Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A couple of people have suggested that I write down my experiences from the 2014 Dirty Kanza. Most people who might read this know that the DK is a 200 mile race through the Flint Hills of Kansas on a bicycle. Keep in mind, I am not a writer, so bear with my rambling. You may ask, why am I writing this? I am not sure myself, however this task, the DK, is such a tremendous challenge for someone like me and it has yet again had a huge impact on me mentally, emotionally, and physically that I feel the need to preserve the moment.

My original intent was to document my time from sign-up day in January until the end through photos and video. However, other things got in the way and I was torn between training and documenting the training. I felt that if I spent the time documenting the training like I wanted to, I was losing site of my main goal, finishing this bastard again, and proving to myself that the first time was not a fluke. So, no photos, no video, just a lot of rambling.

Training went fairly well this year. As always, I never feel like I get enough miles in, and I felt guilty about not riding more. I started riding in late November. April was good. I did 4 century+ rides (3 of them solo) on the weekends and quite a few more miles in during the week. More than I have done in the past.

My last big tune up for the DK was going to be the Maizie’s Ride in Eskridge, Kansas, three weeks before. 106 miles of the narliest gravel and hills in NE Kansas (thanks Ryan Dudley). For me it ended up being about 3 miles of cycling, a derailleur ripped off my bike, and $160 in repairs.

The best part about training was that I seemed to have my cramping problem under control. 4 centuries in April, no cramping. Occasionally I would get a cramp or two on a ride, but not the never ending, legs locking up type that I have been famous for in the past. I was riding slower, keeping my heart rate average lower (135-145), and it seemed to be working. I did about 90% of my training solo because I hate to hold others up. Riding at my own pace seemed to fix the cramping issues.

Day before:
The day before the DK, I had the day off and spent most of it getting everything ready. I figured it would take me an hour or two and then I could just relax and stay off of my feet. It is amazing how many little things you have to gather up and pack for the SAG stops. Ran to the store for a couple of last minute things and a quick trip downtown to register. (I should mention, downtown Emporia was incredible, the place was hopping.) The next thing I knew, it was time for the riders meeting. A quick spaghetti supper at the Honea’s  followed, and then it was back home to pack up the Jeep. I felt like crap, back hurt, feet hurt, and extremely stressed. Everyone kept saying I would have a great ride, but I was not so sure. Typically I have a terrible time sleeping before any type of competition, however this time I slept just fine.

Race Day:
4:30 am alarms are not my idea of fun. There are very few things in my life I will get up that early for. Biking. Fishing. Soccer. That’s about it. Okay, perhaps one other thing…

I got down to the start line around 4:50 am. I don’t like to be late. There were not may people down there yet (I guess I really did not need to be down there that early either). Finally I saw Rick Becker and Jeff Young ride up and before the start we took a group shot of 4 of the Mulready’s riders (Rick, Jeff, Smitty Smith, and myself) together (not sure where Troy Ochs was). I was nervous as hell. Rick and Jeff lined up at the front of the 14-hour group and just before 6, I saw Troy at the front of the 16-hour group. I decided to drop in at the back of the 16-hour group. I thought if I had a really good day, somewhere between 16 and 18 hours may be a possibility.

Leg 1 Emporia to Madison:
If you have never had the chance to roll out on a mass start in a cycling event, you should give it a try. It’s a rush. People cheering, the sound of riders clicking into their pedals, the colors. It gets your adreneline flowing, and apparently that is a problem for me. My goal was not to take off too fast, just nice and easy, and most importantly, keep my heart rate down. I did much better than my first two DK rides at not taking off too fast. I simply tucked in behind a rider who was going a nice, easy pace and forced myself not to try working my way up through the pack. I succeeded with that goal. Unfortunately, my heart rate did not stay down. I got too caught up in the moment. I don’t think it went below 155 until after the first checkpoint. The more I thought about it, the worse it was, so I just tried to ignore it and ride.

In my first DK attempt, I stared cramping at mile 24, and only made it a total of 96 miles before my DNF. In my second DK attempt, I made it to mile 30, and I actually managed to finish the full 200 miles. This time I was fairly sure that I could ride the first 100 almost cramp free, and I knew I could suffer through the rest if needed. So much for that plan. Mile 17, on Road YY (Towers Road), first cramp hits. No problem. Just ignore it, it will go away. Then cramps off and on through the Cattle Pens. I kept backing off, letting many riders pass, and trying to get the cramps to die down, with varying success.

I ran into and old friend, Doug (blanking on his last name) again early on the first leg. The only time I have seen him in the last four years, has been riding the DK. I find it amazing that with so many riders, we would actually run into each other every time. Shawn Honea and Smitty Smith (Half Pint riders) beat me to the Cattle Pens, and I said hi as a rode by trying to look fresh. I rode for a while with Cory Bacon, Bobby Thompson, and then Ryan Dudley near the end of the first leg, but just before Madison, my legs decided to lock up. Damn! Are you fucking kidding me! (and a few other choice words) I had to stop and take some ibuprofen. I also brought some pills that were specifically for leg cramps. The rest of the day would be an unhealthy combination of ibuprofen, asprin, and leg cramp pills. I can tell you, it doesn’t help.

So, I limped into Madison pissed off, but still feeling better than I did in my first two attempts.

I should mention, the weather was amazing. Full cloud cover, beautiful fog the first part of the ride. It was very humid, but I am not complaining. Those clouds could stick around all day as far as I was concerned. All of the riders were covered in dirt and mud due to the dusty conditions and high humidity (they don’t call it the Dirty Kanza for nothing).

Checkpoint 1 Madison:
As you roll into checkpoints, it gives you a boost. People cheering again, the chaos of finding your SAG vehicle, trying to get everything done as fast as you can and get back out on the gravel. As I rolled up to my SAG, Bobby Thompson is in a little bit of a panic. He had actually beat his SAG crew to the stop. We did actually make good time, faster than I would have guessed. It was not a problem because I had more than enough stuff to share with him, but I can feel his pain.

My support crew consisted of my lovely wife Lisa and youngest daughter Kate. They had never witnessed this side of me riding before, and I think it was an eye opener. I am not sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, but they dove in and did a tremendous job. I started barking out orders of what I needed and how to do it. I know I can be a real ass when I get stressed, but they are used to it by now. I had my daughter beat on my legs, and as much as it hurt, it was what I needed (I think she may have enjoyed making me squirm a little). I tried something that I had not done before. Since my left thigh was giving me the most problem cramping, I put a sock filled with ice on it under my shorts and rode the whole second leg with it on there. Obviously the ice did not last the whole section, but it looked sort of odd having a huge bump on my leg. Have I mentioned that pickle juice tastes like crap! Doesn’t do anything but make you want to throw up.

I had told them I wanted to keep all stops to 15 minutes or less, and we were right on schedule. I was not “racing” but some of the best advise I every heard was to “recover on the bike.” I don’t like long stops, I actually feel worse when I do. Just keep rolling forward. I rolled out of Madison looking to keep on the same pace as the first leg. If I did, I might just pull off a sub 18-hour day.

Leg 2 Madison to Cassoday:
I have not yet mentioned the sick, evil minds of Jim Cummings, Tim Mohn, Kristi Mohn, and LeLan Dains yet, but as I left Madison, I began to curse them. They had a great idea of putting this steep-ass hill immediately leading out of Madison. Walked-it. Cramped. Cussed. Walked many, many hills after that.

That was pretty much my second leg, cramping, walking hills, cursing, and I added a flat tire for good measure about half way through. Time was flying by, but the miles were not. I got passed by riders on fat bikes. This skinny tire cross bike was not helping much. As I have said many times before “if I could only buy new legs” I would be dangerous. The clouds started disappearing as I left Madison as well. I suck in the heat, and bitch about it even more (just ask my wife).

Battle Creek Road leading into Cassoday is my nemesis. I think I have only successfully ridden it without walking at least one hill, one time. That was the first time I rode it and I did not know what was coming.

I must have looked like shit, because one time while I has hobbling up a hill, pushing my bike, (other riders that were pushing their bikes were passing me) a rider came along beside me and looked concerned. He said that he had seen a SAG vehicle picking someone else up not far back and he was sure they would give me a ride if I needed one. I thanked him, but in my mind I told him to F-off. I can do this. I know he meant well. That is one of the coolest things about the cycling community. Everyone looks out for each other. They are more than willing to share food, water, tubes, air, whatever you need. Some of the best people you could ever be around.

Luckily I had made good time on Leg 1 so I was able to make the cutoff for Leg 2 as well, but I had ate up much of my cushion. Leg 3 was very questionable.

Checkpoint 2 Cassoday:
The crew knew what they were doing for this SAG stop and gave me everything I needed. They were being as positive as they could be and trying to pump me up, but I knew they were beginning to get worried. More of the same leg pounding, hydration, and trying to eat. My stomach was already beginning to argue. A large ice pack for each thigh this time out

Leg 3 Cassoday to Cottonwood Falls:
Leaving Cassoday, I had personally come to terms with the fact that I would never reach Cottonwood Falls by cut off, let alone finish this damn race. I did not tell my support crew, but I think they suspected it as well. The first section was a lot of rolling hills and I could only ride perhaps two or three of them. Every time I looked down at my speed, it was only around 7mph. Another guy stopped to check on me and gave me some electrolyte pills for me to combine with my pill cocktail. I had been throwing all sorts of stuff in my body to just make the pain go away.

Just before turning back North, there is a big decent that I reached around 36mph on. Not a good idea when you are exhausted and feel like passing out. On the way down I remember thinking that this would not be a good place to have a blowout.

I stopped at the turn North and fell off my bike. I thought my day was over. This is kind of gross, but I realized that I had only peed once all day. I had drank a ton of fluids, but just could not go. I am sure that is part of my problem. I almost called for a pick-up but decided while there was still time on the clock, I would keep rolling forward.

It took me forever to get the first 25 miles of the 3rd leg in. I finally reached an area of relative flatness (if that even exists out there). A few positive thoughts crept into my mind, and I thought I might have a chance to make Cottonwood Falls before the cutoff. Then I proceeded to throw up on myself. So much for that idea. I happened to run into another gentleman somewhere along Leg 3. Oddly enough, we had met 2 years ago on the DK as well. He is from Florida, but his family is from Emporia I believe, so he comes back to ride the DK. Sorry, I can’t remember his name, but it is crazy who you meet in the middle of nowhere.

About 30 miles into Leg 3, while walking yet anther hill I hear someone call my name. Angela Spellman had caught me and said, I have something for you. She gave me some salt tablets to fix my cramping. I thanked her, but was not convinced they would do anything. What the hell, can’t hurt to throw some other pills in there. She rode away convinced she would beat the sun into Cottonwood Falls. I remember thinking, how could she be so damn positive? I wished her good luck and kept rolling forward. I had decided that when I reached Bazaar I would call for a ride.

As I crossed the highway at Bazaar I heard some cheering. Damn, there were people out watching, I can’t stop now. That would be embarrassing. They offered me water and told me they were enjoying beer and margaritas. I almost stopped for good.

Finally I decided to roll into Cottonwood Falls and call it a day. I would not make the cut off, but at least I would not call for a pick-up. The sunset was amazing and I really wanted to stop and take a photo. Turns out later, it is a good thing that I didn’t.

Checkpoint 3 Cottonwood Falls:
I came in after dark, ready for this torture to be over. I was sure I had not made the cut-off. As I crossed the line, the guy said “here is your map for the last section.” I don’t remember my exact reply, but by the look on his face, it was not very nice. I hope the “F” word did not come out. I could not believe that I had made it and I REALLY did not want to continue. This was stupid.

I made my way to the SAG, but had a hard time finding it. Then I heard my wife yelling and she sprinted back to the Jeep, and was rushing around getting me ready for the last leg. Later she told me that she had never ran that fast in her life. She is in recovery now as well. Everyone told me how great I looked and I could finish this easily. All liars! I talked with my daughter on the phone and she told me to suck it up and finish the race.

I knew the last leg well, I had ridden it many times before, and I was not looking forward to it. Finally, I decided to ride until time was up, then call. Before I left, I warned my wife that I would not stop to text or call with updates on my progress. Simply have her phone on so when I did call, she could come pick me up.

Leg 4 Cottonwood Falls to Emporia:
Riding by yourself, at night, after you have already ridden 150 miles is quite an experience. I never saw another rider in front of me or behind me the entire last leg. If I would have caught someone, that probably would have helped mentally. It’s a good thing no one caught me, because that would have crushed me.

Road V, west of Lake Kahola sucked as usual. Every time I had to walk a hill, the chances of me finishing dropped dramatically. And I walked a lot of hills. At least the view was great. Huge crescent moon and tons of stars.

Just north of the lake I was riding along and my front wheel caught a rock and I crashed hard. I ended up on my back looking up at the stars. What an amazing sight. I need to get out there more. After a couple of minutes I realized that nothing was broken, just some blood, so I checked my bike out, and nothing broken on it either. Damn! I thought I could stop now. I remember earlier in the day considering taking a dive on a downhill just to be done, but figured it may scratch up my bike.

So I plodded along, deciding to go to the Northern most point of the course and call for a ride. I forgot to mention that somehow I could not figure out how to get my GPS to give me turning directions the entire day until the last leg. That saved me. Mentally I was shot, and looking at my computer and seeing speed, distance, heart rate, and the time would just mess with my mind. I found a screen that simply told me where the next turn was. When I reached the North end of the course I was sure I had less than 30 minutes left until cutoff and around 25 miles to go. No way I could make it. I allowed myself to peek at the time remaining and DAMN! More than 2 hours left. Are you fucking kidding me! Just enough time to possibly make it, if I could average somewhere around 11mph or so. I was so far gone mentally and physically, I could probably only maintain around 7mph at best, but what the hell. Keep rolling forward.

On a side note, I was amazed by how many turtles and snakes there are out on the gravel roads at night. Hundreds of them. I would also like to thank the group that was sitting in their front yard North of Americus still cheering us on. I think they were shocked someone was still on the road, but they cheered for me just the same.

I only stopped one more time. When rolling through Americus I decided to not look at the time and just finish this damn ride, no matter what time I crossed. At least I could say I rode the full 200. Less than 5 miles out my legs locked up for the billionth time. I had to stop and take something. I was freaking out because I figured the time was going to be extremely close, and that this last stop would keep me from finishing by the deadline, if it had not already passed. I knew my family was probably worried to death, but I could not take the time to call them. They would just have to sweat it out.

Finish Line:
When you finish as late as I do, the crowd and festivities are long gone. However, there are a few lone stragglers there to cheer you on and it is greatly appreciated. I could hear my daughter screaming at the top of her lungs. I saw my wife running to the finish line. From their point of view, with each passing minute it looked like I was not going to make it. My wife had seen me at Cottonwood Falls, and it did not look good. Unbelievably, as I entered Commercial Street the finish line was still up and as I rolled across the finish line, I simply looked at Kristi Mohn and said, “did I make the cutoff.” Pure shock when she said yes. My head simply collapsed on the bike and my daughter tackled me while my wife gave me a hug and a kiss.

It’s a good thing I did not stop to take a photo out by Kahola. I would not have made the cutoff. It is also a good thing I was able to finish. My phone was dead. I am not sure how I pulled off that last leg. Hell, I did not even convince myself I was going to finish until the last 10 miles. I think I told Tim Mohn that this is the stupidest thing I have ever done.

I think only six riders finished after me. I have the upmost respect for every rider who even had the balls to show up and compete, whether you finished or not.

The Aftermath:
Sunday: PAIN! Can’t walk, can’t eat. I wanted to go to the Riders breakfast, but did not feel good. I threw up just a little bit later. First good decision I have made in a while. Thank God I am never doing that again. Two-time finisher. That’s enough for me. The Half-Pint is still a big challenge, but I know I can do that and still enjoy the rest of the festivities downtown.

Monday: The second day after is always the worst for me. More pain. I look like I should be in a wheel chair. My wife had to put my socks on for me. Went to work, but did not accomplish much. I am now feeling the pain from my wreck in addition to my legs. However, somewhere during the middle of my day, a thought creeps into my mind…wouldn’t it be cool to finish in less than 18 hours? I must have hit my head really hard when I crashed.

Tuesday: I woke up feeling much better today. Still real sore, but put my own socks on today. Perhaps I could get back on my bike today. Time to start training for my next DK!

Also, I had the chance to ride for the Mulready’s cycling team. I was honored to wear the jersey, I am only sorry I did not finish in a more respectable time. Teammates Rick, Jeff (3rd in age group), Troy, and Smitty all had great rides. Many of my best friends participated in the DK either as a rider, support crew, or volunteer. I thank you all for making it one of the most moving experiences of my life.

The most common question I get asked is “why?” People who do not ride, or even people who do, ask why. I have heard many answers. “Because I can.” “For the challenge and adventure.”

I am not sure of my answer. It is definitely not “because I can,” because I am still not sure that I could again. It is the hardest thing that I have ever had to do in my life other than being a parent. I will never be fast. I will never challenge for the win. I might not ever cross that finish line again.

I am simply fascinated by the mental and physical battle. Physically, it is almost beyond my reach. Mentally as well.

Simply put, it changes you. I like the change it has made in me. Except for these damn cramps! Now my hands are cramping from typing so much.