I believe it was this past fall when I decided I would participate in the Dirty Kanza 200 or as it is known in short hand, the DK. This would be an opportunity and an experience I didn't want to miss. I'd be traveling to Emporia, KA with the Salsa crew and Salsa was the title sponsor of the event. This seemed to be the perfect formula for me. I was in!
Last Thursday I jumped in the car after work and headed down to Minneapolis to hook up with fellow Salsa rider, excellent competitor, and friend, Joe Meiser. Joe was kind enough to allow me to crash at his house before we hooked up with the rest of the guys the following day. The next morning saw Joe and I spinning easy to a local diner to meet two of the remaining four teammates that would make up the "Dirty Six". Sadly, we were minus one Sean Mailen who bowed out with a nagging knee injury. Ryan Horkey and Pete Koski were already at the diner when we rolled in. I'd come to spend a great deal of time with these top notch guys in the coming days. Emporia is nine hours south of Minneapolis and you get to know a little about everyone in the car on a drive like that. I liked what I saw. Our remaining two teammates, Jason Boucher and Matt Gersib, would join us at our final destination.
The nine to ten hour drive went by faster than I expected as we tried to keep up with Joe's antics and musical choices. We pulled into the pre-race meeting point at the local Best Western. Jim Cummins, director of the event, had arranged for us to be hosted by a local rider and participant of the DK. Randy, the home owner, and Dustin, who I believe was renting, would play a pivotal role in the experience. Their hospitality and generosity were unmatched. Once registration was completed we relaxed and socialized with some familiar faces as well as joined our final two teammates. Soon after arrival I was taken by the number of people who started to pack the room. "There were a lot of people here, this is a big deal!", I thought. As usual the anxiety began to build, but I pushed it down. After all, this was a 200-mile race, no Trans Iowa distance. I had nothing to worry about. An important lesson was learned here; never underestimate any of these gravel races. The "Dirty Six" were introduced to the room by Jim Cummins as it was clear he was appreciative of Salsa's involvement and support of this event. The meeting adjourned and we were released to make our final gear tweaks and adjustments.
My kit was set and my plan was simple. I'd ride through checkpoint one in the break, stop at checkpoint two (100 miles) for a refill and push for the finish with the leaders. My goals were clear, a top ten finish in this stacked field would be something I'd like to take home and a finishing time of under 14 hours would be something I could certainly hang my hat on. Finishing under 13 hours would really put a smile on my face. It's amazing, how things can change. "Adapt, flexibility, survive", were words that I didn't realize I would begin to live by.
The start was calm and similar to most gravel race starts. We were rolled out by a police car and set loose to our own devices as well as the gravel after about a mile or so. Immediately, Joe jumped to the front and brought the pace up. I cursed him as I clamored through the front of the field to gain his wheel. "Really, do we have to do this now?", I thought as my heart rate rose. It was a race after all, so if we can punch out some of the field now and get to the business at hand we might as well. I took a few turns on the front of the field and felt I was driving hard. I was careful not to stay up front too long and kept my eye on all Salsa jerseys as I knew it was imperative I stay near Joe and Ryan. If Joe and Ryan were involved in a split that left me hanging behind I knew it would be difficult to join them again. However, if we stayed together I knew we'd protect each other if we could.
As the miles clicked by and the nerves settled I was impressed by Joe's ability to always find a hole in order to make his way to the front. Ryan's riding style was smooth and controlled with hidden horsepower that he taps when he needs it. These are a couple of talented riders I was with. It felt good to be among this group. Soon the legend of the DK began to rear it's head and riders were pulling off with flats. I noticed the first to go was teammate Matt Gersib, who rang his front wheel hard off an unsuspecting rock. Scenarios such as this would play out from time to time and whittle the group down one by one. I was confident in my tire choice and knew I needed to focus on being attentive to the surges that seemed to be lead by Corey 'Cornbread' Godfrey and last year's winner Matt 'Machine'.
An hour into the race the pace remained high, uncomfortably high! Pulling up to Ryan's wheel we remarked about the pace and hoped it would come down. A quick headcount had me realizing that the break was now made up of nine strong riders turning out a feverish pace. Then it happened: Troy Kraus, a skilled rider and one to watch in these events, caught a rut and was on the 'floor'. Three or four riders piled up behind him. In a nano second I shifted to mountain biker mode and threw my Chili to the right and off the road in an effort to avoid the crash. I emerged from the carnage unscathed, but the leaders were riding away. I buried myself in order to latch on. High on a plateau with no cover, totally exposed I battled the wind trying to bridge back. I could see Ryan hanging on to the back end of the group ahead checking over his shoulder to see if I was going to make it. I tried to send him telepathic messages to sit up for me and help me get back, but I knew that was not going to happen. I was not his responsibility and he was doing what he could do to stay hooked on at that point. I had to get through this one by myself.
Soon enough I was caught by another unknown rider who was in the same boat as me. Completely gassed we looked into each other's eyes briefly and without a word spoken knew what needed to be done. We jumped into a fast moving rotation, drafting off of each other as efficiently as we could. The leaders were coming back to us, we were doing it! After about what seemed like twenty minutes we were hooked back on, but on the back end. The front runners knew people were suffering in this group and it was time to put them out of their misery. The pace was very high as they attempted to push us out of their little club. A glance to my GPS told me that at 35 miles I was officially "popped" off the back of the breakaway and there wasn't anything I could do about it. I watched Joe work with this lead group of about five as they moved through switchbacks above me and made their way toward a high point in the plains. I had a conscious thought of how cool they looked, single file, silhouetted against the blue sky.
The scope of what lie ahead of me began to take hold and I set my resolve to settle in and start turning out a consistent pace. I'd see some of those strong men soon. They'd come back to me as their bodies eventually would go through what mine was going through now. The time began to move as did the miles. I picked up riders here and there, but mostly I traveled alone.
Recovered from the early effort I noticed it being surprisingly hot for 9:30 a.m. My jersey was completely unzipped and I was going through fluids rapidly. Of course I'd reviewed the weather forecast before the race and saw that it was projected to be the hottest day of 2010 for Emporia and the surrounding area. Weather extremes seem to go hand and hand with gravel road racing, I'd deal with this one just like all the others.
Pushing through checkpoint one as planned I gained information from the volunteers on the leaders whereabouts as well as the distance to the next c.p. My Camelback felt lighter than it should at this point, but I had planned ahead with two tall water bottles in the cages of my bike, I'd go to them if need be. As I approached the noon hour it was getting hot! I knew this would be a tough time as the sun poured it's rays on to me. I told myself, "Just get through the next four hours or so and things should start to improve". The sun has to drop lower in the sky, therefore things will get better, right? The Inuit have something like a thousand words to describe snow and I felt like I needed a thousand to describe "HOT". I had no idea what heat was before this day.
Ninety miles into the race I pulled over in a patch of shade in order to dig out some electrolyte pills as the tell tale signs of dehydration were taking hold. My thinking was no longer organized, I was being plagued by negative thoughts, and I was slowing down considerably. I consumed three of the little white pills and decided I better keep the rest of the capsules handy, I'd be needing them again. Boy, would I ever!
There it was the checkpoint! I was halfway and I enjoyed the pleasant reception I was receiving as I pulled through the town. It seemed that everyone knew we'd be coming. People were on the street corners clapping for us, drivers of pickups were waving to me, kids were running to the sidewalks to get a look at the next rider coming in. It felt good. I put on a strong face at the checkpoint as I absorbed their complimentary words about my position and pace. The staff informed me of the leader's position, but secretly I didn't care, I was hurting. I needed calories and more hydration, preferably the cool kind. My first and most important question was "Where can I find some more water?".
Salsa presents Ride The Divide at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. One showing! June 15th at 7pm. Buy tickets now to be sure you have a seat. Proceeds benefit One Gear, One Cause. Ride The Divide was named Best Adventure Film at the 2010 Vail Film Festival. We have a fun evening in store for you at the Riverview. Click the logo to purchase tickets.
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Tim (Eki) Ek
Tim Ek was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and still calls it home. He’s always had a passion for competition and seeking his own extremes. Tim's true love is the woods: Out in the wild is where he clears his head and finds his peace, and he prefers getting there by bike. Tim Ek: The Eki Chronicles, ekichronicles2.kinetic-fitness.com