What an amazing time to be old! What an amazing time to ride a bike! How amazing that more than eighty-one 60 + year olds lined up for this brutally hot and hilly two hundred mile course!
Dozens of us old guys finished ahead of many guys half our age. When did this geriatric renaissance begin? How far can we push these creaky old bodies? When my parents were in their 60’s and 70’s all they could handle was Bocce Balls, bridge or golf… and if they needed an endorphin rush most just turned to liquor and cigarettes. Ride a bike for 16 hours on shitty dirt roads while eating 16 gritty health bars? No effin’ way they would say! You could have a stroke like that! That’s what jeeps are for… with a Yeti ice chest full of booze and sausages.
What this old boomer experienced if you recall last year’s report, DK number three was a disaster. I drank way too much water and suffered hyponatremic hallucinations of planet-wide tilting and alien conversations for hours. When JOM and I posed on the Chasing the Chaise last year it was all I could do not to curl up in the fetal position, clutch a pillow and refuse to budge.
But for this year JOM and Mrs. K-Dogg were determined to have another go. JOM wanted to earn the five finish chalice and Mrs. K-Dogg just wanted to redeem herself for bailing last year for reasons more emotional than physical. So while they registered for the 200 I chose the more survivable 100 miler because, well, I was 64 and weary. Weary of being weary year after year.
But then… a few months later, having idiotically forgotten my previous agony, I traded my ticket back up to the 200 miler. It wasn’t hard. Apparently, there were lots of riders having a “WTF was I thinking!?” moment and were happy to trade down to a more reasonable distance.
In contrast, I simply deluded myself vowing to bail roughly midpoint and take the taxi home UNLESS I felt absolutely AMAZING enough to continue. This philosophy beat back the butterflies of worry until the door shut and flight 1038 to Kansas City began backing out of Atlanta.
So are all morons delusional or are all delusional morons? Apparently, 64-year old Doggs are both. They have short term memories which make them assume anything done outside is always outrageously fun and without consequences. Pain is forgotten one bowl of Alpo later. But this Dogg is married to a very smart and scientifical woman who gleefully began enforcing a rigorous training program of weights, mileage, intervals and targeted nutrition on and off the bike. Mrs. K-Dogg purchased a really cool gravel specific training program from a coaching service called FASCAT Coaching (Frank Overton). They also have great specific advice for us ancient boomer racers with weekly podcasts. For decades I’ve trained intuitively, eschewing heart rate monitors, power meters, or even speedometers. I felt I already had a job. Having two is stupid… but I gave it a try and found it is not only easier but takes less time. You still suffer just less as long as you “FTFP” (Follow The F’n Plan) as Frank says. The mainstay of the plan is to build a hemi-powered aerobic engine by completing intervals riding just below lactate threshold that he cutely calls “Sweet Spot.” They are anything but sweet but work well on long climbs and long efforts. He also insists we sleep more and take naps every day. HELLO!? Yes, naps every day! Sixty plus gravel cyclists are all over that shite already!
Now JOM likes to train the way I usually do so he is very grumpy at me but he’s a youngster and still in his 40’s. “You are no fun to train with anymore Dogg,” he said. “Stop that shite,” he says when I miss a more fun team ride to do intervals. “Ride how you feel mate,” he said. “I feel like winning,” I said. But I promised him I would stop if it didn’t help me significantly with DK200 (It did – don’t tell him.) or Steamboat Gravel this August. So, for now, Mrs. K-Dogg promised: “We’re going to science the shit out of this!” (“The Martian.”)
To avoid another episode of “As the World Tilts” (A boomer soap opera) she determined that for every hour racing I needed to ingest about 300 mg of sodium, 250 calories, and one to two water bottles depending on the heat. We even prepared homemade rice cakes but found them a bit crumbly to eat mid-race but they helped us avoid food burnout which is very important. When you race your bike hard for 12 – 18 hours your stomach starts to reject many foods so variety is important. When the food stops so does your race and it’s really hard to recover from it later.
I discovered the Garmin had an EAT ALERT warning that was really helpful to remind you to eat and drink. I set my eat alert to flash every 30 minutes to eat 1/2 my hourly rations in case I missed the alert while screaming down, say, a tire slashing hill or some other distraction like Little Egypt Road.
To avoid sticky fingers and pockets I loaded two large GU squeeze tubes with five doses each. One with caffeine and one without. It worked well except when one tube launched and bounced off my helmet crossing a particularly jarring creek bed. It went unnoticed for a few miles. Besides littering, this was bad news as that loss was worth 12% of my caloric needs, but the next stop had pickles, Paydays, and BBQ chips so I was able to replenish with some unauthorized but delicious food. Don’t tell Coach Dogg, please.
So, five weeks before the race, JOM, Dr. Pain, and Florida Cracker (aka Rusty… proud of his heritage) joined us for training as we rode fully loaded bikes 150 miles of Florida sugar sand, lime rock potholes with temperatures near 90.
Three weeks to go we rode 170 miles joined by Dr. Pain. Looking good!
With two weeks to go, I threw out my back picking tomatoes in my garden. It was manageable.
With one week to go, I caught a cold visiting my daughter at Navy graduation at Great Lakes, Illinois. The entire boot camp was sick my daughter told me. But I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.
I’m still recovering two weeks later. So to make a short story long the virus reduced my power output by approximately 20% but my legs were reasonable.
Here we go
Twelve hundred racers cued up at dawn is an amazing sight. A school of blinking mullet-headed un-famous athletes were all keyed up to race their guts out in a great big circle.
Keyed up but (unlike vicious roadies) still amazingly friendly and sporting enough to let this undeserving old Dogg slot right into the front ranks just behind the superstars and record holders.
Then the gun went off and my front row seat vanished like free beer after a gravel ride, as 1000 bikers immediately pushed me backwards like a fading migratory salmon after dropping its last egg.
It’s also important to pre-open all your gels, blocks and bars. Don’t be that guy who crashes in a ditch with Expresso Love all over his face. Always keep at least one hand on the bars in this race.
The first hour
The plan was to ride with the front pack briefly then seek out and work with other mere mortals of my own feeble talents. I, of course, got caught up in the moment which turned in to a full hour. My speedometer registered 24 mph. Heart rate in A.T. zone even before the hills began. I was pan fried and fading. It was time to flip this blackened fish and back the eff’ off.
Eventually latching onto a suitably sustainable group I noted Amanda Nauman (check out her 2019 DK200 race bike) bridging past a few minutes in arrears. Mechanicals happen to superstars too it seems but the set of her race face didn’t have a trace of panic as she calmly chased back. Just another day at the office.
If you thought last year’s hills were relentless then this year either pleased you or challenged you. Although hard, there was nothing particularly technically difficult that I remember but then I forgot I swore last year never to do this race again – and here I was again.
Eventually, I made it to the first checkpoint. The Crew for Hire were fast, friendly and efficient kids but probably clueless as to why we paid hundreds of dollars for these idiotic death marches. Most kids ride bikes simply to escape their parents until they get a car. Cycling parents simply want to escape their cars. But thank you so much, guys!
After 10 minutes filling my CamelBak and bottles I was just leaving the stop when I heard the clear drillmaster voice of Mrs. K-Dogg just pulling in. “Oi! K-Dogg! Wait up!”
Unlike me, she had stayed out of the opening fish school fracas and was fresh enough to run me down. Ten minutes later I was delighted for her company and we decided to ride together. She ended up fourth place podium for her age group and we crossed the finish line together for the first time ever in an actual race.
That was better than any trophy I could imagine. It also eased my mind she could help if my hyponatremia returned. (It did not).
So over hill, over dale, we did hit the dusty trail punctuated only by the fun at Little Egypt Road where miraculously neither of us actually punctured. The next day, however, Mrs. K-Dogg discovered a vicious 1” rear sidewall slash but with the trusty Panaracer GravelKing SK+ and Orange Seal sealant, it stayed inflated just fine. Somewhere amidst the rolling hills, we passed Adrienne Taren (GC writer), suffering on a single speed. Way to tough it out, Adrienne!
Eventually, we came to the last checkpoint. We were both leg weary and butt sore but with 50 miles to go and a nice tailwind we knew we’d make it. The perky Crew for Hire directed us to a nice patch of cool shady grass then quickly filled our bottles and CamelBak. With groans of delight, we replaced our wet, sandy socks with fresh ones from our drop bags.
We had planned to rush this last checkpoint but 15 minutes later we were still lying down and fading away rapidly. We were now told that the last 15 miles of the race were completely flat. Yea!
I also overheard the biggest hills yet to come were the next 35 miles. Boo! Then I overheard two private crew members lying to their rider that all hills were gone and it was downhill the whole last 50 miles. They kept giggling and refused eye contact with me. Bastards! I vowed to “find” them after the race. I’m sure they were worried.
So feeling slightly nauseous the Doggs tanked up and rolled out of our last sanctuary and headed south and home.
Very soon the tidal wave like hills began rolling at us. Mile after mile they kept getting bigger and bigger like Florida waves that supposedly come in sets of seven with the seventh being the biggest and best ride according to local surfers. Unfortunately, these waves were neither cool nor refreshing as Florida waves. You don’t get a free ride back to shore with a beach chair and cold beer waiting. We did get a brief rocky coast down the other side of each hill but with 45 miles to go, it was still three hours to the finish.
As the light faded softly away the hills turned a mystical green… like giant scoops of pistachio ice cream. I vowed to return here someday under kinder circumstances with a jeep, Yeti ice chest and lots of that alternative sports drink bottled in Milwaukee.
With 15 – 20 miles remaining the parched dune trail of Kansas gave way to a large, cool lake. Was this a cruel desert mirage? If so it had motor boats and cheering tifosi driving up close waving to our parched, dusty carcasses. “Hoo! Hoo!” They waved quaffing beer out of their Yeti. “Good job! Almost done!” they shouted mindlessly. If they only knew.
A couple of miles later, looking like sweaty dirt clods we snuggled up and posed on the Chase the Chaise couch. “Fifteen miles of flat to go” said the photographers sitting on their Yeti. I could have kissed them… if my eyes could still focus. They were crusted shut with a salty mix of spackling compound and sunblock.
Soon the sun set and it became wonderfully cool. My 100-gram caffeine emergency GU was kicking in nicely. The tailwind picked up and the hills rushed us home. We were flying!
I turned on my two little lights to see the few potholes. When it got really dark Mrs. K-Dogg switched on her headlamp flood light. I swear I could feel its warmth on my back but it was well worth it.
Soon we were suffering up that lasting, nasty dorm hill of death, zig-zagging thru campus then finally crossing the blinding finish line. It was over! We had redeemed ourselves from last year’s attempt and collected our Finisher’s Glass and Midnight patch.
I also proved to JOM and myself that 64 is not too old for this race. The world did not tilt and there were no intergalactic conversations. But I did return with some mysterious rashes I can’t account for in places I cannot reveal. Does Kansas have its own area 51? Inquiring minds don’t give a shit. But by far the best prize of all was racing all day and finishing side by side with my best friend and favorite training partner Mrs. K-Dogg.