Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Tale of Inspiration and Woah

by Gunnar.
For Jim Cummins, the rest of the folks that help put on the Dirty Kanza 200, and my own well being.

Maybe I've told the story too many times now. Maybe I've not told it enough, and now don't know where to start.
But enough waiting around, might not be the tidiest, but here it is.

I will tell you right now, from the beginning, that I did not finish this race. It was no fault of my bike or equipment. I did not finish because I went turned down a road that I shouldn't have taken, ignored some signs even when they smacked me in the face, really had no alternative but to stop at mile 162, Checkpoint #3.

You can read Betsy's story for why we and how we got there-
Sun-up to Sun-down

When folks ask me what it was like, I usually start off by saying that beyond the heat and wind, it was not the KS that I thought it would be. Big wide gravel roads, rolling hills, some "unmaintained gravel roads" that included some decently gnarly little fields of strewn rocks and ledges and the occasional stream crossing, free ranging cattle, and in quite a few places hardly any trees or "civilization" to be seen. Most definitely less paved road than any (save one) of the 100 Mile MTB races that I've done. Probably more rugged than quite a few MTB races that purport to be "Ultra".
And of course there was the wind and the heat.

It was totally Betsy's idea to be there, but I was mostly in charge of bike preparation, tyre choices, what to bring on the bike, and gear selection. A tall order when wading in such foreign waters.
We heard stories of folks shredding tyres, some running CX race tires, some MTBs, folks walking the hills, of how the race really starts after mile 140. These were things that were part of the daily morning chats, kept us both up late at night, staring up at the ceiling, but ultimately it was to be my call.

I settled on the Kenda Kwick Tendril 700x38c tyres. No knobbies (why do we need knobbies on dirt/gravel roads?), more rubber on the tread and on the sidewall and I really couldn't imagine needing more volume than 38. This was a good choice.

Betsy ran her stock "special purpose" CX bike. Which is really just a CX bike except that she really prefers racing on her SS CX, so the geared one just sits around waiting for things like Iron CX, early season road races, and other what-not. 44/34 in the front, 12/25 in the rear (no need for the 27).
Through chatting w/ folks via the DK200 discussion forums, I decided that I'd probably be fine running somewhere around 42x18. I would opt for the lighter side of this at first just to be sure. Thanks be to Matt Brown and folks at High Gear Cyling, for on our first day in Emporia he kindly chatted w/ us about the course and gave us a map of the DK Lite, which he explained would be a good representation of the roads and hills to be found on the DK200 loop proper. He also gave us a thumbs up on tyre selection.
So off into the windy abyss we rode, me sporting a 44x19 gear, but in our spares I had everything from a 40 on up to a 46 just in case.

Big wide gravel roads, and not just a few, but many. Stress-free riding as Betsy put it. Fields on the left, fields on the right, eventually making it to the tree-less zone too. Riding south was the worst, then west, east wasn't too bad and going north made you feel like a hero.
It was on that first ride that I first felt the twinge of excitement, and the pang of angst or something else too. "These tyres are rolling fine, this gear if anything might be a little light, even after two days of driving, I bet I can do really well."

After that first ride Betsy had decided that she could definitely move here and spend the rest of her days riding these gravel roads.

So the evening was spent excitedly talking and thinking about the other stuff, like how much water to bring, what extra supplies to carry, what to do at the checkpoints, how could we keep my mammy busy all this time, and what the crap is up w/ Pizza Ranch being open till 10 but closing the pizza bar at 8?
We decide to carry the minimum of "stuff": Compass, cycling computer, little headlight, rear blinky light, 3 large water bottles, multi tool, pump, 2 spare tubes, patch kit, chain tool, tyre boot, tyre lever, some gel-type stuff, a Raw Rev bar and a banana. The checkpoints weren't *that* far away from each other...

Friday I finally decided on the 45 for the front. Slightly heavier than then 42x18 but not quite into 42x17 range. This was going to be it, "look at how large that combo looks!"

Friday evening riders meeting, meet & greet and fun time!

Me and Abe, both w/ our trading cards!

Saturday morning rolls around soon enough, but after doing quite a few 100 mile MTB races while camping this is a piece of cake. "Cheese cake, popcorn".
Fresh coffee, oatmeal, other sundry snacks and tidbits and the fast has been broken.
Drive into downtown, find a most excellent parking spot, unload, stuff pockets, make sure mom knows where to go, make sure Betsy and I know what we should do at the checkpoints. Find a spot kind of near the front to start.

And off we go!
Rolling out of town, then onto the first gravel road that we rode on Thursday, it feels good, able to ride near the front, this is gonna be fun! This is gonna be good.
Roll, roll, roll. Folks w/ lots of equipment, folks on road bikes, folks on MTBs, some talking, some looking around, some trying to avoid smacking into the cows.
Somewhere around mile 35 or so some chap says something about the hills and climbing. I reply "These aren't hills!" he counters "Where you from?" to which I tell him "West Virginia", he offers "You don't count" and we laugh. Shortly after that I ride off the front on a climb. Just to see if I can and somewhat cause I can only go so slow w/ the 45x19.

On the way to the 1st Checkpoint, rolling it out
There are people back there beyond what you can see...

Photos stolen from the Chamios Butt'r Facebook page

Around mile 40 or so the hills start coming around a little more in earnest and regularity. I soon find myself w/ one or two riders, again off the front. Fast downhills, carry the speed up the other side and soon enough the first checkpoint is upon me and I'm all alone. Sure was fun getting to the first checkpoint, seeing Jim Cummins there, and being so excited, having a school-girl-giggle moment.
Took some time to eat and drink, like we had planned. Washed my hands, glasses, and legs, then took some time to fix a ding in the rim. I wasn't the first one out, but I wasn't too far behind the leader.
Then the gravel started heading north. That means I'm all spun out and a few folks just blow by me. One fellow is seen fixing a flat not soon after that, but the big buy in dark blue is gone. He came by me in top gear and moving! I felt a little doomed. At that moment I knew I had somehow planted it in my head that I was trying to win this stupid thing. Trying to win a 200 mile gravel road race on a singlespeed. What an idiot, what a buffon, what a ultra-moron.
Off in the distance I could see the guy in dark blue. I had been checking my map and even though the intersection wasn't marked, I knew I needed to be turning left, and soon enough another rider comes up and is wondering what to do, he wondered about the fellow in front of us, going straight. "He is going the wrong way" was all I could say, he was too far off for him to hear a yell.
My fellow rider (we being in 1st and 2nd now) wasn't too awfully sure about all this, course he wasn't carrying a map either... But soon enough Lance Andre and Barbi on the tandumb roll up, we again check our maps, and after verifying and confirming some little bends and a confusing "turn" we were convinced that we indeed were on the right course.
And this is how we 3 (4?) rode for quite a while.
Some fun little side roads, some stream crossings, some chatting, some places where I was hanging on, some places (mostly the climbs) where I would walk away from the others. A lot of pedaling.
Getting to the 100 mile mark I realize that we're going to hit Checkpoint #2 slightly prior to the cut-off for the fist Checkpoint #1, little over 100 miles in about 6 hours! w00t. Lance assures us that we are mostly likely very far ahead of anyone. We decide to ride together.
For whatever reason, I guess another little hill, I ride into Checkpoint #2 first again. Not that it mattered, but it again felt real swell.
Find mom (who now is setup a bit better than the first one, quick learner she is) clean my face, ask how Betsy is doing, eat some, fiddle w/ something, fill up bottles, then I see my comrades getting ready to leave... Noooooo!
This is where the dream turns to nightmare, but only in hindsight. This point, right then. I can remember it very well, those instants.
If only I could relive this moment or the one in 5 minutes or so. If only.
I hadn't drank my large bottle of water, hadn't completed my little "to-do" list. Caraapp.
I was drinking a diet Coke (don't ask) when I saw them leaving, and got too rushed. Finished the Coke, gathered everything else up and off I went. Not to be left behind. I was in it to win it. Go big or go home. All that crap that I usually make fun of.
And I left the map on our little table.
In about 1/2 mile or so, I realized that I left the map. This was my second chance. How far can this false dream drive you Gunnar? How much can you ignore?
I kept going. I can ignore a lot apparently.
Our spirits were high in our little group. A little more chatting. The course also started heading north more. Much to my chagrin.
I was starting to not be able to hang on so well going north, and on the hills I was keeping up w/ the group fine, but was no longer charging up them. Then my belly started feeling non-good. Soon enough I wasn't able to hang on and the belly went to double-plus non-good. This was somewhere around mile 118.
So I go slow, drink some, eat some, go slow some more.
I know that I don't have a map, so I tell myself that I will only go on if the intersection is marked and/or I can see tracks, otherwise I will simply stop and wait for the next rider. No use in doing too many dumb things out here I tell myself. Unfortunately the dumbest things had already been done. As it was, the course was marked and I could see little tracks.
More going slow and feeling bad. So I waddle into a little stream and sit for a bit. Hoping that cooling off will return me to my once vigorous state. My water is almost all consumed and I know that I can't drink from this stream. Any stream around here will be coming off a fertilizered field or cattle grazing areas. No more dumb things...
Enough waiting, I'm not feeling too much better, so I start riding again. It is hot, it is windy, and there is little shade or respite from any of this.
About an hour after getting dropped a rider comes by, I believe it was Dan Huges (ended up winning the Open class, 2nd overall), he says hi or something, I grunt and soon enough he's out of site. Also around this time I find that I can't pedal unless I'm in the drops or sitting real tall or hands-off, such is the state of belly. Just ducky. But I'm still in 4th overall and all this bad feeling will soon pass... Right? Right?
Time doesn't matter anymore.
The belly is really aching and showing no sign of stopping. I have about an inch of water left. I have hopes of walking a little, maybe that will help the belly. Those hopes are dashed as I simply cannot walk w/ my bike. Weirdest thing ever. Whether or not I'm hunched over or standing tall I can't walk while holding my bike. This probably isn't good nor does it seem to be getting better.
Are you tired of reading this? I'm pretty tired of writing it too, but bear w/ me won't you?
So after some shuffling, and trying to get back on the bike and riding some more I pretty much give up on both those notions. My haven is a little rise/climb, a few little bushes around, and it's hot and feeling very exposed.
I try laying down, but can't get comfortable, so I stumble around. Then I take off my helmet, cap, glasses, and jersey. I just *gotta* get comfortable again, cripes! Nothing is working. Some folks ride by. I'm either sitting there, laying there, or stumbling around.
It's at this time that I find that my voice has gone wonky, how can I tell? Because folks are now coming by asking if I'm okay. Talking is a bit difficult, but more so it's really high pitched. I tell them I'm okay. No one has extra water and I'm not begging for it either. I'm gonna be feeling better here anytime now...
Betsy comes by soon enough, she's in 7th or so. She doesn't look very happy. She's shocked at my appearance and then at my voice. She asks what she can do, "there is nothing you can do right now honey". I stumble around some while she's there. Try to poop behind the one nice bush. I can't, everything is bound up and very hard. So I send Betsy on her way, "don't come back for me yet please". So I go back to trying to poop. cause it just *has* to make my stomach better. I'm finally able to "move" a bit, but not w/out "coercion" (ask my friend Scotty Benson about that), but my belly still hurts. And now my little spot to lay in the shade smells bad. Just ducky.
But I still just lay there. Hopeful that things will get better... any day now...
Some guys walking give me a sip of water and some E-tabs. Another fellow gives me some cola-fizzy tabs, says they always make his belly better. One guy asks if he should send someone back, I tell him thanks but not yet.
Lay down some more. Time passes.
I've had enough. Put the now extremely stiff jersey back on, put on the cap and helmet, find my glasses (I was smart enough to put them on the crank, prominently, so as I wouldn't lose them) and start pedaling. 17 miles to go to Checkpoint #3, mile 162.
I make it to the top and can pedal some. Not as awful as it was, but not great either. I also find that besides my voice, I now have a hard time opening my eyes, hard to focus quickly, and my ears feel like they have water in them, swishing back and forth, hearing and not hearing. This is probably a sign of things that I don't want to know about.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. I can still pedal. Counting down the miles, very slowly but counting them down. I decide that if I pass a big truck w/ a contractors water jug on it, that I will ask them for a drink. Other than that I'm still doing it on my own. Some clouds start rolling in, feels like a little rain and I hope, hope, hope that it starts raining. It starts raining very little, not enough for me to stop, lay down w/ my mouth open, open all the bottles and let Mother Nature help me out. She doesn't extend her hand today.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. It feels like uphill, but I'm still moving. Finally I reach mile 158 or so and some road. I'm going to make it.
Soon enough I see a little red Prius. I just shake my head. Mom and Betsy have come back for me. I'm not pleased, I told Betsy to not come back, I told her I was going to make, I shake my fist, I'm gonna make it...
So I do make it. Then I just lay down behind the Prius. I can't drink, can't eat, but I can lay there like a champ. "I'm gonna be okay, I'm gonna be okay." "Betsy or mom, can you take a picture of me please? Thanks."

In a bad way, but out of the ditch

Can't really remember what happened next. Betsy is worried, mom is worried, I just want to feel better. Eyes don't open, ears are swishing, voice is not my own. Get in to the Prius, turn on the A/C and try to drink a little and cool down. Rains start in earnest, some reports coming in of folks finding refuge under trees, hunkering down. We also get reports that the storm is heading a bit north. Some guys are getting ready to go back out and I tell Betsy to "get going, go w/ those guys, you gotta go now." And she does. It's a bit before 6 pm I think. Still plenty of time...
So I txt my buddy Scotty, then phone him, we talk, nothing emotional, I just tell him what's going on, how I feel. We finally agree that I can't go on and he urges me to get to a hospital and get some IV fluids. We talk some more, I get off the phone, tell mom to tell the folks at the Checkpoint that I am retiring from the race. Mile 162, that's it, no mas.
I start txting things to facebook, it passes the time.
We start packing up in the rain, the rain that now doesn't matter to me. I don't even care enough to shake my fists at the sky for not raining sooner. I know whose fault it is.
Then I start puking. Puke, rain, it's all pretty much water. Puke, rain, repeat.
Yes my race is over.
Prius is packed, me and mom are heading back to Emporia. I'm trying to drink, gonna be okay. "Just get me back to the hotel, turn off the A/C mom I'm feeling chilled." Txt Scotty as mom drives- "No Scotty I'm not going to the ER, yes Scotty it would be the best thing and if you were here and could administer an IV I would take it, but I'm not going to sit in an ER, sure Scotty, you're right, but it's not gonna happen, you know that. Yes I'll keep you posted, yes mom has your number, thank you..."
Make it to the Best Western, I puke some while driving around back. Gonna be okay. Take another photo.

Zombie eyes

Shower feels good, then I get the chills, crawl under the covers, I hate those chills. The chills like when you're sickly and it just comes over you, like some badness. Hate 'em, they are an aquaintence but not a friend.
"Yes mom, I'm gonna be okay, thank you. You need to get to the finish line for Betsy, but before you go can you go out and get me some Ensure? Yes I know you don't want to leave me here alone, but I have my fone, just make sure you have yours on, yes you have Scotty's number, I'll be okay, just need some food that will do me good. Thanks mom."
So I'm sipping water and Ensure. Takes me about an hour to drink one of those small bottles as I writhe back and forth on the bed, pillow on the belly, legs in funny positions trying to keep my legs and things from cramping.
I send the photo out to some friends, then to facebook. It passes time.
Mom calls, makes sure I'm okay.
Soon enough right before dark mom calls, Betsy is in, she finished 9th overall and of course 1st Women. Yay Betsy! I txt her mammy, txt some others. I'm a txt and tweeting fool.
I finish another bottle of Ensure.
I doze off and on, still writhing w/ the belly pillow and legs in funny positions. Mom calls, "yes mom I'm okay, just stay there, you guys just stay there, take care of Betsy, get some photos of the awards, I'm doing just fine, thank you."
And that's really it. Betsy and mom came back, brought some food that I was able to eat a little of, had a little ice cream, listened to Betsy's stories, saw the nice photo on canvas she got for the David Pals Sportsmanship Award, the award that she got cause I buried myself and she was willing to stop her race and try and come back for a stubborn me (ed. note; I had ungrateful in there, but I don't think I was or am or have been ungrateful for her actions :) ). Then we all went to bed.
Woke up the next day, ears, eyes, and voice still a little wonky, but not too terrible. I ate, we packed up eventually, and then started driving. Driving away from KS.

Looking back on it, it all seems so clear and straigh-cut.
Should I have tried so hard? Maybe not quite so hard, but I don't regret that, it's how I am, it's who I am sometimes. Just need to be a little smarter about it.
Should I have left Checkpoint #2 before I was ready? No. Plain and simple this was the decision and moment that sealed my fate and put me in the ditch.
Should I have gone back for the map and finished my refueling? Without a doubt it was my second chance and I completely neglected it.
Next year we plan on taking the Camelbacks for that leg. Next year...
Bottom line is I didn't respect the course enough. It is a long haul from Checkpoint #2 to #3, it's the heat of the day, you've already gone over a 100 miles. No need to be in a super rush right there. Right there, *that* spot. Ugh.
Some folks that I tell the tale to say things like "I can't believe that they don't have a water station out there", or "They need to have more water stops", "they need to do this, they need to do that." I tell them, "no, that's not what it is. They make it clear from the get go what type of an event it is. They're not there to hold your hand, you just don't get it do you? I made the mistakes, me, me, me." Would I ask the event to change the way they do it? No.
As Lance Andre said, somewhere out there "I just love these attrition races!"

Also on post-race reflection and analysis 2 other items are established-
1) Betsy ended up finishing w/ the 1st place SingleSpeed fellow. What if?
2) Looking at the profile of the course it appears that at the top of the hill that I was hanging/lying/stumbling on, the rest of the way to Checkpoint #3 was pretty much all down hill. All I had to do was get to that top... Like the Twilight Zone episode "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim".
(The elevation actually may be a bit off, as the temps were falling from the storm coming in. But it makes for a better story that way... )
Dirty Kanza 200 GPS

The Dirty Kanza 200 is an amazing event. The day before, the way the whole town gets into it, the way the people treat you, the course, the maps, the post-race party (well I wasn't able to attend, but I heard it really was something), the whole dang thing was amazing.
Thank you all that have anything to do w/ this event!
And thanks Mom. That really was super time and I'm so glad you were there.

Will I be back? You can count on it.

Betsy's award and my reminder

Thank you Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team and all our great sponsors!