Friday, June 12, 2009

More 2009 Dirty Kanza 200

Riding with my teammate Jeff
Originally uploaded by Chewieez
It happened again, no big surprise. I waited to write a full race/ride report and have lost much inspiration. I knew it would happen but truthfully I never really felt a lot of push to write down a long, nitty gritty account of the 102 mile ride. (edit: after writing this long account, I lied I guess. It looks long, but this isn't even 10% of what happened that weekend)

It was an amazing weekend and something I was equally looking forward to and also dreading the unknown. I have a habit of getting myself into rides that are over my head. I try not to sweat the details, like mileage, and go with my gut. I knew Dirty Kanza would sell out quick, knew that I would love to attempt it, that it was be a blast with my Yazoo/Moots teammates and that it was cheap at $40. I signed up and looked back repeatedly for the months leading up to the ride.

Most of the enjoyment for me was all the prep work. All the time thinking about and talking to my buddies about how were were going to set our bikes up. This ride was going to push me into completely uncharted territory. I was fortunate to have the guidance of all the boys who raced Kanza last year, Thad, Mike, Scott, Grant and Troy. 100s of emails were sent from what shorts to wear to how 35x17 on a small wheeled bike compares to 32x16 on a 29er with monster truck tires.

The weekend finally arrived and all the pieces fit together. We had rides lined up, a van to protect our bikes and "Ride the Lightning" to blast on the highway. We had roadtrip setbacks and didn't get much sleep Thurs night but we rolled into Emporia Friday with a lot of time to suss out bike setups and consume yummy Boulevard beers. The racer meeting went off without a hitch....even had Swiftwicks on hand to raffle. (I hope those lucky riders who won a pair of socks had their minds blown! Merino wool One's were the perfect sock for the ride, and most summer rides).

Race morning came quick (4am) and we all got suited up and made it to the starting line, 50 yards from our hotel room door. The morning was awesome; blue grey skies with a breeze and cool temps. We got quick instructions and heard things like... at mile 175 there is a steep creek crossing, be careful. We had an escort through downtown Emporia and then we hit the gravel and the group split up quick. Everyone found their group of 15 or so and rode the next few miles without incident, or hills. Scott flatted and we all stopped but Thad and Scott had it under control. Most of our group slowly motored back up and went on. I hung with Thad and Scott and we rode the next few miles of rolling hills together. This was my introduction to the amazing scenery on the Flint Hills.... and course markings. I almost lead us astray at mile 15... that would of made for a super long day. The wind was slowly picking up speed and even the three of us were having trouble sticking together. Thad received some 'inspiration' and pulled off to ride a slightly faster pace and I settled in as we lost sight of Scott off the back. This was how the next 60 miles would work out.

I rode alone, into the wind gusts of 40 mph for the next hour before I saw anyone I knew. There weren't any groups bigger than 3-4 or riders as the wind just killed everyone's momentum. Drafting helped a little, but the wind was so strong that everyone settled into their own pace and it was tough to find someone near you riding at the same pace. We all suffered in silence through the wind and the many rolling hills. I finally caught sight of one of my teammates, Jeffy, off in the distance ahead. It took me about 15-20 minutes to bridge the gap between us. It was great to see a familiar face and chat some but it was apparent that Jeff was hurting already, mentally more than physically. We rode together for a few miles and he was struggling with his gear choice. In reality it wasn't his gear but the wind that was the issue. No matter what gear we all ran, the wind sucked and it wasn't going to stop anytime soon. I eventually fell off the back and watched Jeff ride off ahead. A bit later I saw Jeff on the side of the road with Grant. This was the first time since the first 5 miles that we were together again. Grant and Jeff had trouble with flats and I was feeling a good groove so I motored on alone and met back up with them at the first checkpoint. (Jeffy would go on to be one of only 15 riders to finish the entire 205 mile course. He found his happy place and battled the demons and I'm proud of him.)

I spent a long time at the first checkpoint. I refueled and ate some and chatted with Dan, who was having a lot of stomach issues. Dan and Jeffy continued on but I decided to wait and ride with Grant and Scott who I thought would better fit my pace. We got back on the road and navigated through town with a few pitstops to fix Grants seat angle. You gotta have your contact points 100% correct for a long ride like this. No sense in suffering through a strange seat angle and hurting. The 3 of us would continue to ride together for the entire second leg of the ride. This was awesome. We were all hurting at different sections...sometimes just a bad mood funk, and other times some cramping issues. The wind had stopped which was amazing, but there were no clouds at all and no trees to shade the road. We all baked out on the pavement. I had 4 bottles on the bike, which should of been more than enough for a 40 mile stretch but with the heat, all bets were off. We were all on water conservation with the worry of getting caught out in the middle of no where in the 100 degree heat. I think what really compounding all of it was that our liquids, whether water or gatorade, were also 90 degrees. You had a thirst for cooler water that was totally unquenchable. Drinking 90 degree water does nothing to refresh you.

(Scotty, all smiles, all the time. Riding his new Moooots)

We drudged on and on and on, stopping in the tiny bit of shade of the very occasional tree that hung over the road. We met up with another rider on a Van Dessel crossbike who was napping on the side of the road. The 4 of us rode for a while....this stretch felt way longer than 40 miles. The scenery of the ride was so awesome that I was mad at myself for not paying more attention. I would force myself to stop looking straight down and soak in the views of the farm land. Tennessee has nothing like this terrain. Our local gravel grinders have hills but no open land where you can see for miles.

We had our sights on the halfway point as our personal finish line. Scotty really wanted to continue on and we were trying to get to the halfway mark inside the cut off time so he could. The closer we got though the more we all realized that our day should really end at the halfway. It wasn't safe for any of us to try to continue on to the city of Alma. This next stretch was to be the shortest mileage but the toughest terrain and Alma was another 30 miles farther from Emporia which would make getting picked up way harder on your teammates/support crew.

(gRant posing with his Moots cap that he wore the entire ride. Nice salt lick!)

When we rolled into the halfway point we saw Dan and Thad...both had also called it. Dan pushed hard to make it halfway but continued to have nutrition issues and Thad had sliced his tire and couldn't safely continue, even with 3 tire boots installed. Thad was looking fresh which I know was frustrating to him but he would of been stopping every 5 miles to change tubes so he had to quit. We laid in the small park and cooled down and exchanged stories with the other racers who finished their ride there also. Thad and Scott decided to ride their bikes back to Emporia to pick up the van and come back for us. Grant, Dan and I hung out in the park with David Pals and our new friend Michelle, Joel's (one of the organizers) wife. Thad's ride was 15 miles longer than expected so we all were in the park for a long time waiting. It was fun though, we ate pizza from the nearby store and just hung out and exchanged stories to pass the time. We ended up waiting until 11:30pm to get picked up. Grant joked that the ride was epic but so was the wait. Ride time=6am-4pm, wait time=4pm-11:30pm. Wouldn't of traded it for anything though and we were very grateful that Thad and Scott offered to go get the cars. We didn't have anything left in the legs to ride the 40 miles back to Emporia.

So, am I glad I went? You bet ya. Will I go back next year? You bet ya. Will I race it again next year? That will depend on my fitness now that I have a better understanding what it takes to finish a 200 mile gravel ride. We've decided we need to bring an extra support person next year so even if I'm not ready for the big ride, I will return to Emporia and help out if I can.

(My Quiring in full epic gravel grinder setup. Looks for another post soon on how the bike did....1 quick word, AWESOME)

(the park where we recovered)

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