Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dirty Kanza week 2016: saddle up partners

This year was my fourth Dirty Kanza 200. The week before the race was so packed with events that it deserves a write up of it's own. So here goes.
John & Pamela at a cafe getting ready to ride bikes, imagine that.
photo by Angie Jones Baker
As I've written before, preparing for the Dirty Kanza is no small task. Add to the normal enormity of preparation for a 205 mile gravel grinder a family visit, a cycling homecoming, & combining resources with an equally ambitious fellow racer one gets stressful days. John Bayley & Pamela Blalock shared a room & their van with me for the Kanza. Pamela would be crew support for both John & me. That meant we had several bikes to build & supplies for 2 racers to organize. Short story is that we did a ton in the span of 2 1/2 days ahead of the race.
Dan Hughes & I get reacquainted

I got to Lawrence, KS late on Wednesday and enjoyed a quick visit with my parents. Thursday started with the usual bike build & gear sorting chores. John & Pamela arrived on Thursday at noon. The immediate problem was that John's rear brake was not full strength. He thought it just needed an emergency bleed. A quick call down to Sunflower Bike later led to more stress. The shop was jammed with pre Kanza work so they could not do a bleed that afternoon. However the shop in Emporia would be able to bleed the brake on Friday morning. With that crisis under control the three of us got some lunch at Merchants Pub and kitted up for the Sunflower Bike shakedown ride.

Rolling with Kings & the Queen

The King of the Kanza surveys his domain
One of the Kanza events I look forward to most is the Sunflower Bike shakedown ride. Lawrence is my hometown. Sunflower Outdoor shop is the place that kindled my passion for hiking & cycling when I was a boy. I have plenty of fond memories of that shop from the years I lived in Larryville. This year the ride was extra special since it was being co-lead by New England's favorite pro roadie, my friend Ted King. Considering the ride was lead by the King of the Kanza: Dan Hughes, Ted King, & The Queen of Pain: Rebecca Rusch I figured we had a decent poker hand at 2 Kings & a Queen.

Ian, his friend Carly & me on the shakedown ride
More over a long lost friend was in town for his first Dirty Kanza, Ian Penner. We hadn't been in the same zip code since our freshman year of high school. We were some of the few boys in our school who shared a passion for cycling, a passion that has only grown over the decades. I was delighted to catch up with Ian as we rolled easy tempo for the first few miles. But Ian was not my only friend on the ride.

Kris & Amber Auer waiting for the train to pass
Kris & Amber Auer also stopped in Lawrence on their way to Emporia. Those two had saved me after the Kanza last year by hauling my ragged carcass back to my motel. I returned the favor by helping them find last minute crew support this year. The Kanza forges bonds of friendship that way.

Ted King & I leading the bunch back to town
photo by Ian Penner
The ride itself was a pleasant 20 some mile ramble north of Lawrence. The bunch numbered 30+. The pace did not seemed hard to me, but then again when we reached some rolling hills the leaders hit them hard enough. The pace was quick enough that the group split up. A freight train conveniently stopped the leaders to allow the tail end of the group to catch back on. Dan drifted back to help the stragglers find their way around the route. It was a beautiful blue bird day but hotter than what I expected. This would be a regular occurrence in the days ahead.
John relaxing in the shade on a 85 degree day

John discovered that his front brake was fading badly too. When we got back to the shop brake fluid was leaking out of a cracked lever. Rather than a simple brake bleed he would require a whole new set of calipers & levers. Fortunately that was something Sunflower had available & could install immediately. We ran a quick errand & got a coffee while the mechanics worked at John's bike. After catching the first half of Ted & Rebecca's talk we shared a table next to the Auer's at Zen Zero for a delicious dinner. When we arrived in Emporia it was already past my bedtime. But I was happy to have enjoyed a good visit in Lawrence & that John had a fully functional bike.

Home on the Range

Friday was to be our race prep day. We still had not bought provisions or re-packed our gear for the race. The course this year had an entirely different finish than the prior 3 editions. I planned to ride the first 15-20 miles to check conditions then head east to pick up the end of the course south of Olpe. I estimate that this would be a 45-50 mile total ride & planned for 3 hours. John & Pamela planned to ride as well but discussed taking a shorter route.

Fueling up at the Gravel City Roasters/Java Cat Cafe
photo by Angie Jones Baker
We kitted up and rode into Emporia in search of good coffee. Of course we were not alone in this thought. Commercial Street was packed with cyclists gearing up for the Kanza. At Gravel City Roaster's I spotted 2015 Kanza champion Juri Hauswald. We shared a quick hello before John, Pamela & I headed south to the course.

Yuri Hauswald needs his coffee too
photo by Angie Jones Baker
We rode the first few miles at a casual pace. We stopped to help a painted turtle cross the gravel road. After 5 miles or so John & I met up with Tim Ahern from Connecticut. He was showing the ropes to a couple of first time Kanza races from New England. Pamela continued ahead while Tim, John & I chatted. At mile 10 it was time for me to start putting in some effort to open up my legs. My first acceleration put me ahead of Tim & his buddies. Shortly afterward John & I caught up to Pamela. She encouraged me to go ahead solo while they took the shorter route.
Home, home on the range...

I went through my warm up until the top of the Twin Towers climb. This is the first truly open range section of the course. From the top you can look south and east to see the prairie unfold. It was stunning as ever on such a bright day. After a few more miles I turned off course to head east toward Olpe. As I rode along I spotted a herd of deer at the edge of a pasture. They raced ahead of me for the next half mile to a line of trees. It was a beautiful site watching them bound away. I passed by several old farms with equipment parked in their yards. On a fence post I spotted a welcome reminder to enjoy the ride.

Inspiring things you find on Kansas farms
As the miles ticked by I realized that this was going to be a longer transfer than I had thought. I double checked the map and decided to head north to use the paved road into Olpe. I had never visited this little town before. It had a typical Kansas brick store front Main Street and a large ornate church across the green. To my distress the thermometer outside the post office read 88 degrees. I was glad I had brought my Camelbak but concerned that it was already past 1 p.m.

A hot south wind pushed me out of Olpe
Still I had a plan to follow. I was back on track at the mile 188 of the course. I studied the terrain and turns as I headed north to Emporia. This section looked fairly easy, though the tailwind aided in that impression. The first tricky bit was the downhill approach to the "Murder Ordained" bridge at mile 195. After the bridge I noticed a very loose section of gravel in a hard right turn. Once over the rail road tracks & past the highway the route turned west into Emporia proper. I made note of the fast twisting descent past a summer camp, the numerous random potholes on the run in to campus, and the sharp final climb past Wilson Park. It could be a tough final few miles in a group.

The Emporia State Hornet with timely advice at 2 miles to go
By the time I rolled onto Commercial Street it was past 2 p.m. I had ridden 62 miles in 3:45 moving time, way beyond what I had planned. I looked for some lunch & drinks near the rider expo. Everything had been picked over by the hundreds of cyclists who had been there earlier. I filled my water bottle, grabbed a granola bar, & raced back to the motel. I had told Pamela I would meet her there at 3 so we could shop for race provisions. When I got back John & Pamela were not at the room. They had been similarly delayed on their ride & thwarted in finding lunch in town. Both John & I still needed to register as well. More stress. We ate a quick late lunch. Pamela went to get race food & supplies while John & I returned to the Granada Theater for registration. At the downtown grocery buying cold drinks we spotted Lyne Bessette. We chatted & confirmed that Lynne was there to go for the win. I wouldn't expect anything less from such a great athlete.

A great little tavern in Strong City
Since the restaurants in Emporia all looked packed John & Pamela decided to head out of town for dinner. They remembered a nice little place near Cottonwood Falls from 3 years prior. As we drove past the Flint Hills Rodeo we saw a promising little tavern. I suggested we try it. It happened to be named the Ad Astra and is located in Strong City: a perfect serendipity if ever there was one. I explained to my friends that "Ad Astra per Aspera" is the Kansas state motto: "to the stars through difficulties". Nothing could describe racing the Kanza better in my opinion. To top it all off the food was great. The people watching as the rodeo let out & spectators wandered over to the tavern was perhaps better.

We headed back to Emporia to finish race prep chores. Our bikes cleaned & lubed, food packed, & race clothes laid out. All that was left to do was pedal. Yet we had no idea how hard a day we had ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Post more , post more.. obviously know how the story ends but cant wait to read the next part;)