After catching some much needed sleep at a hotel on the edge of town, I woke early on Thursday morning, June 2nd, eager to explore the town of Emporia. If you read Part One, you’ll see I did a bit of poking around on Wednesday night, shortly after my arrival.
On the agenda for Thursday and in no necessary order:
- Check into the accommodations.
- Scout the first five to 10 miles of the Dirty Kanza 200 course.
- Meet and greet people at the Dirty Kanza Store.
- Interview riders.
- Chat with residents.
- Visit local businesses.
- Enjoy a beer or two.
The day got off to a great start at the Granada Coffee Company, which is housed within the beautiful Granada Theatre, host to the Dirty Kanza start / finish and rider meetings. I seldom imbibe in coffee, but I knew the coffee shop would be a great place to encounter riders and locals.
I spent the next half an hour getting the rundown of the town from a group of retiree blokes who now make Emporia their home. In addition to receiving suggestions about who and what to see, this group of lads expressed their fondness for the time of year that Dirty Kanza visits Emporia; such is the positive impact this race has upon the entire community.
Next stop along the tour was the Emporia Convention and Visitors Bureau. In reality I was coerced into the building by Kelly Mayer, who is the perfect ambassador for Emporia. Joining her in the office was Susan Rathke and Torell Flickinger.
We spent the next hour chatting about the race, life, vacationing and my travel experiences with Gravel Cyclist.
The previous night I’d made the acquaintance of Hi-C – a feline who runs the show at High Gear Cyclery on Commercial Street. In addition to meeting Hi-C and wearing her as a fashion accessory inside the shop, I interviewed proprietor Matt about all things Dirty Kanza – interview coming soon with an appearance by Hi-C!
Naturally, an Australian-born lad cannot go too long without a decent beer, so it was off for a quick visit to Mulready’s Pub which is virtually next door to the Emporia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The owner of the pub welcomed me to town and slipped a complimentary Dirty Kanza beer in my direction… now that is a welcome! Being the only pub in town is one thing, but Mulready’s are all about riding bikes and beer.
They have a team who take on Dirty Kanza each year, and fire up their riders with a fun get together on the eve before the race. I was invited to this fun fest by the Ochs family – thank you so much Lorrin and Tiffany – but alas, I was way behind with my bike preparation for the race and simply couldn’t make it 🙁 Raincheck for 2017 please!
The Dirty Kanza store opened at midday, and I hustled in to meet and greet with Jim Cummins and LeLan Dains, the key players behind Dirty Kanza. I snagged an interview with LeLan (watch this space!) and spent a few minutes chatting with Jim about the growth of the race and the gravel cycling scene.
Several things become clear if you ever meet these fellows; they are passionate about Dirty Kanza, the community of Emporia and the experience of the riders who visit the town. It is no wonder this event is touted as the World’s Premier Gravel Grinder race.
The early afternoon seemed a good time as any to gain a little tribal knowledge of the course. Riders had begun trickling into town in one’s and two’s, but the vast majority were expected on Friday, so I headed out alone to sneak peak the course, and take a few photos for blatant use on the regular social media networks.
The first seven or so miles of the DK200 course revealed no surprises. As I suspected, the gravel was a little deep in places, but there were good lines to be had. I generally err towards wider tyres as I despise that sinking feeling – the sinking of narrow tyres into gravel.
As such, my 40mm wide Panaracer Gravel King tyres were the perfect tools for the job. Incidentally, I am reviewing these tyres – in fact, my entire bike is under review – so plenty of stuff to look forward to here on Gravel Cyclist!
Predicted temperatures for Saturday’s race was in the low 80’s Fahrenheit. K-Dogg, Mrs K-Dogg and I spent all day about three weeks earlier, knocking out a mega training ride as the finishing touch to our Dirty Kanza 200 preparation. We suffered in the heat and humidity of Gainesville to Live Oak, Florida and return on that day, but weren’t overly phased by the Emporia weather forecast.
The only thing that did enter my mind was the low lying nature of the early gravel roads. Quite a bit of rain had fallen in the area in the weeks prior to the event, and this was evident by the condition of some of the roadsides. But, this was 2016 and there was no way there would be a repeat of 2015, right?!
Towards the end of Thursday, my teammates, the Doggs – Mr and Mrs K-Dogg, lobbed into town and settled into their accommodations. A nap was in order for K-Dogg, such was the arduous nature of his two and a half hour flight 🙄
I was rooming next door and soon joined by the lads from the Art of Stone Gardening Team out of Dahlonega, Georgia. Lee and Craig were riding the Full Monty 200 mile race, while Jason (known hereon as “The Couch”) was providing support to Craig, Lee and I. I haven’t sat behind “The Couch” on a bike ride, but rumour has it the experience is devoid of wind, and hence, like sitting on a couch.
Finally, the day was capped off with dinner and beers at the Radius Brewing Company, where I chanced upon a meeting with the lads and ladies of Team Apex Multisport out of Michigan… interviews followed later in the evening.
Friday, June 3rd
The first order of business was to scout the final five to ten miles of gravel leading into town, Emporia State University and the race finish. We weren’t expecting to contest a sprint finish or anything like that, but a little tribal knowledge goes a long way. I headed out with the Doggs for a leisurely cruise, and took some photos here and there.
We ran into a huge group of gravel cyclists with the same thing in mind, although they were heading in the opposite direction. I rode briefly with Bobby aka The Casual Cyclist – a genuinely nice bloke and someone who epitomizes the spirit of gravel cycling.
Another large group of riders followed closely behind with women’s 2015 winner, Amanda Nauman among them. I took the opportunity to arrange an interview (yep, a lot of interviews going on) and some photos of her bike. You can admire Amanda’s race machine HERE. The pre-ride revealed no great surprises, and we headed back into town to grab our race numbers, and prepare for the 1pm edition of the Rider’s meeting, to be held in the Granada Theatre.
Being a *bit* of a social butterfly, I made a point to seek out some of my long-time gravel friends, and make some new acquaintances who follow the madness of the Gravel Cyclist website. Garth Prosser, long time friend and gravel god was there, so naturally, I interviewed him. He was psyched to be at the race after taking a break from racing in 2015.
Team Tall Racing from Miami in attendance (yep, we interviewed them) as well as a few of the dudes from Landrun 100 (hope to attend in 2017!) and Kaat from the HellKaat Hundie. The Doggs and I scored a primo spot upstairs in the beautiful Granada Theatre to watch Jim Cummings talk about the race, and run through the necessary safety protocols.
He was joined by Tom Ritchey (not of the cycling fame), a local gentleman who represents ranchers and farmers in the area. Tom kindly reminded us the riders are visitors to Emporia and surrounds – treat the Flint Hills as you found them – because they’d love to have Dirty Kanza back in the future!
The remainder of my afternoon was spent socialising at the Gravel Expo located alongside the Dirty Kanza Shop. I met and interviewed Ms Amanda Nauman, last year’s winner of the race, and went over the technical details of her bike with Dave Sheek, mechanic and well-known ‘cross racer from the West Coast.
Finally, I paid a visit to Mike Spilker, SRAM Technical Ambassador and all-round knowledgeable guy of bicycles. SRAM / Quarq were continuing trials of their Qollector, a cute little device that features a cellular-type data connection inside, along with ANT+ and GPS technology for data collection.
This gadget connects to one’s Garmin computer using the ANT+ protocol to relay a chosen rider’s power, heart rate data, speed, GPS location, etc, which is uploaded to Quarq’s Race Intelligence website – so, one can track a rider live as they race. Names like Tim Johnson, Robbie Ventura and Rebecca Rusch were on the list… and me… JOM, aka Jayson of Gravel Cyclist. D’oh! Yours truly is just a regular bloke…
Still, it was a fabulous opportunity and I figured those who follow the Facebook page of Gravel Cyclist and my friends would dig it.
It wasn’t long before 5pm rolled around, and I needed to eat and begin my bike preparations. I enjoyed a lovely meal with my Gravel Cyclist teammates and the Art of Stone Gardening crew, before settling in for an evening of filling bottles, loading supplies, fixing race numbers, installing cameras and generally agonizing about every little thing. It would likely be a sleepless night… we’d be waking at 4am for the 2016 Dirty Kanza!
Next up… the 2016 Dirty Kanza Race Report… and race video… watch this space.