It has been years since I rode Dirty Kanza. The last time I went I had a pretty awesome ride and while very pleased with the overall result I was disappointed that I did not pull off the win in the single speed category so I knew I would go back someday to give it another shot. While Dan Hughes is well known as the King of Kanza for his numerous overall wins I was hoping to match Cameron Chambers as the only person, by my reckoning, to have won both the overall and the single speed category, which, lets face it, are the only classifications that matter. This year a lot of things lined up to make me say this was to be the year. I have work to the point where I can take a bit more time to ride again, and I can take some time off – stress free – as well. Also one of the founders of Dirty Kanza died last winter and I wanted to go back to ride for his memory. Then, while I was already registered for my 5th DK it was announced that Dan Hughes had come up with an idea for those that had 5 DK finishes to be awarded a goblet suitable for drinking out of, looking at, and conking marauding hoards on the head with should they encroach on your castle. I wanted that goblet!
Dan Hughes and I front row by TBL Photography
So I trained, obsessed just a bit on tire choice and gearing, and found myself at the start line where as a former winner I was treated to a call up and front row start. DK has grown a lot over the years, and the atmosphere at the start used to be much more sleepy, now it is more like the start of a $20,000 criterium.
They said go, we took off and got stopped about a quarter mile down the road for a passing train. Psyche! Off again and it was brisk neutral field style to the gravel where we were set loose. Being on the single it is important to find a cozy spot to sit and just let them big geared guns tow you as far as you like / can make it. This year Kansas had gotten a lot of rain in the week (weeks?) leading up to the race and I knew from a quick pre ride of the first 10 miles of the course the day before that there was lots of soupy gravel and a few places where there was even running water across the road from the soaked farm fields.
Sure enough there was a lot of spray, then a crash, then some mad dashing to keep contact with the front. There were a few of us single speeds in there doing the spin spin spin coast game.
I felt like I was in a good spot still in contact with the leaders and then we turned onto a road made of mud. There were a couple of truck tire tracks and while I was able to grab one and ride into the mess and yeah it was kind of rideable maybe but it just did not matter because everyone was getting off bikes everywhere so there was just no way for me to even give it a good go. I don’t think it would have mattered, the best play would have been to hop off before even touching the mud and hike a bit and then try but alas. So I shouldered the bike and hiked it. Got on, rode a bit, got stuck, cleared mud, got in the ditch, cleared mud while walking, hopped on the bike and started riding the ditch next to a barb wire fence.
Progress was made and in no time I was out of the mud and back on solid gravel. I Did not have to stop to clear the frame as the tires were moving okay but I started hitting every and any mud puddle I could find to help clearance. And there were lots of puddles to choose from. As usual I had a small rear fender on to keep spray outta me crack and it was doing the job nicely even if overall I was just a sloppy dirty mess. It was a misty windy morning and I had to keep pulling off gloves (full finger was the way to go this day) to clean my lenses. The wind was buffety and it was just starting to feel like it was going to be an awfully long day and I was only about 20 miles in. I had no idea where I was for position on the road but I knew there were singles ahead of me.
I rolled along, Joe Meiser appeared and we rode together a bit. He remarked how it is good for a ride like Kanza to have good weather years like the last couple where finish times in the 12-13 hour range are the norm but it also needs years like this, or the years of extreme heat we have suffered through, to remind people that this ride is hard and deserves the respect. I got gapped after a while and kept my pace steady, stopped to try and offer a tube to Nick Frey of Boo but my stems were short and he needed long, so I rolled on assuring him someone would be along at some point with them deep dish aero tubes for him.
My rear tire blew at mile 45 on a descent. I was riding tubeless and while it looked like a good size puncture the sealant was working it’s magic so I let it do it’s thing and started working on a Salted Nut Roll. Aired the tire up with CO2 and it was still spewing. Tried the frame pump to take it up slow and met with some success so I hopped on. Made it about a quarter mile and flatcakes again. CO2 again but only up to about 30 psi maybe and it seemed a bit happier so I hopped back on and rode awhile still slowly bleeding pressure. I picked a spot ahead to climb up to where I would give it one more shot of CO2 before giving up and throwing a tube in. Got it up to what I figured was between 40-50 and it held so I rode. And it held! Made it all the way to the checkpoint even.
I had lost quite a few places with all this malarky but still had no idea where I was in the field. So I rode. Somewhere around here Dan Hughes caught me with a few other people and I rode with them a bit.
Photo by Emporia Gazzette full gallery here
Had an awesome creek crossing which I rode to use for full bike cleaning advantage. Single speed was a good bike for the day for sure. Chatted with Dan a bit and when he heard this was my 5th ride and I would get a goblet if I finished he told me I HAD to finish and if I needed anything to let his crew know in the checkpoint towns. Very nice, as you may have heard the DK scene is overall very supportive!
But Dan still dropped me, dammit, and I soldiered on alone. There was a course detour here I forgot to mention, it was a bit confusing but only if you thought about it too much. I was using only Garmin GPS navigation and it was working pretty well, I left it on the cue sheet page most of the time. At some point it told me COURSE FOUND so I knew all was well. Rolled it into the first check and honestly at this point my number one priority was to finish and get the goblet, screw the overall!
My support VW was there, and Rob, too, and while I had everything ready for a quick stop and go my heart just was not in it so I took my time. Rob had been trying to keep track and thought maybe 4 singles had rolled out so far. I ate a sandwich and chips, replaced the empty bottles with full (drank 64 ounces of nuun for the first leg) ones, added chamois butter, pumped up the tires with a floor pump, lubed the chain for good measure. The front tire was solid, had not lost any pressure, but the rear was sitting at 40. I took it up to my preferred 60psi and it was solid! Woot. I thought about changing socks but figured it would not do much. Turns out it wouldn’t.
I took off, and was feeling really good, actually. There was a big brick climb out of town and I drilled it. Some miles after the checkpoint town the course again encountered a road made of mud and pretty much as far as I could see people ahead of me were walking. But it looked rideable to me, so I tried, and whaddaya know it was totally rideable! So I passed a lot of people here. It was super fun, center of the road, in the tracks, take the ditch, whatever. Plus dodge all the walkers. The road got pretty sloppy mud again for maybe the last 50 meters and damn you hubris I thought I could ride it all but I got bogged down and had to walk it out. And then clean my bike enough to get it rolling. Again.
Back on and rolling this leg of the course was going to see us ride into the wind for a good long time which was actually pretty okay for the single and the gear (40×17) I had. On the drive down from Iowa I had talked with Rob, himself a finisher of DK200, about getting into a rhythm and just cranking out miles. It had only happened for a short while on the first leg what with all the start, mud and flat excitement but here I finally found a rhythm. We rode another one of those amazing roads they have down there that is remote and is basically just a rocky gravel mud 2 track on the high plain with tall grass and, on that day, lots of water everywhere. Details of mileage and time are blurry but at some point in this section I connected with Peter Chrapowski from Chicago who I had first met the last time I rode DK. We were on singles then and we were again, this time on almost the same bike even. It was fun to have someone to talk to for a while, we did not rotate or any of that malarky just rolled along chatting.
There was a really big climb and as we wondered aloud if we had to ride it we saw a rider doing just that. So I got on top of the gear and barely made it up, 3 or 4 pedal strokes I thought would be my last but I cleared it and when my breathing finally calmed down I realized Peter was not with me. I kept on rolling figuring to see him again. Miles later there was another creek crossing and my rear tire felt really soft again and I had to pee so I rode the creek and pulled over to take care of things. Just as I was getting going again Peter appeared, and then just ahead there was the neutral water support spot. Joe Fox was here filling up. We stopped, I filled a bottle I probably did not need to but what the heck, and ate another Salted Nut Roll. I ate 3 King Size on the day.
We rolled out and, as I think back on it now I may have a couple of these paragraphs out of order, but riding up a hill with Peter I just felt my stomach twist with hunger and realized I had no power, I felt empty. But I had appetite which is a good sign, so I ate a Pro Bar and put a gel on top of it and in no time was back to feeling 100%, or whatever passes for that after 100+ miles out there in the Flint Hills. Anyways more miles were covered, I rode with Joe Fox for a while and we caught up, and got caught up by a rather large group of people with gears and the squeakiest drivetrains you ever heard shortly before the second checkpoint.
Into town and we all went our separate ways, Joe told me we could spend 10 minutes and get out of there to give ourselves 3 hours to make it in and finish before sunset. I really had no idea where I was in the field now, overall or single, but I felt really good, so I ate food, switched out bottles, pumped up the tires, lubed the chain and got all the things done in about 10 minutes and took off. The last 45 miles!
The first 10 miles or so of this section were still into the wind and had some rollers for us. I got together with Joe Fox and a guy from Soulcraft named Matt (I think?) and we started grinding it out. Being on the single I knew this was my last chance to move forward in the field, when the course turned the people with gears were going to turn it up with the wind and there would not be much I could do about it. We kept a steady strong pace going and passed lots of groups of people. At one point a couple guys from American Classic rolled by really strong and I just shook my head nope nuh-uh no way see ya later!
We turned for home and sure enough Joe and Matt rolled away from me. I had another moment of bonk and just stopped to eat a granola bar and clif bloc and be sure I was good for the finish. I was still feeling strong on the bike but I had made the call to not change my sopping wet socks at the last checkpoint and I should have, my left foot got a hotspot and trying to take pressure off the foot my knee started to feel tweaked, then my hip. Ugh. 30 miles is a nice after work ride but it feels like a long way after 165 or so. I got confused on a corner and took a turn and immediately knew it was wrong so I turned back and was just pulling out my map when Peter rolled up again! He knew where we were going and we rode just a bit together and I could not hold his pace so I backed off.
Rode over the big hill by the lake, lost more places as geared riders breezed by. The final 10 miles or so it was pretty quiet around me, there were some folks sitting out in their front yards cheering and that was nice, again it is amazing how this event has grown, the first time I did it nobody, including us, knew what the hell we were doing out there in the hinterlands! I could feel my rear tire losing pressure again but thought it would make it. Passed a few DK100 riders still gutting it out and shared some encouragement. Around 2 miles to go and a couple more geared guys came by and told me to jump on, I gave it a go but my gear was just not enough for the legs at this point. I kept the pace as high as I could and turned onto the pavement at the edge of Emporia where one more rider passed me. I did not stay right on him but stayed close across the campus, trying really hard to not roll the rear tire or slam the wheel into a curb and we hit the finish straight. The crowd was amazing and noisy and I gave high fives up to the line and coasted home.
As always Jim Cummins was there for congratulations and even a dirty hug. Tim Mohn, too. I really can’t say enough about what these guys do, you really have to see it, and experience it, to understand. So, hey you – Go ride Dirty Kanza! Anyways, Peter was getting interviewed off to the side and while I wanted to chat about the day I was now truly cooked and needed to sit down. I stumbled out of the tent and there were people everywhere. Dan Hughes was hanging out and told me to go the Sunflower pop up shop and get some recovery and a beer but I just dropped, sprawled out on the sidewalk and waited for Rob to find me.
In the end I finished in 14:40 in 45th place overall and as 5th single speed. There had been about 900 starters and only about 50% of those would finish. It was pretty nice that the awards were now done on Sunday morning so I was able to leave the finish and get showered and fed. And, I got that goblet!
It was really great to be up on the stage with all the other folks that have finished 5, and a few of the show offs who’ve finished more. I know most of them and after 10 years and as big as this race has become there are still very few of us in the 1000 mile club. I figure I will ride Kanza again but not sure when, I would still like to win the single speed category. One thing is for sure, every time I have done this ride it has been an adventure for one reason or another, or 3 or 4 reasons happening all at once, so when I do go back I will be prepared for everything and ready for anything, because while you don’t know what might happen out there – you can be sure the DK200 will be a big old badass day on the bike!