Recommend a bigger screen and set to high res. He was driving the lead photo 4×4 this year so got to film the fast dudes!
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Every dead body on Mount Everest was once a highly motivated individual. My vices are limited, but my drug of choice is apparently “hmmmmm…. that sounds hard, Imma try and see if I can do that.” This addiction hasn’t been all bad, started as a child and then snowballed into a career that I love and don’t suck at. Nope, not in medicine ‘cause I wanted to be that since I was a girl, just got bored after retiring from figure skating and thought “med school seems hard, guess I’ll try that.”
Saturday: THE WAFFLE – 135 miles, 10,997ft,
11 hours and 4 minutes.
I went into this one with a goal of having fun and just playing the Waffle game like usual. This was number five for me and I had a really good idea what to expect from this new course. As I explained to the roadie gentlemen I was riding with at mile 80, I’m kinda the Mayor of Pamo Truck Trail. Not the Queen, but definitely the Mayor. They may have thought I was insane, they are not incorrect.
I did a lot of Strava math and decided that I’d be happy with an 11 hour time. Further math told me that I would overlap the leaders somewhere between the top of Highland Valley Road and the Hatfield sand pit. I squeezed a 10-36 cassette onto my Canyon Ultimate road bike, and went with 32mm IRC Boken Plus tires, choosing to under-bike the Waffle.
I kept my pace reasonable up Twin Oaks and rode the Double Peak and Questhaven dirt calmly. I got to the Elfin pavement and realized that this year’s single wave start had left me with fewer groups to choose from since I didn’t have a second giant wave of men behind me, so I tucked in with a slightly faster than I liked group and got to Lemon Twist. I rode briskly but not aggressively down the looooong dirt stretches, the riders I was with were all doing a great job and everyone got up and down Raptor with minimal drama. And by minimal drama, I mean it was a complete shitshow, but fun and nobody crashed.
Next Bandy…. I saw Terry up ahead climbing the pavement. I screamed “HEY MOTHERFCKER, WHAT THE FCK ARE YOU DOING?!?!” to the startlement of the riders around us. He laughed, tried to chop my front wheel and put me into an oncoming car. I’m not sure what name I called him, but I’m certain it was profane. We chatted for a bit, then I told him to eat a bag of d*cks and left him for dead as I dropped him up HVR. Is it even a gravel event if you don’t leave a good friend for dead?
I sat up at the top of HVR and waited for a group to come by and I found a great one, just the right pace to take me through to Ramona. At this point I was starting to get concerned that I hadn’t seen the leaders yet, either I was going faster than I planned, or they were going slower than I expected. Turns out both were correct. I saw the front of the race through Heisenberg and got a wave and a smile from Victor Sheldon on the moto and Steve Driscoll out the top of the truck shooting pics. I just love seeing friends on the course. I cheered on fast friends I recognized, got a “Good Job Casey!” from Brian McCullough. I filled up bottles at the aid station and headed to the sand pit that is Hatfield Creek, I rode about 2/3 of it and as I was swinging wide right, one foot out, tripod-ing and giving up, I looked up to see Brandon Mills going the opposite direction doing exactly the same thing. We both cracked up, exchanged a hearty high five, one foot unclipped in that damn sand pit and both laughed away, me 19 miles behind him. A couple of minutes later I saw my friend (and houseguest for the weekend) Caroline Dezendorf, she screamed my name. She was running third at that point in the women’s race looking super strong.
Next was Pamo Truck Trail and it was better than ever, a sandy, loose, chunky, steep, 105-degree-heat nightmare. I know some of you hate it, but I had a blast. It’s my favorite, and I know you don’t remember voting for me, but I AM the Mayor. Sorry, but we found a suitcase full of ballots at 3am. I got to the bottom briskly and safely and was ready for a little break on the Pamo Rd. flats and discovered it turned into a barely rideable beach. I’m assuming the county added more sand to try and fix the washboards. Many riders were walking. I think I was just in denial and kept pedaling, laughing and shaking my head in disbelief. Fortunately I didn’t have to unclip. I threw a mochi down my gullet and gasped at how good it was. I made this new lemon curd filling, and it was like eating a tiny lemon merengue pie. The riders around me once again though I was insane, they were not incorrect.
I finished the evil Pamo Pavement climb in the triple digit heat and made sure I kept my free-hub shut up on the false flat back to the Hatfield dirt, then a mirage. A giant, loud, jovial mirage “I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU FOR AN HOUR” Surely it can’t be, surely he must be joking, nope, there he was Karl Bordine! No freaking way. We rolled into the aid station and filled bottles he even waited for me to dump the sand out of my shoes. I jumped on the tallest, steadiest, most expert TTT wheel and we rolled together though the end of Heisenberg’s dirt, Karl perfectly keeping the pace at exactly what I could tolerate. The guys behind me had no idea. Um…. my dudes…. this wheel we are on…. It helped set the Race Across America team record. But then I blew it, I slowed too much turning onto the 67, another guy came around me, Karl didn’t realize it was no longer me behind him. Between the gap, the wind and the slight uphill my boisterous guardian angel was gone.
I found another group and traded pulls to the top of HVR, and the ringmaster himself, MMX drove by cheered me on. I bombed down Highland and Bandy to the aid station and found Andy Brightman waiting for me. He yelled “Quit fcking around!” as is traditional and proper. He typically rides his own ride, then checks my dot and sees how far back I am and waits if makes sense. Fortunately it did and we rode down to the Hodges aid station together, me keeping it smooth through there for a change. I usually ride the “home dirt” like I stole the bike and then can’t pedal up Del Dios. I wasn’t making that mistake again.
At the stop Andy got the sand out of his shoes and I scarfed a whole package of Ritz Bitz, trying to not choke on the Ritz dust. As we rolled out, we collected another Andy, Andy McClure riding his tenth Waffle. So the three of us with 23 Waffle finishes between us rode to the end together, such an honor to finish my fifth with these two legends, absolute class acts these two.
We crossed an amazing finish line full of cheering friends, Natalie MacLean, kUDO award winner, still in her kit and covered in dirt hours after her finish. I’ve never had a Waffle finish with so many people around to hug and greet me, vibes were all time!!!
You know those moments on the Waffle when you stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back? I had such a great day, I didn’t even have one of those moments. Other than the second trip up Bandy pavement at mile 107 where I kinda breathed through almost puking, I was basically fine all day.
But the abyss, it was waiting for me on Sunday, and let me tell you, the abyss stared back all right, and punched me in the fcking mouth……
Sunday: The Wafer 75 miles, 6200 feet,
6 hours and 45 agonizing minutes
“It’s better to do something badly that not to do it at all.”
I very likely would have bailed on the whole second day if not for Caroline, 5th place in the Waffle, staying at our house. Getting the bikes ready and dragging our butts back to the start became a little community household event. So much more fun getting to share all that nonsense with somebody. We got home late but not too bad, and I scrambled to get my other bike ready, deciding at the last minute that I needed to switch to a real gravel bike with 38mm at a 50 tooth cassette, and it was a really good decision. My body wasn’t really interested in climbing and my brain wasn’t interested in steering. Monster trucking was the play.
Mid-pack in the Wafter with Waffle fitness and freshness is a blast. That’s what Echo and I did last year, so much fun. This was decidedly NOT that. I chose to wear my now traditional for me flamingo headband to remind myself I was just there to fck around. It may have been a miscalculation.
I lined up at the start and realized I was not myself on so many different levels. I was, how shall I put this politely, a cranky b*tch. Echo says she wants this face on a coffee mug.
I had decided that I would make no decisions about DNFing until after I got to Elfin, and under no circumstances would I make judgements about my day based on how I felt up Twin Oaks, a nasty road climb, and man O MAN did I feel like absolute crap. Then I saw my friend Ed Philbrick up top at the entrance to the dirt, and he said something like “It’ll come around.” Even just seeing a friendly face settled my brain and I just decided “Ok, you know this route like the back of your hand, you’re just gonna ride one segment at a time and get this elephant eaten.” The double peak dirt distracted me for a while because it was a total melee. Riders unclipping right and left, what the actual F? Oh… shit, I’m towards the back of the Wafer, this may be how it is all day, plus dudes behind me telling me when to shift. Oh man…. Don’t snap at people, it’s not them, it’s you, or maybe it’s them, no it’s you, shut up, fck…. Then my friend Walter Phillips passed me and cheered me up before I had a rage meltdown like Chernobyl. BTW that’s how we remember our anniversary. We got married on Chernobyl day. I realized that riding harder was going to make me less cranky, so I followed Walter and just started riding the C lines and passing people, hashtag home-dirt.
I rode with some decently paced groups though Elfin and Del Dios, realizing I could kinda put out power on the flats, so I tried to go as fast as I could on the flats and downhills. But the climbs, my heart just wasn’t in it. I mean my literal heart. Average HR of 122 for the day, if I went past 170W for more than a couple of minutes I felt this impending doom feeling in my chest. My doctor brain interpreted that as atypical chest pain, common for women in my age group, and impending myocardial damage. This seems bad.
I got though the dirt, saw Ed again taking pics at the rock garden, had a good laugh and received more calming encouragement. Near the beginning of Mule and saw the front of the race heading the opposite way, Phil on the lead Moto laughed out loud at me and my flamingo helmet. It dawned on me how bad Mule trail was going to be. I was going to be riding head on into the front groups, with them going 20+ mph, which would be fine if I was solo, but I had a group, which considering my pace to that point, was potentially of mixed skill. I have the sand pits memorized, so when I saw a fast group coming the other way, I slowed way down so as not to be in the pit when we crossed. I’m picturing some guy behind me crashing in the sandpit into the leaders and ten of us bleeding in a pile of twisted carbon, the quicksand swallowing us to our deaths. Caroline, on the way to her Wafer win and looking awesome, saw me going the other way at the end of Mule and said I looked very unhappy. Tru dat.
Raptor was a complete cluster, but that was fine, I didn’t have the cardiac output to ride it anyway. Near the beginning of the descent a gentleman learned to never judge a rider by her flamingos. He asked to pass me, and a said sure, and then quickly realized that was a miscalculation. He somehow went over the bars while simultaneously spinning his bike 360 degrees horizontally. I stopped to make sure he was ok, checked his shoulders and helmet, and went on my way, passing two other dudes on foot who “ran out of talent”. I’m telling ya, it’s rough back here. Several small episodes of underestimation and unnecessary explanation later my super cranky ass rolled into the aid station where I found my friend Robyn Blackfelner. “Not having fun isn’t a good enough reason to DNF, right?” She let me rant and complain for like six straight minutes, filled my bottles for me and sent me on my way. Poor Robyn, I was in such a bad mood.
I realized if I was going to get though the rest of the day, I needed to somehow change my mindset and maybe it would help if the people around me understood what I was up to, so I started telling people I was doing the Dubble. I know it shouldn’t matter, but the type of encouragement I was getting from riders around me then changed from “oh cute, flamingo girl doing her first gravel event” to something more appropriate. Both forms of encouragement certainly come from a good place, but I was such a straight up porcupine at that point I could only tolerate the latter. Cranky. Ass. BeeYONce.
I rode down Mule solo telling myself “this is not as bad as the last 60 miles of Iceland” “this is not as bad as 50 miles in the dark in Kansas.” Home dirt on Hodges helped, as did a chat with a very nice man who told me he weighed 300lbs 18 months ago and now was on his way to finishing the wafer. We chatted about the rest of the course, about getting out of your comfort zone and how we were SUPPOSED to be tired right then. Attitude fully adjusted, no longer a cranky ass beyonce, more coke more ritz crackers, and couple of pickles, onward. I stopped to give a couple of different riders salt pills and tried to provide encouragement. On Del Dios I remembered that I had one more of those amazing lemon merengue mochi that I salvaged from the day before, I took a bite and it was now stale and absolutely disgusting. I spit it out across Del Dios Highway and may or may not have hit a car.
Now heading to Elfin and the headwind of doom….I’m not sure if it’s because they saw me do the little downhill on Hodges with zero brakes or what, but a pair of guys rode past me and said “I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are doing the Dubble”…. Or maybe they recognized me pedaling in squares, death march style. They came by at exactly the right time, these two ride heroes saved me. I was pondering maybe crying just for the hell of it at the thought of riding Elfin in the wind solo. They let me jump on and towed me to Questhaven. I will be forever grateful. I later learned they were James Ayres and Michael Cleveland. MONSTER PULL! Without them, a right turn on Country Club drive to DNF was looking really really good to me.
I got up Questhaven with a heart rate of ONE TWENTY SIX, body just like “you unmitigated idiot, what are you doing” and a text from Terry comes through on my Garmin “do you need a ride”…. What the hell? Why would I give up now? Maybe I shouldn’t have told him to eat a bag of d*cks yesterday. Turns out my dot had stopped moving for quite a while even though I had not and he thought I was lying dead on somebody’s lawn. Dire. Jenna and Todd Glasser were there screaming and cheering at the right onto San Elijo, again, seeing friends on course is so amazing. Thank you for being there! Then I start getting texts from Andy “FCKING STUPID DIRT” and the previous “FCK DEL DIOS” one I missed as I ride the damn sand sidewalk on the way to double peak. Marc drives by me in his car and screams at me. Friends. This is the whole point. Bikes and friends.
Marc jumps out of his car and grabs his bike and camera and rides up Double Peak with me. Andy is halfway up on foot running and filming and heckling and encouraging. It means so much to me that my friends showed up here, I can’t even adequately explain. I can still pedal, I can even still stand up, my heart even throws me a bone and gives me a few more beats so I don’t have to walk. Take that, Abyss, I’d punch you in the mouth but my hands are too sore to make a fist.
I chill to the finish and cross the line to a huge group of cheering friends, including Michael Marckx there with the first hug before I even unclip. I told Michael my day was 90% darkness, but 10% light…. but damn, that 10% though. It’s good.
Y tho. Why do we do this? Health? Definitely not, I’m convinced this is bad for you. The thrill of an achievement, sure, partially. But that’s not it. It’s the abyss. The friends you make as you dip your toes into the abyss are like none other. We are a battle forged community and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Key stuff and things
Only 13 women finished the Dubbleberg Header. I was 11th, of the ten ahead of me, eight of em were pros. I wandered way past my paygrade on this one.
Source Endurance coaching – Thank you for making this possible
Waffle Bike: Canyon Ultimate Evo disc with SRAM road 2x AXS with a 10-36 Squeezed in there.
Tires via https://puregravel.com/ 32mm Boken Plus for Waffle and 38mm Doublecross for Wafter
Wafer Bike: Open Upper with SRAM 1X 40×10-50
Spinergy GXX both dayshttps://www.spinergy.com/products/gxx
See y’all in North Carolina! https://belgianwaffleride.bike/pages/northcarolina
Dire. Not the first word that one would typically hope to describe a “vacation,” but that’s not how we roll over here. Dire. Fcks were given. Not quite all of them, there are a few off-brand Fcks left in the clearance bin, but most of the Fck store has been entirely decimated.
The Rift. Iceland. There’s a reason the adorable wild Icelandic Ponies (don’t call me a pony, I’m a grown-ass-man-horse) are hearty, low to the ground and seem to have a sense of humor. The landscape has a an ominous lack of trees. There’s a reason for that. This place is brutal.
“It’s awful, but you’re a sick b*tch, you’ll love it.” – this from my friend who did the race in 2019, she gave me her early access entry code, and from our shared experiences at The Rock Cobbler and Kansas, I figured I knew what I was in for. No. Nope. All the nope.
I signed up for 2020, then after a year of pandemic cancel/reschedule/cancel again I said “screw it” to most of 2021 except this one. I figured it would be a one shot deal. Then it dawned on me that my fellow “sick b*tch” and best friend of 20 years might want to go with me to celebrate our 20 year “friendiversary”. We had always talked about doing something epic to celebrate. For better or worse this fit the bill. I emailed the race director begging for a spot for Echo, and they got her in. Y’all might know her. She’s petite, sweet, a bit quiet, but she can ride the fck out of any dirt, is an expert scuba diver, caves, wrecks, all the scary stuff, is a pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist, can quarter an elk, won Rock Cobbler in 2018 and is one of only a handful of women to Everest on a MTB four weeks before this. She is beyond gnarly in every way.
We had been watching the weather forecasts for the weeks leading up to The Rift and as we goofed off on Belgian Waffle Ride, Wafer version, we chatted about what gear rain we were packing. All of it. Oh man, am I so happy with the Wafer decision. If had done full Waffle with only six days between I would have ended up rescued by a snorkel enabled 4WD sprinter van for sure. Or ded in some lava. Just ded. Dire.
After landing, we checked into our super cute hotel, Hotel Ranga, built the bikes and then went splat. The next morning, a little shake out ride in the pouring rain and 20 mph crosswinds. Oddly, it was confidence building because at least we knew our rain gear was working, and our new wheels handled well in the crosswinds.
The morning of the race we hit the breakfast buffet and watched the sideways rain in horror. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe. We slow rolled the 3 miles to the start and lined up in a sea of black rain jackets.
Raining. 47 degrees. 8-10mph winds, gross but tolerable. The 9km neutral roll out was predictably not neutral, after a bit of trying to hang on, we eased up, felt like most of the 200 starters passed us, found our little group and rolled to the first dirt as a herd of horses ran side by side to us to see us off.
The first gravel climb was lovely, the rain minimal, wind gone, gorgeous rolling green hills and those cartoonish waterfalls you see on the Iceland tourism commercials. This gravel sector was a melee of riders changing flat tires. We arrived at the first major river crossing, and friends, this is a river, not the little creeks we are used to back home, like a hubs deep, 15 pedal stroke freaking river. Echo made it no problem, after making it through the water I got tripped up in the sand and had to unclip on the bank. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had worried I was either going to fall in or have to walk most of the rivers. Confidence was building.
Then Echo hit the throttle, and we started passing riders. I would chirp at her so she knew I was still there as I followed her line. “I’m good mama bird! Chirp!” The climb to the highest point of the race at mile 43 was getting more and more technical, and we were loving it. The weather was fine, just some misting rain, the scenery was truly mind-blowing. I felt like we were in a Star Trek episode on another planet. We were making great time, not just riding on the side of a volcano, but INSIDE a volcano, across a caldera, down cracked black lava descents. A sign says “We’re not in Kanza anymore.” We came upon a left hand turn with three 4x4s and four volunteers urging us left. Turns out the front group had made a wrong turn there and ended up on the actual glacier, but they were the ones that missed out. The sector they cut was the best part of the day, a banked rolling, twisting black lava road with technical rocks and a glacier below. That’s when It dawned on me that these roads we are riding are built for fun, just for goofing off on 4×4, not necessarily for getting from point A to point B. The world needs more roads like that.
Next on a challenging descent where I let Echo get too far away from me to follow her line, I found myself in that line choice downward spiral where your every decision gets you in more trouble. I got to the point where I knew I had two options, crash or let both brakes go and hope the bike and tires would just figure it out despite me. They did. I was so happy to make it to the next water crossing with both bike and all bones intact.
We saw riders ahead walking up an extremely steep climb. Ah! There it is, the hike-a-bike we heard about. We decided to see how far up it we could get, I leaned forward, scooted up on the nose of my saddle and was shocked that I was still on Echo’s wheel, cadence of 38 but making it. As we congratulated ourselves, we were punished for our arrogance. Around the next bend and saw the actual hike-a-bike. Looks like Bakersfield I thought to myself, minus weird baby doll trash and spent shot gun shells. We hiked to the top and thought, that wasn’t so bad. Half a mile later…… THE hike-a-bike. Ok, that one was rough, but we are Cobbler trained, so unless you’re having to use a hand on the ground too, It’s easy.
Next another large river crossing, this one I couldn’t figure out and unclipped and safely walked across the knee deep water. Then a ten mile flat loop with an aid station, the wind is starting to pick up, but we basically feel fine. Still making good time, legs still good, we are wet but not cold. All is well.
We get back to the same river and as we approach it, I realize that this may be the one I saw on Instagram, and I just didn’t recognize it on the way out. I holler to Echo, “I’m gonna go right!” She says “No, I think left” we go opposite ways, and I can’t believe it, but the line is SO GOOD! I had walked this same river in knee deep water 90 min ago and now I’m riding eight or so inches deep. It’s awesome! I don’t see Echo, so I soft pedal for a bit and just keep going. Weird, where is she? Ok, more soft pedaling. AH! There she is! She slowly rides up to me and I chirp “Did you see me?!? Did you see me?!? I made it!!!” …… “No. I was too busy lying in the river.” Oh man, I thought I was going to get punched. She went in the drink, all but her left shoulder and head, big hip bruise too.
That was mile 60 and as good as the day was going to get.
I will have nightmares about the next 15 miles.
The highest point of the ride was at mile 43, we foolishly thought that we would now be rewarded with some downhill. No.
From mile 60 to 75 we rode nothing but the most miserable, sharp, awful washboards with the rain and wind picking up. Just frame shattering horror. Every time you thought you saw a better line it would disappear. The “gutters” were ten inch deep sand with fixed, sharp lava rock to punish you if you made the slightest error. The demon washboards had to be ridden. There was no way around it. Halfway through this sector I saw a sign that said “Stop crying like a child” and I did wonder if crying might make it better. Definitely the most miserable 90 min I’ve ever experienced on a bicycle.
We stopped to refuel at the mile 75 check point and looked in glee at the glorious pavement we would get to ride for the next ten or so miles. I remembered from other’s 2019 Strava that this was a sector that they averaged 20-22mph. Yes!!! and we turned left into a 20mph headwind. NO!!!! My body was shattered after the washboards and my mind needed a break. It was not to be. Two groups of guys passed us and yelled for us to jump on. I knew Echo could go, but I was so broken my legs didn’t have the surge to get on their wheels, but she stayed with me and we traded pulls for the next ten or so miles (at a 75% her, 25% me ratio). The rider in front would do literally almost double the watts of the the rider in back. We were averaging 13mph on a false flat downhill. The wind was awful, but at least it wasn’t raining…..
A not so quick pee stop for me at the next left turn (a nature break in full rain gear is such a pain if you’re female) out of the headwind for a second. As I’m stopped a woman in pink who looks like she’s probably in our “old AF” division passes us. We get rolling and 0.25 mile gap she has on us starts to slowly close for Echo…… and I crack. In all the ways. Mile 93. All of the negative everything starts swirling uncontrollably in my brain. It’s so windy and starting to rain hard enough that Echo doesn’t realize how far back I’ve slid, she rides with the woman in pink for a few minutes and then looks back to me and slows until I catch her. I know I need her to get me home, but I also know that for sure she could have gotten a podium in our division without me, and that maybe she still could if she leaves me at this point.
I see she has made the decision to stay with me, not that she ever actually considered leaving me, so as I slowly closed the gap up to her I remind myself that she’s made her call, isn’t going to leave me so I resist the temptation to say “JUST LEAVE ME FOR DEAD, GO ON WITH OUT ME” I don’t say it. I don’t say it….. don’t say it, don’t say just leave me. I get up to her and she looks me dead in the eyes and over the wind yells….
“I don’t need you to pull. I just need you to pedal”
She’s made the call. We are in this together. We are making it to the end……and then the weather got bad. Like biblically, Plagues of Egypt locusts and frogs bad. In the next minute it went from “JUST LEAVE ME FOR DED, GO ON WITHOUT ME” in my head to “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME OR I’M GONNA DIE”. Have you ever ridden in rain and wind so fierce that it hurts your eyeballs behind your sunglasses? Have you ever stared at the wheel in front of you knowing it’s your only lifeline? Have you wondered if you’ll ever ride a bike again after this day?
As bad as the next hour was for me in the back, it was even worse for Echo in the front. We crept into the mile 102 checkpoint and now that I knew we were about to make a left for a bit of cross/tailwind, I could feel like tiniest bit of joy creeping up. Those highs and lows that come on a day like this, you really need the highs, so I actively maximized it. After another agonizingly long nature break, I got all my clothes back on and went to the aid station and ate I swear the best cookies I’ve ever had, threw three of them bare in my bag, filled my bottles and took stock in the fact that we only had 21 more miles to go. Then I see her, up the road 20 feet, clipped in and staring at me. Fuck. I’m in trouble, she’s cold and angry, but I NEED these potato chips. I pour a mountain of Lays onto my puffy rain-gloved hand and get them into my body the fastest way I know how. I open my mouth as wide as I can and repeatedly smash the massive pile of chips on my face to break them, stuffing my cheeks like a chipmunk while a ten year old volunteer stares and me with his mouth agape. He had apparently never seen a crazed American potato chip savage.
I finally roll up to Echo, who I didn’t know it at the time, but she was in her darkest hole of the ride as I was murdering the chips. She later said she was ready to just call it, but knew I wanted to finish, and she wanted to get me to the line.
The next ten miles or so are a blur of straight line gravel followed by an absolutely hellish two miles in a riverbed at mile 113. Riding that surface, where staying seated is required is absolute misery this far into an event like this. Next a final river crossing where I made faces and sounds I don’t think I’ve ever made on a bike, but I rode it. By now I’m basically drooling on my stem, just following Echo’s line, not noticing all the sharp fixed rocks, but somehow not flatting. Jesu-Cristo, does she ever stop pedaling? I. Just. Want. To. Coast. For. A. Minute.
We descend the last gravel sector and get to the final 5 miles of pavement. She stands up in front of me and gives the universal sign for “get on my wheel and let’s go”, the two smack self-ass-slap, and minutes later we cross the cold, wet, miserable finish line. We ended up 118th and 119th out of the 200 men and women starters and 3rd and 4th in the masters women’s division, but it was clearly never about that.
This ride was not a test of our friendship. It was a testament to it. We got to share 60 miles of amazing, and 64 miles of hell. She pulled me for 85% of the day, and in getting me across the line, didn’t quit herself. We got each other home. What a perfect celebration of our 20 years.
Now can we all just chill for a while?
We finished it off with a quick trip to the Blue Lagoon and a business class ride home….. ‘cause sick b*tches don’t Fck with coach.
- The key gear
- The stats
- 124 miles
- 6500 feet
- 11 hours 19 min
- Flats – zero
- 4507 kJ (Echo had more from pulling all day)
- TSS 537 (higher than all other rides I’ve done except Kanza and than damn Ben birthday ride in Santa Ynez)
- On bike laughs – few and far between
- Rap lyrics sung – none
- It was dire.
All of the Fcks were given. All of them. There are no more Fcks anywhere. The Fcks have all Fcked off. The shelves of the Fck store are empty.
You remember the part in The Matrix where Morpheus says how you can never be told what the matrix is, you can only be shown? That’s how I feel about this event. I’d heard all the stuff and the things and especially seen the long pause and the thousand yard stare that even the fastest dudes get when they talk about it. I’d heard about the way the town treats you. Most of all I’d heard how hard it is. Knowing the path and walking the path….completely different in both terrible and beautiful ways.
Dirty Kanza 200. I’ve been talking to people about it and devouring every bit of social media regarding it for the last three years and had slowly mentally progressed from “That’s insane how does anyone do that?” to “Man, I wish I could do that, but it looks terrible.” to “I wonder if I could do that.” My friend Becca, who had crewed for her DK200 finisher husband Stuart in 2017 and had be trying to talk me into it for years saying it was the most amazing event she’s ever witnessed. Then one day in January I signed up for the lottery, not even really thinking too hard about it, I was literally in the bathtub at the time….. then several weeks later this:
I told my Source Endurance coach, Adam Mills, what I had done and that I still wanted Belgian Waffle Ride to be my priority. BWR was four weeks before and has always been my “A” event, but what he knew and I didn’t is that there is no NOT making Dirty Kanza 200 the priority. It was going to demand every bit of everything I had. I’m glad Adam knew that and geared the next few months of my life towards getting me alive across the finish line in Emporia.
All the DK training lead me into BWR with a ton of fitness and I had my best day ever at that race, I wasn’t that much faster than my previous years but I just felt better the whole time, and had more fun. For sure there was more left in the tank at mile 120 than any previous year….. but I thought to myself at mile 120 of BWR, how the absolute FCK am I supposed to do 80 more miles in Kansas four weeks from now. Friends reassured me that DK is a whole different thing, and that it’s not like finishing BWR and then adding 65 or so miles. They were correct. That’s not what it’s like.
It was even HARDER than that.
DK logistics are challenging. Emporia is a teeny, adorable town and all the lodging fills up far in advance of the event. There is the option of staying in the dorms at the university, booking opens just after lottery announcements and I had booked a room there. If you want a hotel room and you wait until after the lottery is announced, you’re going to end up staying 30 to 50 miles away. In the month or so before, Adam got himself a spot in the race and my husband Nick managed to change his Navy schedule and got the time off. The three of us rented an RV and it worked out great. Our friends with IRC Tires had rented a huge property and let us park there a mile from the start line. We parked behind the garage and plugged in with a WalMart extension cord.
I got up early and headed to the IRC Tire Pop Up Shop on main street and Steve hooked me up with my amazing new tires. IRC Boken 40mm with full bead to bead protection. We went down to the expo Steve got my new tires installed, the smell of Stans, the sound of the bead popping onto the rims….. victory. Next it was off for a little one hour spin on the beginning of the course. It was lovely and very civilized gravel, comparable to the Strade Bianchi roads in Tuscany, but with a few more potholes. I had been told that the rest of the course did not look like this, so don’t get too excited.
The next couple of hours were spent getting organized for race day. For those not familiar with the event, there aren’t aid stations like you’re used to at other races. You have to have your own crew for the event so every bit of food, water, mix, bike resuscitation equipment etc is your responsibility. Typically you meet your crew at three places, but this year they only had two designated checkpoints, at mile 64 and mile 150 with a water only stop at mile 120. Your support cannot meet you anywhere else other than 64 and 150 and can’t drive on the course unless they are coming to collect your carcass.
I had figured out how many calories and how much fluid I thought I would need on each of the legs of the ride, but it was challenging to figure out what to bring because sometimes what you think you should eat or drink becomes intolerable late in the race as the body starts to say “This is really stupid, we should stop.” It’s a balance of bringing a little variety, but also not carrying too much weight. Same with bike fixing stuff and things. I had extra bottles and a second Camelbak with a plan to give them to Becca and Stuart at checkpoint one for them to fill and return to me at mile 150.
This is a screenshot from Jak’s GoPro. The roll out was magical, I can’t adequately describe it. Hundreds and hundreds of spectators were there to ring bells and cheer us on. I actually even teared up during the roll out.
This post captures what was going on for me in the first ten miles, only I was riding a bit more slowly and didn’t have to run over anyone. I was definitely getting a little too happy about being able to ride 20mph for a while. Jak rode up to me and said “So…. what powers did Adam tell you to stick to today?” I replied, “He said just keep in endurance pace and try not to get baited into going over threshold on the short climbs, especially early.” Jak, “Oh, Ok cool!” Then a couple of miles later he says “If you see me doing anything dumb today, please just let me know.” I say “Likewise” and he replies “I think I already did that.” BAHAHAHAH. Yup. Thats a good friend. Hey, little girl….what the actual fck are you doing, slow down! We’ve got 190 miles to go.
I got in my groove and got smarter, pedaled at a comfortable pace, staying with groups, letting them go and catching the next one when they surged too much up the rollers. Adam had told me the terrain really changes once you get up north and I’d know it when I saw it. “The gravel gets big” . San Diego gravel riding friends, you know how they put down those big, loose, sharp rocks in the muddy spot by the parking lot on the way to Lemon Twist? It was like that, only two feet deep, for MILES!!! Up to mile 27, it was that pretty civilized Strade Bianchi stuff, my average speed was almost 18mph up to that point….. then DK started giving NO FCKS! The extremely unmaintained road was super super super gnarly, I’d totally put some of it on a NoFcks ride. It was the kind of stuff where I was so glad to have big tires, and even wishing for wider….. and yeah…. I fcking loved that section, but also started getting scared ’cause if it was gonna be like that for the next 175 miles it would take me til the following Tuesday to finish. Scared? Eat a tiny donut.
After a bit, the terrain chilled out again and I rode with groups, happily getting through the first of the techy stuff without any flats. I was discovering that compared to other riders of my similar pace, I was a lot more comfortable (or dumber) on the downhills and able to pass and or catch people easily them, which made it easier to keep my power lower on the climbs. On most of the downhill stuff there were two lines, with large chunky and sharp stuff in the middle. Fortunately I quickly figured out that switching lines to pass on a downhill was a super bad idea and an excellent way to crash or flat.
I rolled into checkpoint one at mile 64 at Alma feeling stoked, two tiny donuts eaten. I was fifteen minutes ahead of where I thought I’d be and was averaging 15mph, had drank all of my fluid and eaten most of my food. Things going according to plan! We did a great checkpoint swap. Stuart used a little $13 pressure hose thingy that I’d grabbed at Walmart to hose down my bike, then he did a Wax Off/Wax on with my WEND wax. Bike was good. Becca swapped my bottles and my Camelbak. I did a teeny bit of freaking out that I wasn’t bringing enough calories with me out of this checkpoint, since I wasn’t gonna see any more food other than what I was carrying for the next 87 miles. I had Becca throw a few more bars and things in my pockets and I was off. Good thing too….. cause I didn’t really understand what was about to happen in the next leg.
After check point one, the course started getting really tough. Not particularly technical (yet) but the rollers, as Jak said were like body blows in a boxing match, not knocking you down but sapping strength little by little. My average speed was in the single digits for about ten miles and I was starting to get worried. Worried? Eat a tiny donut. Somewhere in this section I got passed by @gravel_tryhard so chatting with her was a great distraction. If you haven’t seen her instagram, look her up, she’s so funny.
I rode along for the next 18 miles or so, intermittently with groups, but that became less important ’cause I was either climbing slowly or going downhill faster than people around me wanted to, so drafting wasn’t really a thing. I knew the “Infamous Little Egypt Road” was coming up, and I was sickly looking forward to it. I figured that I give NoFcks and was stoked for the challenge, and that it was early enough in the ride that my handling should still be ok. Oh and I should mention at this point in the day, 94 miles and seven hours in, it is 95 degrees out…. and almost no shade. I’ve beens starting to occasionally see riders stopped on the side, stretching out cramping legs, or standing, having a snack in the shade.
I’m watching my odometer trying to remember where Little Egypt starts when I see a bunch of locals parked at a right turn cheering people on and realize this must be it. I also notice maybe five or six riders, off their bikes, resting and a guy with a mustache sitting on the ground under makeshift shade from a blanket. I thought to myself, wow, that dude looks wrecked and he looks like Taylor Phinney. I bet he gets mistaken for him a lot.
So Little Egypt. Little Egypt gives NoFcks. I see now why the race director was so excited to put it on the course. If I lived here and was building a ride, for sure I’d want to build it around this thing. Chunky, gnarly, loose, colorful, steep both up and down. It was an absolute blast. I try not to have a competitive mindset or compare myself to other riders too much, but 2.8 miles of gnar and passing like 15 dudes was a great jolt to the morale and super freaking fun.
The next bit is kind of a blur, I just remember trying to focus on drinking my bottles and camelbak to empty by the time I got to the mile 120 water-only checkpoint. It was so hot that I stopped and filled bottles at a farmhouse where a woman with a pitcher was hooking up riders with extra water. I was seeing more and more riders on the side of the road at this point. On some of the rollers, people were getting off and walking. I came across my teammate Caleb changing a bad flat. He’d been way ahead of me all day because he averaged around 18mph on the first leg. He got his sidewall booted and got rolling and we saw each other at the water checkpoint.
I should have “practiced” with my Camelbak more because I kept filling in with water and cross threading it, water all dumping out. I spent the time to trouble shoot it because it was so hot, I wasn’t about to roll out with just two bottles, even if it was only 30 miles til the next checkpoint. I lost quite a bit of time flailing there, but my solution ended up being accidentally genius. On my last attempt to fill and close the camelbak, I decided to use ice only, no water, thinking at least it would leak out more slowly if it did leak again. What I ended up with was a successfully sealed camelbak full of slowly melting ice, keeping my back cool and providing me with ice water for the next 15 or so miles. It was perfect.
I had rolled out of the checkpoint without doing my planned drivetrain maintenance because I figured things sounded and felt fine and I only had 30 miles til the next proper stop. Six miles later things starting sounding terrible, so I pulled over and did a 2 min WEND wax off/wax on stop with a little kit I had in my jersey pocked and was back rolling again with a silent drivetrain. Rad. When I was stopped, Caleb caught me again, walking because of cramps. He called out to see if I was ok, and I noticed something different about the way he was carrying himself vs others I was seeing. Even though he was walking up a roller, I knew he was gonna make it to the finish. He’s just a super tough dude, and I could just tell by his attitude that he was going to be just fine.
The 20 miles leading up to the mile 151 checkpoint were a melee. I’d estimate I saw a hundred riders off their bikes, under trees, lying down in the grass, on their cell phones, lying down in creeks. It was a mess. It got to the point that I even stopped asking if people were ok, because they just looked too tired to even respond. As long as they had a phone in their hand, or a friend, I just kept pedaling. I came up on one dude, full on corpse pose, right on the gravel, at least in the shade. I thought “oh shit, is this one actually dead???” “You ok?!!!!” “Yeah man! It’s all good!!!” Oooof.
I got to a flat, shady tree tunnel of a road around mile 149 and I slowed way down, my brain just craving shade, then this dude passed me cheering “JUMP ON JUMP ON!!! TWO MILES TO FOOD!” and I snapped out of it and remember to pedal my bike. Thanks Levi! I needed that.
I will remember the checkpoint as one of the highlights of my race. So many laughs, such a good burger. Seeing Nick, Becca and Stuart really lifted my spirits. Getting reassurance from them that I was looking good compared to what they had been witnessing with other riders was super helpful. I told them about the Taylor Phinney looking guy and they said that Taylor Phinney had just left the checkpoint an hour ahead of me. I’m so glad I didn’t actually know it was him on mile 93 because seeing one of my heros cracked would have really messed with my head.
At this point I also did a quick mental assessment…. how do you feel right now compared to the end of BWR. I feel EXACTLY like I just finished BWR. No big deal, just do BWR and then ride FIFTY MORE. It’s fiiiiiine.
They cleaned me up, got me new socks and bibs, put band-aids on my wrist blisters, filled me with real food. In that moment, that cheeseburger was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. I forced myself to stop after only half though, figuring asking my body to digest a whole cheeseburger was probably a bit much.
They got my lights all situated, new clear sunglasses packed and sent me on my way. Suddenly, there were very few riders around. I stopped seeing people on the side of the road, there was very little company, and it was getting dark. Everyone I came across was very quiet from that point on, we were all just in our little holes, just trying to keep pedaling. There was a mildly technical little corner I had to power up, and a guy and two girls who were stopped yelled to me “Look behind you! It’s worth a stop” So I did. If I was gonna be riding in the dark, I might as well enjoy the sunset for 30 seconds.
Then it got dark. I have very little experince with night dirt riding, so I ended up slowing way down, trying to drink caffeine to stay alert and remind myself to still eat. My top tube bag was full of pringles at this point. Pringles and caffeine were my lifeline. I remembered how Ryan Dahl had told me that he can ride MTB stuff faster in the dark because with bright lights he could see definition and rocks better and earlier. I turned my light up higher and tried to speed up. I was getting pelted by bugs, both small and large format. A moth throat punched me so hard that it hurt, killed him and then he fell down dead and got stuck in my sock.
Then I saw a tiny plastic sign “Are you chasing something?” IT WAS THE CHAISE! Half a mile later THE CHAISE! I had made it, cried a tiny bit, enjoyed the brief moment of elation and got my chaise pic.
The next 20.5 miles in the literal and figurative dark, I can only describe as hell. I tried to boost myself up thinking “You’re doing awesome, you’re almost there” but nothing helped. My legs didn’t actually feel that bad, it was the contact points, everything was screaming. Not to get to graphic, but I’m going to anyway… yeah… I’m going there…. going into this I had the tiniest little bump on my saddle area, no big deal at all and by mile 182…. remember that part in Total Recall where Kuato comes out of that guys stomach and reads Schwarzenegger’s mind? That was my ass. My ass was a magical mind reading mutant.
There was no hand position on my bars that didn’t cause pain, I kept changing things up trying to make things hurt less, riding easy. Then I remembered some words from Sonja Johnson’s post DK write up. She talked about “hot coals” better to run over them than walk. The only thing that’s gonna make this pain go away is getting off this bike and the only way to make that happen faster is to ride harder. Does it hurt to ride slowly, yes. Does it hurt to ride faster, yes. SO RIDE FASTER!!! JUST FCKING PEDAL. JUST FUCKING PEDAL. JUST FUUUUUUUCKING PEDAL….. in my head a frequently out loud for the next hour.
Punctuating the dark was the intermittent farmhouse with a party in the front yard full of people with cowbells. There was even a crew of local people at a key, very dark right turn out there cheering. Middle of nowhere, 10:30pm, local people out there telling us were looking good and almost there.
Somewhere in the five miles to go range Jak passed me, we hadn’t seen each other since mile 70-ish when he had to make a shoe adjustment. I had been worried about him all day. Seeing him and knowing he was gonna make it made me cry again. I yelled to him to keep going! He was going like 8mph faster than me at that point, wish I could have ridden in with him, but I didn’t want him to slow down for me and there was no way I could speed up.
I finally made it to the pavement and rode through the university, assuming that all the stories I’d heard about the finish line weren’t going to come true since it was now getting close to 11pm. I started coming up to barricades and saw a few scattered people walking home, saying good job and resigned myself to the fact that I was too late and just finishing was good enough. Nope. Emporia, you delivered.
Fifty yards later the barricades were lined with hundreds of people cheering and ringing cowbells and offering high fives. Which…. turns out I no longer had the upper body streghth to steer the bike with one hand and give a high five, I almost crashed into the barrier.
Immediately after I crossed the line, 16:52:02 after starting there was my friend Blaize Baehrens with an ice cold towel, jumping up and down, screaming and hugging me. Becca, Stuart and Nick were right there with hugs and, of course donuts. The cool kids were all still there cheering me on too, I got hugs from Neil, Jason and Allison. Thank you all for hanging out so late after your finishes. It meant so much!
How to sum up this experience. I can’t. The sense of community that makes me love cycling is amplified in the gravel scene and then taken to an exponential level at Dirty Kanza. It’s everything they say it is and more. That thousand yard stare? I get it now.
Dirty Kanza 200 ….. you cannot be told.
You can only be shown.