350 Racers, 200 miles of gravel and dirt (mud if it rains) roads, 99 Degrees, zero humidity, 30 mph winds, hail, lightning, unrelenting sun, rocks the size of a small childs head, open range cattle with fresh piles of natural fertilizer, self navigation, stream crossings, unsupported, and the occasional combine to play chicken with… yup its Dirty Kanza 200 time!
From lances perspective, talk to Barbie for her recap (as her view of the race will be quite a bit different)
After Alaska my recovery was going a bit slower than I wanted, due mainly to overuse injuries in my knees not the bones and was thinking that DK200 would end up the same way TransIowa did… I thought It might be fun to just ride DK200 to try to finish it and thought how about by tandem, that might be fun? Nobody had done it before and this was the first year an official tandem category was created, The DK route would not be tandem friendly (large loose rocks, long climbs, and long hours on the bike). I had asked a couple of stokers that I knew and between the reputation of DK200 race and myself I didn’t find any takers, so the mass email went out to prior DK200 racers (that got rid of the first issue, the second was gotten rid of by most of recipients not knowing about the risks that I take during a race), within about 2 hours of sending out the email I received about 30 responses from crazy unsuspecting racers wanting to give the tandem stoker position a try, only issue was most were WAY too big to comfortably fit on the back of Traci and my custom built VISCOUS 29’er tandem or they were recovering from a broken neck. The first eligible racer was Barbie Miller (Mesa Cycles). I had never met Barbie before but she fit the height requirements and she knew what she was getting in to (well at least with DK200 course). Later after a little research discovered that she is an endurance racing queen, so hum, this may be a fast race…
Our first meeting was when I arrived in Emporia the night before the race to setup the tandem (seat, bars, pedals, etc.). We got in a 30 minute ride with a couple intervals, then went to dinner to discuss strategies for the next day. Although Barbie was just getting over food poisoning from earlier in the week both of us felt we were in top shape for the race. The tandem had some fresh upgrades by Free Flight Bikes and was rolling smooth and WAY fast on a set of my favorite gravel weapons the Stan’s Crows. They were mounted to a new set of extra wide Flow rims laced to DT Ceramic Tandem Hubs… So, we decided that we would see how things play out early but would stay focused on a top 5 overall.
First leg to CP1
With the strong headwinds for the first leg of the race we decided it would be easy to keep out of trouble with the individual riders by simply riding at the front or off the front, but at a huge cost of effort. We tested the lead pack a couple times by upping the pace on the cross wind sections to see if we could thin the pack to a more reasonable size, but to no avail. It was obvious that everyone was motivated to put out that extra effort to protect themselves from the headwind. We decided to pace ourselves, back it off and do our time with caution in the larger pack and let the hills thin it out.
When the hills hit the amount of work required to climb a tandem with a pack of strong singles took a lot out of us. Nearing mile 30 mild cramps and maxed HR’s put us at the back of a quickly thinning lead pack, also the roads at this point were the classic DK200 loose rock and rutted ranch roads that were taking their revenge on the skinny tired bikes, we passed numerous top contenders who where stopping to fix flats. After numerous large hard hits at high speeds both our front and rear tires were flatting, however by this time the lead group was decimated and strung out over about a half mile. We rode the flat tires to a good spot and stopped. Quickly threw a CO2 in both tires and were off again only losing about 4 positions. This last section of the first leg was gently rolling and fast and with none of the lead riders working together we were able to get within a minute or two of 1st. About 2 miles before we reached CP2 our rear tire had again lost pressure, but we were close enough that we rode it flat to the CP to save time.
Second leg to CP2
Although we had a number of tasks to do at CP2 we stayed in 5th place and rolling into one of the easier sections of the race (long flat sections with tail winds) I knew with our over geared drive train and with as strong as we were riding that we’d catch the remaining riders in this section. Barbie and I put the hammer down and quickly had the first three riders in sight. Just as we were about to overtake 2nd and 3rd (Gunner and _______) place we rolled up on our next turn (according to the cue sheets), but this intersection was missing the course markings, adding to everyone’s confusion the first place rider went right on by this turn. After a couple of minutes of map review and convincing on my part the four of us made the correct decision and turned (finding course markings a couple intersections later reassured us that we were in fact on the right route). The pace settled a bit and discussions turned to family, favorite races, etc…
Third leg to CP3
Rolling out of CP3 the four of us rode at more of a weekend conversational pace for the first 20 minutes or so… Barbie and I slowly started lifting the pace with concern of being overtaken by chase riders. Although this leg of the race was primarily with the wind, the rising temps (nearly 98 degrees) and extremely low humidity had all the racers dropping fluids at alarming rates. Even with the copious amounts of fluids we took on at the last CP we were completely out with over an hour to ride. We had to back off to something that would get us to the last CP with enough life force to replenish and push on to the finish. Arriving at CP3, I was overheated, dehydrated and suffering from a very sick stomach. We had been pushing ourselves at a level that really wasn’t sustainable… Packed ice in our jersey’s, downed 3 bottles of water and rested for a good 15 minutes, it was time to get rolling again.
Last leg to Finish
One benefit of riding on a tandem is that you have two people to watch for turns and course markings, Barbie made me take a U turn as I rode right past our first turn. The start of this last leg of the course I experienced some of the worst cramps and stomach distress of the race to the point that I was dry heaving on the bike, had to stop and walk for a bit, but being in first place and the encouraging words (that's what i'll call them) from Barbie, gave me that extra little boost and I was able to pull it back together... after a couple of minutes we clipped down the road at a nice rhythm again. Our pace would yo-yo a bit but overall we continued to maintain our 17+ mph average. I hate to tell everyone about our experience with the freak thunderstorm that wrecked the B roads for most racers of DK200… as we were ahead of the storm, the result was 20+ mph tailwinds for the last 15 miles in addition to a wall of motivating lighting strikes finishing off DK200 with style at 20+ mph and a couple sections at 30 mph (don’t hate us).
Finishing the DK200 was reward enough, but Jim Cummings, his crew of DK200 and the entire city of Emporia rolled out the red carpet for one of the most energizing race finish lines this side of Leadville. They can truly be proud of what has been created with the DK200 race! Will love coming back to Emporia again and again.