Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It Wasn't Always This Way

L-R: Jeremy Fry, Mike Johnson, Ron Saul, G-Ted @ the DK200 2010
Recently the Dirty Kanza 200 filled up its registration field limit. It took about 33 hours from the opening of the on-line gates until they filled up every available spot. I had no doubt they would get it done. It is a very popular event. I'd say this event, Barry Roubaix in Michigan, and the Almanzo 100 are likely your most popular events on gravel out there. Each has their own appeal.

The DK200 has been crafted into a "big deal" for the riders that attend. Lots of attention from Emporia, lots of attention from the cycling media, the manufacturers, and the promoters. They all have amped up the lead in to the event, and the experience during the event, to the point that riders say they feel like "rock stars". That's a monumental task to pull off, but Jim Cummins, the Mohns, and LeLan Dains have done it and keep growing it bigger. (For more on the Dirty Kanza 200, where it started, where it is, and where it is going, listen to the Riding Gravel Radio Ranch podcast with Jim Cummins HERE.)

I haven't been to a DK200 since 2010. That was about when the "big deal" started with the event. It was the first year that they shut down the main street we finished on in Emporia and the first where we started downtown. Things were getting big by that point, but by comparison to today, those were small potatoes. The scene now is far more festive, with a bigger production, and a lot more riders. In ten years, this thing has done blowed up, and that's putting it mildly.

It wasn't always this way though.

The start of the first DK200. That's me in white. Image courtesy of P. Jacobson
In 2005, a couple of fellas met up and they planned on doing something like this crazy event they had heard about called Trans Iowa. Joel Dyke and Jim Cummins crafted their event after that model, but they tweaked the thing liberally. In fact, after my trip to this event, I made a move to my Trans Iowa cohort, Jeff Kerkove, that we should change things to reflect some of Jim and Joel's good ideas. While they weren't the first to do a gravel event in Kansas, (that distinction belongs to the now defunct "Flint Hills Death Ride"), they were the first to do an ultra-distance gravel event in that state. Jim Cummins wrote in a thread about the first Dirty Kanza on MTBR.com the following, "Our inspiration came not from the Death Ride, but from Guitar Ted and his Trans-Iowa."

So it was that the Dirty Kanza was to be a long, arduous course set into the Flint Hills where Joel and Jim hoped that they would be able to attract a few "nutcases" down from the Trans Iowa and from other 24 hour mtb events to tackle this challenge. The "scene" wasn't much back in those days. Gravel events were something unheard of, and without the then fairly new tool of the internet, it is likely that you would have never heard of Trans Iowa, the Dirty Kanza 200, or much of anything, for that matter! The thing was, these sorts of events were very much "under the radar" back in 2006.

The registration table for the first DK200
They ran the registration and got 45 souls to put their name on the roster, including myself. I hadn't ever ridden in a gravel event before, and I had trained, planned, and obtained goods to help insure my success. I also was able to hook up with a new acquaintance I had made through Trans Iowa and the internet by the name of David Pals. We did the long trip down from Iowa to see just what we were in for. Information on the Flint Hills was pretty sparse back in 2005/06. Knowledge of tire choices, and any other helpful hints, were limited to the scant bits of information we could derive from folks on MTBR.com and what little info Jim and Joel provided. There were no training camps, no "Dirty Kanza- The Premier Gravel Grinder" website, no nothing. It was dive in- sink or swim for me.

David picked me up at my sister's place in Des Moines and we left on a hot, humid day to go into the unknown. We checked out some of the areas we knew the course would go through, and the heat and winds were rather worrisome. I know it was up around 100 degrees most of that day. We checked in at the Travel Lodge, where we had to hunt for the registration area, which amounted to a round table commandeered by a few of the DK200 volunteers. They were really friendly, and showed us some of the swag they had as prizes. Then we signed in, and went to our room to await the early morning alarm clock warning and then hit the parking lot for the 6:00am start. The rider's meeting happened right there. Just before we took off, and that was that. The DK200 was started.

Early on in the inaugural DK200 and I was all alone.
Thank God it was an overcast day with little humidity and lower temperatures! I remember it being a fascinating ride. It was soooo different than anything I had ever experienced, but I was doing it mostly all by myself. By the time we left the first town of Council Grove, I was on my own until the mid-way checkpoint at Cottonwood Falls. There I was to fish my final supplies out of my bag on my own to get to the finish. Volunteers said the next section was very remote and likely the toughest of all. I took the admonition to heart, bent over to grab something out of my bag, and just about passed out. That was it for me.

Winner Dan Hughes giving Doug, one of the DK volunteers, a smooch after winning.
I sometimes still wonder if I could have finished that course anyway, but I had two small kids and a wife back home to think about, and pressing myself into a remote area, with no means of getting myself out, and with no good reason to put myself into a dangerous situation, well...... It was a tough decision, but probably the right one. 

I rode back to town with Doug where we found the 10 X 10 pop up that served as the "finish line" in the middle of the motel parking lot where we all had left that morning. Not long after, Dan Hughes came rolling in, all dusty, and dropped his bike to the ground, a white Steelman cross bike with Bruce Gordon Rock and Road tires on it. There was a smattering of hand claps and a "good job!" from the six or so gathered there. Dan grabbed a PBR out of a nearby cooler, slammed it, and smiled broadly. I'm not sure he felt like much of a "rock star", but he was, (and still is), in our eyes.

The fifteen finishers started to trickle in, and the stories began in earnest. Lost, defeated by flat tires, and burnt by the Sun, (which eventually did come out), many others that had cut their rides short also joined in the festivities around that pop-up tent on the unforgiving blacktop. Laughter and a sense of camaraderie was evident. Pizzas were ordered and delivered by astonished teenage delivery drivers who had never seen anything quite like the finish of the first DK200.

The final finisher was my traveling companion, and future co-director of Trans Iowa, David Pals, who finished at about 12:30am after being in a spectacular thunder and lightning storm, and then getting hit and knocked off his bicycle by a car a mere few blocks from the finish line. An auspicious ending to the event that has grown up so much, it doesn't even resemble the "back yard barbeque" feel it had back in 2006. Yep, it wasn't always the way it is now, with the lights, the big deal, and what not, but how could it stay that way.......

This post is dedicated to the memory of Joel Dyke, DK200 co-founder. Please consider a donation to the fund to help his family at BigGrin.org


MG said...

Those are good memories. My how times have changed, but Dan Hughes is still an incredible cyclist.

Guitar Ted said...

@MG: Right! One thing hasn't changed through ten years of the DK 200!

Congratulations on earning that Cup, by the way. An incredible accomplishment!

MG said...

Thanks Brother... It's gonna' be extra-fun this year!

Michael Day said...

What was your bike/set-up for that first Kanza? Can't quite tell from that pic...

Guitar Ted said...

@Michael Day: I was running a single speed On One Inbred 29"er, the first slider drop out version, with WTB Nanoraptors, an old Race Face Turbine Forged square taper crank, and Avid BB-7 mech disc brakes. My gear was a little too low- 34 X 18, as I recall.

S.Fuller said...

That cup makes thinking about two more really tempting. I really do cherish the memories first two DK's that I experienced. I met both Joel and Michelle my first year. the check in table was still inside the hotel and the finish line was two pop ups back close to that bar behind the hotel.

Good times, and a lot of friends made that year, including Aaron Gammel and Ron Saul.

Unknown said...

Gonna make a run at the 200 on my Fargo this spring. This is a "how things have changed" comment: I was looking at my poor, ignored Cross Check last night - I rode the DK light on it last year - and thought how funny it looked with those "skinny" Clements 41mm tires! A year ago they were the fattest tires I'd ever seen. Now they're the skinniest.