By Dusty Pruitt
Those of you who know me know I like history. At a museum, if something sparks my interest, I am the guy who spends as much time reading the sign posted next to the exhibit as I do looking at the exhibit itself. (This also usually results in hours of YouTube documentaries on the topic as well…) What I am really trying to understand is the ‘Why’ – why someone made that, or why someone painted that, or in the case of this Ride Review, why someone rode 100 or even 200 miles through that.
I’ll start with me. When I initially took on this challenge last year (LINK), I didn’t really know what I was getting into – especially the wind and mud. I did, however, get that great sense of adventure, challenge, and pride that that came with finishing and that feeling alone was worth chasing. So, having experienced the terrain, conditions and knowing first-hand that gravel miles and road miles aren’t necessarily the same thing, I decided give the century ride a second try.
I recently picked up a Niner RLT (Road Less Travelled) to serve as my Greenway/Gravel rig and I have really enjoyed the miles I have put on it over the winter and spring – but most of those were on pavement – I was anxious to see if the RLT lived up to its name.
I made two changes to my 2-Star RLT build: (1) I added one of my favorite saddles, the Brooks Cambium C17 and (2) swapped tires to the Teravail Cannonball tubeless 38s which ended up being totally worth it.
The Dirty Kanza starts at 6am for 200 mile rides, and 6:20am for the century crowd. I could tell no one really slept well the night before – a short, but intense thunderstorm rolled through town about 2am Saturday and I am certain I was not the only one who remembered shouldering my bike and trudging through miles of mud from last year. As we made our way to the start, the roads were wet and the crowd was anxious.
All in all, there are 1,500 riders that participate in the event. The starting line is awesome – the pro’s get called up to the starting line, music is blaring and a lot of locals come out with their lawn chairs and cowbells.
The first mile is a neutral roll out through town. After that, it is gravel the rest of the way – and that is when the carnage began.
Because of the rain, the normal-width dirt roads were relegated to a muddy strip of gravel that was about wide enough for two riders. You can imagine the backlog of bikes trying to get through. It was a mess – and it was like that for the first 5 miles. What you might not imagine was the graveyard of derailleurs the mud caused. Easily 50+ bikes were under ‘repair’ as I rode by. The surface was ride-able, but the mud was so thick, it would collect in your mech and, if you were unlucky, break something off.
I saw a lot of improvising going on – mostly people broke their chains down and rode as a single speed. I saw at least one person that had the foresight to bring a spare derailleur and was doing a little field surgery on the trail. I thought I broke my front mech – but, after a rinse in a river crossing and a little lube, I was fine.
I’ll say here that the Niner was awesome. It was a super comfortable ride and the all-day geometry was very much welcomed. There is definitely something to the versatile ‘all-road bike’ trend and I am a believer.
The best part of this ride was between mile 5 and 45. I explained in my post from last year the terrain of the treeless Flint Hills. It really is beautiful. In Arkansas, we are used to our trees – so being in a setting where there are none is striking. Couple that with the cool morning air and a route that ran through a huge cattle ranch and you’ve got a near-perfect Saturday morning ride.
I was busy soaking it all in…when the cramps started.
I have never really had issues with cramping on the bike before and I’m still not totally sure why they came this time. But it sucked.
This seems like a good time to talk about goals. My goal was to finish in the Top 100, which I estimated would be around 8 hours. I got to the halfway checkpoint in just over 3 and a half hours and was roughly on schedule. I knew we would have headwind on the second half of the route and I would have to make up for the slowness of the backlogging at the start. I planned to take a 10 minute pit stop – enough time to refill bottles, clean and oil the drivetrain and mow through a sandwich and some salty chips. Unfortunately I got my wires crossed trying to meet up with my support car – and ended up taking about 25 minutes (and adding 2 more miles to the ride while I searched). None of that helped the cramps either.
Finally, I headed out for the second half. The terrain was very similar to the first half – except now I got to suck a 15mph wind in and 85 degree heat (with no trees). The cramps kept coming. I think I punched my leg at least 50 times (resulting in slight bruising the next day) to try to work it out – but it didn’t matter. They say misery loves company. I saw one guy about halfway up a hill completely fallen over on his right side, both feet still clipped in and screaming. As best I can tell, he cramped on the way up, lost momentum, fell, and couldn’t get out of the clips. I asked if he needed help. He said he was fine.
As the afternoon and the cramps wore on, I started to realize my 8 hour target wasn’t going to happen. By mile 80, I was ready to be done. I was trying to remind myself that this is fun and I spent money to do this. It didn’t help. The headwind gusts exceeded 20mph and I was pulling over every 10 minutes to work out the cramps. I was super annoyed and in a very dark place.
As I neared mile 95 – with my 8 hour target having come and gone long ago – I started letting myself think about the finish. I thought about all the food I was going to eat and stories I was going to tell at the finish…when my front flatted. Unbelievable. Actually, I think I burped the tire on an earlier rough creek bed crossing. I was so close to being done, I decided to just add air, hope it held and ride on. A couple shots of CO2 and I was back on my way.
The final mile was into town and through Emporia State University campus. As you might expect, the campus sits at the top of a hill. More cramps.
The very best part of this event is the finish…and not just for the obvious reason. The finish line itself is awesome. There is a 3-4 block chute lined with people ringing cowbells, music, and cheering. As you near the finish, an announcer calls out your name and hometown. You are met with lots of cheers, handshakes and the signature DK Pint or, in my case, DK Half Pint for being a finisher.
I got exactly 200th place. Start to finish was 9 hours 17 minutes. For perspective, the Pro’s rolled in right at 7 hours. To be in the Top 100, I would have needed to beat 8 hours 32 minutes.
X-Cannondale pro Ted King finished the 200 mile race in just under 12 hours. That is a mph average in the 18’s the whole day…respect.
This really is an awesome weekend and I’d recommend it to anyone. Registration is in January and sells out in less than 10 minutes. As for me, I’m two years in and have two great memories. The Dirty Kanza is an epic and brutal day that I have loved hating every minute of. That answers my original question. That answers my ‘Why’.
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