Dirty Kanza 2017: Semper Parvo Meliores

Coming down a hill at mile 40-ish. Dustin is right behind me; he’s much less blurry in person. Photo: Kim Morris.

The unit motto for my former National Guard artillery battalion was “Semper Parvo Meliores”, Latin for “Always a little better.”

I used to think it was kind of lame — it doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. But over time I came to realize that it perfectly captures the pragmatic midwestern Kansas sensibility. As a reserve artillery unit, we knew we were never going to push through the German trenches in the Argonnes, or reach Berlin before the Soviets. Instead, we’ll just focus on doing the best job we can in the role we’ve been assigned, and be content to be part of the whole.

This summarizes my Dirty Kanza experience; I had a good ride this year but at 121st overall I am content with setting and achieving personal milestones. Always a little better.

I almost didn’t write a recap this year. I had a great ride, everything went according to plan, and I had no difficulties on the course.

That makes for a great ride, but a boring narrative.

However, I have some cool pictures from the race and this seldom-updated (and seldom-read) blog, so why not?

5 a.m., getting ready to leave Mark’s house.

The forecast was dicey in the days leading up to the race, but the storms cleared out and the roads dried up by race day. By Kansas standards, conditions were perfect: wind less than 10 mph (which in Kansas, is considered to be no wind), cloud cover most of the day, and temps in the low 80s. The gravel was packed down into the road, leading to what race organizer Jim Cummins termed “hero dirt” at the race start. It was fast and smooth.

I rode with two buddies from Lawrence, Paul Heimbach and Dustin Meyer, for the first part of the race. It started out quick, but I wasn’t burning any extra matches and my legs felt good so I didn’t mind a little extra effort to take advantage of small groups here and there. We were averaging nearly 18 mph when we hit Madison.

I tried to take a couple pictures on course but they aren’t great. It’s hard to capture the majesty of the Flint Hills on a Samsung while also riding a bike. Trust me, they’re magnificent.

The checkpoints were a thousand times better this year. It’s been a zoo the previous two years, but this year they enforced the color-coded parking assignments and I didn’t have any trouble finding my wife and dad, who were my support crew this year. My friend Mark Whitfield, who let us crash at his house, joined us at the checkpoints, too. They’ve all done this before and were a well-oiled machine. I spent less than 5 minutes at each checkpoint.  I think I had 20 minutes total stopped time overall, including nature breaks, compared to nearly an hour last year.

We lost Dustin on the second leg (he battled leg cramps most of the day but still managed to beat the sun.) The pace settled down a bit, but Paul and I finished the first 100 miles in 6 hours flat. At one point, coming up Teter Hill, a photographer let us know that the lead group was 39 minutes ahead. I told Paul, “We’ve got them right where want them!” and told him to lead me out on the chase. Spoiler alert–that didn’t happen.

The third leg was the hardest, but I remembered how hard it was last year so I was prepared. I grabbed a Camelbak in addition to my  three bottles, despite the weight penalty, and I was not sorry. 58 miles isn’t much under normal circumstances, but when it comes during the second 100-mile stretch and it’s full of hills, I’ve discovered that I need much more fluid than I normally do. I’m glad I took it, I saw another friend at the finish who said he didn’t have enough water on the third leg and nearly DNF’d because of it.

Low water crossing on the third leg. If I’d realized there was a photographer there I would’ve bombed through it. As it was, I went ridiculously slow because I couldn’t see below the surface. Photo: C. Heller Photography

I was by myself for most of the rest of the ride, hopping on small groups or riding with individuals here and there before we’d separate. I spent most of my time on the aerobars to save energy and get free speed, and because the roads were packed down so smoothly I was able to take full advantage of the aerobars. Totally worth the triathlon jokes my riding buddies have made all spring.

Temperatures got into the 80s on the third leg, which is fine, but it was pretty humid. However, after last year’s hot and windy race, I decided to attempt some heat training. Starting in April, I rode on the trainer, in my bathroom, with the heater on and wearing full winter clothes, and turned on the shower for humidity. I did this 2-3 times a week for 1-2 hours at a time. It paid off — I didn’t notice the humidity, but I rode past lots of guys with sweat literally pouring off of their faces.

Somewhere around mile 140. Photo: Kim Morris.

It was about 4:30 by the time I got to the second Madison checkpoint; I attempted to do math in my head (never a good idea even under optimal conditions) and figured I was on track to finish by 7:30. As I refueled I made some smartass comments so my wife would know I was OK and took off.

Final checkpoint. Forcing a smile because my wife told me to.

The fourth leg was short but also agonizingly long, mentally, because I was so close to the end and impatient to finish. The only bit of drama was when I accidentally lost a cue sheet, but I was able to follow a couple riders long enough to get through the missing turns. (I navigate by cue sheet at the DK because I have never had a cue sheet run out of battery.)

Those two guys were right in front of me as we came down the chute to the finish line, so I hung back a bit to give them space and to have my own little moment of glory. I did a poorly-executed bunny hop over the line and realized that the clock said 13:12. Honestly, I got unexpectedly emotional–my goal was to beat the sun, which has eluded me the past two years, and I exceeded that by 1.5 hours. The diet, training, and preparation actually paid off this year. I felt good all day but I definitely left it all out there on the course. I forgot to write my name on the banner last year; I made sure not to repeat that mistake.

Finish. Glad to be off the bike, finally.

 

Relieved. And dirty.

 

I’m just going to collapse here for a couple minutes if that’s cool with you guys.

It was a great day, a great race, and I’m extremely pleased with how everything results. To quote a great American, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

200 miles of dust. Not as dirty as it could’ve been, but still dirty. The Potenza worked almost flawlessly.

Some numbers:

207.1 miles

13:12:17 total time
15.6 overall average
12:51 moving time
13:12:17 total time
0:21 stopped time

Leg 1 48.4 miles 2:41 hr 17.9 mph
Leg 2 55.8 mi 3:36 15.5 mph
Leg 3 57.8 mi 4:06 14.4 mph
Leg 4 44.8 mi 2:48 16 mph

121st overall out of 828
113th overall male out of 628
15th in age group out of 92

My steed. (This pic is several weeks before DK.)

Specs:

2008 (?) Specialized Tricross Expert, aluminum frame, carbon stays & fork.

3t Ergonova 44 cm handlebar

Deda zero aerobars

Oveja Negra top tube bag

Some huge saddle bag, I think it’s Specialized. It’s overkill, but I have a first aid kit in there.

Campagnolo Potenza 11-speed shifters and rear derailluer

11-32 cassette

Shimano 105 50/34 crank, 170mm crank arms.

Selle Italia Flite something or other saddle.

DT Swiss R460 rims, Shimano 105 hubs, 32 hole

Specialized Trigger Pro 700x38s, tubeless. I’ve run these tires for three Dirty Kanzas now with only one flat, and that was a pinch flat my first year when I was using tubes. Even with tubes these tires are fantastic, but tubeless is a game changer.

Gravel Ride for Maisie’s Pride, or, Just Keep Swimming

Photo courtesy of Gravel Guru. Me, being a dork, and sucking a wheel.

Maisie Devore walked the highways around Eskridge, Kansas, for 30 years, collecting aluminum cans to recycle to raise money to build a swimming pool for the children of the 500-person town. There’s an obvious parallel from her example of determination and perseverance that can serve as inspiration for a 100-mile gravel race, although let’s not kid ourselves here: raising money to build a swimming pool for children is noble and selfless; “Hey let’s all go play bikes!” is decidedly less so.

Nonetheless, the Gravel Ride for Maisie’s Pride raises funds to keep the swimming pool open, and free, for the children for Eskridge. So at least I get to do something worthwhile with my little cycling obsession. Now in its 7th year, the race is well-organized and is a fun course through some of the most challenging roads the Flint Hills have to offer.

Courtesy of Gravel Guru. Me, being a dork, and probably having just finished sucking a wheel.

As dedicated  pack fill, I was satisfied with my results but they were unremarkable:

103 miles

6 hours 47 minutes

8th out of 24 in my age group (Men’s 39 and under)

24th out of 105 overall finishers.

14.73 mph overall average

16.5 mph moving average

5413 feet of climbing

However, I had the good fortune to ride with a friend who ended up being the first-place female finisher, which was a cool thing to witness first hand, and also provided some motivation to keep pushing during the last stretch of the race when I was tempted to sit up and soft pedal.

It was a perfect day for a ride, at least by Kansas standards. Temperatures started in the 60s and the forecast called for highs in the upper 70s, with a mild south wind of about 10 mph. (Spoiler alert — LOL!) I toed the line at the Mission Valley High School, a few miles outside of Eskridge, with two friends from Lawrence who I felt like were of similar fitness, Hannah Tell and Paul Heimbach. Hannah likes to do things like show up to her first ever cyclocross race and take the podium, and Paul is like a diesel engine who will just ride all day and never slow down. (Unless he gets three flats. More on that later.)

The lead group disappeared within the first few miles, and I rode by myself for a few miles after being a little too enthusiastic on the first climb. At mile 15 there was a steep, rutted minimum maintenance “road” that was just technical enough to cause a bottleneck and force a dismount. But that only lasted a mile, and the rest of the course was smooth and dry.

Photo courtesy of Arturo Morales. Climbing the tank trail at mile 16. This could be ridden with a moderate amount of skill, but it caused a bottleneck which forced everyone to dismount. The rest of the course was smooth and fast.

Shortly after that section, Hannah, Paul, and a group of about 8-10 riders caught me and I jumped on. It was a solid, steady group and we stuck together for most of the first half into the halfway checkpoint in Eskridge, reeling in a few riders who had been dropped by the lead group here and there. We were averaging about 18 mph by the time we rolled in to town.

A quick 5-minute stop at the checkpoint to top off water bottles and scarf some food, and we were off again. Hannah mentioned that her Garmin was no longer giving her navigational cues, and Paul also did not have any navigation, so we had to rely on my cue sheets taped to my handlebars. That’s pretty much my secret weapon to avoid getting dropped — be the guy with the map.

Leaving Eskridge involved what was, in my opinion, a needlessly steep paved climb out of town, before we turned north and the Flint Hills started in earnest. Our little group had splintered apart just before Eskridge, so it was just me, Hannah, and Paul. But we were still moving at a fast pace, aided in no small part by the allegedly 10-mph (once again–LOL!) south tailwind.

Unfortunately, shortly after Eskridge Paul had his first of three flats. A 5-minute tube change and we were rolling again, but a few miles later he flatted again. The spare tube went flat before he even got the wheel back on the bike, so I gave him another tube which seemed to hold air. We both inspected his wheel and tire but could not see anything obvious that was causing the flats, but we lost about 15 minutes that time.

While stopped Hannah counted four women who passed us. I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about catching them, but given that they had 5-10 minutes on us I really didn’t think that would happen.

Lesson learned: Don’t count Hannah out.

After a few miles Hannah and I realized that Paul was no longer behind us. In addition to the flats he was having front shifting issues, and I knew he had dropped his chain at the beginning of a climb and fallen behind. However, I thought he was right behind us. As we got to the top of a climb and made the next turn we realized Paul was nowhere to be seen. Bummer! Sure hope he’s not dead. Anyway, like good friends we kept going.  The work got harder from that point–Paul is a good person to draft off of.

The only picture I took during the ride. Hannah, Paul, and a guy I don’t know doing work on Skyline Drive.

We started to reel in some of the riders who had passed us while we were stopped, including three of the women who had passed us. At mile 82 we had to dismount and walk through a field to get around a maintenance crew on a railroad crossing. We caught the last female rider at that point. She jumped on our wheel for a couple miles but eventually Hannah opened up a gap and started to put some distance between her.

The course then turned south, and with few exceptions was a long, straight, grind straight to the south for about 16 miles to the finish line. It also involved climbing about 350 feet over four miles, and that 10 mph headwind? My completely unscientific guess is that it was at least a 15 mph sustained wind with 20+ mph gusts. The temperature, according to my bike computer, climbed up to 84, which doesn’t seem that hot until you’ve already been on your bike for 6 hours and you’re out of water, fighting a headwind, and climbing.

The scene from Finding Nemo where the Ellen Degeneres fish repeats “just keep swimming” always starts in a loop in my head in those situations.

This was the point at which I’m glad I was riding with a contender for the podium. Since I am never anywhere near the podium, my own tendency at that point would be to sit up, conserve energy, and soft pedal. But since Hannah had opened a gap and was, as far as we knew, in first place, it provided motivation for me to keep pushing. Also, I was the sole source of navigation at this point.

Did I mention I use cue sheets instead of a computer? Great plan – until the wind blew the last cue sheet off my handlebars. Luckily, I had a spare map stuffed in one of my bags and that was enough to get us to the finish. It didn’t hurt that we went straight south with no turns for about 10 miles.

The last 13 miles we managed to average about 13 mph. Hannah kept waiting for me at the tops of the climbs; I told her not to wait on me because I didn’t want her to lose her spot on the podium, but there was no one within eyesight behind us. So, like Maisie Devore picking up one aluminum can at a time for 30 years, we kept spinning the pedals one revolution at a time and inched our way to the finish. (Except, instead of 30 years, it was about 1 hour, and completely different.) Arturo Morales, a rider from Topeka who I’ve crossed paths with at various races, was taking photos on the course and was handing out water at the top of the climb out of Maple Hill. I selfishly took two bottles for myself and that was enough to get us to the finish without further stops.

At the finish we were greeted by Hannah’s husband, Dave, and two children, and a meal of sloppy joes. Those were really good sloppy joes. Paul came in about 30 minutes later and told us about his mechanical issues, he was clearly spent but still in pretty good spirits, all things considered.

Great day on the bike, good prep for this year’s DK, and I’m mostly satisfied with both my performance and my bike setup. It was also good to share the miles with Hannah and Paul and it’s always cool to see someone you know take a win. Kudos to Ryan Dudley and the rest of the volunteers for putting on a well-organized, challenging, and fun event, and thanks to the volunteers taking pictures.

Kind of looks like the course is flipping us off, right?

Climbing.

150 (ok 145) miles of rollers: Gravel Worlds 2016

Me on the right, and Mike on the left. This must have been relatively early because we both still look like we're enjoying ourselves. Photo courtesy of Gravel Guru, https://www.facebook.com/gravelguru/

Me on the right, and Mike on the left. This must have been relatively early because we both still look like we’re enjoying ourselves.
Photo courtesy of Gravel Guru.

Two months after it has ceased being relevant, here is my ride report on Gravel Worlds.

GW is a well-organized, well-supported race and I had a lot of fun doing it. We had fantastic conditions*, it’s a fun course, and I was riding good.

*relative

(It didn’t hurt that there were no ex-roadies trying to bend the rules and screw it up for everyone else… but that’s a topic for another time.)

Backing up a couple months, even though my time at Dirty Kanza was a two hour improvement over the previous year, I could not shake the feeling of mild disappointment over my performance. In 2015 my goal had been simply to finish; once the mud hit, my goal was to survive. At the 2016 DK, merely finishing wasn’t good enough because I’ve already done that. Sure, the heat and headwinds took their toll on everyone but I felt like my body had failed me and I could have done better.

A couple weeks later I had dinner with a couple friends, Mike and Jake, who had also ridden DK (faster than me) and we debriefed each other on our ride experiences. Jake, who has three kids and way more excuses than me not to ride but still does, started talking about Gravel Worlds. He has in-laws in Nebraska and said that we would be welcome to crash with them.

Absolutely not, I thought. I just want to relax for a while and enjoy biking, and not worry about some 150 mile ride. Plus, it’s in Nebraska. Kansas is windy because Nebraska sucks and Oklahoma blows.**

**Just a little mild ribbing to my friends in our neighboring states. I made that joke once when I was deployed to the middle east, a soldier from the Nebraska National Guard who took herself way too seriously apparently thought I was serious and got really pissy about it. That was 12 years ago, clearly I’m over it.

Anyway, under no conditions was I going to ride in Gravel Worlds. Absolutely not. Nope. No way.

Two months later I found myself lining up at the start line of Gravel Worlds at 6 a.m. on a chilly, windy, dark morning.

After having some time to reflect and analyze my ride at Dirty Kanza, I realized that my nutrition and hydration strategy were not working, and that I could stand to lose weight. I got serious about my nutrition-both off and on the bike-and changed a couple things about my hydration strategy. I also changed my crank arms from 172.5mm to 170mm. The combination of a focused nutrition, hydration, and electrolyte strategy, and refining my bike fit, seemed to address the persistent leg cramp issues I had been struggling with all spring. The improved nutrition plan (I used the Fuel Right, Race Light plan from Apex Nutrition) which involved a few easy-to-implement changes in my overall diet, also resulted in quite a bit of weight loss. I suddenly found myself actually climbing hills with the group, instead of getting dropped at the start of every climb. Neat!

Even though I had somewhat reluctantly signed up for GW (I gave myself an out by saying that I would DNS if conditions were shitty… which no one believed that I would actually do), by the time it actually started I was somewhat eager to find out if these changes would pay off.

Did I mention it was cold? It was in the high 50s, overcast, and windy to start. Not exactly what I was prepared for in August. It was somewhat of a blessing though, wind is easier to cope with than heat. I had my arm warmers on until noon; and I’m glad I thought to grab them at the last minute.

A heavy thunderstorm had swept through the area the evening before. I was concerned about the condition of the roads, given my past experiences (I was going to insert a link here with my experience at Land Run this year but apparently I was so disgusted after having not only torn off my derailleur but also shearing off the entire hanger I didn’t write a post) with mud and broken derailleurs. I had received intel from locals that the gravel roads were actually gravel (unlike in Oklahoma, where they only put gravel on the roads where the county commissioners live), so I was somewhat reassured that the roads would be rideable. But you just never know.

In addition to Mike and Jake, another friend from Lawrence, Dustin, was joining us. We had a loose agreement to ride together for the first part of the race. I’m always hesitant to agree to that, because you run the risk of going either faster or slower than you want to, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

The pace started pretty hot. It was a “neutral” rollout, and it went about the same way those always do–fast. However, after a couple miles we hit gravel and suddenly everyone was slowing down. Although the roads weren’t exactly muddy, the rains had soaked the gravel enough that getting through it was tough work. The gravel up there is more sandy than I’m used to, and wet sand = slow. There really wasn’t a good line to be had, it was all soft, and we were working a lot harder than our average speeds would indicate.

The roads got progressively better as the day went on and they dried out, helped by the 15-20mph NW wind. The route is a giant clockwise loop starting on the northwest side of Lincoln. After 10-15 miles we turned south and enjoyed a tailwind for the next hour or so. It’s hard to enjoy a tailwind when you know that you will eventually be turning back into it, though.

We got to the first checkpoint, just south of Eagle, at around 35 miles. Although there were numerous SAG stops and gas stations in between each official checkpoint, we all agreed that we would only stop at the checkpoints. We filled up our bottles and were in and out of the checkpoint in less than 5 minutes.

Hiding in the pack. Thanks to some changes in my nutrition and setup, I was able to take advantage of riding in a group for once. Photo courtesy of Gravel Guru

Hiding in the pack. Guy I don’t know in front, Jake, me, Mike barely visible behind me, and Dustin. (I’m third, in the black helmet). It was nice to hang with a group, for once.
Photo courtesy of Gravel Guru.

Shortly after the checkpoint we lost Mike. He was starting to fall behind, and we assumed he burnt too many matches at the start, but I found out later that he was having unusual leg pains that hampered him for most of the race. He suffered through it and finished, but it was a painful 10-hour grind for him.

We picked up a couple more people and turned back west. The wind was more out of the north, so we weren’t riding directly into it, but it was definitely picking up. Also, we were starting to take more notice of the rollers. Like, there sure were a lot of them.

None of the hills on the course were, individually, anything special. They aren’t particularly long or steep, for the most part. But they Just. Never. Stop. After the first 1/3 of the course there probably wasn’t more than a half mile of relatively level terrain on the entire course. Just constant climbing and descending.

This is where it started to dawn on me that my nutrition and fitness were paying off. I was keeping up with the group on the climbs, and not doing the yo-yo thing where I try to catch up on the descents. My stomach was doing well and my energy levels seemed appropriate to get me through the course.

We picked up a a couple riders and a group of about 5-8 of us rolled into the second checkpoint. Right before the checkpoint Jake started to ride away from me a bit and I thought I might have to sit up and let him go. I wasn’t looking forward to that because I knew that we were had 30 miles of headwind to deal with right after the checkpoint. But we re-grouped after the checkpoint and stayed together to fight the winds.

Our group of three picked up a couple more riders, and then we passed a small group as we turned north. A minute later I was taking a pull on the front and when I looked behind me I was surprised to see that group of 10 had joined us.

For the next 30 miles or so our group of a dozen riders battled the wind together. Every once in a while you ride with a group of strong riders and without saying anything the group starts working together and everything is smooth and synced and before you know it you’ve put 30 miles behind you. Everyone was working hard, and the pace was strong, but manageable. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for the entire race but I decided I could burn a few more matches to keep up with the group and get through the headwind, because without the group I’d be fighting the wind alone.

The group held together remarkably well. We only lost one or two riders, and one was a singlespeeder. But all good things, etc. We finally turned out of the wind and into the town of Valparaiso. This was the last gas station before the checkpoint at mile 125. I was out of fluids and out of energy. I considered trying to hang on for another 15 minutes without hydration, but decided I would probably regret that. I pulled into the gas station and watched the group ride away.

Impressive time, right? Except Strava doesn't account for stopped time.

Impressive time, right? Except Strava doesn’t account for stopped time.

Total time: 10:10. Still, I'm all right with it.

Total time: 10:10. Still, I’m all right with it.

I found out later from Jake and Dustin that the group fractured pretty shortly after that anyway. There was a section of loose gravel that splintered the group, and then it turned into a free for all.

After my stop at Valparaiso, there was a 10 mile section east with no turns, but just constant rollers that seemed to be getting bigger. For some reason going in a straight line with no turns for multiple miles is mentally taxing. I have to play games in my head to pass the time–timing each mile, counting pedal revolutions, etc. I know some people listen to music or audiobooks or whatever, but that just seems like one more thing to keep track of so I just deal with it.

Unlike the DK, where I was almost always within sight of another rider at least until the last 50 miles or so, there are significantly less riders at Worlds, and the field gets spread out pretty early on. I did not see any riders ahead of me for that entire stretch, and only a couple riders on the horizon behind me.

Eventually the third checkpoint came into view, and from there it was 35 miles to the finish. A few miles of it were back west, and into the wind, and the wind had not let up any, but it was broken up by stints to the south. The Hills that Would Not End, although quite irritating by this point, did serve to block the wind on the climbs.

The one section of mud on the course was right after the third checkpoint. It was a dirt road, closed to cars, and it had 4-5 mud holes. They were just big enough that a skilled rider could get through them without dismounting if she or he picked a good line. I am not a skilled rider under normal circumstances, and definitely not after 120 miles, so I dismounted. You know, it’s better to have muddy feet than a busted derailleur. I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

Interestingly, according to pictures on social media, virtually every one of the 300+ riders stopped on that one 1/4-mile section of mud on the entire course and took pictures. Ok.

Speaking of busted derailleurs, about 10 miles from the finish I caught up to a guy pushing his bike up a hill. He had no derailleur. As I got closer I realized he had no chain. I offered him a quick link, but he said he’d already tried a single speed conversion but ended up breaking his chain. Later I heard someone say that guy walked all the way to the finish. 10 miles of walking at 3 mph = a lot longer on the course then I would care to be. Ouch.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. The rollers never stopped, up to and including the last mile to the finish. I passed one guy on a fat bike on my way into town and that was pretty much it, no one came in before or after me by a couple minutes.

I finished just a few minutes above 10 hours. I didn’t have a goal, other than to maintain roughly a 15 mph average and really to see if my nutrition and weight loss had paid off. It had, I was able to hang with the group when it mattered and was not completely destroyed by the hills. To be fair, the fact that it was in the 60s-70s all day probably helped, but overall I felt a lot better than I expected to after 145 miles. Anyway, after the fact I realized I could have easily come in under 10 hours if I hadn’t stopped in Valparaiso, or if I’d pushed a little bit harder in a couple spots, but overall no regrets.

I caught up with my friends and had some dinner. Mike came in about 45 minutes later and he was hurting, but still in relatively good spirits, all things considered. Before the race I had been undecided whether I would stay another night in Lincoln or make the 3-hour drive home; but I felt good enough to drive home and I wanted to see my dogs. And my wife.

So that was my ride. The Pirate Cycling League does a great job and I’d recommend this ride to anyone. I’ll probably be back in the future, once I stop having bad dreams about rollers that just don’t stop.

Post-ride recovery. The dogs help with muscle something or other. #science

Post-ride recovery. The dogs help with muscle something or other. #science

Dirty Kanza 2016: Everything hurts and I’m dying

Photo by Kim Morris. Around mile 25-ish. Still reasonably fresh and feeling good. My socks still match at this point.

Photo by Kim Morris. Around mile 25-ish. Still reasonably fresh and feeling good. My socks still match at this point.

15 hours 45 minutes.

Not bad for a race that I quit.

This year’s Dirty Kanza was punishing and difficult in a different way that the 2015 version – mainly because it was hot and windy. I’ve had the thought that this year was even more difficult, but discounted that thought since I’m 12 months separated from the physical discomfort and fatigue of last year’s race. I’ve read more than one race report, however, where other people have said the same thing.

I ran out of fluids and heat cramped for a good portion of the race, and missed my personal goal of beating the sun by an hour, but I finished. (I also had zero flats or mechanicals, and I’ll make an appropriate sacrificial offering to the future ghost of Eddy Merckx for that.)

When I read other people’s race recaps I admire their brevity and flow and attempt to emulate that. However, I’m afraid my report is much like this year’s version of the DK: grueling, needlessly long, and full of hot wind. You’ve been forewarned.

Part I: In which I overcome an advanced case of butthurtedness

Thanks to James Grooms for lending me this frame and saving my DK. I sheared my derailleur hangar on my steel bike at Land Run, requiring a new dropout to be brazed on which takes time. It was not going to be ready by DK and I seriously considered not racing, but James had this spare Specialized Tricross frame. Not sure it made me faster, although it's about 6 pounds lighter than my steel rig, but it sure rides nice.

Thanks to James Grooms for lending me this frame and saving my DK. I sheared my derailleur hangar on my steel bike at Land Run, requiring a new dropout to be brazed on which takes time. It was not going to be ready by DK and I seriously considered not racing, but James had this spare Specialized Tricross frame. Not sure it made me faster, although it’s about 6 pounds lighter than my steel rig, but it sure rides nice.

However, the hardest part of this year’s DK for me was starting the damn thing. Without going into all the minute, whiny details, I had some setbacks this spring and at one point I was pretty demoralized (aka butthurt) and decided I was going to put my entry up for grabs and forego this year’s race.

A combination of crashes, mechanical issues, and heat cramps combined to the point where I was not having much fun. My cycling philosophy is simple – I ride because it’s fun. If it stops being fun, then I’ll stop. The tipping point came after a 100-mile race in April (the Cool Hand Luke grinder in Leavenworth) in which my legs started cramping at mile 47 and didn’t stop for the rest of the ride. It was so painful at times that I had to dismount and walk up several hills because I was physically incapable of pedaling.

Long story short, I took a week off, no one wanted my entry by the deadline, and I changed my nutrition strategy to address the cramp issue.

I did a 90 mile ride on a hot day and didn’t cramp. On that same ride I crashed again and tore up my palms pretty badly, but was able to find someone at a farmhouse with some athletic tape and bandages and finish the last 60 miles while gingerly gripping the handlebars with my bloody stumps of hands. Well then. Game back on.

(Pro tip: Don’t tell your wife you’re going to quit something and then later change your mind. Especially when she’s your support crew.)

Part II: Pre-game

Learning a lesson from last year, I took a day off work and went down Friday morning with my friend Mike. Mike had his own share of rotten luck in 2014-15 and was in a very nasty crash weeks before the DK and was unable to ride. He had some unfinished business. (Spoiler alert: He finished this year, had a great ride, and was top 100 overall for men. Congrats, Mike!)

We walked around a bit to soak in the atmosphere and signed in. After a fabulous lunch at the Commercial Street Diner, we decided to go for a short recon ride.

Frankly, I was worried about the Infamous Muddy Three-mile Hiking Muddy Section From Hell ™ from last year. About a week before this year’s race there was a huge storm that dumped 3 inches of rain on the region, and I had no idea if it the Infamous Muddy Three-mile Hiking Muddy Section From Hell ™ would be dry.

It was. It was dry and fast. Forecast looked good for Saturday – slight chance of scattered storms overnight, but a 30% chance of storms is basically the same as 0% chance of storms, right? And Saturday looks like it’ll be fine – 80 degrees with a tolerable NW wind. We’ll be fine.

Instead I fretted about my setup. Should I have gone ahead and replaced my bottom bracket? I’m not sure it feels right. Should I have replaced my big chainring? I haven’t been dropping chains but it’s pretty worn… etc. Then I went to bed. I slept better than last year, but I still didn’t sleep great.

Part III: Here we go again

If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen.

If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.

I woke up at 3:30 from a bad dream in which the course was getting pounded by a hellacious storm. I heard thunder, and realized the course was getting pounded by a hellacious storm. I looked at the radar. I looked outside. I contemplated going back to bed.

Eff it. Nothing we can do but ride.

I biked the 1.7 miles to the start. This is significant because I navigate based off cue sheets, and forgot to restart my computer, so for the entire race I had to do math to figure out the right place to turn. Pro tip: Don’t do that.

I found Mike and another friend, Jake, and we lined up in the 14-16 hour group. My biggest concern at the start, based on last year’s start, was to avoid crashes and ejected water bottles.

We rolled out with the neutral start, and there was no waiting on a train this time.

I enjoy the start because it’s the only time all day that I’ll see the front of the race. We got to the first turn off of the highway and we could see gigantic rooster tails of water being kicked up by the leadout vehicles as they turned onto the gravel road. A collective groan arose from the pack.

That freak thunderstorm dumped about a half inch of water on Emporia in 20 minutes, and left the prone-to-flooding roads by the Cottonwood River with standing water on them for the first 10 miles or so. I backed off because I wanted to leave plenty of space between me and the riders in front, and moved towards the middle of the road.

The water wasn’t bad but it got a bit muddy. The mud was not anything compared to last year, however, and I just concentrated on staying upright and avoiding the guy in front of me. Then we came around a bend in the road and it was derailleur graveyard hell.

The sides of the roads were lined with hundreds! (Ok maybe dozens!) of riders staring forlornly at their busted derailleurs. It’s a look I know well, because it’s the look I had on my face at mile 20 of the Land Run 100 this year.

I got paranoid. My drivetrain looked OK, but I thought the same thing at Land Run, biked 10 feet further than I should have, and paid the price.

Some people got off and walked, but most were riding. My chain seemed ok. I compromised. I didn’t shift, and I rode very gingerly. Every time I started to feel even the slightest bit of “that ain’t right” I backed off, and soft pedaled. Was I lucky or was I good? Who knows. It worked.

Enough about that. I made it through that section and we started climbing. I kept looking at my computer to see when we would hit mile 13 – the Infamous Muddy Three-mile Hiking Muddy Section From Hell ™. I couldn’t tell from the radar if the surprise thunderstorm had hit that section or not. It seemed to take a really, really long time to get to mile 13.

As we got closer, the roads got dry. I started to allow myself to be cautiously optimistic. We left the Cottonwood flood plain and the roads were dry, smooth and fast. Can it be? Can it be that we caught a break from Mother Nature?

We hit mile 13 – the Infamous Muddy Three-mile Hiking Muddy Section From Hell ™. Dry as a bone! It took me an hour to get through last year. It took 10 minutes this time! Hallelujah!

Mother Nature giveth and taketh away. More on that later.

The rest of the first leg was fast and smooth. I’d lost Mike and Jake somewhere at the start and settled into my own pace. I calculated I needed roughly a 14 mph average to beat the sun & have reasonable checkpoint stops. I knew we’d be fighting a headwind later so I tried to conserve my energy when there was a tailwind and a descent.

Leg 2: Madison to Eureka, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bonk.

Photo by Linda Guerette. Man, she takes some great shots. Teter Rock Hill, somewhere southwest of Madison.

Photo by Linda Guerette. Man, she takes some great shots. Teter Rock Hill, somewhere southwest of Madison.

I got into the checkpoint at 9:16. My wife gave me food and water bottles for the second leg, I ate something and drank a Coke and some water, and my friends Jake and Serena cleaned and lubed my bike. I was out of there in about 5 minutes, feeling good.

I had 4 bottles with me – double what I normally take on a 50 mile ride. I was making a point to eat and take electrolyte tablets every hour. As I left Madison I remember thinking vaguely that maybe I should have drank more water there, but the real heat wasn’t supposed to hit until noon so I figured I would be good until Eureka. (You see where this is going, right?)

Jake (not my support crew but the other Jake) and I ended up leaving Madison at the same time and rode a few miles together. We took turns pulling against the headwind, and a couple other riders joined us, until we got on a climb and they were going faster than I wanted to so I let them go.

Around mile 65 or so I came across a nasty crash. I found out later a SS rider from Oklahoma crashed on a descent and borke his jaw, and had to be airlifted out of there. There was a big crowd tending to him by the time I got there and I figured the best way I could help at this point was to stay out of the way. I said a prayer and engaged in some somber contemplation for a few miles.

Then the cramps started.

This is some bullshit. I’ve addressed these. I’m taking the Hammer Endurolyte Extreme pills in even greater doses than recommended. I’m eating. I’m drinking Skratch. It’s not even hot yet, by Kansas standards! WTF?

Flashbacks to the Cool Hand Luke ride ensued. In that ride, once the cramps started, I was screwed.

This was not helped by the realization that I was going through fluids a lot more quickly than anticipated, and I was going to run out well before I got to Eureka.

But – if I couldn’t get on top of the cramps it wouldn’t matter. So I stopped for a second to eat, swallowed a big handful of Endurolytes, and downed one of my precious bottles of Skratch.

Shockingly, it worked. I was able to get through the rest of the ride without having leg cramps stop me in my tracks.

The upshot, however, was that every time I put down real power to the pedals I could feel the tell-tale twinges in my legs signaling imminent cramping. As long as I rode at 50-60% I was fine, but 70-90% were danger zones, especially for extended periods.

I frankly don’t remember too much of the rest of the leg, it was fairly uneventful. It was hot. I guess at some point we rode past the Dr. Pepper ranch but I must have been staring at the road because I had no idea until I saw pictures later. I did end up running out of fluids, but the last few miles into Eureka had a stiff tailwind so we were able to fly.

It was 1:17 when I got to the second checkpoint. 4 hours to go 50 miles is slower than I would have liked. I grabbed my 3-liter Camelbak and also had 3 bottles on my bike. I drank a significant amount of pickle juice. Someone threw an ice sock on my neck while I changed into dry shoes and socks. I tried not to think about the upcoming headwind.

Leg 3: The long and winding road

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Numbers, if you're into that sort of thing.

Numbers, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I had no idea what to expect on the back half of the route. I knew we were getting close to the eastern edge of the Flint Hills, but did that mean it would be flatter? (Spoiler alert: No.) We had a bit of a stay of execution as we headed east, but it was tough to enjoy because I knew at any minute we were going to turn north and into the headwind. I hoped, naively, we would be far enough east that there would be trees to block the wind. (Spoiler alert: No.)

The roads were pretty cool, though. We went on some pretty rough and wild minimum maintenance roads with amazing views. I was descending like a ninny, to avoid getting pinch flats, but this saved my bacon several times because I was able to avoid eating shit when there was a nasty rutted section of the road I might not have otherwise seen.

(I still run clinchers, mainly because I understand them and I fear change. But, I put some Orange Seal in my tubes and I didn’t flat once. I haven’t actually looked at my tubes but I know I felt my rim bottom out a couple times when I hit a cattle guard that I didn’t see until the last minute, but my tires kept air the whole ride. In fact, I haven’t put any air in them since the DK and they’re still holding air.)

At this point everything runs together. There were at least two more fords somewhere in here. By the time I got to the last one all the photographers had left, probably to get pictures of the fast people. I don’t blame them.

I do remember running out of fluid. I drained that 3-liter Camelbak in 38 miles. That’s four bottles’ worth. I still had 3 bottles of Skratch, although the sugary drink was not the most appealing. I rationed my bottles and allowed myself a sip every time I was thirsty.

My bike computer (Lezyne Super GPS for the battery life win!) shows it got into the low 90s in the afternoon. Although the actual towns of Emporia, Madison, and Eureka show highs in the mid-80s all day, out in the hills with no shade and elevated out of the river valleys, it was much hotter. It was in the mid-80s by the time we hit Madison at 9:15 a.m. It only got worse.

And I’m a big guy at 200 pounds – it takes a lot of liquid to cool down this engine. And a lot of electrolytes. Hence my preoccupation with hydration.

(When I was serving in Iraq, heat casualties were always a concern. I became pretty anal about proper hydration, especially because the first thing they do when you have a heat injury is to stick your arm with an IV, and our medic was kind of a knucklehead and I didn’t want him to be sticking my arm with a needle. Sorry, Chuck.)

At the top of one climb a group of what I assumed was the jeep club patrolling the route was handing out bottles of water. That got me a few more miles.

I stopped at the bottom of another hill to rest in the shade in a driveway a few miles outside of Madison. The homeowner was sitting in a Polaris, watching. He asked if I wanted a bottle of water. Yes. Yes I did. It was a gloriously large bottle of Aquafina. I love that man and want to marry him.

Leg 4: No, I wasn’t having an animated conversation with myself when you rode by me. You must be imagining things.

Photo by Kim Morris. I like this because it looks like I'm leading a charge. Instead of suffering badly and hanging on for dear life, which was the case.

Photo by Kim Morris. I like this because it looks like I’m leading a charge. Instead of suffering badly and hanging on for dear life, which was the case.

A lot of people have mentioned that this is the part where things were dark. I never felt like quitting, but the grins and jokes were pretty much gone by this point. I remember distinctly thinking, more than once, “I don’t think I’ll do this next year.”

At the final checkpoint I ignored my own rule and sat for a few minutes in the shade. Even the Casey’s pizza, which was so delicious and such a lifesaver last year, that my wife had thoughtfully procured, was not that appealing. It was still delicious, but my stomach was rebelling at food because of the heat. I try to eat real, solid foods when I ride by the mini-pies and mini-sandwiches I had made were just too difficult to choke down, so I reverted to GU Roctane gels and Clif Energy Food (basically baby food pouches.)

However, it was 46 miles to go, the temperature was starting to drop and the wind was dying down. Let’s get this over with.

Again, there were some pretty wild and wooly minimum maintenance roads. There was a pretty sunset in there somewhere. The wind stopped blowing and the hills smoothed out as I got near the end.

Sometimes, when I’m out by myself on a long ride, my internal monologue becomes an external monologue. I.e., more than once I was talking to myself when someone rode past me. Did they think I was losing it? I doubt they were paying much attention, or maybe they were just trying to get away from me. I remember at one point saying, “Jesus Christ, I could use some steroids!” right when 3-4 guys rode right past me. Oops. It was a joke, but that’s hard to explain when you’re talking to yourself.

I was glad to be navigating from cue sheets – it saved me from lemming mistakes a few times when the riders in front of me took a wrong turn, and it saved me when I was all by myself. Which was often.

At this point, having ridden solo for so long, I kind of preferred to ride by myself for the remainder of the ride and not worry about someone else’s pace or bike handling skills, so I slowed down to let people go. I knew, well before I got to Madison, that I wasn’t going to beat the sun. Oh well.

As I left Madison, a fellow rider asked what time it was and then said “Hey, we can still beat the sun!” I hated to rain on his parade but felt obligated to tell him that we would have to ride 20 mph in order to do so.

As I got closer to town there were more and more houses. Several people were in their yards, cheering as we went by. A lot of them had dogs. It took a lot of discipline not to stop to pet each dog as I went by. I really start missing my dogs around hour 15 or so on these things. They’re good dogs.

My dogs stayed at my cousin's farm for the weekend, with their dog. I like how all three of them are going different directions here. Dogs are great.

My dogs stayed at my cousin’s farm for the weekend, with their dog. I like how all three of them are going different directions here. Dogs are great.

The sun came down with 15 or so miles left. I fought bugs in my eyes and teeth as I turned my lights on. I navigated the railroad tracks successfully. I crossed the Murder Bridge without incident. Soon, there was the tunnel to ESU and the final climb into campus. The sprint down Commercial Street and cowbells, hugs, and relief.

Photo by Linda Guerette. Looking dazed and confused while being congratulated by Tim Mohn. That's some serious salt stains on that jersey. They washed out though.

Photo by Linda Guerette. Looking dazed and confused while being congratulated by Tim Mohn. That’s some serious salt stains on that jersey. They washed out though.

Epilogue

I remember the post-race melancholy from last year, so it didn’t catch me by surprise but it still happened. I had trouble eating for a couple of days but nothing major. I relaxed and spent a lot of time on the couch with my dogs.

I may have mentioned this, but dogs are the best.

I may have mentioned this, but dogs are the best.

As I said above, I think it was harder this year, mainly because of the heat. I can deal with mud and rain better than I can overheating.

I’m not sure what it is about the DK. It’s epic, sure. It’s known nationwide. It’s in my backyard. I went to school in Emporia. I feel like I have a stake in it. Where else am I going to be in the same race as Ted King and Rebecca Rusch? (Although I’m racing in much the same way that shrimp is an ice cream topping just because they’re next to each other in the freezer.)

It’s 200 miles, and no matter how slowly you finish the damn thing, no one seems to care. They just think it’s cool that you rode 200 miles. I think it’s cool that I’ve ridden 200 miles. Twice.

You meet a lot of cool people. I can interact with the winners on Instagram and Twitter and they respond. Frankly, I’m kind of a lone wolf and I don’t make small talk easily and I rode by myself for much of the race and was fine with it, but there’s still a sense of belonging and accomplishment with these hundreds of other riders. Even if we didn’t talk as we rode by each other, it’s still a connection.

Enough naval gazing. It was a tough race this year, but has anyone ever finished a Dirty Kanza and been like “oh that was super easy this year!” It’s not like we signed up for Bike MS.

I go back to “I ride because it’s fun.” I’m still riding.

Double epilogue: Thanks

Thanks to my wife for putting up with my bike nonsense and being a fantastic support crew for the second year in a row. Thanks to Jake and Serena for also being great first-time support crew personnel.

Thanks to Mike for the training rides and support. Thanks to Mike’s wife, Jean, for combining forces with my support crew to make one super support crew Voltron. Thanks to Mac and the rest of Mike’s crew for also helping; sorry I wasn’t very talkative but I really appreciate all the help.

Thanks to James Grooms for the use of the frame.

Thanks to Matt and Kami for letting me borrow the van for the weekend.

Thanks to Deborah for letting me and the crew crash for the weekend.

Thanks to Brenna and Dennis (and Otis) for watching our dogs.

Thanks to Dan Hughes, whose example of bouncing back from a broken clavicle and riding with 4 weeks of training time made me feel pretty sheepish about my own complaints prior to the DK.

Thanks to the organizers, Jim, Tim, Kristi, and Lelan, for putting on a great event year after year, and putting up with some bullshit that they shouldn’t have to put up with.

Thanks to Elisha Otis, for inventing the elevator brake, without which modern skyscrapers would be impossible.

Dirty Kanza setup

Thought I’d type up some notes on my setup for the 2015 Dirty Kanza, what worked and what didn’t, and what I plan to change.

A caveat: I wasn’t fast this year. I was almost exactly in the middle of the pack. I was riding to finish. Although I hope to be faster in 2016, I still harbor no illusions about being anywhere near the podium or even a top 50. So if you’re looking for tips on how to be fast, you’re in decidedly the wrong place.

I’m not going to go too into depth on components, frame, wheels, etc. That a matter of intense personal preference and the bike that works for me might be something you hate. I’m going to focus on the accessories mostly.

My setup in 2015

Hey!

Hey!

Specialized HD handlebar tape.

Sigma BC1609 computer

Niterider Lumina 550 headlight. Mininewt 350 mounted on helmet. Serfas USL-TL60 tail light.

Specialized Trigger Pro 700×38 tires. Used as clinchers (but they can run tubeless.)

Jandd frame bag.

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4 bottle cages – the two standard cages and I mounted two Cateye BC-100 cages on the forks with hose clamps. Also used two small bungee cords to keep the bottles from vibrating out. Kind of a kludge — OK, 100% a kludge — but it worked.

Shifting – SRAM 11-36 10 speed cassette and a Shimano Deore M591 rear derailleur. I realize I said I would not go in-depth on components but this will be changed for 2016 and it bears mentioning. Shimano CX70 front derailleur and a 46/36 compact crank.

Pump – Topeka Road Morph G.

Saddle – Selle Italia Flite

What did & didn’t work

The Specialized HD tape is awesome. I’ve tried the Lizard Skins DSP tape on a different bike this summer and it started to unravel and fall apart immediately. I may end up double-wrapping with some run-of-the-mill cork tape because after 200 miles my hands are numb, but I’m not actually sure anything will fix that. We’ll see.

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Specialized HD tape & Niterider Lumina headlight. No complaints with either.

Bike computer – My spoke magnet got knocked off in the mud from hell at the 2015 DK so the fact that it didn’t work for 284 miles is not Sigma’s fault. However, that thing has been finicky the entire time I’ve had. It would just randomly stop syncing with the speed & cadence sensors and there was nothing you could do about it. I gave it one more shot the other day — put new batteries in everything — and it stopped working within minutes of my first ride. So it went in the trash.

I ordered a Cateye Strada Smart – speed, cadence & heart rate. It was on sale on black Friday or something for like $83. You can’t hardly buy the heart monitor alone for that price.

“But why aren’t you using a Garmin?” I hear you ask. I’ll tell you. Because I can’t afford one.

OK I probably could – I know Garmin employees. But it’s actually because of battery life. I don’t know of a Garmin bike computer that will last much more than 12 hours. A non-GPS bike computer will last months. I don’t need a digital map – I know the area pretty well and also I know how to read a paper map.

Headlights worked fine. Probably won’t bother with a second light this year. Also – you don’t need to put your taillight on blinky mode. There’s no traffic out there and everyone knows the DK is happening, so it’s not like my commute home in the evening when I need to be lit up like a Christmas tree. Blinky mode blinds your fellow riders.

Tires: I love the Triggers and will keep using them. The only flat I had was a pinch flat, which was my own fault because I was bombing down a hill way too fast and I knew better. If I converted to a tubeless setup that probably wouldn’t be an issue but I don’t think that’s going to happen this year.

That being said – I think people make entirely too big a deal out of tire setup for the DK. Yes, the Flint Hills are pretty rugged and require a tough tire. But some people would have you believe you’re out there riding on fields of razor blades. One of the hosts of the Just Riding Along podcast, Andrea Wilson, made a good point a couple years ago – you’ve got nearly 1000 people riding for 200 miles – there are going to be a lot of flats. I think the sheer numbers of riders give a skewed perception of the amount of flats. Find a tire you like and stop thinking about it.

Regardless of tire selection, I’m still going to carry 3 tubes and a boot kit on me, and have plenty of spares with my support crew. I’ll also have spare tires. You never know.

Bags – this is probably my biggest change. The Jandd frame bag itself works great – but it makes it really hard to shoulder the bike, which was relevant this year because of the 3 miles of hiking. Also, I had a hard time keeping it organized and found it to be a little awkward trying to access it while riding and digging around in it for my food, because all my tools and spare tubes and everything got all mixed together. Also, it’s hard to keep from over-stuffing it so then it bulges out and hits your knees the whole time.

So my plan this year – I have a large Blackburn seat bag that will hold my tubes/levers/tool etc. I have a Banjo Brothers handlebar bag that will hold all my food. I like it because it sits level with the handlebars so it doesn’t block my headlight, and I like the integrated cue sheet holder. Unfortunately it broke the first time I used it, back on Father’s Day. On a 120-mile ride. To their credit, Banjo Brothers warrantied it without any hassle, but I haven’t had a chance to use it on a long ride since then. I’m going to test it out on some long rides here in the near future, but I’m hoping that will work.

Banjo Brothers handlebar bag with sample cue sheets.

Banjo Brothers handlebar bag with sample cue sheets.

Bottle cages – I’ll probably go with the extra cages mounted on the forks again. I’d really like to get a fork that already has bottle cage braze ons but this will work for now. I’m intrigued by the Revelate Mountain Feed bag, but I don’t know that I’m going to be able to purchase two of those any time soon and I also worry about hitting them with my knees when I stand up. I’ll probably go with what works. Also, since I shouldn’t have anything in my jersey pockets I’ll be able to stash a couple extra bottles there if it ends up being really hot. I’ll also have my 3-liter Camelbak stashed with my support crew in case of emergency, but I kind of hate having stuff on my back.

Cassette/derailleur – I went with the 11-36 because I wanted the extra low climbing gears. I used the Deore RD because you can use 9-speed Shimano mountain derailleurs with 10-speed Shimano road shifters. Sort of. It never worked that great. I’m not sure if it was the components or something else in my setup because I’ve had a hell of a time tuning the RD on this bike. But at any rate, I had another mishap a few weeks ago and exploded my RD again, so I went ahead and got a Shimano 105 RD (which is what the bike came with originally) and put an 11-32 on there. Although having the 11-36 was nice for a couple of the really brutal climbs, honestly I rarely ever used the the 36-tooth cog and I think I can live without it. So far my new setup is shifting a lot more reliably.

Comparison of the 11-36 and 11-32 cassette. It was nice having the larger cogs but it wasn't necessary and not worth the hassle of trying to tune the RD so everything works right.

Comparison of the 11-36 and 11-32 cassette. It was nice having the larger cogs but it wasn’t necessary and not worth the hassle of trying to tune the RD so everything works right.

Front derailleur – I installed a Shimano CX70 after the original 105 derailleur got bent out of shape during a particularly nasty ride through ice and mud. I went with the CX70 because you can get it as a top-pull and therefore I didn’t have to deal with the stupid pulley that was always getting clogged up with mud. I am very satisfied with it. Shimano says it can’t be used with anything bigger than a 46t chainring but I’ve been using it for several weeks with a 50t chainring with no problems.

Chainrings – I was running a 46/36 last year. I had to replace the big ring recently so I upgraded to a 50t. I thought maybe I might get a slight speed increase. I didn’t. Any increase I get on the top end is really negated by how much harder it is on my knees and how much cross chaining I have to do to get into a comfortable gear. When I replaced the chainring again, probably at the end of the winter, I’ll go with a 48t.

Pump – I love the Road Morph G. It folds out like a mini floor pump, you can fill up in a hurry, and it has a gauge so you can actually tell what pressure you’re inflating. The only drawback is that it’s kind of big and hard to mount – you can’t mount it beside your bottle cages like you can with other mini-pumps. I don’t want it on my top tube because I want to be able to carry my bike. Last year I had it mounted on the underside of my downtube, but it got all clogged up with mud. I actually ended up having to replace it. So now it’s mounted on my non-drive side seat stay. I have to be careful that it’s positioned exactly right so that I don’t hit it with my heel, but that it doesn’t rub the tire, but I’ve put quite a few miles on it like that and I think it will work.

Saddle – I had a Brooks B-17. I didn’t have any issues breaking it in and I found it to be pretty comfortable. Then, with a month to go before the Dirty Kanza, I rode it in the rain at the beginning of a 100-mile gravel race. At the end of the race it had turned into an ass hatchet, and no amount of tightening or lacing it has proven to be effective. I had been applying the Brooks Proofide precisely according to the directions. I will not spend money on a Brooks product ever again.

With less than a month to go before the race I didn’t exactly have time to test out a bunch of saddles. I tried a couple demo saddles from my LBS but they really didn’t work. I noticed a lot of the guys I ride with on our Sunday morning hammerfest rides have Selle Italia Flites on their bikes, so I rolled the dice and ordered one. I got pretty lucky – it has been fantastic. I’d like to get one for all my bikes, actually. It was great during the DK and has been since.

Engine – I was really disappointed in the power output of my engine last year. I blame shoddy American workmanship and inadequate fuel sources. I really hope to be able to improve that this year.

Day 5: fin

Finished the ride into Atlanta today. I only did a short portion of the trip but my dad biked 1100 miles, self supported, in just under a month. Pretty cool for someone who only started biking seriously just a few years ago.

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Heading out from the Ragsdale Inn

We stayed at a B&B in Dallas. It was only a few dollars more than the other lodging options and it was actually clean and comfortable. We got a nice breakfast too, which was a pleasant change after several days of no options and mediocre to downright bad food.

The trail got more crowded as we got closer to Atlanta, naturally. We were maintaining a fairly good pace (compared to the other days) for a bit but had to dial back a bit to be safe around kids, dogs, the elderly, and the clueless.

Once in Atlanta the official Silver Comet Trail ends and there’s a connector trail that goes to the Cumberland Mall. It’s a glorified sidewalk and there’s a lot of busy intersections to be crossed and Atlanta is right up there with Kansas City in terms of completely car centric attitudes and culture, so that last bit wasn’t much fun. It was miles not smiles.

But we finally made it to the bus stop at the end of the trail. The buses all have bike racks, so it was just a 20 minute ride to downtown and our hotel.

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End of the line. 1100 miles for my dad. Waiting on the bus.

Final thoughts: proud and impressed with my dad. He does his own thing and has a ton of fun doing it.

I doubt I’ll start bike touring any time soon. I still dislike camping and biking slow. But I’m glad I got to do that for a few days with my dad. And now that I have the rack & trunk bag, an overnight trip here and there isn’t out of the question.

The biking was pretty, and for the most part traffic was fine. But I definitely wasn’t impressed by any of the small towns in Alabama & Georgia we stayed at. There wasn’t anything to eat, anything to do, and everything was closed. I can see how planning a bike trip with a specific end point and date is a balancing act between an efficient route vs. going to towns that actually have things to see.

Still not a fan of multi-use paths. That is, I support their existence and think there should be more of them, but personally I don’t like using them. They are too limiting, you can’t go fast, and they don’t usually go anywhere I need to go. But there were a ton of people using the trail and if it gets people active then that’s awesome and kudos to the folks who made it happen.

The best thing about getting to Atlanta? Finally had some good food and coffee. And tomorrow I get to see a bunch of old friends.

Confederate flag count: 0. Guess they don’t tolerate that shit in Atlanta.

Check out my 27.2 mi Ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/336899162

Day 4: Cedartown to Dallas, GA

Well poopsticks. I wrote a longer post but the WordPress app kind of sucks and deleted it. Here’s a short version.

We biked 30 some miles. Could do more but our reservations in Atlanta aren’t until tomorrow.

The Silver Comet Trail is nice.

Everything in Georgia is out of business. I would murder a nun for a decent cup of coffee right now. Google gives crappy directions in the south.

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Scofflaw.

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Yeah... I'll get right on that.

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Tunnel.

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Scene from a very tall bridge.

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If you look closely, it's a skeleton in the lawn chair. Probably a decoration. Probably.

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Talked to a guy who had a Ritchey custom built in 1979. Ultegra 9 speed group, Mavic Open Pro rims, etc. Nice ride.

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I've never seen speed bumps for bikes before.

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This knick knack shop had kittens for adoption. I didn't get any. They were sleepy.

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Check out my 36.4 mi Ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/336190229

Day 3: Fort Payne, AL to Cedartown, GA

60 miles today. It got a bit warmer by the end but still only in the 80s, which is pretty good for the south. In June.

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Little River Falls.

On the road by 6 a.m. after fueling up at Waffle House. Started off immediately with another big climb up Lookout Mountain. 1.2 miles, 451 climbing, 7% grade. Wasn’t as tough as the last two climbs.

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The descent after the climb. Got to 40+ mph again.

Traffic was light and almost nonexistent the rest of the day, other than on the bridge over Weiss Lake. The terrain was mostly gentle rollers and seemed to be more descending than climbing.

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We crossed the Georgia line and the dirt turned red and sandy immediately, and there were lots of pines.

We had a couple miles of “gravel” to get around a busy road. It’s cute what they consider gravel here. I had to restrain myself from immediately putting the hammer down as soon as we left pavement. It seems wrong to go slow on gravel, somehow.

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"Gravel"

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Finally got my dad to do some gravel grinding! Not sure he's a fan.

From Cedartown we’re riding the Silver Comet trail into Atlanta. It goes all the way into Alabama. It’s a nice resource, but I get the impression it hasn’t quite taken off like the Katy Trail just yet.

Everything in Cedartown is out of business. After checking in to the hotel and getting cleaned up we decided to check out the town. There was supposed to be a coffee shop downtown, but when we got there it was boarded up. Pretty much every store front in their downtown area was. I had kind of expected some little shops or cafes, like on the Katy Trail. Looks like the town has hit on hard times.

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Coffee shop that wasn't

We stopped at the depot/welcome center on the Silver Comet trail. They had a bunch of information about Sterling Holloway, who was a character actor and the voice of Winnie the Pooh. Apparently he’s from Cedartown.

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Sterling Holloway in some shit your grandma probably liked.

A guy from Belgium stopped while we were there. He was loaded with a full touring setup, going from Atlanta to Louisiana in 10 days. I wanted to talk to him about cyclocross but he seemed in a hurry.

We biked a couple miles west on the Silver Comet trail just to check it out. On the way back we passed the course for a 5k wheelchair race that’s going to be in town tomorrow. They had the street lined with international flags. None of them were confederate.

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Furthest west we went on the Silver Comet trail.

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Taking a picture of taking a picture of taking a...

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International Cedartown.

Confederate flag count: 1. (So far none on Georgia. They were all in Alabama.)

Check out my 60.8 mi Ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/335509328

Day 2: Scottsboro to Fort Payne, AL

Short ride today. Waited till about 8:30 for the fog to burn off. It was nice and cool. It was actually 60 degrees when we woke up. By the time we started out was about 70 but never got above 77 or so.

There’s only one way to get out of Scottsboro to the southeast, a 4 lane about a mile long with no shoulders. I thought since it was Sunday morning traffic would be light but I was wrong. Also, they’re doing construction on it so it’s down to one lane for a bit.

Despite this, traffic was patient with us. Once across the bridge, however, there’s a 2.5 mile, 630 feet climb. It’s about a 5% grade but actually in a couple spots it’s a 13% grade. And traffic was really surprisingly heavy on that stretch for 9 am on a Sunday. I got to the top, found some shade and waited for dad.

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Dad nearing the summit

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Today's elevation.

After that traffic got much lighter and it felt like we were mostly descending the rest of the way. Then there was a fun, fast descent right going in to Fort Payne. Basically both towns are in river valleys and we have to climb to the plateau each day.

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After the climb. Much better.

We got to town too early to check in, so we had lunch at 11 and then went to the hotel.

Fort Payne hosts the Alabama (the band) fan club museum. So we went there. That was… something. I don’t actually know a single thing more about the band than when I started. They had lots of memorabilia and guitars and music awards. There was a very deep conversation taking place on the gift shop involving confederate flags and gay rights. Some deeply nuanced cultural discussion, to be sure.

Edited to add: for the most part traffic has been giving us room. I think since it doesn’t seem like they’re used to cyclists here, we’re viewed as an abnormality instead of a nuisance.

Also saw the only other cyclists I’ve seen so far: two Mormon missionaries in Fort Payne.

Confederate flag count: 3 (not counting all the ones in pictures at the museum.)

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Bike parking at the Alabama fan club museum.

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(There is no shotgun here)

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Grammy. With a crooked plaque.

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Cops love Alabama.

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Fort Payne PD badge. I bet that's not terrifying at all to minorities.

Check out my 28.6 mi Ride on Strava: http://app.strava.com/activities/334861741

Biking to Atlanta with my pops. Day 1: Fayetteville, TN to Scottsboro, AL

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I’m joining my dad on his bike tour to Atlanta. He started June 4. I was hoping to do about 2 weeks with him but things changed with my vacation time so I’m only doing the last 4 days, about 200 miles.

You can read his updates here: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/OldTopper

I left directly from work in Topeka Friday afternoon and drove all night to Fayetteville, TN to meet him. It was a horrible drive. It should have taken 10 hours but due to construction, wrecks, and general fuckery throughout the length of Missouri, it took nearly 15 hours. I didn’t get to the hotel until about 4:45 a.m.

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Had to get off the interstate to get around miles of motionless traffic west of Columbia. Tried some country roads. Most states would put up signs that say don't drive this road. But not Missouri!

I got about 4 hours’ sleep. Today was a 60 mile day and I knew we wouldn’t be doing that in 3 hours like on my road bike, so I wanted to be sure we weren’t getting done really late in the evening.

We were going to camp a couple days and stay in hotels the last 2 days, but dad and I talked and realized we could go faster without camping gear so why not just do hotels all 4 days? So that made packing easier.

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We left Fayetteville about 9:30 or so. There was a light rain for a few miles but it let up quickly. The cloud cover stuck around all day so that was nice. There was a bit of a headwind from the south but there’s actually hills and trees and shit in the south so headwind isn’t as much of a factor as it is in Kansas. We were on a somewhat busy highway for a few miles but traffic was light on Saturday morning and there was a big shoulder.

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Big climb leaving Fayetteville. You can just see dad behind me.

Once we turned off the 4 lane, traffic was almost nonexistent. We had picturesque tree-covered narrow winding mountain roads and streams for miles that were out of a Faulkner novel, but with less misogyny. It was reasonably cool all day and generally just a great day on the bike.

We had one monster climb, a 3.5 ascent to the Cumberland Plateau. It was about a 7% grade and 1000 feet of climbing. Dad thought it would take him 2 hours. It didn’t, but it was a workout. However, the descent was a blast.

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The start of the Cumberland climb. Pictures never really convey elevation effectively.

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Almost to the top!

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Made it!

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I didn't actually mean to take this picture but it's kind of cool.

After the descent it was flat all the way into Scottsboro. Got some alright BBQ and settled in to catch up on some missed sleep.

Confederate flag count: 2 (less than expected).

My setup: cross bike. Topeak MTX Explorer rear track. Topeak MTX trunk bag with expandable pannier bags. Jandd handlebar bag. That’s it.

I’m packing a toiletry kit, one set of regular clothes, flip flops, spare kit, and a couple other odds and ends. It all fit in the trunk bag without needing to use the pannier bags. Handlebar bag is just carrying food.

Today’s ride: http://app.strava.com/activities/334280147