Feed on

So…once again my lousy sense of direction bites me in the butt! I got in a fine ride and had a pretty darn good time, but man, I’m bummed that I only did 130 miles and that I was disqualified/DNF-ed. More on that in a bit.

I’d never been out in the Flint Hills before. I must say, it’s very pretty out there. Early June is a lovely time to be out on the back roads of Kansas, too. Everything seemed to be blooming. The roadsides were wreathed with wild roses, wild mustard, spider-wort, bindweed, volunteer alfalfa, red clover, wild chives, and other flowers I recognize but don’t know the names. The terrain was an undulation of low-rolling hills; only a few climbs were truly steep ass-kickers. It was mostly up-and-down and my singlespeed-at-heart riding style was not out of place. I mostly used my low gears for motoring through mud bogs when I couldn’t avoid them.

We got down to Emporia Thursday evening around 9:00. Matt Brown, proprietor of High Gear Cyclery had graciously invited Joel, Jim, and me to crash at his place. He and his wife Stephanie have an ultra-cool apartment above their shop, two chubbily cute Chinchillas, and a sweet little orange cat called Hicey.

View of High Gear Cyclery in Emporia KS
(interior, High Gear)

On Saturday morning, bright and early, Joel, Jim, Matt, and I met Craig for breakfast and planning. Jim and Craig were going to mark the first half of the course, Joel and I were to take the second half. As it turns out, I’m extra glad I got to help mark Part 2, since I didn’t get to ride it and it was the prettiest part of the course. We spent a pleasant half day tying caution tape to fence posts before and after turns and zip-tying reflectors at turns that would be made after dark. Most of the course was in very good shape, with just a couple of places where it was very muddy. Part of the first half of the course was flooded which forced a re-route, but otherwise the first half of the course (with the re-route) was in EXCELLENT shape, and while not as gorgeous as the second half, was quite scenic. There was water flowing across the road at some low-water-crossings, but not so much that one couldn’t ride through safely. After we got done marking, it was just a matter of hanging out until sign-ins started.

Sign In
(Craig, Joel, & Jim help riders get signed in)
When you have to be ready to ride at 5:45 a.m., you have to wake up at an ungodly hour. Actually, we rode out just shortly after 6:00 a.m. The Rider’s Meeting was at 5:45 where they gave us a breakdown of the rules, told us how to look for markings, etc. The weather looked potentially awful…further south bad hail and violent thunderstorms had been reported but the radar map seemed to indicate that the storm would remain south of where the race was taking place, so we were sent out to brave it. For the first two-and-a-half hours or so, light, intermittent raindrops sprinkled down. Not enough to get a person wet or even really mess up my glasses, but enough to suggest that unpleasantness was an option. I rode along thinking about hailstorm mitigation strategies. The weather cleared up, however, and it remained partly cloudy and calm, warm, but not dangerously hot. As I was cresting a small hill, I saw the edge of the storm front as it was blowing through and thought to take a picture of it:

Edge of the storm front seen over a small hill.
Not-stormy side! Stormy side
Also a picture from either side of the front (not-stormy and stormy)

Very early on in the ride, I got a flat. During the time it took to change the flat, the rest of the riders (including the ones I figured I could keep up with) got quite a ways on ahead of me. Therefore for the rest of the time I was riding, I was riding alone. Riding alone has its ups and downs. On the positive side, I can sing badly off-key or snap my chewing gum without annoying anybody. On the negative side, I am left entirely to my own navigational devices and that is a very big negative. I decided to pick up the pace after my flat and hoped to catch up to one or another of the folks at the back of the group and ride with them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying so much attention to corners and markings while I was trying to go fast, and I blew right past a turn I was supposed to have made and didn’t figure out that I was off-course until I’d gone some 15 miles out of my way. So, I had to backtrack to re-find the corner and get back on track. This 30-mile oopsie on top of the 10-minute or so delay in changing the tire put me pretty badly behind schedule and I missed the cutoff time for Checkpoint 1.

When I got in to Madison and found nobody at the place where Checkpoint 1 was meant to be, I kind of freaked out. I never felt like so much of a failure on a bike as I did when I realized that my shitty navigation and general slowness was THAT pathetic. Oh, how much I suck! I was also kind of panicking because I wasn’t sure where to go after that. I wasn’t sure how to get back to Emporia and I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to get to Cottonwood Falls (where Checkpoint 2 would be). My cellphone wouldn’t work; no reception. I used a pay-phone to try to get through to Joel, but his cellphone wasn’t receiving either. It was just as well, but I left him several out-freaking messages of an awfully frantic nature. I went back outside and sat down on the curb to try to figure what else to do (and possibly indulge in some furious, self-loathing sobbing). As I sat down and prepared to bury my face in my handkerchief, I saw a map sitting on the ground beside me, weighted down with a jug of water. The guys manning the checkpoint had left it behind for me, just in case! Suddenly, I cheered back up. Yeah, I still sucked, but at least I was a sucky-sucker with a MAP. Onward to Cottonwood Falls, baby!

The 50 miles between Madison & Cottonwood Falls was a real rollercoaster, both topographically and emotionally. This was the best part of the course that I got to ride, it being a series of nice rolling hills through free-range cattle country. There’s a bit of it known as “Texaco Hill” where there are a great many oil wells and it’s a bizarre juxtaposition of open prairie and these things that look like gigantic mechanical drinking birds sipping oil up from the ground. The infamous dead cow was at the top of one of the hills along that part of the route, and the dead cow will be of further significance later on in this story. Let me just note right now that this cow was excessively and extravagantly dead and you could smell it coming and going for a LONG ways off.

I was really wallowing in my suckitude at that point in the day. I felt so incompetent and lame for not even making the FIRST checkpoint cutoff time. I pedaled along and beat myself up for being such a miserable example. I started to get pretty sick of my own company. While I’m not the most social woman on the planet, I sometimes find that being alone when it’s not of my own choice can get pretty boring. I was also getting awfully jumpy about missing turns or taking a wrong turn since I was already suffering the consequences of a previous navigational error. It was a long-assed 50 miles, riding in that sort of mental state. That second half of the first hundred (well, 130 in my case) became a rather tedious obligation. I considered quitting once I got to checkpoint 2, though as the case was, I was disqualified by then. My heart wasn’t broken about that. Sure I was disappointed, but I was already kind of *done* with the ride, you know? Missing Checkpoint 1 really took the wind out of my sails and did unfortunate things to my attitude. I later explained that second 50 to Joel as feeling much like that time I decided it was a good idea to scrape all of the old wallpaper off the ceiling of my living room. Once I started, I was obliged to finish, no matter how stupid, tedious, and unpleasant it was. I was pretty bummed that I couldn’t go and ride the third 50 miles, at least, though, because that third leg of the course was really the prettiest area of the whole thing.

I hung out at Checkpoint 3 – 4 with Joel and cheered on folks who were coming back through on their way to the final leg of the journey. I also shot the breeze with some of my fellow DNFers and had a pretty good time, after I got over my little snit of self-flagellation. There were a lot of really fun and interesting people who participate in this kind of event and it was really cool to get to hang around with them and hear about their various adventures and impressions. Apparently the cookies I had baked for Joel to pass around to the other volunteers went over pretty big. He was handing them out to riders, too. They’re a ginger cookie, the recipe for which will be appearing on this site soon. My cookies are getting a reputation among the local mountain-bikers and I’ve been getting recipe requests. I’m flattered and happy to share!

After everyone had cycled through the last checkpoint and had either pulled out or gone on to Emporia, we packed up the tent, table, coolers, and drop bags and headed for Emporia, ourselves. There, pizza, sodas, beer, and a great party atmosphere awaited. Craig and Scott were keeping score as riders rolled in, and riders who had finished were hanging out recounting their rides, flipping a little shit, and generally having themselves a good old time. It was at this point when I stopped feeling sol bad about having gotten lost, when I heard others’ tales of missing turns, mis-understanding markings, or in the notorious case of Jason Gaikowski, who rode a significant part of the course backwards. That’s where the dead cow becomes relevant. The putrefying cow carcass was a major landmark on the section of the course that Jason had ridden backwards. It was also fairly near to the end of that leg of the course, so if he hadn’t been so singlemindedly focused on going really fast, and had been more aware of his surroundings, the cow alone would have suggested to him that he was going the wrong direction and he wouldn’t have had such a rude awakening when he found himself in Madison instead of Emporia. I have a feeling his buddies are NEVER going to let him live that one down.

At the end of it all, there were two women who finished, Leslie Himinez-Holt, who was the first woman finisher last year (and is one of the most cheery, pleasant, good-attitude people I’ve ever met) and Kristen High who had the most unusual, customized Terry bicycle and a very Science Fiction looking LED headlamp that wrapped all the way around the front of her helmet. Kristen took first place for the women. Next year, I hope to ride with Leslie, as I think we’d pace well together and I think she’d be a lot of fun to ride 200 miles with.

Jim, who got to ride this year (he and Joel trade years of Race Directing vs. racing) took 4th place overall, and Joel’s co-worker Cameron Chambers won it, and won it in an astonishing 11 hours, 58 minutes. He was over an hour up on the second place finisher. The next morning we met up with David Pals, a super-chill Iowan and he, Jim, Joel, and I went out to breakfast before we all dispersed to our respective homes. From listening to his recounting of his ride, I get the impression that he might have had more fun than half the people out there.

For those of you who read Mountain Bike magazine, Jon Billman, a writer from said publication, was a rider in the event and is planning on doing a write-up for a future edition. The photographer who was along with him is considering putting his race photos up on Flickr. If/when that happens, I will link ’em up.

Race results from the Heartland site are here. I tell you what, this event is GOOD STUFF. When pre-registration opens up next February, I’ll be among the first signing on to do it all over again!

11 Responses to “Failure is an option! Dirty Kanza 2008 impressions:”

  1. Eric Lee says:

    Hi. I read a few of your other posts and wanted to know if you would be interested in exchanging blogroll links?

  2. Jeff says:

    Great story! Failure, my lily white butt!

    You did great.

  3. kim smith says:

    Hello meetzorp! A google search of team sexy pants led me here.. michelle, it was great to meet you last weekend. I loved your story. You are awesome, you have such fantastic shoes. I started out WAY too fast and flamed out at 100. I will have a better strategery next year! That kanza was so much fun I can’t stop thinking about it. I have been thinking about going back up to cw falls sometime and riding the 3rd and perhaps the 4th loop, since I missed out on Saturday. Let me know if you are interested in coming with..
    see ya,
    kim smith

  4. Bill Smith says:

    So glad you enjoyed your “visit” to the Kansas Flint Hills!
    Thanks for the stories – really enjoyed your post!

    I really enjoy my Google Alert for Blogs on “Kansas Flint Hills!”
    Yours came up today!
    Our 22 county Flint Hills Tourism Coalition, Inc. promotes visits to the Kansas Flint Hills – the website is: http://www.kansasflinthills.travel/
    Hard to believe it has been over a year now since the 22 page color photo spread in National Geographic’s April 2007 Issue on the Kansas Flint Hills, as a distinctive landscape. We are now working to get the Kansas Flint Hills designated as a National Heritage Area.
    We would appreciate a link from your site, to ours, if you are willing to do so. THANKS!
    Best wishes!
    Dr. Bill 😉
    Personal Blog: http://flinthillsofkansas.blogspot.com/

  5. Micah says:

    Well, you didn’t finish, but you approached the ride with the spirit and drive everyone else did! When you consider that 60% of Americans lead completely sedentary lifestyles, what you did was a huge success! Good job.

  6. Steve Fuller says:

    I enjoyed the pre-ride chat with you, Leslie and Kim(?) on Saturday. I definitely have to give you the award for coolest biking shoes. 🙂 As others have said, you were one of 70 people that started the event instead of sitting on their couch all day. I will take your word that the 3rd portion of the course was the most beautiful, I was too busy suffering and having my own little pity party to notice. The cookies WERE awesome and I’m looking forward to the recipe being posted 🙂

  7. mixte says:

    I’m sorry you weren’t able to do the whole thing, but I’m still pretty impressed with your accomplishment-“only” 130 miles!! Are you going to do it again next year?

  8. meetzorp says:

    Kim, that would be awesome! Shall we shoot for some time later on this month? Drop me an e-mail and we’ll confab (michelle.davis.1977 @ gmail . com (delete spaces)

    Steve: Indeed, indeed…maybe next year we’ll have to band up some of us who didn’t quite approach the ride with the right strategy, and ride out together. Strength in numbers, eh?

    Jeff, Micah, Shannon, thank you for the encouraging words. Oh yes, I have every intention of giving it another shot next year. Dirty Kanza is good stuff.

    Eric Lee, I’m not quite sure what you’ve got going on there or how you found my site. Feel free to add me to your blogroll if you are interested in following my misadventures. I think I might hold off on adding your blog to my list until you flesh it out a little bit and prove yourself to be a kindred spirit. Right now, your site is just about cell-phones, which is not a major interest of mine.

  9. Squirrel says:

    Great write up Michelle, I should have been there but the way my own pitty (mechanicals) party has been I deemed it better to stay home with the family.


  10. […] had it set up this way from Bonktoberfest last year (mid-October ‘07) to just before Dirty Kanza in late May ‘08. The original plan for Kanza was that Joel was going to build me a new rear […]

  11. […] I’m freakin’ nervous! It’s a pretty big damn undertaking and you know last year I kind of flubbed the dang thing. I’m hoping to hook up with some riders who carry a similar pace and trust their navigational […]

Leave a Reply