Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Dirty Kanza 200...the dirtiest of Dirty Kanza's, the most rewardingof races.

"If you are going through hell, keep going."  - Winston Churchill

The 2015 Dirty Kanza was the dirtiest of all Dirty Kanza's. It was gritty, it was painful, it was epic. At times it felt like hell, and it was possibly the hardest thing I've done in my entire life.  It truly was the race of a lifetime.
The last few days have been a sore, foggy haze like none I ever remember.  No Ironman left it's pain staking mark quite like this. Not even the St. George Ironman of death. No amount of sleep or food is ever enough. My coach and his CA buddies are referring to this as PTKD.....Post Traumatic Kanza Disorder.  Sounds about right...ha!   Honestly, I can't believe it's over. I look at some of the photos that Eric Benjamin with Adventure Monkey took during the race and it makes me wish I was right back there in Emporia.  These photos are amazing.

Tracey & Jay Petervary, and Me with a mustache.

Just warning you now...I'm still in a state of hazey grab yourself a cup of coffee and hold on with your muddy hands....because this is sure to be a long one!

Tom and I arrived in Emporia, Kansas on Thursday night and we could instantly feel the DK200 energy in the air. Emporia is an incredible town, filled with amazingly supportive supportive that it felt as though it was my own home town.  Thursday night we were reunited with my coach who was lining up on Saturday for his 2nd DK200 along with my great friend Andrea that made the trip all the way from California to help cheer on this epic day. We tackled plates full of tacos at Casa Ramos and discussed the details of Friday's morning pre-ride....which turned out to look a lot like this!!

Photo Credit: Jason Ebberts, TBL Photography
It had pretty much been raining non-stop in Emporia for the previous 10 days and that trend continued on Friday creating some pretty epic race conditions. We were told at the riders meeting that there was likely to be a 1.5 mile hike a bike mud section and we were warned to pick up our bikes during this section. However, no matter how much we were warned about the mud or told about the numerous water crossings...I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that we would face such war like conditions that we did.

Race morning soon came and we awoke to a misty 55 degrees, which meant that the ground was sure to be wet. At this point I was starting to smell the suffering. I quickly downed a stack of IHOP french toast and we found our way to the 6am start line.

It was still pretty dark, but the energy was so intense that I could barely stand it. Finally we were off....and rolling our way down Commercial Street and then suddenly everyone was hitting the brakes....a TRAIN!!  It was pretty cool - people took photos, laughed, and enjoyed the small break.  I mean hell, it was 6am and normally we aren't even up for work yet!  Once the train passed it was like someone let off a cannon and all the sudden the pace at the front was insane...and the moment we hit the gravel it was greasy...a few early crashes had some strong male riders like Dan Hughes passing me with backs full of mud....I was pacing myself for a long day and maintaining a strong but steady pace. Then about 10 miles in...CARNAGE!  Everyone was off their bikes hiking and carrying them on their shoulders. It looked like a bomb went off and  derailleurs were breaking all over the place..the mud was so thick and chunky that anytime you would try to ride the mud would clog up your frame so much that you couldn't turn the wheels!  Lots of time spent using my hands to grab and toss mud pies off my was a HOT MESS!  This hike a bike continued....for about the next 2-3 miles!  

Tracey Petervary and I chasing the Tandem

The only thing you really could do at this point was laugh. Actually, if you weren't laughing, chances are you didn't have the best day.  I remember already telling someone "man, that beer sure is gonna taste great tonight after all this" and then at one point when I finally hopped on and easily clipped into my amazing iSSi pedals.... the racer behind me laughed that it looked like I was riding in slippers...and then two seconds later I hit a divot and went ass over tea kettle :)  There was mud caked all over my shoes...actually there was mud EVERYWHERE!  At this point it was completely all over my frame from carrying it,  my gloves were covered in so much mud that I had to wipe my hands all over my fancy new kit.  I fared pretty well in the mud section and even at one point was leading the women's race however when all was said and done, I rolled out of there in 2nd place chasing the eventual winner, Amanda Nauman.

After the chaos things were pretty strung out and it was difficult to find any real riding partners.  My glasses kept fogging up and they were so full of mud that the only option was to remove them which meant that every time I tried to draft off someone I ended up with eyes full of wet soggy gravel. We would ride through creeks and puddles and I'd seriously close my eyes!!   Like many of my fellow racers, my front derailleur refused to shift so I was stuck in the small ring.  A hell of a lot better than the big ring!!!! Meanwhile my hands were sliding all over the hoods on my much that eventually my palms ached with blisters.  The course though... it was INCREDIBLE. 

It was absolutely beautiful and I wished I could have taken photos as we weaved our way through the windy Flint Hills of Kansas. There were free range cows all over the freaking one point a pack of running cows crossed the trail about 10 yards in front of me....the cows were absolutely stoked about the Dirty felt like something from a movie.

I found myself riding close to Jay and Tracey Petervary (on a tandem) at this point in the race, and that was definitely some good company.  I would fare better on the climbs and they would barrel past me on the descents....when I was ahead of them Jay would scream "You're CRUSHING IT Morgan!" and it made me laugh every time.  At one point when I could barely hold onto my bike Tracey turned around on the tandem and "no hands" snapped this photo!  Hilarious.

At this point, I was having the race of my life.

Photo Credit: Matthew Fowler, Emporia Gazette

And then all hell broke loose.  Right after this beautiful creek crossing I found myself in solo land and missed a turn. I figured this out about 300 yards up the road when i could no longer see the riders in front of me, however when I turned around to re-trace my steps a handful of other racers had missed the same turn, including the Petervary's.  Long story short...this mishap cost all of us about a half hour. I would be lying if I said that this moment didn't still pain's like leaving your wallet some place and then having someone steal all your money. It was 100% my fault.  I'll get over it eventually, but today it still hurts. This was the first moment during the race where my resilience was tested. So I did what my hero's would do...I put on my rally cap and I chased!!! Rolling into the first aid station I was on the hunt.  Tom and Andrea greeted me with open arms, exchanged my empty bottles for new ones and sent me on my way.

This next 80ish mile section is all a really big blur to me.  Many more open prairies, some really steep climbs, lots of clanky bikes noises and another hike a bike mud section.  At this point the mud was starting to dry out and it was basically like clay.  Getting the mud off our tires seemed nearly impossible. At one point I ran down into a huge ditch pond and dumped my bike in there....I probably have MAD COW disease now!   The section was the toughest of the day for me as it involved a broken spoke and a couple of flat tires.  The tires weren't that bad....but the broken spoke caught me a bit off guard as I had no idea what the hell to do about that.  So naturally I just grabbed the spoke caveman style and pulled and bent it trying to yank it off my wheel....yeah, no prevail! 

Eventually a fellow rider came up on me and I pleaded for his help. He just so happened to have a set of pliers in his saddle bag that was able to cut the spoke...What on earth?  Who the hell carries that on their bike?  I felt like I had seen an angel.  THANK YOU to whoever that generous rider was.  And THANK YOU to our new friend Brian Hayden from Duluth, MN who stopped on my 2nd flat, gave me a 3rd tube for safety and let me use his CO2 gun since my brand new one refused to work.  This was a race like none other.  Mechanicals were more the norm than not on Saturday and as I stood on the side of the trail fixing my flats I was humbled by the the caring of my fellow riders. Every single rider that passed me checked to be sure that I had everything that I needed. We all went to war together that day and we all wanted nothing other than to see each other cross that finish line.

Heading into the 2nd aid station I was exhausted, needing some mechanical attention and SO FREAKING HUNGRY!! 

This man.....the best husband ever!!

Tom and Ted were both amazing going right to to fixing my bike.  My45NRTH teammate Danielle had brought her GRBC mechanic Ted with and he resuscitated my bike so that the rear wheel was no longer wobbling and when I left it rode like a champ!  Tom helped with my bike and  kept my head the game. Andrea gave me fresh gloves, a jacket and then shoved my face full of food! THANK YOU is not enough.  This was already the hardest thing I had ever done The next 10 miles were difficult as I attempted to digest a piece of taco pizza and about 10 Nutter Butter's. was sooo worth it!!! Then suddenly my chain started sagging down onto the chain stay whenever I stopped more coasting!!. I was saying prayers like no other. "Please, just let me ride this bike to the finish line." Eventually the wind stopped, the trail flattened and I felt amazing for the final 25 miles.  Seeing the Emporia spot lights shining in the sky was such an amazing feeling.  I started to get the goosebumps. I had done it....I had ridden my bike for nearly 16 hours and I was going to finish the hardest race of my life.  I held back the tears as I sped my way down the finish chute screaming with arms held up in the air.  I was elated!!  I may have been the 5th place rider that day...but in so many other ways.... I had won the Dirty Kanza. 

So proud to stand on a podium with all these incredible women. Huge congratulations to women's winner Amanda Nauman and my coach Matt Freeman on 16th male...they are both from Southern California -  pretty sure they have never seen mud like that. 

Me and Andrea
A hug from coach at the finish line!
So proud of my Michigan BFF Danielle who rocked a 7th place finish on a mountain bike.  Our friend Matt Acker killed it with a 4th overall finish and our good friend Brian Hanson made it to the finish line just after 2am.  What a day!!! The list could go on forever  Congratulations to everyone that toed the line last Saturday.  Finish or are all my hero's. Mechanicals are a part of bike racing and I know many of you were left unable to press on. Getting to the start line of Dirty Kanza takes a lot of guts....the same kind of guts that it takes to finish. Your finish line might not have been there this year, but I'm certain in 2016 it will taste that much sweeter.  See ya on the start line!


  1. Congratulations! What a great job! This was my fourth DK and BY FAR the hardest one. And maybe my favorite. There's something so special about this race. Glad you got to experience it!

    1. CONGRATULATIONS to you Kate!!!! Wow, what a day and I couldn't agree more...there really is something special about that race. I can't wait to exerience it all again next year!

  2. Bad ass. Huge congrats, April!

  3. Congrats! Loved reading your epic story!

    1. Thanks so much Lisa T -- you gotta do this race some year!

  4. You are AMAZING April!! Love all the smiles! It was so fun to ride and share part of this crazy challenge with you. Stay great! see you out there.

    1. Thanks so much Tracey!!! hopefully see you at a race sometime soon!