When I was first accepted into the Dirty Kanza lottery back in January, everyone I told simply replied with “you know that’s hard, right?” Well, yeah. I didn’t sign up for it expecting it to be a walk in the park. It’d be 100 gravel miles & all day spent on the bike. But, at the same time, it was through the Flint Hills of Emporia, Kansas and Kansas is flat so I knew that I was totally capable of handling it...right?
Well, as it turns out - Kansas isn’t flat and Dirty Kanza is harder than I ever imagined. Who knew?!
We woke up at 4am on Saturday morning (race day!) to a severe thunderstorm which put us under a 30 minute race delay. Around 6:50am, we were led out of town by a local police officer alongside 600+ other riders. The whole town seemed to have come out to see us off with cute homemade signs and cowbells. My friend, Ally, and I planned to stick together for the duration of the route and we quickly made a bunch of small moves through the field in the initial pace-line. Neither of us had interest in actually racing, but the weather was just right & the scenes were too pretty to not wanna take it all in a fast as possible.
About 5 miles into the race, the patches of mud mixed with the gravel dried my chain out entirely. This made a great crunching sound with every pedal stroke. I lost most use of the middle of my cassette and my chain began skipping between gears randomly. Annoying but not detrimental.
The next 45 miles were some of the best miles I’ve ever had on a bike. The Flint Hills were absolutely gorgeous. Along the way, we had a couple of free range cows hanging out by the trail with nothing between them and us, with their ranchers on four wheelers a couple of yards away. I’ve never experienced such wide open ranching land! We were literally yelling with excitement through the roller coaster hills & talking to everyone we came across. It was a dream!!
We rolled into the impeccably organized SAG stop around mile 48. I tried to get someone to look at my bike but no one was available and, although I knew it was a pretty simple adjustment, I was scared of making things worse if I messed with it. So I settled for some chain lube, grabbed some pickles & a Snickers, and headed back onto the trail.
About mile 55, we came up on section of path that was impassable “peanut butter mud”. I saw everyone else getting off their bikes, but still on a high from the first 50 miles, I tried to ride it. Big mistake. My tires immediately locked up with mud & I was almost thrown off the bike. With my lesson learned, I tried carrying my bike for as long as possible. Wrong again. The hill was just steep and long enough to make carrying my bike out of the question. Rolling it was the only option but that meant packing the wheels up with mud entirely about every 10 feet. My spirit was pretty broken at this point. We finally made it through the 2 mile hike a bike, scraped the mud from our tires, shoes, face, and set out on our way.
Turns out, the rolling hills of the first 50 miles turned into steady ups and short downs for the second 50. The terrain was nice enough to keep all the gut punching climbs and 20mph headwinds until the very end. At one point, a rider directly in front of me veered off to the side of the road and passed out...still clipped in and in complete riding position. Luckily, his teammate was nearby and had the situation handled so I peddled on, hoping to not come to the same fate. I lost Ally for awhile & was picked up by a string of nice older guys who welcomed me into their paceline. I went from struggling to hold a 8mph average to about 12 & finally felt like I was getting somewhere again.
After finding Ally again, I struggled for a bit longer to keep up before realizing that my body & brain were done. I made the most pitiful call out to her: "dude, I'm done". We took a break at the top of next hill. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to look at the mileage but when Ally looked and winced, I had to. Mile 67. My brain had calculated being at at least mile 80 at this point. We had some snacks and I threw a nice little hissy fit for about 5 minutes. I glanced down at the SAG vehicle number printed on my bracelet & tried not to think about how easy it’d be to just hop in a car & be driven back to the start. But I also very quickly realized how dumb I would feel saying I got 70 miles in and gave up. So I pulled myself together & accepted that the next 30 miles would suck.
More headwinds. More climbing. More leg cramps.
I lost Ally again for awhile after being given some Gatorade by an amazing local on the side of the road. We caught back up with about 10 miles left so we could cross the finish line together. I didn't actually know how far it was till the end but, everyone who passed kept saying that we were SO CLOSE so I figured that must be the case.
FINALLY,, we saw a sign for a street in Emporia that we recognized. This was it!!
After a meandering around the local college's campus, we rolled back into town to a 4 block chute into the finish line. As soon as I could see the line, I burst into tears. Ally & I rolled across the line together & pretty much immediately collapsed.
We had done it!!! 100 of the hardest miles I’ve ever done completed.
We were muddy, sunburnt, exhausted, and so stoked!
In summary, Dirty Kanza is a lot like when someone is eating something and says “ewh this is disgusting - try it!” and you do only to confirm that it’s disgusting. Yeah, you can understand that it’s difficult but until you try it for yourself, you can’t truly appreciate how difficult.
I cannot thank the locals and other riders enough for their stoke & friendliness over the duration of the ride. And of course Melissa, Megan, & Ally for driving 26 hours to Kansas & keeping the whole trip rad. Dirty Kanza Promotions ran such a tight ship to ensure everything ran smoothly on race day! I can’t say that I have any desire to come back right now but give this sunburn a chance to wear off and I’m sure I’ll be tossing my name into the hat for next year.