Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dirty Kanza 200, Sun-up to Sun-down

by Betsy Shogren, aka Bunny.

For the past couple of years, I have wanted to do the DK200. However, Gunnar (Nars) and I were busy racing the NUE series or planning for our attack on tandumb nationals, or some other such silliness and it was never the right time. This January, I campaigned heavily in the Shogren household that 2011 was our year for the DK200. My relentless nagging finally wore Nars down, and we signed up. To say that I was excited is quite an understatement, so much so that Nars created a House Rule that I was not to speak of the DK200 until much closer to June. That does not mean I did not go to sleep dreaming of it, though.

Sometimes when you look forward to an event so much, it can be a letdown when it finally comes. This was not the case for our adventure to Kansas. It was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more. In the weeks leading up to the event, we both felt fit and adequately prepared, until the inevitable summer cold struck 2 weeks before. This, in combination with a difficult work trip, left us both disgustingly snotty and plumb-tuckered out. Confidence sunk. Gunnar assured me that all that fitness had not left through our big toes, so we packed up his parent’s Prius with an unreasonable amount of stuff, plus two dogs and our support person, his 79-year old mother, Donna Lee (DL). We left Morgantown Tuesday night, and made our first pit-stop in Dayton, OH to drop off our dogs at my parent’s house. The departure of our hairy shedding panting beasts made DL very happy. Wednesday we made it to Columbia, MO, site of an amazing cicada infestation. Finally, Thursday we arrived at our destination of Emporia, KS! JOY! After settling in a bit, Nars and I suited up and headed down to High Gear bike shop where we met the super helpful and friendly Matt and Stephanie Brown. Matt did wonders for my psyche by uttering these beautiful words – "Those tires should be fine." Whew! I’d heard so many horror stories of tires shredding and whatnot that to say I was a bit worried about our tire selection is to put it mildly. Our Kenda Kwick Tendrils worked beautifully; thank you, Kenda!!!

Off we went on the DKLite course to explore these infamous gravel roads. The wind blew, the hot air shimmered, and our apprehension grew! Our two pre-rides out there could be summed up as such: Southbound = Hell; Northbound = Heaven. Overall, though, we were thrilled to be there riding stress-free under that big blue sky, endless gravel roads, and rolling plains. We were super excited to see our first field of wheat!

Saturday morning finally arrived, and after a not-too-stressful morning, we lined up near the front of 325 racers. Perfect! Off the crowd went, and it was just following wheels for the first chunk of the race. I felt pretty comfortable in the pack and happy with my spot. Around mile 30 it started to get hillier and I didn’t want to bust myself trying to stay with the leaders. So, it was almost a relief when I decided to not dig deep to stay with them and thus I started my own race. This was such a gorgeous leg and it went by way too quickly. Some of the people I rode with on this leg were super funny and I regretted not sticking with them longer. However, one needs to ride her own race at the DK200 and I moved along. I was in and out of CP1 very quickly, thanks to DL’s excellent support. Leg 2 was going swimmingly and I felt like a million bucks flying along, until I see a crowd of people coming back towards me. We’d missed a turn! DOH! After backtracking and much map consultation, and even a stop at a local house for directions, we got going again, though I was still concerned. However, soon enough one of the Jeep Club members came bouncing along the road honking his horn and smoking his ciggy. It was like something out of Tremors, and he looked like he was having a grand old time. He assured me I was on the right route and my spirits improved immeasurably. One thing I learned is that these things are going to happen at the DK200 and it’s better to be delayed by map consultation than it is to go several miles off course. And, it’s no use getting bummed out about any of these small delays.

I was quite happy to arrive at CP2, as I desperately needed a bandaid on my lower back. My third water bottle that I had in my back pocket had gradually worn a big bloody hole in my back as I bumped along those gravel roads. I’ve never been so happy to have a bandaid in my life. I was again in and out quite quickly and rode along with a nice fellow named Bruce for a bit. I am more of a lone wolf, though, and not a big talker, though you’d never guess it from the length of this tome. Soon we were both riding our own pace, though I could see him ahead of me for miles. About this time I saw a small figure off in the distance "walking" up a large hill. I just had this sinking premonition that it was my hubby, who had been having an awesome race, as far I’d heard. As I watched this poor person staggering around the hill, it became clear to me that this was indeed my betrothed and he was in a bad way. Bad bad bad. Let’s just leave it at that. After about 15 minutes of hanging out with him and trying to figure something I could do to help (beyond giving him my water), he told me to carry on. I told him I would send DL back, but he said "not yet." So, I carried on, worrying obsessively and trying to formulate a plan of action. Somewhere along this section I was also passed by Bruce again, who had apparently taken a wrong turn somewhere. Or I had, I still don’t know. After being lax on the 2nd leg about reading the map, I was quite obsessive about following the map on this leg, though. Another guy passed me on this section, and gave me half a water bottle of golden nectar, aka water. Bless that man! We had a discussion about Nars, and he agreed that I needed to do something, as he was in such a bad way. Did I mention he was in a bad way? So, I hustled myself to CP3 and had to break the news to DL that her eldest son was lying in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. We decided that I would wait at CP3 and ask subsequent riders coming in if Nars was up and moving yet… After about 30-40 minutes of this, it was apparent that nobody could say they saw him up and moving, plus a storm was starting to roll in. So, DL and I loaded my bike up on her Prius and we planned to backtrack until she couldn’t drive anymore, then I would ride backward on the course until I found Nars. Fortunately, we found him trundling along in a foul mood (haha) just a mile or two from the CP. I am super impressed that he was able to drag his water-deprived body out of that ditch and make it to that CP on his own volition. After some more time spent hovering over him, taking his picture and just generally worrying, I realized that I better get moving if I wanted to finish and outrun the storm. When I left him, he was lying spread-eagled in the parking lot, looking like a decrepit old man (a preview of our golden years?). However, he was in good hands with his mom. As I left this CP, I was nearly giddy as I had previously come to the conclusion that taking care of Nars was more important than finishing. Unexpectedly being able to ride this last leg made me so happy!

I completely forgot to grab my helmet light, so I was not going to be able to dilly-dally on this last leg. This last leg was absolutely gorgeous, despite the sideways rain and packed-up tires. This only lasted a few miles, though I could see storms off on the horizon for the duration of the leg. Amazing! The rain also forced me to put on gloves for the first time all day. I had started without gloves and didn’t need them until ~ mile 175. Apparently my hands are like rhinoceros hide as I’ve heard some awful stories of blisters and such, though I had no issues at all. I seesawed with Peter the singlespeeder quite a bit during this leg, and the company was nice to have, especially since reading the map became more of a mental challenge at this point in the game. We also rode with the impressive recumbent guy (John) towards the end after we stopped for awhile to consult the map. As we approached the finish and I knew I had less than an hour to ride, I got very sad. I didn’t want it to end! The sun was going down as a giant red orb and I just didn’t want the day to end. If I could just have a pair of shorts with a different seam pattern, I felt that I could ride forever. However, being welcomed across the finish line after 208 miles by what felt like all of Emporia certainly lifted my spirits! I will never ever forget this.

It turns out that Nars had starting throwing up shortly after I left the CP, and thank goodness he did not try to finish. DL took him back to the hotel and then got back to Emporia just in time for me to finish. We had a nice time waiting for the awards ceremony and much to my surprise, they awarded me the David Pals Sportsmanship Award for going back for Nars. If Saturday was a sundae, then this was the cherry on top. I was shocked and thrilled and I still am. The terrain of Kansas could not differ more from the hills of WV; I cannot explain how vast and humbling it is and how much I did not want to leave. This gorgeous canvas picture from the Adventure Monkey is a welcome reminder that this land is out there, just a short 16 hour drive away. Until I can find the time to return, gazing at this canvas will have to be my "fix." I certainly never expected to win this award, but it meant the world to me, way more so than winning the women’s race. My final time was 14:47 for 9th overall; actual riding time was ~13:20, with some time being lost at the checkpoints and map consultation, but most of that downtime spent fretting over poor Nars.

Just saying THANK YOU to Jim, Emporia, Eric Benjamin, Rob, Angela, Joel, The Mohn’s, Lelan, and all the other people who created the DK200 and keep it going for all of us crazies doesn’t seem like enough. I want to give you all a big hug and take you out for ice cream. Also, thank you to all the sponsors for making this event even more special, and to my team sponsors (especially Dynamic PT, Pathfinder, Kenda and Swiftwick) for letting us be a part of it all. Mom and Dad get a giant thank you for watching our sometimes unruly and quirky dogs. Finally, to Donna Lee, thank you for your support! We could not have made this trip without you. Please mark your calendar for next year. :o)

Nars and our wee little support person

We have arrived in Kansas and found it to be windy!

Riding in the Big Sky

Downtime for nanny!

Nars in a bad way, but out of the ditch


The David Pals Sportsmanship Award

Zombie eyes

All this crap was in the Prius!