“It was the most miserable race ever. It was ridiculously difficult and painful… and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Having done some longer adventure races in the past, I understand what they mean when they say how “fun” it can be when you’re suffering miserably. However, 200 miles of tough gravel roads through the Flint Hills of Kansas in 100+ degree heat just didn’t sound like something I’d ever want to do. A bunch of the TRW guys signed up again this year, including our very own Bob Jenkins, but there was no way in hell I wanted to subject myself to that kind of pain and punishment. So I didn’t sign up for this year’s race.
Then Robby Brown called me up. He said he needed a teammate to do the team relay (a new part of the 2011 DK 200). While I was reluctant, I didn’t want to let Robby down. Even though my longest ride ever up to that point was 59 miles (in cold weather I might add), I begrudgingly agreed, and we signed up as a team.
Despite being signed up to “only” do 100 miles, I was still pretty terrified. I had heard too many tales of vomiting, heat stroke, numerous flat tires, and corpses rotting under mulberry bushes. After several 20 mile rides, a ton of stationary biking (thanks to all of the rain we’ve had this spring), a 55 miler on the Katy Trail, and an 80 miler on the Katy Trail, I knew I was ready. And by ready, I mean I was still completely unprepared and unsure of whether I could ride 100 miles at Dirty Kanza.
Nick from Red Wheel Bike Shop loaned me some cyclocross tires for my mountain bike (since I don’t have a cross bike to ride). The tires seemed to make a huge difference on my training rides. He also let me use one of his extra Team Red Wheel jerseys, so that I would look a little more legit. Big thanks to him. The jersey was MUCH nicer than anything I currently have. The only other question regarding apparel was whether I should wear traditional cycling shorts (which I’ve never worn without a pair of shorts over them) or my standard baggy mountain biking shorts. All of our friends on our team facebook page convinced me to forget about modesty and go with the spandex.
We all met at the bike shop on Friday morning, and we drove on out to Kansas. We were a little behind schedule, but we made it to the Granada Theater in Emporia where we were treated to a viewing of Ride the Divide (Thanks again goes to Red Wheel Bike Shop for footing the bill!).
After the movie, we all checked into the hotel and then went to do some team carb loading at the Pasta Palooza. Unfortunately, only Bob, Robby, Matt and Nicole Stacey, and I were wise enough to pre-order our meal tickets. The rest of the TRW crew and our Sag volunteers were out of luck. They had to go elsewhere to shovel fuel down their throats.
At the pre-race meeting, we listened to all of the usual pre-race meeting stuff… Rules, thank-you’s to sponsors & volunteers, and all of the other usual race info. Oh, and I won a sweet Awesome Strap from Backcountry Research as I snatched it out of the air when the volunteer threw a bunch out to the crowd. I must say it was a pretty amazing grab.
Back at the hotel, we got our bikes ready before getting some sleep. I, however, had a severe headache. I’m not sure if it was a migraine or nerves or what, but it was bad enough that I thought I might puke. So I laid in bed with a trash can next to me just in case, and I subsequently passed out. Robby was pretty worried about me, but Bob assured him that I’d pull out of it.
Thankfully, I woke up feeling like a million bucks. I didn’t have much to do since Robby was riding the first 100 miles. All I had to do was brush my teeth and drive the guys to the starting line. We parked a block away from the Granada Theater starting line, and everyone got ready in their own way.
Everyone rode on over to the starting line and waited for the long day to start. The weather was perfect, and the forecast couldn’t have been better. It was around 70 degrees at the start of the race, and the forecast called for a high of only 92 (hey, it was 105 degrees last year), light wind, and a 0-10% chance of rain. It was going to be a great day.
Below is a short video of the start of the race. At around the 21 second mark, you’ll see our group of guys. Bob is easy to spot, and if you wait a couple of seconds you’ll see Robby ride by with a red backpack on his back. You’ll also see some tandem bikes and even one recumbent bike. Check it out:
After seeing the riders start the race, I headed back to the hotel to get my bike and gear ready, and I also destroyed the free hot breakfast. I loaded up the Virtus Van, and I drove 40 minutes to the first checkpoint in Cassoday. I waited and chilled for a couple of hours until our guys started to roll in. First into CP1 from TRW was Barry Vollmer, followed by Matt Stacey, and then Corey “Stinky Feet” Case.
These guys were making really good time, and they seemed to be feeling pretty good at this point in the race. It wasn’t very long until Nick Smith, Pete Goode, and Stoney Cranmer rolled in with a group of other riders.
I knew Robby should be rolling in at any moment, but I was starting to get a little worried about him. My apprehension was relieved when Robby rolled in about 10 or 15 minutes behind Nick, Stoney, and Pete. It turns out he was riding with all of those guys but had to deal with a flat tire. Bummer.
After Robby rode in, Wendy Davis made it into the checkpoint followed a few minutes later by her husband (and birthday boy) Jim Davis.
A short while later, Bob Jenkins rode into the checkpoint with our friend Travis Hammons. Bob’s plan was to ride at that perfect endurance pace that he could maintain all day. It seemed to be working for him since he looked like he was feeling pretty fresh… and really, really sexy.
Somewhere in all the madness of riders coming into CP1, Chris Bopp rolled in. I think he came in at around the same time as Nick, Peat, and Stoney, but I’m not sure. He actually dropped out of the race at CP1 since this was his longest ride in the last 6 months. But after some ice cold beverages and refueling, along with some encouragement from the team, he decided to go back out for the second leg.
Robby rested for 20 minutes or so and then destroyed the one-seater bathroom. After filling up with water and eating some food, he headed back out to ride the 40-ish miles of the second leg. Some of the sag volunteers had already moved on to the second CP to make sure they were there for the faster riders in our group. The rest of us stayed back to make sure that our guys had everything they needed. Once all of our riders were gone, we made our way to the second checkpoint in Florence.
Once we got there, I went into the bathroom at the gas station and put on my spandex and a liberal amount of Chamois Butt’r. Then it was a waiting game. The wind was pretty bad, and the heat had gotten much worse. There is no way that the weather man was right about a high of only 92. It had to be 100 degrees or so. Damn you, Weather Man!!!
I was kind of dozing off and on in my van, so I’m not sure who came in first. I know that Stoney was the first one to ride out on the third leg of the race, and I think Matt Stacey was the second one to leave. Barry and Pete took a little more time to rest and refuel. They looked a little worse than they did at the first checkpoint, but not too bad. From talking to them, it seemed like the second leg of the race was tougher than the first.
When Nick rolled into the 2nd checkpoint, I lost what little confidence I had. He looked like he had ridden through hell on the back of a horny gorilla. The heat and wind had taken a toll on him, and he said that he was done for the day.
Nick sat down and proceeded to tell us just how awful the second leg was. There were numerous Eff Bombs, and I think I peed in my pants a little. My hope of finishing 100 miles was quickly dwindling away.
A short while later, Robby rolled into the CP. I quickly loaded my bike with water bottles full of my anti-cramping Go-Go Juice, and I rode over to meet Robby. Robby looked a little worn out, but he looked fresher than a lot of riders coming into the CP. He said it was pretty damn rough out there as he handed me the map. With the temps still scorching and the wind still blowing, I started my first leg hoping to make it 60-ish miles to the next checkpoint.
I rode roughly a mile or two of pavement before I hit the gravel roads. I was feeling good, but I knew I shouldn’t go out too strong if I had any hope of riding 100 miles. My realistic goal was to average 11 mph, and my optimistic goal was to average 12 mph. It was hard to reign myself in, though. It just seemed too easy to go faster than 11 or 12 mph. A couple of times I looked down to realize that I was going 20 mph. Yes, it was on a slight downhill, but I was still impressed with myself… and scared that I was overexerting myself. I just kept riding at what felt like a comfortable pace – not too hard, not too easy.
The first hour of my ride was brutally hot and pretty windy. I’m not sure how the other guys made it over 100 miles in these conditions. I was riding alone with a couple of riders in front of me as well as behind me for most of the time. Every 15 minutes or so, I’d pass a few riders sitting or lying in a ditch seeking the shelter of the shade. They looked at me like, “How in the hell is that chubby dude passing me?” Little did they know that I was only 15 miles into my ride.
I hit the 20 mile mark in just over an hour and a half, averaging roughly 13 mph, and I was still feeling great despite the heat and wind. The scenery was amazing. I could see for what seemed like 100’s of miles, and there was absolutely NO civilization in sight. It was like nothing else I’ve ridden though. The temperature then began dropping, and the clouds started to roll in. Sweet! This was my day. I knew I was going to make it.
I made sure to keep drinking my e-Fuel and eating my Honey Stinger Waffles. I would down half of a bottle of e-Fuel every 25 – 30 minutes, and I’d eat at least one waffle every 45 – 60 minutes. It seemed to be working since I felt great. With the sun behind the clouds and the temps dropping quickly, I felt like I could ride forever. And then I saw this in the distance:
It didn’t look too bad, and I was kind of looking forward to a brief shower. I kept riding for another 5 miles or so when I heard the first rumblings of thunder. Lightning up ahead… Thunder… Lightning to my right… Thunder… Lightning to my left… Thunder. Cool! I was surrounded. It was almost like I was riding into the eye of the storm! Uh… Wait a minute… Is this a good thing? I looked to my left to see this:
Then it started to sprinkle as the wind picked up. I contemplated stopping to put my camera and phone in a ziplock bag, but then I remembered I didn’t have one since the weatherman said there was virtually NO chance of rain! (Thanks again, weatherman!) So I kept riding. I made it to the 30 mile mark in 2.5 hours when the skies let loose in a BIG way. It started raining hard, and the wind nearly blew me over. It was kind of fun riding in the cold rain… for now.
As the thunder and lightning surrounded us, I closed in on a female rider from the St. Louis area who knew Jim and Wendy Davis (I think everyone from St. Louis knows those two). She asked if I would mind slowing down and riding with her because she “didn’t want to die alone.” She wasn’t kidding. I thought of Jack Shepard from “LOST” giving this “Live Toghether, Die Alone” speech, and it seemed very fitting. So I stayed with her. We saw a big tree on the side of the road with an old farm house behind it. She pulled over to pack her camera away and to seek some sort of shelter from the storm. Since she seemed to be in a safe spot, I rode on.
Then the fun really began. If you’ve never ridden in sideways hail, you should really try it sometime. Actually, I take that back. It hurt like hell. My camera was soaked by now, and I figured it wasn’t going to work or else I would have taken some video. Besides, I was too busy trying to stay upright on my bike. But here’s a video from another Dirty Kanza Rider:
It probably would have been smarter to get off my bike and into the ditch, but I’ve never been accused of being smart. So I kept riding… for a few more minutes. As I rounded a corner and came down a hill, my bike started to weave and swerve uncontrollably in the mud. I couldn’t stop in time, and I went down. The rain stopped just as quickly as it had appeared, and I was left there in the mud with a huge smile on my face. I thought of Bob and how he would have loved to ride through that storm with me. A tear of loneliness rolled down my cheek and fell into the mud below. Okay, that’s not true, but I did wish Bob and Robby were with me.
I hopped back up and looked at my bike. I wasn’t sure my camera worked, but I thought I’d give it a shot:
I scooped as much mud out as I could, and I began to push my bike down the mud bog… er… I mean road. Then I heard my phone ring. I couldn’t believe it still worked. I answered it, and Robby said, “Dude, are you okay? You need me to come get you?” I think I replied with, “Eff no! This is awesome!” He informed me that Pete (probably 10 miles ahead of me) had seen a tornado and asked them to come get him. I told Robby that the storm had already passed through and that I was going to be okay.
I planned on pushing my bike through this short muddy section and then finishing the rest of the Dirty Kanza. However, that “short” muddy section turned out to be a little longer and muddier than I thought.
I could only push my bike for 10 or 15 yards before the mud would completely stop the wheels from spinning. Then I realized some riders behind me were catching me by pushing their bikes in the ditch. So I followed suit and did the same. It ceased being fun at this point. My phone alerted me that I had received a text, and I grabbed it only to find that my screen was dead. It was useless to me at this point.
After pushing my bike for 2.5 hours or so, I had only gone about 4 miles. For those of you keeping score at home, the first 30 miles took 2.5 hours and the next 4 miles took the same amount of time. A group of 5 riders (including Emily Brock, last year’s DK200 Female winner) that I was riding… uh… walking with stopped when Corey, Nick, and Chris pulled up in an SUV. They were still looking for Pete (don’t worry, he made it in okay). These guys informed us that we indeed had many more miles of “B” roads before reaching CP3. It was getting close to 8:00 PM at this point, and the time cutoff for CP3 was 10:30. It just wasn’t going to happen.
As a group, we looked at the map and decided to get to the nearest paved roads and take them all the way to CP3. It’s weird how complete strangers will form some sort of “team” when you’re out in the middle of nowhere under harsh conditions. I was again reminded of Jack’s words, “Ride together, die alone.” We hopped the barbed wire fence to ride along the fence line where there was no mud. It wasn’t easy riding, but it was faster than pushing our bikes. Instead of averaging 2 mph, we could probably manage 6 or 7 mph.
As we began riding through the field, my stomach churned. Whoa! Not good. I kept riding for another 30 seconds before I had to get off my bike to avoid soiling my spandex a la Dan Dugan at last year’s DK200. I let the group ride up and over a hill before I waddled over to a ditch with my butt cheeks clinched. I got my spandex down just in the nick of time, and I left a “Luke Patty” right next to all of the cow patties out there. Sorry to disappoint you, but I did not get photographic evidence. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
I assumed the others had left me behind, but one of the guys had a flat tire. I caught up to them, and we rode off towards the pavement as a group. When we hit the pavement, I was in the back of the pack with one guy behind me… Or so I thought. As I looked back, I realized we had dropped one of the riders. I had heard him say that he didn’t have a light since he thought he would make it to CP3 with plenty of daylight. Since it was probably 8:15 or so by now, there was no way we were going to make it before dark.
I yelled for the others, but they couldn’t hear me. I decided to go back to see if he needed help and to make sure he didn’t “die alone.” His tire wasn’t holding air, and his pump wasn’t working. I let him use my pump, and that seemed to do the trick. But a few minutes later, his tire was flat again. With all of the mud and muck, it was really hard to make sure there was nothing inside your tire to cause a flat. We pulled over at a little abandoned shop.
I found out that the guy’s name was Dave, and he was from Omaha. He’s hypoglycemic, and he just couldn’t stomach any more sweet tasting gels, waffles, or bars. He had had a loooong day, and I think he had reached his limit. He sort of had a meltdown as he tried to change fix his flat for the third time in the last 20 minutes. Many eff bombs were dropped, and I thought Dave was going to quit and sit there until help arrived. My phone was dead, and his had no signal. He would’ve been waiting awhile.
The third time’s the charm. The tire held air, and we rolled on the pavement toward CP3 at Council Grove. The wind was brutal, and the sun was going down quickly. We made it to Highway 56, and we figured we had about 12 miles left. The wind was even worse once we got on the highway, but we made decent time with all things considered. Dave was great to ride with, but he was more than ready to be done. He had an extra 100 miles on his legs that I didn’t have. Once his phone got a signal, he called and left a message for his sag support to come get him. We then kept rolling as the last rays of light disappeared.
I had enough light for the both of us, and we pushed on. We figured we only had about 4 miles left when we saw a sign telling us that Council Grove was 13 more miles away! What?!?! That was a punch to the pills that we didn’t need, but we kept going. As we got within 3 or 4 miles of Council Grove, a truck with bikes on a rack pulled up to see if we needed help. I said that I’d ride in the last few miles, but Dave opted to hop in the truck. We said goodbye, and then I was alone.
I put my iPod on, and tried to push the pace a little since I figured I would be disqualified. I averaged 18mph or so (not great for most, but that’s wicked fast for me). I made it into Council Grove, but of course the CP was a two or three miles from edge of the town. I rolled into the CP, and they took my number and handed me a map. I thought it was weird that they were going to allow me to continue. I was happy and bummed at the same time.
Then I realized that they just assumed that I had ridden the race route when in fact I had taken an alternate route. I went back to the volunteers to tell them that I had taken the paved roads, because I didn’t want to get credit for something I didn’t actually do. They informed me that I was indeed disqualified. I still had the map for the last leg, though. So I could technically still ride the last leg. But what was the point? I was already DQ’d, it was already 10:15 PM, and I wasn’t sure if the rest of the gravel roads were muddy or not. So I called it a day.
Travis’s friend, Sheldon, handed me the most delicious piece of Meat Lover’s pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life. BIG thanks to him! I owe you one, man. I got some water, and chilled a little while with Bob, Robby, Travis, and his crew. I then saw a group of riders come in with VERY clean bikes. Several of them headed back out for the 4th leg to “finish” the Dirty Kanza 200. In my mind, that’s not right, but hey… Who am I to judge? If they can live with that, then they have a much different idea of what the Dirty Kanza is all about than do I.
A big Congratulations to Matt Stacey and Stoney Cranmer. They were the only two in our group to finish the race (and I mean legitimately finish the race). Matt finished in 27th place overall and 16th in the Men’s Open Division with a time of 16:37. Stoney finished 34th overall and 5th in the Single Speed Division with a time of 17:16. Very impressive, guys, and I couldn’t be happier for both of you.
I rode (with some hike-a-bike) 66.99 miles in 7:10. I felt good… Not great, but good. I think I could have ridden 40 more miles as long as the roads were dry. Am I disappointed? You bet I am. I feel bad that I couldn’t finish my half for Robby, but I guess that’s part of endurance gravel racing. There wasn’t much I could do about the weather. It was a blast, and I had a great time hanging with the TRW guys, Travis and his crew, and Jim and Wendy Davis as well.
Mark my words: I WILL be back next year. And I’ll be shooting for the full 200 miles! Who else wants to join me?