Look at this stupidly smiling me. Before I had any idea what I was in for.
Oh, Dirty Kanza 200 2015, what an adventure you were. It’s only been a few years of gravel riding for me and I’ve been working my way around the regional scene. Last year I decided that this was not enough and I wanted to start tackling the BIG ones. Naturally I had to start with the premier gravel race, so in January I signed into Bikereg.com and waited to registration to open. It sells out within hours (sometimes minutes) so I needed to get on it. I got in no problem and started my training…
Fast-forward to May. The Midwest weather was awful the entire week leading up to the race: rain. And lots of it. We had heard stories of the river crossings being chest high. And I assumed that there would be mud. I just had no idea how much mud there would actually be.
I went into the race hoping to beat the sun- a special designation for those who arrive at the finish line before the sun goes down. Basically you have about 14.5 hours to complete the race in order to receive this award. Chris and I lined up in the 14 hour corral and got ourselves ready for the day.
Getting ready to start
All was well for the first 10 miles- we stayed in a good paceline and the roads were dry and the gravel was packed. And then, in the distance, I could see riders dismounting.
The long haul
We came up on a road that was un-rideable. The mud was thick and sticky. Many riders began to push their bikes through the mud. Chris looked at me and said, “No matter how heavy your bike starts to get DO NOT push it through this mud. Carry it.” The mud was thick enough that you would sink to your ankles. At times I thought I would lose my shoe it in. Some places you couldn’t walk through it at all and you had to walk on an off camber ledge of grass inches away from a barbed wire fence. And then people started yelling that they saw (or stepped on) rattlesnakes. I could see in the distance that this went on for a long time. Almost 4 miles, in fact.
Riders were stopping to adjust their bikes because they got heavy. Very heavy. Other riders stopped to clean out the mud being caked into their drivetrains and derailleurs. Many of these people never made it past this stretch- it was either too much for them or too much for the bike. Many bike parts did not survive this journey.
Damn this thing is getting heavy
After about an hour of this I realized that my goal to beat the sun was slipping away so Chris and I decided that we would just make the best of it and stay together- if one of us dropped back the other would wait. As it turns out, we flip flopped being the one who felt stronger than the other all day long.
Back on the bike
Finally, in the distance, I could see riders remounting their bikes. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. The roads then improved for a while, but we were all very wet and dirty. It was also very cold and windy. It was hard to stay clipped in to the pedals with all the mud caked in your shoes. And as soon as you got into a rhythm the roads turned to mud again.
One of the river crossings
The chest high river crossing that we had heard about was removed from the course and we were rerouted to much tamer waters. The girl in me looked at it as a good way to wash the mud off my shoes. But that didn’t last long and I had to deal with soaking wet feet for the next 14 hours.
We stayed in a pack for a while until a cattle stampede broke up the group. In fact, Chris and I were the only ones who got through before they all decided to run in the road and block all the riders behind us.
The second checkpoint- I’m pretty happy it’s “almost” over
By the time we got to the second checkpoint at mile 153 I was just hoping for a 16.5-17 hour finish. But that didn’t happen. It was getting colder and started to rain again. By mile 175 both Chris and my Garmins died, which had the course directions programmed into them. We had Garmin chargers, but we couldn’t access the navigation while charging them. We had cue sheets but stopping to look at them slowed us down. We tried to hook up with riders who still had working navigation but based on how long we were out there, riders who still had battery life were hard to find. There were several times we had to stop to figure out where we were. Lots of riders were going off course. I had seen at least 50 riders changing tires over the course of the day, but I really felt for the ones who were trying to do it in the dark. Then our lights died and we had to switch those out. At one point I decided to help out and ride behind someone when his light died because he didn’t have a spare. It really became a comedy of errors at that point.
I had pretty much accepted the fact that I was no longer “racing” and merely trying to finish. However, with about 10 miles to go we hooked up with a group that had another female in it. She looked to be over 40 so I assumed we were racing each other. Remarkably, I was feeling really good at this point so I told Chris that when we got to the road portion (the last 2 miles until the finish) I was going to turn it up. I couldn’t believe how much strength and speed I was able to muster and was able to get away from her (and actually the whole group) with no problem whatsoever.
So, about 18.5 hours after we started, we finished. I still managed to place 11th in the 40+ Women’s category. It was a major accomplishment considering less than half of the starters actually finished. Overall, 48% of the total starters finished and only 39% of the women finished. I’m already thinking about going back and killing it next year…
If you want to see some super badass photos of the day, click here on Adventure Monkey to access his site and report. Or, this report from KansasCity.com featuring Instagram pictures from racers on the course. Really cool.