Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dirty Kanza 2014

My Dirty Kanza History

The 2013 Dirty Kanza was the year of the wind, my first DK, and I finished. I say "finished" because I didn't race it, I survived it.

 1000 entries, 331 finishers, enough said. 

In 2013, I spent 18 minutes at the 100 mile check point gathering up the intestinal fortitude to continue..........
2013 DK200 100 Mile Checkpoint

.........and after 15-1/2 hours, I rolled to the finish line in 99th place, and in a semi-confused state of exhaustion. 

My 2013 DK200 Finish 15hr:29min

That race gave me confidence. I knew I could finish, and barring catastrophe, finish quicker. My 2014 goal was clear and simple: 

Finish in 14 hours & 30 minutes or quicker. 

I had to average 14 mph to get this done, and that's what I trained for.

Pre-Race Dirty Kanza 2014

I traveled to Emporia with my friends John & Cynthia Bradley. Thursday afternoon we met in Springfield (MO), loaded up John's Volvo wagon and headed West. 

The Volvo- Wagons West!

After an easy drive (JB drove, I slumped in the passenger seat), we checked out our spacious, yet economical room at Emporia State University's North Tower and stored the gear.
ESU Dorm Room

We met up with fellow gravel grinder, Jamie Wynne and his wife Yvette for dinner at Emporia's new Radius Brewing Company. The place was crazy busy, served great food and libations, and filled with who's who of Dirty Kanza management and gravel grinders. Good times!

Friday dawned a beautiful day. We slept in a bit, then prepared for the 9:00am leisure ride at High Gear Cyclery. A critical part of that prep was COFFEE at The Java Cat Coffee House, as John and I both require copious amounts to kick start the day. Dirty Kanza's Jim Cummins was enjoying a cup when we arrived and preparing for a meeting with the KC Jeep Club (what a great service they provide!). We met up with Aaron Houston of Kuat and visited over coffee. Great atmosphere, and righteous joe. 

Morning coffee with JB

After coffee, John, Cynthia, and I donned our kits and rolled down to Commercial St. where the Dirty Kanza buzz was already ramping up. 

L to R- Cynthia Bradley, John Bradley, Aaron Houston at High Gear Cyclery

Cynthia joined us on the leisure ride, and I was thankful as I'm always looking for someone to shoulder into a pothole. (The men I ride with wouldn't tolerate that kinda stuff). After an easy 45 minute out and back, we made our way to registration, gathered our race numbers and cache of schwag, then returned to the Granada Theater to join the 4pm riders meeting. The early meeting allowed us to get our gear & nutrition prep completed, and in bed early. 

That's me, r-i-g-h-t.....there.

Race Meeting at the Granada Theater

The Race- Dirty Kanza 2014

 After a somewhat sleepless night, the alarm went off at 3:4......REALLY EARLY! We grabbed showers, and kitted up for a day of racing. Outside it was humid, but still cool.
John and I went to the ESU breakfast, where I explained to a very sleeping looking Chris Carmicheal that the valve on the coffee pot had a delay prior to stopping, and I don't always spill coffee all over the place. He was apathetic to my explanation.

 We returned to the dorm room, gathered the bikes and stopped off at the car to collect our bottles for the first leg. We arranged to meet Cynthia down at the starting line around 5AM. Commercial street was already a busy place.  

 Myself, John Bradley, Jim Phillips, Jamie Wynne, and Collin Little posed for some pics in front of the Granada. Tyler Moore would later round out the crew. 

L to R- John Bradley, Jamie Wynne, Collin Little, Jim Phillips, Don Buttram

 With an hour to spare, we found our place near the back of the 12hr pack and mingled with the other riders. In that hour I watched monsters of the Kanza one by one filter their way to the leading edge of the 12hr barrier, Dan Hughes, Rebecca Rusch, Jay Petervary, Yuri Hauswald, Rusty Folger, and Cory Godfrey.  What I didn't know was that among the group at the leading edge of the barrier was one Brian Jenson. Brian would go on to not only break the Kanza course record, but totally obliterate it! Other power houses up front included Jonathan Schottler (it is not unusual to see Jonathan's name right next to the likes of Jeremiah Bishop),  I was introduced to Greg Gleason, winner of Trans Iowa v10. This was a tough crowd. 

Awaiting the Start- Photo Credit to Dustin Michelson

Emporia to Madison- Check Point #1

 With the singing of the National Anthem we all knew the time was near.  As Jim Cummins made the "5 minutes to race time" announcement, the tension was palpable. With a quick countdown, we were off. The roll-out through town was allegedly neutral, this was not a Switzerland kinda neutral, more akin to an Iraqi neutral, fast paced and pushing against the pace trucks. The cacophony of tire whine was reminiscent of my Leadville roll-out experience. I'm always thankful to make it through a mass start like that without winding up in a wad of carbon fiber and bike tires. 

The Rollout- Photo Credit to Eric Benjamin of

 With a right turn at the edge of town we were on GRAVEL! This was a quadrupletrack +20mph parade of over anxious grinders. My conversations were limited to "jump in here if you need to". The remainder of the time I was focused on holding my line and minimizing any sudden changes in pace. After about 10 miles of this I realized that I was probably not in contention for the overall win, and needed to bring my pace back to "just slightly out of my league" (read 16mph). Not that I had much time to soak it in, but it was an absolutely beautiful morning, sun shining through the morning mist made for some gorgeous shots. 

The first 10 miles! - Photo Credit to Corey Godfrey

What a Beautiful Morning! Photo Credit to Dustin Michelson
Killer Shot!- Photo Credit to Eric Benjamin of

 At mile 18, I noticed a rider fixing a flat. As I got closer I realized it was Dan Hughes, the King of Kanza!. I could see that he was less than pleased with this situation. Several things ran through my mind. 

  • Sadness, I can't imagine what it would be like to watch that lead group ride off while you were tasked with fixing a flat.
  • Surprise, hey I just passed Dan Hughes on a bicycle. (Yes, he was stopped, fixing a flat, but that's just a technicality!)
  • Fantasy, I could soft pedal for a bit, wait for him ride up beside me and I could tow him back to the lead pack. (Hey, it was a fantasy, and y-e-s, I realize that all the Jens Voigt leg coaching in the world could not produce that result!)
 A few miles later, Dan motored by me like a man on a mission. Dan would go on to place 7th overall, and win the 45-49 age group! While this may surprise you, I didn't see him again until the finish line. Before long I was shouldering my CFX Black and wading across the North Verdigris River at mile 43, and clamored my way up the muddy bank on the other side under the buzz of a drone.

 I plan to use the picture of Rebecca Rusch portaging the river crossing when I make my "What I Think I Do" poster for Dirty Kanza 

Rebecca doing what she does best,  leading the charge! - Photo credit to TBL photography

In no time I was screaming down the paved descent into Madison.
I rolled across the timing strip and looped back to the support dream team. Cynthia and company wasted no time resupplying me, quick bike maintenance, and giving me status of the other K├ťAT riders. It seems that everyone was blistering the first 50 miles. 

My official stats for CP #1: 3hr:04m:30s - Avg. Pace 16.52 mph 

 Below is a shot of myself and Salsa rider Tim Ek. While our conversation was likely limited to "Hey, you doing ok?"....."Yeh, you?" I'm convinced he's a straight shooting, hardcore gravel grinder through and through. Just check out this righteous short if you don't believe me. 

Myself and Tim Ek somewhere in Kansas

Madison to Cassoday- Check Point #2

 I'm convinced there's a space-time continuum anomaly between Madison and Cassoday. It could be the dark experience I had on this section in 2013, the relentless rolling hills, the minimum maintenance "B" roads, the fact that I ran out of water, but I'm telling you this is the toughest 50 miles of gravel on the planet!! I've ridden this section twice, and I felt better climbing Columbine! 

Leadville Columbine - 2013

Okay, I'm done whining. I kept putting one pedal in front of the other and made my way into Cassoday. GIDDYUP! I'm halfway there! Cynthia had come out to the road to notify me of her location. I rolled across the timing strip and hurried to the car for WATER!!. I drank and ate what I could, while Cynthia and company resupplied. I'm sure it was dehydration talking, but for some reason I convinced Cynthia that I didn't to carry additional food supplies with me. I told her I was drinking my nutrition and didn't need it............I was wrong, painfully wrong. Cynthia reminded me that I had 12-13 miles of head wind out of Cassoday and then I would turn North for some much needed relief. In a matter of minutes I was on my way. 

My official stats for CP #2: 6hr:37m:36s - Avg. Pace 15.02 mph 

Cassoday to Cottonwood Falls- Check Point #3

Roughly 5 miles out of CP#3 I came upon my friend and fellow Kuat rider Jim Phillips. Jim was sitting on a culvert rail in the shade. I stopped for a few minutes to see how things were going. Jim said the blistering pace of the first 100 miles had taken its toll, and he had switched to survival mode. I told him to encourage me when he passed me on down the road and carried on. Jim did pass me later on and seemed in good spirits, I was not, I was paying for the dehydration and stopped. I took a leak, and that stuff looked a lot like Guinness beer. I took this as a bad sign, and downed three Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes along with a large quantity of GU Brew and water, then continued on. I'm not sure how far it was, but I came upon Jim again. He was on the side of the road but looked I rode on.

CALM DOWN, I'm just kidding. I did pass Jim, but he said he would be okay. This picture was taken later by Collin Little while he drank beer and made fun of Jim as he lay near death along side the road. But this is a story that Jim Phillips will tell you.

 Back to that decision I made at the 100 mile checkpoint about carrying extra food. I was bonking, I could feel it coming on. I then done what you do in that situation......NO, you can forget any thoughts you have about a Bear Grylls style attack on a farm animal....I came upon a fellow rider fixing a flat and I done it.....begged for FOOD! The rider was accommodating and tossed me a GU Roctane Gel. It was blueberry pomegranate and tasted like I had just been saved from DK perdition. I had spring in my pedal stroke, I had a tailwind, everywhere I went, I was R-I-D-I-N-G F-A-S-T (think Forrest Gump running). That lasted a-b-o-u-t 45 minutes and it was back to the sufferfest. But I was substantially closer to the oasis that is CP#3 COTTONWOOD FALLS. 

Sidebar: There are no falls at Cottonwood Falls KS. :-(

I remember crossing the timing mat at CP#3 and immediately yelling ORANGE, where's ORANGE?? (Our parking segment). I was directed "all the way back by the courthouse". Luckily Cynthia came to my rescue and started yelling at me. It's hard to explain to people who don't compete in endurance events, but when you've been pedaling your ass off for 10hrs. straight, you can't see something right in front of you, but you can usually hear it. It's weird. I spent at least 8-10 minutes at CP#3 (too long) My shoes had heating elements in them and my feet were on fire for the last 4 hours. I drank 24oz. of water, I drank 15oz. of Coke, I ate as much as I could. I did NOT want to leave. 

My official stats for CP #3: 10hr:25m:28s - Avg. Pace 14.52 mph 

Cottonwood Falls to Emporia- THE FINISH!

Feeling like I had just swallowed a basketball, I pedaled my way out of Cottonwood Falls. I was on the final leg, the home stretch. This was a lonely section. Look at the picture below, and think about this....there were 469 finishers in the 200 mile race, look behind me in the picture, there's 2 riders. You ride for miles and miles, mostly alone in this segment. 
Mile 160 Grinding up a Hill

I was trudging along around mile 180 and came upon a farmhouse. This family had taken it upon themselves to provide ice cold cokes and water to the riders, YES! I tried unsuccessfully to do some finish time math in my head and all the calculations said STOP and DRINK! Best decision I made all day. I downed most of a coke and filled my water bottle. I had just got back up to speed when a train of riders came around me. I hesitated for a second and made a mental decision to jump on. The mental decision was easy, the physical one........not so much. I caught the train and tucked in at the back. This was nice, 18 miles out and suckin' wheel. It was a few miles later the train wheels fell off and we were 4. In what can only be described as amazing, one of guys in this group (Chris Knight of Grand Rapids Michigan Team Apex) was part of a Jamie Wynne and Jim Phillips Kuat train in late stages of DK200 2013. (small world) Chris asked if I knew Jamie and Jim and I replied yes, Chris said let's get this done! I was in a position to pull now and we all took turns for the next several miles. This group would take me to the finish line. One of the guys in the group still had some cognitive brain function and determined we had this in the bag. We were gonna race the sun and win. (You have to arrive at the finish line before 8:42 pm (14hrs:42min:00sec) to get one of these.

I could see the north tower of ESU in the distance, I could hear the traffic from I-35. We turned on Hwy. 99 and all was right with the world. The group decided collectively that we needed to make sure we had our best game face on for the finish line. I went tailback of the small group, as that's where I started, and there's a certain etiquette in cycling for situations like that. I had met my goal, I had exceeded my goal, I need not sprint to the finish. I felt a huge burden lifted as I cruised through the bollards on ESU's campus through way. I could hear the finish line music, the rowdy crowd, electricity in the air. I cruised down the chute, soaking in the roar. As I passed under the arch I could see the familiar cast at the finish line, Jim Cummins and the Mohn's handing out glasses, shaking hands, and hugs all around. I shall return. 

My official Finish Time: 14hr:14m:01s - Avg. Pace 14.27 mph 
After the Finish Line

One of my favorite shots from DK. Paul McKay (265) crushing it!
Team Kuat rider John Bradley can be seen (2) bikes back from Paul. Both Paul and John had a great race with John Bradley finishing in 13:09 and Paul finishing in 12:20. Amazing performance by both!

Paul McKay with his "Determined" Game Face On!

Parting Shot