|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
|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!
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 time...it 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
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.
|Mike approaching the mud|
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.
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
before 1:00, unloaded, went for some cryo recovery and settled in early.
|Recovery at Complete Cryospa|
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:
*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.
*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.
*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: https://www.relive.cc/view/1613148008