By Dusty Pruitt
Here is some Kansas trivia: The seal on the state flag reads ‘Ad Astra per Aspera’ a Latin phrase meaning ‘To the stars through difficulty’. Seems fitting for the weekend I just had.
I grew up in Kansas and my parents still live there. My dad called me one day last year and asked if I’d be interested in riding the Dirty Kanza 100 Gravel Grinder with him. I didn’t know anything about the event, but thought 100 miles on gravel sounded like a very long day. Little did I know that the DK 100 is the little brother or the ‘half pint’ to the DK200 – the real race that has put this event on the map.
My dad and I have had some good times on the bike in the past, so I decided to sign up. For the 100 mile ride that is.
I’ve never really done much gravel riding and didn’t have the budget to get a new bike so I decided to run my Cannondale Scalpel 3 29er with a set of cross tires (35s tubeless) for the big day. Special thanks to Steve A. at TBR for the help! I have been a big fan of full suspension on the MTB and I thought the softer ride might be welcomed on a long day in the dirt.
The DK festivities take place in Emporia,KS (an hour SW of Topeka; 4ish hours from Fayetteville). Emporia, like the rest of NE Kansas is located in the Flint Hills, named for the sharp flint rock that makes up the terrain. I think most people think of Kansas as flat, wheat fields and tornados (all true!), but the often over-looked eastern part of the state is largely green tall-grass prairie – treeless hills that are too rocky to grow crops on, but perfect for cattle and ranching. In these hills 1000+ riders prepared to grit their teeth in determination.
The 200 mile race started at 6am, the 100 mile 20 minutes later. 60 degrees, overcast and a little misty. As soon as we got out of town, the gravel goodness began. Like most of us this spring, Emporia has had its share of rain and flooding. Rain + Gravel = Mud. Actually the roads maintained by the county weren’t too bad. A few low spots had standing water, but most the flooding had resided (nevertheless we saw a dead fish or two on the road).
The trouble really came about 45 minutes in. We turned onto one of those ‘unmaintained roads’ and the effects of the flooding and rain couldn’t be ignored. There was no ‘riding bikes’ for the next 3 miles – this, I learned, is the XC part of the race where you carry your bike. Sticky, cold, thick and wet mud as far as you could see…and hundreds of people trudging (and falling) through it just like us. It took over an hour.
Finally, we cleared the mud and could get back to riding bikes.
The other thing you need to know about Kansas is that it has wind. Un. Relenting. Wind. I had a ‘dark moment’ at around mile 40. It wasn’t the trudging through the mud, or being wet from the creek crossings or even the hills – it was all of those things coupled with the stupid 20+mph wind in my face. A carrot-cake Clif Bar and a 2 minute break helped me change perspective.
My mom provided our one and only SAG stop at mile 56. Coke, sandwiches, salty snacks and refilling the Osprey were all on tap. Back into the hills for more.
The second half road conditions were much better than the first, but the wind is even worse in the afternoon. There was a stretch right after the SAG that was like 9 miles of uphill grind and sucking wind. I was getting annoyed.
But, thankfully, we turned east and out of the wind at mile 75. Done with it for the rest of the day. That’s when I flatted. The sharp rocks are no joke. I had a pretty good sized gash on the sidewall of my rear tire. It was too much for Stan’s to overcome, so I had to switch to a tube.
The last 20 miles made the ride worth it. Great views, good pace and rhythm, rolling ups and downs and the anticipation of finishing.
We hit pavement at mile 98.5 and cruised in for the finish. The entire town came out to the finish with cowbells and cheers.
Start to finish, including SAG and other breaks, I ended in roughly 11hr 30min, rolling in around 6pm. For perspective, the top finisher of the DK100 was 6hr 44min. First place in the DK200 came in at 13hr 1 min. The top single speed time for 200 was 13hr 43min. I cannot fathom that sort of effort – well done to them.
What a great event. Very well run, well-sponsored, and well-supported from the city of Emporia. Maybe most important was a great memory for my dad and me.
Well done, Dusty. How does it compare to Hazel Valley? Longer, yes. But what about the difficulty?
Thanks for the summary Dusty. What a blessing to share this experience with you! Well done on the riding to you, and well written on the summary. We have many more trips like this in our future!! Proud of you!
If anyone has any interest in the gravel scene, the Dirty Kanza is a must do event. I’ve done it twice now. It’s first class all the way. Most of the town of emporia is near the finish line and cheering for everyone that comes through. It’s crazy.
IMO, DK 100 2014 was easier than the HV GP last fall, but I’d say this years DK 100 was slightly tougher mainly due to the time on the road.