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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Anything can happen

Right now my brain is just one big ticker tape of Dirty Kanza-related obsessiveness.  To-do lists colliding with plans for the checkpoints interrupted by forecast-checking.  I fall asleep calculating paces in my head...If I average 12.5 mph and keep my transitions super quick, I'll finish in around 16+ hours....If I average 12 mph...if I average 11 mph...I don't usually get past that point before I'm out.  There's a "Racing the Sun" award for those who finish before sunset; that isn't even on my radar.  Instead, I joke in all seriousness that I'm racing the sunrise.  I have a history of failure at this race.

In 2012 I registered at the last minute and went into the race comically unprepared.  Despite following the sub-stellar advice in my own Complete Idiot's Guide to Dirty Kanza, I made it a surprising 160 miles before falling, hurting my knee, quitting, and spending a year regretting the way I'd left the second CP with no real intentions of going far and thus sealing the DNF that had been likely but not certain.

Waving the white flag in 2013.
In 2013, I signed up the moment online registration opened and did much better with my training (for example, I actually rode on gravel and hills).  Last year's distractions included a little throw-down over the family vacation that my in-laws planned during a time frame that included DK (after multiple tense "discussions", full-on arguments, and some tears, Jeff and Jacob went to Colorado while I headed to Kansas);  a little emergency surgery for Nathan; and the tornadoes that pummeled my town -- where my 3-days post surgery son was home alone -- while I watched helplessly from my hotel room in Emporia.  It was an inauspicious lead-up to a race that was derailed by Kansas winds and my disappointing lack of mental toughness, ending in my second DK DNF.

I swore off Kansas on my bike that day, but less than 24 hours later I was reconsidering.  Honestly, I haven't stopped thinking about DK since last year, and anyone who's read my blog over the last few months knows what happened: I signed up as soon as registration opened, and I've been training my ass off all year long.

Thank goodness for like-minded friends. Thanks to Mickey, Chuck, Lori, Bob, Dave, Aaron, Adam, and Jim, I've ridden very few of my training miles alone, and having stronger training partners has definitely made me a better rider.

 I've ridden 1,200 miles since January first. This winter was a little ridiculous, but very few of those miles were spent on the trainer.  We rode in sub-freezing temperatures, we rode in snow.  We rode on surprisingly glorious January days warm enough for shorts and on a day that my shoe covers literally froze solid and my derailleur iced over.  We rode singletrack and a lot of gravel.  We rode hills until every subsequent incline seemed like a personal insult.  I rode three of the four big mid-Missouri gravel races: Tour of Hermann, Cedar Cross, and the Hairy Hundred.

Is it enough? I don't know.  I have friends who ride more miles in a month than I have in 2014.  But I'm not the same rider I was a year ago.  I know what works for me nutritionally.  I'm a little faster and slightly lighter, stronger on uphills, braver on downhills, and more confident on gravel.  And I have two straight DNFs that chafe like a sandpaper chamois.

Photo credit: Susy Stephens

Anything can happen in Kansas.  Like falling in the dark, twisting a knee, and quitting. Like flat tires and catastrophic mechanicals.  Like getting lost.  Like terrible storms or the notorious Kansas winds or ridiculous heat.  200 miles is a long way, and you just never know.

Anything can happen in Kansas.  Like me finishing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dorcy light review

Note: The items mentioned below were provided to me for free in return for my honest review.  All information about the lights is taken from the Dorcy website or from my own personal experience.  All opinions are my own.

I had never heard of Dorcy, so when I was asked to use and review some of their lights, I was pretty excited to see that they had both a headlamp and a bike light in their catalog. Both are required gear for 24 hour races and necessities for night riding, and I have yet to purchase a bike light I'm happy with. With the certainly of some night miles at Dirty Kanza, lighting was still an issue to be resolved.  Dorcy sent me a headlamp, a bike light, and a taillight.

The headlamp.

Headlamp specs (source)
At $24.99 for 120 lumens, the price compared favorably with my other similar light. The Dorcy runs on 3 AAA batteries, which took a couple of tries to install in my semi-dark car. The light has 3 settings: full power, half power, and strobe, and it can be directed to beam straight ahead or to tilted to aim at the ground in front of you. One thing to note: this headlamp does not have a red light mode; that said, I've never actually used that mode on my other lights and so that wouldn't be a big concern for me.

The head strap adjusted easily and fit comfortably and securely.  I did notice that the back of the light has very little curve against the wearer's forehead, and I had to loosen the strap quite a bit to keep the body of the light from pushing against my head.  Even at a jog, though, the headlamp stayed where it was supposed to be without bouncing around.  I tested it during a night hike in our local woods.  The light gave me great visibility both on trail and off-trail where the footing was more tricky.  Overall I think the Dorcy headlamp is a great value for the money, and I would definitely use it again.

The tail light

Tail light specs (source)
Dorcy's tail light retails for $14.99.  It has two modes: solid red light or flashing red light and turns on via a small button on the back.

I had a difficult time installing the batteries (2 AA). After trying for about 10 minutes, I finally got help from my husband, who ended up using two tools AND needing an extra hand to pry the housing apart. We were both afraid we were going to snap a piece off of the body in the attempt to pry it apart and put in the batteries.  .

imageThe tail light was easy to install (no tools necessary) on the seatpost of my bike, but I'm used to rear blinky lights the size of a wristwatch and was a little put off by how big the Dorcy light is.  Between the frustrating experience trying to put in batteries and then the large size, I was prepared to dislike the light and give it an unfavorable review.  That changed as soon as I turned it on.  First of all, it didn't seem so large when in use, and more importantly, it put out great light and was very visible.  I definitely felt safer riding at night with this tail light.

The bike light:

Bike light specs (source)

Dorcy's  bike light sells for $55 on the website and has 220 lumens.  It looks like a small metal flashlight.  It runs on 3 AA batteries and has two modes: constant and flash. The advertised run time is 2.5 hours.

The 3 AA batteries were easy to install, and the light was easy to mount on my bike.  I've had problems attaching lights to my cross bike's handlebars in the past, but the clamp fit well on my thicker handlebars and attached securely.  The light can be pointed straight ahead or angled down in front of the rider; the clamp allows the user to rotate the light to multiple positions.


The design of the tube spreads light in a rectangular pattern, illuminating more than just the small patch right in front of the wheel.  I was really surprised and impressed by both the light's brightness and beam distance. I was able to negotiate cracked and potholed sections of road with confidence because I was could see what was coming up with plenty of time to choose a safe line.  This could be a great light for night commuting or short evening trips. With a 2.5 hour run time, though, users will want to carry extra batteries if they plan to be outside after dark for long, and frequent night riders might find that their battery costs outweigh any initial savings.

Overall, I thought that all three lights that I tested were great options at reasonable prices and compared favorably with similar products I've used. I did find it curious that none of the packages included any kind of direction on battery installation or use; I guess they just assume that you'll be able to figure it out, and it's hard to argue with that logic when I did.

Have you tried one of these lights or another Dorcy product? Have any questions about the ones I tested out? Let me know!

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Hairy Hundred (minus 7) bike race

On May 18, 2002, I got up at a reasonable time, made myself all pretty, and married my husband on a beautiful, if chilly, spring day.
Twelve years later, on May 18, 2014, I woke up on another man's couch and spent the rest of our anniversary riding bikes.  And you know what? The nicest anniversary gift Jeff could have given me was understanding how important it was to me to get in one more big day of training before Dirty Kanza and being cool with spending the day apart in order for me to work towards my goals.

I'd planned to spend Saturday night at home, but once I realized I'd have to be up by 3:30 a.m. or so in order to meet Chuck as planned, it made a lot more sense to spend the night in St. Louis and save myself an hour of driving.  Bob and Cara always have a spot on their couch for me, thank goodness, because that 4:15 alarm was bad enough.  We made it out of the house pretty much as planned, a very un-Virtus-like move to be sure, and met up with Chuck for the rest of the drive to Rocheport, MO, for the Hairy Hundred bike race.

On our way...
Situated 2 weeks before Dirty Kanza and featuring 93 miles of gravel and hills, the Hairy Hundred, while 7 miles shy of a full century, is a great opportunity to get in some last big miles before starting to taper.  I especially wanted to do it in order to gauge my fitness.  I felt really strong at Cedar Cross, but I was a little afraid that was due to all the stops I made.  I hoped to ride HH with far fewer stops and see how I felt.

Check-in was nice and smooth and included a nice glass mug.  Race time found me running my drop bag up to the front at the last minute (some things never change), which gave me the chance to say a quick hi to my buddies Mr. Jim Phillips and Mickey before hopping into my normal place at the back of the pack.

Last minute race director talk
This year the Dirty Kanza route is going to be minimally marked, a change I'm super not thrilled about because it'll actually require me to follow a cue sheet and map and (in my head, anyway) reduce my chances of finishing by significantly upping my likelihood of getting lost.  Since the race world doesn't revolve around me, however, I'm going to have to adjust.  To that end, I'd loaded the Hairy Hundred route onto my Garmin so that I'll know what to do to follow the DK route in Kansas.  Since I never bothered to learn to to play the route, though, Chuck and I spent the first half mile soft pedaling while he walked me through set-up.

Love this tunnel in Rocheport. Also, you can see that even the back of the pack is way ahead.
Start to Fayette: ~32  miles

The race started with a 6-mile neutral rollout on one of the prettiest sections of the Katy Trail. Chuck, Bob, and I started out with our friend Jim, and we rode in a loose pack doing a little talking as we pedaled.  Eventually we settled into a paceline of sorts, and somehow I ended up in front for a while.

Bob says hi.
The thing about following the route on my Garmin is that the default screen shows a black line with the route and your turn when it comes into view; the only other information it gives is some number in the top left corner.  I wasn't sure what that number referred to...it was in the high 80's when I first noticed it; obviously with such a high number it couldn't be speed even measured in km, but I just vaguely assumed that it had something to do with pace and didn't think anything more about it.  What my Garmin didn't show was my speed.  Because of this, the only way to gauge my pace was perceived effort.

The guys are always having to slow down for me or wait for me, so I tried to make sure I was pushing at a comfortable level to not slow them down too much.  I have a hard time turning around to look behind me (well, without running off the road), but luckily Jim was ahead of me and so could keep track of the rest of our group.  Following along with the Garmin track was pretty easy and was a nice diversion, but at some point I noticed that the number in the top left corner was getting smaller and started to stress out a little that I was slowing down.

I ended up riding the entire way to Fayette without getting off my bike or stopping at all, a first for me on gravel.  Bob had fallen back at some point during that first leg, but he'd told me that morning not to wait if he dropped off.  We kept going, and I wondered how he was doing for the rest of the day.  I felt surprisingly good when we pulled into the first of three Casey's we'd visit over the course of the day. I'd stayed on top of my nutrition, drinking Caffe Latte Perpetuem and munching on some homemade chocolate chip chia banana bread. I tried Perpetuem for the first time at Cedar Cross, and while I didn't have any bad effects from it I really didn't like the orange vanilla flavor.  The coffee flavor was a win.

We stopped long enough to drink a Coke, eat a banana, and refill my Perpetuem bottle with a Starbucks coffee drink.  Margy and Renee from Big Tree Cycling were at the stop at the same time we were, and they're doing DK also, so it was nice to get a chance to talk about one of my favorite subjects.  After a break of 15 minutes or so, we headed out on leg 2.

Fayette to Glasgow: ~25 miles

As great as I felt for the first third of the race, the second section was very much the opposite.  It was only 25 miles -- that's practically nothing -- but while Chuck and Jim sailed along I struggled in their wake.  It didn't help that somewhere in here I realized that the little number in the top left corner showed how many miles remained on the route and immediately glued my eyes to the display.  I'd been much happier sailing along in blissful ignorance of pace or distance, but I now had the useful distraction of trying to figure out how many miles would remain when we got to Glasgow and then using that number to figure out how many miles were left.
Ok, the race is 93 miles long, and the stop is at mile 57. So 93 minus 57 is....ummm...93 minus 50 would be 43...minus 7 would be 36. So there'll be 36 miles remaining when we get there.  And right now there are 56 miles left...shit.
I'm a first grade teacher and all, but my math skills get fuzzy when I'm tired, so I'm not going to pretend that the calculations were at all smooth. 

We walked one hill in this section.  I knew I could ride it -- I'd been strong on hills all day -- but my quads  were starting to cramp up and I hoped that a short walking section would help.  The walk was a nice break, but I think Chuck's electrolyte pharmacy was a bigger help.  My legs felt much better once those kicked in, but I still wasn't really loving life for a while.  We were a pretty quiet group for a while, which anyone who's ridden with me knows is a very rare thing.  Eventually Jim pulled out one of the funnier jokes I've heard in a long time, and the mood lightened a little.

We went a long time without seeing anyone else, which was a little weird after being around the same people for a while earlier.  Ten miles out from the Glasgow SAG stop we'd just come through a stretch of pretty thick gravel and swung around a curve when we saw two people stopped on the side of the road.  It was the Big Tree girls again. Margie's rear derailleur had broken and locked up her rear wheel to the point where she had to lift up the back of her bike for it to roll, and they didn't have any phone service to call for help.

Luckily, Chuck and Jim were able to convert it to a singlespeed with the help of the master link Dan donated as he passed by so that she could ride it the rest of the way to town. That would've been a long walk.  Lacking any bike skills beyond changing a tire, I just stood there admiring their skills and being thankful to be friends with such nice people.  The stop did me a world of good, too; once we got started again I felt great, and the next ten miles flew by.

Photo "credit": Chuck Vohsen
The Garmin track got a little confusing in Glasgow, but we eventually made our way to our second Casey's to pick up some snacks. Jim didn't have anything in a drop bag, and I wasn't sure what I had there. I thought about pizza, but all they had was ham pizza (yuck). I looked for a pickle, but they didn't have any.

With my primary cravings stymied, I settled for a bag of potato chips. At the SAG stop a mile down the road, I refilled my feed bag, fixed a bottle of strawberry Perpetuem (yuck), and wolfed down my potato chips. I didn't have a cell signal to update Facebook and fulfill my social media responsibilities, so I asked Chuck to. The price was a very unflattering picture of me.

I'd just shoved a handful of chips into my mouth, so I had to cover up my chipmunk cheeks...and I don't remember the bag being nearly as big as what it looks here.  The camera adds 8 ounces and all that...

With Margie's bike out of commission, Renee decided to ride on with us. She made a great addition to the group.

Glasgow to New Franklin: ~25 miles

 We started out with a decent hill, but this stretch was primarily flat.  Unlike the aftermath of our first stop, I felt really good.

Nothin' but blue skies
I couldn't get over what a beautiful day it was. The temperature was comfortable but not overly warm, the sun was shining, the company was good.  The wind, which had picked up quite a bit, didn't stress me out.  Instead, I though of it as good Kanza training.  We'd been warned about some deep gravel around a newly built low water bridge.  Having already ridden through some pretty thick gravel earlier, I was skeptical that this would be any worse, but indeed it was.  I rode to the bridge, but I walked up the hill after it until I was clear of the new gravel...and then I walked until I was at the very top of the hill just because walking was such a nice change, even in bike shoes.

Scenic spot along the Missouri River.  "Oh, you want me to get off my bike so we can get a picture...well, ok..."
One thing about gravel roads is that they make those brief paved interludes feel like soft, silky heaven.  On Sunday, however, the headwind took most of the fun out of a 7-mile stretch of pavement.  Pacelines stress me out because being so close to someone else's wheel makes me nervous (possibly because I have a history of being run into a tree), but it was worth a little anxiety to get some shelter from the wind.  Renee had been leading for quite a while when I spoke up: "I can pull for a while if you need a break."

From then on, we all took turns, working together nicely.  Eventually we caught back up to Dan and he joined in.  Renee ended her turn, and it was my turn to fight the wind.  Unable to see my speed because of the map on my Garmin and definitely struggling in the wind, which was getting a little ridiculous at times, I worried that I was riding too slowly for the group and did my best to keep up with the pace Renee had set until I'd gone a mile and could drop off.  Looking back after a while, I realized that our group had broken apart and I'd inadvertently overdone it.  Oops.

We rolled the rest of the way to New Franklin at a much more sustainable pace, entertained by Jim's musings about Franklin vs. New Franklin.  I don't remember exactly what he said, but it was funny.  You'll just have to trust me...or ride with us next year.

If they ever decide to change the race name, I suggest Tour de Casey's.
Though the cue sheet and course markings weren't in complete agreement with the Garmin file (something which will really stress me out if it happens in Kansas), eventually we made our way to our third and final Casey's, where they had cheese pizza and pepperoni pizza, but no sausage pizza. Not cool, Casey's.  I drank half of a Coke and ate a bite of Chuck's Payday.

New Franklin to Rocheport: ~11 miles

With 11 miles left, we rolled out of town and uphill -- seems like it's uphill coming out of every town -- in pretty good spirits.  There were a few hills left, but the knowledge that each might be our last made them not bad at all, and eventually we spotted the cool tile silo that marked the entrance to the Katy Trail.


The last 6 miles on the Katy were some of the longest of the day. Knowing that we were almost finished, we were all ready to be done now.  On the other hand, it's a pretty section of the trail, we were moving at a decent pace, and my "miles remaining" countdown now included tenths of a mile.  Finally the tunnel came into sight, and we rolled through its shady goodness to the finish.

If you think it's hard for your eyes to adjust going from bright sun to dark tunnel, imagine how much better it is when the person in front of you uses their camera flash.  Oops. :-)
Rolling into the finish. (Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff)
Great group of friends to ride with!
Overall, it was a really encouraging day.  Even including the stop to fix Margie's bike, I had far fewer breaks than at Cedar Cross and still felt great most of the day.  More than great, I felt strong.  Most of the hills were no big deal (don't get me wrong, I wasn't fast on them...I just didn't want to die), and a lot of the time I was near the front of our group.  I was perfectly content to stop riding when the race was over, but I certainly could have kept going.  I don't know if all of this points to a Dirty Kanza finish, but these are certainly steps in the right direction.

The race finish was at Mulberry Grill and Bakery, and once I got off my bike shoes I was ready to order one of their delicious fire grilled pizzas.  After being let down by every gas station on the loop, I eagerly ordered my pizza with Italian sausage, onions, and bell peppers...only to be told they were out of sausage.

"I'm not mad; I'm just...disappointed." (Source)

Big thanks to everyone who organized and/or volunteered at the race. I had a blast, and if I can get away with racing on my anniversary weekend again, I'll be back next year for sure.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cedar Cross 2014

If you weren't at Cedar Cross, you might just want to stop reading this right now.  I don't know of any other grassroots race that begins with an electric guitar and ends with fireworks, but those were only the bookends to an epic day.  The weather was about as perfect as you could hope, the singletrack was in good shape, the beer was cold, I hear the potatoes were hot, and the company was spectacular.  So basically, if you missed this year's Cedar Cross, you really missed out on something special.

Covering 113 miles in a combination of gravel roads and singletrack, Cedar Cross would be an awesome race no matter what, but it's particularly important to me because it's put on my one of my best friends (and teammates).  That connection gives me a small feeling of ownership, despite the fact that I do none of the planning or legwork, so I spent the weeks before the race stalking the "who's registered" page like a hawk and was thrilled to see the surge of entries as the race date neared.

A number of those late entries had spent the previous weekend at the OGRE (150 miles of uber-hilly gravel in the Missouri Ozarks), Cohutta (100 mile mountain bike race), or Trans Iowa (300+ miles of gravel and farm roads in Iowa), and I was especially excited to see Jim Phillips appear on the roster.  I've been reading his blog (you should check it out. He totally qualifies as SuperJim, except that in his case it's actually true and would be bragging) since my first attempt at Dirty Kanza, but we'd never met in person. Having just stalked his attempt at Trans Iowa (giving my completely uninterested husband detailed updates every time new information appeared on Trans Iowa Radio or Facebook), I was stoked about the opportunity for an in-person race report instead of waiting for the blog post.  Plus, his friend (and my facebook friend) Collin was coming as well, which meant I could move two more people from the internet-only column to the "friends I've actually met" side.

In vast contrast to all these gravel badasses, I'd spent my previous weekend volunteering with my bike at running races, first leading the way at my school's 5K and later patrolling a 5-ish mile section of Katy Trail for 4 hours during the Uncorked 100K relay.  The 47 miles I rode that day is embarrassingly small compared to what I should be riding, but spending hours riding your bike back and forth on the same short section of flat trail is certainly good mental training.

A scheduling snafu (I can only imagine Bob's stress level when he found out at pretty much the last minute that a local 5K was being held at his reserved race HQ) had necessitated moving the start/finish, and I pulled into the new location plenty early. Even so, I felt sure I was forgetting something as we headed towards the start line.  Perhaps I should spend more time on organization and less on socialization, but there were so many cool people to greet and catch up with...my teammates, Chuck, the gentlemen of Team TOG, Jeff and Carrie, Peat, Jim and Collin, my bike fixing hero John, my stlbiking forum buddy David (who enjoyed his initial gravel foray at Tour of Hermann enough to sign on for the Cedar Sapling), Stephanie and Lisa, Don, Zoll, and Anne and Ceilidh (Team Virtus's family by choice rather than by blood)...and so many more cool people all in one place.

Me, Anne, and Luke.  Anne has been super supportive of our team ever since hearing about it.

Because I lined up way towards the back of the pack, I couldn't hear Bob's pre-race speech, though the laughs, clapping, and partial striptease suggested it was pretty entertaining. Next year I'm lining up at the front (or commissioning a video); one way or another I'm going to hear what's so funny.  Bob finished talking, and then his dad led a neutral rollout ...to a second (original) starting line, where Kayne, the teenage electric guitar player, was set up after not getting the message that the race had been moved.  The amount of stress he had probably felt when he arrived at a 5K instead of a parking lot full of bikes wasn't in evidence as he shredded the National Anthem and then sent us off (for real, this time) with Led Zepplin ringing in our ears.

And this is the view from the back
Team TOG. Love those guys.
Second rollout to SAG stop (47 miles in):
I started off in a small group with Adam, Chuck, Jody, Kevin, and Stephanie, and the beginning of the race was pretty nice, surrounded by friends and comfortable on the gravel.  We all rolled together for quite a while, and though I recognized a lot of the territory from previous excursions, I managed to keep my internal tour-guide spiel to myself ("Bob used to live down that street!" "This was the first gravel road I ever rode on!" "That radio tower was a CP at the Deuce!").

L-R: Jim's hand (I think), me, Collin, Jody, Chuck. Jim is apparently part ninja and somehow avoided being in any pictures from this stretch of the ride.   Photo credit: Kevin Autenrieth

The first big hill sucked, but I had the chance to talk to Collin and Jim (when I could catch my breath) and get a small demonstration of the "does this make you nervous game" where people ride as close to you as possible until you get uncomfortable.  My handling is crappy enough that it doesn't take much to scare me, but I just trusted that Jim probably wasn't going to knock me over and focused instead on not having a heart attack as I climbed.

"This pond is where the mystery event was at the Deuce! There was a checkpoint in the woods to the right of this pond at the CAC!" 

I enjoyed getting to know Collin a little better. Having read Jim's blog with stalker-ish thoroughness, I felt like I already knew him well enough to just focus my interrogation on his Trans Iowa experiences.  Getting to follow those guys through the field and down the first stretch of singletrack was pretty cool, and learning that Jim had gone over his handlebars at the end of it made me feel a little less bad about bailing on a spot that made me nervous.

Me chickening out.
Photo credit: Dave Beattie
Me saying, "Don't take a picture of that!"

We split from our big group about 25 miles in when Adam knocked the valve off of his Camelbak hose and we turned around to see if we could find it.  The few minutes we looked were enough to separate us from the pack, but neither of us was too concerned since our main goal was just to log some miles in preparation for Dirty Kanza.  The second stretch of singletrack was far more rideable than last year's mudfest, though it also featured a lot of this:

Kate [putting foot down after getting nervous about something easy]: Why don't you just go ahead of me? You could ride this and then I wouldn't keep stopping you!
Adam: It's fine...I'm not in any hurry.

Looks fun, huh? It's easily as steep as it looks.
The "Jeff Yielding staircase of pain" sucked just as much as it did last year, but then we were off of the singletrack and pretty quickly back onto the gravel.  A highlight of this next stretch was the hill leading down to Rutherford Bridge where we built up some serious speed; after I chickened out and started braking, I saw 41 mph on my Garmin and smiled again at my progress since last year's Cedar Cross.  Adam, who witnessed numerous examples of my downhill wimpiness in 2013, noticed it too: "You never would have done that last year!"
Rutherford Bridge
The doubletrack after the bridge was mostly rideable, but the rollers afterwards were covered in a thick layer of new gravel: big, chunky, almost river-bottom gravel that wasn't a lot of fun to ride through. Still, I felt great when we pulled into the SAG stop at mile 47, and I was super excited to see that there were still a lot of people there.

I hadn't eaten a ton of food during the first stretch of the race, which made refilling my stocks from my drop bag a little tricky.  I ate some food while stopped, stuffed some extras into my pack, and then saw John eating a pickle spear, which immediately sounded like the most delicious thing possible.  Thankfully, he had extras and shared with me. We probably spent around 40 minutes at the SAG stop before riding off towards the third and final stretch of singletrack.

SAG stop to Hams Prairie gas station (70 miles in):

Chuck,  Steph, Jody, and Kevin had left ahead of us, but we caught up with them on the singletrack because Steph had broken her rear shifter.  I really felt for her since the exact same thing just happened to me at Tour of Hermann, and with almost over half of Cedar Cross left, I knew she wasn't going to be able to finish.  In actuality, I knew nothing and got a good lesson in toughness and overcoming adversity; the guys helped her get set in a rear gear she could ride, and she finished the last 70ish miles of the race with only two gears.

Steph's mechanical woes gave us more company, but our little pack fractured once again when Chuck stopped for water at Dry Fork campground ("We camped here for the first CAC!"). Adam and I rode ahead, but the group soon passed us when Adam started feeling sick and we slowed down.  He urged me to go on ahead, but I wouldn't leave behind the guy who babysat me for all of Cedar Cross last year, especially the last 12 or so miles where I was one notch below full-on meltdown.  Instead, I'd ride for a little bit and then wait for him to catch up.  I spent this section of the race yo-yoing with the same people: they'd pass me while I was stopped, then I'd catch up once I got going again.

One of the yo-yo people was a guy who was having some issues with his brakes, and he ended up riding quite a bit with Adam.  I was a good enough teammate to wait, but not to stick together, which kind of made me feel bad about myself, but knowing that I'd feel way better if I got some breaks off my bike seat, I was selfish.  There was a little girl with a lemonade stand set up at mile 58; I thought about stopping but knew I didn't have any change or anything smaller than a $10 (a common problem, so that little entrepreneur made bank).  As we passed a house at mile 59 a woman called out to us: "If you're thirsty I have a cooler full of Gatorades over there!"

Whaaaat? Last year the only interaction I had with the public was someone yelling at us to go ride on the Katy Trail.  This was soooo much better.  The woman came over and explained that she'd been working in her yard and, seeing all these bicyclists going by, thought that they must be really hot and thirsty.  How kind! I can't imagine anything tasting any better than that Gatorade did, and I'm definitely taking something special to leave at her house next year.  While we were chugging our cold drinks, I introduced myself to yellow jersey guy: "Apparently we're going to be seeing a lot of each other today. I'm Kate."  It turns out Dan has read my blog, something that never fails to surprise me and make me happy.

It seemed like no time until I was pulling into the gas station at Hams Prairie, and I was delighted to see that most of my friends were still there. I laid my bike down so that I could run in and buy some food and drinks; instead Noelle, who was there supporting the Red Wheel crew, filled up my Camelbak and both of my water bottles.  So, in case you're counting, that's two people in ten miles who gave me drinks and took care of me (plus Luke, who'd brought me a sandwich to the SAG stop). I don't care what my grumpy husband says...people are awesome.

Adam and I took our time at the gas station.  Once again, I had a hard time finding something I wanted to eat. I settled for a Snickers ice cream bar, a Coke (which I don't even like, but drinking Diet Coke would be silly on a day I needed calories), one of my own rice cakes (half of which I proceeded to drop on the floor), and a big dill pickle.  No, I'm not pregnant.

Hams Prairie to the finish (113 miles): 

With Adam's stomach now behaving itself, we made fantastic time after leaving Hams Prairie.  Last year we'd had trouble riding together on the flats because his singlespeed would spin out once we got going too fast (and on the uphills, where he'd crush me...and on the downhills, where he'd fly down while I gripped the brakes the whole time), but with Adam riding gears on his new Vaya it was way easier to stick together.  We made short work of the ten miles to the nuclear power plant, both of us riding the big hill that we'd had to walk last year.

Mandatory power plant picture
We caught Christine on the hill before the power plant and then passed Dan and another guy we'd been leapfrogging near the descent to the Katy, riding downhill as a group of four to the entrance to the trail, where we got an awesome surprise.  Jim and Aaron were waiting there!  I was thrilled to meet up with them and get to ride some together.

The wind, which had barely registered all day, had picked up a little, so Dan and the other guy suggested riding in a paceline.  We did that for a while, but by the time we reached Mokane that had kind of broken up.  It's effective but boring, and eventually we opted to pass the time with conversation rather than efficiency.

I had dreaded the Katy Trail section.  If you look at the elevation profile of the race, it looks like once you get to the flat Katy section you have it made.  No more hills!  But then it's just a long, boring grind.  Maybe it was the fact that I felt far better at this point than I had last year or maybe it was the paceline moving us along that helped, but the Katy Trail flew by.  The gravel roads afterwards...not so much.  The first one seemed to take for. ev. er.  By the second one, I was done enough to ask Adam (who's much more familiar with the area) how much longer we had...and to be very unhappy with the answer.  The last 7 miles or so crawled by, but eventually we were on the paved road that signaled the end was near.

And then we were riding up to the finish line, where I spotted Bob waiting to douse us with a big cooler and slowed waaaay down, letting Adam take the brunt of the shower.

And then it was over and we'd finished, before dark, not last, and feeling overall pretty darn good.  Yes, I had lots of breaks and perfect weather, but as pre-Kanza long rides go, it was very encouraging.  My cruising speed is up, I'm far more comfortable on gravel, faster on downhills, and better on climbs.  Besides that, my attitude towards uphills is shifting.  I won't say that I enjoy them, but I'm starting to see them more as challenges than affronts.

See that light behind us??  That means my main goal for the day was met!

I wouldn't say that I'm confident about Dirty Kanza -- even outside of the weather variable (and don't think I haven't been reading reports of awful winds there with dismay) you're talking about a race nearly twice the distance of Cedar Cross -- but I'm certainly less un-confident.  That's probably as good as it's going to get until I cross the finish line, but it's a good start.