My 2016 Dirty Kanza 200
My 2016 Dirty Kanza 200
By: Dylan Metlock
We camped that night; Grady, Danielle, and I. There was a metal pavilion overhead and a surface too hard for tent stakes. It was hot and I had been sweating, trying to keep up/stay ahead with my hydration – I knew it would be hot tomorrow. My support was ready. I went ahead and loaded up my bike with everything I would need for the first leg. I finally had everything ready and crawled in the tent around 9:30. I was ready.
I was so close to falling asleep. I could feel it. That point where it finally feels good to keep your eyes closed but you still can’t seem to fall asleep. Thoughts flow through your mind “will I know when I fall asleep? Or will I just wake up?” I checked my phone… 11:30. “Shit. Have I really just been laying here for 2 hours? Yes.” My alarm was set for 4am – I knew I needed to make a decent breakfast and I had to have my French press and most importantly, I needed to make sure I “evacuated” before what would be a very long time on the bike. That was the last I looked at the clock. I must have fallen asleep shortly after that.
Saturday “Ultra Early” Morning
BOOOOOOOM!!! 2:30am. The three of us are awoken by a very loud clap of thunder. “No worries” I thought. I considered the course and how maybe it would be wet now… “Oh well” I’ll refer to rule number 5 in that case – in every case. (See: “The Velominati, The Rules”.)
I reached for my phone to check the weather. The hourly forecast called for a 0% chance of rain all night, still. The radar indicated otherwise; a large red blob heading straight for us. “Cool”, I thought. A little rain will be relaxing and it should be gone by the time I wake up at 4. I had heard the course was super dry so maybe a little rain would help.
At 2:45 it started raining lightly. I could hear the pitter patter on top of the pavilion and felt secure. I hadn’t put the rain fly on because I didn’t think it necessary since we had cover and it was very warm. There was a lot of lightning, some of it extremely local, followed almost immediately by a CLAP! BOOM!
Right about 3am it started hailing. “What the fuck?” I thought. Immediately as I heard the hail, winds become extreme, blowing HARD sideways, avoiding the roof of the pavilion at all costs, throwing all the rain at us. “Is this what water boarding feels like?” I yelled to Danielle light heartedly “AAAHHHH!” as we took shelter under our blanket. The wind became so strong I was forced to abandon the security of a wet cotton blanket and push against the side of the tent to keep it upright, meanwhile just getting pelted with cold rain. Things became serious. I yelled at Danielle to seek shelter in the car. Meanwhile I physically held the tent down while scrambling for the cooler, my bike box, and our food box - I threw them all in the tent to keep it weighed down and rushed to the car for shelter. Chaos. Grady had his own tent but had the exact same experience. He joined us in the car. We were soaked. Luckily we had towels in the car and everyone was able to dry off. I was giddy with excitement; I thought the whole thing was hilarious! “Welp… here we are. This is going to be a bad ass story.”
Saturday Early Morning
The rain withdrew shortly before 4am and we escaped the damp, humid confines of a Subaru Forester. We never fell back asleep. I slept 3 hours total that night. I put on coffee and started getting ready. I approached the tent to observe the damage – only about an inch of standing water inside the tent… not bad. I peer to the corner and I see my cycling shoes sitting there sideways, soaked. “Awesome”. The whole reason I brought them into the tent was because I was afraid they would get “dewey” elsewhere – I wanted them to be fresh. “Is this what the Dirty Kanza is? A bunch of not getting what you want?”
My goal was to be at the starting line at 5:00 and I knew it was a couple miles from our campsite to the starting line. My friend Collin told me that if I wanted to be sort of up front I should get there by 5.
I had made a dozen giant turkey, egg, and sweet potato burritos to eat throughout the day at checkpoints as well as for breakfast. They were good. The coffee was good. I finished the food and it was time to “evacuate”. The walk to the bathroom was interesting, a few other people going through the same thing I was, waking and preparing for a hell of a day. I walked into the bathroom and to my surprise the two stalls had no doors. No doors on the toilets. I had never really pooped that exposed before. I had to give it a try. Right when I sat down someone turned the corner and came upon me in all my glory. I said hello. They said sorry. I kept trying. Nothing. “Awesome”.
I walked back and saddled up. I didn’t make it there until 5:15 which ended up being plenty of time ahead. I could have arrived at 5:40 and still started in the same place. I appreciate Collin’s advice because I didn’t have to stress at all… but come on, man – I could’ve sat in the car for another 30 minutes . Danielle and Grady said they would come to the starting line to see me off. I never did find them but they were there.
I managed to find my friends Tyler and Paul before the race. I was stoked to find them and have some friends to start the race with. Tyler and I had been training with each other consistently since January and planned to ride (race) with (against) each other as much as possible.
The race started off weird. I had never been in a group that big. There was a lot of yelling “SLOWING” and I felt like I was inside of an accordion. Every time I slowed I yelled it, too – hoping the people behind me don’t run into me. I wasn’t sure where Tyler and Paul were in the madness – I knew they were right there but I wouldn’t risk turning my head to look around with all the action. So here we are pedaling down Emporia Main Street (Commerce street?). I’m “KAWKAAH”ing like crazy. Stoked to take this challenge on, wet shoes, 3 hours of sleep, didn’t poop, stoked, perfect. I’m sure people thought I was weird because I kept making bird noises and no one else seemed to participate with me.
First turn onto gravel and it’s covered in 6” of muddy water. For a few hundred yards it was ok. My feet immediately got wet anyway so that problem was gone, “Even field” I thought. Then I started seeing people just littered on the side of the road, every 10 feet on both sides there was a person trying to get mud out of there gears or people yelling “F*&$!” as they shred their derailleur on the first 2 miles. I was lucky. My gears started skipping a little bit – I just bunny hopped and sort of slammed my tires gently against the ground, the mud flung out and all was well (Pro Tip). Paul acquired some more mud shortly after and had to stop to get some out – so Tyler and I both stopped. It was super early and I knew I had all day to make up those 30 seconds lost. We carried on. I rode with Paul and Tyler for about 30 miles. It was beautiful! The first leg was the only time I could really appreciate the surroundings because I wasn’t exhausted yet.
Paul was hammering it. I let him pull a lot, we were passing everyone, it was fun! I pulled, too but it seemed Paul was pulling faster. I looked to Tyler somewhere around mile 20 and he asked if I was alright. I said “I wish Paul would slow down” haha. Then Tyler flatted around mile 30. Tyler yelled to keep going, I knew he would be back on the bike soon and Paul decided to wait up on him. No sense on all three of us stopping. That was the last time I saw them.
I was alone, kind of. I found some comradery with a lot of nice people. There was a guy on a single speed. He had an All City kit and hair that made me jealous. He was Instagram’ing and said he was getting paid for doing it. SO Jealoussss. We played yoyo all day. I would get 15 minutes ahead of him on the descents and flats, he would catch up on the longer climbs, since he was forced to hammer at the same speed all day. I never got his name. Wish I could figure out who that was.
The most beautiful part of the first leg was coming out of the cattle pens. There was what seemed a miles long descent that wrapped around these hills – always bench cut roads and never rolling – just a nice long descent.
The first leg was crazy. Fast. Super fun. I was having a blast.
I came into the checkpoint in less than 3 hours. I was doing well and averaging 17. The amazing community and workers and volunteers and everyone there did an amazing job somehow filtering all those riders in and out of the check point. I didn’t stay long. I was happy to see Danielle and Grady. They did everything perfectly. I cleaned my chain while they fed me burrito and Gatorade and generally supported me. I was there only a couple of minutes it was all a blur. I remember eating and drinking and kissing my wife.
I don’t really remember much about the second leg. My legs started cramping but I was able to stay ahead of that. I had been taking the recommended dosage of sport legs, enduroyltes, and drinking a lot of fluids. I don’t really remember doing anything specifically to make the cramping go away but it eventually subsided. I lost about a mile an hour pace on the second leg.
I rolled into the second checkpoint, half way, in just about 6 hours. I wasn’t there long, either. I was starting to hurt and I knew the next leg was going to be strong head wind. I tried to go fast on the first half but not overdo it. I knew it would be super slow heading back and wanted some extra time. I had plenty of time to beat the sun.
The course was supposed to go north a lot and I knew it was going to happen eventually. It didn’t happen at first and it was disconcerting. I wanted to go north because I wanted to get it over with. After the second checkpoint the course sent us straight east for what seemed like miles, then it went south again. I hated going south on the second half of the course – I felt like I was back tracking – The more south I went, the more north I was going to have to go. There wasn’t anyone around anymore, either. The first two legs there was always someone ahead or behind me, someone to pull off of or say hello. I really felt all alone on the second half of the course –rarely found a good paced group to ride with.
The third leg was the hardest by far. There was an extremely long section that was straight north. It was getting hot. I don’t know how hot it was but it felt really hot, like heat index in the 90s. The wind was averaging 16-17 mph, gusting in the 20s. I started to get a little bit of gastrointestinal distress and thought I was going to poop. I knew it would come back to haunt me later. I tried to ignore that, thinking maybe I was behind on my hydration so I went ahead and pounded a bottle of water. I had only brought 4 water bottles with me – 2 of them were packed with magical osmo active hydration stuff. Turns out I could’ve used 8 on the third leg. So, I pounded that water bottle, ate a bonk breaker, ate a roctane. That made me feel better until about mile 140 when it all came back. The third leg was 58 miles so I knew I still had around 20 miles to go and it was going to be a long 20 miles. I was averaging 7-9 mph when I was going straight north up those long drawn out hills. I watched my average drop from 16 mph quickly down to 14. I finished all my drinks with what would be 2 hours until I reached the next checkpoint. I made a conscious decision to just finish my water while I was thirsty and not try to save it. At this point it was all mental. I couldn’t eat anymore without following it with fluids because I knew it would upset my stomach even more. All the while I couldn’t tell if I had a stomach ache or if I needed to poop or both. So I went two hours without eating or drinking at the end of the third leg. I just focused on my breathing and tried to relax. I went slowly into the north and anytime it turned east, west, or south (god forbid), I would pick it up and hammer hard trying to knock out some fast miles. Then I would break into the north, again.
I finally did it. I saw some pavement and signs for the third checkpoint. That was the hardest part and I wanted to quit, I felt terrible. Luckily there was amazing support at the third checkpoint. They said the hard stuff was over and it was a short 44 miles to the finish. It took me over 5 hours to finish the 3rd leg. I was no longer on pace to beat the sun – I would’ve needed to leave the third checkpoint immediately and average 22 mph to beat it. So I decided to relax a while at the checkpoint. I stayed there probably 15 minutes. First, I ran to the bathroom and nothing happened. So that was solved, I didn’t need to poop, just a mild stomach ache. No food sounded good. Nothing. My support crew which seemed to greatly expand at the third checkpoint – more friends were there, Andy was snapping pictures, most of the Sunflower crew was there cheering me on. It felt great. They had been checking my location with “find my iphone” so they knew I was close. They prepared a plate with 4 of 5 different choices of real food and I didn’t want any of it. I took a bite of a few of the things and sat down in a chair while Grady forced me to eat one of my burritos and a whole Gatorade. It was so hard to eat that but eventually, after many small small bites, I finished half of it and we decided that was a good amount of food. I finished that Gatorade and 2 bottles of water and I felt really good. I doubled up on sport legs and endurolytes. Refreshed. I was so happy to still be alive and start the 4th leg. Everyone bid me farewell and I was off.
As I was leaving, the single speed guy with the hair I want rolled in, he looked horrid. I felt for everyone that made it into that checkpoint. This time I brought my usual 4 bottles but I also packed two additional plastic bottles in my jersey packets. The fourth leg was super fun. I knew that I was going to be ok, that I would finish, barring some terrible mechanical problem. I decided at the start of the leg I wasn’t going to try to eat anymore. I was just going to drink a lot of water and keep taking electrolyte supplements and maybe some sugar in the form of roctane. When I finished I had drank all 4 bottles and the 2 extra plastic water bottles I brought.
The wind started dying down about an hour before sunset and I would see my northward pace go from sub 10mph to well over 10. I brought my moving average from 14.0 to 14.2 over the 4th leg. Doesn’t seem like much… but over 14 moving hours it was.
My mind drifted a lot during the last couple hours. I don’t remember much. I just wanted to be done. With around 5-10 miles left there was a train crossing. The train had blocked the tracks. I didn’t know what to do as I approached it, then I saw on the other side, people were riding along the railway median – they went up the median to the end of the train and crossed and then back tracked… so that’s what I did. It was annoying. I didn’t want to jump between the cars in fear of dying if the train decided to move while I was maneuvering between the cars. I did see a handful of people do just that – they’re braver than me I guess.
Rolling into Emporia was an awesome feeling. I was actually going to finish and in a decent amount of time (final time 15:25. 119th place overall, 13th in age group). I was blown away at the community in Emporia and all the people cheering along the race. The actual finish was amazing. I crossed the line and there was Jim Cummins the main man. He greeted me and I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. I just smiled at him, completely disoriented. I think I said thanks or “that was hard”. I didn’t know what kind of emotions I would feel at the finish. Would I cry? Turns out I was just happy to be able to finish and still drink a couple celebratory beers! My ultimate goal was to finish and still feel good, still be able to celebrate. I didn’t want to finish and just curl up in a cocoon. My support, Danielle, Grady and a bunch of my friends and family. They greeted me and were super stoked for me. I was still speechless. They handed me a beer right at the finish, it was excellent, a Free State Brewing, Dirty Kanza Kolsch. The finish line party was awesome!
At the time and during the race I had told myself I wasn’t doing this again. But as I recovered, I forgot about the pain or what it was like at mile 140. You forget that stuff – well maybe you don’t forget it, but it doesn’t seem that bad once it’s over. I cannot wait for next year. I already crave that environment: the great people in Emporia and the surrounding towns, the amazing scenery and challenge of the flint hills, everything about the race and its promoters. My biggest motivation though, I know that next year I can do way better. I’ve always had big goals. It may sound ridiculous but I want top 10. Why not? I don’t need to be a Brian Jensen or a Dan Hughes, Yuri, Ted King, I think I can be Dylan Medlock and that he can do it. It may not happen next year. It may never happen. But I can try and I can guarantee one thing – it’s going to be a ton of fun!
HUGE thanks to all my help and supporters out at the race and at home. I had a lot of time to think and I thought about every one of you and it helped me keep going.