Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Dirty Kanza 200 - 4 - Bringing it home....

This may be shocking, but the final leg is mostly a black blur to me. Dave and I made good progress, pedaling as fast as we could stand. We climbed when the road tilted up, and descended as the road tilted down. There were far fewer turns in this segment; so long straight lines were leading us north, around the top of Emporia. We picked up some other riders, and rode in a group for a while.  Somewhere in the middle the group began to slow, savoring the company and what had become a fantastic night. I on the other hand had places to be. I wanted my pint glass, hopefully full, and was not going to slow down. My butt had checked out, sitting and pedaling wasn’t fun anymore. The inside of my knee would complain if I stopped pedaling and stood to relieve the pressure on my butt. I found myself not quite knowing how to relieve the pain, but pedaling without stop seemed to help. The glow of Emporia beckoned me. Seeing the lights of the town grow helped my spirits. I checked the map as often as I could, ticking the miles down. Due to minor turns to find checkpoints, I had a couple extra miles on my computer, forcing me to do a bit of extra math at every turn. It was a welcome diversion to keep my occupied. I was catching riders, even if it was by surprise. I knew where I was going and didn't need to stop to consult my map. I quickly passed through Americus, marked nearly as badly as Cottonwood Falls, but hoping the blinking lights in the distance were right I passed on. I did see the bar in town open, the sole business still operating, and I almost stopped for a pint. An open bar meant I wasn’t out of time yet, but it was time to go as fast as I could. I had settled into a solitary dance, standing pedaling, sitting, swearing, and pedaling some more. I was ready to be off the bike for sure. After what seemed like hours I finally found my last right turn. Hitting mile 201 was a sweet right turn, and a straight uphill through the ESU campus and into downtown. I’d like to apologize to everyone in Emporia, I ran all of your red lights and stop signs in a sprint (or what was left of one) into downtown. There were some people in front of me, and I was determined to catch at least one of them sleeping. After 20 hours of racing, it was totally worth it. I crossed the line at 2:45 AM, Sunday after riding 206 miles in 20 hours, 45 minutes. I wasn’t the last man; I collected my pint glass; and promptly handed my bike and glass to L. She handed me back a Jimmy John’s sandwich, which was amazing. The same people who had met me at stop three had stayed until the wee hours to see me in. It was the best finish I could have hoped for. After some sleepy conversation, everyone filtered off showers and sleep.

Later that day…

L and I slept long into the morning, unfortunately missing the awards ceremony and breakfast. I had really looked forward to that, but the sleep was so marvelous that I didn’t care. I am still-hunting for a shirt for L, it is her prize for providing me the best support anyone could have asked for. My Salsa el Mariachi performed flawlessly. No mechanicals, and a smooth steel ride for 20 some odd hours. I had been riding the Geax Saguaro’s for months beforehand, and they were tough enough to not flat once. I have already decided to ride the Dirty Kanza again, now I just have to decide if I want the half-pint or another full pint. I may lighten the bike or experiment with the setup over the next year, or I may just go full expedition again and ride it the way it is.

The Dirty Kanza 200 - 3

I was alone. I would learn that over half of the participants had dropped by this point. The wind, mechanicals, or the wall had claimed them. The headphones and random music hastily loaded on my iPod were my company. I had initially looked forward to the eastern section of the third leg thinking a wind at my back would be nice. The map didn’t show that it was a climb to the east, for what looked like ten miles. I watched storm clouds gather and blow away. The clouds gave me some shade, but were busy to some far off place. East wasn’t the respite I had been looking forward to; it was a slog forward and upward. Somewhere at the top of the final hill on the damned eastern leg I was startled to look down into a valley and see my turn. It looked steep. It looked fast. The gravel looked… loose. These thoughts crossed my mind as I barreled down the hill, I clung to the handlebars and stretched my achy knees. I didn’t dare flick my eyes away from the gravel, for fear a pothole or rock would send me crashing to the Earth brutally. It would be my first and last grin for a little while, the speedo said I did somewhere near 41mph. While I reflected on this, I would turn into the pasture and oil fields. It was time to fight northwest again. This would surely be the roughest road, I was thankful for my oversized mountain bike tires. While climbing a hill with a cinderblock building on the side I met Dave. Dave would prove to be a great companion for the next 40 miles or so, we had similar enough pace that we could tow each other along nicely. We talked about many topics, some as simple as sandwiches, others as complex as taxes. Sometimes he just talked, it was nice to hear his voice instead of the wind. There were more hills, but they had become normal to me now. As the dusk settled on the prairie the hills seemed to turn purple in the light. God, it was beautiful out here. We were rolling comfortably, and a bit quicker, but I was still trying to keep close tabs on the map. I didn’t expect things to have been as well marked as they were, but I was still paranoid we might miss a turn. I was nearly right in my fears at the Rock Creek Road turn, where so many elites had gone wrong so far off course. Always follow the map they said, and you’re less likely to get lost. Cotton Wood falls was close, meaning 20 miles or so, and it was getting dark. The terrain was smoothing out as the sun set into the hills, the wind had also fallen silent. We were rolling in the dark on smooth clean roads now, which may sound easy, until you find that the checkpoint is hidden behind a store on the other side of town, down the highway some. Not the best for those tired cyclists now dragging up the rear. Dave and I had to stop and ask someone if they had seen a bunch of bikes ride by. Fortunately for us they had. We had found the final checkpoint in just four hours fifty-three minutes. Another checkpoint, but this reload had a surprise. The rest of my club members from the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club had come from their finishes to cheer me on. It was nice seeing them and talking briefly. L had talked to my boys asking them if they wanted to make me a sign. The artistic result is one of my favorite mementos from the race. Thirty-three minutes later Dave found me and we set off into the darkness again.

The Dirty Kanza 200 - 2 "hey who turned on the wind?"

Back on the bike and climbing the disturbingly steep hill out of Madison, two boys, not much older than my own, congratulated me. They offered high fives for a reward and good luck. I wouldn’t even make it two more blocks before turning west, and face first into the wall of wind that would push me backward for the remainder of the day. I tried swearing at it, but it no one could hear over the roar. The forecasters said up to 20mph, I think they were off by ten. I consulted my map to see where I could have any relief, but it looked like I was riding mostly west, with very short tacks to the south. This leg was going to take a while. Because I had been such a lead ass in Madison, I was now riding toward the middle back of the pack (or perhaps the back) and there were few people to draft of share the duties of cutting of the wind. I could catch riders, but would always outpace them climbing. The game of long uphill climbs had also begun to set in. Riders now faced the wind struggling uphill and down. This leg would mark the first time I gave mental or physical aid to a rider. I can’t remember his name, but he had already begun to struggle with cramps. I slowed and offered my draft. He said he had been with a group, but had dropped out when his legs started to complain. I pulled him for the longest five miles of my life, the howling wind can be thanked for that. Finally we reached a turn to the south, and with that he pulled around me. He asked me to hang on his wheel and took off. I tried, I really did, but my legs needed a snack and I needed a moment to roll. I don’t know where he went after that, aside from over the next hill, but I hope he finished well. I would only get two miles to the south, god that was short, before I was into the wind again. Ugh. I found myself locked in a grind, each pedal stroke felt just like the last. Each blast of the wind made me grimace. I took solace in eating, drinking, and looking around often. The rolling hills were beautiful and it had become a perfect Kansas day. Somewhere on Battle Creek Road I found some riders of similar disposition to me, one had blown a spoke and surprisingly was from Tonganoxie. The other, Bobby, was cursing the wind as much as I had been. We took comfort in our common enemy and would work as a threesome, sometimes five-some depending who we caught or caught us, against the wind and the hills. Right about this time I saw what had to be Texaco Hill, and it looked like two miles of up. I set my gears and my mind to spinning. I knew sooner or later I would make it to the top. I ignored the wind, I ignored thirst, and I climbed. I climbed some more, and when I thought I surely had run out of hill, I climbed a little further. Whew, at the apex of the hill I offered myself a reward, a brief stop to look back and take a photograph of a now limitless valley view. The kid from Tonganoxie and Bobby would come by a few minutes later, noting that everyone did that. Well, it was still my moment. Back on the cranks, I found myself in pursuit again. I would chase the kid from Tongie and Bobby up and down countless hills. They had warned me about the rollers going into Cassoday, but I had thought it would be just like what I had seen so far. Yeah, not quite. The two rollers, I would hear everyone talk about later, were two half-mile climbs, that seem to go up so steeply that you would fall off your bike if you leaned back much past upright. These terrible twins burned your legs, forced you to pull from deep inside, and made you pray for even the briefest of respite from the wind. I saw more than one cyclist dismount and walk, I considered it, but I would have fallen over long before getting my clips clear of the pedals. Standing, spinning, grunting, it all happened in hopes of climbing the hills in front of me. Finally when I came to the top, I was rewarded with another view and big gust of wind. Eh, might as well keep moving. Cassoday waits. Right about this time I had my one unfortunate event, a bee landed on my saddle to hitch a ride. I didn’t know this until I sat down and it stung me. I swore, swerved, and a stopped to crush the offending bug. After this little circus, I lost track of a lot of things, but soon found myself on pavement again. As I rolled down the hill into town, the kid from Tongie joined me again. His rear wheel now looked like a Pringle thanks to his broken spoke. He told me he was out, unable to go any further. I asked him to save me a beer in Emporia. I rolled to the checkpoint and had to turn around. Someone had cruelly put the rest stop back up the last hill. L looked worried, It had taken me five hours fifteen minutes to slog through the wind. I promptly sat down and enjoyed a Coke and some food. As L reloaded me, the support crews looked for Jason; he was later than I was. I hadn’t seen him since the first leg, where he blasted past me easily, so I thought he was ahead of me. When he came in, he didn’t look tired but very calmly sat down and called his day. I still don’t know if it was the call of the beer, the howl of the wind, or some unseen ache that made one of the strongest cyclists from our group quit. I couldn’t ask, I had sat too long again, fifty-five minutes this time. I told L that this leg would have a brief east ride, and then a very long ride directly into the wind. It would take me a while, but I would get there. A kiss and off I went.

The Dirty Kanza 200 - A start.

I found myself standing in front of the Granada in not yet sunny downtown Emporia, KS, with a thousand other cyclists. After a brief pit stop, I saw Dan Hughes. He looked like it was any other day; he was ready for a normal ride in the countryside. We wished each other luck; as he wandered off to find a spot to start. I walked past the front of the pack, the leaders and those who could not stand to see saddles before them, these men and women looked hard. The atmosphere around them did not seem to sink in, the rest of us mortals were enjoying the pre-adventure buzz. The lead pack was ready to push as hard as they could, as long as they could, until there was nothing left. This might be a good point to note my friend Roger, in the front of the pack; First wheel dead center. My good morning fist bump wasn’t really noticed, he had apparently set his mind to the task at hand. A quick picture and I shuffled off so he could concentrate on his fight. The beautiful L and I began to look around for Lawrence Mountain Bike Club members. I hoped they were under the time I hoped to come across the finish line many hours from now. Chuck, Craig, and Rod appeared, and we all relaxed under the veil of a 16-hour finish. Chuck fired off mass start advice; perhaps fueled by the nutrient Goo. He advised me to watch for pile-ups, it wouldn’t take much to cause a heap of cyclists early on. Either way, I figured I had fat tires and would just ride over any heaps of cycle and lycra, should they crash in front of me. It’s not nice, but I had no intent of falling down in Emporia.  One last check of everything and the spectators began to shuffle out of the way. It was time to take that first pedal stroke.

At the stroke of six, nearly 1,000 cyclists rolled forward en mass, dutifully following their police escort down Commercial Street to the edge of town. I wouldn’t say we were going fast, but it was definitely the leader’s pace, something I didn’t expect to hold for long. I did notice a few confused faces as the pack rolled through stoplights.  When we turned onto gravel, the group bunched up again. I had to track stand to keep from mowing over a few smaller rigs. On the gravel the pace lines extended for what seemed like two miles. It was early and the riders consumed the gravel. We were now moving fast, much faster than the pace I had mentally set, but it was calm, the road felt like it was going downhill, and 500 bikes were sucking me along. Eh, roll with it I thought. I figured everyone would calm down. I figured the club would drop off the speed and go back to conserving energy looking for the long finish. I was using the wrong math. After ten fast miles, I decided I would not be able to hold this pace forever and I dropped off to race against myself. Now this isn't to say that I dropped all the way to the back, pulling the rear. I was still passing people without much effort and I still rolled fast and comfortably. My big tires, wide range of gears, and comfort atop my bike allowed me to take crappier lines, out climb, and out descend a lot of lightly laden bikes.  I owe someone at Salsa a Christmas card for the el Mariachi. I was drafting people when I could, trying to make friends, and trying to pick out a group that could run to the end. Strangely most people seemed really irritated that a dude in a mountain bike jersey had ran them down carrying at least twice as much crap as they seemed to be. Eh, probably all in my head.

The miles were turning over quickly, and with the ticker the landscape thinned of the marks of civilization. One climb would be followed by a descent, one turn followed by a climb. How dry the gravel looked surprised me; most of Kansas had received five inches of rain over the last four days, and I was expected flooded roads. No time like the present to eat my words, so imagine my surprise when right about mile 17, a nice climb and a left hand turn revealed a ¼ mile mud bog. Guess it had rained here after all. The cross guys were dismounting and tiptoeing around the edges of the pits, I thought, I could just skirt across a ridge and roll the bike over the crust. Yeah, not so much. I quickly accumulated enough mud in the fork that I couldn’t roll the bike. A drag or two later and I was back on solid(ish) ground, quickly pulling wads of mud off my frame to free the wheels and shifters. Mental note, just follow the little bikes. I rode a few hundred yards, and had to dismount again to skirt an equally deep bog. Another muck clean and off we went, throwing flint and mud everywhere. I’m sorry if you were behind me.  I would have chance to clear more of my tires after a brief climb, and the first of many big downhill sections. We had reached Teapot Mound Road, the first of the stunning valley views we would have over the next 200 miles. Climbing turns and sweeping downhills defined the roads now. Cows were now freely roaming, and more than once I would rocket down a hill, just to see a small water crossing at the foot of the hill. If I was lucky I got to see someone ride through; If not, I pulled back on the bars and hoped for the best. I started to feel the remote feeling of the open range. I was losing my self in my thoughts when I woke up suddenly. A woman in a cut off t-shirt standing by the one of the rescue Jeeps told me I had to dismount. I asked why, slowing to hear her answer, the next water crossing was under water. Actually, a river had sprung up in the middle of the course, fueled by a week of rain. As I heaved my bike onto my shoulder, I briefly regretted carrying all of my gear on a steel bike. 200 feet later, with extra wet feet, I was done with the race’s big water crossing. Climbing the mud soaked hill, I passed several riders who had stopped to mend a tube or dry their feet. I didn’t want to stop, so I elected to push on until I could make the first stop in Madison. I hoped my shoes would drain enough to put dry socks in them. The riding was fast and the weather was perfect. I didn’t realize that the wind had picked up, but I knew I as moving faster than anticipated. Maybe I just felt really good? Suddenly, almost too soon, pavement appeared and I raced into Madison hot behind a pack of riders. I cruised into the heart of town to check in.  I had my second map! It was time to find L and reload fuel and water. L looked startled when I had appeared in just three hours thirty minutes. I didn’t believe it myself. While she set to drying my shoes and reloading my gear I enjoyed an egg sandwich and some chocolate milk. I didn’t realize it until too late, that I had been sitting for 45 minutes.