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.
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!
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.