Well this years race is over and once again it was a great one! I absolutely love this event... the course, the terrain, the heat, the wind, the company, and the loneliness.
The weekend started out smoothly. I left the shop w/ my family and headed down to the home of John Mathias (11th place finisher). Kathy dropped me off there, and I rode down with the Mathias' while Kathy and the boys stayed home. It was way too hot to be chasing around a 2 year old and a 6 week old all weekend. We got down to Emporia at 5:00pm Friday, just in time to check in. It felt a little like a high school reunion walking in the door, so many familiar faces and people to chat with. We got our packets and race numbers (I received #4 for my 4th place finish in 2009), and headed to the hotel to check in. Back a couple hours later for dinner and the pre-race meeting. The place was packed. Racers, friends, family all in one room to hear what Jim and Joel had to say about this year's event. Saturday was gonna be a hot one, so on everyones mind was nutrition and hydration. That always plays a key part in this event. Meeting wrapped up, and everyone quickly shuffled off to their hotel rooms to get some much needed rest. I was fortunate enough to have my own bed for the first time this year, and got to share a room with Jim and his wife...Thanks again guys!
Got up early, got bottles filled, and threw some stuff in my bag for the check points. This was my first time not having to fend for myself at DK and it was a little weird. I had John Mathias' wife Celeste to make sure my drop bag was where it needed to be though, so all is well.
It was a 4 mile ride down to the race start. I was joined by John Mathias, Mike Marchand (last year's winner), and a couple other guys. As we rolled onto the main drag in Emporia the crowd started to swell. It sounds like 165-170 started the race, so it made for a fun group.
the buzz before the start
As 6:00 drew near, I inched closer to the front. I knew I wanted to stay toward the front as the pace picked up, and with this many people around I couldn't take any chances.
neutral roll out w/ Lance Andre and Troy Krause
The pace was actually pretty mellow for the first several miles, even on the gravel. The pace didn't pick up until the first rollers started about 15 miles in. I looked around a couple times to make sure I was where I need to be and found a bunch of strong riders around me (Godfrey, Krause, Ek, Meiser, Goetzleman, Andre, Gersib, Neidinger, Grelk, Marchand and several others). Guys that I knew would keep the pace high and ride strong all day. Maybe I didn't belong in this group, but once again, I found myself here.
sitting beside David Neidinger, and behind Lance Andre
Once again as the pace quickened the group got smaller. I could tell this year was going to be a lot like last year in that sense. But many things would be different and that all started about 20 miles in. Troy Krause (rockstar on a bike) was taking his turn toward the front on a rather rutted out and nasty down hill section when his front wheel seemed to have a mind of its own. Whether he crossed wheels, or just got caught in the rut, the resulting crash was a doozey. He went down hard and a few of us followed suit. Dennis Grelk was right on his wheel and went right over his bars onto his chin, elbow and knee. Myself and Steve Goetzelman (winner from 2007) got caught up in it, but were on the fortunate side of things. The only major thing that really happened was I lost the lead group. I got the bike rolling again and took off. I hated to see those guys suffering that early in the race, but I had to keep moving. Troy was my pick for the winner. I think he would've rode away from us at mile 140, never looking back...next year.
sitting in the pack shortly before the wreck
I put down a hard effort for about 10 minutes, trying to latch back on. The rollers can be deceiving. A couple times I felt like I was gaining on the lead group of 8 or so, and over the next hill they would be 1/2 mile down the road. I caught up w/ David Neidinger about mile 30 and we put down a nice pace. Not too hard, but strong enough that no one else caught us. David and I rode together briefly last year too, and as a fellow Jayhawk, and a genuinely nice guy we had plenty to talk about. That's one of my favorite things about the DK. You meet plenty of fun people. And if you are patient, and ride at relatively the same pace, you can learn a lot about a person in that long hot day.
quick stop at cp1 for water and a new map
David and I thought we would roll out together and keep each others company to midway. As we left town he made a quick stop to relieve himself and I rode slowly up the long paved climb out of Cottonwood falls and down toward Elmwood. As I approached our next turn, getting ready to cross the tracks I noticed a train headed my way. I figured I'm in top 10, I could see 4 riders 1/2 mile back, so I didn't wait and kept on. The next stretch has been one of my favorites the last couple years. The wind is favorable, it's not too hot yet and it's a beautiful part of the course. I kept a good pace on the windy road, across a couple creeks, but always keeping a keen eye over my shoulder. Along the way I met up with Steve Goetzleman from 30th century bikes in Iowa City. Our pace was consistent and he was good company. Both of us had survived un-scathed from the previous wreck, and neither of us had it in us to chase down the lead group. So we just rode along to the midway together, meeting up with Tim Mohn and Mike Wise along the way.
When I got to midway my group was 9-12th. So I felt good about it, but my body didn't feel that good. I stopped for long but much needed rest. Re-fueled, changed socks (which feels great!), draped a cold wet towel over me and tried to regain myself. John Mathias rolled in 5 minutes after me, so w/ some coercing on both our parts, we took off toward the next town. Alma was only 40 miles away, but I knew it would be a long stretch.
John and I rode along nicely together. He and I have put in some miles together the last couple years, and he's a super nice and super strong guy, so I couldn't ask for better company. We caught a couple riders along the way so we figured we were still sitting in about 10th place. Then like clockwork, shortly after turning on the infamous "Little Egypt" road, I got a flat. I think it was my bike and my bodies way of telling me I needed a quick break. I changed the flat (twice), found a nice slice in my rear tire, booted it and got going again. We got passed by 2 riders, but overtook them quickly on the steepest parts of Little Egypt. I was able to ride the whole thing smoothly, with no walking. I think the flat helped me a bit and kept me honest.
About halfway between checkpoints I noticed John's pace slowing a bit. I kept my regulator on and rode along side him, chatting away and enjoying the scenery. This is the stretch where Skip "endurosnob" Cronin and I imploded on last year's DK...still not sure how I made it out alive.
I put about 90 seconds on John as we hit the last few rollers before Alma, with plans of leaving the checkpoint together.
CP3 was relatively uneventful. I refueled. Ate some pbj, turkey sandwich, chips, beef jerkey, root beer, grapes, and anything else that sounded good. My mom and step dad made the quick drive from Manhattan to help me re-fuel at cp2 and cp3. It was nice to just sit down and eat and drink. I dragged John out for the final leg after about a 15 minute stop. I think we were in 9th and 10th when we left, and my plan was to crack the top 5 again at this point. John was hurting, and there wasn't much I could do, so I kept to my own pace. I knew that mile 142-165 was the hardest part of the course, so I had to do my thing. I passed a couple riders on the steepest climbs, but there were still sections I had to walk; for better or for worse. Walking at this point in time is almost a welcome relief. Yeah it hurts, but it hurts differently.
At mile 155, when I turned on Moby Road, I came across the 2 Salsa Riders, Tim Ek and Joe Meiser. I never thought I would see these two guys again today, but they were suffering just like the rest of us. They had their bikes on the ground, jerseys off, and were hosing themselves down in the front yard of a local farmhouse. The water pumped was hooked up to a 85 foot deep, 28,000 gallon well, and we got to hear all about it from the farmer. I was happy to cool off a bit and have some more company. I had encountered what I thought was the hottest section, and was glad for a cool shower in the shade. I know the farmer thought we were insane for doing what we do, and sometimes I feel the same way, but it sure is rewarding.
I took off after a brief shower, leaving the shade, but knowing others were bearing down on me. This had put me into 5th place and I wasn't about to slow up if I could help it. I knew Eskeridge was 8 miles away and this was my final stop for food and water. Shortly after I left the hose, I got hot again. Then I stopped sweating briefly and got cold. Not good. Luckily I had drank a good half gallon back there and it went through me quickly. I started sweating again, and instantly felt better. I was looking forward to the c-store in Eskeridge. Last year I rolled in 2 hours later, just as the lady was getting ready to shut shop and enjoyed some good food as the weather cooled.
This year, it was still hot, but I was on a mission. As I approached the c-store, an F-350 was pulling away from the pump, and it took me a minute to realize that he didn't see me. Apparently he had pulled into the wrong side of the pump, and he thought making a U-turn on main street to turn around would be the fix. As he broad sided me from the left, the slow motion thought of 'man this is going to hurt' strolled through my mind. It caught me off guard more than anything. This is not what I had in mind...more like Lays' original and a chocolate milk. He stopped instantly, rolled down his window to see if I was alright. "I'm sorry man, I didn't see you!" My response probably wasn't too polite, but I wasn't in the mood. I walked over to the bench, only to see Mike Marchand. A couple local teenagers were around, asking if I was alright. It turned out to be quite comical. To ride 163 miles in remote isolation, only to pull into a town of 400 to be struck by a car. Once again, not what I was expecting. But DK is tricky like that. I refueled (2 snickers, more chips, 3 liters of water, a gatorade, more beef jerky, and a twix). The guy in the truck came in (after he filled up his truck) to see if I needed anything. All was good, I was ready to get on my way.
I headed outside to join Mike, to find out he was pulling the plug. I sat down, ate and drank and chatted incoherently with Steve again. Time to keep moving. 40 miles to go before dark.
I headed out, pulled out my ipod (thank you NOFX for 'the decline'). I had snuck my way up to 3rd place, but by the time I left Eskeridge, there were 7 others that had pulled in behind me. I had some work to do.
The next 40 were much harder this year than last. The wind wasn't being kind yet, and my legs were hurtin'. I like this section a lot though. A super cool double track, a long climb full of dog legs that makes you feel like your on a bluff at the top, and the feeling that you are almost done. I knew Corey was going to take the win, and I knew second place had left mile 163 over 30 minutes before me, but I didn't know how strong the riders behind me were. So as I rode, I once again kept an uneasy eye behind me. I stopped a couple times to relieve myself, and once to eject everything I had from my back pockets as my lower back was on fire. At exactly 7:53 I had exactly 18 miles to go. The wind was beginning to change directions, and I thought I could make it in an hour, putting me 2 hours ahead of last year. If anything I could make it before 9:00 and break 15 hours. As I was having this thought I looked back to see two riders about 3/4 of a mile back, only 2 rollers behind me. They had to of seen me, and their pace would surely represent that. For a moment I thought 5th place is almost as good as 3rd place. But I wanted 3rd. I took off, in the drops, and headed for Emporia. As the town approached, and the ghost riders never caught me, I was pleased to find that I was closer than I thought. I rolled though ESU campus, caught wind of a few cheers along the way, and headed toward the finish, looking back every 30 seconds or so. I wasn't sure exactly what time it was, or exactly how far I'd gone, but I was done. I never even had to turn my lights on this year. I crossed the line all smiles. 3rd place. 14:45. 203 miles.
Just after I crossed the line I saw someone familiar...Kathy! Kathy and the boys had come down to see me finish. It was a great feeling. Quite possibly my greatest day on the bike and I got to share the end of it with my family.
rolling into the finish line!
I can't wait for next year's DK. Maybe I have a 2nd place up my sleeve. Who knows.
on the podium...missing Lance Andre (in the hospital)
2010 podium: 4th Place Mark Walker, Salida CO. 3rd Place Joe Fox, Parkville MO. 2nd Place Lance Andre, Dubuque, IA. 1st Place Corey Godfrey, Lincoln NE. No one more deserving than Corey...Congratulations on a fantastic ride!