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.