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