Friday 4:30: leave the Parkville shop with Peter (eventual 5th place finisher and 19 year old bad ass), to go pick up Folendore at his lakeside cabin in Lone Star. 6:30: arrive in Emporia in time for the pre-race meeting, get some swag, talk to old friends, and realize there are a lot of new faces this year. Got a decent nights sleep, and actually had a bed to myself.
Race started at 6:00am Saturday with a mass start neutral roll out to the edge of Emporia. The gravel started like it has every year, fast and furious. I told myself to stay near the front as not to encounter any shady riders like I did at Trans Iowa. However, I found myself in the middle of the pack, but surrounded by guys I had was used to riding with. The pace continued to rise as the group got smaller and smaller. Before long it was down to 5. Myself, Mike Marchand, Troy Krause, Corey Godfrey (top 4 finishers) and Dan Hughes who would've been right up there had a nasty crash around mile 125 not taken him out of the race. We rode away from the rest of the group around mile 25 and really laid the hammer down, rolling at 30+ until we turned into the headwind. It was soon apparent that this group was not going to get caught. We even took time to wrangle some loose cattle that were in the road. A few of us were running various tubeless set ups that did not like the flint rock, so we stopped a couple times to re-seal tires and such. At about mile 35 I had a major flat. I put a 1 inch slice in the sidewall of my rear tire. The others rode on as I tried to fix it. I put a tire boot in it, along with a powerbar wrapper, turned the tire around and put it back on the rim with a new tube. As I was pumping up the tube I broke the old corroded valve stem in half, so I had to throw another tube in. By the time this was all over, I had lost about 20 places. I spent the next 25 miles riding my own pace, but slowly reeling in riders in front of me. I could tell guys were already starting to suffer in the heat and wind, but I was feeling really good. I rolled into the first check, mile 61 in 15th or so place. Took a quick stop, refueled, chatted with some guys I had met along the way, and kept going.
I passed probably 5 people at the check point just by making it a quickie. I rolled out of town and up a long paved climb that felt like it was going forever. I took this chance to call Kathy and Levi to see how they were doing back in KC. They were laying by the pool at Grandma and Grandpa's house! I came down the hill and through the little ghost town of Elmwood. Towns like this amaze me. No sign of people, no dogs, just a few random houses and some vacant old buildings. As I was rolling out of Elmwood and toward the next stretch of gravel I came across Skip Cronin, he too had been distracted by a phone call and was ready to attack the next stretch of course. We hooked up and rode together for quite a while. He was riding a single speed, so his pace kept me in check and from burning myself up too early. We started riding together at about mile 70 and rode strong until about mile 130. The pace was solid and the company was good...I don't care what anyone says about you, you're an alright guy Skip!
We came into the midway checkpoint at mile 103 in 6th and 7th place, still feeling strong. We hung out for about 25-30 minutes. Ate some solid foods, drumsticks, and refilled water bottles. We took off before anyone else could pass us. The next 38 miles were terribly rough. The temps continued to climb to the mid 90's, and the hills continued in front of us. We encountered a stretch of road called Little Egypt. It was the nastiest section of rock and "road" known to man. It featured 3 gnarly descents followed by 3 super steep climbs. Halfway down the first decent there was a washed out section with a rut that decided it was going to eat my front wheel. I'm not sure how I stayed on the bike, nor how Skip and I didn't crash into each other, but I made it out alive with only a flat tire. We stopped under a shade tree and took a breather as I fixed the flat. Once we got rolling we encountered about 10 miles of rollers that didn't seem to let up. Skip was really starting to suffer and pay the toll of little sleep and dehydration. We stopped once just to get out of the sun. About mile 130 we came across a beautiful old stone barn along with an old stone farm house at the bend in the road. It didn't appear as if anyone was home so we strolled to the back of the house and found a water spigot. It was in the shade, and the cool water and slightly cooler temps made it feel like an oasis! Skip was hurting big time, and not very responsive. We took in as much water as we could hold, and I flagged down a car that just happened to drive by. It turns out the lady was here with a couple other racers and was just driving around checking out he scenery that the Flint Hills has to offer. She said she would wait for Skip to snap out of it and would drive him to the next check point in Alma at mile 142. I continued on, as we had already been resting for over 30 minutes. It amazed me that no other riders passed us in that whole time. I know that everyone was suffering that day.
The next 12 miles I felt great, I was able to get up out of the saddle on the climbs and keep my legs moving. I think that long break got me refreshed for what was to come.
About 7 miles outside of Alma we cut across ks18. I looked at the map and saw we were a short couple miles way, but then cut back northwest to hit some sweet gravel rollers. I was coming up over a roller when I heard a car coming toward me. I've always been known to stray to the middle or even left side on gravel roads, so I scooted over the the right pretty quick...this car sounded like it was approaching me fast. Right as I crested the hill the car came zipping past me. It had a roof rack on top and from the looks of the driver, I believe they were off to rescue an abandoned rider. On closer inspection it appeared that it was Mrs. Mathias. Off to the rescue of either her son or husband, both very strong riders who had been beaten by the heat of the day.
I rolled into Alma around 5-5:30. Already over 11 hours on the bike with 64 miles left. There wasn't much going on in Alma. Peter's dad was there, along with Skip (cars are faster than bikes), and the volunteer at check in. I had moved my way up to 4th place by this point in the day and I wasn't going to lose it. I cruised into the convenience store and bought more ice cream, some Slim Jims, Lays potato chips, some Gatorade, and a couple of Snickers bars. Filled up my water bottles then went back outside to enjoy the company of the others. After about 15 minutes race co-promoter Joel Dyke and David Neidinger rolled up. They had opted for the shorter paved stretch into town and called it a day. I relaxed for a few more minutes then was getting ready to roll out when Peter pulled up. He looked terrible, but I know this kid and he is tough. When I finally hit Eskeridge 2+ hours later at mile 164 I wasn't surprised to see Peter's dad and brother there telling me that Peter was still out there on his bike.
The stretch from Alma to Eskeridge was brutal. I put the ipod on and cranked out some kings of leon, mars volta, j5 and the roads still got the best of me. I hit an all time low midway between the two towns and really suffered. 25 miles in 2 hours 10 minutes is not good!
Eskeridge was not an official checkpoint but they had a general store with a very sweet lady who was bound to take care of me. 5 half liter bottles of water, 1 pint of chocolate milk, a twix, banana, more lays chips, a cookie or two and whatever food sounded good at the time. maybe 8 bucks. There was a table and chairs inside with a/c and Peter's dad and brother to keep me company. I pulled in at 7:35 and the store was closing at 8:00. I pulled out at 8:10 and there was no sign of anyone else when I left. I later learned that Peter and 2 others pulled in about 5 minutes after I left and the lady was kind enough to open the doors for them too. They bought some extra water and a couple of bananas and left it on the steps with a note for other DK riders. Hopefully it saved someones life!
I was ready for the final 41 miles and I felt good. I was never so happy to see darkness. But when you have been outside and on the bike for this long, the darkness can play tricks on your eyes and mind. Rocks were looking like rabid rabbits. Flowers were looking like goats. And each firefly I saw was the ghost light of a rider that wasn't there. I did see some neat things in these final 40 miles. 2 bobcats that looked at me as if I wasn't there. A couple really big snappers. 3 frogs. Endless # of cows, deer, and even a couple foxes. I covered the final 40 miles in about 2 hours 50 minutes. I felt good and smooth, and even had some power at a couple times. But as I got closer and closer to Emporia the miles seemed to stretch on and on. About 25 miles out there was a monstrous anvil shaped cloud that looked like it was going to descend upon Emporia and swallow up all that lived there. It hovered, threw down some wicked bolts of lightning, but was more of a facade than a threat. It disappeared into the darkness and I kept riding on. I finally hit the pavement of Emporia, and I knew from years past that there were only 2 miles left. Man I felt great, I was ready for a bunch sprint; but I took my sweet time and enjoyed my final few minutes. I pulled into the hotel parking lot, turned my lights off, because I it was time for my photo shoot. 16:53. 205.56 miles. 4th place. All feats to be proud of...but not good enough. I can't wait for next year!