Last Saturday was my second trip to Kansas for the Dirty Kanza mountain bike race… a 200 mile gravel road thang. This year I had the added challenge of Drew not going with me (there was a conflicting race in Az he really wanted to do) but the bonus of having done it once before and the race director's cell phone number in my pocket in case I broke myself or my bike…
So, I tossed the K (my old Kestrel CSX) into the trunk and headed out Friday morning to Kansas. Not too bad of a road trip, took my iPod and played the tunes loud and sang offkey… a good mix of country, alternative, and hardcore. Checked into the hotel, put a bike computer onto the K, and did a little test ride on the end of the course to check my setup. Quick packet pickup, some takeout, and I closed the curtains and pretended it was late enough to go to sleep.
Finally 5am rolled around and I flipped on the TV. Weather forecaster was babbling about storms, hail, etc. east of Emporia. Hmm. Look outside and it looks good so fill the camelback with ice and roll to the start line. They announce that they may hold the race a few hours, but hold on. Chat with some other racers and say hello to the gals who are there. I think there were 5 of us this year!!! A few of them said that they were inspired to come out because of my finish last year… shucks… I know the truth! It was this horribly bloated picture of my finish where I look like someone who would barely be able to leave a couch. They saw that and thought "If she can do it, I sure can!". In any case, it was great to see some more women there!
The RD came back, said it was a go, and before I had time to freak we did our rollout. We rolled through town with a police escort to the start of the gravel where the pack exploded. Lead men took off. Several speed groups formed. I tried to remember to ride my own pace, and became a chatty girl hello'ing and babbling to the folks around me, I figured as long as there were folks around I would have entertainment. We kept chasing the storm, black skies with lightening ahead of us… but only a few occasional splatters of rain. It ended up being just a perfect weather day with the skies staying overcast, a moderate wind, and enough humidity to give my attitude braids a big fuzz.
Up, down, nice gravel, gravelly gravel. I kept a sharp eye on my map because I did not want to get lost. But, of course, I did. Around mile 40 there was flagging at a corner and three guys just ahead turned right. It seemed a mile early on my map, so I waited for the next group to catch up and kibitzed with them. They thought it was the right turn, so I followed along. Nope. Two miles later we were supposed to turn left and there was no left turn to take. We were only 8ish miles from the checkpoint, a little town with the ubiquitous water tower that we could see from that distance so we generally headed in that direction. I followed along in the pack of 8 now, and tried not to stress. When I stress things go badly… can I keep up with these guys? How lost are we? Crap a hill, I dropped a bit… push it. Oh, a downhill, nice, but don’t go ahead. Crossed an asphalt road so we knew we were getting close and I really wanted that rest stop and the guys all stopped to pee. Um… a little jealous here! We finally rolled into town and I could use the facilities, re-lube, and get the map for the next section.
One of the gals was there already and was about to head out so I said I'd roll with her. Few miles out of town we hit a big water crossing. Whew, that's chilly and now my socks are soaked Eventually she went ahead and I settled back into my own pace. Some guy groups came by and I'd chat a bit, they'd roll on, then stop to eat or pee or whatever and I'd go by again. One of the benefits of riding alone is being able to totally settle into my own pace. One of the drawbacks was the cows. Some poor cow was stuck in the road and none to happy about it. She charged the guys ahead of me, and they stopped to figure out how to get by and I could slide by with them. Whew. Nice to be around people this year! Eventually the section slid by and I hit the mid-way checkpoint. Sweet!
Lots of people around resting, eating, and trying to decide whether to keep going. This is a risky place if you have a support crew because you're tired, it's hot, and it's pretty easy to quit. Not an option for me. The gal I'd left the last CP with talked herself out of continuing. I tried to get her to go, but nope. The RD had water and a cooler of cola and best of all a box of homemade ginger cookies. WOW! They were awesome! Settled my tummy and tasted great. Here's my total guy story. He said his girlfriend Michelle made them. She was racing, on a redline, did I meet her? Now here's the basic difference between men and women. I met her at the start. She was this totally positive and upbeat gal wearing combat boots… yup, doing the race on a MTB with combat boots. What kind of bike??? Don’t know, but I sure can tell you her footwear! Anyways, I ate and drank a nd changed my shorts and then headed out for the 3rd section.
This section was kinda just there. I was tired, but not oofed. The miles slid by and again I was around several guy groups, but they kinda leapfrogged me. Saw one group of 4 make a wrong turn and tried to yell at them to get their attention but no luck. They caught back to me about 10 miles to go and I apologized for not being able to yell louder. Saw on solo guy go straight at a turn and did get his attention so that neutralized my karma. I finally rode back into the CP at mile 155. Very cool here… it was still light out! And, I was not last!!! Changed my jersey, talked to the cookie maker Michelle who had dropped at the half, set up my lights and headed out.
The light faded and it was now Kansas dark. A few farms around, but no lights except the lightening in the distant storms. Went around a lake and got lost. Way lost. No clue where I was on the map lost. Shit! The map is relative, easy to follow if you know where you are but no road names to try to figure out where you are if you don’t know. Tried my emergency call, but no answer. Crap! Looked around and saw headlights approaching and it was 4 guys who were also lost. They pulled out compasses (note to self, figure out how to use a compass, and by the way I learned that town names are printed on a map so up is north… who knew?). We headed back up hill and then there were 2. Where'd the other three go? Crap. We talked it out, and headed back down the hill. There was a flat. All sorted out, back up the hill, made a turn over a bridge and then a steepish hill. Crap! Wait for me!!!! Huffing and puffing and tired and lost. They slowed down on the downhill a nd I caught back up and we finally found the marked turn we were looking for. I asked them to point me on the map and said I'd see them at the finish because I needed to stay at my own pace.
Followed their taillights through the dark. Their support drove up and they stopped and chatted a bit. Something about a big dog ahead. Oy. I went ahead, they passed me, and then they waited at a corner. Apparently an angry dog was in the next section and they waited to escort me through so I wouldn’t get eaten. I almost cried at their thoughtfulness! Fortunately there was no dog and at the next corner we were 8 miles to go. They went ahead and I kept their taillights in site. I thought I did. 4ish miles later there was a turn but there was still a flashing red light ahead so I kept going. Got to the freeway and realized it was not their flashing taillights. Drats! Missed another turn. Finally made my way into town and to the finish…
2nd place female (found out today that the first place gal whomped the course in 16:07!). Won a sweet hiking pack and a white cowbell trophy. 19:28. 2.5 hours faster than last year!!!! All in all I'm quite pleased with my finish. Two days later I'm still tired but the aches and pains are fading. I really really love this race, but I'm not sure I'll be able to go back the next few years because the timing is too close to RAAM. (Next June I'm going to do the 1000 mile race that covers the first third of the RAAM course the first weekend of June). But, if the date moves back a few weeks again I'd do it in a heartbeat! Great course, great people, solid challenge. Love it!
The K is retired now for the season since my next race is the Double IM on July 5th. Time to pull out the Raven and see if all this mountain biking will translate into strength on the road. That's the hope!!!
Keep the rubber side down,