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The last 5 miles to Emporia

Finishing the 2016 Version of The Mid South.

There were 201 miles that came before this. Hours and hours of riding. Bottles and bottles of Tailwind Nutrition. There is something about the finish line that I can’t really express or explain. That feeling of being done while knowing that this might just be the beginning. That reset of your “impossible” that happens with each line you cross.

I don’t go to races guaranteeing myself anything. I don’t even really go to races knowing what I’m capable of doing. I more just show up to races willing to try something I’m not sure I’m able to do.

Zach Miller, ultra runner

It was 2016 and the year I set out on several “firsts” – 106 miles in the Mid South event in Stillwater and then the 206 miles of Unbound Gravel in Emporia, KS – the surprising “queen” town of gravel. These two events were intimidating and unchartered for me. I knew a bit about riding 100 miles (I had done it once on a road bike while on the Oklahoma FreeWheel a few years before) but not on gravel and I for sure had NO IDEA how to ride double that distance….. that’s a long damn way.

This ride was going to happen in June. All of this felt so far over my head that I was hardly even thinking about the finish line, really. I mean – my longest gravel ride to date had happened just a few months prior to that of 106 miles on gravel.

I ride Salsa bikes and I think I watched this Salsa Film nearly 1,000 times while I was gearing up for this ride. Take a minute and watch it. We can wait and get back to the post after….

Here is the deal with these sorts of things.. it is a lot about body and ability but also so much about mindset and soul. The heart of it all. It has to match the heart of the ride and what you are doing.

It also has lots to do with the people.

Trevor, Myla, Brent, Keith, Bobbie, Crystal, Jack, Brenda, Austin, Sally, Sara, Tyler, Seth, Ryan…. gosh, so may people helped make this thing happen for me. They gave me tips on how to pack a bike, what to eat, how to deal with weather, what tools to take and so much more.

I felt like I was joining a celebrity group of people that and every time I went to Stillwater to join up with a group ride, meeting or social at District Bicycles – my eyes were wide and heart full despite how my legs and lungs were feeling.

This event is fully self supported so each rider will have a “team” or “crew” of people to help them when they get to each checkpoint. There were 3 checkpoints in 2016 and my crew was made up of Trevor, Myla and the crew at District Bicycles / Stillwater Gravel Grinders.

A lot happened on that day (both great and heartbreaking) for this extended family of friends but several things stood out to me:

  1. Who you “run” around with matters: I was / am a better person because of these people – even today. The support they showed this new kid from Edmond throughout that day is something I still think about all the time.
  2. Your friends will lie to you if they have to: Yep, that’s right. I will never forgot checking in to the check point at mile 160 and stopping for a peanut butter sandwich… I was told that some others had just rolled out and that a few were behind me by a few minutes. It was dangerously close to the cutoff and I wasn’t moving quickly from my seat at the crew area. What I found out later was that they were waiting on me and I was the end of the group at that point. Telling me otherwise got me out of that chair.
  3. Your friends will help you reach your goals: I was struggling so they got my wife on the phone and she loaded up my (then 2) kids and drove from Edmond to Emporia to catch the finish line. Still feels unreal.
  4. Your friends will wait up for you: I wish I could find the video… I remember finally getting back to town and realizing I had about 15 minutes before the finish line closed and I would be DNF. It was dead down there and only the finish structure and a tent remained. As I was enjoying the bit of downhill on Commerce Street, I could hear yelling.. for me. I saw my crew there.. I saw my family.. I saw a group of folks who had ridden and worked ALL DAY still there waiting on me – the Edmond guy. It was nearly 3a… 21 hours after we had started that deal…

Here was my recap from 2016…

(After the 2016 DK Event, the organizers sent out a call for stories – personal narratives about our day on the bike. This was what I sent in under their prompt of Stories from the Back of the Pack – which, indeed, I was.)

June 14th, 2016 – My DK Story.

2:49a. 21 hours after we rolled out of Downtown Emporia in the midst of thousands of people.

21 hours before, I had resolved to the idea of riding for a few hours, sagging out and having beers as those that were stronger, tougher, better prepared made their way to the end. To ride down that chute for hugs and high fives. I had resolved to the idea that this was my first one. That the Dirty Kanza 200 was just bigger than me in all ways. That the 560 miles I had managed to ride the two months prior to June 4th just weren’t enough.

Nutrition. Hydration. Gear. It was all beyond me.

As we rolled out of town, one thing became super clear: there was nothing left to do but pedal. Nothing else mattered. I went through all phases possible during that ride and I found that what kept me going was a pretty simple thing. The People. People were cheering me on. With all they had. My family, my support crew, other riders. No matter where my mind took me, people kept
telling me that I was going to finish. It became the carrot that I needed to get home.

Dirty Kanza 200 wasn’t a race for me. It was a year long goal. To finish. To grab a pint glass. To be able to say that I did something that was all but impossible. I entered because I knew I couldn’t do it. That was what 2016 was all about.

FindYourLimit was the mission. This ride showed me that my limit was beyond anything I could have imagined. I finished and found the value in doing things that are bigger than me. The DK is a special thing as is the land that we get to ride through and the stories the land has for us new and old.

2:49a. So long since I had hit Madison, given hugs to our crew at mile 66 and putting my heart back together after a friend had a bad crash, Eureka, back to Madison…. Finally, after what was the hardest 15 miles I’ve ever ridden (ok, I walked some… also a quick thanks to one of the Mulready’s Riders for letting me ride along for a few somewhat strong miles!) I finally saw the lights of Emporia up close. Through the tunnel, up Mt. Highland or Everest or whatever, through campus and out onto Commerce. The finish line and the stories it was going to tell for days after was there. What made my Dirty Kanza special was the group of family (great friends) who stay up HOURS later than they needed to to see me in and celebrate it like I won it all. 21 hours later. Done.

Jim, LeLan and the rest of the Unbound Gravel crew showed everyone what they have inside and that they can do it, all of it.

Early on in the day. Little did I know what was going to happen next.
My wife Jenni and kids (TUK and Grey) made the drive LATE from Edmond to meet me at the finish
Mid South / 2016 – finishing beer and my two boys at District Bicycles

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Veit Andrew Veit

    Such an awesome event. Had the privilege of SAGing it for a couple of teammates this past year. Definitely on my bucket list. But 2016? That was gravel, before gravel!

    • That event will teach you things – no doubt! Go crush it one of these years! 2016 was early but not the beginning which is wild to think about. The “scene” has evolved since then for sure.. the group ride has gotten bigger.. the roads have seen more bicycles.. That’s all good stuff but to be transparent – I’ve had a tough time evolving with it. There is still so much out there to be heard, ridden and appreciated. Looking forward to some renewed backroad energy!

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