The Dirty Kanza is a 200 mile gravel grinder in and around Emporia Kansas. I had quite a lot of trepidation going into this event. I had never ridden 200 miles at once, never spent over 7 hrs on my bike, and wasn’t really sure I wanted to do either of those things anyways.
Turns out it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t easy by any means, but it wasn’t really terrible either. Kansas in my mind is a flat state full of corn. That’s not actually what it is though. The flint hills where the race is held are beautiful. It is more of a rolling, lush green Savannah with sparse tree stands and many small creeks and rivers dotting the landscape. I felt like I was in Sub Saharan Africa, or maybe even Mongolia.
The roads weren’t that bad either. I had gotten a lot of grief about my bike set up, which was basically just my normal road bike with slightly larger, tougher tires mounted up, but it worked great. People where convinced I was going to have 100 flat tires, be over geared and not make it to the finish. Most people were of cross bikes with biggish knobbies and I saw lots of frame bags full of who knows what. Most people flatted more than I did, and I am sure I looked way more pro, so it was totally worth riding the road bike.
Every 50 miles during the race there is a check point. The day before the race someone told me to do the race 50 miles at a time, which was good advice. It is crushing to be riding for 3 hours and then think, shit, I still have 9 more to go? Braking the race down into segments was key to survival. Until the last 5 miles. Those where the longest 5 miles ever.
A pretty good group rolled into the first check point together, maybe 40 people or so. At about mile 23 I had peeled a tire off my rim getting a little sideways trying to avoid a rider who had fallen right in front of me and had to chase back on for a bit after I fixed it. I was a little nervous about having a tube in my rear wheel instead of being tubless, so I had my support crew put 5 pumps in it when I stopped in, but that ended up not being quite enough.
In the next section, miles 50-100, there were a couple “substantial” hills. They weren’t that big really, but relative to anything else, that was as big as they got. I found myself at the front quite a bit coming into them, as I think people were starting to get nervous about the length, and I didn’t want to be lollygagging around out there. I rode the hills pretty hard, trying to rid myself of the danglers, and by the top of the last hill there were just 5 of us left.
That would have been fine, but then at mile 80 I flatted again, and lost contact with the group. I did a quick change and I chased hard, and luckily a couple other guys developed some slow leaks, so I was able to get together with one other rider and chase hard from mile 90-100. We entered that check point about 2 minutes behind the solo leader, so I did a quick pit and got back rolling. I was a little bit too quick maybe, and ended up being pretty much solo chasing the leader for the remainder of the day.
I had devised a plan earlier in the week to post Instagram selfies every hour during the race. It was something we schemed up while sitting in our cabin out at the Trans Sylvania Epic the week before, trying to come up with strategies to make the time go by faster.
I started just counting down the minutes between photos, and doing average speed math equations and day dreaming about karate and doing it, hoping my mind would wander enough and the miles would just keep ticking by unnoticed. I was getting to be about 16 miles from aid 3 at around mile 150, and I was a little low on water. I noticed I was passing by a farm house, one of maybe 6 I saw all day, and saw a dog bowl and a hose sitting out front. I grabbed a handful of brakes, pulled a u turn and hit that thing hard.
After my quick hose shower and bottle fill, I was feeling refreshed, and powered on into the last check point at mile 153 feeling pretty good. I grabbed about 7 gels, 3 water bottles and was right back at it, cranking away.
Things started to get more interesting then, because I began catching people doing the 100 mile course that had rejoined the 200 mile course at aid 3. This gave me some carrots to catch, which was nice, and also got me a little nervous about yelling out my mileage points to myself like I had been earlier.
Screaming 38.9! at the top of my lungs was fun, but people probably thought I was crazy. I probably was a little bit by that point anyways. When I hit 14.4 miles to go I got really excited, because I climbed Mt Rainier a week ago to do the Fuhrer Finger Ski descent off of it, at Mt Rainier is 14,411 ft tall.
Finally I got to the 5 miles to go point, and totally hit the wall. I think my brain was finally finished tricking my body into doing what it was doing, and I just stared at my computer as my speed dropped from 22 to 18 to 14 to 12. I just willed myself on, trying all the tricks in the book to ignore what was going on, but finally just had to put my head down and stare at my feet doing circles until I could hear the loud speaker from the finish line.
The race ended up being 201.7 miles in total, and even thought I was giving it everything I had to break 11 hrs those last few miles, came in at a time of 11:04:26.
I felt elated, exhausted, buzzed and weird at the finish. I ate a huge Jimmy Johns sandwich, drank about 3 liters of coke, then passed out.
I still feel pretty wrecked, and it has been 2 days since the race. I am glad I did it. It was a very surreal experience, and something that is worth doing, but I am not convinced I am going to do it again. Time will tell I guess. It was for sure type II fun, but may take a while longer to fully mature.
It’s time now to flip back into MTB mode and get ready for BC Bike Race, which starts in four and a half weeks. Until then, ride hard, take chances, and apply the chamois butter liberally.