Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 3 - Tahoe Trail 100k

The Starting Line

Among a seriously strong front row were Dave Wiens, Ted King, and Pro racers Eric Bostrom, Ryan Steers, and Jesse Anthony.  Levi Leipheimer was up there as well.

Levi is called up.

"Doper!" someone bellowed.

Starting Line

The guy was one row up and off to the left, fiddling with his Garmin. He said it like he was typing a hateful response on social media in a dark corner of his Mom and Dad's basement.

It wasn't my place to be, but I was embarrassed and annoyed.

This is not a story about me defending Levi. I'm not sure why Levi was racing this day, maybe Lifetime paid him to be there, maybe another entity paid him to be there, maybe he just likes racing his bike. What does it matter.

I have to ask, at what point do we forgive and forget? Even if this is your opinion of him, is it necessary to publicly announce your opinion in such a situation? 

Is this guy still pissed at Mark McGuire? 

You wanna be a douche-bag? Practice politics on the weekends, not bike racing.

We're Off to the Races

The Race

It's crisp this July morning. We're at Northstar Lodge, just southwest of Truckee CA. The starting line elevation is around 6,000 feet above sea level, with the race course topping out at approximately 7,300 feet. A 1/4 mile of climbing is not a big deal unless it happens to be compressed into the first 4 miles of the race.

It was.

The climb quickly erased the chill that a short descent had inflicted upon me. A 15% grade is good for that.

The 50k racers are sharing the same 31 mile race course with the 100k racers. It's a little crowded on the first few climbs, but still room for maneuvers. I'd reviewed the course profile and gauged my climbing effort accordingly.

The first lap stats.

Forty plus days have passed without a drop of rain in this area. 

A wise someone watered down the early stages of the climb out of the resort, beyond that, it's REALLY dusty. Marbles in flour dusty.  

The early race rider density made a few sections more sketchy, and left me wanting for a Harry Hogge moment.

"You better go high Don, pick a line you can ride through!"

Alas, I was on my own and riding blind. I nearly put tire tracks on a less fortunate rider that fell in the midst of the dust bowl. 

The course starts descending at mile 5 as I work my way around the base of Mt. Pluto, en route to the lake shore village of Carnelian Heights. I use the descent to gel and take in water laced with electrolytes. My Garmin alarm is set on 30 minute intervals and I gel accordingly, with intent to take in +200 calories per hour.

This is beautiful country. The course is a sweet mix of fire road and jeep trails interspersed with mildly technical single track. 


Around mile 16 I see my Kuat teammate, Dathan, sidelined with a rear tire puncture. I stop and offer assistance. He ask only for my spare CO2 cartridge and sends me on my way, not wanting to jeopardize my chances for a Leadville entry. 

At mile 17 there's another climb of substance up to Robie Park. By mile 19 you top out and start a 6 mile fire road descent that has me feeling like Leo hanging off the bow of the Titanic. 

This passes all too quickly. 

The final punch before a the start/finish pass is a 900 ft. kick in the ass skirting around Lookout Mountain. The first 1-1/2 miles of the climb is solid double digit grade, the second half tapers off to extremely difficult climbing. This climb is hurts, even on the first lap.

There's some good fun to be had in the plummet back to Northstar Village. I enjoy this section immensely.

The switchbacks on the way down to Northstar Village

Dathan stashed our food and drink near the start finish line, and I quickly pit and reload. I was solidly in race mode with little signs of fatigue. My training preparation was paying off. 

Full Race Stats

The second lap was easier. Not necessarily "easier" from an effort perspective, but definitely easier from a "knowing the course" perspective. This knowledge was bolstered by considerably less traffic on the second lap. 

Around mile 53 of the race course I stop at a neutral support station. My rear derailleur has been squalling for the last hour. A victim of the extreme dust. The kind gentlemen quickly lubed it and my chain, while I downed a GU and coke. 

I was on the home stretch. The only climb of substance was that 900 ft wall I mentioned earlier.

"Hey! Way to ride strong!" a fellow racer yelled.

I responded in kind. I'm consistently impressed by the caring and inspirational people I meet racing bicycles.

Home Stretch

I was climbing at a solid pace with none of those cramping twinges rearing their ugly head. I railed down the switchbacks and hit the pavement on the back side of the lodge. Seeing the finish chute always brings me joy. 

Full aero, or near collapse. Unsure.

Dathan had repaired his puncture and whittled away at the gap produced by this delay. I knew he was charging toward the finish line, which I'm sure provided additional motivation. 

True to form, he crossed the finished line just a few minutes after I did. I was fortunate to hold him off that long. 

Did I mention it was dusty?

A few minutes later my traveling companion and friend of 40+ years, John Long crossed the finish line. I'm just thankful that I didn't look that dirty at the finish.

John Long at the Finish

We wash the bikes, head to the lodge for a quick shower, then return to the finish line area for awards. 

I still need a Leadville coin.

If you're one of the 3.5 people that read my race reports, you know how this ends. But, for that new reader, here's the details.

Each Leadville qualifier race gives the racers an opportunity to gain entry to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. The total number of Leadville entry slots for each qualifying race is based on the number of entrants at the qualifying event. The coins (Leadville entry slots) are distributed by virtue of race finish time, per age group first, then a portion are distributed via lottery to the remaining racers (pull a number out of a hat). 

The entry slots go fairly deep into each age group. My group 50-59 year old, had 76 finishers. I finished 25th in the group. 

The coins ran out at 23. 

Disappointed, yes. Fraught with grief, no.

I still had an opportunity to gain entry in the drawing.

There were 70 slots available for the drawing. I was not worried.

I got this.

Around number 35, I internally rationalized.

"How many idiots want to race 103 miles at +10,000 feet of elevation??" I'm gonna get in.

I'm confident my number will be called soon. 

Someone to my right, they got called, they're all happy and hollering. Someone to my left, they got called, high fivin' each other.

I dislike them. A lot.

At 60, I was depressed, just wanting to bury my face in some ice cream. At 65, I was pretty sure this trip to Tahoe was a complete failure at gaining entry. 

I was called at 68. 

Ken Chlouber and Myself

This trip was a righteous adventure, giving me an opportunity to experience the Leadville Trail 100 MTB for a fourth time.

It was worth every bit of it.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 4 - Lake County High

"Who needs a push?"

"You're almost there! Who needs a push?" shouts a race volunteer stationed at the Lake County High School hill. 

The Monster didn't respond. Not sure if she didn't want a push, or maybe she was just really focused on this last climb of a long day.

"She wants a push!" I announced. The volunteer obliged.

I've had a few of those pushes in the last 4 years, and that feeling is permanently etched in a quiet corner of my brain.

This hill is significant. At the top you can see the funnel formed by a welcoming crowd of friends, family, and loved ones. You can see that red line in the middle of 6th street. You can see the arch with Old Glory waving you in. You can see the timing mat that stops the clock on your day. You have a year to come back and trip it a little earlier, but on this day in August, it means you've completed a ridiculously difficult, breathtakingly beautiful, enormously satisfying thing.

You're allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. To rejoice. To rest. To cry.   

You're part of the family. 

I'm unsure what my 20 year old self was doing August of '86, but I'm 100% certain it wasn't entering ultra endurance mountain bike races, as a college student. The Monster has some strong positive influences in her life. She has done, and will go on to do more remarkable things.

Melisa, thanks so much for sharing your finish line with me. 

Official Time for Melisa 10:12:14 - for Don 10:13:35

We should all be so happy to finish.

The Monster and I
Left to Right: Elden, Melisa, Don, and Lisa
It would be remiss of me if I failed to acknowledge the monumental role that Mr. Dathan Atchison played in my 2016 Leadville race. In April of this year he allowed me to tag along to the Austin Rattler  where Dathan, by virtue of finish time, gained a Leadville entry. I was not as fortunate. In July, Dathan was the architect of our Tour of the West trip that included the Tahoe Trail 100k. It was in Tahoe that I gained entry to Leadville. 

Dathan is in street clothes for the finish line picture below because he had 1-1/2 hrs. to kill after he finished. This guy, my Team Kuat teammate, my friend, finished his first Leadville in 8hr:44m! Big buckle this guy! 

Dathan's finish time does not surprise me. He's a fierce competitor and genuine man. Thank you!

Myself and Dathan Atchison

I head home and look forward to Leadville 2017. 

I rest for FOUR long days and Friday, August 19th, head off to Lincoln, Nebraska for Gravel Worlds. 

I should write a blog about that trip.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 3 - Can't Touch This

The view from St. Kevin's

No Trespassing

The Monster and I are on Tennessee Creek road, just off the base of St. Kevin's. The gradual arc to the South gives us a taste of Northerly wind from the Hwy. 24 valley.

It's a sublime feeling that tailwind.

A third rider joins our effort, we're 5 miles from the carpet, and a bit of "finish line high" enters our bloodstream. There's a gradual descent on the pavement down to the intersection of Turquoise Lake Rd., and it's time for a big gear. A twinge in my left hamstring tells me to unclip and stretch my leg......bad idea. The stretching initiated what could only be described as a thousand little knives being buried to the bolster. I'm working my hamstring with my left hand, eventually getting to the point I can clip back in. In the interim, The Monster and the other rider have worked around my slowing pace. Fortunately, the cramp subsides and I'm able to do work again. 

The three of us pass through the intersection, charging into the B road paralleling the tracks. Knowing this section well, I hit it hard and fast.

The Monster and I scramble up the rocky climb to the Boulevard proper. Beyond "minimal" I don't recall much of our conversation in this section. In 2015 Alban Lakata blasted up the Boulevard at 17.3 mph, because he's the "Albanator" and has that whole "SKYNET" thing behind him. (Not to be confused with team SKY, that would be the "Froomenator")

We're a bit slower, let's just say 50%ish. The Boulevard, ridiculously difficult. So close, yet so very far. 


The Long and Winding Road

In the early switchbacks of the Columbine climb, just above the Colorado Trail, I'm passed by a singlespeeder. He's climbing out of the saddle, his black kit form fitted to a lean muscular build, I know this kit, I know this rider, It's Elden "Fat Cyclist" Nelson. Elden has, via fundraiser, committed himself to the service of his lovely wife Lisa. His job, a domestique for Lisa in her bid to set the women's singlespeed course record. 

You Know What Time It Is?

I say hello, and ask "How's Lisa doing?"

"She's about 3 seconds behind me" he replied. 

I say hello to Lisa and wish her well, watching the two of them seemingly effortlessly disappear into a sea of riders ahead. 

The trees slowly disappear, followed shortly thereafter by the muscles in my legs. It's then I find myself at the Goat Trail. Founder Ken Chlouber is there, typically perched on his ATV, shouting words of, ahem, "encouragement." Most would consider it heckling, I take it as a compliment. Ken, he doesn't really care how you take it, just keep your ass moving.   

Columbine, Near the Turnaround

After 30ish minutes of working my way up the conga line, I remount and make the push over to Columbine aid station. This is the where the out and back changes from out to back. As a rule, you can double your time at Columbine and estimate your finish. Mean, median, mode, it's irrelevant at this point. I'm off pace, I know it, and I try to not let it consume me.  

My Grandson Liam, having learned I'm behind schedule at Columbine.
He takes my racing very seriously. 

I enjoy the words of encouragement from inbound traffic and act in kind. The reward for that 7 mile grind up is 7 miles of "how bad to I want to warp my brake rotors."  

I make conversation with a few riders en route to Twin Lakes, cross the dam, and find my crew. 

"Do you have a coke that's not warm?" I asked. I hope that didn't come out hateful. They quickly help me swap hydration packs and resupply me with waffles and gels. 

"How long have I been here?" I asked Cynthia.

Her reply, "It's time to go!" I complied, trying to stay optimistic, but I had a bit of dread in my mind. 

The windy flat work and the Powerline climb lie ahead. I make good time through the singletrack, and quickly find my way back to the Pipeline aid station. I didn't need fuel or drink, so I headed to the pavement. I found a few riders to work with, other trains were too fast for me, and I was left solo. I thought the wind was tough until I turned left at mile 76, It felt like an invisible wall, or maybe I was towing a cinder block, or a mobile home. Thankfully this drive West was short lived and I soon find shelter in the trees as Hwy. 300 curves around to the base of Powerline.

The Powerline climb is intimidating, but I was feeling better, rode the sections I could, and pushed the bike up the rest. The monotony of this climb is broken up by a few false flats, allowing short reprieves.

I know this climb well, and welcome mile 82.5 with open arms. I take the hardtail beating that Forest Rd. 105 dishes out and do my best to stay alert. With a 180° turn on Hagerman, I breathe a little easier and enjoy the ride.

 And then this happened. 

This will take you to the finish line.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 2 - Testosterone Tim

In April of 2016, it was the Austin Rattler, I wasn't fast enough for an age group slot, wasn't lucky enough for a lottery slot. Then it was 100k at the Tahoe Trail, on a righteous tour of the West.

I had a stellar race at Tahoe, still wasn't fast enough, but lady luck tossed me a coin.

I'm toeing the line at my 4th Leadville Trail 100 MTB. 
I'm a lucky man.

Photo Credit- Eddie Clark Media

The Final 10 Miles

For 30 minutes The Monster and I have been trudging up to Carter Summit aid station. We make a quick pit and down a coke. After a minor climb out of Carter aid, there's flowing descents on the 2 miles over to the intersection of Uncle Buds Rd. The Monster demonstrates her descending prowess, and I do my best to keep up. Immediately following this intersection there's a tough bump up to the Kevin's descent. 

"Don't wait on me!" she announces. Following up with a "I'll catch up." 

After seeing her enduroesque bike handling minutes earlier, I had little doubt. 

I scramble on up the loose rocks and start that sweet release signifying the end is near, the Kevin's descent. I embrace the occasional drainage cut, feeling a little Red Bullish. With the turn at Gulch road the bottom drops out. That 12-14% gut punch from this morning, is now rutted nirvana.  I had 2 immediate goals, no broken bones and beating The Monster to the cattle guard. 

No broken bones, check. In the final downward pitch, she's there, I hear her coming, she passes, and it's well before the cattle guard. 

I feel old. I feel old and slow. 

We wind our way out of the trees, and get a taste of that wind.

That tailwind. That glorious tailwind.

Race Morning

After 2 trips back to the car, each time retrieving the essential items that my 5AM mind failed to gather. After as many trips to the porta-john, I'm in the green corral, and I'm somewhat jealous. A guy near me is outfitted in a thrift store bath robe. It's one of those full length avocado gems, you know, like your Grandma would wear all day when it's cold. It's around 35°F, and that my friends, is Grandma's robe weather. 

My steadfast crew chief, Cynthia, has done her part. She's delivered me to the starting line, and will then make her way to Twin Lakes to support my outbound and inbound stops there. The rest is up to me. I need to push myself, push myself really hard for 1 mile, then repeat that 103 times. I want a single digit finish. To finish this race is tough, to finish it in less than 10 hrs. is a substantial challenge.

On the Starting Line - Leadville 2016
It's nearly show time. My position in the green corral ends up silver after the gates drop and the file's compressed. 

The Start. Photo Credit: Eddie Clark Media

With a shotgun blast by Josh, hell hath no fury like the Leadville "neutral" roll-out. I recently heard a wise man suggest a progressive wave start for Leadville. I so look forward to that day. Beware of Testosterone Tim, he shows up to the corral at the last minute, then plows through a sea of mountain bikers to get to the leading edge of your corral. Timmy's gonna beat you to the railroad tracks, whatever it takes. Timmy will end your day early in his banzai run to the base of St. Kevin's.

Starting Line to the St. Kevin's Turn

In hindsight, I'm going to have to be more aggressive in the run to St. Kevin's turn. As you can see above, I'm trending the wrong way. I was feeling lightheaded early in the race, specifically on the Kevin's climb. Maybe that was my pace problem?

55 minutes after leaving 6th street I'm carving corners on the paved plunge to the tip of Turquoise Lake.

It's still cold. 

This cold is magnified by the 40 mph descent, in spandex. 

The Team Kuat vest, it's a keeper.

You'll work hard on the Sugar Loaf climb, but there's a reward. If the weather cooperates, and it did on race day, you're treated to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful vistas the Colorado Rockies has to offer. The sun shines warm on your chest, the race is still young, and you've ticked a couple of the climbing boxes. You feel like you're on top of the world. You're not, that comes later.

Sugar Loaf Ascent - Photo Credit: Eddie Clark Media

I'm a minute off my 2015 pace descending the brutally treacherous Powerline descent. I'm just too damn cautious. 

Base of Powerline, Outbound

I hit the paved flat and start the TT over to Pipeline. I feel strong through the singletrack and pool table smooth gravel over to Twin Lakes. Cynthia and the Atchison family have me in and out of the pit in a minute or less. 

Cynthia turning me around in short order. Twin Lakes Outbound.

I love the carnival on the outbound side of Twin Lakes. It the closest thing I've found to that warm fuzzy Dirty Kanza finish chute. A few more minutes and I'm at the base of Columbine. Team GU extraordinaire Yuri Hauswald is there. Yuri's shouting words of encouragement to the racers. I appreciate his words.

Things are looking up. Way up.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 1 - Of Monsters and Men

Race Day

"How's your descending?" asked The Monster.

"Average" I replied, internally thinking that I may not even meet that criteria.

"It's the only thing I'm good at" she says.

It wasn't braggadocio, but more acknowledgement of other perceived shortcomings.  In the following minutes I witness firsthand the merit of her statement. 

Earlier, I make the near 180° turn from Hagerman Pass gravel to the sweet pavement at Turquoise Lake Rd. I relax for a moment on the descent to the tip of Turquoise Lake, mentally preparing for the push up to the Carter aid station. I'm doing my best to stay positive, but disappointed in my race performance, wallowing in a bit of self pity......okay, more akin to drowning.

Leadville is an emotional roller coaster for most riders, and it's commonplace for joy and elation to quickly turn to the depths of hell with something as simple as rounding a corner. It was here The Monster rolled up beside me. I recognized her kit, bolstered by a brief interaction with her the day previous in Leadville.

With light conversation about her age, her college efforts and accomplishments behind us, I could see The Monster was ready for the suffering to stop. Unfortunately we had a substantial climb staring us in the face. At the top, the Carter aid station. Knowing well my chances of a 9hr:5Xm finish were gone, I shifted focus to this young lady. She has a good heart, and you know this within a few minutes of meeting her. As we trudge up to Carter I mentally and verbally committed to delivering her to the finish line.

"You're going to make me cry." she blurted.

I responded with "Nothing wrong with crying, but I want you to save it for the finish line."  


Wednesday Dathan and I rode the rec trail from Frisco to Breck, climbed to Peaks Trail, then descended back to Frisco. It was a beautiful day, with a multitude of hikers on the trail with their dogs. A righteous stretch of the legs. 

Peaks Trailhead

Friday, we drove to Leadville for packet pickup and the racers meeting. 

Clinton Gulch Reservoir

After packet pickup we went for spin. I'd mapped a ride that would allow Dathan to experience the Powerline descent prior to the race. We parked at Turquoise Lake dam and worked our way up to Hagerman Pass Rd., then climbed Sugarloaf. Near the summit we were joined by a fellow rider and the three of us made our way down Powerline. Dathan now had a feel for this somewhat treacherous section of the race course. His descending is spot-on anyway, but knowing the course is even better.

Powerline Pre-Ride
We make our way back to Turquoise Lake dam and head for the racers meeting at Lake Co. High School. After the meeting, it's back to Frisco, eat dinner, complete race prep, and turn in early. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 2 - Off the Back

Myself, Dathan, and John are leaving Leadville, driving North on 24 after pre-riding sections of the LT100MTB course. We're en route to I-70 at Eagle-Vail, and it's been a long day.  The beautiful sunset has gave way to darkness as we wind our way up the valley on this two-lane mountain highway. We talk about the ride, and how the altitude crushed us on the push up St. Kevin. 

With limited opportunities, Dathan takes advantage of a short straight stretch to pass a car. It was a safe pass with no risk beyond everyday driving. Immediately after returning to the right lane, the car we'd just overtaken begins the most erratic behavior. Flashing the headlights between high and low beam. Aggressively approaching our vehicle, doing their best to come up beside us. I was convinced that our pass had somehow offended the driver, and they were in the process of showing us just how offended they were. It made me nervous, and I did little to hide it. Dathan done his best to get away from what we perceived as a serious case of road rage. He sped up. The car sped up. He aggressively slowed and pulled to the shoulder. The car aggressively slowed and pulled to the shoulder. I had visions of newspaper articles detailing the bullet ridden truck, chalk outlines of our bodies carefully drawn on the pavement, that place where we fell, running from the road raging maniac, gasping our last breath. 

Finally, Dathan had his fill. We stopped. We stopped in the middle of our lane. The car pulled along side, rolling down the passenger window as it approached. Dathan lowers his window. I await the barrage of expletives, the sound of semi-automatic gunfire.....


He then sped away.

Let me process this a moment.

Okay, well, umm. Wow. I feel somewhat foolish. More than usual foolish. 

I feel foolish because......because it's MY bike on the back position. It's my bike, and there's only one reason it's falling off the rack, the back tire scrubbing the pavement as we cruise down the highway at 50 mph. It fell because I failed to secure the rear bike tire. 

Luckily the front tire restraint on the Kuat rack is designed to capture the wheel in the cradle, preventing the bike from falling completely off, cartwheeling down the road. Wreaking havoc to the bike, and even worse, other motorist. We pulled to the shoulder and I went back and surveyed the damage. I was lucky, the only damage of substance was the rear tire. 

Like asking that not-pregnant woman, "When are you due?"

Not one of my finer moments.

Go easy on the left hand corners

I properly secure the rear wheel, and we're off to western Colorado for the night. We have the breadth of Utah and Nevada to cover the next day.

That's right, we rock a selfie stick. Try waiting for someone to take a picture of you in Ghost Rock Utah

Myself and John near Green River Utah

Myself and Dathan near Green River Utah

Nevada has the loneliest highway stretch, Highway 50. 

The name is still applicable.

We arrive at the Reno airport and pick up Brad, our 4th riding partner, then head down to Northstar village, located between Truckee, CA and lake Tahoe. It's late Thursday evening. It's good to be out of the truck, and it's really good to have all 4 bikes on the rack.

Northstar Lodge

 Let's Race!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 1 - Scene of the Crime

This mountain biking tour of the west included a Leadville Trail 100 course preview ride, a Leadville Race Series qualifier at Lake Tahoe, and a stop in Moab just because. I'll start in Denver.

"Will the owner of a black crewcab Ford pickup, Missouri license number XXX-XXX, please report to the customer service desk" the REI Denver public address speaker repeated, for a second or third time. After finding a few discount rack bargains, and proceeding to the checkout line, John and I noticed Dathan had disappeared. We assumed he'd went to customer service to see what the page was all about. 

John and I lingered in the main foyer for a few minutes, then made our way outside and awaited Dathan's return. John's phone rang, it was Dathan, and I watched and listened as his facial expression and tone of voice made the spiral from lighthearted jest to disbelief to anger. 

"Somebody stole my bike!" John exclaimed. 

Our mountain bike tour of the west was off to a rough start.

John and I made haste to the parking lot where we found Dathan talking with a REI representative. Both of them staring at the cut cable and empty slot on the 4-bike Kuat rack. 

The Grisly Scene

It's 11:30am, all bright and sunshiny, in the MIDDLE OF DENVER! We paid to park in the semi-secure lot adjacent to the store! Thievery is supposed to happen under the cover of darkness, in seedy out-of-the-way places.

Innocence lost.

John's Salsa Spearfish had been plucked from rack. The perp cut the cable, and likely pushed the bike over to the nearby rec. trail and rode away.

The Thief Thought We Might Not Notice

I hope the thief has flats and saddle sores on every ride from now on!

After several phone calls (police, wife, insurance) the realization settled in. John needed to find another bike. The show must go on. REI offered him a reasonable discount, but didn't have the bike John wanted. We headed over to Wheat Ridge Cyclery and John wasted little time picking out his new ride. While the bike shop prepped the bike we made a trip to the local police station where John filled out the stolen bike paperwork. We did find this helpful flyer in the station waiting area.

The PSA 

With the stolen bike properly reported, we drive back to Wheat Ridge Cyclery and pick up John's new whip. Time was of the essence as we'd planned to do a Leadville ride en route to Grand Junction. 

John's New Ride

The rack is full again.

We make the beautiful drive down to Leadville, arriving way too late in the day to carry out the pre-ride as planned. We have a couple of hours of daylight and use it to grind our way up St. Kevin. That first climb at +10,000ft. always makes you feel like a diet is in order. 

St. Kevin Scenic Overlook
I originally planned to ride the LT100MTB course from 6th street to the base of Powerline, then take the highway back to Leadville. With waning daylight, we cut it short and returned to Leadville after descending to Turquoise Lake.

Turquoise Lake Dam

The mountain air, the beautiful scenery, and bike riding were good for the soul after the day we'd experienced. We made it back to Leadville at dusk, loaded up the bikes and headed toward I-70 by way of Minturn. 

It's at this point we're attacked by a psychotic driver........

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dirty Kanza 2016

♪♫ Intro ♫♪

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a confidant
"Thank you for being a friend"- Andrew Gold

May 31, 2014
Main Street music fades to the ratchet of my freehub and intermittent conversations of passersby as I push my bike through a parking lot off Merchant street.  I'm feeling high, not Denver dispensary high, but "race the sun" high. A young couple approaches, children in tow, "Thank you! Thank you for coming to Emporia!" the mother announces. She explains how much they appreciate the race and its positive impact on the community. A "thank you" from a complete stranger, a "thank you" for riding my bike in the beautiful flint hills. This is what makes Dirty Kanza special. 

That's why I keep coming back to gravel.

August 21, 2015
The evening prior to Gravel Worlds, team Kuat is doing our best to park the sprinter van in a far too small space near the Lincoln Nebraska downtown Holiday Inn. With the van situated for the evening, I notice Jim, Tim, and Kristi are arriving as well. Kristi makes haste over to us and gives me one of her trademark hugs. This act caught me by surprise, and touched my heart. Earlier that evening, at Cycle Works, Dan Hughes and Yuri Hauswald take time to share and explain intricate details of their gravel bikes to any and all. Their passion for riding is obvious. 
That's why I keep coming back to gravel.

April 30, 2016
Still recovering from my Trans Iowa effort, I'm driving The Epic course, providing SAG to the field. I come upon the tandem team of Jeff & Carrie Sona tending to a low tire pressure issue due to a sketchy valve stem. I top the tire off with my floor pump and give them a spare valve stem for insurance. They thank me and ride on. A few days later Carrie messages me and wants to know if I plan to attend Cedar Cross, she wants to bring me a package of valve stems for helping them out. I inform her it was a gift. 
That's why I keep coming back to gravel.

L to R Don Buttram, Jim Phillips, Jamie Wynne - Photo Credit: Jason Ebberts

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes, the flags go up
"The Distance"- Cake

June 4, 2016
Team Kuat was in tight formation during the melee of the notoriously non-neutral "neutral" roll-out down Commercial street. A wee hour deluge left a wading pool where a road used to be in the lowlands adjacent to the Cottonwood River. Our first taste of gravel, a fording. A few more miles, and in the distance I see riders stopped, left side of the road, right side of the road, middle of the road. I was dumbfounded, why is everyone stopping? It was about that time that I noticed the gritty buildup on my chainstays, I see the looks from the derailed riders. Their faces covered in "it's too early in the race for this to happen!" Mother nature was serving up drive-train destruction. I dare not shift, held my breath, soft pedaled like the first day of spin class. And then, as quickly as it appeared, it was gone. With the exception of a ghost shift or three, I was spat out the other side unscathed. A Jim Phillips road kill hop shed the remaining crumbs of destruction. 

Collin Little fording the Verdigris River

We regroup and braid a path southwest around I-35. Our pace, while slightly aggressive, finds consensus. Mile 23 has us climbing up to the cow pens and we start the decent that eventually leads us to the next fording, the Verdigris River. This section of the 200 mile route is nearly the same as years before. I expect wet feet and a muddy climb out. Photographers love this crossing, and we love seeing the familiar faces of Jason Ebberts and Linda Guerrette. 

So if you want me off your back
Well come on an' let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
"Should I stay or should I go"- The Clash

Three hours and fifteen minutes into the ride and we're at Madison High (mile 48) for checkpoint #1. Josh directs us to the Kuat van and we waste little time refueling. The short out and back to CP#1 allows some face time with riders ahead and behind our pace, as well as some tense traffic maneuvers. 

Jamie Wynne is greeted by a young fan at CP#1 Madison, KS

The Texaco Hill descent, at mile 66, is rough and aggressive. It was near the bottom, just prior to a cattle guard, I see a small crowd tending to a downed rider. As I got closer I notice several of the bystanders on cell phones. With 10 years of firefighting and EMS under my belt, I could read the gravity of the situation. I knew several of the riders tending the injured, quickly assessed the situation in my head, and decided to ride on. But as I pass close by, I could see what produced the serious tone. A rider had crashed hard on the descent, with substantial damage to his face. He was semi-conscious, and bleeding profusely. I rode a few feet past this scene and stopped. I couldn't do it, I couldn't ride on without checking to see if I could help. I needed to know that the crowd included persons with medical emergency experience. A quick chat with Josh Schrock, and I was assured there were qualified people on scene. I would later find out that the injured rider was Thomas Adams, from Stillwater, OK. While Thomas suffered substantial injury, (broken jaw, teeth kocked out, and facial lacerations) he's currently on the mend. For that, I'm so thankful. Casual Cyclist (Bobby Thompson) was one of many that came to Thomas' aid. Well done Bobby. Read his story.

Mile 70 - Teter Hill Road - Photo Credit: Linda Guerrette 

We'd previously discussed a team effort to race the sun, and I knew that would be tough. The chances of 4 teammates maintaining the same pace for 200 miles of gravel are low, but the attempt was made. Collin is antsy, briefly off the front, then easing back. Around mile 85 he discusses pace with me. Collin wants to collect the 1,000 mile Weiss Goblet and beat the sun. I admire the goal, and offer my suggested pace to get the job done. "You need to average above 14.25 to have a chance to beat sundown", I offered, "and we're currently at a 14 mph average." Collin falls back a bit and discusses his plan with Kuat teammate Jim Phillips. A few minutes later he comes around me, hell bent for Eureka. I wish him well.

When I grow up, I want a trading card. 

DK Cover model, Jamie Wynne, Gutting it up Teter Hill

My celebrity friend, sans beard.

♪♫ Bridge ♫♪

The tales they tell of men
I'm not waiting on a lady
I'm just waiting on a friend
"Waiting on a friend" - The Rolling Stones

The northerly wind, like a light push from the hand of a friend, made the final 10 miles to Eureka a joy, but we all knew what's coming. Collin had put some distance on Jim and I since his departure, and was in and out of the 100 mile CP#2 at Eureka about 15 minutes ahead of us. Upon arrival, Jim hit a low point. The wind and heat had shoved him to the back of the pain cave. Jim Bruer of Stillwater, came over and offered Jim a cool place to rest in a nearby motor-home. Later, I find that he'd received a spa treatment. We rest a bit and wait for Jamie to join us before the northerly push back to Madison.

Cooling my undercarriage at the 100 mile CP#2 - Eureka, KS - Photo Credit: Carrie Sona

Collin Little & Mark Gullet at CP#2 Eureka, KS

Josh performs his bike maintenance magic, and me, I drank and ate, and drank, and ate. Honestly, I was feeling good. In endurance sports there's an old adage, "No matter how good or bad you feel, it won't last." Jamie arrives and begins the rest and refuel process. We're nearing departure from CP#2 when Andrea Cohen comes over to the Kuat pop-up to visit with us. We invite her to join in the push back to the red brick pavers on Main St. Madison. 
She accepts. 
Little did I know, her addition is key to my DK200 finish.

I don't know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that'll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave
"Running On Empty" - Jackson Browne

The push East out of Eureka is hot, but we're fresh and not yet battling the wind. Fellow Missouri cyclist and friend, David Pryor joins our cycling soirée for a few miles, then blasts on to Madison. All the fun and games come to a grinding halt about mile 128 when we turn North. Like so many others, we stop and cool off at Rocky Ford. At mile 131, just south of hwy. 54, Jim and Jamie decide to call it a day and find SAG at the intersection of 54 and Rd. 387. I ride on North with Andrea. Collin is 45 minutes off the front, battling the wind, heat, and humidity en route to Madison.

Endurance cycling fact: Your thirst increases exponentially for every mile you know you're out of water. I've depleted my 3 bottle supply and this weighs heavy on my mind. Andrea gave me a small portion of her remaining small portion of water. "It's got electrolytes in it," she tells me. I would have drank it with dead flies in it. We connect with Bobby Wintle and Seth Wood somewhere in the desert between Rocky Ford and Madison. I see the voluminous bottles attached to Seth Wood's  fork, and study them intently for sloshing. No sloshing found. The ever generous Seth repeatedly offers me some of his remaining water supply, but I didn't want to jeopardize his race. We connect with Josh Lederman and he shares a portion of his water supply with me. This section is dry, if you haven't determined from my dehydration ramble. If only the Kuat van were here with water and gummy worms for all. We're a mere 3 miles from CP#3 (mile 161) and there's a farmhouse with a table and a hose near the mailbox. I drank 20 ounces in a fashion akin to a world championship round of Gelande Quaffing.  

We pedal on to Madison.

It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all
The opposite of love's indifference
So pay attention now
"Stubborn Love" - The Lumineers

This was a dark point for me. I had pains from my temples to my toes. The bucket of water I downed back at the farmhouse didn't help my appetite, and I need to eat. This was a dark point for Collin as well. I found him kicked back in the Kuat van at CP#3. He's been waiting for me to arrive. I rest, refuel, and adjust my front brake. Collin is ready to ride and heads out 20 minutes ahead of me. I wait for Andrea. On the way out of Madison, Big Dave shouts to me, informing that Bobby and Seth have left a few minutes earlier. I want to catch them for company during darkness.

Andrea and I have newfound energy after CP#3 and make short work of a fairly aggressive climb at mile 164. As the night comes we connect with Bobby and Seth. I love the synergy of our group, and I really love that we're on the final leg of the day with 40-ish miles to go. In the final moments of daylight, around mile 178, we stop to light up and eat a bite. Our friend Shawn O'Mara rides up to our party. We are 5 strong. In Shawn's own words, "After hours upon hours of solo rolling, coming upon old friends (& new) in the dark Kanza night was an oasis for my cycling soul." We are determined, and push hard to Emporia. The final miles of Dirty Kanza are always special, but in the company of good friends, even more so.

The Finish Push with the Emporia Express

This group worked so well together. A gravel ballet begins with each member taking a pull, then bowing to the back. It's truly a thing of beauty. We're all rewarded for our work buy pushing the groups average mph to 15.2 in the last 26 miles. On road R, just south of the Neosho river, around mile 197, I see Collin just ahead. Our group is wound like an 8-day clock and I invite him to jump on the train to Commercial St. He told me his pace was set, and he was doing all he could. After watching the lights of Emporia for what seemed like hours, we enter the ESU tunnel under I-35, and chug up the Highland St. hill. A quick tour thru campus, and behold, what we've been waiting 17-1/2 hours for, the Dirty Kanza finish chute. 

Music. Hand tags over the barrier. Warm fuzzies.

We can rest now. 
Hugs. That glass.

I tell Kid Riemer, pointing to Andrea "That girl, she's straight-up carbon fiber." he says, "Yes, I know."

I see Tim, and ask where I can find Kristi. 

I need a hug.

Myself and Andrea at the Finish

 ♪♫ Coda ♫♪

In a chair at the mouth of the Sunflower pop-up with Tim, Dan, Jon, and others, I'm offered the remains of a whiskey bottle, I accepted.

My 4th, and most enjoyable day on the Kanza.

That's why I keep coming back to gravel.

We know the game and we're gonna play it
And if you ask me how I'm feeling
Don't tell me you're too blind to see
"Never Gonna Give You Up" - Rick Astley

If you want the classical composition to my garage band power chords, check out Janeen McCrae's version of DK here.

For the love of the ride, read Yuri Hauswald's words.

For perspective from the leading edge of the race, read Mike Easter's 

For all things gravel, check out The Gravel Cyclist

Behind the Lens

Linda Guerrette - Linda Guerrette Photography
Jason Ebberts - TBL Photography
Patrick Evenson - Coverage Photography

From the amazing lens of Andy White I share the DK200 2016 Champions

2016 DK200 Womens Champion - Amanda Nauman

2016 DK200 Mens Champion - Ted King