To split the drive to Kansas, I stopped overnight in Iowa, and visited my Trans Iowa friend, Steve. During a bike ride together, I realized that something was very wrong with my bike. I decided that I will not race my current bike at Dirty Kanza. I had to find a different bike. I had one day to figure it out.
Luckily, the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shop equipped me with a rental bike. I was nervous to race a bike for 200 miles that I have never ridden before, but the alternative, I decided, would probably have been worse.
With some big competition showing up for the race I hoped that the bike change would not be a total disaster. When I rode with Corey the day before the race I was not really confident about anything – my bike, my legs, my mindset. The bike problem drained me mentally. Now it was a matter of how to deal with it during the race.
Although my legs were heavy when I woke up on race day as soon as I saw the start line, all worries vanished and I was ready to race.
The first 17 miles were head down, following fast moving wheels, trying not to let the lead group get away.
But that ended at mile 17 when we came up on a mud section. While everyone took the smart way through the grass, I chose the most direct way route, straight throught the mud. I pushed my bike, walking beside it, collecting about 10 lbs of everything that could stick to my bike (I know, I know, I had 180 miles to think about this mistake).
While I cleaned up my bike so the wheels would at least spin again, everyone and anything passed me. After about five minutes I got back on my bike and fought for 15 miles to clip into my pedals (I use road shoes because of previous knee problems). To put it mildly, I was rather unhappy with the situation. I alternated between English and German curse words.
After stopping at a creek to wash off shoes, bike and Monika, I was able to clip in again. I put my head down and rode as hard as I could to checkpoint 1.
After two minutes at the checkpoint, I was back on the road. I didn’t know how many people were ahead of me. I was afraid to ask. While getting ready to grind up the next 50 miles to checkpoint 2 someone came up behind me.
He had a flat earlier that cost him considerable time.
All unhappiness I might still have had from the mile 17 mudpocolypse dissolved. A new race began for me. A race with a friend, fighting together against our adversary, the headwind. I say together, but I don’t really give the best draft, if any at all, to a 6’5” person. We alternated pulling each other over the the hills and flats for the next 100 miles. We caught up with another Trans Iowa racer, Eric, and we all worked together and shared food. Man, those guys are awesome! These moments are what makes gravel racing a great sport.
Around mile 130 they let me go. I rode my pace chasing racers in front of me. Strangely, I saw a bunch of riders coming my way. The wrong way. I got nine extra miles. Others more. Regrouped, ten or so of us rode together to checkpoint 3. One of the guys told me that Selene (who was also in the group) and I were second and third place as of now.
While in checkpoint 3 I ate everything I found on that table my support, the volunteer group Pablove Grub, offered. I was starving. 2 muffins, 3 cookies, a bar and a gel later I was back on the road.
Selene was up the road. For the next five miles we traded spots, but we ended up riding our own pace. I saw another racer in the distance. I wanted to catch him. All the food I just ate kicked in and I was in TT mode catching my carrot in the distance.
That carrot turned out to be a tough cookie though, because every time I came close, he sped up. We played that game for 45 miles. This was very entertaining because all of a sudden we were back in town with the finish line coming up fast.
Spectators were lined up for hundreds of meters along the road cheering and clapping. I couldn’t help but smile. Although the race started on the wrong foot, I really enjoyed the day out there in the vast beauty of Kansas. An epic day like this makes it difficult to go back to the mundane of everyday life. But I’m happy to have the memories of our ride at the 2013 Dirty Kanza. What a great day!
Results are here
(After the race I couldnt find my car anymore and I asked the Emporian bike police for help. Seven motivated police cyclists made a town-wide search and found my car! I thought that was absolutely awesome!)