Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dirty Kanza 200 2013 Race Report

 Whats this?  A race report?  After 6 months of nothing?  Yes.  This particular  race deserves a post.

As this race report can’t help but be long, let’s get right to the most important stuff  - things I learned, starting with the positives:

  •          Kansas is windy (you probably knew that)
  •          Kansas is gorgeous (you probably didn't know that)
  •        Kansas ain’t flat (you didn't know that)
  •          Emporians are terrific (you never cared)
  •          I want to go back (no one really cares)
Now the "room for improvement" segment:
  •          Don’t try riding through  the local mudholes
  •          Don’t bomb through river crossings unless your rolling big volume and Stans
  •          Make certain to eat plenty along the way
  •          Wear sunblock
There are many different reasons folks are drawn to the DK200 for the first time.  Maybe it’s the challenge.  Maybe it was someone’s race report.  Maybe it was a crazy bet placed while drinking…

In my case, I knew a guy.  Scott, whom I know from work lives right in Emporia, likes to bike and suggested I check out the DK200 a few years back.  Early this year I figured “why not?”   I can tell you why not.  It’s bloody damn extravagant for an unpaid cyclist to pack a bike up and go race nearly halfway across the country!

But according to multiple written and verbal accounts this event had something special going on and I wanted to experience whatever it was.  Extravagance be damned!  And hey!  - I know a local!

I registered early – and started making arrangements.    First off -what to ride?  I had hoped to have a custom coupled CarverTi frame ordered in March ready for the race, but there was more to this concept than the event.  My job is taking me out and around the country more than ever.  A coupled mountain bike frame makes sense:  Fee free flying, staying  in shape & adaptable to different conditions.   Unfortunately, Carver is very busy!  So I checked in with friends online and sourced a bike crate to ship my existing Salsa Chili Con Crosso CX bike. 
Before packing up the Con Crosso – she needed a few modifications to address 200 miles over the variable conditions Kansas was destined to dole out:

New parts required:
  •          A double chainring (originally came with a single chainring = just not enough gearing)
  •          A SRAM Rival front derailleur
  •          A Jagwire derailleur cable

Suitable on-hand inventory:
  •          Mini Time-trial bars (I hear it’s windy)
  •          Time trial double bottle holder  (you need to bring plenty of water)
  •          A large frame bag (plenty of storage for food, tubes, a compass, tools, lights & patches)
  •          WTB Terrainasaurus tires – general purpose 37c on/off road tires

Unnecessary mod – but certainly extra sweet:
  •          Carver Carbon Wheelset (1/2 pound less than stock)

After flying into Kansas City, I drove out to Emporia and checked in with Scott in town.  We headed to the rider briefing at the Granada Theatre around 4pm.  Along the way I noticed virtually every storefront in this quiet & quirky blue collar town had something representing the event.   Also along the way, pianos.  Yes pianos along the street in  multiple colors and designs – free for any degree of talent to play.  That’s pretty cool.

We settled in at the theatre amidst the buzz of people chattering about what they were about to take on the next day – then the lights went down, and the video screen lit up. 

Immediately our senses were assaulted with hard rock and a stream of photos and video taken with the right light at all the right angles.  As hard as I tried to remain cool and detached, I was getting seriously caught in the moment.  

Very  Seriously.   Whoever put this video together had an eye for detail & drama.

That introduction sealed it.  Yep, this is going to be worth it.

After the briefing, I gathered my number plate, bag of goodies and map – then it was off to Scott’s office just down the street to make sure my bike was 100% ready for the 6 am start.

After a mostly good night’s sleep (It’s hard not to wake up early for this kind of thing) we headed into town.  Conditions: Perfect.  Soon I settled in amongst the “12 hour” group.  That alone was pretty neat.  Basically you slotted yourself based on how you felt you’d fit in.
At the line I chatted with a couple of Boston guys in red shirts.  You know, just a couple of random peeps from my part of the world.

At 6:00 sharp.  It started.

We headed out of town with a police escort.  It was pretty smooth, but having experienced a couple of recent races that involved escorts – here is a word of advice:  We’re quicker than you might think.  Please accelerate to about 25-30 briskly then gently ease up as needed. You likely won’t have to drop below 25.  We’re all a bit jumpy the first 10 minutes into these things.

Before long we hit gravel.  Medium size stone lined the road.  Not enough to cause problems if you stayed on track, but enough to be a problem with a wagon train of riders cruising at speed  close to each other.  About 20 minutes in, the expected occurred.  A crash maybe 5 or 6 riders ahead - it appeared the downed riders were moderately scraped up - we all continued around an on.

I began passing riders to get within the pack at the front.  We were moving, but not too hard.  I stuck with the group for at least another 20 minutes then started feeling really, really good – bursting here and there with energy.  Then maybe about another 20 minutes into it I started riding ahead the pack.
Holy expletive.  What am I doing up here?!  I felt fine and wasn’t pushing so much (at least it seemed that way)

The course conditions had changed from dry mid-size gravel to semi-soft loamy tracks through a field.  By now the field was at least a couple hundred feet behind.  Up ahead:  A mudhole – lesson one was about to commence.

Approaching the mudhole it was clear that the vehicular tracked portion would be wet, difficult and greasy to negotiate.  Using my not so developed powers of Kansas mud density prediction, I headed towards the untouched mud on the right and went for it.   That lasted about 75% of the way – to be not so promptly brought to a halt at which point I fell over and found a nice rock that tore deeply  into my knee.  I frantically dragged the bike the rest of the way out of the mudhole.  At that point is was evident, the bike simply wouldn’t go.  There were massive quantities of mud jammed in there.  I slammed the bike madly  up and down on the ground - No go.  Then tried pushing the bike backwards -No go.  By now the field was scampering around me.  The only way to address the mud was to reach in and yank it out in similar fashion to assisting a compacted bovine.  Damn that was stupid!!  Post-race I found out the locals were discussing which idiot would try riding that section first.  For the record, Hi – I’m Alby, I usually ride mountain bikes.   Oh who am I kidding – I take stupid risks all the time.

After clearing just enough mud to get things barely spinning I got back on and proceeded to work my way back up towards the lead group.  With the tailwind picking up, we were cooking along then approached some open range territory with what?  Hills.  Yep.  Hills in Kansas.  It was here I found the mud had jammed my front derailleur.

I was sitting maybe 6th approaching a stiff little climb.  With no access to the small chainring there was only one thing to do:  Maintain speed.  I passed everyone on the hill – and once again found myself uncomfortably at the front.  Although I know better – high hopes couldn’t help but start burbling to the surface. “Am I capable of a podium here?! – it sure feels like it!”

We blasted south helped by the northwest blast, ticking off the miles in record time.  Along the way I eased up a little.  A passing rider exclaimed  “What?  You tired now?!  After putting down the hammer like that?!”   Really?  I’m putting down the hammer?  Not sure how to address that – seems good, might not be.

I continued to push at or near the front – then we turned towards some more hilly grassy terrain.  Heading downhill I could see a stream crossing lined with rocks.  Maybe one or two riders were ahead – they blasted  through a little towards the right.  I headed towards  a seemingly good line on the left – and slammed a rock HARD. So hard both of my seatpost mounted water bottles ejected.  I came to a stop to retrieve the bottles- then heard the familiar hiss..  Crap. Lesson two.

On the other side of the stream, a nice uphill.  There was enough air in the tire to continue riding – so I headed to the top of the hill, pulled over & proceeded to pull the wheel & change the tube.  Meanwhile the line of riders passed, far too many to count.

After the flat was repaired I hopped back on, hopeful that I’d be able to regroup with the lead but it seems I didn’t retain any wisdom from lesson two.   About 2 miles later  lesson three – the same thing: Pinch flat. I pulled over and swapped out my second and last tube.  I was starting to thoroughly dislike this game.  From here on out I’d have to stop blasting through anything that looked slightly risky to my tires.

Back on the bike I was now passing rider after rider.  Before long – checkpoint one,  Madison.  Zipping along the brick lined street full of exuberant spectators I connected with Scott & frantically re-filled my water bottles.  That would be the quickest stop of the day.

I continued on the course powering up a fairly steep paved hill full of fire – then the course started turning towards the West.  With the Northwest wind I knew we were looking at some head and crosswinds, the only comfort - knowing everyone else had to contend with the same.  On top of the wind, more elevation was coming into play.  Stretches of road started feeling endless.  You’d  complete a hill – only to see another coming in the distance. 

Occasionally, a small stand of trees would heighten your appreciation for what it’s like *not* to be riding against the wind.  Also occasionally:  Gusts that nearly stopped you cold.  This was getting brutal. 

Photo: Eric Benjamin

Alongside the increased physical demands, an increased level of beauty and isolation while passing Texaco Hill.  For me it was also something of a novelty to see wide open oil fields and related equipment.

Heading up Texaco Hill

Rolling into checkpoint two the combination of exertion, lack of food & worst of all - a seriously tight back was taking its toll.  Being hunched over in the same position hour after hour is excruciating (opposed to mountain biking).   Along the way it was clear this was not an isolated issue.  Riders everywhere were arching their backs, standing and contorting this way and that all to find a just few moments of comfort.

Scott thankfully had brought a couple of bananas that I nearly forced down whole.   While trying to collect myself (apprently looking  desperate and confused),  Scott graciously started chipping away the cement like mud that had accumulated earlier.   I headed out in a semi-delirious state, paying no attention to his instructions on which way to go – thankfully some folks down the road turned me around before I made it to Nevada.  The good news – the wind was at my back -at least for now.

I hung with a couple of riders eastbound flying along Teeter road.  At first I felt guilty wheel-sucking, but then it was apparent, hanging out in the breeze was no more difficult with the near tail-wind.  Before turning north, a significant and memorable downhill called “Teeter drop”.  I hit almost 45 which doesn't seem like much until we consider this was on rough gravel  rolling 37c tires without pedaling!  Speaking of pedaling, that was out of the question.  The speed and terrain required every bit of concentration to stay aligned, upright & disaster-free.

The dreaded turn to the north was exactly as anticipated.  We were again passing through gorgeous countryside whilst being pummeled by headwinds and quite a bit of elevation change.   I wasn’t getting past fellow riders with the same verve as prior, just the opposite.  In an effort to conserve energy, I caught up to and clung onto a couple of Chamois Butt’r guys who shielded me from the dread wind as we headed straight into it.  The right thing to do is pull your share in these situations but my share in this case was closer to 25%.  I just didn’t have the desire to push very hard.

 After what seemed an eternity I was able to pull away, the energy conservation tactics were working.  Eventually I connected with two strong riders (one who was leading in the SS class).  Pulls were now more equally spread if not more favorable for my accomplices.   The terrain was leveling some as we cruised westbound down along a valley.  Then up ahead:  Two riders with number plates heading our way.  What??!

One of the riders was immediately recognizable – Rebecca Rusch.  We stopped to confirm the situation.  Confirmed.  We missed a turn.  Damn, damn, damn.  I suppose the good news is we found out – but it was a psychological blow.  I was expecting to swing into checkpoint three in less than 10 miles.  We had just added 10 more (!)

Heading back we collected more and more confused riders - some unwittingly stopping in the middle of the road as an ever-growing pack of angry riders approached.  Upon reaching the mal-negotiated turn Rebecca dropped us pronto.  I was content hanging back to save more energy as we moved into the wind.  At the point that we turned east onto tarmac, energy levels were back up.  Flying down Lake Rd with a couple of riders in tow – we caught up and blew past Rebecca just before checkpoint three.  I blame the TT bars for such antics.

Getting through town to this checkpoint was a bit clumsy.  There were no apparent markers anywhere.  We ambled this way and that – then found our way.  I zoomed over to the check-in spot, then thinking Scott might not be there (it was in question as he was tending a couple of local friends also) headed over to the convenience  store.  I really need to communicate and plan more with these things.  It turned out Scott’s daughter was right there at the checkpoint.  A proper and timely feeding may have prevented what was about to come.

I headed out of town in the right direction this time, only to miss a left turn that was clearly marked.  The good news:  I sensed I was off course early on.   This time I took out my map and confirmed the mistake – getting back on course with only 2 extra miles.  I connected with the same group that had pulled us northwest only 20 or so minutes prior and once again used their shelter to build some reserves.
After riding with the group for about 30 minutes I made my move.  Up the hills I pulled away strong – catching up with a single speed rider who latched on.  His comment “I hope you don’t mind me tagging along… I think the single speed leader is just ahead”.  After wheel sucking myself quite a bit, it was the least I could do.  I pulled at medium high – then my body starting shutting down.  As in the worst shut-down I have ever experienced.

The slowdown was nearly instantaneous.  My Single speed friend (who ended up winning)  pulled away wondering what the heck just happened to his assist – and the same group I had dropped 15 minutes earlier caught back up.  They commented on my lack of zest and encouraged me to latch on.  I just couldn’t hang properly.  Blurting out “I’m bonking bad” while trying hard to stay with the group, one of the guys offered me a gel.  I replied “I had hoped to salvage the one I have for mile 185 or so” – his response: “here!  Have two!!”  Usually I’ll decline such assistance – but it was too much.  I let the group go then pulled over, first to pee (good, I’m plenty hydrated) secondly because there just wasn’t any gas in the tank. 

I have experience bonking in the past, but never anything so paralyzing.  I ripped open and sucked down the gels then pulled my energy bars out of the bag and started chomping away.  Within about 8 minutes (aren’t GPS tracks great?) I could feel the energy meter heading towards acceptable.  I got back on – and kept-a-pedalin’ – catching and passing a few riders here and there –never to catch the main group again.

Knowing the course would eventually start heading southeast was inspiring but at the same time it felt like that would never happen.   Finally at mile 185 (where I had intended to use my last gel) the course turned eastbound.  I knew the rest of the ride was going to be much easier from here on into Emporia.

Cruising effortlessly  I made my way through gently rolling hills as the gravel got smoother.  I passed maybe three more riders - then came along a few motorists who slowed, waved, honked and offered encouragement.  Amazing.  I’m 10 miles from town and there are folks out here egging me on.

Making my way through the last few miles the course crossed a few paved sections then took a left up into Emporia University.  One of the volunteers offered “just up that hill and you’ll be there!”  I kept looking for a hill – but couldn’t figure out where that was.  Having just completed nearly 10,000 feet of climbing, nothing I approached seemed hill-like.  That’s what we call relativity. 

With a slight downhill and tailwind – I was positively hauling approaching the finish.  Whizzing past so many spectators making a racket while reaching out for high-speed high-fives is an experience I’ll never forget.

Final result 36th – out of roughly 300 finishers and roughly 600 finishers.   Given the flat tires, extra miles & bonk I know I can knock an easy hour of my finishing time.  Yes, I said “can”

Photo: Eric Benjamin -

For finishing among the first 250 – riders received this unique “Race the Sun” signed print.  The proof having been hand carved.

Further details /  conclusions:

  •          The organizers tell you to use a map.  On the one hand – it makes sense to have, on the other – the course was so well marked for the most part you felt overly confident using these alone.  I know of at least two riders who used the course map on the backside of the number plate to program their GPS devices to provide turn by turn instructions.  Not sure how they feel about themselves if they read and understand the rules forbidding this.
  •          Higher volume tires and Stans may have been helpful.  Both of my flats were pinch flats not punctures –  from going too fast through bony sections.  Also higher volume might ease some of the back pain. That and possibly a short travel suspension seatpost like the one I use on my super stiff (and fast)Kona Big Unit.
  •          The Carver Carbon rims held up perfectly given the rough riding I always manage to deliver.
  •          The event has some kind of drop bag service available (via charitable donation) – may be very well worthwhile if you’re like me and would rather not trouble anyone with the job of going point to point on your behalf
  •          Dan Hughes won again (!) he is made for this thing
  •          Rebecca killed it on the last leg.  I mean seriously killed it.  Consider 2nd place gal (Monika Sattler)  was right there with me at checkpoint three – Rebecca put 44 minutes between them – amazing.
  •     Those guys at the start in red shirts?  Yeah - that was David Wilcox and Jonathan Blayley - they worked together to come in 3rd place. 
  •         I consider this one a training ride J