“Dirty Kanza Waits for No one”

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“Dirty Kanza Waits for No one”

My morning started out too early with an alarm set for 3:30 AM, so I could make it to breakfast by 4:00 AM.  I wasn’t sure if this was all a dream, and really happening until I saw the cafeteria crowded with racers having their morning meal.  The predicted night storm blew, and the winds were still howling at 5:00 AM, when I walked back to the dorm.

I took off from the student dorm a little after 5:30 AM, following the rest of the red blinking lights headed to downtown Emporia. The dorm was just a few minutes’ pedal to the start-line.  It was still dark, windy, and rainy! When I got to downtown, people were huddled under the shelter of the Granada Theater and other shelters. I texted my friend, Leslie, from Colorado about meeting up, but she quickly informed me that there was a 30 minute delay. So, I stood on the side of a building, where I was sheltered by the blowing rain and wind.  

Once we all got ready to line up, I got to say hi to another Chicago racer, Rachel Wills. She came with her husband to take on Dirty Kanza. We both agreed that it was a huge accomplishment just to make it to the starting line.  We hugged and went our own ways.

I thought it would be wise to wait in the middle staging area.   Also, for nostalgic reasons I wanted to stand in front of the famous Granada Theater.  I was staged with the same group paced to finish in 14 hours. My new friend, Casey, whom I met and rode with on the previous day showed up with her friend Jamie.  We waited together for roll-out and shared our last few giddy moments. Selfies galore! I was all set, except later I realized I forgot to apply chamois cream in my short and to use the bathroom one last time!

The nasty storm washed away the humidity and the heat from the previous day.   Roll out was smooth and I was basically pedaling enough to get pulled along by the crowds, hitting my tempo pace.  I could stay in these packs because the surface was flat and smooth. It was a little slushy from the rain. Fortunately, there were no pond-sized puddles, like in 2016 when Brandon started his DK following a heavy downpour.  

In the first 10 miles, everyone suddenly looked down at their computers because many of us heard the “off course” alert.  The organizers made a last minute decision to re-route the course, due to the early morning storm. We followed the mass of riders ahead of us and noticed the flags that were on lined up along the road.  That urge to use the bathroom to get rid of the coffee and breakfast waste was nagging in the back of my head. Once I saw a small crowd of locals and pick-up trucks parked to cheering us on, I decided to make a dive behind a parked pick-up truck and relieve myself there.  I was back in business and stoked to ride in a cool, overcast morning.

Entering the cattle pens was beautiful, exhilarating, and frustrating for me.  You cannot top the landscape with the “Irish spring” green color of the Flint Hills painted smack in the middle of overcast skies.  The Flint Hills are majestic as everyone says they are. I felt excited to finally climb hills and work my legs after the many months of training. I told myself that I put in those hours for a reason. Climb those rock hills! At the bottom of most hills, there were small boulders or piles of rocks, sometimes one track line of riding between rocks. This is where I lost my confidence and momentum because I wasn’t sure how my 35 mm tires would hold up.  I handled the descents as best as I could and came out in one piece.

Checkpoint #1: Mile 50 Madison, KS.

Getting to check point 1, my drivetrain sounded like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. After riding through some deep puddles and tacky gravel roads, my bike needed a quick rinse.  Brandon was able to track my progress by following my Quarq Qollector and him and Nils appeared up as soon as I got my time chipped. Brandon took my bike to get rinsed off while I went to use the bathroom.   Thankfully, District Bicycles (Stillwater, OK) offered their bike repair stand and got my bike back to running smoothly. I had some ham sandwich and pickles while Brandon refilled my drinks and food. This time I remembered to apply chamois cream!  Brandon warned me that the next 50 miles will put me in the strong sun and heat of the day. He filled a pair of panty hose with ice and I stuffed it under my jersey. My transition took a total of 15 minutes.

Mile 50-100 got challenging for me because the heat and wind picked up, but the ice packs helped to keep me cool.  I faced some of the 20 mph winds from the north that I knew I would have to deal with later in the day. At this point, the race became so spread out, that I was alone often.  I saw on my Garmin that I had a left turn approaching. As soon as I looked up, I saw a rider on a fat bike immediately take a left turn, and I followed him. It was a steep decline on rocks.  It was the wrong left turn! I went back up the hill to where I made the wrong turn. That took about 5-10 minutes to sort out, and I was very frustrated. About 15 miles before reaching Eureka, a rancher in a pick-up truck was offering water from an insulated water jug.   That cold water felt so good. I doused my head and chest, and carried a cup of that cold water, so I could taste that for a little while.

Checkpoint #2: Mile 100 Eureka, KS.

Brandon took my bike and Camelback then started to re-stock.   He told me there was no time to waste now and to focus on what I needed to do:  1) change into a new short 3) switch to my second Garmin. I was not in any kind of heat exhaustion so I didn’t need to sit down or overhaul from the heat.  This year, Checkpoint #2 was not in downtown Eureka, it was at the local high school. I was happy to use a bathroom to change into a fresh short, but quickly frustrated to learn that I had to walk across the school to get to the bathroom. It felt like an eternity following the DK volunteer there and back, but I changed into my second pair of shorts. After I came out, I was ready to go since Brandon had my bike and gear ready for me once again.  He even slathered sunscreen on my arms and legs while I put my gloves on. What a guy! I was out again with a fresh ice pack and a fresh mindset to face the next 60 miles. All year and all day I kept talking to myself about this moment. Anything after 100 miles could be a very, very dark place, and I had to be ready for that. I said my Hail Mary’s and I was off.

Miles 100-160

The storm from the morning brought afternoon winds that came from the north reaching 20-25 mph.  Once I left Eureka, the course was directed north for the next 100 miles. I remember riding in to 20 mph headwinds in the 2016 version of Almanzo 100. It will nearly stop you dead in your tracks. Wind is part of our lives in Illinois, so for me it was not mentally challenging.  I was frustrated that this was killing my speed. I did my best, put my head down, and grinded away. To my surprise, as the hot sun went down, I was feeling better and better. “This is not how these things go!” I was glad to feel fresh as the afternoon went on. I was still climbing hills when I needed to, and grinding when there was a tailwind or flat section.  I kept eating what was easy for me to eat and still it digesting well.

I reached the creek crossing, but it was so deep, and even deeper to the right of me.  “Am I going to get washed away down this creek?” One rider offered to carry my bike and walk in front me, so I could gauge the depth of the water. I still carried my bike, and then almost slipped when the surface changed because I couldn’t see my feet.   After the creek crossing, I joined up with Scott from Kansas. He was going at a good speed, and not wasting any time. We rode together around the time the sun finally set, and it was time to turn on lights. At one point, he started to walk some hills. I didn’t have time for that, and kept on riding.  Scott kept up with me, and 2 other men joined us. The three of us rode together, and eventually Scott disappeared. I rode with the other 2 men, thinking that riding as a group in the dark would be beneficial. Soon enough, I went on my own. I had a text message from Brandon “Pick up the pace!” I was using my light at high intensity and it was going to cost me battery power, but I knew that Brandon had a backup waiting for me in Madison.  I still had the ice pack pantyhose underneath my jersey, which was now just wet and making me cold. To not have to stop and waste time, I kept it and pedaled harder. The stars were so bright against the black sky--like nothing I have ever seen before. The night critters were making the most curious sounds! I saw an armadillo scurry across the road in front me. Finally, I saw my first sign of civilization – a cell phone tower light blinking, then a house, and sure enough the pavement to town!  


 

Checkpoint #3: Mile 160 Madison, KS.

As usual, Brandon was at the chip timing tent waiting for me, but he had a sad look on his face.  He told me I was 12 minutes past the cut off. A DK volunteer was tearing down the tent, and he told me it was indeed shut down.   I put my head down on my handlebars and started sobbing. All of the adrenaline, effort, and emotions hit hard at that very moment.   I knew I was close in time, but I was not able to stop and check my phone to confirm all of the details. I followed Brandon to where he parked the car, and I saw Scott with his family / support crew who came from Michigan. We talked about that last leg in the dark, congratulated each other, and he offered me a beer.   I still had the pantyhose hanging from my jersey and really wanted to use the bathroom, but hung out and laughed with Scott and his family. You still make the best memories even when things don’t go to plan!

I learned many lessons from this experience, and hopefully I will have the chance to return and complete some unfinished business!  Never discount what you do to get yourself there. In the end it is a learning lesson and one step closer to success.

-Isabel

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Dirty Kanza Report – Part One (Pre-Race)

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Dirty Kanza Report – Part One (Pre-Race)

It was nice to have the long holiday weekend to pack up for the family, my DK Support crew (Brandon), and the rider (ME!).  I had been preparing for weeks: installed tubeless tires for the first time on my bike, ordered a white-colored jersey from Twin Six, learned how to fix a chain, and rode in the dark.   I took a few days off work before our trip, so I made sure to ride on that Tuesday for 3 hours. It was already 94 degrees. Awesome!

The week’s forecast for Emporia, Kansas was looking to be a few days of intense heat, possible thunderstorms, and wind. Being from the Midwest, I know that the weather can change so I just kept an eye on it. Heat was the talk of the game and I was frantically looking for advice and supplies to get me through the possibility of an intensely hot day.  Through friends of friends, I got in touch with a woman from Colorado, Leslie, who was going to meet me in Emporia and bring some Skratch Hyper Hydration mix.

We decided to bring our 3 year old son, Nils, because we are already planning a road trip to Colorado later this fall and thought that it would be a good trial run for a long road trip.  Nils was a great traveler. We stopped in Colombia, MO to shorten the drive and to catch up with Brandon’s brother, Erik.

We arrived to Emporia in Thursday afternoon.  The university dorm reservation was an awesome idea.   It was nice to be so close to downtown and not have to drive.  The stay included breakfast in the student cafeteria, which was great to have more fun and healthy options.  

 The town was already buzzing with people. We heard a couple speaking in French.  There was another couple on the elevator who came from South America. It is really the center of the gravel universe for just a few days.  

On Friday morning, I had plans to do the “Coffee Ride” hosted by Gu Energy Labs.  I met a woman in the elevator, Casey, from Virginia. We decided to ride together to the morning ride.  We got there and were approached to get a photo of our Ridge Supply socks. Casey and I rode together and talked about her last year’s DK experience, and what our training was like this year.  She returned this year for a better result. The recon ride was the last 10 miles of the DK route which was intended to get everyone familiar with their surroundings on the last stretch. The temperature was already in the 90s, but with the humidity it was stifling.

#sockgamestrong

Friday called for intense heat, so we decided not to walk the one mile to downtown Emporia, but drive there instead. We found a shady spot to park the car and headed to the Gravel Expo.  I met Dan Marco from Grimpeur Bros. Specialty Coffee and had a chance to meet Amanda “Panda” Nauman, a former Queen of Kanza. It was truly a treat to meet Amanda. Of course, Nils stole the show!  Amanda’s advice to me was: “Do not sit down at the checkpoint stops”.

We were glad to reunite with some of our friends who had moved out of Chicago, Bailey and Allison, during staging of DKXL - the inaugural 350-mile race.   It was insanely hot in the sun, so I took Nils and we stood in the shade of the alley. I was able to finally meet Heidi and Zander from The Cyslist Menu. Heidi is a huge supporter of women in gravel, and a gravel star herself. She has been cheering for me in the background throughout the last few months since we met on social media. She gave me a bit of advice – “Just smile!”  While we waited for the DKXL grand depart, Brandon got lucky and stood next to Sven Nys!

#kitgamestrong

Once we were finished with my packet pick up, we stopped at the local grocery store for some last-minute supplies.  The store was well-stocked for all of the gravel crushers from near and far. They insisted that we pin our hometown location on their map. So many people from around the world came to place a pin.  This was our last stop before we parked the car for the night! No more standing on our feet or running errands in this Kansas heat. We went back to the cool dorm to eat popsicles and to relax.

Nils took a long nap while I prepped my food, gear, and bike.  Brandon made ham sandwiches for Saturday. It was perfect time to prep my things with some peace and quiet.  Brandon and Nils weren’t hungry to make it to the Friday Pre-Race dinner offered at the student cafeteria, so I went alone for my big meal. I had some steak, stir fry-veggies, white rice, and chocolate cake.  

The wind really picked up in the evening, to the point where I could not really hear my parents on the phone as I walked from the cafeteria to the dorm.  This was the big storm coming our way!

We loaded up the car with everything necessary so that Brandon only had to worry about getting Nils to the car.  Cooler, chairs, bags, snacks, swim clothes and extra clothes for Nils… Brandon was ready for an ultra-endurance day of his own!  I was in bed by 10:00 PM. For me, 4:00 AM would be here soon enough.

 

...to be continued

-Isabel

 

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My Road to Kanza

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My Road to Kanza

I got into gravel endurance cycling back in 2013.  I bought my first cx/gravel bike, a 2012 Giant TCX-W and wanted to take it further than the bike paths around my house.  I trained and did the Gravel Metric. Coming from a family of crit/road racing, gravel was brand-new and intriguing to me.   I now see it as a path to personal growth. I have had to overcome navigating, riding alone, training, pacing, eating, and riding in the dark.  

In 2018, I decided that it would be a good year to train for DK200.  Our now 3 ½ year old son was out of the 5 time-per-year ear infections and sickness phases.  My husband and I had already a couple years of solid gravel riding. He had finished a DK200 and felt that I deserved the opportunity give it a shot.  

The training plan I followed, outdoor riding, and putting forth my best attitude contributed to how I felt to reach the big day.  Every success or failure you come across is a building block for the big day (regardless of the outcome).

I used a training plan, and my sister-in-law plugged it in to the Garmin Connect calendar.one entry. at . a. time. I give her so much credit for taking the patience to help me establish my heart rate zones and manually enter the workouts.   Fitting in the workouts 2-3 times per week and logging in the long miles on the weekends was like a Tetris game, but I made it work. Some weeks I had to get creative, but I never gave up. Everything I feared in work, family, life sorted itself out because I stayed persistent and believed that I could do it. I will finish this training plan.  One important piece of advice I did get from a DK finisher, Stu Garwick, (a dad, husband, and owner of Freeport Bicycle Co. /Organizer of Ten Thousand) was if you get burned out from work, family life, and training to make sure that you step back and take a breather. Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t get absorbed by the routine and the pressure of training.  It worked for him and he had a great Dirty Kanza.

Most people who train for DK, incorporate the Midwest gravel events such as Barry Roubaix (MI), Almanzo 100 (MN), Dairy Roubaix (WI), The Epic (MO) Hellkat Hundie (MI), or Ten Thousand (IL) . I know that gravel events take up travel time and money so I had to plan around my family life and budget.   Dirty Kanza is an expense and a trip in and of itself, so I didn’t want the family burned out by June 2. It was going to be a matter of coordinating rides with friends or signing up for the closer gravel rides here in Illinois.

In February, Brandon and I drove an hour to Pecatonica, IL and rode Frostbite 40.  Only 40 miles? It was a day where 40 miles felt like 60. It was held in the Driftless region of IL on a day barely reaching 30 degrees Fahrenheit and howling 20 mph winds.  Although Brandon was my windshield for the day, no doubt we both suffered in the wind, the sloppy and mushy gravel waking up from the winter freeze. Every climb hurt, and we were finished the ride feeling thoroughly exhausted.  

I decided to make my only “destination” gravel event outside of DK, LandRun 100.  I have heard nothing but good things about it. The gravel in the Midwest that I’ve ridden is country road gravel, and generally predictable. The term “gravel road” in Kansas and Oklahoma is loosely defined.  I signed up for LandRun100 both to hold myself accountable to ride 100 miles in March and to get myself outside of my comfort zone on their bouncy red dirt roads. LandRun 100 was exciting, and I really learned how to handle unfamiliar terrain.    The energy of the promoters and volutneers, the participants who came from near and far, Salsa’s Chase the Chaise at mile 90 kept you stoked 100% of the time.

The weekend after Easter April was Rough Road 100 (km) a local gravel /road race in Morris, IL along the Illinois River.  It was 18 degrees at the start and my original group of friends decided not to continue due to mechanicals and the uncertainty over the frigid conditions.  I already experienced the cold and wind from Frostbite 40 so I felt that I could hold out and ride the 60 miles. Since it took some time to assess my friend’s mechanical and part with one another, I was in the back of the race.  I saw Jenny Aguilar by herself and decided to be her Sherpa for the day. “I need the torture” I told her jokingly. We did pick up another woman, Leah Barry. Leah and I took turns pulling for Jenny and made sure that she was going to finish. Regardless of our fitness that day, it was cold, windy and long.  This was a day to test our mental fortitude. The three of finished together and shared the joy of completing a hard ride.

On April 22, we got a break from the cold and got the chance to bare some skin at Grumpy Grind.  This ride took us over 86 miles of the Driftless area. Some of the road names were familiar to me from Frostbite 40.  I did a good job of drafting and staying in small packs as many times as I could. No matter how hard I backed off, or ate food, used bathroom stops I felt very flat that day.  The winds were relentless and at mile 60 I took a break to have part of my ham sandwich. Once I had a few bites of prosciutto ham and part of my mini Coke I felt like a rock star. Mile 75 felt like mile 1 to me.  I was riding in a fatigue period. Knowing how that feels was a good learning experience and I didn’t see it as a failure. It’s part of the process. I finished at a decent time and got to enjoy the vibe of a free and intimate gravel event with friends.  Gravel star, Kae Takashita was already finished and we had a photo taken together.

April 28. Is it warm yet? No. I had a ride planed with friends where the high temp for the day would be 50 degrees.  Back to covered arms and legs. Jon Schratz, my StayRad Adventure teammate, mechanic, all around best bike friend helped organize a 120 mile road ride.  Since it does take a good 50 minutes to 1 hour for me to reach gravel I decided this was a day to get more bang for my buck. Jon designed a route that started in Aurora, IL took us up to Campton Hills, west to Maple Park (near Dekalb), south to Sheridan, IL (very well near Morris / Illinois River again) and back to Aurora.  We danced in the hills enjoyed the tail winds when they when the going was good. I learned what riding 8+ hours felt like and how to digest my food. The ride was the longest distance I had ever ridden in my life, and it was my first century ever in Illinois (finally!). Needless to say, I felt toasted the next day.

The middle part of May finally cut my long rides shorter because I was in the taper phase. I used the local trail systems near my house to make those 3-4 hour rides without getting too far from home base in case something happened to me.  Memorial Day weekend brought temperatures in the 90s and everyone’s outdoor rides were torturous. I took the time to ride the Tuesday before Dirty Kanza in 94 degrees. That felt toasty.

I recently read a book, “Swimming Home”, about women who competed in open water swimming, during a time that was unheard of for them.  The best swimmers know that the ocean “owns” you, and you have to ride out the currents and conditions. I approach gravel the same way. No ride is the same. No conditions are the same. You are out in the open land, wind, and nature.  You have to go for it and ride out the “waves”. Every outdoor ride I took this year had its own personality and learning lesson that I took with me to DK 200.

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Groad Rides

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Groad Rides

We've been quite on the web site, probably for far too long.  So we've got some updates.

Groad rides, a combination of amazing paved country roads and dirty rough gravel roads.  This year we'll try to do monthly group rides.  They will most likely flip from going out of Aurora and Homewood.  So you'll have a west and south option.  They tend to break up into groups, so you can hammer or you can be social. 

Part of the idea of these rides is to get people out on roads different from their normal routine, get people out in the country.  They are also to highlight our local communities.  Aurora & Homewood aren't so scary and offer a lot in the way of cycling, food, beer, and coffee.   So please come out from the city and enjoy the country with us.

Look for posts about these rides on Facebook or Strava.  Some times we'll post something on Instagram too.  Generally there will be about a weeks notice.  We do the short notice for a couple of reasons.

One, we don't' want 500 people to show up.  Thats too much stress for a group ride.  Two, that gives us an idea of the weather.

The amount of gravel will vary, sometimes there might not be any.  We'll let you know ahead of time.

Look forward to riding with you soon!

-STAY RAD. 

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AMENT...canceled. For now.

CANCELED. For now. Reschedule will happen. If you've done any gravel events in 2017, I'm sure you're sick of riding in the rain and replacing brake pads and bottom brackets. This was not an easy decision and we're sorry, but severe thunder stroms does not sound all that fun. We will keep you posted.

This was a tough call to make.  We really wanted it to happen this weekend.  It's one thing to get caught out in a storm in suburbs with plenty of places to get cover and lots of cell phone coverage.  But there ain't shit out there, and no ones phone seem to work all that well.  I personally can't have that weighing on my soul.

There is a poll up on the event page to reschedule.  I think we're leaning toward the fall.  Riding out that way in the summer is pretty terrible (see 2015 Rapha Prestige) .

-Stay Rad

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