Back in October of 2016 Allison Zmuda got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to do Dirty Kanza on a single speed. My immediate reaction was no but that didn’t stop me from clicking on the link to the Rider’s Bible. I was intrigued. I mentioned it to a few people who didn’t think I should/could do it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I decided to meet Allison and a few other women at a coffee shop and their excitement was infectious. I didn’t have a single speed but I didn’t care. I wanted to do this! Over the next 6 months I got a bike and tried to spend as much time in the saddle as my life and schedule would allow. During those 6 months I learned a lot about what it means to make sacrifices to achieve your goals. But I also formed friendships stronger than any I have ever had with the 6 women I trained with.
A week before the race I went to pick up my bike, freshly tuned by the best bike shop in town, Comrade Cycles. About 2 blocks down the road I got doored and went over the bars and slammed into the ground. Long story short the dude was not kind so I limped back to Comrade as quickly as I could to be around positive, supportive people. They immediately got me ice and fixed my bike. I cried– mostly out of frustration. I was scared this asshole just took away my chance at finishing Dirty Kanza. My knees were swollen. I spent the next week trying to do as little as possible in hopes I would be healed in time. I headed to Kansas very worried. I hadn’t tested my legs post crash and I didn’t know what I would be capable of.
On Friday we pre-rode the last 10 miles of the course out and back with Crystal Wintle. We had a big single speed crew and that was cool but I was still very nervous and trying to be gentle with my body. I didn’t feel great. We headed back to town just in time for the women’s round table which was stacked with some very impressive and talented women. Going to this was the best prep decision we could have made. The women on the panel were inspiring and their words echoed in my head throughout the entire race. Attending the premiere of Blood Road put what we were about to do into perspective as something very do-able.
After some last minute prep work and packing of the support van I passed out at 8pm to prepare myself for a 3:15 am wake up. I started my morning with breakfast with Kayci, Elizabeth and Sam. We calmed each other, we pumped each other up, and MAYBE teared up a tiny bit.
The start line was buzzing. Suddenly, I didn’t feel nervous. I wasn’t worried. There was nothing else I could do. I went for one last trip to the bathroom and on my way back I stopped to pet 5 different dogs. For good luck, you know? They were all very soft 10/10 would pet again.
Photo by Chris Jenson (A little bit of pre-race nerves)
Photo by Chris Jenson (Pre-race nerves didn’t stand a chance with this company)
The race started slowly since we lined up at the 16 hour finish post. As we turned onto the first stretch of gravel the morning light was draping across the landscape. It was truly beautiful. I rode with Kayci and Elizabeth for a while. The pace was not super high, because we were in a massive amount of traffic. I think one of the hardest parts of this race were the hills in the first section. On a single speed you want to just power quickly up the hills, but in traffic and with gears people tend to spin casually up them. It was pretty painful and very annoying. I didn’t want to put that unnecessary tension on my knees from the beginning.
So far so good, though. I didn’t feel any extreme knee pain and the course was beautiful and fun. I was so thankful for the dry weather, to be riding with friends, that my knees weren’t sending sharp pains up my legs, that I wasn’t cold, that we weren’t passing through deep water crossings, and so thankful to know in a matter of miles my support crew was waiting to check on me.
Eventually we got to a very small patch of mud and everyone rode through it but the people in front of me stopped and got off their bikes so I had to as well and everyone dropped me. I was ok with that though. I decided to settle into a pace that felt very comfortable for me.
I was feeling pretty elated. I had expected to be in so much pain from my crash. There were points where I was worried I wouldn’t even make it to checkpoint 1 or I wouldn’t make it by the cut off. But I realized getting to that first checkpoint was going to be fine. I saw Sam and Elizabeth fixing flats on the size of the road. At one point some sealant squirted out of my front tire but it sealed itself and that was VERY cool.
I ended up riding with Kelly Clark for about 20 miles leading into checkpoint 1. It was great to chat with her and it really helped time go by. We encouraged each other to keep up our pace. On the way into checkpoint 1 there was a pretty steep brick hill. I had felt a little pang in my knee earlier on climbing up a steep hill. I decided around mile 30 that when the grade when above a certain % I would walk, take the opportunity to take long strides to stretch my legs and make sure I was eating snacks. I was in this to finish. I wish I was faster but I wanted to protect the weak point of my body which is my knees.
Rolling into checkpoint 1 was so cool. Chris and Brandon and Wanda were super smiley and telling me how great I was doing. My bike was immediately in a stand and they filled my water and re-stocked my snacks while I used the restroom. I came back, saw Sam, gave her a hug, high fived the crew and took off. I was very glad to see she had quickly fixed her mechanical and gotten back on course. It wasn’t soon after that she powered passed me and I never saw her again. But that was just an extra boost. Knowing that my teammates and friends were out there doing amazing made me feel so great. I was so proud of them and I knew they were proud of me and it just made me want to keep going no matter what.
Sometime after checkpoint 1 I saw a guy wearing a Tailwind jersey. “Are you minister of gravel?” I shouted. “YES” he said. We follow each other on Instagram but don’t really know each other. We had ended up in the same spot during Landrun so I had been wondering if we would see each other on course. We chatted about his 7 year old daughter who really wants to try the 25 mile version and how great the 200 women 200 miles campaign was. Neil was a great riding partner. We would occasionally drop each other and then end up in the same spot. I either had to mash up hills and I’d drop him or I’d walk them and he’d drop me. I think from mile 60-130 we were riding pretty close to the same spot, sometimes chatting, sometimes just slightly away from each other.
This section also had a lot of fist sized gravel and a lot of sections that caused my entire body and bike to vibrate a lot. My hands were starting to hurt. And old injuries were starting to act up like my right wrist. Honestly, I was thankful I broke my wrist because I spent 6 weeks biking one handed so digging around for snacks and everything was very natural.
Photo by Neil (Minister of Gravel on Instagram)
I told him I was feeling pretty good and he said that’s good because it is about to get a lot harder. He’s from the area so he gave me a rundown of what the next miles would be like. This section had a few really difficult climbs that I had to walk. Even if my knees had been in tip top shape I probably would have walked. Hats off to the incredible single speeders who powered up them!
Neil had told me about a hill called the bitch. As I rode I kepting thinking “is this it? Is this the bitch? Oh maybe not. Is this it?” but when I got to it, it was very clear. THIS is the bitch. At the point in the race where I was everyone was walking.
It didn’t feel like long before I found myself at checkpoint 2. Already over 100 miles into the day! I knew I needed sunscreen and I wanted to change out of my damp shoes. I also wanted to eat some chips to replace my salt. I had drank 1.5L in my camelback and also 2 22oz bottles during that leg. I was only using the bathroom at the checkpoints 1. So I would keep going and 2. Because I didn’t want hundreds of strangers to see my butt.
I took the advice of maintain forward momentum to heart, so I rolled out of checkpoint 2 going about 5 mph stuffing potato chips in my mouth. I decided it was time to break out the iPod shuffle. Having my fancy shoes on and a clean chain made me feel like I had a power boost.
Later, I was riding with minister of gravel again when we saw rain clouds in the distance. They were south east and the wind was going north west. We were nearing the south east corner of the course and would mainly be heading north west soon so I tried to ride quickly hoping to avoid the storm. There was some epic lighting and thunder. I screamed dramatically a few times to the amusement of Neil. We did get rained on, but compared to Landrun, Barry Roubaix, and the Epic it was nothing. It felt a little cold but not too bad. My main mistake was forgetting my gloves at checkpoint 2. I was sliding around on the hoods and bars in various positions. Once my hands got pruney they started to tear a little bit in places.
Around mile 138 there was a creek crossing with a sharp uphill with rocks all over. Soon after I heard the hissing of a rear flat. I was afraid of that.I know how to change a flat but the tubeless disk brake single speed chain tensioner drop out adjustment situation was intimidating. I didn’t want to mess anything up. I regretted not asking more questions and learning more.
I flipped my bike and spun the wheel hoping it would seal and I could just fill it with air. I could see sealant bubbling out. I took that opportunity to switch to clear lenses and rearrange a few things. I spent way too long hoping it would seal. Eventually I realized it wouldn’t. I counted how many turns I turned the chain tensioner to get the chain off. Once I had the wheel off I put on latex gloves and tried to get the tire off. My hands were a bit torn up and kind of numb and I was really struggling. I didn’t want to be that person but when a guy asked if I needed help I said yes. He was a giant bearded dude who said he used to work in a bike shop and he had a district jersey on so I felt at ease. I was a bit frantic but he was so calm. He was like this will be fine. Do me a favor and help me get my cue sheet in this sleeve and I’ll help you. When we got back on our bikes he was like we’re all going to finish this. We rode together for a while and he was really cool. I was feeling a bit frantic about how much time I wasted (30-45 minutes) so I took off pretty fast after a while. In the drops focused on my form trying to hammer out the miles. I had about 20 miles to the checkpoint. I felt a bit of a lump in the rear. Every mile I covered I was getting closer to my support crew. I knew if I got close enough I could just walk to them. The tube I put in was the only tube I was carrying.
I was so elated to have my bike functioning that those 20 miles didn’t seem that bad. This checkpoint had banners and a lot of cheering people. A guy handed up a coke to me which was exactly what I wanted 162 miles in. Brandon and Chris immediately got my bike in a stand and I changed out of my wet kit which felt amazing. I picked up gloves to offer some relief to my hands and chugged some pickle juice and got the junk food I hadn’t allowed myself to eat until then (gummy bears, a snickers, cheese peanut butter crackers) I also got my lights set up on my bike. As I was leaving Sam’s mom asked if I was gonna bust out and I said yeah! I’m gonna bust out and we all high fived as I got back on my bike and rolled away.
Leaving the final checkpoint right around 8 pm I knew I had a solid hour of light left and I wanted to cover some ground while I could still see. There were 44.8 miles to go so it didn’t feel that daunting and I felt pretty confident I could make it by midnight.
The sunset was absolutely beautiful and I was passing through a long stretch with beautiful white flowers lining either side of the road. It was a magical moment. I think I was around 165 miles at that point.
We went on some B roads and all conditions stayed pretty good.
When it got dark I turned on the big light I bought just for this. One of the biggest mistakes I made: didn’t pay attention to how long it would last at different settings and also underestimated how long the final stretch would take me. I had it on the brightest setting, and I felt great about how illuminated the road was. Around that time I started having a lot of knee pain and decided to walk the steep hills. I decided I would rather take longer to finish than risk actually hurting them to point I couldn’t continue.
I really should have lowered the light setting.
There were some short, punchy climbs, which I normally enjoy, but not 170 miles in when my knees hurt. I looked back and saw a long line of headlights snaking their way toward me in the distance and I was following red tail lights in front of me. I think 100 people passed me between mile 168 and 178. I was in a lot of pain and forgot to take ibuprofen at checkpoint 3. I took some while walking up a hill and tried to stay on top of hydration and nutrition. It was dark so it was hard to plan ahead. I would ride down the hills but I couldn’t take advantage of the rollers like I could in daylight to make it up the hills so I walked a lot. There were some technical things to be riding in the dark and a few people fell trying to ride too fast.
Eventually it chilled out and the ibuprofen kicked in and I was able to ride again. I started hallucinating a bit. Everyone had passed me and when I looked back I didn’t see any headlights. I was alone singing to myself. Around 180 I looked back and saw lights and said hi! No response. Then I said I thought I was alone out here how are you? No response. Then I mumbled what kind of asshole doesn’t respond and turned around again and realized it was a car.
At mile 184 I checked my mileage and kept riding as hard as I could. I felt like I checked 30 min later and it said 186. I thought it was broken but my perception of time and effort was completely shot. Then my headlight started blinking. I thought there’s no way it’s dying and kept riding. And then it shut off. Oops. Luckily I wasn’t going down a hill. And I had a backup light which was my trusty commuter light. I was too nervous to have it on its highest setting this time. It was a lot less bright so I had to slow down a lot. I was singing to myself and trying not to check my mileage and feeling kind of out of my mind.
Eventually a guy rode up behind me and said he was chasing my tail light for an hour. He was nice and we chatted a bit. A second guy with a massively bright light joined us. I think they thought I was insane because I was rambling about who knows what. Eventually massive light guy took off and I decided to do whatever it took to hang on his wheel. I felt very confident with that amount of light and he gave me some warnings about upcoming obstacles. Eventually we got to the last 10 miles which we had pre ridden the day before. I had lost track of my midnight goal and was struggling with how slowly the miles were ticking down. I just wanted to see the little tunnel by campus. I was at 6 miles to go at 11:40 and at first I sped up a lot but then i was like ugggghhhh I should have decided to go faster earlier, and also that egg breakfast club patch is pretty dope. Finally made it to the tunnel, forgot there was one last hill before campus. It hurt like hell but I didn’t walk that one. I could see he bright lights of the finish and wanted to be there. I rolled across the line at 12:05 and was immediately greeted by Allison, Chris, Neil, Sam, etc.
I’m surprised I didn’t cry. I just felt very smiley because I actually did it. I didn’t actually think it was going to happen.
Photo by Wanda
Photo by Chris Jenson (the I want a high five but my hands hurt really bad face)
WE DID IT. WE ALL FINISHED. ALL 7 OF US.