–By Amy Kimber, Team OAM NOW Cyclist
When my husband told me he wanted us to sign up for the Dirty Kanza 200, I said a lot of things like, “you are crazy, no way, why, not a chance, you can do it without me, I won’t be joining you.” Then one Saturday morning in January we set our alarms to wake up early, fired up our laptops, made some coffee, and impatiently waited for registration to open. The event was full in two hours, and we were both in.
The event is known for being an ultra-endurance off-road cycling adventure. It was created to be extremely challenging, but possible to complete. Every year the rate of finishers is about 50%. The Flint Hills of Kansas are known for their ruggedness and remoteness. With the exception of three checkpoints where racers can meet up with their support crew, you need to support yourself and carry everything you need. Besides the houses in the towns near the checkpoints I think I saw two houses on the entire course. This is remoteness and ruggedness to the extreme!
We did a short 10 mile pre-ride on Friday. The first mile is pavement and then the gravel begins.The course was bone dry, and the gravel was probably 5 inches deep in places. I was concerned about trying to hold a straight line with 1,100 of my closest friends. Overnight some large, somewhat unexpected rainstorms went through. They didn’t hit the entire course, but the first 5 miles now looked completely different. When I lined up Saturday morning for the 6 a.m. start, I was expecting some mud, but I had no idea what I was about to see…
The rollout was slow, and when we made the first turn onto the gravel the road it was unrecognizable. There was a large “river” that didn’t exist the day before, and the dry fields had become large lakes. It took 15 minutes to go about a mile. Then all of the sudden I came to this long muddy stretch that resembled a bicycle war zone. Both sides of the road were lined with hundreds of people, all off of their bikes. At first I had no idea what was going on, until it started to happen to me, chain suck! Mud was getting caught in everyone’s derailleurs and if you didn’t stop pedaling, too much pressure on the chain would shear off the derailleur. I got off my bike and walked into one of the rain made lakes. I was able to clean off the drivetrain enough so that I could ride on.
The first section was full of challenging climbs, rocky descents, and mud! There were so many racers out there, you were never alone. This section made me so thankful for my Cannonball Tires! I bet I saw 100 people changing flat tires. I pulled into checkpoint one at mile 48. I got my drivetrain cleaned up, replenished with food and drink, and headed back on the road for section 2.
The beginning of a long day and epic adventure
The second section was as equally challenging as the first. At this point it was getting very hot. There is hardly a tree on the course, there were no clouds in the sky, and the temperature kept rising. This was when you started to see people laying in ditches under small bushes, searching for any sliver of shade they could find. The river crossings that I was dreading became a lifesaver, cold water! I put my head down and just kept pedaling. At this point I just wanted to make it to the next checkpoint to see my awesome support crew. Checkpoint 2 was at mile 102. Once I made it the stop was a little longer than I was planning for. The heat was so intense and my stomach was starting to turn. I knew it was more important to cool down and hydrate than to worry about a quick transition time. My overall goal was to finish, I did not care how long it took.
Section 3 was the longest leg of the day (60 miles). It was also the hottest, and there was a brutal headwind almost the entire time. I was carrying 112 ounces of water, and this would not be nearly enough. The carnage on this leg was worse than the one before. There were racers sitting in ditches, under small bushes, and in rivers. On course support is not allowed, and there are almost no cars on these roads, so every time a big van passed I knew it was on its way to pick up someone abandoning the race. I saw a lot of vans this leg. I ran out of water about 10 long miles from the checkpoint. This was about the time I started to question my sanity (not true, that started around mile 1). I started to wonder if I was going to make it. Everyone around me was out of water, everyone was suffering, and every mile my pace seemed to be slowing. Somehow, I finally made it! Checkpoint 3 was at mile 161. The crowds in the feed zones treat every racer like they are a rock star. The overwhelming support is so motivating. Again, I spent far too long with my support crew, but after what I had just went through it seemed necessary.
One of the may reasons Dirty Kanza is not for the faint of heart
All day long I was telling myself that all I had to do was “4” bike rides today. That didn’t seem as overwhelming as 206 miles. It was hard to get back on the bike, but now I only had 45 miles left. I mounted my headlight, and headed off for my 4th and final leg of the day.
Thankfully the sun was going down and the temperature was cooling off quickly. This part of the course is by far the least treacherous. The hills are rolling and the roads started to feel more like home. I am a very experienced nighttime gravel road rider so the dark was not a concern. I put my head down, turned over the pedals, and counted down the miles to Emporia. Crossing that finish line was the best feeling I have had in a long time. It was awesome that Eric and I got to finish together. I didn’t have a care in the world about what place I was in, or what my finish time was (16 hours and 52 minutes, rolling average of 15.1 mph), all that mattered was I made it! I was in the 51% that finished the 2016 Dirty Kanza.
Overall, I had an amazing experience. I am happy to report that I never had any nagging issues throughout the day. My biggest concerns were saddle issues, hot foot, heat, and cramps. Around mile 180 my saddle started to become uncomfortable, I thought that was to be expected. The cool river crossings kept my feet from feeling awful, and I just took longer breaks at the checkpoints to hydrate and recover from the heat. I had some twinges in my calves and quads, but never a full blown cramp. My upper body felt great, and my long standing back issue was a non-issue today.
The last few miles Eric and I talked about how this was a once in lifetime experience. We were glad that we did it, that we were going to be finishers, and that we never needed to do it again! On the car ride home we were already making plans to make next years’ experience even better! I could write an entire blog on the beauty of Kansas, but I will let the pictures talk for themselves.
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Amy en route to a coveted DK finish