Friday, June 5, 2015

Dirty Kanza 2015

We, as human beings, need to be challenged. It's in our DNA. Step back a few nanoseconds in the hour we've inhabited this earth and we experienced survival challenges daily. For the majority of us, the modern world has all but eliminated them. I believe challenges make our lives richer. Let's find one. - db

Jamie Wynne and I working on the prairie

I was calm at the line. Uncharacteristically calm. It's my third time lining up in front of the Granada, and I'm prepared for a tough day in the saddle. Upon completion of the WWF style call-ups (and yes, I liked it) we're off and rolling. The usual position jockeying was temporarily blunted by the train time out a few blocks from the starting line. A time to visit with fellow riders and make train jokes. There are very few train jokes. 

The temp was cool, almost cold, with a gray overcast. The roads were muddy and wet. The right turn onto gravel just over the Cottonwood River bridge, that's when it gets real. The neutral pace vehicles peel off and it's a white knuckle ride. Typically, the white knuckle ride lasts for 20 miles or so, then sorts itself out. This year a muddy hike-a-bike at mile 11, crushed a few dreams early in the day. My 15 mph average quickly faded to a slog. I wasn't angry, just determined.

The mud march at mile 11 - DK200 2015

Earlier this year, a stint at Bobby Wintle's LR100 had beat a valuable lesson into me. Carry it. Carry the bike. Here's a typical scenario with the muddy sections: "Rider comin' through!" I step off to the side, let the rider slip-n-slide past only to watch them, dismount, fall, or watch the muck devour yet another rear derailleur. Wash, rinse, and repeat. After about 2-1/2 miles the road (generous description) firmed up enough to ride.  It's not the most graceful way to make progress, but it will get you to the finish. A short while into this muddy hike-a-bike it became quite clear that this was not a "personal best" sort of day. This was not a "race the sun" day for me. It was going to be a long, difficult grind back to E-Town. Oh, and note to self, grab that headlight at Cottonwood Falls. 

Descending at LR100 2015
I met up with my friend Jamie Wynne post mud, and we worked our way through the vastness. Jamie has those monster quads that seem to propel him effortlessly into the 15 mph headwind, I dropped a bottle hammering my way through 1 of 100 stream crossings and had to work my ass off to catch him again. I hung on until we hit an open stretch of prairie (more open than the open stretch before) and that was the end of team Jamie and Don. Jamie went on to finish the race with John Bradley, both of them beating the sun by mere seconds and finishing in the top 50 overall at 14hrs:41min. I continued to plod along until mile 73 at Madison, CP#1. I rolled through the timers at 5hrs:44min, grabbed a new cue sheet and headed toward the support section. I was sharing SAG with a group and Cynthia and Connie made short work of resupplying me. I lubed the chain and was back on the bike in ~5 minutes.

There's a brick paver wall, disguised as street on the way out of Madison. It's a 14% gut punch. You've just filled your stomach full of potato chips, chocolate milk, and/or pickles and this hill makes you want to hurl your recently found sustenance out on the street. I find granny gear and grind it out, saying hello to an elderly local perched along the street watching a steady stream of muddy riders work their way out of town. He replied with words of encouragement. I wondered to myself what he must think about the race, hoping it provided him some entertainment. 

The next 50 miles are desolate, a beautiful desolate, but desolate. I visit with a few riders, but spend a large portion of this section alone. This is a new section of the course and I have to keep my eye on the cue sheet. Luckily, my navigation decisions are backed up by a few tire tracks. At mile 121 I stop at the water oasis, refill my water bottle and drop a GU pellet in it. Riders are sitting in lawn chairs, shrouded in thermal blankets, sporting 1000 mile stares. I quietly remind myself of the Kanza's extremely high attrition rate. Stay focused, eat, drink, and pedal. 

Shortly after the water oasis and before CP#2 at Cottonwood Falls, someone poured sand in my bib shorts, and used a cheese grater on my sit bone area while they were at it. I stopped, dug through my gas tank, locating the lifesaving ointment that is Chamois Butt'r. The world just looked better after that. I soloed my way into Cottonwood Falls rolling across the mats at 12hrs:32min. I found my SAG section, and once again Cynthia and Connie turned me around in stellar fashion. I clamped on the headlight, 5 minutes in and out. I felt good and was confident in my finish capability. 

Just out of Cottonwood Falls you start a 10 plus mile push to the North. The roads are not bad, but the wind, combined with the rollers and 13 hrs. of fatigue, make it tough work. At mile 170, 14 hours after I left Emporia, I turned East and found some reprieve from the wind. I joined forces with a couple of riders in this section and we quickly found our way to Lake Kahola, a beautiful change of scenery. At 15 hours we hit Americus, the lights came on and a 20 mph pace line commenced. We could smell the barn. 

Mile 180- I've been pedaling for over 14-1/2 Hours

Just outside Americus, the 3 of us became 5. One of the riders, a single speeder, pulled up beside me and said "Hey Don! It's me Eddie from Cedar Cross. I've been chasing you f*@#ers for the last 10 miles! Eddie and I finished the grueling 113 mile Cedar Cross together a few weeks earlier. Along with Eddie, there was a female rider on a new Salsa Warbird. I would later figure out this was none other than Andrea Cohen. Andrea and Eddie turned up the volume to 11 and it was game on! We hammer across the I-35 overpass and Eddie and I hit the ESU campus with boosters on. I guided Eddie through ESU and into the finish line chute. I know it's just a bike race, but the Dirty Kanza finish line chute has magical powers. The town of Emporia as a whole, make you feel like a total rock star, each and every finisher. I see a young lady with her hand out and slow to tag it. Eddie continues the sprint and hits the mat a second ahead of me.

The phenomenal Kristi Mohn gives me a hug, hands me the glass, and puts a smile on my face 15 hours, 44 minutes, and 51 seconds in the making. Kristi, Jim, Tim, Lelan, Emporia, thank you.

Once again, as Janeen Mcrae so eloquently put it, "In short, I am baptised"

A shout out to all the photographers that help us relive this event and share with the world what we've experienced. Go ahead and grab that screen shot, but when the dust settles, find a few pics that are important to you and buy them. Linda Guerette, Eric Benjamin, Jason Ebberts and all the photographers that worked so hard, THANK YOU.

I want to leave you with a shot from Jason Ebberts of TBL Photography. If you want to see what "giving it all" looks like, look no further than this shot of Yuri Hauswald, the 2015 Dirty Kanza champion.


  1. Great report! Congratulations on another strong race and finish! I love the part at the beginning about needing a challenge and how few we HAVE TO face these days. Early in my bike riding I read something similar in a book by Marla Streb and it really spoke to me. Here's to continuing to find and face new challenges!

    Oh, and lidocaine-laced Chamois Butt'r...I think it could be a thing.

  2. Kate,
    Thanks for the kind words. I always enjoy your blog. The Lidocaine Chamois Butt'r......YES!

  3. That elderly man is my Grandpa. He was waiting there to cheer me up the hill. I didn't make it to the hill but told him I'd go down this summer so he can cheer me up it.

  4. Hi CT,
    That's awesome. I appreciate every cheering fan on the course. I'm sorry you didn't make to Madison. Best wishes on your future endeavors!