This year marked my 2nd attempt at finishing the Dirty Kanza. Last year, I gave it my best and ended the day with just over 100 miles on the bike, 30 minutes under a mulberry tree and about 45 minutes laying in ditch-water. It was my first century, and I was completely at peace with “only” riding 100 miles in 100+ degree weather. Still, there was this nagging voice in my head telling me I could do the full 200 if I really applied myself.
“Applying myself” turned out to be quite a challenge. I’d say the biggest problem I had while preparing for this race was fried food, beer and my girlfriend. It’s not something I’m particularly proud to say, but I’ve gained about 40 pounds in the last year. There was a time when I’d bike-commute to work and do an extra 20 mile loop just for fun . When I got home, I’d eat a couple of eggs and go to bed. I wore a size 34 waist jeans, was finally rid of my man-boobs and felt great about myself.
Then I got lazy.. I lost my “fire”. For pretty much…the year 2010, I was driving home from work to eat mexican food and drink beer with Cara. Lemme tellya, life was good… until we had to go to the store and buy me a pair of size 40 waist jeans because none of my clothes fit anymore. Getting fat sucks, and it’s especially bad when you know how much easier everything WAS when you were kinda skinny. In reality, it was a slow progression back to fatness, but I swear it felt like I went to bed one night and the next morning I was a lardass…just in time for summer and the Dirty Kanza. Oh well.
Try as you might, you can’t hide fatness in the cycling world. Check out this pic and you’ll see the signature move of any insecure fat man….the shirt tug.
Raceday saw my fat ass stuffed into a TRW kit at 262 pounds. I had to wear my old school jersey since the zipper on my new one had literally exploded one week prior. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring moment of my life.
All that aside, the Kanza was an event I’d been looking forward to for a long time, and backing out was never an option. It’s pretty much the only race that draws about 90% of my friends in the cycling community, and the town of Emporia really gets behind this event. When the race starts (at 6am), there are spectators lining the streets all the way through town.
When the race director turned us loose, Travis and I discovered our biggest problem was holding back. The gameplan was to maintain a 12mph average for the duration of the race, but for the first few miles we were in the low 20mph range. I think Travis actually ran out of gears for a while. It was odd, but we both agreed that we were putting out a minimal effort. Sure beats the alternative, I suppose.
Next thing you know we’re riding with THE Jim Davis. After getting “before” photos of one another at 20 mph, we talked for a bit before he rode ahead.
For the first 20-25 miles we rode effortlessly among the crowd of other riders. Paved steets lined with people eventually gave way to gravel roads lined with flowers and grazing cattle.
The sunrise was beautiful, but I only managed to get this one shitty photo while we were bumping down the road.
(I don’t think I have to tell you that photo is a poor representation of the actual sunrise.)
Riding among friends next to that Flint hills sunrise was a great experience. The temps were probably in the upper 70’s with very little wind. The rising sun outlined the clouds in crimson, and the fields on either side of the road glowed in a rich amber color. The roads were lined with pink and white primrose for as far as I could see. There was nowhere else I wanted to be but right there at the Dirty Kanza.
Travis and plodded along, taking it all in. Our spirits were high and we both had some pretty high expectations. At this point in the day, I don’t think either of us “wanted” to finish. No, we were “going” to finish. We agreed to stay together for as long as possible and not let one another quit. It was nice to have a partner out there. We took turns drafting one another and making sure the other guy kept up with food and water intake.
The first 30 miles were a piece of cake, but we knew there would be a strong headwind soon. Funny thing about the wind, pedaling straight into it seems so brutal, but you eventually realize it’s a blessing. That wind keeps you cooled down, which becomes a pretty big deal during the heat of the day.
My whole strategy for finishing the Kanza was simply to eat, drink and be merry. If you’re working, you’re working too hard. Energy conservation is a must, so any time we got to anything that even looked like a climb…we walked it. It certainly wasn’t the most glorious way to crest a hill, but it paid off in a big way. Getting off the bike and pushing for 1 or 2 minutes gives certain parts of your body a chance to breathe and take a break. Most of the time we’d get passed on the climbs only catch the same riders minutes later on a downhill or flat.
Of course, there are those climbs that get everyone off the saddle.
Foodwise, I had chosen to carry a LOT of Honey Stinger waffles. If you’re not eating these things yet, you’re missing out. While it’s important to pack the food you need, I also like to have a few things in the bag to look forward to. In that light, I had a tasty bag of beef jerky and some twizzlers. To fight off the cramps, I had a triple-loaded bottle of E-fuel in my Mountain feedbag and 4 vials of The Right Stuff. 3 more water bottles on the bike and one in my jersey pocket would be enough to get me to the 62 mile mark.
40-50 miles in, I couldn’t help but remark at how smoothly things were going. Our pace was great, the waffles still tasted good and we hadn’t had a single flat tire. If we could just hold this momentum and survive the heat, things were gonna work out. Other people hadn’t been as fortunate, it seemed like we saw someone changing a tire about every 5 miles.
When we rolled into the first checkpoint, (62-ish miles), I felt like a freight train. My water rationing was working, I’d been eating consistently and I really felt great. I was a bit leery of the rising temps, but mostly I think I was just excited to sit in the grass and crush a PB and honey sandwich.
The first thing I noticed when we rolled into the CP was the abundance of riders laying around. There were some very strong riders sitting in the shade, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. My friend Chris Bopp walked up and asked if I was dropping out of the race.
I’ll admit, my first impression was “Oh, a fat joke..that’s nice“. But as is usually the case, I was wrong. Chris wanted to drop out of the race and he was just looking for some reassurance. I had no interest in quitting this early, so I made my way to the shade and took care of some very serious business.
It sure felt good to sit in the grass and stuff my face, but I knew better than to let myself get too comfortable. I chilled for a bit, took some electrolytes and started filling water bottles for the next stretch. Travis didn’t seem eager to leave, but he got up and made ready to leave anyway. He said if he didn’t leave now, he probably never would.
At this point, another 42 miles sounded like a ride around the block. I was so eager to get back on the road that I actually forgot to fill one of my water bottles. It was a very stupid move, and one that would cost me dearly. Unaware of my mistake, we set out for the 2nd leg of the race with piss and vinegar in our veins. I couldn’t believe how great I felt, all I could think was ” I’m fatter, but I’m stronger..and I’m not going to question it.”
About 30 minutes after we left the CP, Travis said he needed to stop and take a break. The heat was getting to him and he needed to chill for a while. After a bit of debate, we decided he’d stay back to recoup while I went on. I felt like a total douchebag leaving him there, but he insisted that he was fine and if I didn’t leave he’d kick my ass. OK, maye that’s not entirely true, but you get the point. It definitely felt like the wrong thing to do, but if Iwas gonna have any chance of finishing the race I had to keep going.
We had been passed by Wendy and one other rider about 5 minutes earlier, so I set out to catch the 2 of them. Without the headwind, I was able to hold between 20-22mph in the flats. I figured that’d be enough to catch them, and before long I saw someone about 1/4 mile ahead. When I finally caught up to the rider I thought was Wendy, I was a bit disappointed to find out it was someone else.
I could just barely see a small white dot in the distance, so I knew catching up would be a challenge. After a good 10 minutes of hard riding, we were side-by-side. We chatted about the days events and enjoyed one another’s company while the miles ticked by. A few minutes later, I thought I smelled Corey Case’s feet..but it was just a horse carcass rotting in the sun.
I’ve seen and smelled some dead animals in my day, but that shit was disgusting. Wendy and I enjoyed about 11 miles together before I let her go ahead, and that’s when I began to experience what I believe is the true essence of the Dirty Kanza. No longer part of a group, I was left to my own thoughts and struggles. My mind wandered in countless directions, from the meaningful to the miniscule. One moment, I pondered things like fatherhood, marriage and my career. Then my mind would flip and I’d be thinking about boobs and Treloar cheeseburgers. How many kids would I have? Would they be pretty like Cara or have my huge chin? How awesome would a Huey Lewis/Phil Collins concert be? I crossed the Kanza’s finish line 1,000 times in my mind, re-living the glory over and over.
My thoughts were as random as Casey’s bowels.
I looked down at the cyclometer and saw 104 degrees looking back at me. I knew it was gonna be hot, but this was getting out of control. Around 80-ish miles the road got pretty rough and led me into a treeline. A guy rode past me cussing because he had gone the wrong way and ridden an extra 10 miles. This made me a bit paranoid. As I rolled along, I began to notice the lack of tire-tracks in the sand.
The prospect of being lost in the Flint hills was sobering, but I was confident that I had correctly followed the route. I decided there were no tracks because the road was too rough. Further down the trail, I began to see other riders on the side of the road, and that was reassuring. Most of them were ok, just waiting for a ride. The heat was claiming people right and left, and I could feel it slowly strangling my own resolve.
I believe I was around the 84 mile mark when I ran out of water. Temps were still above 100, and I began to realize I was in some pretty serious trouble. The route was different from last year, so there would be no life-saving mulberry tree this time. If only I had remembered to fill my other bottle… how could I have been so stupid? I had one or two swallows of e-fuel left, but that was it. I started scanning for creeks and ditches to get water from, but they were all dry. Maybe somebody waiting for SAG support would give me a bottle. Not a town or even a house for miles, so ringing doorbells wasn’t an option. Things were looking prety grim until I saw these guys:
No more than 10 feet to the side of the road was a water spigot. I laughed out loud, blind luck had officially saved my ass two years in a row. I patiently waited for my turn, then loaded my bottles and doused myself with delicious, cold water. I poured it across my neck and rinsed my hair, it was phenomenal. Someone asked me if I thought the water was safe to drink. I took a giant gulp and told him I didn’t give a shit. It was a great day to be alive.
After filling my bottles and colling off, I felt renewed and ready to finish this leg of the race. I’d say those feelings lasted about 30 minutes. After that, the heat finally claimed me. I lost all sense of time and motivation. My biggest concern became finding a shady place to sit in the grass. A lone tree on distant hilltop became my life’s purpose, and when I got there it was time to chill.
I promised myself to only take a 5 minute break. 20 minutes later, I got my ass up off the ground and moved out.
After that, the miles passed by slowly and without much enjoyment. I ran out of water again, and cussed myself for not taking more from the spigot. The upside was that I was only about 6 miles from the checkpoint, and there was a Jeep headed my way. The guy in the Jeep offered me some water, and I graciously took his last bottle. You gotta love those Jeep-guys, that’s twice they’ve saved my bacon.
A few miles before town there was an old house with a giant shade tree in the front yard. I laid down under the tree and tried to cool off for a minute. I laid there and looked up at the branches weaving back and forth. Between that and sound of the rustling leaves, it was hard not to fall asleep. It was a good 5 minutes of tranquility, then back on the bike.
About 1/2 a mile before I got to town, Jim Davis came rolling up behind me. He was in good spirits and in a hurry to make the “4:20 cutoff'”. I knew the cutoff was at 4:30, but kept it to myself. Jim tried to motivate me, but I was whipped. Realizing I’d later regret letting him ride away from me, I sprinted to catch him and we came into the checkpoint together.
I collected my map from the volunteer and went to lay in the grass. I was having trouble getting good breaths and my ribs hurt like crazy. I lay there trying to breathe and reviewed my mistakes. Trying to catch up with friends and not having enough water had lead to my demise. Both were rookie mistakes and I should’ve known better. Being fat probably hadn’t helped, but it didn’t seem to really hurt me either. All in all, I felt much stronger this year.
My race was over, the sun had won again. Checkpoint 3 was something like 60 miles away and I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. I had no cell phone, so the smart thing to do was call it a day. It was a disappointing end to a wonderful journey, much like the final episode of Lost. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t finish. I really didn’t deserve it, the Dirty Kanza is the kind of race you prepare for over the course of several months, not several weeks.
That being said, I had a solid time. I saw some kickass scenery, hung out with friends and attempted something most people think is impossible. I’m already looking forward to toeing the line again next year, and I think I’ve got a solid chance at finishing. One thing I know for sure, I’ll get that finisher’s beer mug if it’s the last thing I do.