The Dirty Kanza 200 race in the Flint Hills around Emporia, Kansas is one of the biggest gravel events in the United States. At 200 miles / 320kms in length, the Full Monty course (aka the whole thing) is a challenge to anyone who rides it. Adding to the lengthy distance of the event is the weather factor. For 2015, the race was a story of mud, broken bikes and in some cases, broken dreams.
June 4, 2016 marks the inaugural appearance of the Gravel Cyclist crew at the race, namely JOM, K-Dogg and Mrs K-Dogg. We’ve begun our training in one form or another, and in the case of yours truly (JOM), I’ve begun testing the waters by riding big miles on the dirt, gravel and sandy roads near my USA hometown of Gainesville, Florida – solo style. A few weeks ago, I knocked out a solo 125 mile ride…
On Sunday, April 3rd, 2016, I planned to ride 150+ miles as a continued proof of concept. If I can crack out that distance solo while maintaining a reasonable pace, I should hypothetically be capable of riding 200 miles in Kansas. Ideally, I will be sharing the workload and suffering with other riders on event day.
After chowing on a copious amount of food the night before the ride and a large breakfast the morning of, I was ready to roll. Accompanying me would be my venerable Ritchey Breakaway gravel travel bike, saddle bag and tools, extra tube lashed to the seatpost, bottles filled with a cut-down Gatorade mix and pockets filled with energy gels, smart phone and a Platypus Softbottle. Four additional gels were loaded into position between my bib shorts leg gripper and leg; a handy storage spot!
The weather forecast was for a beautiful sunshine filled day with a low temperature of 52F / 11C and high of 75F / 24C. My personal temperature cutoff for knee and arm warmers is 65F / 18C. Thus, I rolled from the house suitably kitted up.
The ride began in Gainesville, Florida, heading northeast to the southerly outskirts of Lake City, Florida for the first stop of the day. Dividing the 158 mile course into manageable chunks would make the day’s endeavour a lot more manageable. In all, three stops for hydration and chow were planned, along with bonus stops for photographic opportunities.
Less manageable was the tough block headwind that slowed progress as I trundled along towards Lake City. Ordinarily, a group of riders can divide the workload by taking turns riding at the front, and hence save precious energy. Alas, I was alone, so the only thing to do was slow down the ride a little. I don’t own a power meter, but I’m certain if my power output were measured, it would be the equivalent of rolling 19 – 20mph on dirt and gravel roads, versus 16mph and a headwind on the same roads.
But what a morning… and these roads! I’ve ridden just about every dirt and gravel road within 50 miles of Gainesville, Florida. The views never get old and during the early morning hours, the way the light passes through the tree canopies is simply picturesque.
As I drew closer to the outskirts of Lake City, I came upon a remote property comprised of a decently sized vegetable garden, trellis for grape growing and the lady of the house watching me roll past. Yet, there was no house present. Rather, a neatly laid concrete pad laid at the centre of the two to three acre plot, with a mid-size RV (recreational vehicle) parked atop.
Why am I mentioning this? I think living simply is admirable. My life isn’t always simple, but the idea of living seasonally in various locations throughout the year is very appealing. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have the sort of full-time gig to support this lifestyle – teleworking from wherever you lay your hat – and riding bicycles a lot – but is something I aspire to in the future. Hats off to the lady who owns that property!
After a brief convenience store stop 63 miles / 100 kilometres into the ride, I continued towards the town of Wellborn, Florida. The dirt and gravel roads between the store and Wellborn were sludgy in nature due to the heavy rain that had fallen the day before. Certainly not ideal, it beat the pants off riding dry, sandy roads, which this area is sometimes known for.
The Wikipedia entry for the town of Wellborn reveals very little about it, but in June of every year, the town celebrates its annual Blueberry Festival. Also of interest is the old brick road in town that runs parallel to the active railway line. I believe the Wellborn brick road is one of many that was constructed in North Florida during the the early 1920’s. Since that time, those roads have given way to the paved highways that we take for granted.
Leaving Wellborn, the virtual halfway point of the ride, I was expecting a friendly tailwind as I began making my way south. But as is the nature of the weather, conditions can change at the drop of a hat. Now I faced a less than friendly cross tailwind. Thankfully I had been riding conservatively, and still had a reasonable amount of energy in the tank. Also, I’d made the cognizant effort to remain well hydrated and consume an energy gel at least every 45 minutes.
However, just 10 miles / 16 kilometres later, that would all change. The wind was blowing all over the place, and none of it beneficial. My original plan was to stop and refuel in the town of Fort White, Florida, approximately 120 miles / 193 kilometres into the route. The wind was causing me some duress, but I was able to continue riding at the same effort as earlier, but my legs needed some serious coercing and mental torture of my brain to convince myself to keep plugging along.
When I design routes, I typically plan for contingencies such as an emergency store stop. The route passed through the bustling metropolis of Beachville, which is a blip town with a petrol station, a couple of houses and little else. It lies a little southwest of O’Brien, Florida, at the junction of US49 / 247. At this time, I was running close to empty, having consumed both bottles of fluid on the bike, and at least half of my backup stash contained in the Platypus Softbottle – the petrol station couldn’t come fast enough! I generally avoid sodas / cool drinks (as we say in Australia), but that huge Coke hit the spot nicely. Then, I spent the next 20 minutes to half an hour relaxing, chowing and chatting to the one or two people who decided to follow my GPS tracker running on my phone. Nice to know someone out there cares
The remaining 50 miles / 80 kilometres of the route were tough and really tested my mental fortitude. The hydration and food consumed at the Beachville stop certainly helped, but my body was telling me it wanted rest and more calories. Down another gel…
The towns of Fort White, Florida and High Springs, Florida came and went, and the kilometres slowly ticked down. Just under 25 miles / 39 kilometres of riding remained as I left High Springs. The ride was drawing to a close, but the next 12 miles / 19 kilometres would prove to be the toughest of all. The wind continued to be uncooperative and my energy levels were really flagging. Mentally, I encouraged myself to keep pushing on, maintain the same consistent speed and think about the reward of the food and beverage goodies waiting for me at home… mmmm.
With just 13 miles remaining, I was forced to stop one last time. I’d planned to knock out the ride on just two stops, but my body was having none of it and demanded a massive sugar and caffeine hit. My route planning had paid off, just in time for a convenience store to roll into sight – another can of Coke to the rescue! As I downed said Coke, my good friend and teammate Dr. Pain, who had been watching my progress on the GPS tracker, sent me a text. “Did you crack? You stopped at the BP”. My response, “Almost cracked, Coke needed!”
Full-strength Coke fueled the final 13 miles of my ride. Coke isn’t a quality beverage, but when you’re on the edge of a full body crack, sometimes you need to adjust your plans. With nine miles remaining, I was welcomed into the outskirts of Gainesville by teammate Jimbo. He too had been watching the progress of my GPS tracker. Sadly, I don’t have a photograph, but imagine a bloke waving a makeshift flag assembled from a Gravel Cyclist t-shirt and a vuvuzela. I have some great friends and amazing teammates! I was blown away…
The final seven miles were a straight shot into town along Millhopper Road – local cyclists and visitors to the area know and love this road. Spurred on by Jimbo as he tagged along behind, snapping a photo or two, I burned anything left in the tank. Teammate Dr. Pain, who appeared at the roadside with a few miles to go, offered up words of encouragement, and a food item held aloft and out of reach. Cheeky bugger! But, no time to stop and no time to eat!
158 miles of mostly dirt, gravel, sand, sludge and wind in a riding time of about 9:45. I was hoping to go a little faster, but considering the wind and some of the sludgy roads, I was pleased with my effort. Kudos also to Buckler Embrocation. The company’s chamois cream product, reviewed earlier on Gravel Cyclist, saw me through this ride sans issues. Brilliant!
JOM’s Strava Data from the ride.
What’s next? In a few weeks time, another mega training ride and some cool races / events… watch this space.
Thanks for reading!