The gravel roads of eastern Kansas broke my spirit somewhere around mile 70. Two hours before I had been cruising along the trails of the Dirty Kanza 200 bike race. When I reached the first checkpoint, 48 miles in, I had been sure I could race against the light and complete the 206-mile course before sunset. But by 11 a.m., my carbon bike was heavy and slow, the remaining 136 miles stretching out before me. You won’t finish, I feared.
Dirty Kanza is a double century bike race on fire roads around Emporia, Ks. On a good year—Saturday, Jun. 4, 2017, for example—the winds are low and the roads are dry, the sun doesn’t scorch and the humidity isn’t oppressive. The lead racers take about 11 hours, and around 80% of riders finish. On other years, rain can turn the trails to thick clay, winds can blow riders off their bikes and temperatures can soar. Few finish in daylight, many fail to make the 20-hour cutoff and others abandon the attempt.
But even on a good year, the race presents a significant challenge to bike, body and brain. Finishing DK, regardless of the conditions or the time, has become a badge of honor in the endurance-racing world.