• The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
  • The Eki Chronicles
    The Eki Chronicles A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

Wind and Flint

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a1sx2_Thumbnail1_DK-open-range.jpgThe grass seemed to shine as it moved in waves across the wind swept prairie. Squinting through the brightness of the day I dared myself to spot a man made object, there were none. My bike and I were passing through the vastness of the Flint Hills, racing another Dirty Kanza 200. I was riding through God's front lawn and I knew it. 

The D.K. with all it's fanfare, glitz, and glory is still a race capable of crushing the strongest riders in the field. 200 miles is a distance that can certainly be "raced", but it is also a distance that must be reckoned with. Hell, 200 miles is a long car ride! There's also the fact that the "Kanza" holds many wild cards that she chooses to play whenever she wants to. In other words, she plays by her rules, not yours. Past years have had me begging her to stop torturing me with mind bending heat, frightening me with distant tornadoes, and scrambling for cover from torrential rains. What hand would she play this year? b2ap3_thumbnail_Riders-meeting.jpg

I decided to control what I could and that would be equipment choices. I knew my bike of choice would be the Salsa Warbird as it's proven that it is more than capable in ultra distance gravel races. Possibly the most important choice would fall to tires. The flint rock found in the D.K. is like riding on the edge of a knife blade, it can shred tires. 5 flat tires last year shook me, I needed to be smart about this. Extensive email threads with Jeff Clarkson of Schwalbe tires had us landing firmly on Mondial 35's. These tires earned their stripes last year as several riders made it through all 200 miles on them without issue. Finally, with my equipment choices made I would need to control my effort. I decided that burning too many matches early would only add to the pain that would most certainly be coming for me as I inched my way closer to the finish line. I was determined to let the lead group go, knowing that many of them would "blow" early and I hoped I'd move through some of the shelled left overs.b2ap3_thumbnail_Ready-to-start.jpg

High anxiety and racing is not a good combination, unfortunately I am deeply involved in both. I've always been a "worrier", even as a little guy. I tell myself that the nerves are what keep me sharp, but most likely they're what tear me apart on the inside. This year's race had me all twisted up. My left knee had introduced me to a level of pain that I had not yet met while racing in the recent Trans Iowa. I was concerned that my new acquaintance would come back for a visit and I really didn't want to see him again. Flat tires were on my mind too. I was dreaming about them for weeks leading up to the race. Some dreams included me completing lightning fast changes, others had me not knowing how to change a flat. I was certain that fixing my bike on the side of the road would be a part of my race, I just needed to limit the time spent doing it.

Finally, we were off! I reviewed my plan over and over in my mind as we moved through the streets of Emporia. "Stay out of trouble, watch for careless moves from other riders, stay off the rough part of the gravel, http://atver-acis.lv/tyre/2249 TAKE CARE OF THE TIRES!", was what I told myself. The pace did what I expected it would, it went straight to the moon! I let them go and stayed true to the game plan. I didn't enjoy watching so many riders moving past me and I fought the urge to go with them, I didn't. I wanted to knock out a steady first 100 and hoped to come into the half way point under 7 hours. I knew this wouldn't be a problem, I'd done 100 mile gravel races in under 6 hours before. At least I thought it wouldn't be a problem. The D.K. played her first hand and as the cards hit the table I saw it, the "wild card", it was WIND!b2ap3_thumbnail_kansas-prairie.jpg

Beyond the wind, I was obsessed with the notion of getting a flat. It was ridiculous, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I needed to let the worry go, it was eating me up. I was riding very conservatively, trying to float over the rough sections, even wondering if I should get off in an effort to keep the equipment safe. I knew that was absurd, but it was getting that bad. I wanted nothing more than to have a "clean" race. I wanted it so bad that I was hurting my chances at meeting my goal of a 14 hour day.

Checkpoint 2 marked the halfway point and I had pulled in with 7.5 hours of riding under my belt. The wind was having it's way with me and I was disappointed with what I felt was a slow 100. I knew that when the wind is in your face it will be at your back at some point. A 6.5 hour 100 was in front of me, I could feel it. I told myself that when the breeze hit my back side, I'd put the Warbird into a nice heavy gear, get north of 20 mph and just let it happen. Thing is, neither the wind, nor the direction of the course were cooperating. It seemed that I was always heading West or Northwest and the wind was either hitting me right in the teeth or on the front left shoulder. Riders were strung out now, small groups existed, but they seemed rare. I found myself desperately alone a lot. My confidence in the tires had risen, but the notion of riding more aggressively was gone as the wind stripped that from me long ago. I had reached that point that inevitably comes in all ultra endurance events, I was just riding now, doing the best that I could. All the complexities of racing were gone, I was simply pedaling and following a map, I was reduced. 

Leaving a well traveled gravel road for a much less traveled "cow path", I knew the course was taking a turn for the Flint Hills. The Flint Hills are the Dirty Kanza, this is what it's all about. I loved the thought of getting "in it", but I knew that it would most likely come with a price tag. Riding through those expanses leaves one vulnerable and exposed. The sheer beauty of the place can strike fear in the soul as the realities of one's existence on this planet come crashing in. I felt so small as I turned over the cranks, putting the miles behind me, daring to look up and away from the flint crushing under my tires. High on a plateau I saw it again, the contrast of green and blue. A distinct line between the two colors far away in the distance proved to be the horizon. The winds teased the prairie grass as it swirled and shimmered. A deafening roar was in my ears as the air passed through the vents of my helmet and around me. What moisture I had in my eyes was now gritty and dried on my face. The enormity of the moment was all around me, I did not take it lightly.

I still had a job to do and as much b2ap3_thumbnail_gravel-rider-out-front.jpgas I wanted to take a break from it I knew I couldn't. "Keep Moving Forward", was my mantra. I was going slow now, very slow! It seemed that every time I checked my speed I saw the number 9 in the field designated for miles per hour - NOT GOOD! Soon I would see that number double once the wind was at my back or so I thought.

Clearly the wind was conspiring against me as it seemed to move in coordination with my turns on course. I had accepted my situation and was determined to slog through each section, bent on reaching the next check point. To this point my friends had been the documentary film crew that was following my plight through the D.K. The boys in the jeep had been popping up consistently to film me. They were professional and I enjoyed watching them work. I often thought about how different our worlds were and whether they were noticing my slow deterioration. Initially, I made the decision not to interact with them verbally and to just stay focused on what I was there to do. However, as the miles wore on and the elements chipped away at my being I began to long to see the boys. They lifted my spirits and made me feel that what I was doing had meaning. My hardships were increasing as "hot spots" in my feet were a nuisance that couldn't be ignored and the occasional tinges of pain that stabbed through my left knee reminded me that it wasn't that many weeks previous that I had ridden 325 nonstop miles of gravel. Joel, one of the camera crew and editor of the upcoming documentary is also an accomplished cyclist. I felt I needed to express my problems verbally to someone who would understand, as if that would somehow lighten my burden of pain. I began to shout complaints to Joel as they drove next to me in the jeep. I complained about my feet, the stiff never ending head wind, and the deep fatigue that was over taking me. To my surprise Joel responded with words of encouragement, "Your doing awesome Tim!". I felt the ice was broken, I would now utilize the boys in the jeep as a moving moral support team. I was renewed!b2ap3_thumbnail_sunset-from-Randys.jpg

Riding close to the crew, we rolled together down some lonesome gravel road in Kansas. I yelled to them, "Amy will be at check point 3!". I made the statement with a sense of pride and I later wondered what they thought of me as they considered the fact that my wife would be meeting me 150 miles into this monster. I'm not sure why I wanted them to know, maybe I thought they would want some footage or a short interview with her, but mostly I guess I wanted them to see how Amy and I get through these things together. It's not that I ask for much, it's just that she always seems to know just what to say to me as I'm on the verge of completely breaking down.

At last, check point 3! I was completely shelled, destroyed in fact. My body was reeling from what felt like 230 miles so far. I needed a little rest. Changing out my map is when I heard her voice. Relief washed over me as the familiarity of her support rushed into view. I also saw some of my old friends from Kansas, Dustin, LeLan, and of course Jed and Renee', who had been taking care of my requests at the previous check points. Quickly a chair was made available to me and I plopped down in it. Oddly, the chair felt uncomfortable as at this point it seemed I preferred the saddle of my bike. The situation seemed confusing to me as my brain was still operating in "fight" mode while everyone around me seemed sharp and on task. Then, I saw the cameras in front of me and I began to wonder if I'd really make it in before sunset, which was a central theme for the documentary. I turned to Amy and it occurred to me that I may not make it before dark. "I'm afraid I'm going to ruin the movie", I told her, my voice breaking under the emotion of the moment. Like she always does she gave me a line that I repeated hundreds of times throughout the remaining 50 miles, " great post to read FINISH, that's what you do, you FINISH". She was right, I always find a way and this time would be no different. I asked which way I needed to go to leave town, mounted up, and rode away. "I'll see you at the end!", I yelled over my shoulder.b2ap3_thumbnail_setting-up-for-post-race-interview.jpg

 

Another 20 plus miles North and into the quartering head wind. I began to break the segment into 5 mile chunks. The mileage on the GPS never seemed to change, I even wondered if it was working properly. Finally, I dared to unfold and look at the entire map, in order to identify the mile at which I'd turn and run down wind, into Emporia. Mile 175 is when the punishing wind would be forced to release me from it's grip. Just then a fast moving duo from Lincoln, Nebraska came up from behind. It was good to see Scott Bigelow and James Blake, two experienced gravel grinders who pack a tremendous amount of power in every pedal stroke. I needed to hold their wheel no matter what the cost. The value of sitting in a draft at this point was priceless. I vowed to give what I had in order to stay hooked on. Clearly, Scott was leading this train. I could tell he was holding back for James and I. His experience told him that we'd most likely get through this rough spot and help him with some lengthy pulls when we could. It felt good to be in their company. Together we did the math regarding our speed versus the setting sun and we knew it was going to be close.

The turn finally came and we were heading East. The relief wasn't as satisfying as I'd hoped as Scott just pushed down on the gas pedal that much harder. Approximately 15 miles from the finish we concluded that we were not going to get to the finish before sunset so we sat up and stopped pushing. We rode side by side, sharing stories of past races, and tales from our lives. I marveled at their stories as well as their quality as men. I took a moment and told myself that this was the highlight of my race. I was riding with some of the "good guys" and for that I was thankful.

The miles to go were into the single digits now and the breeze on our backs was like an acknowledgement from the D.K. that said, "Hey, nice job guys!" The conversation about getting in before the sun went down popped back up and not long after we were back into a pace line with Scott on the front leading us home. His pace was fierce and I knew I wouldn't be able to hold his wheel much longer. Without a word spoken James and I set him free, his "Race Against the Sun" was on. A small smile came across my face as I watched his gap widen. He was in his drops now, digging for something that I helped create. Throughout the day many riders had thanked me for inspiring the race directors to include the category within the race that allowed for those of us who may not win the chance to chase a different dream. Many riders traced the arc of the sun to the horizon as they went inside themselves all because of a story I wrote last year about my Dirty Kanza experience. I was filled with pride.b2ap3_thumbnail_DK-finish.jpg

Determined to make my race as close as possible I stayed on top of the pedals the best that I could, but my legs were so stripped of power that I was not producing nearly the number of watts I needed to. 8:42 p.m. was official sunset and a glance to the GPS had me noticing the time. I was in Emporia, my tires were on the tar and 8:42 turned into 8:43. Strangely, I wasn't upset that I was still riding. I may have lost this one to the sun, but I'd won in so many other ways. The horns began to honk as residents saw one more battered soul enter down town Emporia. I waved back to them as they shouted encouragement from their cars. Up ahead the finishing chute and the crowd waiting for me. I entered the final 100 meters sitting up, hands off the bars with my arms open, returning Emporia's embrace. The Dirty Kanza resides in the hearts of hundreds and she's been in mine since the first time I toed the line 4 years ago.

Special thanks to race directors Jim Cummins, Kristi Mohn (who championed the "Race Against the Sun", Tim Mohn, and all their wonderful staff. The Dirty Kanza is as special as it is, because of this crew. Thank you to Randy Smith for opening his home to Amy and I. Jed and Renee' Sampsel for all your help at the check points. And, thank you to Salsa Cycles, Schwalbe Tires, and Rudy Project.

 

 

 

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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.

Comments

  • Guest
    check Jim C Monday, 10 June 2013

    Eki, we all wept at the finish line when 8:42pm came and went, and you had not yet arrived. So close... yet so far. But even in defeat, you inspire all who know you. So, the way I figure it, that's no defeat at all. You are a Winner, no matter how you slice it. You inspire people to reach for greatness. I can think of no greater gift to your fellow man. I'm honored to call you "friend".

  • Guest
    Kate Monday, 10 June 2013

    GREAT report! Love the line "God's front lawn"...so apt. And as someone who lost to the wind and gave up, it's nice to hear that even the accomplished cyclists were feeling the pain too.

  • Guest
    James Blake Monday, 10 June 2013

    Tim,

    I hate to tarnish the portrait you have painted with any excess words, but I also need to let you know how much I appreciate what you do on the bike and how much I enjoyed riding those last few miles with you. See you next year.

    Your friend,
    James Blake

  • Guest
    Jerry Brick Monday, 10 June 2013

    I totally related to the pain you endured,that wind took everything out of me! I didn't finish maybe next year.Great story,and way to finish!

  • Guest
    Scott Bigelow Monday, 10 June 2013

    Tim-
    You have a great way with words and always seem to convey the experience so well. Those last few miles were the highlight of my race as well. Knowing we had given our best efforts, no regrets, knowing we'd "won" even if the sun did beat us by a few minutes, is something I'll never forget. Thank you.
    Scott B.

  • Guest
    Jim C Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Eki, we all wept at the finish line when 8:42pm came and went, and you had not yet arrived. So close... yet so far. But even in defeat, you inspire all who know you. So, the way I figure it, that's no defeat at all. You are a Winner, no matter how you slice it. You inspire people to reach for greatness. I can think of no greater gift to your fellow man. I'm honored to call you "friend".

  • Guest
    Emily Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Great post! So inspiring and motivating to ride w you for a few miles. Your real-person struggles and ability to write about them help everyone learn and continue to push personal limits. Thanks for being a good role model. Hope to see you again next year at DK.

  • Guest
    Bill H Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Tim, As the driver of the black jeep, it was an honor to watch and experience the DK through your ride. Job well done!

  • Guest
    Dara Nichols Thursday, 21 February 2019

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