One hundred and forty miles into the Dirty Kanza 200, a 200-mile gravel road race, a wicked thunder and lightning storm chased me eastward. I surfed the tailwind afforded by the cold front and thought that I might miss the story. It looked like it might stay to the south.
No such luck.
Instead the rain hit, and as soon as it did I regretted my decision to leave behind my rain jacket. As the rain started, I stopped to stow my iPod in my frame bag in an attempt to keep it dry. As I pulled it out of my pocket I felt the wax paper wrapper of the tortilla, turkey and cheese wrap I had finished a few miles before.
The wrap had saved my day nutritionally, and now the wax paper was going to save my health. I stuffed it up my jersey as I’ve seen countless pros do with newspaper. With my chest a bit warmer, I rolled on as the rain came beating down. Quickly the rain turned to hail and the tailwind transformed into a crosswind.
Even with the long wheelbase of the Salsa Vaya Ti (lent to me by Salsa Cycles, my host at the Dirty Kanza) and the incredible bite of my Schwalbe tires, I was blown off the road after cresting a rise on the horizon. I got a foot down just in time to save myself from a header into the ditch.
Once I was stopped, the ditch started to look pretty appealing. There was nowhere else to take shelter in the open prairie of the Flint Hills of Kansas. I climbed down. As the wind picked up and the sky turned green (both signs of tornado weather to this Indiana boy) I hunkered down below the surface of the gravel road.
When I looked to my left I realized I was in front of my bike. The Cateye Inou camera mounted on my handlebar was pointed straight at me and, as programmed, kept taking photos at one-minute intervals. I took the time to smile and give a thumbs-up. A little humor, even when I’m alone, seems to help me reset and reassess.
The rain eased up and as I popped my head up out of the ditch, I saw a truck approaching. A rider was already in the back with his bike. They stopped and offered me a ride. They said more weather was coming, but I looked back down the road and saw a rider approaching.
I decided to keep going. A couple of miles later, I turned off the “nice” gravel road onto a Minimal Maintenance Road (MMR). The rain had turned the dirt double track into a quagmire. It was impossible to ride and it caked up the bike so quickly I couldn’t push it either. It was time to pick up the bike and carry it a couple of miles to the next gravel section.
Along the way there was a creek crossing where several of us took the opportunity to clean the mud off of our shoes. Several miles later, I rolled into Council Grove at mile 162 to the smiling face of Lelan Dains — an Emporia native and finisher of the 2008 edition of the Dirty Kanza. He volunteered to drive to the checkpoints for our Salsa Cycles crew.
Lelan grabbed my bike and headed off to wash it with a hose the local grocery store had provided the race. Meanwhile I reloaded my pockets with food and put my headlight on my helmet for the final leg of the ride.
Three hours later, two in the dark, I rolled back into Emporia and finished my first Dirty Kanza 200, in 16 hours and 57 minutes, having ridden 205 miles (after one wrong turn that added two miles). This is why I ride: to take risks, to live, to survive.