Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bitter sweet.

Well, this past weekend was a roller coaster of emotions for me. It was Dirty Kanza 200 (DK)weekend. This is probably on of the toughest one day events around, and one that I use to motivate me to train all winter for. Due to the magnitude of the event you need to put in thousands of long miles on the bike training. On those cold, dead of winter mornings, the thought of the dirty kanza can get me out the door.
The DK has become one of the premiere ultra endurance events in the country, and one that I have a love/hate relationship with. It will test not only a persons physical, but also their mental abilities. A rider will go through a gamete of emotions throughout the course of the LONG day. After last years death march I almost did not enter. The first time I did the event, it was perfect conditions to do an undertaking of this sort. Because I did so sell the first year (10th after getting lost and putting in an extra 17 miles), I went into last year not giving the event the respect that it deserved. Boy was that a mistake. I was so brutally beaten, that when it was over I swore that I was not going to do the event again. I began racing bikes some where around 1992-1993, and last years DK was the FIRST race I was unable to finish. I have always taken great pride in finishing what I had started.

Well, when winter set in, the talk of the DK began to swirl again. All fall, the fact of not finishing was really bothering me. The seed was planted. I think that the final thing that pushed me over to the dark side again was the fact that they added in a masters division for the first time! The theme of this summer has been the fact that I am turning 50, and this puts me into a new category of racing, and I am now the youngest kid out there again. That was it "I AM IN". Being the competitive person that I am, I really wanted to be the first person to win the masters division. Besides, I would not have to really compete against all of those young speedsters, right?
Jumping forward to this past weekend. I was psyched when race day came. I had put in TONS of hard miles, I was rested and strong, and I had a new, revised plan for the day. I was in the best condition I had ever been in for this race. I had a great hydration and feeding plan that would take me through the day, and even the support for the checkpoints were planed to perfection. I had this feeling deep inside that this was going to be the year! Lining up at the start line at 6:00am in front of the Granada was something. About 170 of the top ultra endurance racers from around the country were here. They had come literally from all for corners of the country to throw it down.
(Me and Garret before the race)
The plan. If their is a break right away....let them go, and ride at a controlled pace so that you don't burn all of the candles early. Well, as usual, after the police escort to the first gravel, as soon as we hit the gravel....the hammer fell. It took all the will power that I had to not run with them, but thought better of it. What was helpful was that team High Gear was well represented. The wind was already pretty strong out of the south, and we had 30-40 miles into the headwind to start the day. It was GREAT to ride with most of the team to start the race, and it was extremely helpful. When the dust settled a little, the lead group was up the road pretty good, but still in sight. The next group was almost the same distance behind us......and team high gear intact some where in the middle.

As we approached the first big climb we saw quite a few riders already fixing flats. At mile ten we were going up the first hill, entering the flint hills. By the time we got to the first minimal maintenance road we were already passing some of the riders that had fallen off of the wheel of the lead group. We were working well together until Chris Wiggins flatted at about mile 15, and he was gone for the day. The plan was the he was going to work with us until the first check point. Next up, we turned east for the long climb that ended in the first open grazing area for the day. Before we reached the top passing between the two towers we had passed quite a few other riders who had already blown up, and were fading back.

Once we topped the hill, the next 5-8 miles to the east were a blast. Nothing like high speeds through the open grazing range to get the Adrenalin going. About a couple of miles into this section we saw Troy Krouse. It looked like he was fixing a flat, but later heard the "REAL" story.
Once we left over the last cattle guard of this open grazing section, Matt Brown took the front! For the next 15-20 miles Matt did the "Monster Pull"! He berried himself, and literally pulled the team south to the next open grazing range, across the verdigris, up the long climb to the southern most tower where we made the turn to go west, and then north to the first check point. From that point he dropped off. He was only going to go to the first check point and drop. He needed to get back to the shop for the day, and was looking for some high intensity for the morning. Boy, did he get it. A huge thanks goes out to Matt for the extremely hard work that he put in.
(Coming into the first check point)
Now the lead High Gear group was down to three (Garret, Tim and me), and flying with the tail wind into the first check point. We arrived just a couple of minutes before 9:30. As we were pulling into the town, I was looking for the Jeep, with Shelley. She was the support crew for the day. As I reached the park I say her, and a HUGE surprise (the first of the weekend), my mother was with her. She had come from Colorado to surprise me! I could not believe it.

(My mother at the first check point)

Even though I wanted to stay and visit, their was a race to tend to. With a quick refill of the water, Garret, Tim and I were off to leg two. As we were rolling through Cottonwood falls, Garret told us that he was told that we were running in the top 15 riders after the first stop. AWESOME! The next few miles were a long paved climb which was uneventful leading to Elmdale. We crossed highway 50 and started heading to Diamond Springs. We were still rolling well, and I was feeling strong. After about another 5 miles Garret got unhooked and fell off of our wheel.

The rest of the run into check point two at Council Grove, Tim and I worked together and picked off a few more riders who were beginning to fall off pace due to the heat. As we pulled into the park in Council Grove it was straight up noon, and I heard that I was in fifth place at that time! Wow, this is unexpected. I had no plan to run with the leaders that day, but was feeling great. Once again I met up with Shelley and my mom. I took a little more time at this check, but did not want to stay to long.

(Coming into the second check point)
While there, I had two sandwiches made with a bagel with ham on it, some orange slices and three diet Pepsi's. I also switched kits. Nothing like fresh bib's, jersey, socks and chamois butter to refresh yourself for the second half. While I was changing Tim had took off to get a jump on some of the field. I was at check point two for about 30 minutes.

(Changing the kit for the second half)

When rolling out of town I was feeling great. Cruising well, and excited. When I was hitting the next gravel section I realized something. I did not have my gloves! To late to turn back. In front of me a saw Salsa riders together. I was gaining on them, and was excited, because these guys are studs! No sooner than I got by them, I was cruising along, and I heard them yelling at me, but could not tell what they were saying because I had the music turned up pretty loud. After a few seconds I looked back. I saw them going down a different road? I back tracked to the last corner and their was a trailer parked in front of the turning mark! I had missed it because of the trailer, and the Salsa riders saved me! BIG thanks to them for being so cool about it.

I was rolling again. Still feeling good, I was cruising over the pretty large rollers. next I saw the sign, "Little Egypt"! As I was rolling through the sharp climbs and working hard, I was taking note that this was pretty extreme for this point into the race, but was still feeling good. Then is happened! The dreaded flat tire. It was the front, so it was not to bad. As I was in the middle of the change, the Salsa guys came by again. They asked me if I was in need of anything. I told them that I was fine, and they rolled on. Talk about some class guys. They are the type that give their team a great name. Appreciate you guys!

Once I finished, I made the next climb, and their it was. A steep downhill with really large rocks with huge ruts, which one was right down the middle! After picking myself through this section it smoothed out, and it was a quick trip into Alma. Check point three! I rolled into the last check point at straight up 3:00pm. I found my support crew again, and pulled up a seat. Tim had been their for just a couple of minutes and was toweling off to try to cool down. By this time it was starting to get really hot! Dusti and Joel told me that I was in the top ten (not exactly sure where), and leading the masters! I was just where I wanted to be!

I was still feeling good. The legs felt strong, and I had good energy! All day I had been drinking 100oz. and two water bottles of nuun between every check point, and a accel-gel every ten miles. I had also had two bagel sandwiches, a bunch of orange slices and a third of a baggie of cashews. I was in a good spot. I sat their for about 20 minutes. Had more orange slices, part of another sandwich and a couple more cold diet Pepsi's. At that point I refilled the fluids and was ready to take off when I looked up. There was Troy Krouse. He looked awful! He was bleeding from the elbow, his whole upper leg was nothing but a huge road rash, and his jersey was trashed and torn at the shoulder. I thought that he crashed on little Egypt. He looked like he was a goner. I found out later the when I saw him early in the race, he did not have a flat tire, he had just crashed. This guy had rode the last 120 miles in this condition! What a stud!

I took off at about 3:30 and started heading for Eskridge. Once out of town, the hills started up again. First they were short and pretty steep, but once out of the trees they began to get longer and longer. About 4:00 it happened again. A front flat tire. Off the bike I got and changed it up again. At this point I was down to one more spare, and that made me a little nervous. When I got back on the bike, I started back up and rode for a couple of more miles and then the wheels began to fall off of the wagon. At mile 150, out of no where, it hit me. I could not cool down! I was seriously over heating. Back in the mid 90's I was doing another long gravel race, and experienced a heat stroke. Ever since then I have not been able to handle the extreme heat. At mile 150 I felt something bad coming on. I was looking for the closest tree, but their was not one to be found. I rode a little further and found a single tree by the side of the rode in the middle of no where. I pulled up under it and just stood there.

I layed my head on my handlebars, and closed my eyes. My head was spinning, and I could not cool down. After about 15 or so minutes I heard something and looked back. It was Tim! It was so good to see him. We stood under the tree for about 5 minutes saying how it might not have been such a good idea to have left the last check point. Then he left. I watched him turn the corner, and begin to head up this REALLY LONG hill heading south, and their was not a tree to be seen on it. After he got about a quarter the way up it I decided that it would be best to keep moving and try to make it to Eskridge so I could cool down at the store there.

I pressed on. Up the big hill, and down. From their it was nothing but a series of climbs, and the heat was really cooking me. At somewhere about mile 156-157 I was in trouble. At the top of the hill their was a couple of trees. I got to them. At that point I dropped the bike at the side of the road, Took off my helmet, gloves, camelback, shoes and socks. I sat their in the middle of the road for at least an hour. I was soooo overheated. I was ready to throw up, I was really dizzy. and disoriented. After an hour, I was passed by a number of riders, and I was not able to cool down at all. I knew that I was in trouble. I needed to get up, and get into Eskridge.

I rolled really slow for a couple of miles, and turned a corner. I say a silver SUV! As I approached, at the back I saw Tim in a chair, and looking bad. I pulled over. IT was Scott O'Mara and his wife! They were trying to cool him down. I guess he was also sitting on the side of the rode under a tree, and he had thrown up three times and could not eat or drink anything. He has said that he thought that I had dropped out. I told him, no, but I was now! I sat down on the back of Scott's car. They gave me a bunch of cold Gatorade and water and began to cool me also with ice water. Just then my cell phone went off, and it was a facebook update. It said that Mike marchand, last years winner, had dropped out at Eskridge. He said that his legs just quit, and that "you can only do what you can"! That was the sign from God that told me that it was time to pull the plug! That was mile 160.

At that time it was time to make "The call". All the training, plans, and expectations were about to end. This is the hardest call a person can make. I first tried to call Shelley. It took me about 5-10 minutes to try to figure out how to open the phonebook of my phone to call her. That is how cooked my brain was. Then I called Jim. It was official. DNF! Scott loaded me into the SUV and took me into Eskridge to wait for Shelley. The town was like a war zone. Carnage everywhere!

Through my years of Dirty Kanza experience I have learned some important life lessons. First, all of the preparation and planing you do is all good and well. It teaches you discipline, and a person is capable to achieve great things in life. You can come into the something more than ready to take on the world, but their are some things that are just out of your control. I have also learned that was I have gotten older, that a person needs to exercise wisdom in making important decision. Don't just blindly forge forward. As a warrior, it is important to be able to clearly decide when it is OK to forge on, and when you need to cut your losses and live to fight another day.

This was a very frustrating thing for me to go through mentally. At the end of the day, my legs felt strong, I had plenty of energy to finish, but the heat did me in. It became a health issue. I have been asked if I would do it again? The answer........heck yea! You cannot keep me from the starting line next year! I have unfinished business to take care of!

Now for the final "UP" for the weekend. The next morning I was feeling physically well, but was upset that I did not finish the race this year. It is something that has only happened to me twice in my racing career. My wife Shelley told my to just relax that day! Go over to the hotel and have a nice visit with my mother. She had traveled all the way from Colorado to see me, and I had spent the entire day before on the bike. I knew that she was right.

She told me to check back with her around 1:00, and maybe we all could have a late lunch and relax. I agreed. Around 1:00 my mother told me that she would like to see the house that our oldest daughter had recently bought, so we left their room. As we approached, we got a call from Shelley telling us that we should come and have lunch.

As we approached our house, I saw that their were a lot of cars. I started looking at them, and started to recognize the cars. We turned the corner, and my back yard was filled with people. Shelley had planned a surprise birthday party for me, for my 50th birthday!


(Surprise number two, the party)
The yard was filled with ALL of my friends from church, and cycling. I was humbled! I came to realize what a Blessed person I was. To have all of these people do this for me, and to pull off two huge surprises in the same weekend without me knowing of either of them. Shelley had even took flyer's down to the bike shop to Matt and Stephanie to help her, and it was a secret down their. To say the least, I am still touched.

Through this all I have come to realize that I am truly a blessed man. I have a job that I love. God has given me this opportunity to go all over the country and do something that I am passionate about....riding my bike, and my life is fill with a lot of people that truly care about me. What else can a old man from Kansas ask for.
Well, this has been an EPIC post, and I will let you go for today. I hope that everyone has the chance to get out these up coming weeks and ride your bikes, and enjoy the beautiful summer. Until next time.


Peace Out!

4 comments:

kevin said...

Mike,
It was good to meet you & ride with you for a while during the 1st leg. You're a really strong rider & it helped to have someone to chat with & push me along for a while.
Don't feel bad about dropping! That was a BRUTAL ride & making it to Eskeridge is a major accomplishment. Deciding to drop was hard but the smarter call given what's at stake; heck, it's probably the call I should've made in Alma if i'd been smart!

Mike Johnson said...

Great Post and Great Effort. Takes a special breed to ride a bike the way we do and a really special breed to attempt these long events like you do. Isn't it amazing how in the heat of the battle things can go so bad but the next day we are ready to do it all over again. Hope to do a long ride with you sometime.

Justin Matott said...

You Da Man dude! I am again inspired to do a marathon (running) because of this post. A bucket list is a bucket list is a bucket list is a...

Shad S. said...

Nice work man! Definitely sounded like an epic weekend to say the least...160 mi is still a beast of a ride in any weather, never mind the KS heat/humidity