June 4, 2015

Dirty Kanza 200: Peanut Butter & Daggers

by Nick Frey

For those of you who read my last post Fake It Till You Make It, you’ll know that I had a game plan going into the infamous Dirty Kanza 200…a bit of mental trickery, if you will. Or maybe logical pragmatism? Whatever one may call it, I had no idea how important it would be for me to truly believe this race was possible…and I definitely faked it for 199 miles.

All smiles before the start!

All smiles before the start!

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. I still have a (515) number.  I know that area of the country well, and its potential for epic wetness and wind in May and June. One of my earliest memories as a green bike racer was watching Steve Tilford wear jeans on his road bike, taking some corners hot on a wet crit course before the race began “to gauge his tire pressure and cornering speed” while avoiding pre-race road rash.

need some help?

Downers on the ground

I’ve had my fair share of terrible experiences on a bike in the rain. Actually, it’s one of the most significant factors to me not racing on the road anymore…there were seasons when it felt as though EVERY SINGLE RACE would have an element of horrific danger due to weather and Acts of Dog. Make no mistake: that omniscient being in the clouds doesn’t give a shit, he just laughs as we slide across the pavement in spandex and sparks.

So here I am in Kansas while it POURS ALL DAY LONG, less than 12 hours before the start of a 200 mile race on gravel. I have a bike with 38mm tires and no suspension. And I’m wearing spandex.


It was nice to have a call-up, although it was akin to the first infantrymen charging over the ditch and being mowed down

It was nice to have a call-up, although it was akin to the first infantrymen charging over the ditch and being mowed down

But I heard a funny comment quite frequently the day before during registration, when others heard I’d never done the race before: “ignorance is bliss.” And BOY were they right! Because the course wasn’t going to change just because I was angry/scared/frustrated/intimidated/apprehensive. It was going to be complete and utter shit, regardless!

Welcome to 2015

Caught selfie-ing

So when the lead of the 1000+ person field, Neil Shirley, turned right with me on his wheel, I didn’t think twice that we were turning off of a perfectly dry and solid dirt road onto one with 4” deep ruts cut into peanut butter, mixed with cement, and laced with daggers.

Just getting a feel for the conditions

Just getting a feel for the conditions

That’s right, I didn’t think twice. I just fell over! It was important I understand, deeply, the conditions we were about to endure. And I deeply understood them. My crappy saddle bag (unfortunately I left home before my new Speedsleev arrived) was sucked off my bike and buried deep down in the black mucky darkness.  But I didn’t find that out until a little later.

In the meantime, shit was not just getting real—it WAS real.

We were a full ~15 miles into a 200 mile event when folks started to see just what we might be in for. This slog had been experienced by many a DK participant a couple months earlier at the Landrun 100, which is surely being written in the record books as one of the most treacherous events on the calendar, to be attended by only the most maniacal, insane athletes around.

Yummy Stillwater Cement

Yummy Stillwater Cement

The Landrun wasn’t great for me. Actually it was going well on paper, until I dropped out. My old buddy Brian Jensen and I were in second and third place, pretty solidly on track for podium placings if not an overall win. Then we both cracked after miles of riding and hiking through mud so thick I lost my shoes in it. All I could think was that these B roads in middle-Kansas would soon bring an end to my day in a similarly disappointing manner.

But I had no idea what was coming, and I saw other non-Landrun folks quickly falling apart. I actually LAUGHED at this mud, it was NOTHING compared to Stillwater Cement! I mean, you could actually still move your wheels through your frame and fork!

I couldn’t believe how quickly others crumbled, so I just laughed at it all, picked up my 40lb $10,000 Boo (which also seemed to give no shits that it was being attacked by the most brutal conditions a bike can experience), and kept trudging forward. Forward progress of any kind was the name of the game. Don’t waste time, don’t clean anything, don’t fucking CARE about what’s going on…JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

I was going back and forth a bit with Barry Wicks, who has done a few cyclocross races. When even that guy wasn’t riding successfully, I knew it was serious.

We finally made it out of the epic muck, and while we were instead greeted by crazy winds, rain, fog, and chilling humid air…but we were at least on solid footing. I was in fifth place overall, and was just tagging onto fourth and third place, when I realized my greatest fear: FLAT TIRE. And then I realized something that hadn’t even occurred to me: NOTHING TO REPAIR SAID FLAT!  It was then that I realized my saddle bag had come loose in my earlier crash and that I had nothing to fix my flat with.

But here’s how ridiculously awesome Dirty Kanza / gravel racing in general is: FOURTH PLACE DUDE STOPS AND GIVES ME A TUBE. This is not only unheard of in any other bike racing variety, it’s truly incredible to think that he gave me a tube when this course is notorious for SHREDDING tires and tubes and they are worth their weight in gold.

Thanks, Dude.

Unfortunately, this gracious gift didn’t last long. I swapped in the tube, starting riding again, now passing folks in the top-ten to hopefully ride back into my previous position…and flatted again, in a water crossing that could only be accurately described as a riverbed with 10,000 daggers planted in it. But this time, I wasn’t riding with anyone. So I just pulled my tube out and waited.

This is where it got quite sad-hilarious. The first tube I got, which miraculously only took three people to say NO before a YES, turned out to be flat. So that second tube came out, and I waited a bit longer for another good samaritan. This time, it was a single speeder. But his tubes were all short valve stems, and I have a deeper Enve rim which requires a 48mm valve minimum. FACK!! So I found a third guy now, with a long valve tube—sweet!

But you cannot make this stuff up. IT WAS FLAT AS WELL. Or maybe it was the huge gash in my sidewall. But regardless, this puppy was holding air about as well as the Titanic was floating. I got a FOURTH TUBE with a short valve, somehow bartered with a FIFTH guy for a long valve, BOOTED THE TIRE with my Clif bar wrapper, and voila it worked!

Yes it was the sideshow and the circus, right there on the side of a B road in Kansas

Yes it was the sideshow and the circus, right there on the side of a B road in Kansas

At this point, I had been standing on the road for over 30 minutes with this second flat tire. Or actually, you might call it like three flats, or maybe five. Who knows. But I do know that I was so cold I could barely operate my pump. And I was definitely able to spend the time to take the above picture. Who cares about racing when you have been standing on the sidelines for a half hour?!

I started to laugh again. My phone had no reception, and I had not the faintest idea where I was, other than Kansas. I couldn’t quit if I tried! But I remembered back to the concept of my previous post: Fake It Until You Make It. I hadn’t yet Made It, so I better damn well keep FAKING IT! So that’s what I did. I was no longer racing for the win, or for anything other than to just ride my bike really hard to the first aid station (an astounding 78 miles in, longer than many entire races) so I could eat 10,000 calories and lick my wounds.

I won’t even elaborate on the sad fact that I flatted AGAIN. But let’s just fast forward to the fact that I was easily outside the top 70 riders at my lowest position, and got into the first aid station in 44th, but with literally no hope or expectations of anything but a bunch of Coke, Snickers, and Pop Tarts. And those expectations were met above and beyond by genius Boo GM/mechanic Adam Blake!

Genius Boo GM/mech Adam Blake to the rescue!!

Genius Boo GM/mech Adam Blake to the rescue!!

He and a good friend / Boo dealer / owner of District Bicycles, Bobby Wintle, were pure gold for me. I stood around elaborating on my trials and tribulations for about 10 minutes while Bobby found me a brand new rear tire and they swapped, pumped, lubed, and tuned the Boo to perfection. I chowed and smiled and laughed at myself and this whole ridiculous bike race while watching other racers blowing through the aid zone full-gas, on their way to another 122 miles of grueling pain and suffering.

These guys fucking rock.  Period.

These guys fucking rock. Period.

I’d been on the sidelines long enough to give zero shits about rushing. I was more concerned about doing this thing RIGHT, because the next aid zone was not for another EIGHTY MILES!!

I got back on the SL-G and figured out which direction to go. I had not a single piece of technology that would help in this case: no GPS, no map, not even a cue sheet. It fell from a muddy pocket at some point in a bonked, Snickers-crazed mental haze. So my only hope was to pass people so quickly I would never get lost.

And DAMN did that work pretty well! I’m so sorry to those I passed, because it’s never fun to get passed like this…but I relished in going by someone at easily 5mph faster! I was possessed. If you’d tried to stop me, I probably would have run you over. There was nothing dead or alive that was going to prevent me from ripping the fucking crankset off this bike.

I would pass someone, feel happy to claw back a single spot, and then immediately sight my laser beam on the next poor soul ahead.

I’m not sure what it was—living at 9,600’, racing for 15 years now, entering other insane races like Leadville 100 and the Crusher in the Tushar, or the sublime Boo SL-G itself—but I actually couldn’t STOP stomping on the pedals. It would have hurt to pedal with less ferocity. Going slower only prolonged the suffering.

The Boo was dunked in rivers and washed in the rapids, as I trudged through scenes that few would imagine outside of Deliverance. I focused on the task at hand, following many nameless Kansas B roads into the bleak pea soup horizon.

I didn’t know what time it was. I had no clue how many miles had been traveled. When I had no one to pass or see in front of me, I followed tire tracks. I got lost at least ten times, often doubling back and continuing to pass the last three people I’d just passed. I was not just the sideshow act, I was the entire circus this day.

I actually thought of a new Boo slogan: “BOO: The Road Less Traveled.” That miracle material dendrocalamus strictus (Iron Bamboo) was my savior, helping me through the roughest terrain without beating me to a pulp. It responded when I wanted, and comforted me when I needed. And as much as I tried, it didn’t let me rip the crankset off. Instead, Boo and I rocketed back towards Emporia.

This is where I don’t really remember that much. I met some freaking cool folks, rode with a few of them for some miles, but honestly this was MAN VERSUS KANSAS. And the house always wins. The haze of those 122 miles (actually 125 miles, since DK is 203) is forever to be buried in the depths of my reptilian brain. A switch was flipped for those hours, and like the proverbial lost flight recorder, it ain’t being found anytime soon!

But I do remember saying to myself: I’m going to MAKE IT. In the lowest depths of despair during one of the flats in the peanut butter and daggers, I picked a beautiful blue flower and put it in my jersey for a special someone. And I was going to deliver this flower, muddy and wilted, or I was going to fall off the bike and die trying.

Riding with a purpose...deliver or die trying!

Riding with a purpose…deliver or die trying!

The next clear memory is rolling down the finishing line in 10th place overall, posting up like a total dork, but elated and ecstatic and beaten into submission but so punch drunk I was cackling like a fool. I was high-fiving the entire audience, including a bunch of little rippers who’d raced the kids event that day. And then I saw my dad, who’d surprised me with a visit from Des Moines and was taking video of the procession!

DK Finish

Then some total douche bag I’d dropped many many miles earlier sprinted by me to nab 10th place. It was so awesome I just kept laughing. Because I’ll just come back in 2016 and let him know what it looks like when I don’t have 45 minutes of sideline antics.

After the Carnage

I don’t do intervals anymore. I don’t own a power meter, a heart rate monitor, a speedometer, a GPS…hell, I barely wear a watch. I don’t have a coach, I don’t really care that much. But I still LOVE RIDING BIKES. And I love these epic, crazy, bucket-list events. Leadville, Crusher, DK, Landrun, Grand Traverse…the list goes on. And I have plans for them all.

These lofty goals may take years, but I don’t really abide by that whole “sacrifice” idea. I want it all. I guess it’s good that I like suffering, because it’s definitely not a sacrifice to me—it’s a religion, a way of life.

Thank Baby Jesus, it's over!

Thank Baby Jesus, it’s over!

So I hope to see all you crazies at some of these crazy-meets! When you see me, just yell BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! And I’ll know you’re a good egg and understand the sickness 🙂 Until then, remember to ride bikes, drink beer, and live the dream.

Living the dream some more

Living the dream some more

Living the dream

Living the dream

My baby, before her punishment

My baby, before her punishment