Friday, June 7, 2013

DK 200 2013

Another DK 200 has passed, and with it, the inevitable hangover that slowly wanes in the days following. Over the last three years I’ve grown rather fond of my Emporia hosts, and this race in particular. While it can be an extremely difficult day on the bike, it is one that I fully embrace and look forward to each year. It is my hope that I’ll continue to attend, as the day long journey, through this ancient landscape, continues to draw me back.

Photo: Author

With that being said, the story of my race follows:

My road to the start line is often littered with pitfalls. Inevitably, the best of planning can be undone by the manic energy which precedes the actual start. The mind often wanders from task to task, recognizing all, while accomplishing none. I was determined not to experience this in 2013. Preparations were completed the preceding day, which allowed for leisure time before the actual start, and a thoroughly laid back experience for me. 
Photo: Dave Leiker

As start time neared, I made my way to the front, settled in, and before long, we were off. The neutral roll out was a bit slow, and somewhat strange, as Emporia's finest and a photography vehicle, slowly led us  out of town. Predictably, once we turned onto gravel, the group accelerated, and chaos ensued for several miles, until pace lines were formed, and comfort levels reached. I was on the single speed again this year and easily kept pace in the lead group for the first 15 miles or so.
Around this time fellow Single speeders (and awesome dudes) Rafal Doloto and Peat Henry came around. We rode for a moment before they accelerated to stay with the group. I was happy to settle into my own pace, as the group had averaged nearly 20 mph for the first 15 miles. It was going to be a long day and I didn’t need to be a part of that silliness. 

Photo: Eric Benjamin/

I rode mostly solo, or with others of equal pace, until roughly the 28 mile mark. At this point, I’d caught back up to Rafal and Peat, and the three of us rode together for a bit longer before they let me go ahead solo. The first leg was approximately 51 miles, and moved mostly south west, with the wind at our backs.  We made our way through several creek crossings, including one which  required us to dismount and wade through thigh high waters. It was a good time for sure, and easy spinning made quick work of the miles. I rolled into Madison, KS in a little under 3 hours. 

Almost like a CX race!  Photo: Dave Leiker

I kept the first break at 2-3 minutes. Kenda Stiebben O'Mara (awesome sag lady extraordinaire) had new bottles and more food ready and waiting. The 2nd leg would have us traveling west, south and then west again. I rode mostly solo through this leg while wandering from group to group. I kept it steady on the climbs and wound up my gear through the down hills.  The wind, which didn't seem that pervasive at first, was certainly felt each time the course turned north, and progressively impeded forward progress as the miles ticked off. None the less, the legs felt fine, and I carried on at a comfortable pace. A good playlist kept the motivation high and the pedals mashing.  

Photo: Dave Leiker

 I spent much of the time taking in the absolutely captivating scenery. Emerald green prairie stretched out for miles, juxtaposed against vibrant blue skies.  Temperatures, which continued to climb, eventually hovered around 70-75 degrees, which made for a most enjoyable ride. The last 20 miles of the 2nd leg seemed familiar, from my last two DK's, and I rolled into Cassoday, KS feeling really good. 

Photo: Eric Benjamin/

I kept the stop short again. Bananas, coke, refill of supplies, go! The lead out of the 3rd leg was due east for roughly 15 miles and I found myself spun out for much of it. Super fun rollers and a nice tail wind made for an enjoying ride out of town.

Eventually, the course turned north/north west and the miles passed at an excruciatingly slow pace. Miles 117 to 138 were absolute brutality as we headed into a 17mph head/cross wind with gusts that exceeded 20 mph. This was totally demoralizing since ones effort in applying pressure to the pedals, was constantly fluctuating, to adjust and account for the gusts of wind. The pace would flutter between 8-14 mph for much of this section.  I made a mental note to slug Tim Mohn the next time I saw him.
Photo: Eric Benjamin/

On the upside, this section was remote and visually stunning. Rolling green hills could be seen for miles, and I had the feeling that I was in a  strange foreign land. I heeded the advice of WGS bro Michael Jones, who told me to get my head up and enjoy the views every once in awhile. This small meditation definitely took my mind away, if only for a moment, from the suffering I was experiencing in the rest of my being.  
Photo: Dave Leiker

By mile 135 I was pretty shelled. My eyes felt wind whipped and I wasn't paying attention to the map because I blindly followed the group in front of me past an unmarked right turn at Den Creek road (mile 138). It wasn't until Selene Yeager came by, in the opposite direction, that I realized my mistake. This was incredibly costly, and added an additional 7 miles to the 202+ that I was scheduled to ride. I pulled out the map, confirmed the mistake, and plowed my way back to the missed turn. I'd estimate that a good 15-20 minute lead over 2nd and 3rd SS was squandered right there. Lesson learned. Navigate by the map dummy!

Costly Out and Back. Nice job Potsie!

I worked my way back to Den Creek and soon enough I was rolling up on Rafal and Peat. After 140 miles of riding, it was like hitting the reset button, as 1/2/3 SS were all together again. The course continued north and west for a bit and eventually spit us out onto a paved road, which headed east. 

Smooth rolling ensued and I accelerated on the downhill rollers into Cotton Wood Falls, hoping to create a bit of a gap going into the checkpoint, where I came to a rolling stop, restocked supplies, and took off again. 

I was the first SS back out and I charged it pretty hard. Unfortunately, in the distance, a train was rolling through, blocking the road I would be traversing. Luckily, it passed before I was required to stop, and a very long, windy, uphill grind would begin again. 

I worked alone at the beginning of this section and was eventually caught by a group of riders who had Peat in tow. I latched on and felt the instant relief of a six man wind breaker. We worked together until the dude leading stopped for a leak. We all had a go of it, and before I could repackage things, Peat was attacking the downhill in front of us. I followed and worked to close the 1/2 mile gap he opened.  Peat was spinning away furiously in the distance, and each time he did, I was forced to match and then some. By the looks of it, he was experiencing problems with his chain dropping. 

Fortunate for me, because I was able to pull him back into reach without doing much work.

Photo: Kyle Thompson

As we turned back south, and into the last rollers, Peat's chain dropped again and I passed without much fanfare. He was riding really strong and I was fairly certain he would pull himself back. At this point, I rode up on Selene Yeager, and we chatted for a bit before Peat came rolling up.
We rode together for a while before Peat launched another attack with roughly 12 miles to go.  I sort of vocalized my displeasure aloud and then heard Selene shift down, while rising out of the saddle. I followed suit and rode her wheel for the next couple miles as we steadily devoured the distance that separated us from Peat. 
Get back here dude!  Photo: Kyle Thompson

We eventually passed him, as he experienced another dropped chain, and we continued to increase the gap as we approached Rd 240.  Going into Americus Selene indicated that she needed to ease up a bit. I pulled through, thanked her for the massive pull, and tried to keep a steady tempo for the last few miles. At this point, the gap on Peat was pretty good and the feeling of the top step was palpable, but unfortunately, it was not to be.

As I  came around the small left turn on Rd 225 I hit a piece of flint rock just right. The sickening sound of air hissing out of my tire was a reminder that this event is predicated on good decision making right from the start. Lousy navigation never returns dividends.

I worked furiously to change my tube when Selene, and then a slew of other riders came by. Peat followed soon after and it was game over for the top step of the SS podium. I eventually pulled it together and made my way back on the road.

To my right, a beautiful sun blazed low in the sky and illuminated the clouds on the horizon, while ahead, and off in the distance, was the highway overpass that led to downtown Emporia. My journey was almost complete. After this, I would be required to wait another 365 days to experience it again.

   It had been a beautiful day of riding in a stunning landscape that few, if any, ever get to see and experience firsthand and despite the fact that navigational errors added to my overall mileage, and some crazy winds shredded my legs, I managed to put together an excellent race that I could be really happy with. While I didn't get the outcome that I had hoped for, I was pretty stoked with the effort, and the fact that it was in my grasp.

Photo: Eric Benjamin/

This helped put things in perspective and brought me back to the present moment. 
I had just been out riding my bike for an entire day! You just shouldn't be bummed about that. 

I needed to soak up these last few miles and control the myriad of emotion that were bubbling to the surface.
I made my way into town and graciously received the energy of the roaring crowd as I rode through the finishing chute. The satisfaction of having spent another awesome day battling the Kansas Flint Hills put a broad smile on my face, yet again.

Photo: Eric Benjamin

Recap: 210 miles in 13:58:37   2nd place SS Division and 34th place overall.

Many thanks to Kenda for the rad support the last 3 DK's and to Tim and Kristi for being good friends and opening your home to me for the weekend. Your hospitality, and all the work you do to pull this thing off, is much appreciated!!
Thank you Jim Cummings for the excellent cycling experience that's neatly packaged into a 3 day weekend. You've created an addict and I love it!

Special thanks to my wife Kim and my two children Jorie and Benjamin, who deal with my bike riding addiction, and all the hoopla surrounding it.