Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dirty Kansa: Emporia to Cottonwood Falls

Sometimes, if nothing goes wrong there's not much of a story to tell. A story needs drama. It needs triumph and tragedy. Nothing went wrong for me at Dirty Kansa. I'll tell you the facts as I remember them (please correct me if I'm wrong and forgive my failure to remember names), but since there's not much drama in it , it may be boring.

Paul, Cory, and I had gone out to breakfast at 4:30am and were all well fed and ready to go. In spite of what Paul's pictures may show I was perfectly awake at the start. The weather was just about perfect. Warm but not hot and with some light cloud cover to keep the sun off. The wind was light out of the East and South and would continue like that all day, though wind speed would vary a lot. I was feeling okay. Not super confident, but not down either. There wasn't much nervousness at the start for me, although it looked like some others were very jumpy.

We started the roll-out at 6 and first light. Right away things were different than at TransIowa. The heavier tires I had selected for the conditions were slower to get up to speed and harder to keep there. I was with the front group (where I sort of wanted to be), but was having to put forth more effort to stay there than I would be able to sustain. It seemed like some people really wanted to push the pace, even before the pace car had pulled aside.

When we hit the gravel I knew almost immediately that this wasn't going to be like riding gravel in Iowa. The roads were narrower and had larger, looser gravel to contend with. I was happy to have my 42mm tires, but I knew they were more tiring as well. For a while I hung with the leaders, but after about 10 miles of rolling hills and rough gravel (sometimes there were chunks as big as a fist or larger in the road) I knew I couldn't keep up and I started riding my own pace.

At this point I started to implement my nutrition strategy for the race. Every 10 miles, I had decided, I would eat something. I had fig bars in my jersey pockets and gel packets as well. The first fig bar was tough to eat, as I was pushing to hard while trying to chew and breath at the same time. As I settled into my own pace though it got easier to efficiently stuff the bars down and not get out of breath.

Shortly after I was dropped, but still riding with a few stragglers I witnessed my first flat. The guy just behind me was riding along and all of a sudden "pssssh," his tube went. That got my attention. I started looking out for the rocks even more than before and hoped my heavy treaded tires would get me through. Soon after, I rolled past Cory while he was fixing a flat. I asked him if he needed anything and he said he was okay and I kept moving. This would be the first of 6 flats he was to have that day. I had thought that his tires would be good for the race, but I guess they were just too thin and lightweight. If I had thought that he would have had problems I would have suggested switching back to his older, thicker tires.

After about 25 miles a group formed with myself and three other riders. I don't clearly remember who they were, but I think that two of them were race organizers. I chatted with them a bit about the area and what I could expect later on in the course. Soon we arrived at the Northernmost part of the course a 6 mile stretch West with the wind. This was a pretty fast section and broke up our group. The guys I had been riding with sped up and left me in the dust. Soon I caught an older guy on a Salsa cross bike. He was riding strong and I remember thinking that he would be a finisher. He looked tough. I certainly hope that he made it, but I didn't catch his name so I don't know for sure. He seemed to be having trouble with some hills, but as soon as it flattened out again he dropped me. Once I settle into a rhythm I can't seem to push it any harder, especially on the flats, but then in a race like this, why should I?

When I hit the pavement nearing Council Grove at about mile 43 or so, I was able to speed up and I managed to catch Matt Wills, a single speed rider. Parts of this course were unfriendly to the SSers. There were a number of flat, paved sections where the gearies could make the most of it and the SSers had to sit and spin.

I rode straight through Council Grove and didn't stop. This was a calculated risk on my part. I had 40 miles left until the midway checkpoint at Cottonwood Falls and thought I had enough liquids left to get me there. I also knew that most riders would stop, rest, eat, and refill waterbottles. I figured that I'd gain at least 10 minutes on those who stopped. This was a race after all.

Just outside of Council Grove I caught a couple of guys on Trek mountain bikes with aerobars. I rode with them for a while, but as would happen many times in this race, they dropped me again. After a few miles we reached the first "B" road of the race. This was a very rocky, rutted, double track with a creek crossing. I just love riding sections like this on my Surly Crosscheck and it gave my legs a boost. I passed one guy and caught up with the two guys whom I think were race organizers, along with the guy on the Salsa cross bike. I rode with them for quite a while and they saved me from some stupid navigation errors. We wound through a river valley and passed by a few farms. At two of the farms people were out watching the race and had water jugs for us. We didn't need to refill and we kept riding (some others would make good use of these though). One of the farms we passed had a very sandy road in front of it. After a steep downhill we ploughed right into it and fought to keep control. I have quite a bit of sand (and snow which is similar) riding experience so I didn't have much trouble, but the Salsa crosser went down. We stopped to make sure he was okay and then kept moving. Soon after we came to some paved sections and when the rest of the guys stopped for a break with a couple of other riders already stopped I started to put some distance on them.

I crossed US 50 and rode through the town of Elmdale. Funny story: I've only been to Kansas (other than KC) once before. We drove through on our way to Santa Fe last spring. On our way back, late at night, we stopped in a little town, pulled off the road behind a berm in some farmers field and stealth camped. This little town happened to be Elmdale. Small world.

After Elmdale it was paved all the way to Cottonwood Falls. This didn't mean that it was easy though. There was a long, steep hill into the increasingly strong East wind. The sun had come out and was making things pretty miserable. As I cranked up the hill I saw up ahead of me a buzzard eating some roadkill along the side of the road. It made the perfect symbol for the ride.

I made it to Cottonwood Falls right at noon with an empty Camelbak and only an inch left in my waterbottle. Perfect timing.

That's all I have time for today. Second half of the race in tomorrows installment.


the recyclist said...

Look forward to the next installment.

Why did I get off the bike? Why did I get off the bike? Why did I get off the bike?...

Lesson learned here: no matter how mentally defeated you are, just keep riding or you'll regret it.

Paul said...

Great write up so far Matt!

Cory, I understand the hindsight is 20/20 business, but it will only make you more determined and strong the next time! Trust me on that. Remember how I was feeling after TI!

If I had know from the start that I was going to be within an hour of Matt I would have pushed the down hills a bit more instead of coasting along. I just might have been able to cut into that hour, but, then again, that coasting probably allowed me to go as fast as I did though too! I am not complaining. Finishing was good enough for me!

the recyclist said...

Things happen for a reason I guess. It's not my intention to carry on being negative, it's just my way of expressing my desire for the next opportunity.

Thanks to the both of you for a great time and a great ride. I don't know if the Endurosnob Epic is something I'm ready for, but it is knocking around upstairs. I plan on keeping on keeping on and we'll see if I feel it' s within my grasp closer to the day. I did attempt TI and it was longer, but less remote...hmmm.

I'm up for a weekend grind anytime.

Guillermo Garibay said...

I enjoyed your writeup of the Kansa ride. I was the older guy ( age 55) on the Salsa cross bike. The race for me ended around 80 miles into the race when my shifters went out after the earlier crash. I was stuck in the biggest cog in the rear and could only spin out. Good strategy on your part to not wait up when people took breaks. I was disappointed in not finishing but am now more determined than ever to finish strong next year. Guillermo Garibay of Pueblo, Colorado.