2015 DK200 - Mud and Smiles

June 06, 2015  •  2 Comments

The rain had been coming down for a few days off and on all over the state.  For several weeks, the rivers and streams had engorged themselves on the cold spring rain to the point of covering fields and roads with muddy, drift wood filled water.  The green of the fields was deep and rich. The type of green that you can smell. The grass and wild flowers sift scents across the fields in the mist that make it almost enjoyable to be standing in the cold over a waving prairie field. 


The days leading to the Dirty Kanza 200 scattered rain and cool temperatures across the region. The day before the race, on registration day, a steady drizzle blanketed Emporia along with a tinged anxiousness.  The highway out of town had been covered in water.  Many of the roads were covered in water.  Jim Cummins had a concerned look about him, but was firm in that the race was going to happen.  Somehow, the rain was not going to stop the DK.  It may alter the race. It may mold the roads into slinking, slimy snakes that wound across the Flinthills… but it would not stop the race.

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{Riders return to town after riding some of the route during registration}

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April Morgan rolled up in the rain just outside of the Dirty Kanza Headquarters.  Her smile was ear to ear and I could tell that she was having fun. The rain didn’t matter.  The grit and mud didn’t matter. The issue was that these riders were here.  The muddy roads were not what was going to battle them and their machines on race day. They would be battling themselves.

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Even the vendors and sponsors had to dress for the weather.  Most looked more like longshoremen than bike industry personnel.  Tents filled their eaves with pools of water, and then splashed to the ground when filled to overflowing.  The crowds continued and the smiles continued to beam through the misty dank day.

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I came around a corner and instantly saw a face and a smile that you cannot help but recognize, and then smile back.  Wendy Davis, who I had captured at last years finish of the DK200, was smiling away.  Her photograph adorned the cover of this years DK event magazine, and I was so honored to be able to share her moment of emotion with the DK world. With all of the water, I had brought her something in case she needed help at one of the water crossings.  The pool floaty shark may come in handy!  As I walked off and said I would see her later, her smile followed me.


Eric Benjamin (The Adventure Monkey http://adventuremonkey.com) and I decided to make a run south of town to see what the water was like at one of our favorite water crossings.  Once there, we decided that we should probably plan on another section of coarse to shoot.  I am just a shade under 6’4” and when that water went from hip to lower chest in one step, that was good enough for me. We looked at some more areas of the route, and headed back to town. Once back, I found The Queen of Pain - Rebecca Rusch signing books and sharing smiles with anyone that wanted to come say hello.  She is truly one of the most gracious premier world class athletes that you will ever meet.  What a great, forth coming smile.

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I then ran into a group of folks whom I had struck up in conversation at Radius Brewing { http://radiusbrewing.com } the day before. Pennsylvania is a long way to come for an event in the rain, but the DK has turned into just that type of event.  Contenders come to pit themselves against other wold classers, while others come to pit themselves against the reflection in the mirror.  Jacqueline Hill showed me what she had just received.  Most fans have Rebecca sign her book, Rusch to Glory { http://www.rebeccarusch.com/rusch-to-glory/ }, Jacqueline had something more personal in mind.

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The riders meeting was phenomenal.  So many amped, smiling and I would say giddy people.  The rain was there in conversation, but never really appeared to bring people down.  Jim Cummins, Kristi Mohn, and LeLan Dains spoke about the race and what was to be expected.  A lead-off home run was hit by Eric Benjamin with a punk rock inspired photography slideshow and tribute to “Big Grin” Joel Dykes.  Goosebumps and a slight surge of adrenaline got the crowd ready after that.  I could see people move a little forward in the seat.  I could see smiles run across the crowd as images from Eric, me, and Patrick Evenson { http://coverage.zenfolio.com} scrolled across the big screen at the scenic Granada Theater. After the meeting I met with the photographers of this years event : Linda Guerrette {http://www.lindaguerrettephotography.com}, Eric, Patrick, Kim Morris {http://www.kimmorris.com}, J. Greg Jordan {https://www.facebook.com/pages/Flash-Photography/204158196347312?__mref=message}, and Paul Arnold



The next morning was race day. The morning came early and I headed down to Commercial Street at about 4:30.  A fine mist filled the air.  The type of mist that comes from a little spray bottle atomizer… you know the kind. The kind that leaves small, microscopic globules all over everything. Small dots on lenses, roads, bikes and brakes.  I could see the sheen on the road from in front of the Granda Theater. I hoped the rain would hold off to allow as much drainage as possible for the race…. please let there be only minor changes to the route.


I continued to walk downtown, and headed over toward the DK HQ to feel out any route changes.  I stopped by the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike {http://sunfloweroutdoorandbike.com} Pop-up Store. I could see Rebecca Rusch and Dan Hughes getting ready. The customary wide smiles and grins were replaced with thoughts and flat affects.  They had more on their minds than smiles.

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Time ran away with the morning, and soon I looked at my watch to notice it was nine minutes until the projected start.  A line call out for the front of the race included notable pain endurance athletes as Yuri Hauswald {https://twitter.com/yurihauswald} and Rebecca Rusch, 

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Bob Cummings from Wichita, Kansas had made his way to return to the DK!


Andrea Cohen, the Iowan who always has a smile, was ready to go at the starting line.  The last time I had seen her, she was wet and muddy.  She had been slogging up the Verdigris Creek crossing last year in the slick, wet clay.


Another smiling face, pretty much for the entire race, was Amanda “Panda” Nauman.  She held that smile on hills, in the mud, and in the mist and rain.  She also finished first above all other women in the field… with a smile! 


Yuri Hauswald chatted with Barry “Wicknasty” Wicks at the call out line.  I again noticed they were smiling as they jostled around on their bikes, waiting for the start.


The crowd sounded like they favored Dan as he was announced, but I think they really appreciated the group of amazing riders for the talent amassed in front of them. Stephen Goetzelman lined up next to Dan and awaited the rest of the announcements.


Shortly after a couple more announcements the line settled in.  They reminded me of the recent Kentucky Derby horses in the stalls. Shifting feet. Anxious yawns of excitement. Rolling the bike back and forth. Squeezing the brake back and forth out of reflexive tension. They were ready… and the start of the 2015 Dirty Kanza was off.


I was to have Eric Benjamin and Corky Heller {http://www.chellerphotography.com} riding with me to capture and leap-frog the winners as best we could. We ran to the truck, and barreled out of town.  It wasn’t long before we caught the field as they headed south through Emporia.  We all looked at the churning water of the Cottonwood River.  The banks were containing it, but barely.  We all knew this day would contain some amazing images.

We headed to the first place we wanted to catch the riders, “The Cattle Pens.”  This is an area where open range pastures lead to a loading and shipping location for cattle and semi-trucks.  Nestled against a portion of the Kansas Turnpike, the cattle pens mix Flint Hills topsoil and cow manure to generate a mud that not only stinks but stains.  It wasn’t long until riders started appearing.  Yuri hammered through the rough spot and had his eyes on the top of the hill.

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Sean Mailen 863 / Salsa Cylces  {http://salsacycles.com} made his way across the mud and rock north slope of the Cattle Pens, already covered in mud from a previous 3 mile hike in even worse mud.



Darren Fuller 880, Fourth place finisher in Mens 50-54, got on the pedals as he came up the hill.  The mist and wind had picked up, and was adding a cold headwind as riders headed toward the turn at the top of the hill.

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Then  Joe Stiller maneuvered the wide tired bike up the nasty road. It trucked right along, and I wondered if this was not the race for a fatty.  Floatation may be the key to this one!


It was some time and several riders before we saw Dan Hughes come rolling up with a group.  He and been involved in a little tangle earlier, and was making up distance.  It is interesting to listen to the photographers on the sides calling out kits as the riders approach.  “Is that a Salsa? I think so. I see white and black, is that Dan? Can’t tell!”  Note to the riders that want their photos taken… wear a kit that we can see from a long way away! 


It wasn’t long before we could see the red and white with blue helmet that meant one person was coming…. Rebecca Rusch was here.  She had a smile on her face as she looked up, and then shifted to determination as she went by.  She was on this, and I could tell she was going to finish it.


We then decided to head to another section of coarse, and loaded up to get off the route.  As we headed south, we were going to take some photos of the first major creek crossing, and then go to the east to be off route and to give the riders the road as much as we could.  We pulled up to the crossing in time to catch 


Curt Shelman with Chamois Butt’r, First Place Finisher mens 55-59, scoot across the creek with what looked like little problem.  Some choose to walk while others rode the crossing.


Brian Hayden (154) made a little gap from the others as he rode right through the chilly runoff.  Others took this opportunity to clean derailleaurs and chains of the grit, rocks, and mud that had accumulated from the cattle pens to here.

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Soon we decided to leave the crossing as to get to a spot in front of the leaders, so we attempted to get off the route by taking a road next to an impoundment downstream from this water crossing.  We travelled about 4 miles to a crossing that would have been over the engine of the truck I was driving and another Jeep that was taking photographer Linda Guerrette around the route.  We headed back to the south, and unfortunately had to be on the route more than I had ever wanted to.  This section and no other way to get off of the route. We drove wide. I waited for opportunities to go around as they presented.  This was about the riders, and I did not want to hinder that.  At one point, I became stuck on the left side of the road. Not due to the mud, but a rider had pulled to the left side and I had riders to my right.  I noticed as I looked at the rider, that he was fiddling with something in his hands and his hands were shaking much like a bartender makes a shaken-not-stirred Martini.  He was not in a good way. I could tell he was pre-hypothermic.  I offered to let him warm in the truck.  He refused.  I thought about anything I had that he would take.  He advised he was fine and would get going in a minute.  I made sure he was looking me in the eye, and he was making a conscious decision.  He looked at me and said he would be ok.  I told him he needed to eat, and he needed to ride.  HE had to. I also knew that an Oasis was a few miles down the road, and there were enough riders on the route to call for help if he became worse. He later found me at the finish with a smile on his face, thanking me for stopping to check on him.



We pulled into Madison, grabbed some coffee and headed to the check in area.  As we walked down the street, I could see the blur of a couple of bikes go zooming out of town. We had missed the leaders!  Third place finisher, Jesse Stauffer (599) was heading out of town as we made it to the check-point.

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The unsung heros of this group are the support crews.  The stress of success can lead people to yell, become upset, and otherwise become someone they normally aren’t when supplies are not ready.  A well oiled and prepared support crew is an amazing thing to see.  I would offer that it is much like an Emergency Room when a trauma patient comes in.  What do you need in the most important order as soon as I can get it.  Fuel, mechanical, hydration, clothing… everything there in a second.  I also noticed one of the great aspects of the DK. One support crew was a single wife. She was running getting food, clothes, everything for her rider.  Another wife from Team Apex {https://instagram.com/teamapexmultisport/} ran over, said her riders were not there yet and asked if she could help.  She grabbed a hydration pack and started filling it.  What other sport has someone that would do that?  Where else would you see something like that?  Seriously, where?

We loaded up once more, and headed to “The Bitch.”  I had talked to Jim about this little gem about three weeks ago.  He said he and LeLan had been out scouting the route on some roads that were not used before.  He said when he looked over at this, those were the words that came to mind… That is going to be a bitch!  Let me set the scene.  There is an abrupt short climb at a bridge, and then the road rolls over about a mile and a half. A slight rise and a left turn leads into a long downhill where speed can be carried to a low-water concrete bridge.  A slight uphill rolls along with a slight curve to the right as you travel through some creek-bottom hardwoods. A nice stroll.  Another low-water concrete bridge with some washout damage, and another gentle uphill… until you turn left at the marking. Then the downhill leads you to the base of “The Bitch.”  ANOTHER low-water bridge, a short straight away, and then a lilting curve and turn to your left, a turn to your right, a turn to your left… and then the last part of the hill straight up. 591A0606591A0606

Michael Sencenbaugh (606) trudged up the hill without much hesitation.  Work.  One rotation after the other. Up and over.

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Jesse Stauffer (599 and eventual third place finisher overall and first in mens under 29) also made the work with a steady cadence up.


Lucas Seibel (671 and eventual second place finisher for single speed) smiled all the way up the hill. The entire time. I don't think he could have done anything else.


Yuri powered up the hill chugging away like a Cummins Diesel. One RPM at a time. Breathing heavy with the force of every crank. He didn’t waiver. He didn’t walk… he cranked on.

591A0642591A0642 Dan Hughes arrived and in typical Dan fashion, demolished the hill - with one exception.  He made a joke. I don’t think I have ever heard Dan make a joke in the race. Granted, I have not shot Dan as much as others, but this struck me.  After Dan went over the hill, Eric and I looked at each other and at almost the same time (with I am sure the same dazed look on our faces)… “Dan was joking… he has never done that.”  I noticed that he had a look on his face of genuine enjoyment.  He was having FUN!  He later told me that he had no pressure.  He was going to ride his race for him, and he was going to have fun doing it.  I could see that.


A short cross over to the west and we ended at about mile 116 on the route.  This was a double hill that came out of the creek bottoms to the upper open range. The gravel was more like small boulders. The road had a washout across it, leading uphill to a saturated section of mud which lead to another section of gravel up to the flat-top. 


Matt Rossi (805), came up the hill and into the middle with a polite “Excuse me gentlemen.”  Up the hill he went.  Some riders became walkers, while others mentioned that they would not have ridden the hill without the photographers taking their photographs.  We are always glad to provide support and motivation!

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[Dan Hughes]


[Bill Clinesmith]



[Rebecca Rusch]


[Dan Hughes]


[Joe Fox]


[Yuri Hauswald]

Long gone were the smiles.  Grins had turned to grimaces. This was absolutely an internal check of what was on the inside.  You could see the riders looking down at the rocks in front of them.  They were as much looking into their thoughts and internal being. Who could make the miles back to Emporia?


The last section of the route would have to be someone else's as we were heading to Emporia to get some of the DK100 finishers and set for the 200 finish.  Getting ready for the 200 finish appeared to be the smartest thing we had done all day.  Yuri had closed on Michael Sencenbaugh, caught a line, and kept it. 


You could hear the cowbells ringing off of the surrounding buildings.  The crowd’s collective yell waved the riders down the chute to the timing line. Yuri was giving everything he had. 


With slightly more than a bike length and .49 seconds, he crossed in front of Michael.  After 200 miles, the length of a bike and a helmet excluded second from the top step of the podium.


Yuri took some time to recover as other 100 riders came in to the finish.  You could see that he had left it all out there. He had given everything and that had been enough.

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The smiles remained for top finish female, Amanda Nauman’s face!

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The biggest thing I noticed at the finish was this.  Everyone smiled. They may have been tired, but they smiled.  The fans and family along the chute smiled. The DK200 and DK100 … they all congratulated each other and smiled.  I got to see friends who have finished multiple 100’s and 200’s… and I smiled.  I do think that the inner pride of doing something worth doing is important. I think reaching inside to that point of breaking, and then not giving in is important. I also think we all need to have those smiles. After watching Jim, Kristi, LeLan and Tim operate on little to no sleep over 30 some hours… and smile the entire time… I can see love for an event and community that goes deep and I can see why people return to the Dirty Kanza 200.



Paul Everett(non-registered)
Awesome combination of writing and photography!! Having grown up next to and in the area covered in the article your team captured most of the beauty, ruggedness and the expansiveness of the prairie. As a out of shape old guy I have no idea how the participants can keep smiling.
Jennifer Neuman(non-registered)
Awesome post. The grass smelled green. That's for sure. I had a great time with you at the finish line tent. Thanks for including my picture!
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