Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 Dirty Kanza 200

Training for the DK200 was a bit different this year... with the weather not cooperating, it was the windiest first 1/3 of the year I've ever remembered and it was cooler than prior years to train outside on a real bike. A group of us rode a 100 mile route from Emporia to Lawrence one of those windy days. Sure the tail winds rocked, but half of the route had some crazy crosswinds. A lot of weekends were spent riding with Shawn Honea, Rick Becker, Smitty Smith, and John Decker. Human Power company’s Thursday night rides, and quite a few solo rides. I did have a couple failed attempts at events this year already: District Bicycle’s Land Run 100 in Stillwater, Okla., and Maisie’s 100 mile ride in Eskridge, Kansas.

However, I was determined to finish the DK200 this year on time! Two years ago I quit at the 3rd checkpoint 160 miles in, and last year I finished the race, just 6 minutes too late. I have also been trying different foods/drinks to make sure my body gets the maximum amount of good calories per hour my friend Garret talked about. I’m not sure if I've got that one all figured out yet, as I had to force myself to chew and swallow food later in the event.

I did start to notice that my drive train was starting to make some noise on longer rides. I usually keep the bike pretty clean after longer rides and check it over good. I should have paid more attention to the chain and gearing, and maybe replaced these key components by now. Friday morning’s highway group ride was going good, but I could hear the noise already and wasn’t even on gravel yet. I talked with Shawn Honea about it, and decided to stop by Highgear to see if they had a chain I could buy as a backup in case mine broke. They sold me one, but said that it may skip if installed as my rear cassette teeth were so worn that it wouldn’t mesh right. I figured I would clean and lube the chain good at each checkpoint, and not hammer it up any tough climbs anyway in such a long race. It will make it.

Friday evening after the riders’ meeting, a small group of us had a spaghetti supper over at the Honeas’ house. Everyone was ready on different levels for tomorrow’s 6 a.m. kickoff, and hurried to get home and finish preparing.  

I prepared almost everything I thought I would need days before the race, and even went to bed while the sun was still up Friday evening. Plenty rested... (More on this later)

It's funny that all I had to do in the morning was get up, use the bathroom, get dressed, eat, kiss the wife and kids, and get on the bike and ride down to the start line. It took forever. I did make it on time, but did cut it close this year... I knew I had probably already missed out on the prerace Mulready’s team picture, but they will probably just Photoshop me into the one they took… most likely on the ground in front of them like I just crashed.

Michelle sent me a message just before I put my phone on airplane mode to save the battery, as I was using it as a backup navigation aid in case I lost my maps. She wanted to catch me to take my picture before the race... I thought she was crazy, and there was no way she would be able to find me with around 1,300 riders, but she did! She was even there at the finish line taking pictures 20 some hours later! That was awesome! Thanks again! :)

There were a lot of bikers headed towards the college with me as I headed for downtown. Once I turned onto Main Street it was a beautiful sight to see! I wanted to stop and take a picture. There were bikers as far as you could see from the college looking down towards Granada! I looked around and slowly squeezed my way through the 20 - 50 mile lite field then moved into the half pint 100 mile and waved at some friends that I could see: Shawn, Nicole, Smitty, and Jim. 

I didn't quite know where to place myself in the lineup, but I knew with the huge group of what I'm guessing was more than 700 riders for the 200 mile, and maybe 500 riders for the 100 mile, maybe I should not be in the way of riders that are way faster than I will ever be... living here, riding some of the remote, low-maintenance roads that will chew you up given the chance.

I did manage to work my way up far enough to find Angela Spellman, Ryan Dudley, and Jenny Cook and decided that is where I should ride. I did notice that a lot of the riders have migrated to the lighter cycle cross type bikes this year, unlike my heavier 2013 Trek 29er Superfly AL elite mountain bike. Heck, my Fox front fork probably weighs more than some of these bikes!

The countdown began, and off we went! I just then remembered how trashed my body was after last year’s DK 200 mile race, but was hoping things would be better this year...
The first 50 mile leg started out pretty smooth, but I did see quite a few flat tires right as soon as we hit the gravel.  Even saw Garret Seacat changing a flat around mile 3, then blow by me not more than a mile later. Watching him fly through the mass of bikers in front made me antsy! But my wife, Tiffany, and I had decided a long time ago that this year was to be my own race, and was reminded of that by Wendy at that very early point of the race. She must have seen it in my eyes. "Ride your own race," she said. Thank you for that! I grabbed the wheel ahead of me and settled in, only advancing my position if the pace slowed down too much.

The flint rock out here will chew up the best of tires in seconds, so it's better to stay in the paths the vehicles have made. The tires I ran this year were the 29" Vee Rubber 12s at 1.75" wide tubeless setup. I carry tubes and plug inserts as last resort fixes, just in case the cup of liquid Bontrager sealant inside each tire could not fix the punctures I would encounter out there.
The weather for the day started near 70° with some fog in the low-lying areas, partly cloudy and light SE winds. There was a small chance of storms later in the evening, but they did not happen. The moist morning air, body sweat, combined with the huge amount of dust the riders ahead of me were throwing up, created a smooth covering of mud everywhere. It was like following 10 semi trucks down a dirt road during harvest time! Guess that's why it's called Dirty Kanza!

Except for a few turns, the 1st leg starts off pretty much flat for the first 10 miles -- which made it an awesome sight! You were able to see packs of 100s of riders separated by small gaps every once in a while. I had previously taken a camera on these rides to capture things like this, but given my history of crashes, it's probably better that I keep both hands on the bar and not be the reason for someone else's accident. Besides, our good friend Eric was taking awesome pictures at the top of the first real taste of a hill 10.5 miles out on road D. About 3/4 of a mile later the 200 and 100 mile course split up for the first time. What was crazy is that there were already riders going on the shorter route when I got there... If I remember correctly, they did not start till 6:10 a.m. This means they were either hauling ass or they started early.

The first scary moment of the race came at about mile 16. We turned back North to rejoin the course with 100 milers. At this point you cross a bridge over the turnpike and are going downhill, gaining speed, towards a very small, one lane wide, low-water bridge, worse yet: on a blind curve... I warned others behind me that we needed to slow down, as there is no railing to stop you from flying off the side. I could hear everyone hollering "brake, brake" behind me. This instantly changed into “CAR, CAR!!!??” Some fricking idiot was flying towards us across that little bridge in what looked like an old Jeep or small Toyota pickup doing at least 40mph! Bikes were going all over off the road to avoid being hit! Surely he would've assumed considering the fact that he has met 100s of riders as he was approaching that little bridge, that there would be more on the other side.  Ass! If you are reading this, you could have killed someone!! Idiot!

Anyways... off to the bigger hill climbs up to the towers and down into the open range. Lots of riders off their bikes fixing flats now as the roads are almost pure chunky sharp rocks the whole way across the road/path. Much like riding on broken glass. Then all of a sudden there was no more gravel, just pure mud! Everyone was fighting it. There was no place to go; as soon as you could ride up out of the deep grooves in the road, your muddy tires lost traction and you slid back in.

At this point, maybe mile 27ish, reality set in to how treacherous events like this can be. This is where what looked like a very strong rider's day had ended. It was a sharp rugged water crossing, a very broken bike, and a seriously injured man. The KC Jeep club was there along with other riders. I hoped he was OK. The pace slowed down a bit after that and a little more distance between each rider was given.

I saw Shawn and Nicole waiting for Smitty and Jim up at the cattle pens. I waved and said hi as I rode by. A few miles later I was glad to be on a mountain bike; as you go down this steep hill, the road contained huge washouts lying across it all the way down. I don't know if I would have made it without my bigger tires and suspension travel. Another rider was down at the water crossing at around mile 35. He was sitting in the middle of the road with other riders protecting him from getting hit, as others looked over and fixed his bike. It looked as if he was going to go on.

This is what is cool about gravel riders! Sure, some are in it to win, but most will stop for people they will never know and help them in any way they can. It doesn’t matter if it’s their last tube, spare bike part, Gu/gel pack, or water. Gravel riders help each other. Don’t think that’s true? Pull over to the side of the road at the next event/race you’re at and see how many riders ask if you’re OK.

Somewhere around mile 37 I found Rick Becker. He was just finishing up fixing his third flat tire of the race. I gave him some of my Co2 cartridges to help get him to the first checkpoint. We rode together for a bit, but I could tell he wanted to go much faster than I did, so I slowed just enough to let him know I was all right, and let him drop me. 
The river crossing at mile 43 was not as deep as last year; in fact, some were riding their bikes across it. Not me. I carried mine across.  Felt good to get off the bike and walk in the cool water.

Shoes and legs from my knees down were clean again! At least for a mile or so...
I rolled into Madison feeling great! The time was 9:27. Cassidy was waiting for me at the timing mat and told me to go all the way to the end of the street. She continued to run with me the whole way!

My sag support team, Tiffany and the girls: Lorrin and Cassidy, were waiting for me at the South end like we had planned. My friends Mike Hoobler and Kent Scott were there and talked to me about what it's been like so far, while Tiff took care of changing out everything that I had used, drank, or ate. She gave me dry socks to put on while she was wiping the dirt and mud off me to apply more sunscreen to any bare skin.

She did not apply any new Chamois Butt’r for me though; I was on my own for that one!
I finished checking over everything on the bike, tire pressure, wiped and lubed the chain and it was time to go. The route takes you up a long steep climb out of town for the start of this leg. After killing my legs last year on this hill, I decided to use the time I would be eating, and walked my bike up it while eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sad point for me is that Eric Benjamin was now ¾ of the way up this thing taking pictures of the riders tackling it. So I probably photo bombed at least 20 or so riders’ shots… Sorry. Even worse once I reached Eric while pushing my bike, I held up my sandwich and realized that the jelly was running out all over my glove down my arm. I ate the rest of it at the top of the hill. Since I have nothing to wipe the jelly off me I proceed to lick my glove, and lick my arm that just so happens to be hammered with fresh sunscreen… Yep, things are going perfect!

Leg two started out better than last year, due to the light winds and still partly cloudy skies. I don’t exactly know where – maybe around mile 55 or so; Greenwood County must have received advice from Ryan Dudley. The advice: If you don’t want to have to reapply new gravel to a road more than every twenty years, just use bigger rocks! These things must have been four inches in diameter…at the smallest! I rode on to about mile 67 and stopped to take a break and view the two mile climb up Texaco Hill I had ahead of me. Another rider asked me, “Where do we go from here?” I pointed to the oil tanks near the top. He replied with one choice word…

I will not ruin this experience for those who have not yet tried this climb so I’ll skip forward to the top. Once you reach the top, my advice is to look back once, but keep riding. Your legs will thank you later.

For the next fifteen miles, the temperature was started to warm up a bit. There were still clouds shading parts of the road yet they never seemed to be where you were at, no matter how fast you rode. It was as if you were in an oven. The light winds were not helping because while climbing, you were going the same speed as the wind. Shade was just out of reach: a great motivator to keep going.

I also tried a new technique this year: easily accessibly food. Having my snacks already unwrapped allowed me to eat while riding. However, I learned that the tasty (dry) peanut butter crackers can easily be inhaled down your windpipe causing a coughing attack.
Around mile 86, Charlotte Pinick rode up beside me and talked for a bit. When we turned East on 270th, she told me “Stay strong,” and dropped me like I was nothing. I began to wonder if I had the strength to finish the race and thought of the success of my teammates. I wondered how Smitty was doing on the 100 mile (110 mile). I had bet that Jeff Young (the youngest) was hammering it, having a blast, and probably finishing before sundown. Rick Becker was attempting to finish before dark also, but had a few flats early in the ride. I was praying that John Decker was not cramping as I had not seen him all day. I was also thinking about other riders: Scott Rothe and how many flats he’s already had… maybe 15?; Sean and Scott O’Mara whom I heard were riding together; Bobby Thompson; Ryan Dudley; Dave Markowitz; Nichole Schmidt; Brother Shawn Honea; Jim Caldwell; Angela Spellman; Wendy Davis; James Davis; as well as many other riders. Just thinking of these people took my mind off of the suffering my body was going through at this point.

Around mile 90, my two bottles that contained Rocktane-Powerade mix were empty. With the weight of my spare chain in my camelback, it was getting hard to judge how much water I still had left. I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much water at the start of the leg to clear the hellacious taste of sunscreen out of my mouth. However, with only ten miles left to the next checkpoint, it shouldn’t be a problem right?! Besides, if I remember correctly, the Battle Creek Road hill climb is on the next leg. I was very wrong. Engage severe water rationing. I allowed myself small sips every mile. My chain began to sound nasty, in all gears. A bit of walking began when my speed began to slow to a crawl when climbing large hills. By the time I reached Cassoday, I am aspirating more air than water. As I hit the stretch of highway, I scanned the large parking area for the truck that John North Ford let me borrow for this event… Hell, I was trying to remember what color it was.

The volunteers (and bright orange cones) were directing me towards the tent I was supposed to ride through. I totally missed the entire thing. I ended up walking my bike backwards across the timing mat. To say I was spent was an understatement. The time was 2:02 p.m. Once again Cassidy was waiting at the check-in tent to direct me to our sag vehicle. Bless her little heart; she ran beside me the whole way! I thought I saw Wendy Davis coming in behind me on the road. Once I reached the truck, I told the girls, “I’m hot; let’s start the truck and turn on the AC,” knowing that there was pizza and an ice cold Pepsi waiting in there for me. I saw Lisa Decker in there and she had informed me that John was cramping bad but still moving. Tiffany did another stellar job at replenishing everything I had used, including newly filled water bottles and a cold camelback. Having already helped a female rider with the same problem, Tiffany was also ready with Band-Aids when I informed her that I had developed quite a bit of chafing on my nipples. I did see quite a few bikes put onto the sag vehicles and driving away with the riders inside.

I start to clean the chain and notice a lot of metal splinters are in the rag, wondering how much longer this chain is going to make it. I lubed the crap out of it and hoped for the best. At this point in the race, I don’t see myself hammering uphill anyway. Tiffany said that Angela was doing well at the first checkpoint and was expected at anytime. Lisa had said that John should be in soon too. Bobby Thompson made it in and was sitting in a chair outside. I had a brief conversation with him about how hard this day was starting to get. It is crazy how some rides you may feel great and then you hit a wall. It could be a long day ahead as I realize that I’m only halfway done. With my time still good, I will push on. I buttered myself up, hugged and kissed everybody, and mounted my bike once again. Three strides in, my butt was already telling me that this was going to be a painful fifty miles.

The first 12 miles of this leg were straight east. Last year’s high winds made this stretch easy. Not so much this year. The steady cross wind/headwind, although not bad, kept you working at a much slower pace. The climbs on this road were so easy last year that I kind of forgot about them. Finally after what seemed like an hour later I reached the extremely large downhill at mile 112. Last year I hit this descent at top speed not knowing the area. I was tucked down and flying down this drop so fast that the bike started a nasty death wobble I could not correct and damn near lost control of my bike and bodily functions! That would not be repeated this year! I was on the brakes early and pretty much all the way down this monster. Once at the bottom you turn north and look up and see at least 4 miles of climbing to get back to the top of the Teter Hill area. At least it’s not all at once. There are some climbs, but also some flat areas. There was a small detour at one spot due to a new drainage line being replaced. The drenched out gap in the road was too far of a jump even for a Honea (Although he would have thought serious about trying it). Up the hill I went. The view was so amazing from the top that I stopped to take a picture.

Riding in the last third of the pack of a race like this kind of puts you out in the middle of nowhere truly alone. I know I’m on course, but I don’t see anyone ahead or behind me at times. Good thing I have my headphones or I’d go crazy.

Madison Road was where I thought my legs were finally coming back to life. Those 5 miles were perfect! My chain not so much… I turned up the music to drown it out.  Somewhere along the 10-mile stretch of Sharps Creek Road the sun/heat were winning the battle against me. I took advantage of any tree that was providing shade to the road. Based on the size of the snakes I had seen today, I would not venture off the road into the ditch for shade. One snake was at least 5 ½ foot long with the body the size of a beer can! Screw that!

The rougher descents of the day were usually lined with ejected water bottles. Funny part in this section was that the cows were very interested in them. They had completely surrounded them in the middle of the road, pushing them around with their noses trying to figure out what these things are!

I had made it to Bazaar’s asphalt road headed for the Hwy 177 crossing. Both bottles were empty and who knows how much now hot water was still on my back. I was thinking that I should have stopped and grabbed one of those water bottles on the ground back there. Across the hwy, now mile 137, people were on the porch of a house hollering “Free ice cold water!” I pulled in without hesitation to see other riders also took them up on their kind offer. One of them was good buddy Ryan Dudley! He was right beside me and was shocked and happy at the same time. He had also been alone at times today, but now we could ride together and B.S. about how the day has been. For the next several miles we would ride, take a break, and ride some more. We discussed that we would take a good break in Cottonwood Falls, but leave together by 9 p.m. With around 5 miles to go before the checkpoint, his pace was slightly faster than mine, so I dropped back a bit. No worries, I would see him later.

I arrived to checkpoint 3 at 8:08 p.m. This was way earlier than last year, but still later than I was hoping for. I rode through the tent over the timing mat (this time) and received the map to the final 51 mile leg. I knew that Lorrin had taken Cassidy to her Dance recital and would not be here to show me the way to our sag spot. But there was this one crazy woman hollering jumping around waving, pointing and taking pictures of me. That seemed pretty strange. I was tired and my sunglasses were smeared with sweat so I couldn’t make out who she was. I was looking all around for the truck, but also kept looking at her wondering what the heck her deal was… Maybe it was my team Mulready’s jersey that got her all excited. Maybe it is her most favorite bar ever. All I wanted to do was get the heck away from her as it now looked like she was chasing me! I then realized that it was my little sister Miss. She drove all the way from Missouri to watch me. I smiled, waved back, and asked where to go. She pointed to the south end. I continued to ride until I reached the end of the street… still not spotting the truck. As I turned the corner towards the overflow parking, I noticed that my mom and dad had also driven down. Wow! Now I’m embarrassed at how crappy my performance must have seemed. Hopefully they had not been there for hours watching other riders come in! I never would have expected that after almost 150 miles I would see half of my family here cheering me on! I was speechless!

I was once again totally spent, overheated, and needed something to eat. I hope I was not an ass to anyone, but the first thing I said after I pretty much let the bike crash itself into the grass was, “Dad, let’s start this truck and crank the AC!”

 Everyone was all around me asking me questions, looking at me like I was an MMA fighter, while Tiffany did everything for me. She was wiping me down with cool wet towels, giving me something cool to drink, changing my socks, giving me info on other riders, tending to the bike, and restocking. Meanwhile I was laid back in the seat, AC on high eating what was probably the best piece of Casey’s pizza I’ve ever had while talking to my Dad! The kids were excited, all around listening to everything that was said and throwing out their own questions to me. Mom was all smiles! Miss was taking about a thousand pictures from every angle possible! Good times!

I am sorry that I did not get to talk to Scott much, but was glad to see him there. I was running on fumes, and just wanted to close my eyes for like 5 minutes. But I knew Ryan wanted to leave at 9 p.m. I knew that I had better get myself and the bike lubed up for the final leg. The rag sparkled with tiny specks of metal from the chain/worn out gearing. Nothing I could do about it other than lube the crap out of it and hope for the best. It’s going to suck if I have to repair this out in the dark.  I tried to sneak around to the backside of the truck for privacy to apply probably the largest amount of Chamois Butt’r ever to my lowers, hoping the kids did not see. We all said our goodbyes and took a few family group photos.

9 p.m., Ryan pulls up like clockwork, and has Cliff Allen with him! We ride off to take on those last 51 miles together. Just a bit into the leg we all realize that none of us remembered to grab our maps for this part. I assured them that I had ridden this route many times before, and knew the way. I also had loaded it on an app on my phone, and had it running. We were set. “Once we get to road V. we will be going north for like 9 miles,” I said. Soon enough we were there, and I was starting to struggle a bit just to keep up with them.

I don’t know if it was looking at their flashing red lights for miles, or that I was just extremely tired, or both. I was having a very hard time keeping my eyes open! The same thing happened to me last year towards the end, but we had 40 miles to go! We got to the first of the tougher climbs and I called out that I would like to walk a bit to save some energy. They agreed and we walked up the rest of the way to the top. At least now I won’t be looking at their flashing red lights. We rode on for a bit till the next climb and I let them know I would be walking it also. As we neared the top I let them in on what I was dealing with and suggested that maybe I needed them to slap me in the face to see if that would cure me. Wake me up so to speak. They obliged and both lightly hit me. We laughed and rode on. Not too much longer, maybe just a few miles or so, Ryan noticed that I was drifting off track ahead of him and said something like, “The rumble strips on a country road aren’t as forgiving as the ones on a highway.” I needed another “treatment.” Ryan laughed and Cliff took a swing… Eyes are open again, and we are off.

Now we are starting to notice other riders are gaining at times, but also fading back.
They must be walking up some of those hills too. I am now fighting sleep again! I had guzzled a whole bottle of my Rocktane-Powerade mix, had a couple Gu packets, and was still fighting my eyelids. I tried biting my lip, my tongue, wiping my eyes, spraying my face with my water hose, different riding positions, and was pissed off that nothing was working! I knew coming up soon we would be on DD Ave. north of Lake Kahola. A road that is scary enough during the daytime, let alone at night!

Just after mile 166, I stopped and asked that Cliff not hold back this time. I needed him to smack me really hard in order to wake me up. Now I don’t remember if he placed his free hand on my shoulder or not, but he, without hesitation, hit me so hard that my aching back and neck pain I had suffered with for the last six hours was gone!

 I think that “C Allen Doors and Chiropractic Services” has a good ring to it. As founder of this company, I’ll only take half of the profits for the first ten years… or better yet some free “adjustments” from time to time! Wide awake for the rest of the ride, it was time to turn the lights up on high so that I could “bomb” these hills. Before long we had reached the top of a large climb at mile 172. I informed them that this is a double drop down on the other side and that we should easily hit 35 mph. However, I reminded them to keep their speed up as we would have to climb out of it at the end.

Three miles later we zig-zagged across the highway and headed towards road D. The course finally headed south on road D. At around mile 185 there were some tiki-torches lighting up a sign that read, “Free water, beer, and pop up ahead!” Just up from that there was a huge party where everyone appeared to be cheering us on! If we had more time we would have stopped for some refreshments. However, I was pushing for a 2:00 a.m. finish and knew that we had better kept moving. It was all flat all the way into Emporia from here. I could have hammered it all the way from here but refused to leave the guys behind. After all, they did help me through my rough spot tonight.

We rolled into Americus at 1 a.m. I stopped to call Tiffany to let her know that we were on our way. After leaving Americus and following the road south that turns east into road 225, there was a police vehicle perched on the grader mound on the north side of the road. Was that you, Jim Baker??

Our pace was slow but steady. Cliff was falling back a bit as we were getting closer to the Turnpike crossing by McDonald’s; however, still within shouting distance. It was a good thing because all of a sudden he started telling us to wait up. I looked back and noticed that his light was so dim that he couldn’t even see the road in front of him. We slowed and all three rode in a pack from that point on. The bridge just outside of town on road K had been fixed, so no worries about small bike tires falling through this year! We were finally back on asphalt headed back into town; closer to the spotlights that were visible from outside of town. Once we were through ESU I opened the small bottle of W.L. Weller I had been carrying and took a swig. We made it! It’s all downhill from here! You just can’t help but pick up the pace when you see the finish line!

AND… I mean it this time! The finish line was still there when we arrived! That was the best part! 200 miles and 20 hours later, 2:04 a.m, I was allowed to ride under the HUGE DK200 finish banner. With bells ringing, cameras flashing, as well as screaming friends and family that had been waiting for us, there was no question that we made it! Kristi Mohn was all smiles, holding our glasses and 200 stickers!

TBL Photography: 2014 Dirty Kanza 200 &emdash; 2014dk200 night-105

 Mom, Dad, Tiffany, Lorrin, Cassidy, Wendy, Gretchen, Joe, Adriana, Armando, Michelle, Lisa, Kate, Dave, Kaari, as well as many other fans were all there to cheer every finisher on!


 Just        Fricking      Awesome!

Lisa had said, “John should be right behind you!”
I had also heard that Angela was pulling for five guys! We waited and cheered them all in!

Thanks Rick Becker for letting me be on the Mulready's Team this year!

It was a tough day, physically and mentally, however it was 100% worth it in the end!
Thank you DK Promotions Team: Jim, Leland, Tim and Kristi.
Awesome event! Keep up the great work!
Big thanks go out to everyone that has helped me achieve my title as an Official Dirty Kanza 200 Finisher!