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    • I almost don't want to write this entry... not so much from lack of motivation (though that's running rampant in my mind right now) but more so because it re-opens the wounds of that year.

      I can count the number of races I've pulled myself out of on one hand and every one of them was due to conditions that had devolved to a point of no rational resolution. Every time I've done it though, delivers a crushing blow to my confidence and makes me seriously question why I continue throwing money, time and resources into this sport that already makes most of my friends and family question my sanity. I can't honestly answer that other than; when things go right... the feeling of accomplishment is better than the effect of any drug I could imagine; so I forge on... humbled by my defeats and resolved to never repeat the same failure.

      This year's Dirty Kanza course was shaping up to be an epic undertaking for months before race day. The Flint Hills had been deluged with rains for weeks leading up to the event and had even caused the race organizers to scratch their original route and plan multiple re-routes for sections of the course that might prove too dangerous to cross due to rivers swollen beyond their flood stages and currents coursing faster than ever before. The social media buzz was electric with all the debates and conversations about tire choices, course re-routes, hike-a-bike sections and gear choices. Of course everyone that had registered was terrified of cancellation. What with all the training, time, scheduling vacations, etc... pulling the plug on such an event does not come without consequences.

      I got caught up in the torrent of tire choice and changed my (expensive) selection of Hutchinson Black Mamba to a bit burlier tire; the Schwalbe Racing Ralph... all within a day of departure for Kansas. Normally this change would not be such a PITA but when setting up a tubeless tire/wheel combo; patience and time are your friend. I've found it's best to allow a few days for the beads to seat and rule out any slow leaks. Well, to that end, the rear mounted up perfectly but the front would not hold air more than a few hours before leaking down to about 20psi. I'm not panicking, mind you, but to say I was concerned would be a gross understatement. I REALLY didn't want to have to stop every hour or so to put fresh air into my front tire. After a liberal dosing of fresh Stan's sealant... the front finally held and showed no signs of pressure loss. Whew!

      With that crisis averted, I focused on nutrition and keeping my legs fresh for the upcoming gauntlet of gravel miles and hours of pedaling. In the last few months I had tested and perfected my on-bike nutrition to a balance of 100 calories in liquid and another 200 in solid form per hour with a mix of flavors from salty, sweet and savory to ward off the boredom from consuming the same foods for hours on end (lesson learned from 2014). My fitness was in perfect form and I was feeling exceptionally fresh for contesting the Dirty Kanza course. My goal was 13 hours or better and every variable I could control was boosting my confidence in achieving that time. I had the course downloaded on both of my Garmin head units and broken into three-bite sections to provide a bit less strain on the memory of the GPS units. I found the error last year of trying to navigate and load a 200 mile route in a Garmin leads to VERY long waits for the course to load and all points to be accurate. Also learned from last year was to attach an external power source to the Garmin since active navigation sucks the battery life down and I had to scramble at mile 125 last year when the battery died in the middle of a section.

      The bike for this year was changed in favor of a disc brake solution for the impending mud-fest. Late Fall of 2014 I made a local purchase for a "used" 2013 Salsa Warbird and immediately began tearing it down to the frame to make improvements. irst thing to go were those horrid SunRace wheels. I unlaced them from the OEM Salsa hubs and had them re-laced to a much wider set of HED Belgium+ rims. That alone dropped over a pound off the bike of rotating weight, added some needed width to the rimbed for wider tires/lower pressures, and gauranteed me a tubeless solution. After those were sorted, the rest was standard fare; lighter/wider handlebars, longer stem, back to my trusted Brooks Cambium saddle, and upgraded the rotors to a two-piece, full-floating model. With all that out of the way and more than a few shakedown races at local gravel events, the bike was loaded down with three bottle cages, a Revelate Tangle frame bag for my tools, pump and spares as well as a Revelate Gas Tank for my nutrition and, finally, a Revelate Mountain Feed Bag to hold a fourth bottle. A significant change for this year's event would be about 75 miles between aid station towns vs 50 from 2014. That dropped an entire stopping town off the route so I felt better carrying enough nutrition for about 4-5 hours.

    • Part II - Blissfully ignoring Mother Nature's warnings...

      We were driving out to Kansas from NC so, with last year's finish in the bag; I felt well prepared and decided to relax along the way enjoy the trip. Wanting to keep my legs fresh, I stopped in Kentucky at the Land-Between-The-Lakes National Wildlife Refuge for a quick spin. Man, this was such a hidden gem that I had never heard of until this trip. It's a beautiful section of land nestled between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers just north of the border between KY and TN. Very low traffic and miles of gravel roads made me itch to return for a much longer, multi-day stay.

      With that out of the way, we made our way to the west side of St. Louis to overnight and get a good start to make Emporia by early afternoon. Next year, I plan on taking an extra day off to arrive in Emporia on Thursday to enjoy more of the town's festivities. They truly put out the red carpet for the racers and Main street becomes a full, multi-block, party for about 4 straight days. It's officially renamed as gravel city for that week.

      As soon as I arrived, I started the hunt for my friend/teammate Watts. This was his first Dirty Kanza and I felt more than a bit responsible for talikng him into this fiasco... though his decision to race it on a single speed was all his own. (this would prove to be a pretty smart decision come race day).

      We both sorted out the racers meeting and discussed a bit of strategy for the race start. Both of us felt that we could start with the lead group and hang on for a good ride. I know what you're thinking... I did the same silly stunt last year and it bit me in the ass; but I was MUCH less prepared last year and knew exactly what I was getting into for this year's race. Besides, the gossip from the water cooler was clearly indicating the course conditions would not be accommodating to the ridiculous pace from last year. Mother Nature had firmly intervened and inserted a great equalizer of wet and muddy conditions for all.

      Watts left to find some food while I changed to scout out the first few miles of the course.

    • Every time I've done it though, delivers a crushing blow to my confidence and makes me seriously question why I continue throwing money, time and resources into this sport that already makes most of my friends and family question my sanity.

      I can absolutely relate to your insight. Every race I enter I wonder why I spend so much time preparing for it and throw so much money into this insane hobby. I bet that most people would only do this if someone paid them for it, are we just crazy to pay for our suffering? 😂

    • Part III - It isn't as bad as it looks, right?

      Pre-riding the first few miles of the course just confirmed my, already doom-filled thoughts; . the gravel roads were inundated on both sides with overflowing ditches of water and streams running nearby were bursting through their banks to create mini-flows across low parts of the gravel. In the first five miles of the course, I had crossed water four times and was no less than ankle deep in two of them.

      My turnaround point yielded one particularly nasty crossing. So long as one stayed in the worn areas where the locals had driven their vehicles... you could cross safely. Should you decide to risk crossing in the center or along the sides of this spot and your bike would quickly find itself grappling with 3 inch deep mud. Mother Nature was pulling no punches and intended tomorrow's race to be one of attrition. It would not be the strongest that would survive but a bold cocktail of fitness, wits, determination and luck that would equal a finish.

      I spun back to town and found the nearest bike wash station. The least I could do would be to start the race with a clean machine and try to keep a sense of optimism that the roads might drain some overnight... False hopes are the bestest... right?

    • Part IV - Rain, what rain?

      While prepping the bike for the race, I struck up a conversation with a few other racers in the hotel parking lot. We'd all heard the same thing... that the course would be re-routed around the Cottonwood River crossing since it was reportedly chest-deep at 9pm. There was a local Jeep club out driving the course to check and report on all the sketchy sections for where re-routes might be necessary and at least three were flagged.

      I finally nodded off at 11pm to get some form of sleep before the alarm buzzed at 4am. Soon after falling asleep, I lulled into a dream of billowing winds and driving rain... only to have my eyes pop open, ears tuned, and realize it wasn't a dream at all. I could hear the rain pelting the hotel windows and gusts of winds picking up speed. Sigh... nothing I could do but turn over, sleep a bit longer and prepare for the worst.

      My eyes kicked open again just a few minutes before the alarm was set to ring (odd how that works out, huh?). I begrudgungly slithered out of the cozy and warm sheets over to the window and peeked out, hoping to see a dry parking lot but was greeted with fresh puddles dotted all around. A few other racers were loading up vehicles while I cooked my oatmeal and Aeropressed my coffee. I went through the contents of the bike bags one more time and jumped on the saddle around 5am to ride out to the race start. Once you get wet, you can't get any wetter... might as well get it over with now.

      The wind was already unrelenting and brisk... blowing strong out of the north. I recalled from the course maps that about 75 miles of the middle section was northerly. Mother Nature was certainly laughing heartily by now; giddy about thwarting our every move. I won't say it was cold, but I could have used more than just bibs and a jersey at race start. I should have packed the vest but it was warm and cozy back in my garage.

      Despite the last minute deluge; downtown Emporia was bustling at 5am with plenty of riders and support crews standing in line for coffee or bathrooms and not much in-between. Watts rolled up around 5:15 while the announcer did some call-ups for the suspected leaders of each category. The usual names abounded... Dan Hughes, Rebecca Rusch, Yuri Hauswald and many others. I simply wanted to sit in the crowd and do my best not to implode.

      The innocent faces before the slaughter..

    • Part V ~ Blood is thicker than water and Kansas mud is thicker than peanut butter.

      Soon after the call-ups, there wasn't much fanfare before they set us off. We were to be escorted by the Emporia PD out to the first turn and set free. We were sternly warned of the train crossing at the end of Main street and, under no circumstances, should anyone cross once the barriers dropped. Local PD was standing by to issue $700 citations for anyone that decided they could beat the train.

      This proved to be a non-issue since we ALL got caught behind the barriers. As we rolled up to the tracks while everyone was still jockeying for position... the lights went off, followed soon after by the familiar bells. We sat and waited as the three engine train muddled through downtown, completely non-plussed by our collective angst.

      The barriers went up and it was game on... with only another half-mile or so to the gravel; it seemed like the entire peloton was packing in tighter and tighter, like so many sardines trying to find their spot in the can. Watts and I were close together and holding wheels as best we could. He was doing spectacular at spinning up the SS and coasting to maintain the speed of the peloton without burning out his legs from a constant mashing. He had picked a good gear combination, though I think he could have gone a bit harder on the gear to hold speed better.

      We hunted and jumped from group to solo rider to group. At the first turn in the gravel, we were probably sitting top 40 and kept inching up. By the time we approached the third turn at the section I noted earlier to be sketchy; I passed a rider slowing for the turn. I decided to pass on the outside and try to give him a wide berth as it looked like his entry speed was a bit hot... turns out I was right. His bike wallowed as it pushed wide and he tried to get it under control. I could just make out his front tire washing out in my periphery when I felt his front tire push my rear out to the left. I counter-leaned, pulled every last drop of motorcycle track day experience from my muscle memory and pressed the pedals to keep from creating a domino effect... I got the bike and my line corrected just in time. As I looked back I could see he was alright but had packed up a traffic jam behind him. As I said... that cocktail of luck, timing and fitness is crucial in conditions like these.

      Watts and I began our move again and could see the lead pack about 100 meters ahead. It surprised me that I saw so many riders being shed of the lead group. Singles and double riders would just sit up at random and spin off the back while Watts and I inched forward.

      As the chaff kept falling away; the course opened up to some clear gravel, we both tried to get our little group of 6 into a working rotation but most of the others were having none of it. They either didn't know how to pull through or just didn't want to maintain that pace. A couple were already showing labored breathing and made me wonder just what they were doing out here to begin with.

      We rounded a turn and crested a small rise when I looked ahead to see every rider in front of me walking... bikes slung over their shoulder or carried like a heavy bag of grain. We had hit a 3 mile section of un-rideable mud. This stuff was more dense than peanut butter and had a weight to it that you would have never guessed by just looking at it. I mean this stuff was heavy as, with every step, it packed up on shoes, tires and anything else that touched the ground. There was no riding... even in the vehicle tracks. You just couldn't stay balanced enough to prevent creeping over into the center or along the sides where it had been pushed out by ATV and Jeep tires. The more you tried to ride... the more would pack up into every opening the tires tried to roll through.

      This section would later reveal itself as the proving ground for persistence, wits and patience. Anyone... and I mean anyone that tried to ride this section quickly found themselves roadside and hunting for anything that would clear the batter-like mud from their forks and chainstays. Shoes were quickly getting soaked and unbelievably heavy as the mud found its way into the cleats and crevices... wherever it could cake up and build layer upon layer.

      Riders became hikers and lined both sides of the muddy pass to try hiking in the grassy, off-camber ditches but many riders were met with rattle snakes, sinkholes of knee-deep water and more mud. Patience is a virtue, right?

    • 2015 Dirty Kanza VI... The fall of the mighty will be silent... and muddy.

      I was not immune to the calamity that ensued... feigning confidence, I had attempted to ride into the muck from the very beginning; hoping to cruise as far as possible before having to pick up and hike. In doing this silly deed, I had collected a good amount of muck in my fork at the top of the front tire and in the chainstay at the bottom bracket. My feet were already heavy from slogging through the mire.

      I hefted the bike onto my shoulder and soldiered on along with everyone else. About a mile or so in, we hiked up a good-sized hill... enough of a hill, I thought, to clear the mud from my tires by slinging it away on the descent. As I crested the top of the hill, the road looked like it had a clean, gravel line in one of the tire tracks and there was a puddle at the end of the descent. This would be perfect to get a little "power-wash" if I hit it right and kept a clean line.

      Sometimes fortune favors the bold...

      A couple of others had the same idea and it seemed to mildly work so I gave it a go. I cleaned out as much of the rock-laden mud from my shoes/cleats, clipped in, tucked, held my feet/pedals at the 3 and 9 o'clock positions while I could hear the mud flinging from the tires, little rocks pinging of the tubes and rims... this was actually working better than I'd hoped. As I neared the bottom and aimed for the puddle, I felt the rear tire wash a little. I don't know on what... a rock, a slick section... whatever; it immediately threw my balance off enough that I rolled into thicker mud and tried to correct my line. By the time I got the front wheel back over into clean tire track and instinctively/reflexifely spun the pedals to keep balance/momentum... I heard and felt the whole bike shudder. Clack, clang, thump... FUCK!

      All stop... shoes unclipped, feet down, shaking my head; I didnt want to... but turned to assess the damage. I'd hoped it was just the hanger popped as I could get another at the next town from the Salsa truck... nope; no such luck. What lay before me was the worst-case-scenario playing out on the course at mile 11. Yes, mile eleven. Mud had packed up into the derailleur cage and locked up the chain on the pulleys. With nowhere to go and my damn reflexes kicking in, telling me to spin to keep balance, it had literally ripped the derailleur from the hanger and thrust it into the spokes of the rear wheel; bending two and breaking one. I was devastated... I just sat there for a minute; sullenly coming to terms with my own impatience and act of stupidity.

      The damage crept through me slowly; like a curtain being drawn over the final act on a darkened stage. I was livid with myself and scrambling through my head for options.

      I just sat there, roadside; while everyone trudged by without so much as a whisper. It was like mourning over a fallen war horse that had given its all and lay dying on the battlefield. I tried to summon my wits about me and assess the carnage.

      The derailleur was toast... the cage bent and the pulleys mangled while the chain had locked itself sideways in the cage. I rubbed each link with my grimy fingers, trying to find the master link to unhinge it but forgot that I'd left my Leatherman back at the hotel room. Fuck... again.

      Fine... I can still convert it to a singlespeed and at least resume riding, right? I pulled out my Park Tools, IB-3 with the integrated chain breaker since I had a spare master link in the frame bag. I found a link on the opposite side of the master and worked the breaker onto the link. As I was tightening the pin to the rivet, I heard that familiar "pop" and thought he rivet was free. I looked down to see the chain breaker body snapped in two separate pieces exactly where the link was being pressed. FUCKITY, FUCK!!!

      I stood and cleared the chain from the cassette by pulling it over the seat stay. The rear wheel had a noticeable wobble where the derailleur had bent the spokes and it was a no-go. I'm not one to just throw hands in the air... but this did me in. I put the bike back on my shoulder and hiked 2 miles out to the highway. Texted for a pickup and sat, huddled and shivering, under a bridge on I-35 for 2-1/2 hours waiting for her to figure out where I was. I tried 5 different "smartphone" ways to send my location via text and the only one that finally made it through was the Google Maps pin. (Note for all that are lost with two different phone technologies; work on a solution to find one another that works on both)

      3-1/2 hours and 13 miles into a 200 mile race and I was done... dejected, failed and crushed. I've never felt so incomplete up to that moment and I never, ever want to feel that again.

      After being picked up, showering, and changing clothes, I transitioned over to support crew for my teammate, Watts. He was the priority now and I wanted to make damn sure he made it to the finish. 

      There's always next year, right?

    • That is one of the most amazing ride reports I have ever read. Those pics of everybody carrying their bikes in the mud... Normally I'm jealous when I read a ride report but this time I was thinking how nice my home and hoodie feel right now.

      I've had the derailleur thing happen twice, and once it broke my $5,000 Trek Madone frame, the one that's guaranteed for life unless the stock derailleur rolls into the stock wheel and breaks your carbon stays on the back.

    • That time when my derailleur wrapped into my frame on the road when all I had done is down-shifted to the biggest gear in the cluster. The bike shop said the frame would have to be replaced.

    You've been invited!