Way back in January, I went on a long ride after riding too short for too long, and hurt myself. I don’t actually think I did it then, but I do think it was something that I picked up from my 2013 Dirty Kanza, something from the deep dark night of survival and grinding just to finish. If you know what an IT band is, you know how annoying it can be and how much it can slow you down. I had a good case of itis, and it was doing it’s best to hamper my mood and athleticism. I tried to do 10 miles. It hurt. I worked up to 20 miles. It hurt. Finally the therapy, my more normal training regiment at the gym, and a bit of determination got me above 30 miles pain free. 8 weeks away from the DK. Crap.
Libby and I had been planning since 2013’s Dirty Kanza, how could we go faster? What could we skip? What could I drop? Did I have to have that extra bag? Did I have to have two liters of water? I had told a few friends that I wanted to Race the Sun, something that seemed daunting considering my 20 hour 46 minute finish. Libby and I made it a secondary goal. My first goal was to ride in before they stopped selling beer at allegedly 10pm. I ramped up my training as hard as I could stand. I went to spin classes as often as I could. I rode as long as I could. I even caught the road group for a 80-mile flogging, and amazingly kept up. Finally about two weeks from the race, I managed to squeak out 94 miles, with almost all of my setup, in a little over six and a half hours. It seemed plausible that I could just maybe reach two goals, if everything held together.
Saturday morning, somewhere before six, I lined up to start the 2014 Dirty Kanza. I was sad that only two of us would return for another 203 miles of gravel, Roger Williams and myself. He had trained incredibly hard, I was a bit envious of that. I knew I could get this done, the question would be how long would it take me. I lined up in the 14 hour group. I elbowed my way into the middle of the pack, noticeing there were even less flat bar bikes than the few I saw last year. I think I was one of a very few running a full frame bag and flats bars. I got a few odd looks for sure, but I was happy with my El Mariachi. I had swapped to Vee 12’s for tires, limited my tools, and limited my water to 1.5 liters. I had two apples, a banana, a peanut butter and banana burrito, some candy, nuts, and one emergency goo. I thought about fenders, but thankfully it hadn’t rained in two days. If I didn’t have what I needed I would be walking or looking for a SAG Jeep.
Jim Cummings began to count down the minutes to the start and I snapped some quick pictures. Libby gave me a kiss and a hug for luck, I hoped I would see her soon in Madison. With the final seconds ticking off, we were away. I had a basic strategy, I knew that the pack could drag me for quite some time, maybe even to the first hills. I planned on riding hard enough to keep up and to give my legs time to warm up after a week off. Also, a big pack sucks a lot of air. I found that we were moving fast and the Vee 12’s were rolling easy. So far, so good. I looked around as the fog hung low over the fields, and Kansas revealed her early morning beauty. The hills and valleys just poked through the thick fog. The sun crawled just high enough that everything was shrouded in golden light. Seek out photographs of this, it is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. I am happy that many photographers took the chance to capture it and us, because I wasn’t going to stop for a photograph. I had work to do. I rode fast, keeping a fairly high speed average and trying to keep tight to any groups in front of me. This is the point where I should probably apologize to these guys, who all looked fresh and rode well. I didn’t contribute much but some advice and cheery good mornings, and hung on for dear life. The first climbs seemed to come to me a lot faster than I remembered; maybe I was just too caught up in the moment last year. My legs were behaving, but 20 miles of chasing caused them to feel a bit of a burn. I throttled back, focusing on climbing and navigation. Everyone e had let up some, so I really didn’t feel like I was loosing to much by switching to being more conservative. The cows were roaming their pens and at some points being held back by volunteers. I didn’t know this would be foreshadowing. I ate an apple somewhere after the pens, and worked down my burrito. I remembered to drink water, which Libby had spiked with Nuun (fruit punch for breakfast!). As we made some of the final turns into Madison, I noticed the breeze had picked up, almost directly out of the south east. Things were looking really nice for a great KLUNK. I looked down to discover I had dropped the chain off my front derailleur, for the second time in less than 24 hours. This almost never happens, unless I put on a new chain. Coincidentally I did that about two days prior. I rolled to a stop and pulled out the tiny screwdriver I kept for adjustments, incidentally go buy a Townie bike tool, Tom’s driver is darn good. 1/8th of a turn later and a chain reset and I was back on the bike. Pedaling away, trying to get back on top of my speed and to catch up with the group I had been tailing. Chuck Reinbolt had just passed, nicely asking if I needed help, and I couldn’t have a 100 miler outrun me just yet. I rode reasonably and managed to find him before the final split. It was a little past this the bike wash caught us again, not being as deep or swift as the year previously. Madison was near, and I wanted dry socks.
Once I was in Madison, I rolled across the timer and found Libby, she had managed to find almost the same spot as last year, simplifying the things I had to think about as I left the confused color parking direction lady in the dust. Libby threw socks at me, stole my shoes to dry them, and restocked the bike in about five minutes flat. I now firmly regretted leaving the brand new tube of Chamois Butter in the campground bathroom, as my saddle interface was already starting to complain. Libby did an amazing job reloading me, even the 50oz waterbag into my frame pack, I couldn’t ask for more. As I jumped back on my bike I asked her what time it was, surprisingly it was only now 9:40. All things were possible as I charged up the ridiculously steep hill out of town.
Somewhere on the climb out of Madison, which has to be at least 3 miles up, one of the guys from one of the Nordic countries asked me where he was. I replied, fighting off the urge to quote Field of Dreams. I knew this leg was the hardest leg, thank you 2013, but I was excited to have the wind at my back this time. Turning west, when it was flat, it was pretty easy to roll at a fast clip. I was trying to give it everything I could, just slightly uncomfortably. I was still worried about my leg getting too tight and causing me problems. Climbing Texaco Hill, I was feeling good, though I noticed it was hot. Not like melting paint hot, but with the wind at your back, everything felt like it was just baking you. I ate another PB & Banana wrap. Shortly afterward I decided that was a horrible idea. My stomach began to feel as if I had parked a log in it. I tried an apple, which tasted good, but did little to loosen the nutty logjam now parked in my middle. Hmm… maybe a bit more water and some electrolytes? Nope. Since that wasn’t working I focused on pedaling and eating what I could. I felt like the whole affair was dragging me down. Right about Battle Creek Road, I remembered that Libby had loaded some Ginger candies into my gas tank bag. Instructions had been to take one if my stomach was upset. Well it had definitely become upset and I felt like crap. I peeled one and popped it in. That was a sharp taste I wasn’t ready for. I pedaled a bit more and discovered that I felt better, I even felt like I had some energy! What was in those things? I figured a sip of water would help it go down a bit more. Much to my surprise, I didn’t have any water left. Seven miles out and not a drop of water on me. I started rummaging through what was left of my supplies to find anything with moisture in it… and discovered my last apple. It was a large juicy fruit, larger than I normally like, but full of sugary water. I tried to draw it out over at least a mile or so, but it’s savory appleness went down easy and quenched the thirst. By the time I turned into Cassoday, I was ready for water again. I might have been able to drink an Olympic pool.
I found Libby pretty easily, and wheeled to a stop behind the adventure car. Libby must have seen how I felt, because she started feeding me frosty ginger ale and pickles before I could tell her about my lack of water and cramps. She focused on reloading me while I ate and drank everything she put in front of me. I stretched, and it’s hard for me to describe how this felt here, take my word for it – it was marvelous. Libby gave me an extra large water bottle to shove in my jersey and kicked me out after about ten minutes. I started to feel a bit better and relaxed into the not terribly hard but grind happy middle.
Leg three takes you into the open pastures between Cassoday and Cottonwood Falls. It’s pretty, and somewhat flatter, definitely lush and green. Or it would be after ten miles of straight, blinding white, gravel to get to the turn into the pastures. I felt I was moving well, I still occasionally caught people, and really hadn’t been passed in a while. I felt okay, and as long as the music held out I ‘d be able to plug my way through the 10 miles. No sooner than Hells Bells could play, my trusty iPod died. Four miles into a 50 mile leg. Damnit. Oh well, time to reflect on my thoughts and the sound of the breeze blasting past my head. I climbed, I descended, I pedaled along. It was a good section, though I almost got hit by a cow or 12.
Cottonwood Falls almost seemed to come quickly, or perhaps it was just the heat baking my brain. There seemed to be extra turns in Cottonwood, almost seemingly to get us to enjoy the sights of the town park. I really wasn’t in a sightseeing mood. As Libby restocked me, and dunked really frigging cold things over my head, I heard that the winners had finished, crushing the course time at just over 10 hours. It hurt my head and my legs to think too hard about that, I filed it away for later. It was time to start the best part, the final leg.
In the previous DK, I had said there was nothing really of note in the final leg, partially because it was pitch black when I did it and partially because of pain and weariness. I had light; I had vigor; I had a chance (or so I was telling myself) of finishing before the sun hit the ground. My stomach still didn’t like me much, and my rear had checked out long ago, but my legs felt good enough to go forward and I had a goal within my sights. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Somewhere in the middle I was comparing my speed, my average, and how much further I had to go. I was certain it was bad math, I was certain I was ignoring that the moving time on my bike did not include the stops at waypoints, and I was certain it didn’t matter. I was charging to the sun. It didn’t matter that the sun was setting to my left in a beautiful sunset. It didn’t matter that I probably wasn’t actually going to get a plaque. I was on target for my goal of 14 hours, 42 minutes. My sun was still in the sky and damnit I was going to beat it. Right about this point I realized though, I didn’t bring a light to read my map. SHIT. Now I really had to try to beat the sun, or at least ride through as much of the complicated course as I could before navigating by braille. Fueled by Libby’s turkey wraps I only thought forward. I ate my fruit and I choked down my peanuts and superheated M&M’s. Nothing was happy anymore, but I moved. At one point my legs complained loudly enough to make it past my mental block, including a cramp that made me squeal. If you’ve ever had both inner groin muscles lock up at the same time, you know this noise. I managed to pretend it didn’t happen. As afternoon wore deep into dusk, the fallout of cyclists started to get heavier. I started to come across cyclists who couldn’t go any further. They hid under trees, they sprawled on bridges, they simply decided to stop. They seemed to respond okay when I asked if they were okay, but didn’t move much. I didn’t dare stop to ask why they had paused so close to the end, but there is a point where you simply cannot push forward any longer.
I take this moment to share when things began to get a little weird. Well not so much weird as deeply memorable. The first was actually in the third leg, but I couldn’t find a smooth way to bring it up. As I rode past a farm, a very nice lady had camped a lawnchair in her front lawn, creating an oasis for herself and others. She had drug her garden hose as far as it would reach and erected a sign, “Free Cokes and Water.” The sign by itself was incredibly sweet, but the sight made me laugh. A cyclist had pulled into the mini-oasis to take her up on that offer, and had not apparently not made it far from his bike. He was sprawled out, face to the sky, and the lady was quite happily spraying him with water from the garden hose. He seemed to be enjoying it immensely. She looked up and smiled, cheerily offering water. I realized too late I should have stopped to top off. (I ran out just after that) I had stolen Libby’s iPod and was listening to her selection of Pop. She had shyly given it to me, warning me that the music may not be my cup of tea, but after four hours of gravel, Kelly Clarkson never sounded so good. Somehow, Radioactive came on at just the right point, and between singing to my handlebars I started to cry. I don’t really know why, but it seemed right at the time. Somewhere in the dark (remember I forgot the map light), my stomach turned against my hydration. I craved water, pure clean water. Somewhere near Americus an entire family, perhaps extended family including a few friends too, had set up their very own handup station. I came down a hill and was greeted by cowbells and children running through the road handing out bottles of water. They had two out front, and two behind, if the first child missed, surely the second would tackle you off your bicycle and force you to accept their kindness. I probably need to go back and apologize to the little girl who gave me the most incredible Ozarka water I’ve ever tasted. I might have snatched it from her hand at full tilt.
Americus was a highlight last year, because I almost stopped at the pub, and I was sad to find it closed. Nevertheless, Emporia was close and I could almost hear it. Yes it was dark, yes I had come to face the inevitable that I would not get a plaque, but I was still under my goal. With whatever I had left, I turned onto Merchant? and cranked up the hill through campus as hard as I could. I remembered a childhood memory of visiting my grandmother, who lived just off the street, but kept on. At the very top, I stopped. Why you might ask? Because of a red light. It seems I couldn’t willingly run it, though I thought about it, because of traffic and setting a bad example for the cyclists that were nowhere to be found. Minutes (which felt like hours) ticked away. Finally I had the signal and sprinted for whatever was left. Down commercial full bore over the timer and almost straight into Jim Cummings. I have flat spots in my tires from my skidding halt, but it felt so incredibly good to cross that line.
I did it. I finished in 16, hours, 4 minutes. I will always deduct the four minutes as “that damn red light penalty” so we’ll just call it 16 hours even among friends. I crossed the line just in time to be handed a pint glass, and for them to close the bar. Someone needs to extend that liquor license a bit longer. I improved my time from 2013 by four hours, 42 minutes. Libby planned and pitted me like a pro, keeping my non-moving time to 30 minutes, I had a few minor stops for mechanical gremlins. She lone cut two hours out of my time by not letting me get comfortable anywhere but the saddle. I owe myself though, I also road two and a half hours faster. A year of riding when I could, staying healthy as I could, and fiddling really helped overcome what I originally felt I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve heard people joke, that you can do the DK with limited training. I wouldn’t advise it, I got incredibly lucky. My pit crew knew what to do when, and kept me going. She’s amazing, she really is. I’m generally not too worse for wear, although I can still feel the muscles in my legs complain when I ride. My butt has recovered enough to sit in a saddle and on hard surfaces, but the dents are still there. I only have one blister, right in my palm, where the cheap and overly padded gloves disagreed with the ergonomic grips. I expect to do a breakdown of my bike and gear soon.