Flat on my back. 17 miles from the finish. Bike helmet serving as a pillow. I was in no hurry to repair what was my 5th flat of the race. 90 miles earlier I had entered checkpoint two having covered the first 100 miles or so in just over 6 hours. Beating the sun, it seemed, would be a lock. Crossing the finish line before 8:45 PM is the race within the race and all who accomplish the feat gain a little more gravel cred by doing so. The Dirty Kanza 200 draws around 1000 racers or so now annually. This past January all thousand spots were gobbled up in about 13 minutes.
Why? Cause there's magic in them there hills.
Laying in that driveway, staring blankly into the Kansas blue sky, thoughts of beating the sunset now gone, I was empty. Physically, emotionally, spiritually empty. An hour or so of daylight remained. On fresh legs maybe, on these legs, even if i found the will to continue, I was looking at 2 hours of riding. After I changed the damn flat tire.
It's a hard thing to even imagine. I longed for one good reason. With 190 miles behind me I could not find one. Everything in me said quit, the thought of getting back on the bike unimaginable. Never before had a race laid me so bare. "Maybe I should just yank the freaking derailleur off". Genius! No one would question that. These roads were famous for eating bike parts...and tires.
I decided to make a deal. I'd agree to change the tire and in return I could quit the race.That was how fragile the state of affairs was. Anything that involved actual pedaling was not on the table. There was an odd peace to changing out that back tire. Perhaps it was the allowing of the "Soon you can quit" idea. The change went without incident, as one would expect after going through the procedure 4 times earlier in the day. Imagine my disappointment once done, spinning the pedals to find all things in working order, less the rider.
Back to where we started, less the ill fated tire. The helmets appeal as great as any pillow to someone starved for sleep, I was powerless to resist. Once again flat on my back, gaze to the sky unable to mage good on my promise to quit, unable to mount the bike and make forward progress. Then, the magic of Kanza.
"Hey are you Joe?" So out of it, i wondered, not having even noticed the pickup pulling up that perhaps the heavens were calling for my soul, or someone's named Joe. Slowly I lifted my head from the all too comfortable bike helmet pillow. To my surprise the question had rung out from a non celestial being in a F-150. Never had I so wanted to be Joe and in all honesty the thought of air conditioning and a ride back to Emporia, the real Joe be damned, did cross my mind.
The time of truth had arrived. I could end it all, request a ride into town, the gentleman would most certainly agree."Nope, not Joe." I answered, unable to ask the question every part of me so desperately wanted to. Stepping out of the truck, the older gentleman reached into the back of the pickup producing a couple oranges. "Listen young fella, you've almost made it" he said, circling the front of my bike, which seemed odd. "#246 huh? Well #246, I'm headed to the finish line and I ain't leaving till I see you cross it." And with that he placed the two ice cooled oranges in my hand and with a nod left me.
I'll be damned....nearly two and a half hours later, under cover of darkness, with not a single pedal stroke to spare I crossed the finish and you guessed it, the old boy was there, good to his word.
My second DK200 was in the books. 400 miles down, 600 to go. I couldn't as much as dismount my own bike without help.no way I finish without that fella showing up. It's hard not to wonder if maybe, just maybe he had been sent by the gravel gods.
I hope you have enjoyed the first installment of "1000 Miles of Kanza - The Quest for the Goblet"
If so, keep an eye out for Part two - "The Year Derailleurs Died"