Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dirty Kanza 200 Recap

The story behind my race began back in the fall of 2010 when my wife Kim and I received and entertained a few house guests from Emporia, Kansas. Tim and Kristi Mohn and their kids spent an evening with us on the first leg of their cross country vacation. I knew Tim was a bike nut and I was eager to bend his ear while they were with us. Over the course of the evening the conversation turned to the DK 200 and Tim and Kristi weaved stories and tales that fed a slow and steady seduction in my imagination. I was intrigued by the idea of riding 200 miles through the unforgiving terrain of the Kansas Flint hills. It sounded like an event that could offer a life altering experience and a plausible shift in the way one views their own reality and mortality.
It didn't take much convincing. I was hooked and planned to ride 200 miles thought the Flint hills come the first weekend of June and (of course) I was going to be doing it on a single speed!

I left Chicago in the early hours of Friday morning with a ten plus hour drive in front of me. The family, unfortunately, was not going to be able to travel with me and I was kinda bummed out about it. I know for a fact that my wife would've been in her own personal hell trying to wrangle our "spirited" 3 year old son Benjamin in a foreign environment, so I tried to tell myself that this would be for the best.

I arrived at the Mohn's around 2pm and was welcomed in by Tim, Kristi, Mason and Sydney. Their house was electric with energy and I was pretty stoked to be a part of their weekend. Tim and Kristi had been working hard on this event and I was about to find out how awesome their work was. Tim was waiting on his buddy Doug, and the three of us were going to get a quick ride before heading over to the Granada. Doug arrived and we were crushing gravel within 10 minutes. Amazing! In Chicago, I would need to ride for 60+ miles before coming upon anything even remotely resembling a gravel road. Sure, we have crushed limestone trails and hoof pocked horse trails, but nothing like the terrain that exists out here. I must say I might be jealous and in love!

Photo David Foster
Post ride we headed over to the Granada theater and rolled through a very smooth registration table. Lots of great volunteers making this thing happen and some pretty cool prizes for the winners. I had my eye on the "finisher" pint glass and vehicle sticker amongst the many items that were up for grabs.
 I made my way over to pastapalooza and was treated to a splendid spaghetti dinner. Not being one to watch the caloric intake I grabbed few extra helpings of dessert and hung out with the rest of the Henrikson/Mohn clan. Many conversations and even more laughs from this crew. I had a great time hanging out with them.

Headed back to the theater for the riders meeting and I had an incredibly hard time keeping my eyes open. I must have looked pretty anti social as the activities of the past few days caught back up with me. I could hear the Mohn's basement couch beckoning as race promoter Jim Cummins went through the pre- race speech. I began to question my sanity for participating. What the hell was I thinking?

Jim wrapped up the meeting and we were soon headed back to the Mohns, where we met up with Scott and Kenda O'Mara, to get some supplies loaded in the "fast truck". Initially, I wasn't set to be on the fast truck, but I made a pride infused protest, and was welcomed aboard. We finished up with the logistics, drank a beer and headed to bed. The couch was a welcoming site as fear of the unknown began to play with my mind.

Alarms began ringing at 4:30 A.M and I made my way to the kitchen for the requisite cup of coffee. Kristi was throwing down on the griddle and we had pancakes and eggs in front of us in no time. Awesome hosting for sure!
Soon enough we were loading gear and heading for town. Jitters were rampant and the frenzied pre-race mind implosion was setting in. I was having a hard time pulling it together to get the necessary supplies for the first leg. After a few disconcerting moments I got things in line and headed over to the start.

Photo David Foster
Jim had a few more words and I couldn't really tell you what he had to say. I was feeling overwhelmed by what lay ahead. Emotions were high and I was enamored with the spirited adventurers around me, who would also be embarking on this mission to conquer 200+ miles of Kansas gravel.

The first twenty miles was a whilwind of pain. I had a difficult time getting into the groove and just tried to stick to any wheel I could. I was spinning out like a maniac and my gear choice left me second guessing. Eventually, my legs came around and I fell into a good paceline and the miles started to fly on by.
The pace was still high, in the context of 200 miles, but I went with it because it was pretty fun to be cruising that fast in such a large group. Since I usually ride solo back home it was pretty cool to see the dynamics at work in a large group.

Photo Eric Benjamin
At some point the pace drifted back to manageable, and at the same time, we found some hills. Lots of hills. The rolling kind that SS momentum thrives on. This was a super fun section that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I had heard much about "Texaco Hill" from Tim and this didn't disappoint either. I was loving it! The view from the top was spectacular and you could survey the land for miles. I seriously had to stop to take it in for a minute.
What goes up must come down and I tried to ride as conservatively as possible, choosing good lines and staying light on the bike. This seemed to work fairly well and I avoided the tire maladies that so many experienced in the early portions of this leg. Eventually, we were spit out on some fairly flat stretches that had some pretty solid lines. We closed in on the first checkpoint and I felt pretty good.

Photo David Foster
I made my way in and received the map for the next leg, which would be 44 miles. Our support crew consisted of Kenda O'Mara, Beth Henrikson and Chaz. We had two trucks loaded to the hilt with coffin size coolers and giant jugs of icy water. This was the most pro set up I've ever seen!! The crew was killing it for us and I loved it! We were quick to reload and leg two was underfoot. The terrain on this leg was not remarkably different from the first. More rolling hills and vast amounts of land to the left, right and straight ahead. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. At some point I broke away from Tim and the rest of the crew and I began to feel out my pace. A headphone went into one ear to provide some rage as the likes of Sweet Cobra, Pelican, and Mastadon helped push the pedals.
I remember the heat increasing at a remarkable rate on this leg, which was off set, partially, by the fact that we were headed into the wind. I settled into a good pace and just let the miles come to me. It felt good to be out here as I disconnected from the realities of my daily existence.

A few times on this leg I passed, or was passed by John Schlitter, who was riding a recumbent bike, and absolutely killing it. I was certainly impressed. We spoke briefly and I discovered that he was from St. Petersburg, FL. This would not be the last I saw of John.

 I came across several one speeders and marveled at the gearing they were all pushing. Nearly everyone was well above 60 gear inches.
Photo Chamois Butt'r FB page
A few exposed climbs into the wind and then we finally took a right turn onto a B road that was significantly smoother that the gravel we'd been riding. I came across Steve Goetzelman on his SS and he was riding smooth. It looked effortless... like he wasn't even breaking a sweat. Conversation ensued and we rode together for a bit before he dropped off to take a leak. Alone again, I forged on. I was getting close to the second CP and water was also running in short supply. I tried to pick up the pace a bit and eventually happened upon Andy Lapkass on his SS with two riders in tow.

Photo Chamois Butt'r FB page

This area was littered with dilapidated stone structures. I can't imagine the history that went down here. Seeing this certainly helps to put some things in perspective. The people that forged through this area the past few hundred years must have been tough as nails! No one had an air conditioned enclave to retreat to at the end of the day. Geez!! There was a dearth of vegetation higher than fifteen feet for miles around. These people were exposed and there wasn't a support crew ready to pull them out of their "experience" at the end of a bad day.  I was feeling pretty thankful for my place in this universe at the given time, because riding bikes is a damn fine (and FUN) activity to partake in, and I was going to make the most of this moment on my own.

Photo Chamois Butt'r FB page

Eventually we rolled through a semi ghost town into the second CP. Depressing to see a great cobblestone street with absolutely zero visible economic activity. Hank Williams "Country Heros"was on the pod in a near perfect sync of the crazy vibe I was getting from this place. Damn!!

The crew was ready and waiting as I pulled in. Chaz, Beth and Kenda were quick to see to my needs as I took a minute to eat and stretch out.  Thanks dude and dudettes! The temps were getting up there and the next leg was going to be the longest and most painful of the day at 60 miles. Tim Mohn and Scott O'Mara pulled in shortly after me and a quick assessment told me that the heat was creeping into their race as well. I loaded up on extra water and pulled out. I figured that people were gonna be pretty cooked at this point. My best bet would be to eat and recover on the bike while putting miles in.
I kept it slow and steady for the next 20 miles. The heat was becoming oppressive and began playing with my mind. Constant questions and major discomfort.
I was absolutely alone in a fanatical quest to keep the pedals turning. The pod kept the pace high in the face of the Suns brutality. 12 thermonuclear explosions a second, radiating at the the speed of light from over 93 million miles away, began pummeling my being with a sweltering mess of radioactive jibber jabber.
Photo Eric Benjamin
I came across three riders in this section. One dude, who I rode with for a bit, was killing it until he wasn't. He stopped at a cow puddle for a bit of relief. He would eventually latch on a while later, but I was leading, and the next moment I turned around he was gone. I hope he finished!
The cow suit dude with the per ma grin, John Williams, passed at some point, however, I was in a world of butt hurt, so I couldn't latch on and he smiled himself away at a high rate of speed. The next dude I came across was Gunnar Shogren, who was standing on the side of the road. We attempted to make unintelligible conversation. He looked pretty cooked but indicated that he was alright and with that I carried on down the road.

Photo Chamois Butt'r FB page
Eventually, I came upon some B roads and was treated to semi smooth dirt rolling. The sky began to cloud over and the temps were a butt hair less oppressive, which allowed me to increase the pace a bit. I had a motorized companion on this leg as a Moto -X dude kept slinging himself back and forth between Helmick Rd. and the B road I was traversing. Not to sure what he was up to, but I received the thumbs up every time I passed him. Cool! The trip down Helmick was an all out spinerval as empty cans of Busch lite taunted me from the sides of the road.
 I came to the conclusion that this must be the beer of choice for rural Kansas. Certainly, not PBR ICE, winner of the 2005 Ice Beer Challenge, but definitely a worthy choice at this stage of the game.

I was spit out onto HWY 56 and rolled into Council Grove well before the storm that was brewing behind us.
Photo David Foster
At the check point I was stopped by Betsy Shogren, who asked about Gunnar, and I relayed every detail I could muster to help her in the decisions she would need to make.
Kenda O'Mara was there to meet up with me, as well as Doug, who pulled out at the halfway point. By the looks of it a huge cell was going to be moving through the area and my plan for a quick stop was now in question. Conflicting information made for a confusing stop. I really wanted to get out there. Eventually, I was aided in my decision by co- promoter Joel Dyke, who was sucking down a Budweiser, and advising me to jump in a ditch if things got hairy. With that my mind was made up and I pulled out before the storm came in.

Photo David Foster
The final 42.9 miles to Emporia began with a fairly flat rail trail that brought us out of town and away from the weather. I came by Betsy Shogren and John Schlitter around here and we would see saw back and forth for the remainder of the journey. From roughly mile five to mile ten we would ride parallel to the storm and at various points things were pretty active as sideways rain, lightning, and gusting winds made forward progress a major chore. The harsh stuff started to settle down a bit and we were left with a steady rain that saturated the roads and turned the fine gravel covering into peanut butter.

Roughly 12-14 miles in we came to Lake Kahola, crossed a bridge, and proceeded to climb straight up a wall. I got out of the saddle, buried my head, and stared at my front wheel until I felt gravity kicking in again. The next 15 miles were pretty easy paced and I just tried to keep the pedals turning. All the contact points with my bike were now screaming out loud. The balls of the feet were the worst with my bum running a close second. We meandered through numerous cattle pastures and I noticed that it looked like every single animal was staring at us. I briefly entertained the thought of these cattle sharing a group brain Ala Doctor Who in "Planet of the Ood", but immediately digressed. The fact that all intelligence has probably been bred out of these creatures would probably eliminate any potential for telepathic communication.

The remainder of the ride was mostly pleasant as the sun began to fade into the clouds behind us. Rd 240 into Americus was a sea of loose gravel that seemed to have no discernible lines. I bit my tongue several times as shifting gravel agitated and further grated my undercarriage. Sweet Jesus that's going to leave a mark!!

I stopped to consult  the maps and a friendly Americus local gave us the goods on direction. We had about five miles left and the taste of finishing was palpable. The next twenty minutes were total grin and bear it moments for me as I wanted to be off the bike in the worst way. A few more miles and we finally hit pavement, which brought some much needed relief.
John, Betsy and I rode in together through the campus and, after a red light, were spit out onto the main drag. The energy was discernible from three blocks away and the closer we rode to the finish, the louder and crazier it sounded. It was a total sensory overload as we crossed the finish line. I felt like I wanted to search for the face and mouth that emitted each cheer, the arm that shook each cow bell. I was totally overwhelmed with emotion and utterly exhausted at the same time. I had finished!

John and Betsy received some well deserved high fives and I went off to collapse and finally call the family.

204+ miles. 14 hours 49 minutes. 1st Single Speed and top 10 overall.

I couldn't have done this without the help of several folks. I'd like to extend sincere thanks to Tim and Kristi Mohn for putting me up and sharing their support crew. They totally took care of me and welcomed me in like family. You guys rock!
Second, a big thank you to Kenda O'Mara, Beth Henrikson, and Chaz who catered to my needs at each and every stop. They were killing it all day and I wouldn't have made it through without them.
Thanks to promoter Jim Cummins and all the volunteers who make these events happen and give us a venue to go out and destroy ourselves in.

Most of all I need to thank my wife Kim Czarnopys, and my two kids, Jorie and Benjamin. This would have been impossible if I didn't have a great lady behind me who allows me to pursue the activites (be it biking or skateboarding) that I take inspiration from. Thanks Kim! You are loved!
I will definitely be back for the 2012 running and maybe, with a little luck, I'll be kicking one of these
down the road as a 1x5.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent write up. Just what I needed 2 weeks before my first attempt at the big 200! :D

    Any chance you'd be willing to share your gearing with me? I'm not sure what to run.