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.)


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.