Thursday, August 30, 2018

Grit Gravel Grind - El Dorado, KS

This is the story of a short trip up to Kansas for a new gravel event called Grit Gravel Grind. Coordinated by the Timer Guys (historically a running and triathlon event production company), this race was based out of El Dorado State Park in El Dorado, Kansas. That's just slightly south and west of Dirty Kanza territory for those familiar with the Flint Hills region.

We drove from Oklahoma to El Dorado on Friday evening after securing a few last minute essentials (kombucha, potato chips, and a new Spur Cycles bell 😂) and set up camp in a section of the park just around the corner from where rider check-in would be in the morning. Despite temps in the 80s on paper, the humidity and bugs turned our two-person tent into somewhat of a sauna. The 5am alarm also turned out not to be super necessary, as a (fortunately brief) thunder and lightning storm cropped up right around then.

After much forgetting-of-things we were (mostly) in business with bikes, gear, and fuel. I was loaded up with a Camelbak and two liter-sized bottles of water and Sword drink mix. There were a whopping 8 or so water tables throughout the course, but I prefer to stop less frequently and to self-support as much as possible. Plus, strength training. A curious number of TT bikes and folks in swimsuits were wandering around the packet pickup parking lot...turns out there was also a triathlon happening in the park on the same day. After a very brief identity crisis I headed in the direction of the gravel roads :) For the record, swimsuit and running shoes were both in the car though.

There was a refreshing mix of folks on the start line, likely due in part to a variety of distances for the day - 25, 50, 75, or 100 miles. Or 103 miles including an optional detour to Teter Rock for beer by the local Walnut River Brewing Co. After a horn or a gun or a bell or something, we rolled out onto the first few miles of pavement within the State Park.
Photo credit Scott Drevicky

A couple miles out of the park and we were already on gravel. The crunch under my Vittoria Tereno's felt good. They're heavy-ish, but Flint Hills bomb-proof. One long gravel road took us directly east of El Dorado for the first 10-ish miles before the course turned north. The morning rain had left a few tacky spots but nothing overtly flooded, and after all of the Iowa dust I inhaled 3 weeks ago, I was perfectly happy for some tamped-down roads. As per usual, I spent the first 25 miles waiting for my legs to remember how to ride. Coming straight off a week of ICU nights likely didn't do me any favors, but some quiet Kansas gravel and flint was the best medicine.

A short section of those first ten miles was "blocked off" by a road detour sign. The major obstacle seemed to be a rutted-out area, which my Salsa Cutthroat with 42mm tires could easily tackle. It ended up being an emergency-stop, however, when a woman crashed directly in front of a group of six or so of us (she was fine, and a pile-up was somehow avoided).

This was just a blip in an otherwise peaceful morning of riding. The Flint Hills were showing off with full summer greenery, open plains, rolling valleys, and scattered free-range cattle.

Photo credit Scott Drevicky
The Cutthroat tackled a winding, flint-laced double track descent with aplomb, reminiscent of the best parts of the Dirty Kanza course.  The legs came alive and we sped into mile 25, where the field thinned out even more as the 50 milers made their turn-around.

Photo credit Scott Drevicky
The beautiful scenery kept coming in the next 25 miles, and we were treated to a mix of hard-pack, dirt, and some loose new chunky gravel, with a few pretty good sections of rollers thrown in. At mile 48, the turn for Teter Rock was marked with two signs: "←Beer" and "No Beer→". I stopped briefly here and contemplated my desire to see Teter and ride a few extra miles versus the unlikelihood of celiac-friendly beer. I ended up riding briefly in the direction of Teter and then turning back to the rest of the course. My partner in crime made the trip out, took this super cool bicycle-against-a-rock photo, and said the beer was A+. I'm putting in a request for bourbon next year.
Photo (and bike) credit Scott Drevicky
Which brings us to roughly the halfway point, and a water table at mile 51. I stopped to refill Camelbak and bottles having burnt through about 4 liters of fluids in the heat already, and made a right-hand turn. The back half of the course would take us south and west back to El Dorado. Straight into the south wind. WHOOMPH. That's the sound/feeling of getting smacked in the face with sustained winds in the 20s. After a sub-3 hour first 50, the second 50 looked like it would be much slower.

After about 10 miles of fighting the wind, my brain figured out that this was not going to stop, and it was time to embrace the suck. There is something to sitting with the suffering, pedaling and pedaling as you edge your way forward and fight not to blow over in crosswind gusts, that is strangely calming. Maybe this is just me, though. Around mile 65 I finally spotted another human being - a gentleman with a rad beard who was suffering mightily, and I was at least able to offer him a pull for a few miles. 

Not long after I found the wheel of a strong Chamois Butter rider who was catching up after making the beer stop at Teter Rock. We stopped at a manned aid station 25 miles out for some watermelon and liquids. The remainder of the route would be the same as the opening 25 miles, but in reverse. I headed back out alone to tackle my favorite stretch of rocky flint, but this time uphill and into the wind. It was one of the most rewarding and scenic and slowest long climbs I've done...wish I had pictures. With 15 miles to go I popped back out onto the pavement in least favorite stretch. Being on a big paved road with a strong head/crosswind that blows you around and makes it difficult to hear traffic led to a lot of neurotic over-the-shoulder checking for cars. This was fortunately a low-traffic road, despite its highway-like appearance, and only one vehicle passed me the entire few miles. My new Chamois Butter friend also opportunely caught me again here, and we rolled in and out of Rosalia together and back onto the gravel for the partially-sheltered last 12 miles in. We passed a church that is a frequent stopping point for riders on the Trans Am route, and briefly kept the company of a swarm of dragonflies, which I learned were migrating for the summer. I had been smacked in the face by quite a few of those suckers on the route out, and had wondered what the heck those buggers were up to. Some good company and conversation helped the remaining miles fly by, and we made the last turn back into El Dorado park. Turns out we were a little too busy chatting about nerdy science things, former running careers, tales of Dirty Kanza past, and gut microbiomes (totally normal end-of-race conversation), as we managed to completely miss the turn into the finish line. One last bonus mile ride through the state park, back out onto the course, and then into the finish chute!
Photo credit TimerGuys
 Garmin had just enough juice in it to inform me of my 7:05 moving time. Wind added on a good hour and ten to the second half relative to the first, and my legs were the most toasted they'd been from a century in a good while. Pleasantly smoked is a good way to describe it. As in, just enough left to wander around aimlessly eating potato chips and wondering where the boy was because I wanted the car keys. We were handed finisher medals (a sign of TimerGuys' triathlon/running roots???)  and pointed towards the food. There were a handful of 75 milers and a good deal of 100 milers still out on course, and as riders trickled in, people congregated under the pavilion for pancakes, beer, and gravel stories (apparently I missed a family of raccoons somewhere around mile 45. But at least I managed to not run over any tiny rattlers this time.) I managed to peel my butt off a bench for the attractive photo below. Overall category winners were gifted a photo of the course, we think somewhere between miles 30 and 40. The whole route was spot-on, so this was a nice touch from this first year event (and check out that sweet teal City Cycles jersey!) 

Photo credit TimerGuys

Monday, August 27, 2018

Top Wellness Apps for...Anyone

I was recently asked to write up a run-down of some of the best wellness-related apps for ER docs. But really, this list applies to EVERYONE, and I thought it would be worth sharing here. While unplugging may often be the best medicine, tech tools definitely have a place in regular daily life, and can also provide a source of accountability and motivation. Or, you know, just make work and sleep more pleasant.

Cost: Basic meditations are free; full app for $12.99/month or $4.99/month yearly (keep an eye out
for promotional offers that will often get it down to $40/year.)

Time: 1 – 30 minutes

What it does: When you open the app, you’re greeted by a soothing sound that you can select – fire crackling, rain falling, crickets, etc. Inside you’ll find an extensive library of programs to target different goals (7 days of Calm, 7 days of Gratitude, Calming Anxiety, Breaking Habits, Mindfulness at Work – and much more), as well as a Daily Calm exercise that pops up on the welcome screen when you open the app (this is especially nice as it takes the decision-making burden off of you if you’re unsure what to select). Also on the home screen: featured Sleep Stories (there’s also a full library of Sleep Stories within the app). These are exactly what they sound like – a celebrity reading a story intended to lull you to sleep. The free meditations are the basic ones – Body Scan, Breath-focused, Loving Kindness, Forgiveness - and you can choose versions as short as 1 minute and as long as 30 minutes of each of these.

Cost: Free 10 day trial, $7.99/month yearly or $12.99/month monthly

Time: 10, 15, or 20 minutes

What it does: Headspace starts you off with a 10 day series that serves as an “introduction to mindfulness.” From there, with the full app, you are encouraged to complete the “Basics” pack of meditations, but can also choose from any of the packs available for further practice – packs target big things like Anxiety, Focus, Sleep, Acceptance. There are also “singles” – one-offs for specific situations, such as “Burned Out”, “End of Day”, “Interviews”, “Fear of Flying”, and even “Housework.”

Cost: 20 different free meditations available; $5.83/month yearly or $9.99/month monthly

Time: 11 minutes or less

What it does: Stop, Breathe & Think is unique in that it guides you through first checking in with your emotions – and then recommends exercises based on what you need now. You can also choose your length of time & voice, set a meditation timer or listen to themed exercises (Be Kind, Breathe, etc.) A progress page keeps track of your consecutive days of meditation & gives you different reward badges for motivation. For the skeptics, it will also walk you through the neuroscience of mindfulness & stress physiology.

Cost: Free

What it does: Struggle with sleep and circadian rhythms? Stop what you’re doing and put this on your
desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone. F.lux is a nifty little program – tell it what time zone you’re in, and it adjusts the color of your screens to the time of day. Warm at night, bright daylight in the morning. Blue light (emitted by screens, among other things) keeps your pineal gland from producing melatonin – fine for that morning shift, not so fine when you’re about to go home at midnight to get some sleep. It runs automatically in the background, but you can also self-adjust it or temporarily turn it off (say, if you’re on night shift, or doing color-sensitive work on your laptop).

Cost: Free

What it does: This one is a hidden gem. Download the app or simply go to Noisli lets you custom-mix different sounds to help you focus or de-stress – you can simply click a button for “productivity” or “relaxation”, and adjust the levels of rain, thunderstorms, wind, ocean, fire, coffee shop, railroad, and white noise to your heart’s content.  

Friday, August 17, 2018

24 Hours of Cumming, 2018

(cross-posted on Gravel Cyclist)

To start off, here are the alternate names that I would like Steve Cannon to consider for this event in 2019:
        24 Hours of Type 2 Fun     
        24 Hours of Type 2 Fun and Let's Be Real Maybe Some Type 3 Fun
        24 Hours of Hills and all the Hills and just when you thought they were done More Hills
        21 Hours of Cumming and 3 Hours of Dry Heaving
        24 Hours of I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Now that that's out of the way, the (current, real) name alone should be enough to capture your attention. There is, in fact, a Cumming, Iowa, and it's a pretty fantastic little place. Mostly because of something called the Cumming Tap, which contains all the ingredients for happiness: bicycles and booze. But also Gatorade on tap, good people, and the Great Western Trail literally in its back yard.

After a work-dazed drive (including an unintentional detour through Arkansas whilst preoccupied with a podcast on treating disseminated intravascular coagulation in the ICU - you know, normal things), I arrived in Cumming, Iowa on Friday evening just in time to grab my number plate, socks, and trucker hat. It took me way too long to choose among pink, orange, or neon yellow hats. I mean, take a look at these hats. They're pretty great hats. After an overly drawn out decision making period that included a complete mental cataloging of possible coordination with all bikes, kits, and socks that I own and employing linear algebra and multivariate calculus to create an advanced hat choosing algorithm, I went with pink because it made me happy.

Cumming Tap was filled with cyclist types inside and out (where the grill was fired up). Packet pickup concluded with the ceremonial raffling off of a table full of stuff from sponsors...two custom saddles, Bike Iowa gear, socks and hats, Squirt bike cleaner, tales of Steve Cannon's epic adventures, and probably more that I'm forgetting. I finally peeled myself away to figure out where I was supposed to set up camp. Just a few blocks North there was a large camping area, or you could walk across the street and camp near a beautiful big house just off the bike trail, as the owners were out of town and had offered up their lawn as camping territory.

Iowa is good people.
The view from campsite.

I woke up in time to hear but not see the 100k and 200k riders start at 8am. The 400k (relay and solo) were slated for an 11am kickoff. Cutoff time 11am Sunday morning. Hence, "24 Hours of Cumming."

It turns out I needed all 3 hours to hack together my setup, which included:

(1) Putting batteries (secured at Walmart on the drive up) into my tail light and electrical taping them in place because I forgot the back cover of said tail light.
(2) Securing my headlamp to my helmet with pipe cleaners because I also did not have my helmet mount.
(3) Trying to figure out which lights and batteries out of the box of lights and batteries I borrowed from two friends just prior to driving up would (a) fit on my bike securely and (b) looked like they would run for the appropriate amount of time.
(4) Realizing I forgot the pickles
(5) Falling over myself getting to the jar of pickle juice when the gentleman behind the grill said "does anyone want the rest of this jar of pickles" about 20 minutes later.

So yes, my life currently lends itself toward the ultimate in preparedness.

Leg 1: 61.9 miles, 3062 feet.

So a bit before 11am, all 400k and 400k relay (2 or 4 person teams) riders lined up outside Cumming Tap. Someone said go and off we went. After 18 feet of pavement (yes, I googled how wide your standard road is), we were on gravel. Dry, dusty gravel of the hardpack and pea-sized variety. I stuck to the only plan I had, which was to let the relays and super speedsters take off and do their thing, because riding conservatively early on is the only way you make it through a very hilly 400k.

Notable items along the way: barns, hills, washboard, cows, hills, dust, wind, a nice gentleman on the side of his lawn with bottles of water, giant dust clouds behind any passing vehicle (of which there were mercifully few), hills, more wind, and three people walking hills or just straight-up bonking already in the last 10 miles.

Back at Cumming Tap, I found my support area, which is fancy nomenclature for "my cooler and a bunch of other stuff I thought I might want/need in a haphazard pile on the ground". I ate a peanut butter sandwich and grabbed replacement bottles. Despite the fact that I would've run dry on 2 big bottles and a soft flask in the first leg were it not for some surprise on-course benevolence, I still did not opt to put on the Camelbak. Dramatic foreshadowing: this comes back to bite me in the arse. Gravel City superstar Adam Blake kindly wiped down my extremely dusty drivetrain for me, and off I went again.

Leg 2: 63 miles, 2872 feet

Leg 2 started out fine. Despite the fact that the GPS files say there's less elevation, it felt like more in this lap. There was a bit more pavement which was a welcome relief from some of the washboard and deeper loose nonsense, but also, you know, pavement. I spun the hills as best I could, but I'm a masher at heart (spin coaching needed, anybody??) The wind and dust kept up, and it warmed up a bit. I realized I was running low on fluids. I realized half my soft flask leaked out in my back pocket because I've made it to my 30's without properly learning how to screw on tops, apparently. I started hoarding water and eventually ran dry in the last 15 miles. I passed two people finishing the 200k race that had started earlier in the morning...props to them. I dry-lung hacked my way back into Cumming Tap, where I told several people that I needed to drink about a gallon of water, the Mohn's (of Mohn Standard) brought me a chair, and I called my smarter half to tell him that I was still alive but only sort of. He said helpful things like "well you usually don't feel good until mile 160, so, you know, reevaluate in 40 miles." I did some thinking out loud while wandering around aimlessly, at which point Steve Cannon gave me a hug and directed me towards the fluids. All the fluids.

And oh, there was a GIANT PARTY going on all around me. It was fun. A lot of people called it quits at this point. Apparently I had been far from alone in running dry and getting into a big hydration hole. When there is a live band and beer and barbecue and all of your gravel friends are just a little bit drunk the temptation to join them is for real. It does help if those same rambunctious friends and cheering at you to get your butt back on the road. After a bit of a gummy bear massacre and another drive train dust-extraction courtesy of Gravel City, I turned my lights on and headed out on lap 3.

Leg 3: 61.5 miles, 3202 feet

So now it was dark. I had a battery-pack powered bright headlight on my bars which I had borrowed from a friend, as my usual Urban800 is now down to a 1 hour run time on low. And of course, there was the pipe cleaner-secured headlamp on my helmet. I made it about a mile down the road and the headlight switched itself off. I stopped and checked all of the connections, poked a button, and it switched back on. I rode through another few feet of washboard, and it switched off. I turned halfway around thinking that I should maybe go back and grab a different light. I fiddled with it some more, tried to wedge the cable connection inside my top tube bag in a secure position, and went on. It stayed on for a good long stretch this time, but every time I would hit a big bump, it turned itself off. I don't necessarily recommend this style of night riding, but it does keep you on your toes. I also have now gained valuable skills at coming to a screeching halt on gravel in pitch-black darkness. This was one of the many beautiful things about rural Iowa...there was no light pollution most of the way, and with the moon behind the clouds, it was truly...dark.

Other than the headlight-associated paranoia and the occasional patch of sketchy loose gravel that you couldn't always see until you were in it, it really was pleasant, peaceful, quiet night riding. Briefly interrupted at one point when I convinced myself I must have loaded the wrong loop into my GPS as the directions it was giving me overlapped with what I remembered from loop 2. Those who know me know I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so I stopped to double check myself. As a general note on directions here, whether intentional or not, the overlapping of roads and routes at 24 Hours of Cumming can create the kind of mind-$%!$ that your average masochist (say, one who signs up for 400k of Iowa gravel in the first place) love-hates. I must have gone through the same 4-way gravel road intersection in all 4 directions in various permutations enough times to think I was losing my marbles (note: prob 90% of all 4 loops was unique. It was the perfect balance of sight-seeing and madness-creating, in this writer's twisted opinion). There were other nice touches of  course-creator sadism, such as having us go partway down Road X, turn and ride another 20 miles out to who-knows-where, all to then find oneself riding back past what we can presume to be the other end of Road X, but now feeling even more death-like, prompting thoughts such as "#&$*% all this time I could've just ridden straight down that #%^& road."

Anyways. So here I was, cruising along in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, when my end-of-lap-2 dehydration caught up to me in a big way in the form of nausea. Nausea that at first you can force yourself to keep eating and drinking through, and then you stop eating, and then eventually you stop drinking, and then you realize you done effed up big time.

The good news was that I was wide awake. I am well-practiced at awakeness at all hours thanks to my real-life vocation. In my nauseated but wide awake state, I had been keeping a close eye on my mileage. We had been warned of a tire-grabbing wooden slat bridge with a reputation for breaking collarbones at mile 31.7 of loop 3 (or mile 156, for me). It was at the bottom of a descent, and I rolled up to it slowly, riding my brakes. By now my brain had dubbed it "The Bridge of Doom" in my head.

"That looks like something you could ride across!" says my delusional brain.
"Self, listen to Steve, get off and walk, you don't know up from down right now," said the few logical brain cells left in my head.
And I was glad I did because yes, 40mm tires fit PERFECTLY in between those slats, and I like my clavicles in one piece.

I was, thankfully, moving a little faster, having acquired some electrical tape from a passing relayer to try to make my cable-battery connection a bit more secure (the first of only two other riders I saw on loop 3, both relayers, the entire time I spent out on loop 3. And it was a very long time.) The tape was sort of working, as in it only went pitch-black every 5 miles instead of every 5 minutes.

And THEN, the second midnight miracle happened. I found a friend. In the dark when you're hurting and dry-heaving and you find another cyclist, they're automatically your friend. I'm sure this is written in a rule book somewhere. If not, then it should be. You're probably imagining some magical happy moment between two people who love bicycles right now, so let me recap how it actually went down.

I see two reflective stripes in the distance. On a hill, because everything is either up or downhill. I eventually reach the reflective stripe and realize it's a person standing next to his bicycle. "You good?" I say. "yeah, done, waiting on a ride," he says. And I nod and ride on. I do spend some time thinking that a ride sounds nice.

10 minutes later this rider catches up to me. Apparently I was "motivating." Right now pretty much the only thing I'm motivated for is not puking. But boy is it nice to have a partner in death-slogging your way to the end. We stopped for sips of liquids. We stopped for re-attaching wayward lights. We stopped for general yelling at the universe. I started having cold sweats and was pretty sure I was going to need to be done after this lap and I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. About 2 miles from the finish of loop 3 we started hauling, and crossed the road into Cumming Tap to cheers and showers of glitter. By which I mean about 10 people who were still awake and keeping things running.

My bicycle and I lay down in the grass. I talked a bunch of nonsense to whomever would listen about IV fluids, magnesium, and thiamine. None of those things materialized, but chicken broth did. I told Steve I was probably done since I hadn't managed to eat or drink for the past few hours of riding. I made it through 5 small cups of chicken broth and sat up about an hour later. I wobbled over to the fire, since I was still getting chills. It was now around 5am. I drank more chicken broth and weighed pros and cons of trying to ride more with my new best still-awake, fire-sitting friends. 2 hours had passed. I ate a whole bag of potato chips and poured the rest of that quart of chicken broth into one of my water bottles. And then I just picked my bike up and rolled out.

Lap 4-ish: 30 miles

Why? Who the heck knows. Because I wanted to see what would happen, mostly.

I was semi-functional. It was 6:30am, and I knew I probably wouldn't ride the whole loop, but why not go ride some more. I wanted to see what the rest of the course looked like. About 5 miles out, dark clouds appeared overhead and it spat some rain. I checked the weather on my phone just to make sure I wasn't riding into a tornado or something. The rain felt nice and I pulled my jacket and hat off. The showers cleared quickly and I found myself in some of the prettiest scenery of the last 20 hours. 25 miles in I was ready to finish my ride. Nausea and chills were coming back, and I felt satisfied. When you're sure that there's nothing left, there's nothing to be disappointed about. I pedaled up two more big hills for good measure, mostly because there were some pretty purple and yellow sunflowers lining either side of the road, and then hopped on the Great Western Trail back home.

220 miles and 21 hours (actual moving time, 18 hours) later, I was back at Cumming Tap. My early morning friends were mostly still there. Some were off napping. Others were having breakfast on the Tap's back patio. I laid back down on the ground. I considered rolling down the hill to my car, but there was a gate in the way. One super nice person put my bike and stuff away for me. I had mostly transcended the tired point, but a 6 hour drive home did not sound like a smart immediate plan. I contemplated various existential questions. Who am I, where am I, what am I doing (a: happily empty version of my normal self; b: surrounded by the best people and things; c: who the $%#^ knows, don't care). After the appropriate amount of ground-lying, I got up and baby-wiped at least the top layer or two of dirt and dust off of me, changed, and took the Cumming Tap folks up on their offer of a futon nap.

Thus concludes my 24 Hours of Cumming experience. The vibe, the people, and the challenging course & conditions make this race a unique experience amidst the sea of gravel grinders out there now. My only regret is not getting an I 💜 Cumming shirt while I was there. But something tells me I'll be back.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sub-48'er: Bikepacking Oklahoma, Keith's Bike Fort Edition

It's kind of a crime that it took 4 months from the time I built up a more capable bikepacking bike to actually go bikepacking again. But such is life. 

Two golden consecutive days off in early July led to the Cutthroat's maiden loaded down voyage (discounting Trans Iowa, which was partially loaded down). My partner in crime also loaded up his Cutty and we headed out my front door, bound for Perkins Oklahoma, via Stillwater. There were 25ish miles of pavement getting out of town, and then back roads gravel. It's interesting to watch the terrain change from suburbia to oil fields to random sand pits to country roads.

We hit two convenience stores to resupply water and eat things. I'm having a love affair with Huppy Bars on long rides and trips currently, and sometimes I even share.

I got by with extra clothes in this neat-o Oveja Negra fork bag, tent & sleeping pad & stuff in a big Oveja Negra seat pack, 3 bottles on the frame, matchy top tube bag for food and tools, Wanderlust front pack for more food and other random things.

It's July. It's Oklahoma. It was hot. We did ok until hitting the last 15 mile stretch before downtown Stilly, when Scott got ahead of me in some deep new gravel thanks to his 2.1 inch tires. When I caught up to him, he was lying on the side of the road yelling at the clouds to move into a useful position, as they were "WAY OVER THERE". This was not effective. 

We spent some quality time cooling off and socializing at District Bicycles, and then ate our combined body weight in tacos at Thai Loco.

We departed for the (now much cooler, with cooperative clouds) 15 mile roll South to Perkins. Destination: Keith's Bike Fort. Local cycling celebrity Keith Reed has built up quite the place for 2-wheeled passers by. I would probably ride across the country just to go to Keith's Bike Fort. There's a fixed-up large shed with room for bikes and people, your choice of tent camping, futon, or outside swinging bed, fridge stocked with beer, and most recently an above ground pool (floating in a swimming pool in the evening after a hot 103 miles never felt so good). Also Spud. Spud is a senior weiner dog living the good life. He loves bikes too. 

I was kinda ready to move in and be roommates with Spud forever and ever, but we packed back up and headed out on our return trip the next morning. We took a different route back, featuring the best of Stillwater South gravel. Namely Brethren Hill. My sole mission in life right then was to make it up this 17% stupid slippery behemoth on a packed Cutty. It was a successful mission. Plus I got to stand at the summit for a few minutes and heckle my better half.

The rest of the ride stayed south of Highway 51 and was a slow pickle juice and ice sock-filled slog through the heat of the day. We rolled back home in the early evening and after some quality time lying on the floor before going in search of All The Food.

Soooo Cutty adventure round 1 was a success. Hopefully there are some longer trips in the not too terribly distant future. More loaded riding needs to happen. Extra thanks to Keith Reed for creating the world's best glamping bicycle destination, and to Huppy Bar for throwing some real food bike fuel our way!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Dirty Kanza 2018: The Wind & Bonk Year

A much-belated DK200 2018 reflection...

Returning to Dirty Kanza as a veteran this year...yeah. Last year I was just focused on finishing and then putting my best foot forward. I had my bike prepped well in advance with carefully selected equipment and a plan. It all executed nearly flawlessly. This year I was just happy to have the day off work, wiped my bike down with a damp rag the day before, looked at my tires and shrugged my shoulders. After all, it's just riding a bike. When it comes down to it you just have to keep pedaling. Riding has always been therapy, and after a year of  constant circadian rhythm flips and generally getting my butt kicked every day at work for 14 hour stretches...riding is therapy. And gravel family is ever more important.

Mi madre came up again to run support crew, backed up by the District Bicycles hooligans who have gradually become my extended local bicycle family over the past year. She kindly shuttled my tired butt up to Emporia and into a hotel. I located the pickles in the car and acquired some hotel fruit, complete with inspiring DK-related messages.
We awoke the next morning to a big storm. The wind was whipping every which way as we made out way back to downtown Emporia. Rain on the start line resulted in a 30 minute delay...rare in the gravel world.

Leg 1 flat(ish) and fast(ish). It was just slightly messy from the rain. There was some confusion around a detour. I just wanted to enjoy my ride today. I rode comfortably fast. Comfortably fast feels great. I stopped about 20 miles in to take off the rain jacket that I kept on at the start because I was a weenie. I was sweating bullets in it by this point thanks to the humidity. No bueno. Despite that it's all good at this point still, comfortably fast. All the interesting stuff comes later...
Early miles. Rain coat of death by humidity still on. Neat pic.

Stillwater Crew signpost at Checkpoint 1. Just slightly more statuesque than Mr. Toucan.
Leg 2

Leg 2 was again not bad. It was harder than leg 1 but I knew that from last year, and most of my brain cells were still functioning. Steady, not too fast. The wind is coming after this leg. I like the spread out parts of gravel races, and it takes DK a long time to spread out just due to sheer volume of riders. This was more my jam. The parts that stand out...the hills. Not so much the going up. The coming down. It was sketchier than I remember. Even on a drop bar mountain bike, it was super sketchy. I bottomed out at one point, lost some air in my back wheel but sealed. Held on for dear life while also trying to not hold on for dear life so my bike could do its thing, namely Stay Upright. There were apparently some bad wrecks, but they must have all been behind me.
Checkpoint 2: Minor downhill-induced bike maintenance. Food. Water. Out.

Leg 3
Gonna be honest, don't really remember what happened early on in leg 3. I think it was windy but doable still. The brain kicks in again around the low water crossing. Wading through the water felt so good. I pulled one guy on a fat bike who insisted I was riding way stronger than him. Whatever. Then I accumulated an XY chromosome train behind me for about 5 miles before shaming them into taking pulls in the wind. Seriously, are y'all going to let the 110lb woman pull all day?
I mostly remember the part where it got super windy, which wasn't that much later. It got super windy. And exposure-y. Low 90s, direct sun, 30mph headwind. Mucho struggle. Despite moving around 8mph, I passed a lot of people. A lot of those people were lying in ditches. Ditch napping or giving up or both. My stomach wanted nothing to do with heat or wind or drink mix. I dumped my drink mix and refilled with plain water when I passed a farmer camped out on his front lawn with a water spigot for riders. A familiar face with an Aussie accent whizzed by me, Jayson Mahoney (of He was feeling good and it boosted my spirits some, although I had no idea how he was moving that fast in the wind. A handful of miles later, I found him again, standing on the corner at a top of a hill, having a moment. We rode together for another handful of miles, during which I got pretty loopy and distracted myself by waving and making faces at his GoPro camera. Unfortunately loopy eventually turns to bonky. Death by wind and heat and a lack of any desire to eat.
It was not pretty coming into Checkpoint 3. I cried some dehydration and hypoglycemia and work-related secondary traumatic stress tears all at once, then demanded potato chips and peanut butter. Thank you to my friends for taking care of me and for gently pointing out when I was about to eat a piece of plastic wrapper, and other such ridiculous things.
The view from JOM's GoPro.

Leg 4

I grumbled my way out of checkpoint 3. Grumbling is a good sign. You have to have life left to be grumbly. Even the word sounds like it takes energy. Grumble grumble grumble.
Not 3 miles down the road my headlight launched itself off of the handlebar mount and into the weeds on the side of the road. I can only assume this was in protest. I mean I hadn't even turned the damn thing on yet. I guess it had figured on not having to do any work today. Well, tough luck little headlight. I fished it out of a bush and reattached it. Grumble grumble.
It was actually ok riding. The kind of ok where you feel like you're on the verge of imminent destruction, but you know, not quite this minute. Maybe 30 minutes or so from now. We'll see. And anyways you may have had juuuust enough caffeine to be like NOT TODAY IMMINENT DESTRUCTION. 
I still had my sunglasses on and I hit the last long minimum maintenance road just as the sun was in the right stage of going down to create and huge glare. I couldn't see jack squat as I bounced my way down this B road and contemplated whether or not I should get off and walk it for safety's sake. This is really something one should contemplate prior to it actually happening. It turns out that devoting some thought space to not being able to see the miniature boulders is relatively useless in the moment. I hit one at a bad angle and fell over into another one, which I did successfully see because I was lying on top of it. No major damage was done to either rider or bike. I walked the rest of it and watched the pretty glare-filled sunset.
A few of my leg 3 everything-hurts-and-I'm-dying friends caught me again after that. We discussed how everything still hurt and we were now dying just slightly less. With any semblance of time pressure off it was quite a pleasant experience. We hit the Salsa Chaise while there was still enough daylight for dramatic effect. I was pleased to see they'd added a lamp since my last chaise encounter during Land Run. I imagine the chaise gets lonely in between riders, and now it has a lamp friend. Brain level of functioning at this point: 3/10.
With about twenty miles to go it started to get dark for reals. Headlights went on reluctantly. We had a small pack of 6 or so riders. Less of a pack and more of a gaggle, maybe. The wind had died down some with the sun setting so there was less of an incentive to try and paceline. Plus gravel people don't really like to paceline to begin with. My brain needed its space to do its thing. I do remember saying "hey, we're flying now!" and then looking down and seeing 13mph. Just feels like flying after going 8 into the wind.
And then, the infamous train. We rolled up to the train tracks. A few ahead of us rolled out to take a detour.  Another 15 or so riders straggled in and piled up behind us. Flashing lights and whistles in the dark. People took pictures. People shared bacon. I split my Snickers bar three ways. It was so cool and I wanted to cry because this is what life is supposed to be like. Another 10 minutes and the rails went up. We went on our way.
Riders scattered again after the train break. 5 miles to go. I found a guy without a working headlight in the dark. My taillight was dead. I rode in front, he rode behind me. We chatted. This was going to be his 5th DK finish. I lit the way in.
It was a much longer DK than last year. Even given how crazy life has been in the last year, it was a much longer DK than I thought it would be. What I've missed in time in the saddle I've sort of made up for in pent-up emotional energy to release. But you can't control the day, the wind, the sun, or too many other things to count. Nor would I want to. Embracing the lack of control is part of the appeal. It's part of the therapy.
See you next year, DK.
When you want a hug but are too tired to go to it so you make the hug come to you.
Mr Toucan, our car marker from last year, appears to have suffered an injury. He had emergency surgery upon my return home and will be back next year.