It’s Monday morning and I am back to “normal life”. Just 36 hours ago I was riding through the Flint Hills of rural Kansas. The dichotomy of the two lives couldn’t be larger. How would it be possible to express in words what happened at Dirty Kanza?!
Let’s start at the beginning….
If I had to rank all US states for a race venue, Kansas would most likely be a favorite for the lanterne rouge jersey. Still, when I heard about Dirty Kanza, there was no question that this would be on my race calendar. I have never been to Kansas before and heard so much about it, most of it that it has a lot of cornfields and is supposedly flatter than a pancake.
So would Dirty Kanza just be a flat 200 miles gravel race circumventing cornfields?
I found out very quickly that it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Race promoter, Jim Cummins, created an event that draws cyclists from all over the country and even the world to Kansas. This event is not just a gravel race. It’s an adventure, a sightseeing tour and a festival all at once.
With 900 racers coming into the host town Emporia turned into a cycling mecca. The Emporians were all giddy with excitement. Restaurants and vendors made special arrangements and sales for this weekend. This was heaven for any avid cyclist.
On Saturday at 6:00am Emporia’s streets were swarmed by all the racers buzzing through the town. The excitement and nervousness lie heavily in the air. Spectators were cheering. A great start to a great day.
Racers at the start line, Photo by Corey Godfrey
The competition was tough: Nature!
This race proved our vulnerability to the elements. The racers fought through 20-30mph head- and crosswind.
|Working my way through the hills of Kansas|
Innocent looking climbs were taking its tolls on the racers. The strong headwind doubled the time to climb those hills. The roughness of the gravel put strain on the rider and played games with our equipment.
|Flats are common in this race, Photo by Corey Godfrey|
But exactly these conditions made this race so special. It pushed the physical and mental limits of every racer while creating an unforgettable experience that is hard to explain to people who have not had the opportunity to experience it yet.
|Only few trees on the course that could protect us from the wind, Photo by Corey Godfrey|
The challenge was sweetened by the beauty of the landscape. The rich colors of the sky and the grass made me feel I was riding in a painting.
The sky and grass were melting to one at the horizon with no man-made structure in sight. Complete remoteness.
Cows and horses were lingering in the vast land of grass. There were some sections of the course I wondered if I could see the Pacific in the distance. But other sections proved that Kansas is not exactly flat.
I had the fortune to share the challenge and the beauty of this race with friends I knew from previous races. We went together through ups and downs – literally. There is a certain bonding created that is hard to describe.
|Corey and I climbing up on one of those “small hills”|
Exhaustion evaporates when anticipating the finish line back in the town of Emporia after a grueling 200 miles through the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas. The joy of finishing is amplified by the greetings of hundreds of cheering spectators and a proud race promoter.
|The awards ceremony the following day|
I left Kansas with great memories that are hard to describe. Jim put on an unforgettable race that is challenging and fun at the same time.
A lot of thanks:
- Thanks to the race promoter, Jim Cummins, and his crew for a phenomenal race! Fun, challenging and very well-organized! It’s a must-do for every gravel racer!
- Thanks to all racers for making this a great race.
- Thanks to Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shop for setting me up with a bike! Without you guys the race would have looked very different!
- Thanks to Pablove Grub for the crew support, especially to the girls at checkpoint 3 for cleaning out my dirty pockets!
- Thanks to Jennifer and Natalie for a great hospitality!
- Thanks to the Emporia bike police for finding my car.