DK200 Done and Extremely Dusted!
I never thought I would consent to riding the Dirty Kanza. 206 miles of gravel, dirt, mud, water, and all the other things that I generally avoid at all costs. DK200 is really freaking hard. It's also totally worth giving it a go.
Will and I drove to Kansas on Thursday after work and arrived a little before the Friday morning group ride. We were both exhausted, my bike needed some love, and I knew I had a long day ahead. Everyone was getting ready to roll out and I wasn't sure I had it in me, but I threw on my shoes and helmet, and decided it was probably really good to spin my legs after sitting in a car for 16 hours.
It was great seeing everyone so excited about the big event. Talking about their bikes, looking back on DK200s past, doling out helpful tips and tricks on what to expect and how to deal with it. Everyone was absolutely glowing, and it was a wonderful environment to be around.
Side note: In all of the suffering that was to come, not once did I ever get a bad vibe from any of the other riders despite all of us being tired, hangry, and near the end of our capacity to deal. Maybe this isn't rare, but for me, it was notable. If you were gonna be aggro, this is one instance where I'd probably understand your reasons.
Anyhoo, the group ride was great, the expo was lovely, and I was also able to participate in a really rad panel of women for the #200women200miles initiative. It's my turn at around the 37:34 time mark.
After some ambassador obligations, last-minute purchase of shammy cream, and saying hello to all my frenz, I was wiped out and ready to rest up for the big day. We headed to the nearby fairgrounds and setup camp for the night. Camping with WIll and Emoji (we left the cats at home) will always be amongst one of my most favorite things to do. We were having trouble getting our stakes in the ground and a kind neighbor came over and hammered them in for us. I can't emphasize enough how great of a community this felt like. Emoji wandered around, greeted the other campers, and spread love and joy to everyone! A man in a red truck rolled around collected $20 for our stay, and told us to have a good night. So chill, I was into it.
Okay, on to the big day. I woke up to the wind trying to blow our tent away, that had me extra scurred but I was in it to finish. I got myself together and headed for the start. Upon arrival I learned that they were going to wait half an hour for the storm to pass. It started to rain a bit and the wind was whipping so I took shelter in a really cool tattoo shop until it was time to roll. The skies cleared up pretty quickly, so they staged us and sent us on our way.
The start was hilarious to me, it felt as angsty as any other bike race, folks were fighting for positioning, being a little more aggressive than I imagined was necessary for such a long event, but I went with it. My plan was to roll with the lead pack until it didn't make sense anymore, then ride at my own pace for the rest of the day.
Within the first few minutes I understood why we had kerchiefs, there was mud flying into my mouth, and I wasn't into it. I covered my face and kept it moving. We were MOVING, I knew I wasn't going to stay with the group for long, but it was definitely fun while it lasted. There was a pretty nasty crash, but I thankfully made it around. I held on until my chain dropped on a punchy climb and it took me a bit to get it back on.
The first leg was fairly uneventful beyond the mud and a cow running across the road. I made it to the first checkpoint, found the car, and sat down. It was at this point that I realized what I'd gotten myself into.
When I started the second leg, the boredom kicked in. I turned on a trivia podcast and that really helped to get my mind off the fact that was wasn't even a third of the way done. The second leg also brought on some interesting descents. The kind my momma would tell me to hop off my bike and walk down. Judging from some of the folks I saw nursing injuries on the side of the road, maybe I should have, but I didn't. I put my faith in my 38s and disc brakes (sounds like a Yeezy single) and went for it. There was only one downhill that had a cattle guard and a sharp left that didn't look like the move for me. Ayesha went straight and rolled right up onto the grassy hill. What I didn't notice was that I'd dropped a water bottle. No Bueno. I still had another bottle left, a can of coke, and less than 20 miles to the next stop, so I wasn't too worried about it.
I started a ritual of drinking a coke with exactly 13 miles to go to the next stop. Not sure why, it just felt like a good number. Just after I finished, a good wheel came whizzing by. I had a cola boost and decided to latch on. We formed a little group and the 13 miles whiddled down to 8 in no time. A little boy was running alongside to road yelling "lemonade and water ahead". I had to make the decision between refreshments and a good draft. I chose the draft. I made it to the second stop. I was halfway there.
The third leg was trash. Absolute, Grade A, hot, windy, hilly, stupid, garbage, trash. If I could punch a part of that ride in the throat, it would be the third leg. That felt like some hunger games, fight the power, lip sync for your life level nonsense.
I was rolling along and saw two grown ass men sprawled out on the side of the road and said to myself, "That's a great idea". I found myself a spot on the grass too. It felt amazing to sit down for a second. After a minute one of the men got up and wished us both luck and set off. I propped myself up and decided to get going as well. The other man said, "I'm done". I felt that. I also wanted to be done, but I wasn't done. Not even close.
I went on to stop a few more times. The final time I laid my bike on the ground, laid myself on the ground, closed my eyes, and immediately began to float in and out of sleep. As folks passed by they'd ask "Are you okay?", I told them I was fine. Others would ask, "giving up?", to which I would respond "not yet, just need a bit of a break". I didn't stay there long before I picked myself up and fought through the last twenty miles. I don't think I've ever moved so slowly, but I decided two things during that leg.
- There was no way in hell I was doing DK200 again.
- There was no way in hell I wasn't finishing this ride because there was no way in hell I was coming back to try another time.
With 13 miles to the next checkpoint I drank my coke for a little boost. With about 10 miles to the next checkpoint, there was a family handing out cokes and water on the side of the road. I took one of each. SUPER BOOST. I'm sure my insides were basically a gaping hole at this point from all of the coca colas, but I'll be damned if caffeine isn't one hell of a boost, and I was just trying to get by.
Just after my second can of coke in 3 miles, a film crew showed up. I laughed inside knowing if only they'd seen me laying on the side of the road not too long ago it would be entirely different footage (Black Jesus Saves). At this moment, I looked like a bawse. I was feeling myself (I was actually feeling that caffeine), and it felt like I was flying. In reality, I was probably going about 10 miles per hour, but by comparison, you couldn't tell me I wasn't going fast. lol
I made it to the third and final checkpoint, b-lined for the SRAM tent, and asked for a Mexicoke. Yes, I had another coca cola, but this one was made with pure cane sugar instead of corn syrup.
I was determined to finish this ride, but there was one thing in my way. I didn't have a headlamp. My dinky little light wasn't going to be enough to get the job done. Luckily, the SRAM folks hooked me up!
I had a headlamp, I was filled with caffeine, and there were 45 miles to go! I just so happened to take off at the same time as Austin McClain. He's the partner of one of the rad black women I've met through my Do Better Together virtual ride series! She was there as his support so it was great to meet her as well. I'd been navigating using paper cue sheets since my garmin decided it didn't want to guide me past the second leg. With the sun rapidly setting, the paper cue sheets were getting harder and harder to read. Luckily Austin's computer was cooperating. He seemed fine sticking together, and I was thrilled.
We were moving at a nice steady pace, jumping in and out of different groups, but always moving forward. I mentioned wanting to get to the Salsa Chaise before the sunset if possible. We didn't think we would make it, but agreed it was worth making as much time in the sunlight as possible regardless.
It was getting darker, my vision was compromised, and while trying to ascend a punchy weird rock climb thing, I tipped over like a cow. I was unable to unclip since my the mud made my pedals and cleats morphed into one. So down I went, slowly, while saying "I'm okay." Austin stopped and waited for me. I got up and we kept going. No real injuries, just a few extremely minor scrapes on my leg that I didn't even notice until I showered.
We made it to the chaise with the last inkling of sunlight on the horizon. It was absolutely beautiful. The Salsa crew was really great, and I got a kick out of Austin's creative posing.
With the sun gone, and 26 miles to go, we turned on our lights and kept rolling. As per my ritual with 13 miles to go I requested a quick stop so I could down my final coca cola of the day. I was also experiencing quite a bit of butt discomfort at this point, so I re-upped on the shammy cream.
The miles slowly but surely began to shrink, we were 3 miles out and it felt so close yet still so far! I moved to the front to take a pull and started singing children's songs to pass the time, Music teachers gonna music... Father Abraham and his many sons (this was my jam in Sunday school as a kid) got me through one mile, the hokey pokey got me through another. One mile to go and we were firmly on the asphalt. There was a beacon of light coming from the finish. We climbed one final hill and descended into glory. MY GOD.
The number one question I've been asked is "Did you have fun" to which I immediately respond. "NO". But that being said, I don't regret showing up as I think it was just what I needed. There were fun parts during, and I've acknowledged even more type two fun moments since. But overall, endurance gravel racing isn't for me. I think at most I'll do 100-ish miles, but after that point, count me out.
Someone asked me how many black folks I saw out there riding. The answer is one. And I knew him. That means if there were more, they were so scarce that I didn't encounter them. There were a few more people of color, but not that many.
If you're thinking of doing the DK200, my advice is, go for it. If you're already considering it, you're crazy enough to give it a go. It was fun in the "I can't believe I'm doing this" sort of way. I never imagined I would be knee deep in anybody's river crossing, and yet there I was. This ride took me way out of my comfort zone, and I'm a better person and a better cyclist because of it.
Thanks so much to everyone who planted the seed. To Sam Scipio for leading the way, to Cannondale and SRAM for the endless support, to Lake cycling for giving me shoes that I never even thought about once during the ride because they were that dang comfortable. To the Dirty Kanza organizers, and the #200women200miles initiative for creating space. To everyone who let me grab a wheel, or shared kind words before during or after the ride.
And most importantly, to my husband William, and my dog Emoji for feeding me, reapplying sunscreen and Topical edge at every stop, greeting me with smiles, encouragement, and disbelief and even moreso belief. I appreciate you more than I'll ever be able to express. And I promise the next adventure, while it might be just as crazy, it won't be this one. I'm passing to torch to the next one. =)