Last week I shared my experience signing up for DK200, training and connecting with other riders. Now let’s talk about this big day.
DK200: Roll Out
The big weekend finally arrived. We made it to Emporia. Sat through the Rider’s Meeting. Shared in nervous laughter and last minute doubts about our tires, our gear, our nutrition, everything.
And then, just like everything else in life, it was here.
My alarm was going off.
Nick was driving me to the start.
We stopped at the gas station for my last real bathroom break of the day.
I got a flat before lining up for the start – that was less surreal and a little more clustery, but Dad and Cody came to my rescue while Nick ran to the local bike shop in case we needed anything and Mom told me everything would be OK.
Time was ticking, the start was literally happening. We were supposed to meet Holly and ride with her, but we couldn’t find her. Cody and I lined up where we could while Dad rode off to the front.
“Roll Out” by Ludacris was playing. It was a sign. I love Luda.
I was excited. I was confident. I can do this – I’ve been training for this. This is what I do. Let’s do the damn thing.
The First Few Miles
The beginning was slow, painfully slow. We came to a stop while still on pavement. Cody took my picture. And then we saw. It had rained the night before and the first leg was a mud bath. There were several inches of standing water.
“We’ve got to move.”
Cody is a DK200 veteran and knew that we couldn’t be sitting ducks at the back of this pack for long. So he beelined it through the water and I followed. Trying to be light on my pedals, feeling my bike, protecting her from the mud while my heart beat out of my chest.
Shortly thereafter we came to the carnage. On both sides of the road were people in various stages of disarray, fixing their bikes, cursing the gods, crying with their heads in their hands or shouting for a friend to help. The mud was a serious factor and was already taking her victims – breaking bikes and ruining people’s hopes of becoming a Finisher.
Then we saw what we were dreading – Dad. He was fine, but his beautiful, fancy Salsa Warbird was not doing so well. Dad was shouting he was OK, but we pulled off and Cody ran back to help him.
I stayed where we were and held Cody’s bike, watching them curiously, nervously. And then Cody kinda stepped sideways and I realized he was peeing. No big deal, except that my rule is to pee whenever my riding partners pee – I don’t want to slow the group down and chances are I’ll have to go in 5 minutes anyways. But peeing had become a thing for me with this race. Where was I gonna pee? Was I going to be able to hide? Were people (men) going to see me?
I’m in the middle of a field. I have no place to hide. Men are all over the place.
I pulled down my spandex shorts and did the damn thing. I guess that’s that. Good bye, modesty.
I realized then and there – that’s the nature of Dirty Kanza. It’s not about looking good or what people think about you. It’s about efficiency, survival, doing your own thing and taking care of the basics so you can keep moving forward. You can’t be bothered with things like snot on your face, passing gas in front of a friend, or peeing in front of strangers. Just keep moving forward.
“Stine, you’re just gonna have to let it go”
We made it out of the mud and I felt good. Ok, now we can finally find our rhythm and just ride bikes. Except that never really happened.
And I was worried – worried about Dad who we hadn’t seen come by yet. Worried about Holly who we were supposed to be riding with. Worried about making time and making our crew wait.
And that’s when Cody told me to let it go. Yeah, brother. You’re right. Life lessons right there.
And We’re Riding: CP1+
We made it through Checkpoint 1 and saw way too many friends who had already been forced to quit because of mechanicals. I felt lucky, relieved and a little nervous.
Leg 2 was tough – mentally and physically. It was technical and pushing me way outside of my comfort zone and I was tired, but knew we had only ridden 50 miles. That meant there were still 150 miles to go. To make matters worse, we were behind the gun.
Cody was freaking awesome. The entire ride he was awesome, he made sure I was eating, drinking, took care of the bulk of navigating and was always calculating our time to make sure we would make the next checkpoint and telling me to pick it up when we were cutting it too close. There was no way I could have finished without him. (You’re the best, brother, I love you.)
He figured if we could catch a group we could work together and make up some time. I was in. So we were chasing. And getting outridden. And chasing. And eating their dust.
Finally we found a group of 3-4 guys and 1 woman. The woman was a bit slower, but the group would ride ahead and then slow down to wait for her. We decided to try and keep up with her and join their group. But she was hauling. She had a long, brown, curly pony tail (I’ll never forget that damn ponytail!) and was riding like a badass. She was fast and handling technical sections with ease, just flying through the Flint Hills. And then I realized, I was right on her tail. That must mean I’m tough and talented too. Cool.
At mile 70 I decided this was it. I’m done. It’s really about the journey, anyways. I’ve proved it to myself. I don’t think I’ll feel that bad about it tomorrow. I’m gonna tell Cody. Oh yeah, Cody. Cody who rode at ungodly hours to spend time with his family, Cody who is here guiding me and leading me to a finish, Paige who gave us both her blessing meaning she would have to bear more of the family responsibilities for 6 months. I can’t quit.
Checkpoints Are Heaven: CP2
I focused on the next checkpoint. Make it 30 more miles, to Checkpoint 2, and I can see Nick, Mom, Paige and my best friend, Dana, who started this whole biking thing with me in the first place.
As we pulled in I couldn’t help but smile as onlookers would shout out:
“It’s a girl! You go girl!”
I’m used to being the spectator at DK200 and I love cheering the women on. And there I was, the one being cheered.
Once we found our crew, my team surrounded me with love, encouragement, white lies (you look great!) and food and drinks of every sort. I would leave a can of half-drunk Coca-Cola, V8, Gatorade and Red Bull at every stop.
“It’s really hard,” I kept telling them. “Like really hard.”
I was having a hard time eating – I didn’t feel hungry – so Nick would lovingly and sternly tell me I needed to eat this and put a sandwich in my mouth.
Dana realized I needed sunscreen and decided to just lather me up while Nick shoved food in my mouth. “You don’t look that dirty, but you sure feel dirty,” she remarked as she spread sunscreen across my gravel-coated legs.
Chasing the Sun: To CP3
It was at Checkpoint 2 that we realized Dad’s bike was done and he wasn’t able to ride on (and then I told him he couldn’t ride with us – sorry, Dad! I love you.). I believe that’s where we learned that Holly was also forced out by mechanical issues (you’re still a badass, hugs!).
But we were determined so we pressed on, this time with lights because we knew we wouldn’t make it to Checkpoint 3 with any sun left.
I had done so much mental training and so many long training rides that I was determined to sit back and take in the view. To enjoy the experience and the camaraderie with my fellow riders.
But instead I was sucking air and trying to survive. I was doing the mental checklist dance – food, water, salt, pee, stretch. I was truly in the present moment; I was forced into it by the need to keep moving forward, to finish what I started (mostly so I wouldn’t ever have to do it again).
Grass has never looked more beautiful or comforting than that day. She was a tempting mistress, seducing me to come rest for a little while.
I started feeling like time and miles don’t matter. Nothing matters out here. All there is is suffering.
I spotted a man and woman on the side of the road, eating a snack. She smiled at me and said, “hello.” Hello like it was a normal day and we were just out for a bike ride. Hello. I can do this. It’s just a normal day, this is just a bike ride.
Riding by Moonlight: The Final Leg
We made it to Checkpoint 3. The final checkpoint. Only (only!) 50 miles to go. We are close on time, but we are OK. I eat a burger and admire my niece sleeping so sweetly.
We ride off to the cheers of our loved ones. It’s dark now, really dark. I’m tired. A tired that goes beyond what you can experience in any normal day.
I’m focused and all I can think is don’t get lost. Don’t fall. Don’t have a mechanical.
As we got closer, I knew I could do it. Don’t get lost. Don’t fall. Don’t have a mechanical. You can do it.
Things got weird as the night wore on. It was after midnight and we’d been riding for over 18 hours. Shadows danced. Notes on the course cue sheets seemed to leap off the page.
We were close and I wanted off the bike more than about anything I’ve ever wanted. But I also wanted to finish. Apparently just a little bit more than I wanted off the bike.
We Did It: The Finish Line
It was 2:20 am so the scores of fans had packed up and gone home. But the finish line was still here. And our family was there. And the end, and getting off my bike after 20.5 hours of riding, was there. I smiled at Cody and reminded myself to enjoy this moment. It hurts now, but this is special.
Nick and Paige ran to the end of the finish and wrapped us in warm, teary-eyed embraces. Mom and Dad found us. Proud hugs. We did it. I did it.
The Whole Crew Deserves a Pint Glass
I am so thankful to my family who believed in me and supported me and spent countless hours training with me, and watching me race, and wiping me down with a wet rag, and making me a sandwich and meeting me in the middle of nowhere to tell me I was doing a good job (Mom – you’re the best!).
I couldn’t have done it without you guys. I’m a proud DK200 Finisher, and as Rebecca Rusch tweeted to me after the race, “Tough day and you’ve earned that honor for life!” Amen, sister!