Content and Photos by Alex Roberts It’s a lot harder to write this race recap than it was when I was writing about Trans Iowa. I finished Iowa on a high surpassing my expectations for the ride. I finished the Dirty Kanza unhappy with my performance and much slower than I had hoped. We arrived in Emporia just after 11 PM Thursday. We had booked the three day package at the Emporia State dorm, and after checking in, we were soon asleep. After a quick brunch Friday, we set out on the bikes for an easy spin and our first experiences with Emporia. We ended our ride feeling optimistic for Saturday. The gravel was packed and smooth, the roads were flat, and the wind was calm. Other than a hotter day than anticipated, Friday gave us high hopes for the race. A finishing time of 14 hours and 42 minutes would allow me to be classified as beating the sun, would give me a limited edition print from a local artist, and seemed well within reach. I rolled to the start line around 5:30 AM, picked up my bracelet for the support-for-hire program, and lined up. The 200 miler was limited to 750 registered riders plus spots for guest and celebrity riders. It seems this put the field at around 800 strong. The organizers asked that you line up by anticipated finish time. The start had sections for 12-18 hours in two hour increments. I lined up near the back of the 14 hour section. I knew I wasn’t going to start hard and wanted to stay out of the way of those that did. We were released at 6 AM sharp. Within a few miles, the course turned onto gravel. I settled into a rhythm and began selecting the groups whose pace I was comfortable sustaining. With the amount of riders there, there were plenty of options if I became unhappy with the pace of the group I was in. It didn’t take long for the character of the gravel to change and punctures were becoming more of a norm on course than an exception. I was quite happy with my pace and effort for the first hour. Sticking to a heart rate of 150 or less, I averaged just under 17 mph for the first 60 minutes. The next hour brought some hills and about 70 feet per mile of elevation gain. Running the bike heavy again with tire and gear choices, I knew the hills would drop my pace, and I was not concerned that I covered slightly less than 15 miles in this hour. I was sticking to my zones and my game plan and yet still coming in well within a time that would have me finish before dark. The checkpoints broke the race into basically four, 50 mile segments. I was satisfied with Segment 1. With a quick 13 minute stop at Checkpoint 1/Mile 50 to refill fluids and food, I was still looking to be on target. Segment 2 gave me the first warning signs for what would eventually ruin my race. At Mile 60, my stomach began to cause me trouble. It began to feel heavy and bloated, and I was not processing my food well. For about a ten mile stretch, I was dealing with these issues. Even though the course was flat to rolling at this point, my pace fell way off and my average heart rate dropped to around 130. Realizing this was the same thing that briefly happened in Trans Iowa, but seeing it appear so much earlier, I was worried about the rest of the ride at this point. Speaking of Trans Iowa, it was both the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. There were whispers of “you finished Trans Iowa, you can definitely do this” and “you finished Trans Iowa, you have nothing to prove here. Quitting is okay.” I’m not sure which voice was the evil one, but I was starting to believe the latter. Quitting would be okay. With the exposed course and the fact that the heat was turning up, I was going through water quickly. I was making it a habit to ask all stopped riders if they needed anything knowing that I had packed extras of most things. The first person that said yes to my inquiry was on his cell calling for SAG due to lack of water. I gave him the remaining Skratch from my bottles. I heard him tell the person on the phone he would be able to make it on what I gave him. Maybe Karma smiled on me, because I had a brief resurgence and averaged 16 mph for 10 miles with my body letting me push a little harder. However, by Mile 85, the gut was in control again and I limped into the second checkpoint. I was doubting I had what it took to make the finish before dark, if at all. I sat in the shade and ate some soup I had packed in my drop bag. This stop was longer than necessary because I had to wait for more water to be brought in. After the water arrived and I filled up, I rolled. The soup was sitting well in my stomach, and I was hoping my troubles were left on the road of Segment 2. I was feeling good. At Mile 110 I heard a pfsss pfsss pfsss coming from my rear tire. I had finally punctured. It wasn’t going totally flat as the Stan’s was starting to work its magic. Shade was at a premium on this course, and I rolled slow for a bit until I found some. By the time I stopped, the sealant had sealed the leak pretty well. I added some air and kept rolling. Another 7 miles farther, I stopped to check the tire and it was holding air fine. Maybe my luck had changed. These hopes, along with my rear tire, were quickly deflated. The stomach issues arose again, this time never to leave. 131 miles in, feeling slightly sick and definitely weakened, I heard the sound of a gash that was too much for even Stan’s to stop. The rear went totally flat, and I pulled over into a cow field and got to work. This was maybe my slowest tire change ever. I tried to eat while stopped, thinking that both it was time to and that being stationary might aid digestion. But my stomach was in such a state that it took me almost 10 minutes to eat a bag of Combos. After slowly adding a tube to the tire, I began to pump it up. Several folks had inquired about me, and I told them I had what I needed. My pump made a liar of me. The piston seemed to be jamming on the intake stroke. It seemed one of the O-rings was dislodging. After pumping for several minutes, it appeared that I had gotten no more than 10 psi in the tire. With the next inquiry from a fellow-rider, I asked if he had a pump I could use. He offered both a pump and CO2. I took the easy way out, but it was still a 30 minute tire change. The tire was fixed, but my stomach was not. I was planning on making Checkpoint 3 and bailing out. I had a decent average speed to CP3, even being forced to keep the heart rate low. Pulling in to the checkpoint, I was starting to listen to the voice that said finishing TI meant I could finish this. After a 30 minute break, more soup, some chips and a banana, I left to finish the ride at a slow pace. Even though the last segment was the flattest and easiest, I could only muster a 13.7 mph average speed with an average heart rate barely over 120. Darkness fell on me at Mile 180. I had lost the race and the print. While disheartening, the cooler night air and relief from the sun was welcome. I crossed the finish line at 16 hours and 28 minutes with plenty of legs to spare. I received my pint glass as a DK200 finisher and gladly got off the bike. I was disappointed, but I was done. Writing this has helped my attitude a lot. Yep, I placed way down the order. Yep, my finish time was hours longer than I wanted. Yep, I was bummed. But looking back, it’s good to see everything I overcame just to finish. It’s good to know I didn’t quit. And it’s good to be in a condition where finishing 200 miles of gravel can be a disappointment. Besides the troubles I had, I’ll remember several things about the Dirty Kanza. First and foremost is how remote the course is. I’ve never ridden for such stretches without seeing even a hint of civilization excluding the other riders and their marks. I even only remember seeing one dog over the 203 miles. Maybe Toto had warned them to stay away. Second, the course was extremely exposed. Pre-race I thought this would mean trouble from wind or storms, but neither appeared. What it did mean, and I’m sure I broke some sort of composition or writing rule by just now tying in to my title, was that there was no respite from the sun and heat. I always thought of the Hotter ‘N Hell as the benchmark for lack of shade, but Kanza might have raised the bar. Third, I won’t forget how well the event was organized and how welcoming Emporia was. Definitely add the Dirty Kanza to your list. And don’t forget your sunscreen. By the way, I’m smiling now, and I even just posted the event photo above of me grinding up a hill to Facebook. Kanza not only challenged me, it motivated me. I’m already looking for what’s next, and I hope to tell you all about it when I’m done. Until then, cheers!