This is a story I want to tell, but it is not the usual for me. That’s because it’s not about the bike. (hmmm…I thought some other cyclist said that, but it seems the records were erased. 😉 ) In fact, it’s not a gear or beer review either. What it is is a story about how my Dirty Kanza 2015 went from a 200 mile race to a 65 mile ride. It’s also a story about why I have no regrets about that and why the last 33 of those miles were some of the best I have ever ridden. I got married earlier this year. She’s just as crazy about bikes as I am. To calm any pre-wedding jitters, we took a 35 mile gravel ride the morning of the wedding high into the Dixie National Forest. The descent down was well-rutted, and there were some close calls that nearly had both of us rocking gravel-road rash for the ceremony. Our honeymoon was a bikepacking trip on the White Rim Trail.
Kim Morris Photography.  Used with permission.
Kim Morris Photography. Used with permission.
For someone so new to the gravel scene and still only about 2 years past her graduation from a bike path/pub cruiser to a hardcore cyclist, my wife definitely sets lofty goals and hasn’t shown any fear of diving into the deep end. After owning a gravel bike for only a couple of months, she completed 56 miles on the Land Run half-run and then shortly after completed the 111 miles of the Dirty Kanza Half Pint in 2014. So it was no surprise that she wanted to go for the full DK in 2015. Dirty KanzaAs you probably know, the Midwest and south-central parts of the county were hammered with rain this May. The Emporia area was not spared, and the brunt of their rains came just before this year’s race. The weekend before the event, even Kansas Highway 99 was flooded from the Neosho River. Rains and storms continued the week of the event with heavy rain Thursday and Friday. The organizers had contingency plans for the low-water crossing that had become anything but; however, the course was still pretty much guaranteed to be nasty. The DK start is organized by expected finish times in 2 hour increments. After some hugs and words of encouragement, I picked a spot mid-pack of the 14 hour group knowing this was going to be optimistic based on the course conditions, but it’s where I lined-up last year and it seemed right to be there again. My wife went in with the 16 hour group, and I expected that to be the last time I saw her until the finish. Dirty KanzaI felt great once we got rolling. The DK featured nearly 2000 riders this year, and seeing such a large group hit gravel for the first time is quite a site. My nerves were quickly calming and the course was just a little wet, but not too muddy. I was rolling fast and was making my way forward from group-to-group feeling better than expected. This changed at mile 11. The dreaded site of everyone dismounting was not what I wanted to see. The mud had claimed the course, and it was definitely not rideable. The biggest lesson that the Stillwater red clay mud taught me this year at the Land Run was not to be tempted to try to ride through sections like this. Dismounting not only saves the drive train, it keeps the bike lighter for carrying. I dismounted immediately and began the walk. I had adopted a better method for carrying the bike than I had previously, but it was still slow going. After covering 3 miles in about 1.25 hours, I emerged with a clean bike and a strong desire to get to pedaling again. I quickly settled in to a good rhythm, but there was a little bit of doubt creeping in… I learned a whole lot about myself during Trans Iowa last year. I learned that I have two major coping mechanisms for the self-inflicted pain and hardship ultra-distance riding inevitably exacts. One method is to simply ignore the pain and focus on the goal. Thinking of the long-term euphoria of a challenge conquered compared to short-term suffering is a big motivator to keep going. However, another completely opposite means of getting through it is, as Trent said, but made more famous by Johnny, I focus on the pain. I actually think about how much it hurts and use the pain as a stimulant. Who needs to bite their lip to stay awake 24 hours into an epic ride when you have trashed quads screaming at you to stop? Now about that doubt. It wasn’t a result of this ride being too hard or too painful. It wasn’t because my coping mechanisms were failing me. It was a result of an unshakable feeling that I had someone on course that I care about more than myself who was behind me somewhere most likely still going but suffering, perhaps even suffering all-alone. I couldn’t stop thinking that being a good racer this year was making me a bad husband. Dirty KanzaI blew through the water stop at mile 32 which also happened to be the 100/200 mile course split. About two miles later I hit another section of slop. I dismounted and began another walk. At my first break to reposition my bike, I took the opportunity to see if there were any updates from my wife. I checked my phone and a text verified that the mud had not defeated her, but it had definitely landed some punches. And that was enough. The decision was easy. I turned around and back-tracked through the mud. I rode the two miles back to the water stop and texted her that I was there and waiting. We were going to tackle this course just as we have planned to tackle life’s other obstacles; as a team. When she arrived, she was the first to admit that she definitely needs to work on her bike carrying skills. The walking section had taken her much longer than she wanted, and the brutal honesty of the math was that if the cut-off was still the same, we would be hard-pressed to make mile 77 under it. We decided the best plan was to turn towards the 100 course and finish that out. We pedaled strong to the Cottonwood Falls rest stop and we were feeling good. We took a short break and headed out on the final leg. It wasn’t this leg per se that ended our ride soon after departing. It was Kristin’s. Specifically it was a tweaked knee from being twisted in the mud that let her know that it wasn’t smart to push any farther. We sat down at a highway crossing 65 miles in and called SAG. We were together and we were both smiling. And seeing a Facebook post from her as we sat there proclaiming me as the best husband in the universe is a better reward than any I was going to get at the finish line. Dirty KanzaI am proud of everyone who toed the line this year. No matter if he or she was leading the 200 or out to ride 50 miles in the DK Lite, we all shared the mud. But selfishly, I am most proud of my wife. She didn’t complain. She didn’t sulk. What she did do was tell me she woke up at 2 AM Sunday morning with two thoughts in her head. The first was how much her knee hurt, and the second was getting back in 2016 for revenge. I’m in love. As if there was any doubt.

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