I had been thinking about coming down for the DirtyKanza200 for some time, and it wasn’t until a question from Eric Benjamin (http://adventuremonkey.com) asked if I wanted to come shoot some photos of the race. Now here is where my creative wheels started turning. Being from Kansas, the Flinthills, and Emporia I thought I had a leg up on the other possible out of town boys and girls snapping photos of the race. I mean, it kind of takes someone who can appreciate the area to find the beauty of the area… I think anyway. I was talking to a friend in passing the other day from Kansas City, who said there was nothing more boring than the prairies of Kansas. I argued that he had only looked at them driving 70 (well in his case more like 90) down the highway.
I get the idea that some of the interesting things you see on the inter webs are majestic mountains. You see deep sea floors with amazingly colorful fish. I argue you can see just as amazing sights following a 200 mile bike ride across the Flinthills. The texture of the land, with the rock outcrops. The smell of cool grass in the morning as it licks the next blade of grass, swaying in the wind. Ripples roll across the landscape showing the touch of the breeze. Comprise this with struggling on a bike, on gravel, up hill and down feeling the wind smash into you slowing you down. The beauty is still there, just a bit harder to see.
I rolled into town at about 4:30 after having driven down from Kansas City. The Emporia downtown was blocked off, and you could see riders milling around on side streets. Support crews comprised of riding teams and some of family members strolled around parking lots looking at their riders. Some would ride unsupported, with nothing but themselves to endure.
The main street was mostly void of traffic. The side parking had a few cars with doors open, supplies being unloaded, riders being prepped. It was like you could hear the collective anticipation of an endurance race. Gut checks to follow.
As I walked down the road, I met up with Jess Buchholz with Emporia Mainstreet Association (http://www.emporiamainstreet.com). Here is where the City of Emporia and its residents comes in. I told her that I was looking for Kristi Mohn, and that I had been accepted to shoot some photos for the DK. Jessica Buchholz went out of her way to help me with this. I ran into Kristi, who by all accounts with her husband Tim, Jim Cummins, and others too numerous to mention, ran a great event. And then off I was, not just looking at the people around me but trying to see the event for what it was. People were here for numerous reasons. The ones racing for time. The ones racing to have fun. The ones to see just what they are made of.
Then Jessica grabbed me and we ran to the top of a marque. Again, being from Emporia, I knew how important a landmark The Granada Theater is to the downtown of Emporia. The old theater has been restored and stands as a testament to the importance of saving something from collapse and demise. I also jumped at the chance of getting on top of the marque to be able to witness the gathering of humanity that was to take on the flint and chert roads of the Flinthills.
Nearly 1000 bicyclists gathered along the street awaiting the start of their journey. I was interested in getting to capture the leaders later on in the race, but I really wanted to show some of what happens outside of the leaders.
The race headed out to Madison via gravel roads. At one point, a low water crossing came up to meet everyone with cool rain run-off.
Madison greeted the riders with a long downhill to the checkpoint and resupply. The hill out of town was waiting.
The checkpoint was up and waiting as the riders completed the first leg of the race. I can say that I could feel the energy of this race just looking at it through the lens. People would grimace and then smile. People, not knowing the other person, would run down the street for a spare part. People helping people.
Some would blur into town to the checkpoint, racing the clock.
Once out of Madison the roads started into the actual Flinthills. The dirt was different. It became more sticky, and the rocks began to pronounce themselves. The clouds sifted across the bright blue background of the open sky. Cattle grazed in luxury as the time passed waiting on someone to ride by.
I made it to a crossing in the roads where the assigned path crossed with an access road. The bikes swept down the little downslope, and out into the prairie hills.
I then headed toward the last leg of the journey. I made it back into town to grab lunch, and take a little nap as I was operating on about three hours of sleep from the night before. I checked the map for the route and headed out to Kahola Lake area. Again, being from around here was a definite help. I knew there was a loooooooooong hill marked on the map that would be a challenge. I found myself looking across at some cowboys rounding up cattle. I noticed the scale of the open prairie. I could see where someone would think nothing was here. I also looked with eyes open that could see the Meadowlark jumping in the grass. I could see the prairie flowers starting to bloom. I could see the green of spring knowing how tough winter is here. I could see the toughness that it takes to scratch a living out here. I could see the kindness it takes to temper that toughness.
Shortly after I came across a man working on his bike. A derailleur had come apart just north of Americus. Bob Dippold was working away at the rear sprocket. I stopped just to check that he was okay. He said he was, and that he was going to finish “This Thing” if he had to walk it in. There was no bravado in that statement. I took it as a matter of fact. He was resolute in the fact that he was going to finish. That was all.
Pipe cleaners and zip ties to hold the chain up. At one point prairie grass from the ditch was added as a filler, but that didn’t work.
This was what I wanted to see. This was the story I wanted to find and see how it played out on the sharp edge gravel roads of Kansas. This is what the endurance race was how I had it defined in my little noggin. Human resolve to conquer the obstacle faced in front of them. As Bob worked away on this, I looked down the road about 50 yards and noticed someone else had stopped to the side of the road and was working on a bike. I walked down to check, and met Jenny Wise-Cook.
Rider after rider went by. I could tell that she was frustrated. I could tell she was tired and equipment failures when tired are never fun for anyone. Bob continued to work on his sprocket, and Jenny continued to fight the tire.
Jenny was fighting with her CO2 and Bob was fighting with the pipe cleaners. Before long both were on their way. I was able to see the grit from a few other riders who were showing determination to make it in. Husband and wife pair Shawn and Lynette Honea came barreling down the hill.
I then headed into town. I was waiting at the finish to see Dan Hughes take his fourth win of the DK200! What an amazing task to win four, but he has taken the last three in a row!
But I waited… and then I saw Jenny come around the corner for the long straight to the finish. She made it in. She finished.
She had ridden the HalfPint (100 mile) and conquered the gravel. But where was Bob? I looked and noticed he had not finished yet. I walked through the crowd, seeing old friends from school. And then I looked up. One legging it in was Bob. Finishing what he said he was going to finish.
This was what I wanted to see. Maybe some part of me needed to see him finish. I had spent quite some time with him on the side of the road. Watching him fight with the machinery that was supposed to help him cover the ground to the finish. He said he was going to and he did. Congratulations for winning. Oh he was not the top finisher. Dan Hughes took that honor. But Bob won. He won against adversity. He won against self doubt. He won against sore muscles and inner thoughts. He won against the Dirty Kanza.