Wednesday, May 28, 2014
A New Level of Epic: Dirty Kanza 200
When I got into cycling, well, I was a slug. I knew I needed to be more active, I had a heart attack at 32 for crying out loud. And after six months or so of fiendish, slavish workouts at the gym, I fell back into old habits (except for the heart meds) and stayed there for half a decade.
My friend Jennifer suggested I ride Bike MS about this time in 2009, and I signed up. I didn't own a bicycle at the time, but I signed up, and promptly bought a bike off a friend I was in a band with for $50. I reasoned at the time, rightly, that knowing I had Bike MS to get ready for would make me ride more often, farther, and more seriously. While I ended up replacing and upgrading quite a few components on that $50 bike by the time I got to Bike MS, I was able to do it piecemeal and that really mattered given my finances at the time. In the process, I got hooked on cycling.
Scheduling has kept me off Bike MS the past couple of years, but I have over 14,000 miles ridden since June 6, 2009. It didn't save me from bypass surgery, but it probably postponed it some and I'm sure it minimized the trauma and sped the recovery from that. Anyway, I'm getting stronger and faster post-op, my average speeds are coming up and my interest in riding at a more intense clip as really picked up.
That 20/20 hindsight shows me that I gradually got less and less into riding intensely as the heart disease manifested itself. The ultimate slippery slope, it's normal to be short of breath when exerting, and it's easy to start easing off a bit, then maybe next time it's a bit more. The bit is so tiny it's hard to perceive, but the next thing you know you're coming back from a touring trip walking your bike up hills that seem impossibly steep that you could have steamed up, albeit slowly, a year or two before.
I'm back to form, more or less, on the bike commuting, but I was hankering for something more, something to work toward. Touring an extended stretch is to amorphous, too unlikely to happen this year given that it's an election year (we do a lot of political printing where I work). Conventional racing leaves me cold, even if I could afford the appropriate gear.
I don't at the moment remember what put this in my head, but I've been feeling more and more that Dirty Kanza is the answer.
Those of you who know me as well as co-founder of Dirty Kanza Joel Dyke does probably just blew Coke or PBR out your nose when you read that. Sure, I've cycled for distance, but except for a couple of alleycats, I've never even entered a race, and I'm on record as saying gravel roads are made out of the shit they sweep off a proper road. What I've said about minimum maintenace roads is along the lines of, 'No, a road is built, and pickups making ruts in a pasture doesn't count as road construction no matter what level of maintenance.'
If you didn't know and didn't follow the link, Dirty Kanza is a 200+ mile race on nothing but gravel and minimum-maintenance roads. And I've ridden for distance, but my pr is 110 miles, and that was exclusively on pavement. With ample breaks. And no cut-off to make before they closed the course. To finish Dirty Kanza you basically have to manage a 10mph average speed including breaks. Meaning I'm talking about signing up for something that's more than double anything I've tackled before.
Which is why I think I need to do it. The 2014 event is this coming weekend, but I think I'm going to sign up for 2015 whenever that's open. I'm going to have to push my boundaries in a lot of areas: I'm going to need to get stronger at riding on gravel, maintaining a good pace on it even; I'm going to have to figure out some better hydration strategies since anything over 70 miles seems to throw me into cramps and if I want to finish on my bike in Emporia, I can't be lying in a ditch wishing I could straighten out my freakin' leg. I'm going to have to learn out to channel intensity for longer than I ever have before. Can I do it?
Corinna says I have the grit to do it, and I can't tell you how much it meant to me when she said that. If she didn't know about grit, she wouldn't have gotten to the freaking Olympics. See also that Memphis to Kansas City winter bike tour. See also that Cincinnati to Kansas City bike tour that included a 170 mile stage in a snowstorm, sharing the road only with snow plows. That's not all, not even the tip of the iceberg, but what's more, she's not the sort of wife who says stuff she doesn't believe to pump up her spouse (I've probably occasionally wished she was).
So there it is: I am setting out now to train for 2015's Dirty Kanza. Not the 'half pint' century, the whole thing, a double-century, on gravel roads through rugged, remote hills. A friend of a friend who rode it encouraged me saying it was a positive, life-changing event for him that ended with an ambulance ride and three bags of IV fluids. What an endorsement.
For someone who is casually riding 300 to 400 miles per month right now, on paved roads with food and water virtually oozing out of every curb, I think Dirty Kanza is the kind of target Bike MS seemed like when the only exercise I got was walking to my car.