I grew up playing a lot of hockey. From the time I could stand my parents had me on skates. I played through high school and still secretly wish I was a pro hockey player. Through high school we’d travel a bit south and play a lot of hockey in Lawrence, MA. Turns out, there’s no coincidence between that Lawrence and the fact that I’m now in Lawrence, KS. Moreover, my hotel sits on what is effectively main street although it’s truly called Massachusetts Street. The history runs deep here, as a “pioneer party” from Massachusetts decided that a walk across half the United States was a good idea, settling in Lawrence, KS in order to make Kansas a free state, without racial restrictions. My favorite trivial tidbit about the name Lawrence is that “the name sounded well and had no bad odor attached to it in any part of the Union.”
I like that Larry is a nickname for Lawrence. Usually reserved for human beings, generally men with the legal name Lawrence, but I’m extending it to city names.
So here I am in Larry, Kansas getting ready for my first ever Dirty Kanza. Those in the know are well versed in DK’s place on the cycling map. And for those who aren’t, it’s considered the toughest gravel race in the world. It’s considered that by yours truly, who’s never done it before, but who thinks that’s a lofty (and accurate) enough title to stick. It is 200 miles, 95% of which is gravel, shaped something like a figure-8, all across the rolling countryside of Kansas. Sure it’s a race, but 200 miles of anything outside of space travel is considered quite long. I believe the current fastest time is just under 11 hours whereas some folks take nearly a full day to complete the course, so this is something like a grand fondo or marathon. By that I mean, maybe 10% of folks are actually racing for a competitive time and the other 90% are in it to challenge themselves and are in the hunt to simply finish.
When it’s good, it’s great! These pictures show a sunny 2014 event with nothing but smiles and a vast horizon.
When it’s bad, however, it’s downright sloppy.
For some reason, this reminds me a bit of one of my final races of the 2015 season, and my career, the gravel sections of the Tour of Alberta.
In uplifting news, as long as you like good weather, the forecast is for mid-80s and sun through the weekend so that’s helpful.
At the end of an interview when the mic’ is off, we’re often asked, “What question do you wish you were asked?” I can’t think of anything creative right now, so I’ll instead write an entire interview of questions interviewing… myself.
Ted the Questioner (TQ): Greetings me. Hope you’re having as good a day as I am! So what made you want to race Dirty Kanza?
Ted the Answerer (TA): I’ve been aware of the Dirty Kanza for some time now. It’s now in it’s eleventh year meaning it came into existence my first year pro, also 2006. It’s gained reputation, earned some gritty notoriety, gained fame, but it still never really crossed my mind as a thing to do. I suppose it sort of fit into the realm of RAAM in that regard — it piques my curiosity, but never actually interested in doing it. More recently, I knew of some bigger names doing it. Barry Wicks, Neil Shirley, and Rebecca Rusch have been known to drop in and turn the screws. Then for some reason, this year I heard my 200 mile partner in crime Tim Johnson is doing it, I’ve been hanging out with Rebecca Rusch more and more, and then I saw the I Ride For Her video and that really somehow just iced the cake. It looked big, it looked tough, it looked super fun, and right up my alley. It caters to the new facet of riding: the masses. Rather than just focusing on the hard core bike racing folks, it’s targeting anyone who wants to ride a bike (which is why there are considerably shorter distances and events for kids, etc).
TQ: Wow, nice answer.
TA: Based on a stellar question, me. What else you got?
TQ: How are you feeling going into this year’s DK?
TA: Another great question. I’m far less fit than I’ve been anytime in the past ten years, so that’s a detriment. Then I fell mountain biking about two weeks ago in a totally awkward “Catch yourself falling sideways towards a tree, but then really miss the tree entirely and just fall hard on the ground and pound your entire right side on a boulder” ordeal. After laying on the ground for a good three minutes in agony, I caught my breath and figured that the pain might last for 48 hours. Turns out it’s still killing me anytime I sleep, roll over in bed, sit down for a long time, sneeze, cough, and umm… move. So that’s a touch bothersome. Otherwise I’m confident in having a really good time on Saturday!
TQ: How do you plan to handle nutrition?
TA: I’m going to do virtually the entire ride fueled on UnTapped. And don’t for an instant think I’m kidding! I’ll take an UnTapped maple packet every 45 minutes or so and pop an electrolyte tablet as needed if I find myself sweating a ton. I’ll eat tons of the UnTapped Maple Waffles and then spread some Justin‘s Nut Butter for added protein. I’ll sip Skratch throughout since it’s going to be hot. If you hand me a cookie, I’ll probably eat that too. Outside of the out of this world delicious Maple Waffles, I don’t eat packaged food.
TQ: Would you describe yourself as nervous?
TA: I wouldn’t call it nervous as much as anxious. I just want to get the race started. When I was ProTour racing, I was never nervous before a start. It became so routine that it was a drill that we just did, day in and day out. You know when to get psyched up, know when to be calm, know the entire process, but nerves were never an issue. Now that I’m not racing, per se, I do find myself thinking about Saturday a lot. There are so many more variables that I never had to consider as a racer. There is no follow car! You’re entirely self-supported! The roads are brutal and we’re racing across sharp rocks! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE asks about tires and tire pressure and gearing and all sorts of stuff. I’m racing my Cannondale Slate in a nearly identical set-up as seen here. A 1x SRAM drivetrain with Hydro disc brakes; plus a plush 1″ of travel and some soft, low pressure tires, all paired with a stiff and efficient aluminum frame. Zipp components, a Quarq, Speedplay Syzr pedals, a Fizik saddle, all captured with a Cycliq Fly12: BAM, she’s a beaut!
TQ: Stunning Ted. Just stunning. Anything else?
TA: I’d be remiss to forget offering tremendous thanks to Rebecca for taking me under her wing this week. I would be walking around blind without her lead here. From when and where and how to feed to every other detail under the sun, she’s been great. We had some fun last night at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike with a QnA plus hilarious game show style contest at the end. Check that whole thing out here.
Another huge thank you goes to Dan Hughes. Dan is a legend in the DK world, being not only a four time champion, but also the only men’s multiple time champ (Rebecca is the only women’s multiple-time champ). More than that he’s incredibly kind, he’s selfless, he’s the king of Lawrence, he’s the owner of Sunflower, he’s exceedingly generous with his insider tips and tricks of the trade. Google “Dan Hughes Dirty Kanza” and you’ll see why.
Lastly, here are some pics from today’s shakedown ride from Sunflower. Kansas: complete with train crossings.
Everyone say “DUUUUUUUUST!”
Up front leading the pace is Carl Ring. He’s a current New Hampshire denizen, but was born and raised in these parts of Lawrence, KS. That granite stater has some local know-how.