I DNFd this one...and I'm still going to write about it. Pics at the bottom if reading is too hard.
Why do a write up on a race I didn't finish? Finishing is the ultimate goal after all. In a nutshell, this race blew my mind and my body in more ways than I ever imagined so I might as well share the adventure. I came into it assuming it would be the hardest race I have done. This was one of the very few correct assumptions I made this weekend.
I looked down at my heart rate monitor three minutes before the start to see it flashing 198 BPM at me. I decided it was confused from the other riders with gadgets around me and turned it forward so I would no longer think about it. With my pacing plan for the day staring at the pavement we rolled out of Emporia, KS for two hundred and five miles of gravel "fun". My new and revised plan was to go sorta hard til it got hot then ease up until dark. Lee and I had planned from the get go to try and stay together but this lasted about five minutes amidst the frenzied double paceline that formed once we hit gravel. During the roll out I met Thad, another singlespeeder who had graciously provided me with his top secret Kanza gravel tips a couple months ago via the Facebook.
The first leg of the race was 62 miles from Emporia to Cassoday and contained some of the most beautiful scenery of the whole race. I had seen plenty of good pictures of the Flint Hills before this race but was still awed by the landscape. It really is different from anything I have seen but I just don't feel I have the words to properly describe. Let's go with beautiful and leave it at that.
I found a fast moving paceline -a bit too fast I think looking back on it- and latched on for the next ten or fifteen miles until I decided I was just wasting energy early and peeled off to wait on Lee, who happened to show up in the next ten minutes. We held a good pace and made it to the first checkpoint in right under four hours where Zach was waiting on us. Many thanks to him for the support, made the day so much better. We were both feeling great and after a quick refill we grabbed our maps for the next section and took off. Well, I should say that differently - Lee grabbed the map for the next section and I grabbed his old map from the first leg. Ooops.
Emily Brock, last year's winner of the lady riders, joined us for a long chat as we started the 44 mile trek to Florence. We pedaled along, chatting merrily for the next few miles, before we came to a halt to look at the map. Missed a turn and not by a little bit. Oh well, missed turns are part of a race with maps and lots of turns. No biggie. I tried to avoid doing the mental math of how much time we wasted with this missed turn and we fell in with another fast group. We met a guy named Steven (I think) from Texas on a fixed gear (!) who said he knew Bamacross Brent...cool, small world. Not more than ten miles later we were lost. Someone had torn down the course markings and we had a group of fifteen exhausted guys arguing over which unmarked road to take. This is where things began to get a bit hazy.
It was close to noon and oh so hot. Not Alabama hot with humidity and shade, but Flint Hills hot, totally exposed and scorching. I put everything out of my mind except looking at the countryside around us and not missing anymore turns. Our average speed was still upwards of 14 mph but with all the extra miles it was over eight hours from the start when we made it to the halfway point. Lee and I both agreed we felt like death at this point and were no longer able to eat due to the intense heat. I considered quitting while I refilled my bottles and surveyed the riders laying on the ground around us. Freakin' rough, lots of DNFs already. We rolled on to the third checkpoint 60 miles away in Council Grove. We had both improved our condition from death to shitty and discussed ways to boost morale for the longest and hottest section of the course. Despite our wishes, we did not find Ted Nugent singing to us in the next yard we passed. Dammit, more disappointment.
After fifteen more miles of 99 degree heat, a stiff headwind, and no relief in sight I was in a dark place. Dehydrated, confused, and becoming more nauseous by the minute I asked Lee to stop. The horizon and the prairie grass had a bit of a lava lamp look to them. Hmmm. We discussed how bad off I would have to be to quit and get someone to take me to a hospital. I decided I was not quite there so I chugged a bottle of water and pedaled on. This is not a method of rehydration recommended by anyone with a brain but I was desperate and had to do something besides mope and stare off into the distance. Lee neglected to tell me about the dark rings forming under my eyes until later. Good thing, that probably would have been my undoing. I don't remember what the course was like at this point besides climbing a lot of hills. I simply pedaled. We suffered through the next couple hours and were rewarded with some cloud cover and shade around 5PM.
I gnawed on some Twizzlers as we rode along and my world slowly turned back to a happy place. A creek to cool off in served to further elevate my state of mind. I was feeling like a champ and happy to be out riding. Halfway through this leg we noticed a wall cloud and some intense cloud to ground lightning directly in our path. The road slowly became wetter and slicker so we got off to walk. We were able to take cover behind a tree when the storm really hit - sixty mph winds, hail, rain, tornadoes reported by some riders. The aftermath of the storm in the form of muddy B roads was worse than the actual storm. The wheels were so clogged with mud I couldn't even push the bike so we crawled under some barbed wire and rode in a cow pasture for a few miles after scraping off mud.
NOTE: Do NOT climb over barbed wire in muddy bike shoes unless you absolutely have to. Just crawl, it's way safer.
The roads were showing no improvement and were totally undrideable. After pushing bikes in a ditch for five miles trying to avoid horseflies we met a farmer who told us most of the B roads were about the same. Same meaning horrible. Hm, flashbacks to DSG in 2009 began playing in my head as I did the figures on how long it would take to get through another 25 miles of this. Too long.
A guy we were riding with said he "had heard if you could make it back to the third checkpoint on the road they would let you continue..."
Things got weird after this. We eventually found a busy two lane and began hammering the 35 miles to Council Grove. I called Zach to get the word on the course situation. Official word was we were disqualified since we were on the road. Yes, he was 300% sure. No, we could not continue on to the finish. We got to the last checkpoint to announce our DNF to the official there and he gave us another map to go on to the finish!
We stopped at this point with 180 miles in the bag and accepted our DNFs. My legs still felt good, I wanted more but it was not to be this day. Some riders who bailed off the B roads continued on to the finish somehow and I guess....didn't DNF? 65 people out of 350 riders finished. Yikes. Congrats to the overall winners on the tandem, so awesome. The Flint Hills were absolutely brutal, epic, soul crushing and whatever else you want to call it to describe how thoroughly it will kick your ass. Hardest race I've been a part of and I will be back next year. Loved it. Good job to everyone that helped put this on and the town/citizens of Emporia. Some of the nicest people I have ever met were up in Kansas this weekend.
|Parking courtesy of broken jacuzzi|
|Springfield, MO was a nice spot to rest|
|Still felt good at this point...|
|Fargo fork held mud as well as it did bottles|
|Leaving the Flint Hills|
|As remote as it gets|