I was hoping this one would come, and it finally did so today via email. It’s from Curt Shelman, our good friend at Chamois Butt’r… and recounts his day on the bike, along side his son Colin. I was at the Finish Line when Curt and Colin rolled in together. From the look on their faces, it was obvious they had just experienced something very special… and it was made that much more spectacular because Father and Son had experienced it together. I’m glad I was there to see it. And I thank Curt for sharing it here with all of you. Enjoy.
The Dirty Kanza 200 – 2011 version was a great experience, here is my version of the day!
Colin and I got up at 4:30am. We were staying at the Candlewood Suites, so we had a kitchenette in our room and had picked up breakfast preparations at the Wal-Mart the day before. We each ate 3 eggs, 2 pieces of toast, fruit, yogurt and drank a Slimfast. The night before we had prepared some bags of fruit, turkey sandwiches and some bagels with peanut butter, multiple water bottles with plain water and energy drink mixtures, tossed them in the ice chest that we put into Lonnie and JP pickups, along with our change of clothing, spare wheels, floor pump and whatever else we thought we might need. I contemplated packing the kitchen sink and a Norden Bomb Site, but decided we had enough gear and food to bike the DK 500!!!
We headed to the start line about 5:25am. Arriving there we spotted a parking lot to leave my truck. I left the keys in it, you never know what might happen, if my truck was needed the keys were in it. We unloaded our bikes and headed over to the start line so we could head out onto the longest and most memorable day that I have ever experienced on a bike. We met up at the back of the pack of 300 riders with Sean, Greg, Chris, Trey, Bobby, Marty, Mark and others…the air was nervous, as you just can’t quite wrap your head around what we are actually getting ready to do (attempt)!
At 6:00 am the pack was released for the “neutral roll-out” to the gravel roads of the Flint Hills! I was glad we pooled up at the back of the start pack, it kept my competitive urges in check and we just rolled along at a very comfortable pace. As the pack did a right hander off the pavement onto the gravel, it was already strung out for a ½ mile!!! The Chamois Butt’r Team just stuck together, leap froggin’ past groups, work with them awhile and then proceed past. It amazed me how many riders we passed that were out of breath! They had within the first 5 miles over-extended themselves! Exactly what we did not want to do, our goal was to finish…pedaling. We saw several flats, we passed one rider who had flatted, went blowing past us about a mile later and then 2 miles later, he had another flat. I don’t think I saw him again.
Wind was blowing steady about 20 mph from the S-SW, the very direction we were heading to get to our first check point, Cassoday. I really liked the clip-on aerobars that I had put on…they made a difference in speed/effort and gave me another position to get into on this epic day. The team split up, Trey, Bobby and Colin thought that Sean had gone up the road and disappeared…I just didn’t think so, but hey I can miss a lot of things so I finally admitted that the 3 of them must be right and I just missed it. So we wondered how Greg and Chris were doing as the 4 of us settled into a nice comfortable work sharing paceline as we continued to our first check point. We saw former winner Dan Hughes repairing a tire, he nodded he was OK as we rolled past, we stopped to take a nature break and Dan caught and rolled past looking very comfortable. (Dan went on to win the day!! What a great ride for him, Congrats Dan!)
First big challenge, besides not getting caught up in the early race excitement, was Texaco Hill! We topped it easily, no one burned any matches, Steve Mathews rolled past us on his KLR650 and cheered us on as we hit the steeper sections of the gravel climb. Topped it easily and headed down the other side. We still had the 4 of us. Then Colin flatted. Rear, tubeless…it didn’t re-seal, we had to break it down and put in a tube. The Hutchinson tire put up a pretty good fight…it wanted to remain tubeless I guess! But with the collective knowledge and strength of Colin, Trey and Bobby, we were back rolling in about 10 minutes. Everyone who passed us, and it was quite a few, asked if we needed anything. Great spirit of the event. We were ok and responded as such. One guy commented back that “you look so pro I didn’t think you would need anything!” Which was a nice comment, we were all decked in the team kits and did look great!!! We got Colin rolling again. I was not feeling very well over the past 10 miles…maybe too much for breakfast? Did the Slimfast not set well? Mix in my bottles too thick? I thought that this was really going to be a problem if I didn’t get my stomach to settle some…the day might get long, really soon.
We just got rolling again, feeling back into our rhythm and crap! Colin’s back tire went again! This change was more routine, just pull the tube out and a new one in. Then the rest of the Chamois Butt’r team caught us…Greg, Chris and Sean was with them!!! He had not gone up the road, they had been working together, keeping the goal of finishing in mind and putting a great team effort in. Now all of us were together and we rolled south into the wind on a very well maintained gravel road, trading pulls most of the way. Spirits were high, we had all ridden together for many miles, so it was great to have all of our resources and energy in one group again! We were getting within 15 miles of Cassoday and the road turned less maintained and hilly. We split up some again…everyone had their pace that they needed to go up the hills, it was what each of us needed to do to succeed in our own plans.
Then we hit what I thought at the time as the lowest and most mentally challenging blow. A major and “fatal” mechanical to Bobby’s bike! His chain was over the inside gear on his cassette and wedged between the cassette and his spokes…and it WAS NOT coming out without a cassette tool and chain whip. We were close to 10 miles out. His day was over. We fought it for several minutes, finally Bobby told us to go…we had to go, we had to leave him. Law of the DK200. As Trey, Colin and I rode on, we all knew it was a blow to lose a strong and experienced man from our group. The day just felt heavy and longer suddenly. My stomach was still churning. I drank more water and pedaled on to our first check point. Cassoday – 58 miles. We had lost 24 minutes to mechanical problems on that leg of our journey.
We scheduled a 15 minute break. We rolled into the check point, grabbed our maps for the next leg and our support crew was directing us to our SAG area. Stacie had made it down in time, she had left KC that morning and driven to Cassoday. JP and Lonnie had our bags, lawn chairs and ice chests set out, we dropped empty bottles, grabbed fresh one, diluted our mixtures a little bit, refilled our camelbacks, used a wet towel to clean and re-freshen our faces, arms and legs. At the 15 minute mark, Stacie told us we needed to head out. Colin had changed his rear tire to a clincher, we handed some tools to Donna, in case Bobby made it in and did not have those tools in his arsenal and rolled out. We pulled into a shaded park that Karen had set up as a service area for Trey and Chris. We chatted with them, took a few quick photos and then thought we better hit the road. Colin and I headed to Florence.
The next 20 miles we were familiar with, a few weeks earlier on our recon ride we had ridden a loop through this area, it was basically flat, well maintained gravel roads and we had a tailwind. We came across Sean and Greg about 5 miles into the leg, they were fixing a flat on Greg’s bike, they acknowledged that they were ok. We rode on into the heat of the day. About 15-20 miles into the ride, I had just checked the map and knew we had a critical turn in less than 2 miles, as we approached the intersection where I thought we were to turn left/west, there was a knot of riders gathered having a congressional debate on what direction to go. We did a quick stop, referred to the map, yes we turn here and Colin and I turned and moved on. For some unknown reason the directional markers for the event had been removed or vandalized or whatever, probably “Redneck Magic”, but our decision was completely based upon the map and knowing where we were on it and I knew where we were and had anticipated the corner, but we were lucky that the indecision of the group ahead of us were there debating it, it made me check again. We rode on with confidence. Since we had just ridden through this area and this particular intersection a few weeks ago, I was comfortable that I knew where we were. Others were not so lucky and went past this intersection, only to have to re-track, adding miles and effort to an already hard day.
We went off of a well maintained road onto a dirt path road, we went through 3 water crossings, up a really rocky wash road and finally back onto a better maintained road…but this section had shade!!! About this time I realized I had drained my camelback…15 miles to go and I was out of water. I still had a bottle of mix…but it was pretty thick. My stomach was still not right. I was dreading the idea of introducing that mix to my current gastric challenge, but I needed fluid, so I drank it, sparingly. Colin was getting tired. The rest of way to Florence was into the wind. We passed a number of riders over the next 15 miles. Those aerobars were saving my legs and my now numbing hands. Colin sat on, we pedaled as lightly as possible up the long grades or steep hills. He had felt a left hamstring cramp at 70 miles, so I kept reminding him to drink water and push more Saltsticks down him. The cramps seem abated for the time being. Keeping his condition in my mind helped me to also monitor myself and try to do the same things. Eat, drink, pedal. Stay focused. Just a few more miles. We could see Florence, 100 miles passed, we finally got into town, where is the dang stop/checkpoint???
Finally we rolled into the check point, great cheers and greetings from our support crew and really everyone at the check point. We were dirty, hot, tired, dry, dehydrated some and a churning stomach. Colin looked a little cooked, The Dirty Kanza was playing her trump cards, and luck was turning her way. We had really moved up in the overall standings according to JP, that leg was hard and had really put the hurt on a lot of riders. We had 30 minutes to get moving again. Stacie, JP & Lonnie went to work on us, wet towels, new kits, sunscreen, fresh water, cokes, couple of slices of pizza. We reloaded our bikes with fresh bottles, cold water in our camelbacks, some chain lube and then a quick nature break at the local c-store. I don’t think that bathroom will ever recover, but I know my stomach finally felt better!! We were in Florence for 45 minutes. Unbeknownst to us that extra 15 minutes will soon make a significant impact on our day.
Next stop, Council Grove – 60 miles, the longest leg and it was with the wind for the most part, a mixed blessing as it was now nearing 98 degrees and I was not sure we had enough water to make it, so we each grabbed an extra bottle of water and struck off on what was to become the most challenging leg of our journey. Greg, Sean and Trey had made it to the checkpoint together…no word on Chris, I just hoped he was safe and still riding. We departed into the abyss of the Flint Hills, father and son, side by side, meeting this challenge together. Rascal Flatts song, “I will stand by you” kept running through my head, motivation and spirits were high. Colin had actually ridden some of these roads, so he was feeling pretty good about what we had ahead for the next few miles. As we were exiting town and for the next 2-3 miles we met riders heading back to Florence…they had someway missed the checkpoint and had to go back to it. One rider, he must have been 12 miles on his way to Council Grove, was just standing along the road looking back toward Florence…he looked shot and he looked lost, he must have not been paying attention and completely missed the stop, we kept moving past this DK ghost.
We kept picking off riders, many of them sitting in the shade or going very slow. It was hot and the wind was really drying us out. Colin hit a bump and one of his bottles was ejected and went under his wheel, as he ran over it, the lid blew off. 24 oz of fluid we were going to need. By mile 20, Colin had been pushing the water/fluid pretty hard and he just realized his camelback was DRY! I started doing the evaluation of our inventory, could we make it on what we had. I was really starting to feel good, my stomach problem had been left in Florence and my energy was up, not cramping and I was pedaling very smooth. I thought that I could support Colin enough with my extra bottle that we could make it. Just a soon as we thought it was possible to make it, we spotted a farm water spigot, water ran clear, loaded up the camel back and hit the road again.
We pick up our cousin, Jason Shelman, he had gone out with the leaders and was now trying to swim to Council Grove in every creek he crossed!!! He was riding just a little slower than us, but he maintained our tempo for several miles, he finally succumbed to his fast early pace and backed down to his own survival gear. Colin and I were making great time! FLAT!!! Dang it, another flat on Colin’s back tire. Repair, Jason caught us, he rested, we repaired. Rolling again, Jason dropped back after a few more miles. It was starting to cloud up and cool off some. We chalked it up as good fortune and kept pushing north, as we watched a good old Kansas thunderstorm build in the west. “Looks like it will miss us” I remember saying to Colin.
We were going north on a minimum maintenance road when it started, BIG rain drops, hard wind from the west-southwest, temperature is dropping FAST!!! It went from 98 degrees to 60 degrees in 3 miles. The course turned onto a better maintained road and we had a huge tailwind and started flying along at 30mph. Another rider had joined up with us, so the 3 of us pushed on. It started raining HARD and blowing even harder, but it was a tailwind! We went past a rider trying to fix a flat in 45 mph winds and driving rain, we went past 3-4 guys hugging a tree…but we pressed on, the cool air was really helping, but the soaking rain was starting to chill us. We went around a curve in the road, saw some corner markers indicating a turn to the north and now we had a huge cross wind, going up a hill, with water running and forming puddles.
We were covered in grit, soaked to the skin, getting hit in the face with huge raindrops and sand driven by the wind and getting really cold! Not a good scene, we were being challenged, the DK does not give you a finish, you earn it, all of it! We dropped the other guy part way up a long hill and then we turned back onto a minimum maintenance road. MUD!! We couldn’t ride or push our bikes…we had to carry them!! We hiked probably a mile. Dropped our bikes, tried to get the mud cleared from our brakes and drivelines.
A County Sheriff pulled up and told us more was coming, 3 more waves of thunderstorms, 60 mph winds, sky to bike lightening, hail the size of badgers, swarms of locusts and bloody tears from the eyes of the William Allen White statue in Emporia and his Tarot cards showed a dead chicken in our future, he also mumbled something about the Free Masons I think…pretty much the end of days as he interpreted it. (Ok I made most of that stuff up, but it was about what went through my mind as he started going on and on about the weather…and what choice did we have, we had to ride on, I tried but my pickup did not fit in my bike bag so it was either ride or sit…so we rode.)
We said thanks and pushed on. 20 miles out I think. We were able to ride for 1-2 miles and then crap, another section of mud!!! More carrying the bike…another mile I think. At the end of that section was a low water bridge, we gave our bikes a bath to get the big chunks off and pushed on. We just paid for that extra 15 minutes of rest in Florence with an hour of walking in the mud. If we would have left on time, we most likely would have been past those minimum maintenance roads. However, that extra 15 minutes might be what allowed us to even continue…really hard to determine it all.
This was the low moment for both of us. Colin was starting to check out, he was tired, muddy, wet, a little bonky and we thought that the roads ahead had to be more of the same. We knew the road to Council Grove was good, but past there back to Emporia, mud walking in the dark, it wasn’t going to happen. We thought it just might be the end of our DK. I did not want to give up, especially in our heads. I told Colin to keep his head in it, we don’t know that it is over until we get to Council Grove, then we can get a report on what to expect for the final 44 miles to Emporia. He just wanted me to shut up I think. He was going to a different place in his head. We made it into Council Grove, I was relieved, Colin was shivering, both us and our bikes were trashed. Going onward was in serious doubt. Steve and Bobby grabbed our bikes for cleaning while Stacie and JP escorted us to our rest area, for dry clothes, food and hydration.
Now of course while Colin and I were out on the course, at times what resembled fighting to even survive, our pit crew, Stacie, Lonnie and JP had picked up some beer and headed to the city lake to get their feet in the water, cool off and relax from their stressful day! (I think that is the side of this DK thing I want to be on next year!) But they heard about and saw the storm and rallied to prepare the camp to accommodate what they thought would be some pretty worn out riders…and they were right.
Colin was having none of going on at this time. It had been quite a day, 160 miles, heat, flats, humidity, cramps, wind, rain, small hail, mud, bike carry…everything had been thrown at us and now he was shivering and hungry, he wanted DQ Chicken fingers!!! Aww, the giver of life…a dead chicken WAS in our future!
I felt good, yeah tired, but Colin and I had made a promise to each other that we would go together, unless one of us just couldn’t go on…was this that moment? I really did not want to roll out into the darkness with Colin’s failure to finish on my mind. I dug into my history of what high school and college coaches had said to me over the years…this was the moment that I needed their inspiration and I needed to convey and motivate Colin and myself with it. “We have trained for 6 months, ridden 160 miles today in wind, rain, mud and heat just to get to this moment, we will never be at this moment again, it is the moment we decide to finish. Let’s get ready, eat, change clothes, grab our bottles and get on our bikes and finish this in Emporia” I now believed we could do it…it was as much of a pep talk for myself as it was for Colin. Bobby said, “Colin, you are going to get back on your bike and finish this” We dug in, we were to determine our fate. Now Colin believed.
Steve and Bobby did a great job on our bikes, cleaned and lubed and ready for us. Bobby gave Colin a clean kit, I pulled another one out, changed, geared up, told Colin to leave off his Camel back…I had enough water for him too. He was still trying to talk himself into what this would take, but he was going…I knew we were going to do it…I knew we would make it…but I wanted to lighten his load. We strapped on our lights, darkness was less than an hour away, it was going to be close to a 4 hour ride to get it done. Midnight. We had been in Council Grove for 55 minutes, 25 minutes over our time line.
Steve relayed to us that word on the road was it was all good to Emporia, good gravel, no more muddy minimum maintenance roads, our spirits lifted, we rolled out. We received cheers from the parking/stop area as we rolled out…it felt like we being sent off to fight a great foe, the cheers and respect they bestowed upon us as we exited the final checkpoint and pedaled our way to meet it, the last leg of the Dirty Kanza, that moment ran chills up my spine, we were now on a mission. We yelled out: “Chamois Butt’r has left the building!”
Our other Chamois Butt’r Teammates, Sean, Trey & Greg were still trying to get to Council Grove, they had been caught in the rain with 7-8 miles of muddy minimum maintenance roads between them and Council Grove. They had a fight on their hands. Chris was somewhere behind them. The DK was going to challenge them all the way.
The first few miles seemed a bit surreal, the sun was starting to fade, we were rolling down a rail-trail in a canopy of trees, nice smooth level pedaling. Colin was coming back, we could taste success…it was still 44 miles with most of it in the dark. Still a daunting endeavor in itself, let alone after 14 hours out in the elements. More challenges await.
Trey and I talked on the phone, I would call him in about an hour and let him know our impression of the roads, if they should proceed. Colin and I rolled onto the road from the rail-trail and as the light faded, we could see a long climbing road in the distance. We would call Trey at the top of that hill and report.
Roads were great, no mud! What was also interesting was on past legs of our journey we would see dozens of bicycle tire tracks…now we would just see a few. Not many riders had made it to this point. The mud had dealt a serious blow to many riders. We would learn later how high the abandonment rate was. We topped the mile long hill and called Trey to report the good news. Turned on our lights and rolled into the darkness.
I love riding at night, seems to be calm, cool and your focus is narrowed to the path of light that cuts through the darkness. It is all you have to think about. We clicked off the miles and time, a couple of riders passed us as were we talking to Trey, they quickly rolled out of sight. These we the first 2 riders to pass us since before Florence! As each mile passed we rallied in spirit. Bikes were working, lights were strong, we were hydrated and energy levels were topped up as best they could be for being on the road for now over 16 hours!
We crossed the dam at Kahoula Lake and started the climb out of that valley. This one hurt me. I was officially tired. I had been pulling a lot and giving away my energy to Colin, now it was my turn to feel it sink into me. My candle was starting to go out. 20 miles or so to go, we stopped to check the map and another rider caught up with us, we had ridden some with him before, he had a mechanical in the mud and was now riding a single speed! He had a nice pace going, so we all joined up. Colin animated and they started talking about their days and other cycling stuff. I just rode on…tired.
The miles passed quickly with the 3 of us talking and enjoying the company. We passed some riders with flats and finally turned east toward Americus. Colin flatted. Man, we did not need that. What do bugs do when there are not any lights around? I guess we must have looked like an Insect Linkin Park concert to these bugs, cause they were working a major mosh pit right on top of us!!! Man it was incredible…and by the way, where did the wind go!???!! Our partner decided he would just roll along and we could probably catch him in a few miles. Wise man, as the insect world was taking over!!! Colin did a quick change, checked for problems in the tire, remounted it with a new tube and it would not hold air…CRAP!!! Repeat, and the second tube held air!!! Maybe the first one had been used earlier in the day(???) who knows, but we were back and rolling, we left the insect mosh pit and struck out to finish this thing!
When does this gravel tunnel end! We gave each other a fist bump at the 200 mile mark. I was feeling better, energy had not faded much more, I had snacked on a gel pack a few miles earlier so that probably helped to keep me up. Colin was smelling the barn…he was really jazzed up, I just hope he didn’t drop me on the way into town! We then crossed the scariest bridge I have ever ridden over. The deck surface was metal grates and there were 3-5 inch gaps running parallel to direction we were going! It of course was dark and we just thought it was another bridge on a dirt road! If either of us had been 1 foot to the right or left, we would have dropped a front wheel into one of those gaps and done an instant face plant onto the metal grate of the bridge!!! Man, that was a very unnerving moment.
Colin had recovered from the earlier challenges, he had met them, adapted and pushed though some very tough mental and physical barriers…all we had left were the emotions we would experience as we punched through the finish line together, or so we thought…damn, another FLAT…according to my Garmin, we were inside of 3 miles to go! I had not had a flat all day and now my rear tire has gone. We went to work changing it…it went down real slow, so there must be a small leak someplace. Colin checked my tire and found a little metal sliver sticking through it, probably off that crazy metal grated bridge less than 800 meters earlier! Glad we discovered what caused it. I put in a tube, started to pump it up…it wouldn’t hold air…dang! Something must have worn a hole in the tube in my kit bag, pull out another tube…it is our last one…and for some reason, it is a road tube. I was running 40c tires, this was really going to stretch the tube very thin and we were still on gravel. Man I hope we make it on this, I don’t want to walk it in. The tire is up, wheel on the bike, off we go again, hoping and praying for the gravel to turn to pavement…it does in 200 meters.
We are on pavement, the lights of Emporia are close, even lighting our faces as we come into town. Onto the ESU campus, we line up on Commercial and head toward the finish line, we see Karen as we exit campus, she is cheering us on from her car, we grab hands!!! We did this together…my throat is tight…my eyes water a bit…my speech is broken…this is a free fall of emotions as we start to hear cheers from the gathering of friends and fans of the DK experience. We fly across the finish line and into the welcome arms of our support crew, Stacie, Lonnie and JP, we could not have done this without them…I get off my bike, drop it and Colin and I grab each other in a hard embrace…I start to choke up a bit, then we laugh in amazement of what we have just completed!!! Colin’s face was lit up with emotion, spirit, the sense of accomplishing something that just few hours ago he thought was beyond his grasp, he persevered and while not beating the DK…it did not beat him or us either!
It was an amazing experience…no words for what we felt at that moment. We finished at 11:42 pm, 17:42 hours on the road, 14:23 in riding time, 204 miles, 37 & 38 place out of 68 official finishers through the Flint Hills of Kansas with my son at my side every turn of the pedal. It was the greatest gift ever.