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21 September 2015 1 comment

2015 Dirty Kanza Race Report + Video

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2015 Dirty Kanza Race Report + Video
Seth Deming Videography / Brooks England I first learned of DK200 from Paul Errington who rode the event in 2012, one of the first foreigners to do so. Paul wrote about his experience on this blog and is now organzing his own UK gravel event in 2016, the Dirty Reiver, which will be held in Northumberland in April. More on that forthcoming. Brooks was sponsoring for the first time, so I attended the event with Brooks North American promoter Tony Pelton to make a video as part of our sponsorship agreement. We hooked up with Brendan Gecik, H2 rep for the Midwest, a gravel racer who helps to organise events with Axletree, a nonprofit who organizes the Gravel Metric in Illinois the week prior. Brendan grabbed Dean Frieders, Paul Anderson, and Aaron Nevdal from Axletree to round out the Brooks X Axletree 2015 DK200 squadron. Not owning a gravel bike, I got in touch with Mike "Kid" Reimer at legendary gravel innovators Salsa Bicycles who let me borrow their newest Warbird model. As well, we received some (frankly awesome) helmets from KASK and heaps of comfy PEdAL ED kit for the team. My story The race was on a Saturday, and having little time, I took a plane on Thursday for a 22 hour flight over Chicago to Kansas City. Once in KC, I rented a van to drive the rest of the way to Emporia, which is about 90 minutes west of the big and brown Missouri river. As I set out, the weather was humid, grey and rainy. Chicago. But after I got away from KC, the views opened up, the sun came out, and I was treated to a massive landscape of slight undulating hills, long green grass, cows, small derricks, flowers, birds, and little else.  The Prairie. I am not used to so much empty space at one time, and my thoughts drifted away to covered wagons, "Bleeding Kansas", and I'll admit it, the Wizard of Oz. The Gun Shop. I arrived in Emporia and parked in front of a gun shop. The "sponsors dinner" was in one hour, so I nosed around anxiously for the event HQ.  I straight away bumped into the wife of Jim Cummins who told me where to go and set off alone.  It struck me how quiet it was, walking alone in the afternoon sun, still as Sunday morning. Forgotten? I popped into a drug store out of  Raising Arizona. An "are you here for the race?" buttonholed me to an warm, older woman who followed me around the store as if we were old friends.  Turns out, Emporians take interest in travellers. I spotted a couple of bikes with Brooks saddles and figured I'd found the place.  Inside, folks were helping themselves to barbeque and baked beans on paper plates.  I greedily filled and refilled a foam cup with fresh iced tea.  From the casual comings and goings I could see there was no agenda. Inviting locals chatted with me about the race, and Brooks, and shared stories about themselves. I slowly started to relax and get on Kansas time. Jim Cummins finally arrived, the inventor and chief architect of the race, and along with the video crew we had organised, he introduced me to the rest of the folks behind this storied event. From their website: Dirty Kanza Promotions was founded in 2006 by Jim Cummins, with the assistance of fellow cycling enthusiast Joel Dyke. At that time, gravel grinding was just beginning to catch the interest of the endurance cycling community. However, Jim had grown up in the Flint Hills of east central Kansas and had been riding gravel for decades. Inspired by some of the early gravel grinder events… and convinced the Flint Hills had the best gravel to be found anywhere in the world, Jim and Joel decided to create Dirty Kanza 200. Initially, these two gravel aficionados had no idea the extent to which this whole gravel grinding thing would grow, nor did they give it any real thought. That wasn’t what motivated them. They both simply felt their lives had been enriched through cycling. And Dirty Kanza 200 was their attempt to give back to the cycling community. Since then, the popularity of gravel grinding has exploded and is now the fastest growing genre in the cycling industry. The popularity of DK200 has grown too, from 34 participants in 2006, to an anticipated 1,500 riders in 2015. And while that growth has brought with it a few changes to our format and the way we have to manage certain aspects of the event, one thing has remained constant… Dirty Kanza 200 is a grass-roots event, organized and managed by folks who are passionate about cycling, and done so for the primary purpose of providing life-enriching cycling experiences for our event participants. After finding my bike at HQ and having the good fortune of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike from Lawrence, Kansas to help set it up, I headed over to the university to claim my dorm room. Wildcat Rock Machine, innit? On Friday, aside from the pouring rain, it was a great day to hang out and soak up (no pun intended) the gravel grinder scene and small town Kansas.  America often gets a bad rap for its food and drink internationally, but wherever I visit in the states I always enjoy good beer, good food, and good coffee. And Emporian fare did not disappoint:  I had a monstrous Burrito Mole at Casa Ramos on Main Street that took nearly two waitresses to bring to the table, and the Grenada Coffee Company served up with a smile for everyone. Other than that, we went for a ride and saw that the course was in a bad state from the rain.  Lots of standing water.  And mud. I wondered if this would dry up by tomorrow? Rider Orientation. I woke at 4:30am on Saturday. After a hearty breakfast with like-minded zombies, it was off in the dark to the start where over 1500 riders were taking positions according to perceived finishing times.  The place buzzing, and I was starting to get nervous, this being my first gravel race, and the Dirty Kanza at that. Meanwhile, the unusually high rainfall fed rumours that much of the course was in bad condition and there may be deviations from the map. I decided with myself that no matter what happened, I was going to try and enjoy every moment and not think about the distance.  I may never be here again and I want to live it to the fullest, good or bad.  My longest ride before today was 200km, on asphalt.  Today would be 320 on gravel. We set off in a neutralised start, and after 3 miles or so, we came to the first stretch of gravel. The conditions were the same as the day before, with really long puddles and plenty of mud. Sketchy, too, with riders jitteringly jostling for position.  From behind me I heard someone go down. After a half hour or so, we rounded a bend and I noticed every rider off to the left-hand side of a very muddy road. It didn't look too bad, so I plowed in and tried to power through it.  Big mistake!  I went about 40 yards until I slogged to an embarrassing halt in the stickiest, peanut-butteriest, grassiest, and grittiest mud I can remember.  Caked everywhere, the wheels would no longer turn despite the amazingly generous stays of the Warbird. I hefted bike to shoulder, cursing when I realized it weighed at least 40 pounds. I began to try and scrape off the mud, which clung like cookie dough. Not alone in my struggle, I looked on with envy at others who had the foresight to bring spoons. Probably vets of the 2015 Trans Iowa. I ruminated on the nomenclature of the Flint Hills, cutting my fingers to shreds from the tiny flint shards mixed in the sludge. Once free enough, I slung the bike over my shoulder and began trudging with the rest. Pulled from the awesome Guitar Ted Blog with supreme reverance. (photo:A. Andonopoulous/G-Ted Productions) To summarize. We are 10 miles into a 200-mile race, and all I can see are riders walking to the far off horizon. Soon I noticed my feet had grown to a cartoonish size, reminiscent of WWI trench illustrations (or Mickey Mouse).  I used cognitive therapy to convince myself that I was curious to see how bad it could get, and treated the appalling, interminable slog as if it were a kind of new exercise fad. My rhythm which was momentarily broken when  I heard an oddly-familiar rattle. The rider in front of me jumped, and I took notice of a rattlesnake sheltering next to the barbed wire fence along which we were wading.  I cursed and kept going. Onward we continued.  Over each new ridge, another long view of riders, another vastly removed ridge. In the end, we walked 3 miles, which took about 1 1/2 hours. Now, exhausted, we had 187 miles still to go.  I stopped to wait for the others, and along came Dean and Paul, both with broken derailleur hangers, the plague of riders this day. I came out lightly with the first of what would be 4 flats, changing the tyre with wet, muddy, hands caked with shards of flint. The rest of the morning was hard but fun, winds were at times brutal and the climbing almost constant.  Blasting through surgically, our team rode through every water crossing, muddy section, and steep hill without dismounting. However, at some point we shocked to realise that with the hike a bike and other slow sections our pace was only 12mph   and the cut-off time to reach checkpoint 1 was getting dangerously close. We were forced to pick up the pace, and we inadvertantly dropped Tony. Unable to track back due to the cut off, my thoughts were haunted with his welfare for hours after. Checkpoint one at mile 75 was not cheerful. This photo from Eric Benjamin sums the mood perfectly. pic courtesy Eric Benjamin Still cold and grey outside, the bountiful feast laid out from our support crew of family and friends (all thanks to Axletree) did little to fire my motivation. However, Dean was quick to get my chain cleaned and oiled, and the positive vibes from the crew got em going again.  This time with a somewhat demoralising climb straight out of the village. We had another 75 miles to ride before the next checkpoint, with only one water stop in-between.  I train at a 30km/h average, and we were only able to manage about half that as we often crept through muddy, extremely technical sections or were forced to stop for a flat tire or a wee. pic courtesy Eric Benjamin I had trouble clipping out after yet another rocky water crossing before the oasis.  My foot spun around instead of disengaging the pedal and I fell slowly and painfully onto a pile of pointed rocks. Managing with great effort to free my foot, upon inspection I saw that I had broken a cleat bolt. At the time this was serious, because some of the water crossings were at least 2 feet deep, and were I to fall (which had happened twice already) I may not be able to surface without help. I hailed the next passing rider to desperately ask if perhaps he had an extra bolt on board.  He cracked a big smile and replied "As a matter of fact I do".  It turns out that he had had the same problem at a DK in the past, and now brings a small bag filled of various bolts with him. My race was saved! (As it turns out, he also wrote the most thoughtful blog piece about DK200 2015 I have since had the pleasure to read and re-read several times. You can find it on the Swiftwick website, and read this interaction from his point of view.) I quickly reset my cleat and continued on. Shortly after, Aaron, who had been riding like a champion without complaint, suddenly began to act strange, and without a warning, he told us he was done.  This was pretty scary, as I was certain I would be throwing in the towel before him.  We left him at the side of a dirt road, to wait for a pick up from our van which was thankfully not far away. A note on this - it was common to pass abandoning riders, miserable and dejected.  Normally they would not look your way, so as not to impede your progress. By habit you would ask if they were ok, but really there was not much you could do to help.  To race the DK you must have a support vehicle at the ready to call and pick you up if you are in distress, and a good and necessary rule it is. We caught up with the Swiftwick guys and rode with them for probably an hour, chatting briskly along the way. Which brings me to something I wanted to share about this experience, and many others before and since, and that is the pleasant camraderie found amongst the participants of such out-of-the-way and challenging events. Technically this is a race, but for most it is a ride.  And though each is trying to ride at his or her level best, to only focus on shortest time is somewhat missing the point. For many, its also  like a party, so its nice to mingle too. After all, a ride like this should be fun when executed within the physical capabilities of the rider.  And fun for me is mostly something experienced in the company of others. pic courtesy Eric Benjamin At checkpoint 2 at 158miles we roared into town in a tidy six-man group. The weather had shaped up and the support crews made it feel like a street festival.  But once we stopped riding I quickly lapsed into semi-catatonic state.  Now with only 40 miles remaining, I felt like I had entered another dimension.  I was in no man's land.  I had never ridden nearly this far in my life. The angelic forces of the Brooks/Axletree support crew did everything they could to rejuvenate us to continue.  I mostly just sat and stared like a brokenhearted sailor as our pit crew buzzed around. I felt much better back on the bike.  We fell into a 10-man group as we made our way out of town, and  hauled along doubletrack in a silent convoy, beneath the starry sky and above crunching gravel.  After 20k or so, my legs were feeling good, so I rode off ahead, up and down at least a dozen tabletops, 200 meters up, then flat, then 200 meters down. At one point I stopped to wait for Brendan, but after about 40 minutes admiring the flare-like front lights cascading from a hill far in the distance, I decided I was properly freezing and carried on alone. It wasn't long before I came across a group of 10 locals in a cornfield hanging out with tiki torches and blasting ac/dc.  I managed half a coors light while parrying lighthearted abuse sang along. After 10 minutes or so I bid farewell. Soon my vision began to swim and I realised the beer had been a mistake.  I was starting to bonk, hard and fast. I leaned over my handlebars and, like a tortoise burying her eggs, pushed 5 mini snickers and 2 gels into my mouth. Chewing like a clam, I just rolled and let the pedals turn over. Ten minutes later I was up to speed again. I ran into Walt who I had chatted with a few times that day. Walt stood in front of a farmers house with two friends and bid me a weak hello as a tall, lanky fellow (Walt's brother) instructed him not to puke in their yard. I took this as my cue to leave. I locked in with another pair who were riding fast and before I knew it (actually it seemed like an hour) we were through the university grounds to the lights of main street ahead. It was after midnight and the place was jamming, crowds of people hanging out and cheering each finishing rider.  I fell back from my companions to allow them to cross the finish together, and rode with a smile over the line.   l. to r. Paul, Aaron, Dean, and Tony. 4/6 of Team Brooks X Axletree.
Living close to Oakbrook, IL, the area mistakenly identified in the caption of the first photo as Chicago, it is sometimes hard to understand that such open areas abound not altogether too far from home. Reading the post and watching the video reminds me that I really have to get out of town more. Thanks for the wake up call.
Andy 23 May 2016 at 18:08