2017 Harvest 50 Gravel Road Race Recap

October 31, 2017

This past Saturday, October 28, 2017, saw the 3rd running of the Zionsville Harvest 50 Gravel Road Race put on by Team Nebo Ridge. Over 125 participants braved unseasonably cold and windy weather to challenge themselves and their competitors and friends to one tough day on the beautiful gravel farm roads of Boone and southern Clinton Counties, north of Indianapolis.

Fifty mile racers were treated this year to five additional, scenic miles on the NW corner of the course, near Kirklin, IN, that included one very lovely road: Scotland Road. Thus, including the neutral 2 mile roll-out, competitors completed 57 miles of mostly plush gravel.

Scotland Road runs along the north bank of Sugar Creek in southern Clinton County. Yes, the same Sugar Creek, but in its early miles, that turns into a floater’s and canoer’s paradise in western Indiana (Parke County) as it runs southwest to the Wabash River. Well, this pretty little creek road perfectly breaks up the flat and straight farm roads with a little contour, shade, and windbreak. The reviews from all of the riders were that this part of the course was the highlight of a very tough 55 miles.

It didn’t help that the weather was hovering in the mid-30’s at the start, and never really exceeded 41 degrees. The wind was 10-15 mph out of the west. The skies were ever-changing. A bit of sun, a lot of clouds, even some sleet at one point.

Once again, local road, crit, and cross senior world-class racer and Zipp Regional Team member Bryan Boggs was the man watched by other competitors. Despite returning Friday from a business trip to London (UK, not KY), Boggs and Troy Andrews, of Pumpkinvine Cyclery in Middlebury, IN, and Tomasz Golas of Bloomington were most active at the front of a lead pack of some dozen riders. The pack included among others Bogg’s teammates Brian Gavette and Jason Fowler, 16 year old Drew Gavette, and a strong team presence from the Columbus, Indiana-based Bicycle Station Team with members Jeff Fetterer, Josh Martin and John Wischmeier nestled into the pack.

With about 20 miles to go, Boggs and Andrews separated from the leading pack who failed to organize and chase. Over the last 18 miles the pack disintegrated into ones and twos, but Boggs and Andrews kept at it with Boggs doing most of the work.

In the end, after a surprise encounter with a flock of geese in the road about 200 yards from the finish, Andrews edged Boggs at the line in a time of 2 hrs 48 min for the Overall and Men 30-39 category win. Golas was not far behind to finish 3rd overall and win the Men 45-49 category. Out of the lead pack, a number of category winners emerged: local racer Justin Lauderback of Team World Bicycle Relief finished 8th overall to win the Men 40-44 category. Lauderback in turn was followed by Jesse Smith (DRT Team of Bloomington) and Drew Gavette of Zionsville who won the Men 20-29 and Under 20 categories, respectively.

On the women’s side, Team Nebo Ridge 2016 female racer-of-year, Stacey Hughes continued her domination in 2017 of regional gravel and ultra racing, crossing the line as the first women in 3 hrs 41 min. Hughes was followed closely by 30-39 category winner Molly Birt. Margaret Barawaskas of J’s Bike Racing in Terre Haute won the female 20-29 category edging out Chase Wischmeier of Bloomington. Team Nebo Ridge member, Tonya Simpson, finished a strong 3rd overall Women.

Kudos as well to Singlespeed champ Mike Minichiello (16th overall) of Westfield, IN, Fat Tire winner Curt Jansen of Lafayette, IN, and Men’s 60+ champ David Thomas of Cicero, IN.

Significantly, 27 of the 125 total participants chose to contest (and finish) the 25 Mile Challenge Ride — no easy feat on this day.

Team Nebo Ridge volunteers blanketed the course and did a magnificent job handling registration, sag stop, finish line, scoring, and course marshaling duties. These volunteers, along with our sponsors SRAM/ZIPP, Omni-Source, Bone Dry Roofing, Hydro-Gear, Bank of Indianapois, Washington Eye Center, Kite-Harris Property Development,  and Nebo Ridge Bicycles have made this one of the most unique and talked-about races in the Midwest.

Look for the 4th edition of the Harvest 50 next October 27, 2018!

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Let Fear Motivate You — Commit to Your Bodacious, Big-Ass Cycling Event for 2017

Find Your 2017 Lodestar Cycling Event

It is deep winter here in Central Indiana. It’s grey and cold — too cold even for the most hard-core cyclists — although some brave the wind, wet, and snow with their mountain or fat-tire bikes — combined with a significant investment in winter cycling apparel. (And kudos to you!) Most of us cobble together some sort of workout routine involving indoor cycling and jump outside on those few days when temperature, road, and light conditions permit.

Whatever works — go for it. Whether it’s a group indoor training program with coaches or CompuTrainers; spin classes in a health club; a great basement pain cave with superb video/music/animation; or a “smart” trainer connected to social media programs like Zwift — use whatever will get you to mid-March in reasonable shape. Many cyclists turn to cross-training during the winter months. They switch from cycling to trail running, to a weight-lifting regimen, or maybe to something like an intense Cross-Fit program to increase core-strength.

Of course, heading south with your bike might work. Tucson, Ft. Myers, or the Florida Keys works for many. Just remember to come back.

But the absolute best thing to make your winter plan successful is to commit now to entering in 2017 the most big-ass, bodacious, life-affirming ride or race of your life.

Our customers continually surprise and motivate us when they tell us about their riding events and plans for the year. Their ambition, creativity, and farsightedness are inspiring to us and drives them and us forward during the winter.

We have this year, for example, a group of customers planning a 3-week continental divide bikepack adventure ride. Dang it! I want to do that. They are even planning for and making their own bikepacking bags. We have customers committed to and training for big, hairy, exciting cycling races and events — sometimes even involving new cycling disciplines. Some are committing to team racing and a season-long series of mountain bike (www.Dinoseries.com) or criterium or asphalt road racing. Some are trying their first century asphalt ride (like the 3-State, Mountain Challenge in May). Some are choosing an outrageously tough event like Dirty Kanza 200 Gravel Ride, the Leadville 100 MTB Race,  the 162 mile Ride Across INdiana (“RAIN”), or perhaps a long self-supported, time-limited “Brevet” (like 400 kilometers PLUS!) put on by the Indiana Randonneurs.

I do see a trend toward trying gravel road events done in a “Gran Fondo” timed format. Some of the best of these are in the Midwest. The granddaddy of these races is the Dirty Kanza 200 mile ride in the Flint Hills of Kansas (June 3). And locally we have a couple of extremely popular gravel races like the Zionsville Harvest 50 over Halloween weekend and the Gravel Grovel 100 km race in the Hoosier National Forest over Thanksgiving weekend. These long, timed gravel road events reduce the danger of peloton racing and bike-car interactions, but they call on your endurance and mental toughness — besides connecting you with a part of the countryside that you don’t see often.

If you need help finding your lodestar riding event for 2017, come in and talk with us. Or  check out our Nebo Ridge shop website’s list of Upcoming Events, where we keep and edit a list of cycling events and rides that we think are stellar, and which may help you create your best year yet of cycling and fitness. I wish you luck. And ask me next time you see me, how my training for the 2017 Dirty Kanza 200 is coming. (This is the first year I’ve signed up for the 200 miler rather than the 100 miler.) Fear is a great motivator!

 

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The Gravel Grovel

With the Zionsville Harvest 50 Race  (and 25 Challenge Ride) coming up soon on October 29 and The Gravel Grovel on November 26, I thought I would post my essay on the 2015 Gravel Grovel. Weirdly wonderful day it was!

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The Gravel Grovel — 100 km. Race
November 28, 2015
Hoosier National Forest near Story, Indiana
Wet, cold and challenging – the conditions for the November 2015 Gravel Grovel were the worst ever – 43 degrees and light rain all day – after constant rain for 24 yours beforehand. This 100 km. race in the Hoosier National Forest is held annually the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The race always rewards those who have a basket-full of cycling skill sets: endurance, climbing prowess, descending gumption and skill, general road savvy (including wheel sucking), mountain biking grooviness, comfort with mud and water, cold weather gear aficionados, and those with solid nutritional knowledge. There is always a mix of mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, and gravel bikes out there. For 2015 the mix favored MTBs for the first time ever with the lousy conditions. The course is a mix of forest gravel road, singletrack, unmaintained dirt road, and a bit of asphalt. And the included 4500 feet of climbing hills in southern Indiana may not seem like much, but I swear that every ascent is 15 degrees or more of slope. Without MTB gearing, you might be able to muscle up the first few, but after about the tenth steep one-to-four minute climb, you find your legs blown to bits.
Over 270 riders registered for the race. About 200 started, and about 100 completed the full course. The winners were crazy fast pro cyclocrossers, Drew Dillman and Ryan Knapp, who finished together. Both chose cross bikes, but over half of the top 20 were on MTBs. I can’t describe how fast and world-beating awesome the top racers were!
My Salsa Warbird gravel bike again was manna for my old legs. After blowing up last year, I replaced the small 36-tooth ring with a 34-tooth ring, and with my super-light SRAM Red gruppo and a 12-32 tooth domed cassette, I used ALL of my gears and was able to keep pedaling on all the climbs. I seem to like mud – or after finding myself at mile 12 standing in a knee deep creek – I didn’t give a sh** and flew through every deep puddle and creek. Damn the torpedoes and finish before the bottom bracket bearings seize up!
The trails were sublime. Trying to keep my 40 mm Kenda Happy Medium tires spinning on the uphills – the file tread was slippery but the 28 psi tubeless set-up helped – and the corner knobs – really let me attack gravel road and trail downhills. The roads weren’t terrible – a little soupy here and there – a little soft. After about 5 miles staying with the leading pack, I was relieved to back off, ride alone and avoid the muddy spray.
Did I say the gravel road descents were a blast!? Really the surface was tackier than loose gravel permitting you to rail aggressively. And for the 3rd year in a row, my SRAM Red hydraulic brakes gave me perfect control and (over?) confidence.
More gear drivel – Castelli Gabba (rainproof but breathable) jersey/jackets were the ticket. I had this nailed and was just fine with my Gabba short-sleever over two light short-sleeved layers combined with Castelli water-proof NanoFlex arm and knee warmers. But I did not nail it with my wind-proof, medium weight gloves, which over the course of the day got soaked. During the last five miles (mostly descending), I had to use two hands to shift from my small into large chainring as I was losing feeling in my achy cold left fingers. Some sort of layering on the hands might have worked better.
I wasn’t in the best shape this year. I was excited and prepared for this event though. I had only completed 50 of the 60 miles in 2014 when my legs died of hilltopping. But this year, I competed in the Death March in March over much of this terrain and raced well in the Dirty Kanza 100 gravel road race in late May in the Flint Hills of Kansas. And I had been down to the area on four of the six previous weekends riding the hills and trails – though mostly for fun and not heavy-duty training. I am a little embarrassed to say, then, that I took masochistic delight over the first 30 miles in witnessing the carnage of dozens of riders KO’d with flats, mechanicals, soaked in mud and water, and steeped in the shear misery of the cold and wet. I made sure with my Garmin Edge 1000 that my heart rate stayed in high Zone 3/Low Zone 4. I just kept pedaling, watching, moving, turning and jumping along – and slurping Hammer Perpetuum and gels along the way.

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You have to be prepared to embrace being alone in an event like this. And by about mile 20 near the Nebo Ridge trail, I was pretty much alone in the middle of nowhere. I saw only two others for the next 20 miles – one a teammate who rode with me up the longest hill of the day just south of Houston, Indiana, before he took off on the relative mud-free roads in this section of the race (he had been having traction problems on the muddy trails). At mile 50, near the Hickory Ridge fire tower overlooking the Deam Wilderness Area, I was caught by a former teammate and good friend from West Lafayette. It was a break from the slog and great to talk a bit, and then we turned a corner at the Hickory Grove Backcountry Church and I knew it was five miles mostly downhill to the finish. I was going to make it! Put the pedal to the metal, baby! I still had some legs, so I could put the ticker up into zone 4 and fly to the finish.
I finished mid-pack – about 50th of 100 finishers – but a good placing. I was not great at any of the disciplines in this event – but I also had no major weaknesses. And most gratifying to me was just finishing and holding up mentally in truly bad-to-terrible conditions. I will hold on to my muddy number plate on this one.

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The Art of the Group Ride: Rotating Pacelines and Plato’s Forms

The Art of the Group Ride: Rotating Pacelines and Plato’s Forms

The highest form of group road riding must be the rotating paceline. Plato talks in The Republic about his theory of knowledge – and argues the existence of “Platonic Forms” as the ideal, conceptualized, highest-truth version of things that we only vaguely perceive in our human world. He writes that we humans are hampered in knowing the true “forms” – it’s like we are viewing life in a smoky and dark cave. Nonetheless, the virtuous among us seek to know these forms and their truth. Small Pack Grunge JJ

Well – the sunlight and wind from years of riding outdoors has cleared my vision. I can recognize the highest “form” of road cycling: the rotating double paceline – where you and your friends together cut through the wind, tarmac, and elements with the greatest of ease.

Of course, a rotating double paceline is when a group of cyclists forms itself into two tightly spaced lines. The leeward side (or wind-protected side) begins to advance forward relative to the wind-exposed side. This windward side correspondingly begins to retreat or recede relative to the other. You — as an individual member of this exclusive group — smoothly move forward in the protective lee of the “advancing” line hearing only the quiet whirl of bikes’ chains and cogs and your own beating heart. As a group, you are flying at 20 to 30 mph, but it seems as if time slows, and – in that advancing line — you move slowly forward  at 1 to 2 mph, riding… by … one … rider… at a time … as those in the adjoining  line recede from the corner of your eye’s view.

After all, Einstein teaches that time and speed are relative.

You are inches from the riders in front, in back, and beside you. You move forward hunkered down and protected from the wind by those around you. With this cover, despite your higher speed compared to the receding line, your effort or power is only slightly higher than when in the receding line. You emerge into the front of the advancing line, exposed for a few seconds to the forces of wind and air resistance as you lose the protective draft of the riders in front of you. You keep your cadence up, and your effort increases slightly until you are clear of the rider slowing next to you. You soft-pedal once or twice as you move gently over to the front of the receding line. Soon you are slipping backwards as another rider moves in front of you and slows ever so slightly.

You are lightly pushed by the crosswinds as you recede slowly back in this perpetual motion machine.  Soon you find yourself in the rear. It’s time to apply a little power and move back over into the advancing line,. For a moment here you enjoy the protection and draft of the entire group from this most protected position in the leeward rear.  You now start again your slow journey forward.

The group is now like an organism, resembling an amoeba. It changes shape slightly as it moves through and adapts to its environment. Always rotating, it bends but not breaks to go around slower riders it passes. It occasionally engulfs, gobbles up, and digests riders it comes by. It sometimes spits out riders. It may slow and bunch slightly as it emerges from the wind cover of a stand of trees on the road’s side. It stretches out — long and lean — on faster-paced descents. In the face of strong crosswinds, it may echelon or bend to the side.

It is axiomatic that the group is no faster than the slowest member of the group. Still, the strongest and fastest in the group is advantaged from taking part. Occasionally one of the group needs to rest, remain at the back, and forego moving forward. They sit out a rotation or two and then rejoin.

Tension inevitably occurs from the difference between the slowest and fastest rider. It can be like a cancer which slowly destroys from within.  The group will fail if there is no communication or commitment.  Often, one rider is dropped under the pace dictated by the fastest. Then another is dropped – and another. Before long there are only one or two strongmen left – in truth, now struggling themselves against the elements.  The former pieces of the group are left behind as a long trail of detritus.

On the other side of this equation, it is not at all uncommon for a high-performing and communicating group to jettison the fastest rider out the front. This may actually be best for the stronger rider, and best for keeping the group working harmoniously together.

Physics demonstrates time and again that a long, stretched-out single paceline is inefficient – especially in the presence of crosswinds. Crosswinds string out and push riders into a thin and desperate line along the road “gutter” or the road’s center-line where each is deprived of a large portion of the protection afforded in the rotating double line.

The rotating double line is more rewarding than hammering and being hammered in a free form group – with one attack leading to another attack leading to another – until just one victor is left. The rotating paceline requires better bike handling skills, better judgment, a higher social IQ, and more patience. And, compared to the big blob of a shapeless and brainless peloton, the rotating double paceline is more intelligent – always refreshing itself – and, if large and smooth enough, faster.

So, my friend, the next time you are out cycling with a small group of friends, why not seek this highest of cycling truths and form a double paceline – and then commence the rotation. The intense focus, the teamwork, the use of all of your cycling skills, and the intense consideration of both the whole and each individual within – will permit you to experience one of Plato’s highest forms of truth.

What do you think?

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DIRTY KANZA June 2016 — Emporia, Kansas

Sharps-Creek-Road

Photo courtesy of Adventure Monkey

 

 

I’ve raved and flexed about my finishes the past two years at the Dirty Kanza (or DK) 200/100 mile gravel road race in the Flint Hills of Kansas. So a cosmic reckoning was due this year.

The reckoning started at the riders’ meeting on Friday, the day before the race, when the jinx was made.

My teammate, Collin, and I had both signed up for the DK “Half Pint” 100 mile and arrived the night before in Emporia, Kansas, HQ of the event. We’d dined on excellent Kansas-style BBQ beef rib tips at the local joint, Bobby D’s. The weather was a balmy 80 degrees as we strolled back to our dorm rooms at Emporia State University. The leafy campus for this mid-sized Division II college was tidy and nice, — just ½ mile north of the DK Start/Finish line.  I slept like a baby – with the window of my 6th floor room open. I enjoyed the sound of trains coming through town about every 30 minutes.

Early Friday, we pre-rode the last ten miles of the course to ensure that all systems were go. It was pleasant. The roads were scenic and a bit dusty. Despite the heavy May rains, the week had been dry and warm, and the road surface was tamped down nicely, hard-packed, and fast. (I’ve become geeky about  analyzing  the ever-changing conditions of gravel roads – I consider my skills here a cross between a wine connoisseur  and a county road superintendent.)Dirty Kanza16_0698-(ZF-4391-24284-1-002)

The afternoon riders’ meeting started well enough. It was like one thousand excited kids on the first day of school. The guest speaker I found fascinating. Introduced as Tom Ritchey, we all gasped – not THE Tom Ritchey, inventor of the mountain bike and industry legend? But this Tom Ritchey wore a cowboy hat. In fact, this Tom Ritchey was a clean-shaven rancher — he was about 40 years old and well-spoken – and had a geology degree. He and his family owned of a large ranch in the Flint Hills through which we would ride. He gave a great geology and history précis on the Flint Hills — the Flint Hills being one the last large land tract in America left unbusted (i.e. no sod turned or busted for plant cultivation). We would be riding in the midst of historic open-range, native tall-grass prairie. Curiously, he then cautioned us not to panic if we came across moving herds of cattle.  “Just stop and wait a few minutes.”  Otherwise, according to Tom, the herd would feed off our panic, stampede, and possibly trample us. This would result in the DK organizers and the local ranchers having to saddle up, round up the wayward cattle, and then scrape from the mud our trampled carcasses.

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Maybe the karma was already changing. Immediately after, the big jinx came. Taking back the stage, event co-founder and Executive Director, Jim Cummins, was reviewing the course, and concluded by saying, “The forecast and road conditions will make this year’s DK the fastest ever.” Arghhh!

Later, I checked the weather forecast for Saturday: clear (good), low 80’s (OK but not great), and increasing north/northwest winds peaking at 16-18 mph. This last bit was not good. The last 25 miles of the race was straight north back into Emporia. Hmmm… I warned Collin about this stretch and the wind, and we both pledged to save something for these final miles.

Just before bed, I also noted on my phone’s weather app a slight chance of an isolated thunderstorm overnight. And, about 3 am I heard thunder and perceived some flashes of lightning. I was still optimistic. OK – the dust won’t be so bad.

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Fast forward to the start at 6 am – the sun rising, and 2000 riders for both the 200 and the 100 mile races are staged for the start. We roll. No wind. It’s a cool 62 degrees. Nice.

I ride awesomely, if I don’t say so myself, to the sole sag stop at Mile 50. It is a blast; it is scenic and hilly; I am having fun. But the signs are there. Early on we go through a couple of miles of road which is under water, presumably because of an isolated thunderstorm the night before. There are lots of riders strewn by the side of the road having bike problems and flat tires.  But Collin and I ride cautiously through without incident. (I am admittedly a masochist. I take sick pleasure in passing so many and ride even harder as a result.) I roll into the 50 mile stop among the top 30 or 40; I eat, drink, fill up bottles, and apply some lube to my squeaky chain.Dirty Kanza16_3566-(ZF-4391-24284-1-001)

Happy me at about mile 25.

Happy me at about mile 25.

But then the reckoning begins and I gradually fall apart over the next 20 miles. Soon, I’m forced by muddy roads to walk two or three quarter-mile sections of road left unrideable by the previous evening’s storm. I struggle on a couple of north stretches of road pedaling into the increasingly vicious wind. The heat kicks in and heads into the high 80’s. There are more hills than I remember seeing on the course profile. I’m getting consistently passed. . . . I . . . am . . . melting. (Do you remember those famous words uttered by the famous Kansas resident –  the Wicked Witch of the West – when her gig was up?)

After a long stop at a lonely farmhouse with a cooler full of water and Cokes out by the road, I find myself at mile 70 riding west along a five mile straight stretch of gravel road.  My heart rate is stuck at an unnervingly low rate of 120. I just can’t go harder. Soon I will turn north onto a 20 mile straight stretch into the wind – now whistling steadily at 18-20 mph.  I had seen this coming. I should have seen this coming.

Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-28-902x600

Five slow miles later — at the turn north, I stop and get off my bike to take stock. I sit down and slowly scrape mud from my shoes, pedals, and bike.  It’s “only” 25 miles to go. I look again at my Garmin and map. If I can’t make it, there is a two-lane highway two miles to my west where I can hitch a ride back to town. Riders pass –invariably asking if I’m OK. Then a pick-up truck drives up slowly from the west, in a cloud of dust, and stops. A middle-aged couple slowly gets out of the truck. They quietly watch the riders coming by. They ask if I’m OK. I nod.

They introduce themselves: Roger and Cherylin. From Emporia, they have been out at various points on the course watching the action and carnage. After a while of observing me scrape mud, they ask if I’m continuing. I sigh and remark on the wind. They nod. Then they ask the vital question – do I want a ride back to town? I sigh again. I nod. “Yup.” My riding day is done.

Right then my teammate Collin rides up. He is battling cramps – he even fell off his bike on one steep hill when his quad and hamstring both cramped – but he is determined to continue. I give him my remaining water and some Hammer Enduralyte capsules I have. He is tough. He rides on.

My trip back to Emporia in the air-conditioned club cab is very comfortable. Roger and Cherylin are great — long-time Emporia residents who know everyone – from the rancher Tom Ritchey to the event directors’ wife. They are amazed at this phenomenon of thousands coming to out-of-the-way Emporia.  They tell me more about the railroads, “moving” cattle, and the Flint Hills like it’s a day at the office. I give them an earful of how different, unique and beautiful the Flint Hills are. They secretly like this (and it’s all true). They take me all the way to my dormitory at Emporia State – which they know well since Cherylin had graduated from ESU with an IT degree. They get out to help me unload my very dirty bike. I thank them for the ride and help and company. I shake Roger’s hand. Being a slimy dirtball, I sort of give Cherylin a half-hug.  She laughs. As they get back in their truck, I tell them good-bye and that  I will see them at the evening’s street party at the finish line.

Postscript:

Teammate John B. finishes DK 200

Teammate John B. finishes DK 200

My teammate Collin finishes the DK 100. He is about 130th of 450 finishers (150 of the 600 drop out). We both enjoy the street party that evening.

In the DK 200, almost half of the 1000 starters drop out. My teammates Joel  B., John B., and Steven W. all ride strong and consistently, overcoming heat and flat tires and mechanical issues, and finish in the dark close to one another between 9 and 10 pm. They finish in the top 150. Two of my other teammates drop out at miles 100 and 150, respectively, one with a bad back, and the other with heat exhaustion.

 

 

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DIRTY KANZA 2015- Emporia, Kansas

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Last year I wrote about the Dirty Kanza 200/100 gravel road race – the country’s premier gravel road event – and I included some photos of the event in the Flint Hills of SE Kansas. It was a highlight of my season, and this year I was eager to bag one of the 1500 entries for this year’s race. I was again signing up for the “Half Pint” 100 mile version – just not confident enough in my training program to be able to bite off all 200 miles. The race sold out in less than 48 hours after registration opened in early January, but I bagged an entry and was now committed. Commence training.

Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-4You probably read recently about the devastating floods in Texas and Oklahoma at the end of May. Well, the Flint Hills are in southeast Kansas, just north of Tulsa. Leading up to the May 30 race date, it was wet and flooding in the Flint Hills, and many roads around the host town of Emporia were closed – especially the gravel, backcountry roads. But the organizers kept peppering us the week before with communications telling us to quit worrying. Floodwaters were receding, and, in any event, they had contingency plans.

OK – there were a couple of rainless days the week before the race. The forecast was only a little dicey: high 60’s, chance of rain, windy. Good enough. We were off to Kansas.

I arrived on Thursday night to see some friends from the Wabash River Cycling Club and to soak up the atmosphere of the event. I had the chance to rub shoulders with some industry colleagues, a few rock star pro riders like Rebecca Rusch and Barry Wick, and experience the most friendly towns folks I have ever met. (“Thank you for visiting Emporia. We want to share our beautiful country with you. We appreciate your purchase of chapstick/candy bar/dorm towel. We wish you the best of luck in the race. We will be cheering for you every mile.” Etc.)

Friday, the day before the race, it rained lightly all day. But the afternoon riders’ meeting was upbeat. Great organizers, inspiring slide show, great volunteers, great community outreach, and, “Yes, you will have an adventure because the race will go on. Maybe we’ll reroute certain sections, but we’ll tell you at 5:30 am tomorrow before the 6:00 am start.” My two teammates taking on the 200 miler are there and stoked.

I slept like a baby before waking up at 5 a.m. in my spartan dorm room at Emporia State University. It’s race day. A quick “bar” breakfast, and I roll the ¾ mile to the start line. There volunteers ply me with coffee. Perfect. And the organizers announce that the course will be unchanged from that announced the week before. Maps, Garmin GPS files, food, water, rain jersey, bike. I am ready.

FullSizeRender (3)Then five minutes before the start, I see my superstar teammate and 3-time finisher, Matt, lined up near the front for the 200 miler. I had mysteriously been unable to reach him the night before (I thought it was due to no cell signal in my dorm). With big eyes, Matt says, “I drove the first 15 miles of the course last night. Beginning at mile 12, there’s mud. Lots of mud. So much mud, I spent 2 hours and $25 in quarters at the self-serve car wash trying to spray the gluey crap off my 4WD SUV last night. I barely made it out.”

Bang – and sirens – Matt, my other teammate John, the pros, and 1000 others racing the 200 were off — escorted out of town by the entire Emporia police force. Fifteen minutes later – after being totally cracked up by one of the funniest PA announcers on earth – the 500 of us racing the “cream puff” 100 miler are off following the fire department south out of town.

About then it starts drizzling. We do not notice that the sun has come up minutes ago. Did I mention that the temperature is below forecast? It is 49 degrees, and will never get above 60 degrees this day. At least the wind is as forecast — already 15 mph (where it would hold out of the north all day).Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-33-904x600

But I am pretty comfortable. I have knee and arm warmers, my Gabba rain jersey is a good choice. My bike is working and feeling great. I am feeling good. After two miles, we turn onto gravel. It is wet and sloppy here and there, and you have one or two grooves to choose to ride, but it is solid enough. I’m riding with a group of 10 or 15 riders. Before long we catch up with and are well into the back part of the pack of 200 mile racers.

But as forewarned, suddenly at mile 12 the road turns into a muddy trench. I immediately dismount and pick up my bike to carry it through the gluey slop. Riding is out of the question. Even those who push their bike find themselves after ten feet with gunked up wheels which will not turn – packed up with the stickiest mud I’ve ever encountered. Someone on the side of the road says, “It gets better after 3 miles.”

Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-20Really? Ridiculous. I feel road rage coming on. Why couldn’t they reroute? But – wow – look at the guy next to me trying to carry the fat tire bike. How can he carry that thing, loaded with an extra 10 pounds of mud? Or what about that poor couple trying to push that tandem? Or the kid who can’t figure out how to carry his 30 pounds of bike and gear? I no longer feel so bad about myself since misery loves company, and I am now in the middle of the world’s biggest pity party. Anyway, what can I do? I am a wet mudball, and there is no warm, dry place within 15 miles. And you know what? No one else is dropping out. Everyone joins in the march. Crazy…awesome.

So we trudge. Hundreds of us. Small human mud-ants inching along as far in front of me and behind me as I can see. Mud up to the ankles. We carry each other along. For the firstDirty-Kanza-200-2015-22-902x600 mile no one speaks (other than at one point, someone warns me about a snake). Later some dark humor and jokes about trench foot sweeps through the lines. Finally, after about an hour, over a stretch of 300-400 yards, hundreds of people are scattered along the road scraping mud off their bikes, shoes, pedals, glasses, eyeballs. But we can ride again. And the wind is at our back for the next 15 miles.

Everyone is more relaxed now. We can spin those pedals and we gladly ride. We marvel at the scenery of the open range. There are other shorter muddy sections, a couple of very swollen creek crossings, and later an unrelenting wind as we turn north into the wind during the middle 30 miles of the race. But first I have to stop at a water stop at the 31 mile mark to fill up nearly empty bottles. Here the 100 milers split from the 200 milers. It will now be a little more lonely. But at this point, I’ll take 70 more miles over 170 any day. I’m actually very happy about this.

After mile 40, I am soon riding north into the wind on a very pretty road, Sharps Creek Dirty-Kanza-200_062Road. I’ve used a panorama photo shot of Sharps Creek Road taken during last year’s race as the banner on this newsletter for the past few months. (Thank you Eric Benjamin and Adventure Monkey!) The blue sky, white clouds, and shadows from 2014 were spectacular. For now, though, there is no hot sun or blue or white as the north wind and gray are unrelenting. But I can look around at the scene, and, recognizing this cinema-quality panarama which I love, I imagine that I am riding through the photograph.

Just before noon, I roll with two others into Cottonwood Falls, the 56 mile point on the course and sole official sag stop. Again, the crowd and local sag crew are so damned nice and encouraging. . . .

Off the lawn chair, back on the bike, and onward. By mile 75, after a ten mile dead-straight northward stretch — grinding away at 8-10 mph into the wind — I am now sailing east and then south utterly alone in what seems like the middle of nowhere. Unlike earlier with hundreds slogging in the trenches, there is no one I can see in front of me or behind me. What a contrast. But I now have the wind mostly at my back all the way in. I have my Garmin computer giving me turn-by-turn directions. I have my trusty Salsa Warbird bike which has performed miracles all day long. I put my “motor” into a gear which keeps my heart humming at 135 bpm, and I speed towards Emporia.

Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-60-904x600I don’t see a soul until the final two miles coming into town. The street party on Main Street has started and the crowd cheers and cowbells ring me home down the final finishing stretch and chute. It is a great feeling and I’m feeling the love. I finish in just over 8.5 hrs. – 30 minutes faster than 2014 when conditions were much nicer. I am one happy guy.

I recover, wash my bike, shower, nap, and still catch the best of the street party that evening as most of the top 200-milers finish. I check in with teammates and friends. I breathe deep and take it all in – certainly enjoying a day well spent (and the beer and the endorphins).

Of the 1000 registrants in the 200 mile race, only about 400 finish before the 3 am cut-off.Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-41-902x600 The first 200 miler finisher is Yuri Hauswald, pictured below, who finishes in just over 12 hours. Only 330 of the 500 100-miler entrants finish. One of my two teammates doing the 200-miler breaks his rear derailleur in the mud trench at mile 13; the other suffers severe hypothermia and drops out at mile 76. They both vow to return. (Both had finished very high in the placings in 2014.) It is a trail of tears for many juxtaposed against the raucous but warm finish line scene.

Dirty-Kanza-200-2015-72-630x315

The photos included in this report were taken by Emporia resident Eric Benjamin of Adventure Monkey – www.adventuremonkey.com. I think he is a stupendous photographer. Thank you, again, Eric.

 

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A Ride for Any Hoosier Road

A big trend in the bike industry is designing bikes especially capable of flying up and down roads made of any surface – not just asphalt. Among other features, these rides are more ruggedly designed, incorporate slightly slacker angles for better straight-line handling and comfort, add more gear-packing options, and provide options for a wide variety of wheels and tires widths. A 40 mm wide tire is optimal for our local gravel.

In our Hoosier landscape, these bikes open up to you thousands of miles of quiet rural gravel roads and hundreds of miles of forest roads in the area of Brown County and the Hoosier National Forest. Add-in country doubletrack lanes, chip ‘n seal roads, canal paths, logging roads, and non-technical mountain and multi-use trails, and your possibilities for experiencing our State on a well-built gravel or all-road bike are endless.

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This past weekend, I experienced the benefit of this sort of bike and ride. I was able to take my beloved Salsa Warbird gravel bike from near Story, Indiana, and take to the road south on highway State Road 135. I planned a long and meandering ride in sunny, warm and windy conditions and wanted to get in some hills. Facing unexpectedly strong southerly winds, I soon opted to leave the asphalt valley and ride west up a set of gravel roads into the protection of the Hoosier National Forest. I rode quietly along swollen creeks, small farms and pastures, and then up into thick hardwood forest. It was great — only the crunch of my tires on the hard-packed gravel. I don’t think I saw a car all day on the gravel. At one point, a father and son in a 4-wheeler ATV came motoring slowly by me on a steep and long hill (even they were having trouble) and offered me a tow.

Deep into the forest, I sampled the Nebo Ridge mountain bike trail where it parallels the forest road for about a mile. The bike was light, tough, and fun on this bit of trail — and then I got back onto the gravel road. About this time, I saw another unknown gravel road shoot off to the right. I couldn’t resist taking it. It was gorgeous – generally downhill, following the flow of a creek as it gradually transitioned from hardwood forest, through an unusual and large tract of tall pines, and then into a set of small farms and weekend houses before spilling back onto asphalt down one final hill into what I quickly recognized as the town of Houston (pronounced How’sten).

It was a great day of solo riding and I was stoked for more. From Houston I meandered further south out of town on roads I’d ridden a time or two before. I ascended a long and steep road (known by cyclists as Mt. Baldy) back into the Hoosier National Forest up onto a high ridge with a solo blinking cell phone tower. I turned onto a narrow gravel road that took me rolling a number of miles along the top of the ridge to the lonely hamlet of Gorbetts and its church and cemetery. I then enjoyed a rollicking three mile descent on a new (to me) chip ‘n seal road into the small town of Freetown back on State Road 135. Here I slowed to tour the struggling 170 year-old town and found its busy little general store and gas station. I stopped and consumed a variety of junk calories and watched silently as a surprising number of others did the same as they came and went.IMG_2512

Only half by design, I was now at the southern most point of my route. I set sail home north on the two-lane SR 135 with the wind at my back. Indeed, I flew over the next thirteen miles to Story. I probably had only a dozen or so cars pass me on this stretch, but it seemed twelve too many. There was plenty of road for all of us, but frankly I missed the solitude of the gravel roads and forested hills rising gently off my left. Back to Story, I rode the final four miles on backroads to my finishing point, where our old basset hound welcomed me with his resounding and deep howl.

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