”Finally getting to writing about my DK200 experience. It was 1:30 in the morning and I was awake because someone decided it was a good idea to toss something in the empty dumpster across the street and cause a loud BANG!! Come on man!! Good thing I went to bed about 8 PM and had a good 5+ hours of sleep. It was still more sleep than any previous DK and a lot more sleep then I had at Land Run this year.
Not long after waking up I heard the thunder. I looked at the radar and it was north of town, but headed our way. Having lived in Emporia for the past 4 years I was kind of worried this could get bad. As the storm hit town it was an unreal downpour. I checked the radar and saw that the storm reached just past the west edge of town. That took all worries away. The roads from the first gravel to about road H are usually good even when wet.
As we rolled out I was in the middle of the pack. By the time we hit gravel it was a standstill. I knew the gravel under was hard enough to ride on, but there was no way I was going to navigate through the crowd that was edge to edge walking through the water. As soon as we got through that first stretch of water I was off. I rolled up to road H with no worries. However, I was very worried about Road 145. If it was wet, that could be bad, and it was right on the edge of where the radar showed rain. In December I had ridden it on my mountain bike after a snow and Road 145 was a disaster. As I turned off of 150 and onto Road H I could see that chaos was taking place. It was my worst fear. I really didn’t know what to do. Do I walk and get through it, do I try and ride and hope for the best. I decided to switch into a low gear and took it slow, wondering if the entire time I should just walk it. I was not picking up a lot of mud, and it appeared like most of the front half had gotten the worst of it.
As I passed through the rest of the first loop I took it easy. I didn’t want to push myself knowing that 206 miles is a major grind for me and over 80 miles more than I’ve ever rideen before. By the time I reached checkpoint 1 my bike was crying from the moisture on the chain. That first checkpoint was so chaotic. Thankfully I had a ton of friends who came out to help that day. They met me right as I crossed the checkpoint and ran with me to the sag car. One of my goals was to be in and out of checkpoints fast. My goal for the first was less than 5 minutes. While I don’t know the exact time and I can say it was FAST, less than 5 minutes for sure. My wife and the rest of the crew had my nutrition and water bottles changed while I attended to my chain. I got back out and it was on to leg #2.
While for a lot of people leg 3 was the worst of the day, leg two about ended me. Out of Madison there was a lot of climbing and that NW wind was taking its toll on me. About 12 miles in I stopped and pulled off to the side of the road. My legs were screaming (this happens to me about 60 miles in to any ride or race) the heat was getting to me and my gut was starting to roll. I took some Tums and Tylenol but wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going. All year I had been working much more on my mental strength then my leg strength. I’ve ridden harder roads, in all conditions to try and prepare my mind. All winter I never was on a trainer, I was always out riding even when the temps got in the single digits. However, at this point I was about to crack mentally. Thankfully a buddy of mine, Cliff Allen rolled up and stopped. He encouraged me to get back on the bike and that helped so much. However, I knew I was in bad shape.
Over the next 20 miles my stomach would get worse and I felt like something bad was about to happen. I was fearful to eat because of the gymnastics program that was going on in my gut, so I quit eating. At mile 80 I ran into Cliff and two other friends Philip Jamandre and Arturo Morales. I pulled up and they all looked strong, but I was about to die. Through those 20 miles since I ran into Cliff I had been looking for a place to pull off and get out of view for a bit to use the restroom. No luck out there. Philip offered me a nutritional drink he had and told me it was meant to combat and prevent stomach gymnastics. He swapped me a bottle of Tailwind for a bottle of water. WHAT A GUY!!! We got back on the bike and about a mile later I finally found a place to pull off and let the rumbling in my gut loose. I was having D(K)iarrhea . The heat and some severe gut rot had got the best of me. 81 miles in and I was not sure my day would continue on. It sucked. I wanted to quit so bad, but that was not happening. I got back on the bike and decided to stick to liquid nutrition the rest of the day in hopes that my stomach would react better to it.
I got back on the bike, I felt a littler better after my stop. It wasn’t to much longer that I had caught back up Cliff, Arturo and Philip. We rode into Eureka together and I started to feel better. As we crossed the checkpoint Scott O’Mara was there. His day was over at the 5 miles mark with the mess that took place there, but here he was, helping his brother Shawn get his 5th DK finish, but also cheering on all of the rest of us. His encouraging words along with an emphatic Hi-5 really got me pumped up.
As we left checkpoint 2 Philip offered to give me enough of his nutritional drink mix at the next checkpoint to get me two bottles of it for leg 3. We all decided that we would take a longer stop then roll out of Eureka. That checkpoint might have been a half hour long, maybe longer. Philip, Arturo, Cliff and I rolled out together along with Jeremy Hutsell from Topeka and another rider from Stillwater, OK. We took a good pace out of Eureka, however we were having a few too many stops for some of us and the group started to break up. At mile 140 I thought I had lost everyone for good. Climbing a hill my hamstring locked up in a bad cramp. The heat, the lack of good nutrition (only drinking, no real eating since mile 60) was killing me. I stopped, stretched for a few minutes and rubbed the cramp out. I got back on the bike with one goal at this point, to hit Madison.
Amazingly, I felt better after that cramp. I caught back up with Philip and Art and rolled into Madison late, but still with plenty of time to finish by 3 AM. My crew was great at Madison. Again waiting for me at the checkpoint line and directing me to the sag vehicle. I got there, got some leg warmers and an Under Armor shirt to keep warm, along with some new socks. Oh, and how could I forget Chamois Buttr. Well I almost did forget it til I sat down on the saddle. Can’t forget the buttr. I was in and out of Madison in less then 5 minutes again and on to the final leg.
Being local meant that leg 4 was familiar for about the final 25 miles. Those first 20 miles of leg 4 gave me some troubles. Some MMR in the dark and some surprisingly big hills caused some major issues. I about wrecked on one MMR about 10 miles into leg 4. Some cramps up a few late hills also caused me issues.
Once we crossed into Lyon County it was smooth sailing home… until I decided to race a train. I was riding with Chris Peters from Stillwater when he had established a little distance. I was exhausted at this point. Having not ate since mile 60 and having chosen not to drink much during leg 4 caused me some major fatigue. My stomach wasn’t feeling well and my brain wasn’t working well either. I just wanted to be back in Emporia. I heard a train in the distance. I’ve heard them many a times around here and knew it was still far off. I kicked it into high gear with whatever fumes I was still running on, not wanting to have to stop for a train. BAD IDEA. I was going up that little punchy hill at the tracks at mile 190 when the gates came down. DANG!!!!!
After that I struggled so bad. I should have taken it easy up to tracks and conserved energy. Once the train passed I just kept the legs going knowing I had plenty of time to get back. I rode a very casual pace, knowing I’d get back before 3. I also knew I had Highland Hill left and really didn’t want to walk it. I had only walked maybe 3 hills the entire day and two of those where when I was feeling really bad on leg two. I somehow rode my bike up Highland Hill. Once I hit campus and Commercial St. I just coasted. My legs had no spins left in them. I came in just before 2:30 AM with friends and family still there waiting on me. A hug from my wife, my dad who traveled from Michigan, my friends, LeLan and I tracked down Bobby Wintle (every gravel race needs a Bobby hug at the end). I was in awe of how many people were still hanging out there at 2:30 AM.
Overall, this years DK taught me a lot. It really tested me mentally. I could have given up and had good reason to. Thankfully I had some great friends to help me along the way. It was so awesome to see about 10 minutes later Philip and Art finish. It was also Art’s first DK200 finish. Philip’s 2nd!!
It also taught me that for no reason would I ever spend 20 consecutive hours doing any one thing except for riding my bike. I wouldn’t drive a car for 20 straight hours, I wouldn’t work, sleep, watch TV, play with my kids for 20 straight hours, but for some reason there is something about riding a bike while dealing with the awful stomach issues through the beautiful hills of Kansas that is so worth it. If you would have asked me at 2:30 AM on June 5th if I would ever attempt this again, the answer would have been a fast and loud NO!! However, looking back I can’t wait until next years race. 3 gravel centuries down for 2016, 3 to go!!”