A 200 mile bike race on gravel roads seems pretty hard. Imagine riding Almanzo once, then turning around and riding it again. Well, the Dirty Kanza 200 in 2015 wasn't anything like that. No, the DK200 was more like a 100 mile mud-filled survival fest followed then by a 100 mile gravel race. Throw in a steady 15 mph wind and I had the ingredients for a 17 hour and 45 minute adventure race. A full 3 hours longer than I had hoped for. And to be honest, I had a good day!
Prep, food & bike
At the Friday night rider meeting, one of the speakers (Rebecca Rusch) referred to this event as an eating contest. I've heard these events described like that before. But after racing (and bonking) in so many of these ultras over the past few years, I have a new appreciation for the truth in it. You simply have to keep eating. The body can't carry around enough energy to ride for 17 hours. The challenge for me had always been my body's rejection of food. With my blood busy delivering oxygen to my legs I've got little left to help with digestion.
This year my primary fuel was going to be Hammer Perpetuem - in liquid form these calories are essentially already digested, so my stomach doesn't need to work as hard to ingest and feed my body and brain with energy. Secondary fuel, Mountain Dew. Tertiary, anything solid that I could stuff down my throat: PBJ, potato chips, bananas, GUs, energy bars, etc. The plan was to drink 2 bottles of Perpetuem between each water stop (10 bottles in all), accompanied by plenty of water from my CamelBack. The Mountain Dew was for consumption at the two pit stops plus a bottle or two stuffed in my shirt for an as needed rush of sugar and caffeine during the subsequent miles. And the solid stuff was for whenever I felt like I could keep it down.
My bike was a Salsa Warbird Ti. Super sweet ride that carried me through the Kanza plus another 600 miles of gravel racing in 2014. The tires were 700x35 Kenda Happy Mediums and both were set up tubeless - at the start. I had a Revelate tangle-bag hanging from the cross bar with two tubes, small hand pump, munchies, lights, battery for my GPS, iPOD, etc. My small saddle bag carried tools and on my back was a CamelBack with 100 oz of water. I also had two water bottle cages, each carrying 20oz of Perpetuem (my fuel).
The fun begins
The good times started with the 4AM alarm in our rented house in Cottonwood Falls. After a few quick hits of coffee and egg sandwiches we were on the road and at the start line in Emporia by 5:30. (Note to self: sleep an extra 1/2 hour next year.) Getting to Emporia so early did have two advantages, there was a very short line for coffee and easy access to the restroom inside the theater. I took advantage of both and by 6AM I was ready for the start.
It would be impossible for me to recount the entire 200 miles of the race, but there are a few highlights that I can't forget.
5 blocks after the start, at about 6:02, the entire field was stopped by a train passing through Emporia. The great thing about it, everybody just laughed it off and chilled. Gotta love the vibe at a gravel race.
The train passed and the roll-out continued for a bit on the pavement out of town. A quick right onto gravel and the race was on. The road at first was wet, maybe a little sticky, but not bad. That changed around mile 10. It changed in a big way. Suddenly we were ankle deep in mud, deep, un-rideable, clay-clingy mud. No choice, but to dismount and walk. Bikes had to be carried because rolling in the mud wasn't an option - the mud would stick to the tires, jam up in the stays and keep the wheels from turning.
The walk did provide a teachable moment however. Apparently rattle snakes find comfort in the gap between the very-muddy middle of the road and the less-muddy sides. I saw two snakes curled up in the gaps, presumably huddled to keep warm and as dry as possible in these little pockets. I wasn't crazy about seeing a rattle-snake, but it did put a smile on my face. The scene had become kind of absurd.
The worst part about the mud-trudge was the uncertainty. Here we are, 10 miles into a 200 mile race and people are carrying their bikes for as far as the eye can see. How long would this last? Are we going to be walking for the next 190 miles? I had serious doubts about finishing already - and the race had just started.
Luckily the mud ended as abruptly as it began and after about 3 miles of walking we were all able to climb aboard again and pedal.
Miles and miles
It is pointless to recap the ensuing 185 miles. Suffice it to say they were filled with moments both good and bad. The little "wash" crossings were more like small river crossings. I was able to clean another stretch of mud about 1 mile long - which saved me a lot of time and energy. I saw a dozen or more bikes with derailleurs torn from their frames (the mud had gotten the best of 'em). The hills were pretty tame and the steep & rocky ones were fun to climb.
I flatted at around mile 25, tried a few times to just re-inflate, hoping that the Stans sealant in the tire would re-seal the leak. It didn't so I had to put a tube in. After that I only got off my bike for natural breaks and at the water stops. I pulled out of Cotton Wood Falls - the last water stop at around mile 155 - in the near dark. And pedaled strong for the final 45 miles.
In fact, the last 45 miles were pretty sweet. I tried the headphones for a bit, but the ride just felt like it needed my attention and after about 2 songs I had to put 'em away and get back to the night.
The darkness, exhaustion and the end in sight all combined to put me into a meditative mood. I suffered a bit, but powered by a couple more Mountain Dews I found a nice rhythm. I pushed up the hills and rode cautiously down in the dark. On the flats I went pretty hard. I probably passed about 25 - 35 people over the last 40 miles. One dude passed me - more power to him, he was really moving. But I was definitely on the offensive. It was a stark contrast to last year when the last 20 miles felt like they would never end.
Before too long I was on the pavement again, with only 2 miles to go before the finish chute in downtown Emporia. I rode 'em pretty hard - feeling good after 17 hours? - and finished with my hands held high in the air. It was a memorable day and I was lucky to be able to finish.
Several weeks have now passed and I can say definitively, that no matter the conditions, the 2015 DK200 was fun. It was crazy at times, but looking back it was definitely a good time and a day that I will never forget.
Thanks to the event organizers, the city of Emporia and all the generous hosts in south-central Kansas.
See you next year.