Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dirty Kanza 200 : A day in the grasslands of Kansas..


For many years now, I have read about other rider's tales of woe and personal success when racing across the vast gravel expanses of Kansas.  The Dirty Kanza is a 202 mile gravel road race across the Flint Hills of Kansas.  It, to me, had become the pinnacle of must do gravel events.  For the past two years, I had imagined and visualized what it would be like to attempt this race.   Gear reviewers taunted me with the "Dirty Kanza" by relating their testing experiences by having ridden their gear during the race.  If it held up and rode well in Kanza, then their gear had the ultimate seal of approval.  Veteran gravel racers would throw around the "Dirty Kanza" statement to prove they had done the minimum requirements necessary to be taken seriously in a discussion or conversation regarding their current gravel races and travels.  I had to do this race to fully understand what they meant!


    In early January of 2014, I successfully registered for the Dirty Kanza which has an extremely quick fill window in terms of registrants.  I could not believe I was in!  For many years, I had tried to enter Leadville 100 and was unsuccessful, thus my surprise at being able to get into this race.  Part one was complete.  Now I had to shake off the doubt and get real.


    I quickly started planning out a race rig which would carry me through the event.  I was divided between outfitting my Salsa Selma with gears or racing my Salsa Vaya.  The Selma fits me like a glove and since she is titanium, makes efforts easier to muddle through.  After some careful fit alterations and experiments, I finally decided on the Vaya since she rides more upright and would treat my body better on the longer than normal cruise across Kansas.  I outfitted her with WoodChippers and swapped out the stock wheels for a custom solution I have been working on for a few months now.  I ordered an SP dynamo PD-8 hub, some Stan's Flow rims(regressed to Flows after experiencing a defective Stans Flow EX) and with the help of local wheel smith, Chris Moore, I was rocking and rolling on a new set of bullet proof wheels.  I double taped the bars to allow me to comfortably run gloveless as I knew the heat in Kansas is a factor and wanted optimal cooling efficiency since I tend to run pretty warm myself.  I had initially started my experimental race rig with VeeRubber V10s after finding them on sale via PricePoint, but wow, was that a major mistake.
The VeeRubber V10s had a weak bead and would spontaneously blow off the rim tubed or tubeless!  It was a very disturbing discovery.  I had bought extras being that they were on sale, so I slapped on another and it held tight.  So, I chalked it up to the fact that I had one defective tire.  Wrong!  During a ride in the weeks leading up to the race, my rear tire managed to malform at the far end of a long day in the saddle in 102 degree heat.  Fortunately the tire bubble popped and the Stan's fluid filled in the hole.  This left me with a lumpy tire for the next 15 miles until I arrived at a gas station and called for an extraction.  Ironically, I had ordered some of the new WTB Nano 40c tires which I was planning on using later this season for my ultralight Hell Hole gravel racing rig.   After consulting with my MTP Velo teammate, Patrick Lackey,  I mounted the WTB tires on the Vaya in about 20 minutes with no issues on bead seating and quickly made a decision to abandon VeeRubber from all future endeavors and applications.  Being that I had a dynamo, I also ordered and mounted SuperNova E3 front and rear lights.  This would be handy if I was not able to finish before dark.  One final thing was to decide on carry on equipment.  I chose Revelate to carry my spare tubes, lube,
multitool, extra 30oz of collapsible water, Sinewave inline power conditioner, as well as cellphone, maps, cue sheets, emergency whistle/compass, knife, and lots of chamois butter.  A Revelate gas tank held my assorted quick grab foods such as Gels, munchies, and a can of V8, and tylenol if needed.  On the bars, I mounted a SPOT tracker for emergency purposes, a Garmin 810, and a Banjo Brothers cue sheet holder(borrowed).  After a few more test rides, I found the bike to be as good as it can be, so I stopped fiddling with it.


    During the same time I was nervously preparing my rig, I was also riding lots of various terrain such as Pisgah, Georgia, road and gravel.  I initially started with Total Cyclist indoor training rides, which are tremendously fun and productive.  Unfortunately, they were hard to get to on time as I stayed pretty busy and they also were not providing me with the base miles I desperately needed.  I therefore simply started doing what I normally do.  Setout midday and ride gravel until dark focusing on time blocks instead of power output.  I started with 1 hour blocks and quickly moved to 3 hour blocks which were the most recurring.  I then allocated time on the weekends to do at least one large effort with 5+ hours.  Then I started mixing it up with trips to Pisgah and anywhere else I could ride.  A bike packing trip in Georgia left me feeling very confident, but unsure about my Kanza status.  I also did another solo preride of the Pisgah Monster CX course which left me feeling very confident as I followed it up with another strong day sweeping the Pisgah 111k course.  I felt strong, I was riding strong and my efforts were showing it.  Was I ready for Kanza?  Not really....


   My final effort right before Kanza left me wondering what the hell happened.  A quick out and back with Patrick had me feeling weak and drained.  Patrick chalked it all up to nerves.  I hope he was right.  A week later, he and I headed out to Kansas to challenge ourselves over the course of 200 miles.  We stayed at the Emporia State University Dormitory which was really nice although insanely cold inside.  I had forgotten my sleeping bag and pillow in my garage , so I donned my only pair of jeans on as well as shorts over them and my rain jacket and still suffered a cold night's sleep the first night in town.  Yay!  The following day, after an awesome breakfast and efficient registration, a new sleeping bag and pillow from the local Wally World ensured a warm restful night's sleep the day before the big event.  We then went back to the dorm to grab our bikes and do a little light spinning of the gravel.  Rolling thru Emporia was nice as they have good shoulders for riders to safely stay away from vehicles.
Upon hitting the gravel, my first thoughts were is beautiful...colors were vibrant, gravel was gritty and not sandy like back home.  Wind at the start was at our backs, so we rolled along like super humans with an easy 18-20mph pace....  After reaching an agreed upon turnaround point, we started pedaling back...into the wind.  Damn, I thought...this is going to be a tough race.  The relentless wind left me nowhere to hide dwindling our speed to a max of 13mph.  My hopes of completing the Dirty Kanza 200 were getting fuzzy.  Afterwards, we returned to town for coffee at the Granady and think about how the course was going to affect us the next day.  Then back to the dorms for a shower and back to town for the pre-dinner Pasta-Palooza.
 This was such a cool dinner cooked up with loving care by little ol' ladies  ( as described by Jim Cummins).  The variety of pasta dishes available was unreal and really kept my stomach busy for hours afterwards as it all agreed with me nicely.  Various well known athletes made an appearance and mixed in with the lesser humans for a fantastic evening of conversation and gravel racing shoptalk.  Upon completion of dinner, Patrick and I set out for a quick beer and roll towards the dorm as our sleep window was upon us.  Many new friends and acquaintances were made along the way as my good friend James Cooper had mentioned he knew James Barringer of Newton Bike Shop.  After chatting with him for a bit and checking out the new fat bike that his test rider, Tim, was going to be riding, he offered to let me ride it.  It was a super fun Origin8 26x4
with a NuVinci rear drive.  The shifting was seamless and it amazed me how it changed the concept of acceleration and power output.    After hanging out a bit longer to buy some Kanza souvenirs, we hit the local pub Mulready's.
They had a DK200 Kolsch on tap only available for DK200 was good stuff.  I had 2.  Tim Ek, who inspired the "racing the sun" concept was there carb loading before the main event as well.  We finished our beers and then we exited for the dorms.  Waiting out the sleep monster before this event was outright torture.  Everything was set and perfect.  Alarms were set for 4:15am as we had to get to breakfast and be on the start line prior to 6am.  Then I slept....

    Morning came in as fast and furious as the start of the race.  I rolled out of my cot, "kitted" up, grabbed my bike and we rolled on over to the breakfast station.  Inside, I order a tasty breakfast burrito.  I really wish I hadn't as it felt like it was sitting in my already bloated belly from the Pasta-Palooza....We roll up to the start/finish line and there are several riders there already.  They start pouring in by the dozens.  Roller Derby girls are holding up signs  with anticipated completion times on them.  12 hours, 14 hours, 16 hours....etc.  Patrick plants himself at the back of the 12 hour pack.  I tell Patrick I really
should be back in the 16 hour pack, but he insists to stay close as I have better handling skills than most of them and I would do best to try and hang onto a strong wheel as long as humanly possible before resigning myself to ride into the wind solo.  I defer to his advice and stay close.  I know this is part of the tactics we had previously discussed, but looking around at all the ultra light racerX equipment and determined looks, I felt like I was out of place.  Then after lots of official words were spoken, I heard Jim yell GO!  
    Just like that we were being pace escorted out of town.  The excited energy pulsing from the racers was electrifying!  I held onto my spot on Patrick's wheel and hoped the pace would be civil.  It was not.  As soon as the gravel approached, the fast and the furious bared their teeth.  The race was on!  I lunged forward to hold onto a wheel and realized Patrick had also reacted. He sped forward and I finally latched back onto him.  It was intense trying to get accustomed to the frenetic pace as well as the varying skill levels of the riders all around me.  Add to that, the tandems and the single speeds and the fat bikes and the guys on randonneurs....It was crazy!  All 1200 of them grinding gravel at 25+ miles per hour... There were heaps of dust, early morning fog and the sound of gears changing repeatedly.  The fog made the dust stick to my glasses, my teeth, and my arms and legs...The moist air left my hands slippery on the bars as I had opted to race sans gloves.  Then after about 15 miles in the changes started to occur.  The lead pack showed that this was just a warmup and pulled away from us in the second pack in a powerful leap forward.  I  lifted my head up in awe as they left us working harder than ever to bridge
the was the beginning of the end for myself as I knew that before I even reached the first checkpoint, I would be riding solo.  After about 10 more miles, my pack started showing signs of weakness.  Lots of wildcards started splitting down the middle of the pack, swerving around the sides and a few near misses and even a wreck during an uphill attempt to pass.  The ground in Kansas is interesting....while sandy and gravelly on top, it is solid rock just a few inches underneath which meant you had to be sharp at all times.  I worried for the first 50 miles about how the jagged terrain of the course would affect my tires as all I witnessed the entire race were riders repairing flat tires or mangled derailleurs.  Surprisingly, the MTB skills really paid off here as I bunny hopped cattle grates, maneuvered through rock gardens and powerslid thru corners with ease.  The WTB Nano tires were an excellent choice and I was truly happy to have them on my bike as it was one less thing to worry about.  I seemed to be really enjoying the fact that I was moving along a a good clip until I realized I was going too fast for my own good.  The realization came when I noticed Patrick was behind me and not up in front.  I had jumped the gun in the frenzied split, and I was going to pay for that energy burst later.  I started to throttle myself and find my way back in a massive pack of racers wanting to move forward...It was definitely a nice feeling on my legs to ease off and I knew this was a good decision.  I never knew when Patrick passed back by me, but I am sure it was amidst a pack of organized riders which I let go by.  Ironically the massive group I was riding in mostly all split away when the course split the 100 from the 200 milers!  I maintained a pace of 15.5 mph for the longest time as I felt great and it was slow enough to allow other mad riders by me.  I rode thru a river crossing while everyone else was carrying their bikes through.  Too much fun! Mile after mile flew by and the scenery grew more and more incredible.  The greens were so vibrant, the gravel was much more coarse and the sky got bigger and bigger....I was feeling small.  In all the race start hustle, it seems I had forgotten to turn on my SPOT tracker!  I turn it on and hope someone at home is
entertained by my moving dot.  I concentrated on the distance left before reaching checkpoint #1 as well as drinking and eating.  Everything was going fine and checkpoint #1 soon arrived....
    I was so surprised to have reached checkpoint #1 so easily, that I just sat there wondering what to do first. Then I jumped into action, reloaded my water bottles as all 3 were empty, and ate a Honey Stinger Waffle.   My support crew person came up and handed me an ice cold cup of Gatorade and it went down so smooth.  It was perfectly mixed and I wanted more.  I had another and chugged it.  My 5 minute timer went off and I rolled away from checkpoint #1 up a super steep road climb out of town!  Warmed up from the quick climb, my mind kept racing to that tasty Gatorade I left behind.  I then realized my own mix was too harsh, especially at the warmer temp, and that was the reason the Gatorade was so appealing.  Too late now, I had to adjust and persevere.  Onwards I went onto checkpoint #2.  This stretch was wide open with lots of unmanaged roads and craggy water crossings and cattle grates.  Lots of tricky rocky sections also made this flat tire hell.  Thankfully,  I never suffered a flat.  As I pedaled onwards, the hills grew steeper with more frequency.  It was one roller after another for some areas and they left me extremely drained from each effort.  I then realized I was going to have to change my riding style in order to survive the day.  No more stand up efforts, use lower gears, attack the hills if you have momentum and then downshift.  It was all muscle survival tactics.  I rolled onwards determined to adapt.  My pace dropped to about 13mph.  I felt tremors in the backs of my upper arms at this point as the pain of riding in the drops for this amount of time was weighing down on me intensely.  In order to attack the downhill with total control, I had to remain in the drops as this position worked well on these bars.  This position also seemed to work well on the long, slow arduous it really did a number on my wimpy arms.  I had to keep reminding myself to eat and drink as all I was concerned with was making the cutoff time for checkpoint #2.  The heat started to rise as the morning mist dissipated.  I  worried about how hot exactly it would be around 3pm since this was just the beginning.  I also started to realize I may have lost the race against the sun and just needed to "race my own race".  Feeling a bit weak in the legs, I chugged a V8, ate a Goo, washed it all down with water and proceeded to pedal forward.  Then I realize I had depleted all of my water and was still about 8 miles out.  I hoped it was an easy 8.  I start to wonder if I should go ahead and hit my emergency water bladder when I look up and see a town coming into focus in the was  checkpoint #2!
    I pedal into a madhouse of a checkpoint #2.  There were riders laying on their backs everywhere.  Riders working on mechanicals, moaning about continuing onwards...madness.  I sat under the shade of a tree by the support tent and let them fill my water bottle with ice cold gatorade...I ate my honey stinger protein bar and some olives, chugged another V8 and washed it all down with...NOT
gatorade...I asked the support guy what he filled my bottle with and he explained that they had run out of gatorade and were using Gu Brew electrolytes tablets instead. It was not what I wanted to drink, but I was super hot and thirsty and my SAG bag bottles had been left out in the sun and were hot themselves.  I mixed my SAG bottles up with half of the GuBrew water to cool them down reloaded everything made sure all my water was cold, walked around for a bit and heard my 5 minute timer alert me to start moving again.  So off I went with 100 miles of Kansas tackled and a 100 more to go.  The terrain now changes to much, much longer drawn out grinds up gravel roads which stretch out for miles.  I could see little pin dots moving slowly like ants as far as my eyes could focus.  The first 12 miles are like this...and it is just miserable.  It is like being in a desert with no end.  The heat and wind were starting to pound down pretty hard and I was drinking water more often.  My Garmin reported upper 90s on the temperature readings, but the wind kept things cool, so it was a tradeoff.  I finally reach the left turn away from the wind and find my pace change from 10-12 to 15-18.  I really start moving along now, but I notice I am burning up!   The wind was now at my back and since there was no wind in my face, I was feeling more direct heat from the sun.  No win there.  I pedaled along attacking roller after roller with tactical power climbs up one side, mad downhill speeds and high geared power attacks up the other sides.  I used every trick I could to keep from having to spin tiny gears and reduce my rolling speed.  My pace stayed steady at about 12-13mph.   It all seemed to be working until I realized at around mile 135, I had run out of water again.  I had to stop and drink half of my bladder emergency water.  I was nervous about being on such a low amount of water, but I pedaled on knowing that if I had to, I had iodine tablets to get some water from a random stream as long as the water was running, hoping it wasn't directly in line with a cow pasture...It was at this point that the course started to open up to more and more cattle grazing openly.  There were more cows than ever before!  After pedaling up some of the steepest rocky gravel roads ever, I worked my way up to a radio tower which turned into a paved road...checkpoint #3 was getting close. 
    I started pedaling harder to get here hoping I had beat the final cutoff time base on my stops to handle my water issues.  Checkpoint #3 is a success!  I arrive in Cottonwood Falls quite dehydrated, near bonking and my support person, Laura,  noticed that and immediately offered a Coke and water.  I also ate chips and a pickle and immediately start to feel much better.  She refills my water bottles with GuBrew water and I refill my bladder with plain water.  I grab a banana, relax for a few more minutes as I planned on a 15 minute rest at checkpoint #3, but I think I rolled out within 10...As I roll out, I am filled with
a sense of empowerment upon making it this far with no major issues.  I feel the need to step up my game as I planned on making it in well before midnight.  I roll through herds of cattle in the middle of the gravel road, some barely scraping against my handlebars.  I upped my pace and started attacking climbs with more power.  The rollers around this point were tight and packed together with very few relief spots in-between.  I stopped in front of some very nice people's house who were offering hose water showers and water refills.  It felt nice in the rising heat and the water tasted great.  Regardless, I rode hard and started to feel the results of my abuse.  The heat was at the point where it was pounding into my skull and left me dizzy and a bit weak.  I felt sleepy as I was pedaling and found it hard to concentrate.  I shook it off and developed a piercing headache.  I rode through it up until I was so dizzy I had to get off the bike.  At around mile 175, I experience dead legs and intense dizziness combined with a nauseous stomach.  I stood there beside my bike leaning heavily while rider after rider passed by me asking if I was ok..  I guess at some point I really did not look ok as a rider mumbled something to his group about how terrible I looked and had stopped to help me.  I looked at him through a cloudy mind and let him know I was ok and then I turned and puked everything I had on the bridge.  It kept coming and coming and my legs buckled.  I was exhausted from the heat.  He mumbled something about "thats not good" and called my support crew to come and pick me up.  I was too weak to argue at the time, so I just walked back and sat down for a moment.  He said help is on the way and if I needed anything else.  I told him all will be fine as I ate my banana and drank some of my colder water.  I asked him to continue his race and he reluctantly agreed.  Great people out here!!  So after what seemed like a few days, the sun set and the air cooled.   Growing bored, I surfed FaceBook on my phone to see that all my friends back home were tracking me and keeping up with my progress.  At this point the race became more than just personal, and I knew that I had to finish this thing.  I was feeling much better after some rest and the food and water, so I called support to cancel my extraction.  She said she would put a cancel on the request and to please let them know how things were progressing.  I roll onwards shaky, but happy with my decision to complete the race.    As night fell,  I found myself rolling along in the darkness with only my dynamo lights shining brightly all the way.  Millions of fireflies dotted the pastures, and lots of riders lights could be seen all around.  After one more recovery stop to make sure everything was working right, as well as listening to the coyotes fighting in the distance and the sliver of a moon glowing overhead, I plowed onward to finish this race.  Lots of DK200 parties were going on out here.  Bonfires, people cheering us on, free water and "fat" coke.  Upon getting closer to Emporia, I notice a giant beacon of lights letting me know where I needed to be.  I pedaled harder, found myself in the city, then whisked out onto yet another gravel road.  Only this one I recognized from the previous day's preride.  I pedal hard as I can and see roads up ahead.  I roll into town and cut through the Emporia University with its Dirty Kanza chalk art sidewalks and down main street where some diehard fans are still waiting and handing out hi-fives.  I roll down the center and am presented with my finishers cup and a handshake from Jim himself...I park my bike and collapse onto a nearby street corner... body writhing in pain, now fully realizing the effort I imposed on my body.  After a few hard long fought minutes, the pain is subsided by a fellow sympathetic racer in the form of a Centennial IPA beer...pain neutralized temporarily, I set about restoring my vitals.  Dirty Kanza 200...what an experience.

    After coming about, Patrick shows up to help me limp back to the dorm.  I learn that he did beat the sun and will be getting a special prize for that accomplishment.  He looks worse than I do and has a harder time moving about.  Sleep comes easily that night and morning comes just as quickly as we need to now check out, load up and head towards the awards ceremony for a free breakfast and one last time to hangout with fellow riders.  I end up winning a really cool bike rack system from KUAT called The NV.  It is a nice way to end a long weekend as we roll out of Kansas.  Upon our drive home, we had forgotten that one of our goals while out here was to eat "Kansas City Style" bbq ribs.  We didn't remember until we were in Missouri, so we compromise and stop at a place called S & S BBQ in St Louis, MO for some of the most incredible bbq I have had in quite some time.  I experience "oinkers" which are a cheese and pulled pork filled hushpuppy of sorts.  Too much!  After sometime oohing and ahhing over our incredible lunch, we roll
onwards towards home, stopping briefly in a Tennessee hotel to handle sleep deprivation.  Morning had me driving and I was treated to the Cherokee National forest as well as the Pisgah Forest as the sun was coming up....what beauty.

Firstly, the people of Kansas are some of the nicest folk on the planet.  They are truly sincere and seem to go out of their way to help you!  The support staff was also super awesome and made my suffering manageable...I could not have completed this race without them.  Finally, Jim Cummins and his entire crew are a special kind of awesome in how they continue to communicate with you up to and after the day of the race.  I have never EVER seen or experienced that level of dedication to an event in all my years of racing bicycles...Good Job, keep it up guys!  
     The 2014 Dirty Kanza 200 marks one of the tougher races I have competed in to date.  You may be reading this thinking "Joel, you have ridden hundreds of miles in the Pisgah region as well as other very challenging areas and terrain"..  Why would I claim this one to be the toughest race to date?   The mental preparation for a remote race like this was very challenging and I truly wanted to accomplish it on my first try.  While I am satisfied with completion of this race, I know that I could return and go much faster in a shorter period of time due to my understanding of what needs to happen.  As of right now, it is too soon to make those kind of decisions as I also know there are many other mtb, gravel and bike packing challenges awaiting out there, both organized and unorganized.  So I will continue riding my bike and see where I end up next...

DK 200 Finishers Cup

  • Tires: WTB Nano 40c
    • >> they rocked!
  • Salsa WoodChippers
    • >> super comfortable and lots of hand positions.
  • Salsa Vaya
    • >> excellent positional geometry, although Ti frame would be nicer
  • Revelate Bags
    • >> held my stuff well and never gave me grief
  • SP Dynamo Hub
    • >> saved me multiple times for all my electrical needs
  • SPOT Tracker.
    • >> It actually did a decent job tracking
  • Extra Collapsible water bladder
    • >> I didn't want to bring it, but saved the day during peak heat.
  • Breathable moisture wicking cycling cap
    • >> My simple little hat kept my eyes from burning with dripping sweat.
  • My nutrition
    • >> as much chaos as I incurred by switching to different liquids, I kept my electrolytes stable enough to not experience cramps.
  • Cooler Weather
    • >> My system ran better towards the beginning of the day and into the night.
  • Garmin 810
    • >> tracked my route
    • >> successfully navigated me back to Emporia
  • Bag Balm
    • >> Kept me chafe free nearly all day
  • SP Dynamo PD8 Hub
    • >> Kept my phone charged all day
    • >> Saved my routing when my Garmin threatened low battery.  Charged up 20% within 10 miles.

  • VeeRubber
    • >> I was fortunate enough to have all my failures with this tire occur near home.
  • My nutrition
    • >> the liquid nutrition I chose tasted extremely foul with heat applied.
    • >> I also chose food items which I did not care to eat when the heat got to me.
    • >> I actually craved real bananas instead of Goo and V8
    • >> I do not know how the olives affected my system
    • >> Switching to the GuBrew tablets during a race like that was extremely foolish
  • Hotter Weather
    • >> My system does not do well under hot conditions, but I was able to manage myself throughout.
  • Garmin 810
    • >> Buggy system freaked out after checkpoint #1 and kept wanting me to do a u turn. I had to carefully restart the course while not restarting my ride tracking.  UGGH!
    • >> Battery started to die after 11 hours.
    • >> Newer is not always better.  I do not recommend this unit.
  • Chamois Butter
    • >> upon application, it trapped my moisture and started to cause softening of the skin which almost resulted in a severe chafing situation.  fortunately I stopped reapplying and stuck with my base of bag balm...

Patrick, the Sun Chaser...