Monday, June 18, 2018

The DK100 - 2018

Welcome to Kansas sign on Eastbound I70
How do we get into these things?  What were we thinking? This time it was late fall 2017.  A friend that had fallen in love with cyclocross season started to look into gravel riding and decided we needed to do this too.  I borrowed a bike from her and we went for a ride. It was fun, it was different. Let’s give it a try. The Dirty Kanza Events are lottery driven and no guaranteed entries.  We put together teams so that we could all go or not go and not leave anyone behind. We registered when the lottery opened and waited for lottery day in January.

When lottery day arrived, a slow trickle of entries started and by the end of the day almost everyone that we had planned to go with had gotten in.  Then the reality set it. Guess it is time to buy a bike, guess it is time to figure this gravel thing out, guess we’d better get training. Holy cow!

Emporia City Limit Sign
Home of William Allen White
Mike and I pulled the trigger on bikes after a weekend in Colorado Springs.  Adventure Cycling was awesome and got us set-up and ready to roll. Then it was up to us.  We purchased the DK official training plan to use as a guideline and worked on increasing saddle time although not always on gravel.  

As the race approached, many people that we knew started to drop out.  Conflicts in schedules, graduations and more. We wondered if we were ready.  For me the controlling Type A personality was completely scared of the unknowns.  What would the road surface really be like, what was the terrain, was I in good enough shape to do this?  As more and more people dropped out it was down to Mike and Me. We had planned on a friend coming from Texas to provide our support.  We called him and advised that we didn’t think he should take the time off or the time to drive to and from as we didn’t know how this would go.  We then had a long conversation as to whether or not we were going and in the last few days decided what did we have to lose.

Sunrise looking East from
the dash of the car on C470
So June 1st, bright and early we were loaded up and headed to Kansas.  We had gathered the supplies that we thought would be needed and were as prepared as we could be at that point.  The wind blew like crazy the entire way. As I attempted to hold the car on the road, I worried what chance I would have with a bike in wind like this.  Fear was at a new high. We arrived in Emporia, checked into our hotel and into the race. We asked questions, were deciding on using neutral support and making last minute adjustments and tweaking.  We went to bed with an alarm set and the unknown looming just hours ahead.

June 2, 2018
Emporia, KS

My bike with gear strapped to it
and clothing laid out next to it.
Mike and I woke on race morning in our America’s Best Inn & Suites room in Emporia.  It was just before 5. It was pitch dark outside and the only sound we heard was the wind howling against our exterior door.  The thoughts that went through my head - “Please don’t let us have wind like we drove through to get here yesterday.” “Hopefully it gets light soon as I don’t have a light for my bike.”  “Please let these winds stop!” We went about our morning routine, making last minute preparations and gathering our nutrition for the day. I had spent a fair amount of time on Friday night laying everything out, making sure my bike was ready and gear needed properly strapped or packed and clothing out and ready to go.  I did not want to forget anything - control the controllables. So many unexpecteds ahead that I had to know that I had what I think I needed.

Our bike's on the rack with race
numbers waiting out the storm
We had decided to head to the start at 5:30.  Our event start was at 6:20 but the 200M riders were headed out at 6 and I wanted to see them go.  We walked out of the hotel into the wind to load the bikes. It was still dark. There was lightning all over the sky flashing constantly and it looked like rain was looming.  The weather report has said morning thunderstorms that were supposed to move through by 7 or 8. And it appeared that the forecast was right on. As we loaded the bikes onto the car, the heavens opened up and it was now pouring rain.  We grabbed the rest of our gear from the room and rolled out into the dark, rain and wind towards the start. The fear and panic was a bit higher as we approached. We looked at each other and I gave Mike the look of what have we gotten ourselves into.  I could hear my Mom in my head - this is crazy - why do you want to do this. And at that point the only answer I had was I don’t know. We pulled into a parking place pretty close to the start. We made the decision to sit in the car for a bit before soaking ourselves.  A knock on Mike’s window - we rolled down the window and the guy said “did you get the message that the event start is delayed 30 minutes?” We had not - well we had but our phones were still on silent from overnight so we hadn’t seen it come in. We hunkered down in the car for a while.  As the 30 minutes of delay passed, so did the storm. The rain slowed and eventually stopped. The roads were still very wet but at least it had moved on and it appeared we would not be riding through rain.

DK200 Riders passing on Commercial St.
We unloaded the bikes and headed towards Commercial Street.  We stopped at the restroom and positioned ourselves along the street with many other spectators and riders to watch the beginning of the DK200 - once more thankful that we had made the decision to go for the 100 instead of the 200 because at that moment 200 seemed crazy!  They have 21 hours to finish and the finish time was now 3:30 a.m. with the delay. Lots of cheers, fist pumps and excitement as the riders rolled through town. And now, it is our turn.

Mike & Kim standing with bike
in Team W Coaching kits
Mike and I moved with our bikes through the crowds of people to the start.  We found a spot and spoke to some people surrounding us. The race announcer provided some last minute updates.  He spoke to us from the top of the marquee sign that read “Welcome Dirty Kanza Riders.” He informed us that due to the recent rain, there was a re-route on the course to avoid what was 5 miles of hike-a-bike in 2015 that was sure to be the same this year after the rain.  Cheers from the riders who had experienced that before. We were also told to watch as we approached turns from pavement to gravel to avoid sliding out. The Kansas City Jeep Club would be on course to direct. With that it was go time. We were completely surrounded in bikes and we all rolled out as one big peleton.  As we moved through the streets of Emporia, the community was gathered along the curbs waving and cheering. The speed of the peleton increased and we were rolling along around 20 mph. It was fun! Mike and I looked at each other and smiled. Here we go!

Marquee lit up -
2018 Welcome Riders - Dirty Kanza
We approached the first turn onto gravel.  As we had been warned, the peleton slowed and cautiously turned.  Everyone appeared to stay upright which was good. The pack settled into two single file lines in the tire tracks on the road.  The areas between the tracks were rocky and the gravel/mud very wet so your choice was to get in line, hold onto the wheel in front and keep up.  Mud was splashing up, occasional rocks kicking up and most of the riders in good spirits talking back and forth. People peeled off occasionally to relieve themselves or check tires or equipment that was presenting problems.  Mike and I were able to hold onto the group pretty well and for the most part stayed together with some maneuvering.

We were riding along, enjoying the ride, the weather was cool due to the rain and clouds still covered keeping the sun exposure down and the wind for the most part was gone.  The Flint Hills were beautiful - lush, green and rolling. We encountered some climbs but nothing that was too challenging and we were able to move along at a decent pass and our gps on the computers was right on course!!  We reached the jeep and what was the beginning of the detour. We had been told it would occur just after mile 9 and it was right as expected. We had also been told that it would be about 5 miles so we watched the odometer to know as the gps now showed off course.  There were some hills through this section but all very rideable and we had the opportunity to spread out some as we were not held to the two tire tracks.

We linked back into the original course at about 5 miles on the button.  We crossed over a highway bridge (I believe I35), the first paved surface we had seen in a while.  We were about 18 miles in. After crossing the bridge, we turned and headed up a hill and crossed a cattle gate onto a rancher’s land.  It was absolutely beautiful - rolling, no signs of civilization just pasture. There were some ups and downs and they included a few stream/drainage crossings which were fun.  I hooked onto a group that were from England - they all had matching red kits - and they were singing Bohemian Rhapsody as we crested a hill and took off on the down hill. I couldn’t help but jump on!  Turned out we spent the rest of the day cat and mousing with them.

Kim & Mike in front of a cattle fence
- mile 25
At mile 25 we exited the ranch, crossing another cattle grade and coming up to some cars that had come off the highway to cheer on riders.  It was nice to see people. Mike and I stopped near a fence. Had a bike to eat, checked in with ourselves and headed back out. We were still in farm country so several more cattle guards, a farmer on a 4x4 keeping his cattle contained and off the bike route and many more stream crossings.  I remember saying to Mike - “this is great! I am so glad that we came! What fun!” We were speckled in mud - we both had our white arm coolers on and as he said they looked like chocolate chip ice cream! Our bikes were dirty, we were dirty and we were having a ball!
On Course

We approached the Madison check-point.  As we rolled into town the community was out in force cheering us in and directing us where to go.  We crossed a timing mat as we arrived in Madison and pulled off to the side where the aid waited. Mike and I had made the decision to do the race unsupported.  We had learned there would be water to refill in Madison so we opted to rely on that and hoped for the best. The aid station was way more that we had expected. A volunteer grabbed our bikes, took them to a hose, washed them off, dried the chain and re-lubed it!  Another volunteer took our empty water bottles and returned with them full of ice and water and then took off and returned with a plate of food for each of us! We felt supported and extremely well cared for!! We finished our snacks, completed our restock and rode through town to find a restroom.  We stopped on the way back at another volunteer table to grab additional sunscreen. All of the volunteers and people in town were so nice and supportive. We rolled back out of town with total race time of under 4 hours. We were thrilled!! 50 miles to go, to our knowledge most of the climbing behind us and nothing but smooth sailing ahead.  

Volunteers cleaning my bike/chain
As we rolled back out of Madison we talked with some other riders.  I rode with a guy for a while that was from Witchita. He had come in and met up with everyone in Madison and was riding with his friends the rest of the way into Emporia.  He was very familiar with the area and the roads and an avid gravel biker. I enjoyed learning his perspective on the area and on other events in the gravel world.

Welcome Riders sign in Madison
We started getting into some climbing.  The roads were wet and a bit muddy due to the canopy of trees over the road but we were moving.  Then we reached a pack of riders that had really slowed and suddenly we were all off of our bikes.  The mud in the tire tracks was impassable riding and the wheels were no longer spinning to push the bike because of all of the mud packed on them.  So we loaded our bikes on our shoulders and started walking with everyone else. There were a few that tried to push through and the mechanicals started to rear their heads.  Definitely wasn’t worth a broken derailer to try to press on. We reached the end of the muddy section. There was a large group of people and bikes all doing their best to clean the mud out of cleats on shoes and out of the components of the bike.  I remembered at that moment that Wesley had said to carry a paint stir stick for this purpose. Note to self for next would have been very useful. I removed both of my shoes and stood in the driest spot I could find while I clapped my shoes together trying to find my cleats.  We were off again. More hills and climbing, wet roads that made traction on the climbs challenging and some hills that required walking due to lack of traction to keep going. We hit two more sections of hike-a-bike. Carrying the bike until enough had fallen off
Mike approaching the mud
that would allow the tires to move and then stopping and removing shoes to find the cleats.  It was hard and tiring. We did our best to stay hydrated and fueled but our mindset was definitely shifting. Mike had talked to someone that told him that this section was the hardest and that it ended at mile 72. We were somewhere in the 50s to early 60s at this point so probably 15 miles of this to go.
We pressed on and continued to look forward to mile 72.  After several more hills, muddy roads and water crossings we arrived at an oasis right near 72.   We arrived at a farmhouse on the left side of the road. The owners of the house as well as several owners from surrounding farms were all at the end of the driveway.  They had matching beef shirts and tables with food, water, and more. They were awesome! They refilled our water which was greatly depleted after the last section, provided fruit and beef jerky, a much needed Coke and even washed our bikes some.  We visited with them for a few minutes and told them thank you as many times as we could.

The Oasis!
Right around the corner from the farm was mile 72.  We had made it and everyone had promised smooth sailing from here.  The elevation mostly done and smooth sailing on good gravel roads back to Emporia.  This is what we had waited for. And then, like a light switch the head winds started.  Our course from here to Emporia was North with a few small East and West turns but mostly North.  And the winds were blowing from the North. Looking at the grade on the computer when it said we were going down and I was now pedaling harder than I had all day.  We pushed through each North section and would stop to regroup at the next turn. Then the stops started to be during the North section as our legs just couldn’t push any further.  We stopped anytime that there was a farmer or race supporter offering to the riders and refilled our bottles as we just didn’t know how long we would be or where we would encounter more food/water.  We enjoyed talking to the people and they were so eager to support us!

Another muddy road
There were many hard conversations and challenges to mindset in the last 28 miles.  We talked a lot about how we had gotten into this in the first place and what were we thinking.  I spoke with one of the homeowners who mentioned 13 miles to go. My gps told me 13.1. I said a half marathon.  I could probably run this faster. Mike and I got off the bike with 4 miles to go and talked seriously about how we were going to make it and revisited the same conversation with 2 miles to go.  2 miles has never been a discussion point on a bike for me. Crazy! We pressed on. One final hill as we approached town. It was paved but it was steep. A final punch from the course. There were spectators with a bull horn cheering every crank of my pedals.  Made it to the top! My only thought was don’t walk now in front of them and we both did it still clipped in.

We turned the corner into Emporia University.  We rode through the campus directed by a police officer and turned the final corner onto Commercial Street.  We were on paved roads at this point and it was flat between us and the finish. We were gaining speed as we came into the streets lined with spectators and supporters.  We rode side by side and even grabbed hands and rode that way for a short bit. We had done it!! We celebrated our finish and heard our names announced together which was really fun!!  The last 50 miles had taken us nearly 6 ½ hours. Almost double what the first 50 had.

Dirty Kanza 100 Finisher Lanyard
We received our finisher lanyard and headed to the car to drop our bikes off.  We were all a muddy, dirty mess. We walked back to the finisher area. Gathered our finisher items and headed back to the hotel.  We couldn’t wait to lay down! Mike rinsed the bikes off with the hose outside our hotel room before bringing them in for the night and we rotated through the shower and out to find dinner.  We were back at the hotel and turned in for the night early after a very long day.

June 3, 2018
We had planned to get up just before 5 to head out but our attempt to set the alarm had failed.  We woke on our own closer to six. Loaded our gear and bikes and headed back out. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed seeing some of the hills we had rolled through as we drove.  The winds picked up towards the later end of our drive and the windmills were cranking. We arrived home
Recovery at Complete Cryospa
before 1:00, unloaded, went for some cryo recovery and settled in early.

As a coach and an athlete, I always revisit an event by visiting on 5 celebrations, 5 challenges and 5 goals.  I had lots of time in the last 50 miles to think not only about my race report but about each of these items. In fact if I could dictate while I was riding, this would have been done a few weeks ago!  Here they are:

5 Celebrations:
*We finished!
*No Mechanicals or Flats!!
*We finished at our goal time.  10 hours was our initial thought.  9:58 and change.
*We didn’t quit in the times before the race and during the race where the opportunity was easy to bail out.  
*The Community and area were absolutely amazing
*Our GPS worked perfectly.

5 Challenges:
*Carrying enough fluid for unexpected - without the farmers along the way, we would have been out of fluid completely on the second half.
*Best way to pack gear needed on bike and in hydration pack.  I had tubes and tires ziptied to my frame and a lot of gear in my hydration pack and pockets.  
*The Wind
*The Mud

5 Goals:
*Carry chain lube.  It is possible to go through every spec of grease on a chain in under 20 miles!
*Figure out horizontal bar bag that will help with fluid and equipment
*Embrace the training rides and take them in the condition of the day.  Don’t avoid wind or elements as they will happen.
*Figure out how to make repairs that may be needed.  Stranded in the middle of the Flint Hills even with support you may not be accessible.  

*Participate in other events and continue to gather information (we learned a lot at the DK200 forum in Golden the week after the race)

Here is a link to our ride:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

USABA Tandem Cycling Camp - Day 6 - RECAP

Kim & Erika approaching
the railroad crossing on the outbound
Another cloudy, cool morning greeted us at camp.  On today’s agenda, the 20K time trial. My stoker and I took a few minutes at breakfast to discuss our “plan of attack” for the day.  We loaded into the vans for our drive to the start line. The bikes were already loaded in the truck from the night before so minimal equipment juggling this morning.  

We arrived at the start line in Fountain about 25 minutes from the OTC.  The sun was starting to come through and wind, thankfully, seemed to be down from yesterday.  The staging time before the race was used to prep our tandem, spend a bit of time with the amazing hands of our athletic trainer, Katie and a bit of warm-up on the bike including a couple practice 180 degree turns which would be part of the event at the turn around point.  

Kim & Erika and Charles & Michael
approaching the railroad crossing inbound
As with most race days, race anxiety was a bit high among campers - our team included.  The conversation with my stoker reminded her that we were going for a bike ride. We had done the course yesterday and that we just had to ride the course one more time.  We moved up to the start line and were off.

Kim, Jill, Wendy, Annie & Alex at the finish
Photo bomb by Susan
We shifted our communication around a bit today which seemed to help keep us on track.  Checking in periodically to determine RPE (rate of perceived exertion) and talking through positioning.  We reached the turn-around, had a pretty successful 180 turn (only a slight rub on the cone) and headed back.  10K to go. We made it over the train tracks in both directions with no trains and pressed on to the finish. We managed a hard push to the finish and finished in a faster time than our preview yesterday!  Success! 41:39:76

Touring the USOTC
Once everyone finished, we gathered to talk through our races a bit, loaded the equipment and vans and headed back to the OTC.  Upon arrival, we broke down our bikes - gathering pedals, etc that we had arrived with showered and headed to lunch. My stoker and I spent the afternoon being tourists on campus.  We took the official tour and stopped at the Team USA Store.

Around 5:30 we gathered for dinner with everyone followed by our final meeting.  The meeting was a great reward. A recap of the week, awards for the tandem teams and coaches and heartfelt recaps of the week that we spent together.  I was loaded up and ready to head home after the meeting so once things wrapped up and everyone was settled back in the dorm, I said my goodbyes and headed out.  

Stokers and Dogs of Camp
in front of Team USA sign
The goodbyes were hard.  Many great connections and friendships made this week and I look forward to staying in touch and hopefully riding with some of the campers and coaches at future events.  A great week, lots of learning and a truly amazing opportunity!

That’s a wrap!

We received some coverage from the local press:

The USABA Tandem Cycling Camp 2018 crew at the Velodrome

Monday, May 14, 2018

USABA Tandem Cycling Camp 2018 - Day 5 RECAP

The USABA Tandem Cycling Camp 2018 Team
Colorado Springs was cloudy and cool this morning, delivering perfect hill climbing weather.  We were off to Gold Camp Road to work on ascending and descending drills. A bit of shuffling around today due to illness, planned rest and more.  The initial plan was that I would ride single from the OTC to the parking area on Gold Camp, pick up my stoker and tandem at the parking area, work through the drill session/hill climbs, then drop my stoker and tandem and return to the OTC on my single.  Plans changed when one of the pilots woke up not feeling well. The new plan was for me to ride with that pilot’s stoker on their tandem to the parking area, switch out to my tandem and stoker for the drills, drop my bike and stoker and switch back to the original bike and stoker to return to the OTC.

Kim & Rachel ready to ride

Our mighty mechanic helped to make all of the switches and get me prepared.  My road pedals were added to tandem #1, a seat adjustment made and we were off.  Jumping on a new tandem with a new stoker, you learn a lot of lessons very quickly - how the bike will handle, how the stoker pedals, starts, stops and makes adjustments and how the bike brakes.  The brakes on this bike were a bit challenging and required a big fistful to make the rig stop, so as the pilot, I aired on the side of caution to ensure we could stop on time and with no issues. (We only had one small bump on the way back - sorry A & A - I still owe you ice cream!)

The Team gathers for drill recon
We climbed together very well to the Gold Camp Road parking area.  My stoker is from Florida and definitely felt the altitude but did a great job controlling breathing and working through the switch backs.  I could definitely feel the power in her legs and we were able to find good efficiency with our pedal strokes.

We arrived at the parking lot, a quick shift of bikes and stokers and the drills began.  Headed out of the parking lot straight uphill caused for a quick re-adjust back to my stoker and bike.  No time to settle in. Three times up and back with a bit of learning on each run. We did great!! We paused at the end for a team photo before switching out bikes and stokers once again to head back to home base.  

Erika ready to roll
The downhill was a big down hill.   With a huge fist of brakes, we managed to descend safely albeit a bit cautiously but with no issues and plenty of confidence.  Arriving on level ground we moved into the peloton and enjoyed a fast ride home. We loaded the bikes into the truck when we got back and headed for a quick but much needed lunch.

The afternoon session required a drive to our destination.  Four of us loaded into my car and headed out behind the caravan of truck, vans and cars and trucks.  Keeping that peloton together was a bit more challenging than the tandem peloton! We arrived in Fountain - off Old Pueblo Road, the staging spot for tomorrow’s 20K time trial.  In Colorado style it was sunny, hot, dry and windy. The goal for the ride was to recon the course. Establish some landmarks, learn the feel of the road and know the course. Riding on my bike with my stoker we successfully achieved the mission.  The wind was brutal and we were unable to hang onto the group so powered through on our own. We race first tomorrow so hoping for a cool morning, minimal wind and a faster ride!

At Overlook #6 Gold Camp Rd.
We finished the afternoon ride, returned the bikes to the truck and headed back to camp.  It was nice to be in an air conditioned car and have time to relax and visit for a bit. We had a little bit of down time, time for a shower and headed off to dinner and evening meeting.  A bit of visiting post meeting and probably the earliest night to bed yet. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep!

Day 6 starts with our 20K Time Trial.  Followed by lunch and packing up camp - bike breakdown, boxing, returning parts etc.  We then have dinner and meetings and I will be headed home after meetings finish up. Our week together is winding up.  
View from above - The Broadmoor below

View from above - The OTC in the far back including the Velodrome

Sunday, May 13, 2018

USABA Tandem Cycling Camp 2018 - The Dogs of Camp

Breed: Hungarian Vizsla
Age: 9
From: Southeastern Guide Dogs
Fun Fact: Rare breed as a guide dog.  Most aggressive bone stealer at camp!

Breed: Black Lab
Age: 11
From: Guide Dogs for the Blind - Boring, OR
Fun Fact:  She is a calmer.  She likes to be part of the action and go everywhere.

Breed: Yellow Lab
Age: 4
From: Guiding Eyes for the Blind - Peaks Island, ME
Fun Fact: Likes to steal peanut butter cookies and bars from athletes’ rooms!  Loves water except the bathtub!

Breed: Yellow Lab
Age: 1 1/2
From: Leader Dog for the Blind - Rochester Hills, MI
Fun Fact: Regal poses
Breed: Black Lab
Age: 3
From: Guide Dogs for the Blind
Fun Fact: Means “Light” in Japanese.  Loves to Run, Loves Tug-of-War, Likes her bone to be held and loves soft things
Breed: Black Lab
Age: 7
From: Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Fun Fact: Camera Shy! (See Photo Two!) She likes to drive the van, Sits on furniture like a human

Breed: Black Lab
Age: 2 1/2
From: Southeastern Guide Dogs
Fun Fact: Does not like to swim
Breed: Black Lab
Age: 3
From: The Seeing Eye, Morristown, NJ
Fun Fact:  Likes to be scratched in his left arm pit

Breed: Yellow Lab
Age: 7
From: Seeing Eye
Fun Fact:  Has over 11,000 followers on Facebook - hopefully several more after this week!