I raced Dirty Kanza with a group from the Service Course/ World Bicycle Relief team put together by my friend Nick Legan. Nick, Kristen Peterson, Chris Case and Jess D'Amato are often part of the Service Course team. For this event Rebecca Rusch and I were invited to join for this event. World Bicycle Relief is a COOL organization that realizes the power of the bicycle to improve people's lives. In Africa, a bicycle means access to education, health care and employment. WBR sends purpose-built bicycles to people in need in Africa, teaches mechanics and helps start cottage industries around bicycles in these areas. A $134 donation sends a bike to Africa. $50 provides a tool kit and training to use it. $20 provides replacement wheels (the most common part to wear out) to people in need. So far over 130,000 bikes have been sent through this program. Our goal is to send 200 more. Your help is appreciated.
Donation Link: http://action.worldbicyclerelief.org/page/outreach/view/individual/DK200
Kansas? What the heck is there to ride in Kansas??? Hundreds of miles of beautiful dirt roads in many different forms is the answer to that question. There are well-maintained gravel roads and others that could best be described as "farm tracks". There are plenty of B roads... some C and even a few D roads. The other thing you need to be prepared for is how lovely the terrain is. There had been plenty of rain in the weeks leading up to the race so the entire countryside was lush and green. Wildflowers were in bloom. You cannot imagine how huge a Kansas sky is until you see one. Panoramic photos can give a small feel for what Kansas feels like, but they don't really give you the true impact of a small ribbon of gravel road stretching off to the horizon rolling over hill after hill after hill. It is lovely to see, and somewhat ominous to ride.
Weather conditions for this year's event were both perfect and awful. Temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s were perfect. Riding over 100 miles into an 18mph headwind, however, often in long stretches, is never easy. Most of sector 2 was either into a strong headwind or with a diagonal headwind... which is often worse. After a 9 mile "breather" heading out of the wind, sector 3 treated us to almost 40 miles of uninterrupted headwinds.
The team had a GREAT day! Christopher Case took 14th overall and was in the lead pack for quite a bit of time. Rebecca won the Women's division for the second year. Kristen was 4th. Nick was 4th in Single Speed class. If I'm not mistaken, Jess had her longest ride ever.
My successes were different. I rode well and finished strong, though not in the time that I would have liked. I had 6 flats... after the 4th flat I devoted my ride to helping others out along their ride. I stopped and checked on people and made sure they had what the needed. I helped fix a bunch of flats. I helped a guy who had started talking to unicorns connect with his support crew. After night fell, I lead a pack for the last 10-15 miles because I had very good lights and many of them did not. I finished 148th out of 670. In a race where barely half the field finished, that's a good thing.
Amazing things about this race:
The community of Emporia, Kansas is truly remarkable. I'm not just talking about the cycling community… I'm talking EVERYONE! We drove into town late on Thursday night and were greeted by bank signs that said "Welcome DK200 Riders!" and banners hung along the main streets. Riding to registration in the morning I had 2 or 3 people drive by and roll down their windows to welcome me and thank me for riding. Walking through town EVERY shop had some special or way of welcoming DK200 riders. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to us. When you consider there were 1000 people in town for the ride, there were a lot of locals doing a lot of welcoming. That's very different than the way Washington, DC locals greet tourists.
The next funny thing about the race had to do with some of the VIPs taking part in the race. There were some big time, famous racers showing up for this event. All the serious Gravel Grinder contenders were here. Some pros and journalists showed up too. The Emporia Gazette honored them by doing trading cards for 20 of the top or notable riders. Somehow I got tossed into that mix. Everyone else had serious racer photos for their trading card… they were represented their sponsors well and responsibly. Since I don't race and have no sponsors, my card looked a little different.
The trading cards were each sponsored by a local business. People who wanted trading cards had to go around to all the local businesses and pick up their card. I had fun going around and seeing all the different cards in businesses. I did some shopping to support the local businesses. It was a great idea! Many of the racers were given a stack of cards, so we didn't have to collect. There was an official signing session in front of the Granada Theater. I had fun signing a few cards and getting some of my cards signed. It was silly and fun.
Talking to people about World Bicycle Relief was great. Being around people who are passionate about bikes is always wonderful. Sharing with people how 1 bicycle can change the life of a family and community is inspiring… especially when folks respond by donating to a great cause. We raised a lot of money and awareness in the "Tent of Awesome" as Nick called it. :D
|Jess D'Amato, my Service Course/World Bicycle Relief teammate|
Arguably my favorite part of the weekend was spending time reconnecting with friends that I hadn't seen for over a year. I'm a sap that way. :D There were a lot of people that I'd met through Ride on Washington and the National Bike Summit that I hadn't seen outside the internet. Spending time turning a pedal, flapping jaw or drinking a beer does my heart good! Y'all are amazing.
As always... Epic rides result in epic piles of stinky laundry….
I'm honestly not sure this weekend could have been more perfect!
Thanks for reading!