Kona sales rep, Jordan Sembler, beats the sun, sludge and gravel to finish his first Dirty Kanza 200

The Dirty Kanza 200 has been in my sights for almost five years now. Life, work, and the fact that it has sold out year after year within an hours time had not made attempting it a reality until 2016. After running support for Barry last year the desire to accomplish what would be easily the longest ride of my life had come round and I vowed to not return to the Dirty Kanza unless I myself was there to compete.

The energy and excitement of this event is truly intoxicating. A good friend of mine that I ran into mentioned that he always comes back because, if nothing else, it is like a giant family reunion. Familiar faces, happy and sad/ broken and full of life, year after year are here to put themselves through easily one of the most challenging events many of us have beheld.

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Many people see this event as foolish and insane or just another long ride in the middle of Kansas that can’t be much of anything out of the ordinary. That couldn’t be more untrue! Clocking in at just above 200 miles of nearly 99% gravel roads and around 10,000 feet of climbing (everyone computers seemed to give us just slightly different numbers) this was no simple road ride. Gnarly descents, un-ridable water crossings, 200 miles of almost no shade in mid 80 degree cloudless skies, and a 10 mile start that consisted of peanut butter mud with chunky gravel that laid waste to countless rear derailuers that ended the day for many people before it even had a chance to begin. It was no cake walk! With a day this long and conditions this unpredictable it was a true competition of grit with a healthy dose of reality and some luck sprinkled in. This was a beast of a day!

For those of us who aren’t able to even pretend like a podium finish is in the cards a day at the DK200 is a race against ourselves, our friends, and the sun. As I found, like so many others, no matter what your personal goals for the day were, there are a lot of barriers to cross before that can even become a reality. After surviving the first 10 miles and keeping my bike together by just sticking it out with the one gear that was working in the nasty conditions it was smooth sailing for about another 10 miles or so until I heard the depressing sound of my rear tire not sealing a flat by itself. Like so many others I pulled over and it was time to perform the flat fixing ritual that was observed by so many on Saturday. After the standard wrestling match of getting a tubeless tire off of a tight fitting rim I got going again.

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The rest of the first 50 miles went great for me. My Sutra LTD was devouring the gravel roads and just blasting the descents, I found myself smiling and looking for the chunkiest spots to fly through since the LTD kept begging me for the most technical line. The first checkpoint in Madison was quite disorganized and it took me a bit to find my support crew managed by Marco at Velo+ from Kansas City (Lenexa) but when I did I was sure in good hands. Marco had the crew running like a well oiled machine and got me going in no time.

Again I was off and the next 50 miles went by pretty quick with the longest and sweetest descent of the day shortly followed by the longest and steepest climb! Rolling into the second checkpoint in Eureka I was starting to feel the day’s work at just over 100 miles. I took my time to refuel, eat and enjoy the comfortable Velo+ support station. The next 50 miles were easily the most soul crushing of the day. Fighting 18-20 mile per hour headwinds and the mental frustration of a dying and eventually dead navigation computer I eventually made it to checkpoint three. This is where Marco and the Velo+ crew brought me back to life. While I waited for my computer to charge enough to get me to the finish I ate just about everything I could find, drank possibly the most refreshing beer of my lifetime and eventually hopped back on my bike for the final leg of the race. I felt amazing on the final leg, and about halfway through I had to get my lights going since I was not able to beat the sun.

I found a solid crew of about three other riders who together hammered our way back to the finish after seeing Emporia’s city lights calling us back. I finished my day with a complete time of 16 hours and 58 minutes. Not exactly my intended goal but that hardly changed my extreme sense of overwhelming satisfaction and accomplishment.

And big thanks goes to Maco and Vince at Velo+ for their support, Matt and the crew at High Gear Cyclery for hosting me in Emporia, Charlie at Body Float for their amazingly comfortable seatpost designs, and everyone who puts on the DK200. And of course everyone at Kona as always for the support and killer bikes that make the ride possible!