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This year, I psyched myself out of riding the Dirty Kanza, but since I already had the vacation time approved and I enjoy the whole Dirty Kanza scene, I decided to go along this year as a volunteer and make myself helpful in some way or another.

When we got to Emporia, things were already at a fine simmer. Matt & Stephanie Brown of High Gear had received a shipment of prizes from Salsa, the event’s bigtime sponsor. They had also graciously agreed to store some of the other event equipment and paperwork. They’d done a lot of press for the event, too. DK200 and DKLite flyers were in prominent evidence in the shop and all around town in places cyclists were likely to hang around. Tim and Kristi Mohn had been busting butt, too! Tim’s a perennial DK200 contender and a big advocate for the event and Kristi, with her amazing organizational skills and community networking, helped turn this year’s event into a true all-day-and-into-the-night festival. In a surprise publicity opportunity, Kristi, Tim, Joel and Jim (via cell-phone in Jim’s case) even appeared on a local radio program to talk about the event.

We invaded Tim’s music shop early on Friday morning, taking over one of the rehearsal rooms and filling it with enthusiastic members of the Kansas City Jeep Club, who’d been invited by Jim to mark the course this year. Not only did they do a bang-up job marking and cleaning up the course, they were out and about to provide emergency water or even a ride to a few riders who found themselves out of energy and out of cell-phone range. Besides helping us out enormously, the Jeep Club folks were total fun personified. They seemed to be having themselves a whale of a good time, and sharing the joy. I sure hope to see them again next year. Nothing beats folks who’re into getting out and about and having a good time.

Part of the fun, for me as a volunteer, was being absolutely surrounded by people who are into getting out and about and having a good time. A tall, blonde, bubbly lady from Texas, whose name I never did catch, but who I remembered from last year was on the scene to help out her friends once again. She cheered on and encouraged every rider who came within hollerin’ range, and really exemplified the “support crew” spirit.

Speaking of a cheering section, #65, Ben Doom’s kids kicked up what had to be the most heartwarming whoops of the evening. Popping up and down like a couple of pistons, they chanted “Daddy! Daddy! Yay! Daddy!” as their father rolled across the finish.

I’ve always got a lot of respect for people who don’t take themselves too seriously:
This resourceful gentleman re-purposed a child’s backpack to hold his food and maps. Third star to the right, straight on ’til morning.

Oozing blood and checking his injuries, Dennis Grelk prepares to leave from Checkpoint 1.
Early on in the race (around Mile 20) Troy Krause (8th place finisher) ran afoul of a nasty rut in the road and crashed. Dennis, close on his trail, found himself riding over Troy’s bike and being flung ass-over-teakettle down to the rocky Flint-Hills ground. He pulled out at Check 2, and went back to town for some stitches. Busterized and exhausted, he still managed to crack wise about his injuries.

Even more impressive was Troy Krause’s blazing 8th place finish on a field-trued front wheel (read: beat heartily against the ground until it would clear the brake caliper). With his tattered jersey safety-pinned back together, road-rash and a fine crust of sweat and Kansas turf coating him from head to toe, he came in smiling nonetheless.

Lance Andre, a moustachioed enduro-star hailing from Florida rolled in at second place to much whooping and jubilation. His amiable father and shaggy red dog were notable support-crew at each checkpoint. Shortly after Mr. Andre wrapped up his share of the DK200, he started to suffer severe cramps and dehydration and ended up going to the hospital. It was crazy hot, muggy, and he had been pushing it really hard all day. Another rider, not so fortunate as Andre, went to the hospital from Checkpoint 2 suffering similar symptoms. It’s just about impossible to take in too much fluid or too many electrolytes in an event like this.

Grant Castle, one of my rescuers last year, rolled into Council Grove sporting his trademark crystalline glaze. Grant is one salty dawg!
Grant's hat tells the story of a LOT of sweatin' going on.
I ain’t joking about the need to hydrate and replace electrolytes. This is something I particularly have to pay attention to…when it gets hot and I’m riding hard, I have a hard time drinking anything but water, so I have been training myself to remember to eat a Shot Blok or similar every so often to try to maintain a bit of internal balance.

The “Sofa King” is the bicycle of Ellie Thallheimer, second place finisher in the Women’s Open class, and also recipient of the David Pals award (more info on that in a minute). I was working at Checkpoint 2 at the time and thought her bike was really cool, so I asked her if I could take a picture of it while she took a breather and a drink of cold water. Little did I know I was in the presence of (very cute) greatness.

At 4:11 a.m., Sunday June 6, smiling Ellie Thallheimer crossed the finish line to take second place in the women’s open class. When notified by Joel of her ranking and also of her prize package of Swiftwick products, she asked with incredulity, “I get prizes?!” She was just tickled to bits to have finished the whole race. Everything else was just a cherry on top.
Her cheerful attitude and dedication netted her the first annual David Pals award, a gorgeous print of one of Eric Benjamin (The Adventure Monkey)’s iconic photos of the glorious Flint Hills.

The David Pals award was a sort of bonus prize idea that Joel had brainstormed up this past winter. David Pals is a Dirty Kanza regular with three finishes behind him, and you hardly ever see the guy without a big ol’ grin. He’s one of the brains behind the ultra-epic Trans Iowa. The idea of the award was to recognize a rider who just had a great attitude through the whole ordeal. A person who seemed to have a good time, to epitomize good sportsmaship, and to just be spreading the good cheer. The volunteers were advised to take notes on riders who seemed to be having a particularly good time or who just had a fun attitude.

It was a total bummer not to see David this year, but he and his kids were sidelined with the flu, so, as many of us were saying, “there’s always next year.”

Singlespeed podium
The whole field of Singlespeeders could have qualified. If ever there were humans dedicated to having a good damn time doing things the hard way, it’s single-speed cyclists.

I do believe it was a single-speeder who told the best story of the whole weekend. At Check 2, there was a Sinclair station at the top of the hill about a block away from the park where we were set up. I saw a rider pull in to the convenience store up there and thought he might be mis-directed. About 20 minutes later, he rolled down to our stop, chuggin’ a 24-oz Bud Lite and steering with one hand.

“Put me down as DNF,” he said and bee-lined for shade.

After a spell of shade-sitting and beer-sipping he came over to the tent where we were working and shared his story of beating the Kansas summer heat. The Flint Hills are rife with small streams, low-water crossings, ponds, and seeps. He said he’d reached that point of overheating where you start getting tunnel vision; the “bonk” was fast upon him. He espied a convenient creek, and without thinking twice, set his bike down on the bank and laid himself out in the water. He said he laid around in the creek so long that the minnows got used to him and began to forage around in his leg hair in case there was something tasty hidden in there. Apparently, a tadpole stalked him while he cooled down. He said every time he looked to the right to check on the crawdad situation along the banks (there were many of the little monsters) this tadpole seemed to have edged closer and closer to his head. I suppose it was drawn to his body-heat. Even though the fellow didn’t finish, I reckon he deserves some style points for both the crick-waller and the beer.

Probably the next-best story came from the first-place Women’s finisher Emily Brook
I’d heard about the situation first from one of the riders who’d come upon the scene, then from her own account at the finish, and also in her blog. She’d gotten a flat along the way and had found herself a semi-shady spot to fix it. While she was changing the tire, a couple of other racers happened by and offered help, but she told them she had it covered. However, they unintentionally gave her a big hand by shooing off a bevvy of curious free-range cattle who had been incrementally closing in on her while she worked and making her a little leery by their sheer size and lumbering bovinity. Also, a friend of hers had been knocked cockeyed by a runaway steer the year before and so she had borne his story in mind as she began to cross the paths of open-range cattle.

I can’t sign off without giving props to Corey “Cornbread” Godfrey, the 2010 Dirty Kanza 200 winner. He puts a lot of hard work into his fun, and it pays off. Every picture I’ve seen of him from this weekend shows the same face; exhausted and euphoric, glad to be where he was when he was there. I remembered him from ’08, when he had an amazing eight flat tires. This is not a man who is easily discouraged!

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