I’m back baby

Distance makes the heart grow fonder. So I’m told, anywho. By that logic, one would assume that a greater distance makes for greater fondness. Conveniently Dirty Kanza is billed as 200 miles, but actually clocks in around 206, so that’s an enormous distance for the heart to warm up to the realm of general fondness.

One might assume that crossing the line in first last year, is sunshine and rainbows, but I remember finishing the race and really being in so much anguish that I had literally no interest to come back. Which, of course, is really awkward when there’s a microphone thrust in your face and you’re asked, “So Ted, congrats on the win! Are you excited to come back to defend in 2017?”

To the bike racers out there, you know that feeling when you’re doing a threshold test or are in a cyclocross race or a time trial and you hate it, you hate it, you hate it right up until the very second you cross the finish line and all of a sudden like a soft warm hug of relief, you think, “That wasn’t so bad. I bet I could do it even faster next time. I can’t wait to do it again!”

…well that didn’t happen last year. I was finished, I was exhausted, I was destroyed, I was empty. It took me a little more than two weeks last year for the pain to subside and leap the mental hurdle to acknowledge that I would actually like to come back.

Fast-foward to Saturday and the twelfth running of Dirty Kanza. Yup, not only did I convince myself to come back, but I actually followed through with it. I can’t really preach the message enough; the atmosphere at Dirty Kanza is something unlike I’ve ever experienced and that’s entirely flattering praise. When the race sets off at 6am, the streets are already overflowing. There are people lining the roads for miles, and the entire day is like an ever increasing level of excitement. When you cross the line, you’re entering the circus. There’s a party unfolding on downtown Emporia that is so damn cool you can really only experience it firsthand to know what I mean.

I digress.

I crossed the line in 7th place this year and despite notching a pretty high suffer ranking on the rather ambiguous TK SufferSkale (I scored an 11), I knew the second I crossed the line that I wanted to come back.

Dirty Kanza is an experience. You’re there to see friends, you’re there for the post race festival, you’re there for the support crew that you’ve cobbled together, you’re there for the parade of bikes — lest we forget every bike is different at a race like this. Cross bikes, fat bikes, single speed bikes, Cannondale Slate bikes, full suspension bikes, heck, even bikes with aerobars. Hideous, but seemingly effective. No bike is perfect, but every bike is good for the job — you’re there to race your bike or ride your bikes, you’re there for one of a thousand reasons or one thousand of one thousand reasons. Dirty Kanza is awesome.

For a little bit of race tactical insight as well as cycling nerdery, I’ll conclude with this. Much like a Belgian kermess, the race starts with 2200 some-odd people (okay okay, 2200 in the entire race, some are doing the 50 mile, some are doing the 100 miles, and the lion’s share are doing the full two-hundo), and it’s an ever decreasing number throughout the day. The lead group of 2200 quickly whittles to 100 after a half hour, then to 50, 40, 30, 20 after ninety minutes of racing. The ridiculously fast conditions are a result of very dry conditions which result in very sharp rock conditions. I suffered my first flat with a massive gash in the sidewall around 1:15 of the race. I was pleased as punch with my 4 minute change and was hard charging back up to the front. Another flat thirty minutes later was a punch to the gut, but with another 4 minute change I was pleased with my handiwork and back on track. I zoomed through the first time check and with some speedy rotations from various groups I jumped through, I made it back to the front group. I was motivated, suffice it to say I was just a little bit fired up, and I was ready to roll! We were near the menacing Texaco Hill and the attacks started flying. I met the attacks, matched them, and… then got my third flat.

Linda Guerrette snapped this gem of a photo. She’s great, but nope, she didn’t have a tire lever handy–

Somehow in the flurry of a lightning fast first transition of the first pit stop, I emptied my pockets so that I could fill them with the precise list of maple syrup related items I had waiting for me, and in doing so I emptied the tire lever that I’d used twice already. The tire sealant mixed with the cow poo mixed with a gratuitous amount of sweat and talc-like dust made for a wheel and tire slip’n’slide so I couldn’t for the life of me change my third flat. More than ten minutes later — and thanks to the very generous Jade who stopped to help — and I was once again in hot pursuit.

Commence deeper bike nerd:

I made a race winning attack last year, so to speak, with 6 hours 26 minutes of racing left in the day last year with a normalized power of 274 watts. Again, this is the point I remind you that I finished emptier than a jar of Nutella at the USA Cycling house. This year, the subsequent 6 hours and 26 minutes after my first flat, which is basically the beginning of my time trial race chase, my normalized power was 321w. I was hard charging! Alas, it wasn’t in the cards.

I talked to one guy who had four flats. Another six. Another ten! I talked to a college buddy of mine who’s crank literally fell off. So you know what, I had some bad luck. Luck, good or bad, happens to everyone. Regardless, I’m ready to go back.

Which also goes to explain why there’s an ever growing club of the 1,000 mile club (…which, could be 1,024 mile club). That is, the folks crazy enough to finish five DKs I’m at 400 miles. Let’s see if I’m back in 2018.

And 2019. And 2020…


  1. SherrisherSherri

    Fantastic venue, atmosphere, people, racers all. I was fortunate to be asked to provide support for two of my favorite CXers. It was a tough day for them and many others, but they all amaze me. Smiles for miles and tough cookies.

    Glad you came back, Ted.

  2. Andy Merriam

    Ted – I became a fan of yours last year at DK and have followed your adventures since. I was doing the 100 this year, did the 50 last year. With about 15 miles to go, a guy in his jeep tells my brother in law and I the 200 leaders are 3 miles behind you. I had suffered 7 flats up to this point! I was hoping for a sub 10 hour finish and was on pace at mile 35 until tire number 1. I was excited though that my tire delays somehow managed to keep me on course and be side by side with the leaders of the 200. Albeit a short time at 20 mph speeds compared to my 12-13 mph. So when the first group approached, I was like where is Ted? I was hoping for an over the shoulder selfie that I could say I was racing with the big dogs. LOL! Then about 30-40 minutes went by and zoom just like that you flew past us! I couldn’t even utter a “go Ted” it happened so fast. It’s so encouraging to see guys like yourself, who at that point, maybe know the win is out of reach, but still grinding! It’s what DK is all about, perseverance in the face of adversity. Whether it’s the 200, 100, or 50, fast or slow, of all those that finish it’s something everyone can relate to. The pain, sweat,mud, mechanical it’s all part of the journey. Thanks for “racing” with us amateurs. Can’t wait to see you next year.

  3. Fanboy

    Who won?

  4. Mike Rowell

    Great read. Congratulations on an excellent finish, in spite of the problems. I chuckle in agreement over brutal efforts leaving harsh memories that take time to soften. The reality is that the more time it take, the better the event was. I’m still on the fence about doing IRR again after last year’s suffering. Will be looking for you on the gravel back in New England.

  5. Pat

    7 flats in the last 50 miles in ’13. I think I would still be out there if it wasn’t for a generous soul who gave me a tube and CO2 (ran out of tubes and broke the pump). That turned a 8 pm finish into a 10:30. Oh well. Great time anyway. Moral of the story was I went to Stan’s in tubes for a the next year and no flats, but a broken chain was in the cards……….:such is life at the DK200

  6. Bobby Thompson

    Thanks for coming back Ted. I’m proud of our event, our town and our backyard. I’m proud when I hear of someone who has multiple other riding options makes the commitment to come back year after year. We love having the riders in our town. I joined the 1000 mile club this year in 2017. I raced and beat the sun for the first time this year. I can’t imagine living in Emporia without the Dirty Kanza and I can’t imagine the Dirty Kanza without the gravel family the race has helped grow. Congrats on being a part of our gravel family. Have a great 2017!

  7. Ian Tubbs

    That’s some great writing there! Thanks for the recap Ted!

    I wanted to thank you for posing for a photo with me after your not so triumphant DK return. It meant a lot to this middle aged bike racer from WA there for my first shot at the DK. It was an extra special treat helping you (and myself) back up to the front of the race after our pre CP1 flats (only 1 for me though).

    Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’m going back next year too. I wasn’t sure what all the hype was about until after I rolled down that finish chute to roar of the crowd. I hung out in my grubby kit for a good 2.5 hours to wait for a fellow Seattleite who was there for his 4th with a goal of beating the sun. Why? Because he’d mentored me for my first DK and I wanted to see him succeed. He did.

    I look forward to riding with you again next year if I make it out. May you have a flat free race next year!


  8. Tonya Simpson

    I too had my first DK (100) finish this year, and I can’t wait to go back! What a fantastic event and town. I’m already mulling a 200 start for next year.

    I had three goals for the weekend: finish the 100 (which I did way easier than I expected), meet Rebecca Rusch, and get a picture with Ted King. Thanks so much for the photo op; you were so kind. Can’t wait to see you out there again next year!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.