all I have to do is NOT quit.
I had plenty of water, plenty of food and plenty of time. Finally done being a crybaby, I saddled up and rode an easy pace until the rib-pain eventually went away. My eyes finally quit burning too, and all at once I just felt great. My spirits were on the rise and so was my average speed. With its long sweeping turns and gorgeous views, this stretch of the race was by far my favorite. All I had to do was keep my average speed above 11 mph and I’d make it on time. No problem.
Sadly, this portion of the course also seemed to have the most casualties. Justin had some tire issues that ended his ride, which was really a shame because he’d been riding like a diesel truck all day. I have no doubt he could’ve finished. Later down the road, I found Kyle Boos laying on a bridge with some pretty terrible back spasms. Kyle is a strong endurance rider so this was very surprising to me. Ever the sportsman, he was kind enough to give me a handful of lemon drops and a headlamp. Emma was on her way, so I left knowing he’d be fine.
For the next 3 hours, nearly every person I came into contact with was either waiting for a ride or sitting in the ditch thinking about calling for one. I remember seeing dudes out there who looked like they were straight from the pages of Men’s Health magazine..these guys were FIT. It was so odd to me they could make it that far and still quit, especially given their apparent fitness level. I can only imagine what they were thinking when my fat ass rode by. By now, I was riding with my jersey completely unzipped, so my beer belly and manboobs were out in the open. I’m sure it was a horrible sight, but I didn’t care.
I remember looking to my left and seeing that the sun had nearly set. I’ve always said that if you can survive until the sun sets, you can finish this race. If my theory was correct, I had this thing in the bag. Alone on the gravel, I now found myself mocking the sun. Waving my middle finger and literally cackling, I can only imagine what it must have looked like…seeing an obese, topless cyclist yelling and laughing at the sun.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, I caught up to Derrick Boos. I’d been riding alone for about 3-4 hours now and it was great to have someone to talk with. We rode together for the rest of the 3rd leg, and I was glad to have company on those low-maintenance roads.
Now, I like to think we’ve got some rough roads in Callaway county, but there are places out on “the Kanza” that had me at full pucker. It’s crazy how quickly the roads go from smooth and fast to total shit. One moment Derrick and I were flying down this grassy “road” in the dark, going waaay too fast and loving it, and the next moment we’re smashing through a big-ass rock garden. My front wheel came down so hard that my handlebars bent forward, but we somehow came away without any flats. It was pretty awesome.
It seemed like the closer we got to town, the faster we went. We had time to spare, but I think we both just wanted to get there. The tail-lights of a passing car in the distance meant we were getting close to the highway, and soon we were riding along on gloriously smooth, taint-friendly pavement. Riding into that third checkpoint and knowing we only had 37 miles to go felt like victory. Absolute victory. 37 miles wasn’t shit to me anymore.
Becca and Michelle must’ve known I was nearby, cuz they found me quick. It was great to see them, and they were definitely excited that all of us had made it to this, the final checkpoint. It was even more uplifting to learn that Adam and Luke were still there. They were clearly ready to go, so I didn’t get to relax under the giant buffalo penis like Robby had earlier in the day.
One of the volunteers told me that the rest of the course was flat, and another one had said there were still some big climbs ahead. I knew one of them had to be fibbing and chose to believe it was the first one. It didn’t matter anyway, we were on a mission now. Becca and Michelle swapped out my bottles, refilled my Camelbak and threw me a couple bottles of Ensure. It was time to go.
**By the way, THANK YOU Chuck Vohsen for telling me about drinking Ensure during long races.**
With piss and vinegar in our veins, we set out for the final measly 37 miles of the Dirty Kanza. It’s all a bit of blur to me, but I distinctly remember it was NOT flat. There were at least 2 climbs that had us pushing, and if I’d been alone out there it would’v been much worse. At the top of one climb, I looked down to check the time and saw that my ipod Touch was gone. I had owned it for 3 days. MUCH profanity was spoken.
The guys were ready to turn around and look for it, but I told them we could come back in the morning. You can buy an ipod anywhere in America, but DK Finisher’s glasses can only be gotten in Emporia before 230 am. Missing the time cutoff was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
**Side-note** When Adam found my ipod the next day, it had apparently been run over by a few cars, and possibly a bus. It looked like a wadded up gum-wrapper. Good thing I bought the warranty 🙂
I vividly remember seeing the glow of Emporia in the distance and knowing that the finish line was nearly in hand. Surely our friends would all be there, and that was a warming thought. I’d stood at that finish line 2 years in a row waiting for friends to finish, and it was always such a thrill when they did. Surely, the entirety of Team Redwheel had either finished ahead of us or dropped out by now. They’d be there for me just as I had been there for them in years past. They had to be shit-faced by now… the finish line party was gonna be awesome.
We rode in silence, but my mind was racing.
Casey and Robby surely had beer ready on ice. Travis must’ve finished by now.. he was probably sitting in a lawn chair drinking from his Finisher’s glass. I wondered about Kate, she had looked pretty rough last time I saw her. Becca, Michelle and Crystal, our “DK guardian angels,” they were probably exhausted from taking care of us all day, but they’d be there. Emma was definitely going to want to know about Derrick. I felt a bit of sadness that Cara hadn’t been able to come, but I knew she’d be proud from afar. Part of me wondered if she’d believe we actually made it. I really need to marry that girl.
Emporia’s glow grew closer until we could see individual street lights. We were almost there. Gravel finally gave way to paved roads and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad that it was almost over. It wasn’t how I had expected to feel at all.
We rolled past the college campus and turned onto Main street.
Holy shit, there’s the finish line.
3 abreast, we crossed the finish line and were promptly soaked by a monsoon of beer and the cheers of friends and family. I’ve beer-sprayed a lot of finishers in my time, but I’m pretty sure this was my first time on the receiving end. The taste of beer mixed with the dirt and sweat from my face was flat-out awesome. We had done it. 20+ hours, 200 miles, and now this 260 pound man has a finisher’s glass. And even with the complete absence of Team Redhweel, (WTF?), I can’t remeber a more satisfying finish-line celebration.
I drank one beer and was literally drunk on my ass. Perfect way to end the day if you ask me 🙂
And I’ll say this, being a team is more than just wearing matching jerseys. There’s a deep-rooted feeling of brotherhood, (and sisterhood, Kate), that can only be born of shared suffering, defeat and eventual triumph. A feeling that could never be bought or sold. A feeling of family; a family of Off-Road Medics, Virtusans, Lederhosens, Trail Monsters, Adam, and everyone else.
A family of BAMF’s who finished the Dirty Kanza.