Friday, June 12, 2015

Dirty Pretty Things

This ain't no picnic. 

visit Adventure Monkey's site for a ton of awesome photos of much better looking people.

I wasn't unprepared for the mud... having watched the weather... having been told multiple times that it would be messy this year.... having heard stories and seen pictures from the Land Run 100... having been in my own mess of mud many times before....
But I wasn't prepared.
It didn't really matter. When it's all punches, you just roll with them... whatever form they take. (I'm a fan of the "self-punch," incidentally. Not so much of the "taint punch.")
And being "prepared" isn't a language I really give a fuck about learning. At least not in the common parlance. 99% of the time, it just means having a random assortment of (hopefully the right) shit stuffed in (hopefully the right) pockets... having been on my bike a handful of times to "train" (I'm a really useful engine).... and showing up on time. Not that those things always happen. Rarely, in fact.

"Are you nervous about tomorrow?" someone asked me the day before. Nervous? If anything, tomorrow was the easiest part. It was another day on the bike. Yeah it was going to hurt. Yeah it was going to be long. But it was pushing pedals. Physically moving forward. Regardless of how much it hurts, I can almost always physically move forward.
Even if I'm not doing it very well.
If I was nervous... it was about my head. About where it would take me. About it's own miring mud, stream crossings and sharp rocks. It was already struggling.... Proximity and distance. Absence and presence.
A head heavy with ghosts.
And...ghosts don't care how far you're riding, or how far you've traveled. The fuckers.

It was misting as we lined up that morning. And a stout wind pressed at our backs. And it was cold. After a false start involving an ill-timed train (decidedly not a really useful engine), I started moving my way up to the front. James and I sat in and pulled accordingly, using one or two of the matches in our book to get closer to the lead group. As we knew we would.
When we hit the mess and the bike went on my shoulder, I heard a spectator say "About three miles of this, guys." In comparison to the 200 miles we were riding, three was nothing. But... damn if this bike wasn't heavy, caked with pounds of mud. And damn if it wasn't awkward, draped across my shoulders like a cross. (I smiled at the grimly amusing thought that, at the moment, the Stigmata would be a more apropos bike than the RLT.)
And damn if my feet no longer resembled feet, but giant mud rafts...As wide as they were long.
But hoisting the bike was the only option. The mud was so tacky that one tire rotation was enough to jam your wheels and stop your show. Once in a while you could get back on, but it rarely lasted more than thirty seconds.
I heard James behind me. "I'm done."
Me too, I thought.
Turns out he really was. His derailleur hanger had snapped and his show had come to a screeching halt.
His chain tool snapped as he tried to rig the bike into a singlespeed.
I can only imagine his frustration.

Because this... was only mile 11.

I need a little escape. 
I'd come to Kansas for sun, sky and heat. And other things. Tangible and intangible... but ultimately ineffable.

Why? I have my reasons. None of which make sense. Unless you're me. And I am.... much to everyone's dismay.
Different places move me in different ways. The Flint Hills... regardless of what you think you know... have some gravity. Are there prettier places? Yes. Maybe. Probably. Definitely. But... I needed that. I needed prairie. I needed horizon. I needed this trip. And bizarre as it seems. I needed Kansas.
Sigh...I told you. Ineffable.

I left Greensboro mid morning on Tuesday, intending to meander my way west and arrive in Emporia either Thursday night or Friday morning.
I had a few rules for traveling.
1) No more than six hours a day of driving.
2) No fast food.
3) Stop at shops.
4) Ride good trails.
5) Go wherever the fuck I want.
6) Stop wherever the fuck I want.

My destination for the night would be Knoxville, TN....crashing with Greggers and Yvonne. 
But first, I wanted to stop at First Flight and see Mombat again. It had been a few years. 
It was better than ever, Jeff and Wes having cleaned house in prep for NAHBS last year. If you ever find yourself passing within an hour of Statesville, NC... you need to take a detour. Especially if, like me, you have a boner for old mountain bikes. (Not a weird boner, kook. Like... a morning boner. Ok... maybe it's a little weird.)
I came to cycling in the late 80's, via my brother... and via the relatively new sport of mountain biking. I wanted to be Greg Herbold. I wanted to hang out with Tinker Juarez. I wanted to beat John Tomac. I wanted to kiss Missy Giove. (yeah) I wanted to go steady with Juli Furtado. (still do) Take those things as you will. I was young. Regardless, it all translates into a love for all things early MTB. From the materials, to the geometries, to the colors, to the styles. 
Mombat has done an excellent job of hoarding and preserving all of those things. 

Another reason I like First Flight.
Jeff and I almost went down the same different path.
Hard-ons for hard things.
Boners for bones.

When I started riding... the Tioga Farmer John was the go-to tire.
Doesn't matter how bad it rode.. I will always covet it.

Fuckn Fat Chance.

If it ain't Moto....

Jeff Archer.
It is fairly common knowledge that I am a world class photographer of the bike-cycles.
World. Fucking. Class.
Suck it, Prolly.
I ate some fish tacos next door... drank an AssClown Pale Ale (Hey Reitzel... it's really real!) and kept on down the road. I stopped at a shop in Asheville where a kid with the same haircut as me asked me if I needed help. "Nah man... I'm just passing through." He shrugged in a dickish way and walked back to his station. Huh. Not that I'm super keen when people give me that same answer... but I guess I have a different expectation of how my staff engages customers.

As I was entering Knoxville, I passed a truck. (cool story, Watts!)
I casually noticed that it was carrying a giant backhoe. "Damn" I thought. "That looks sketchy. Those treads are barely sitting on the bed of that trailer. I hope the other side is balanced the same. What am I saying? Of course it is... those dudes are professionals. I'm sure they know what they're doing." At which point the loading arm struck the motherfucking shit out of the bridge we were passing under. I looked into my rearview mirrow and saw only a giant cloud of dust and a lot of swerving cars.
A mile later, my hands stopped shaking.
I rolled into Knoxville in time to walk into Scott's Shop... TVB, right before they closed. So he, Neil and I walked next door and drankded beer.

Then I went and joined Greggers for some fucking awesome grilled meat, beer and... dog.

I'd have stolen the shit out of this dog if I didn't think it would break Yvonne's heart.
Photo cred: Greggers

The next morning, Greggers headed off on his own travels... and I went riding.
Knoxville singletrack... it's pretty fucking awesome. They've got some good stuff going on in that town. You should visit.

I hose-showered on Greg's back patio, giving the neighbors a bit of a show... and started driving toward St. Louis, stopping for the night at Rend Lake, where it rained bugs. And water. But mostly bugs. So many bugs.

Ah yes...the "I'm lonely in some random campground and need validation NOW" selfie.
Forever a classic.

Followed by the "coffee and shoes for no reason save to say "this is my awesome morning in my awesome fucking van. Like me. Please?"" pic.
(It really was awesome.)
From there I set out looking for trails. I ended up at Binder State Park near Jefferson City. (Did you fucking know... that Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri? Oh. You did. Hmm. Well...I'd have failed that test. But then...I do everything I can to avoid thinking about Missouri, so....
The trails were pretty good. Until it started dumping on me. At which point they got treacherous really quick. I fell on wet roots no less than four times. My hip was still pretty damn tender on race day.

Why is this picture even in here? Why?
Because...validation.  Love me?
I rewarded myself with a delicious beer and a mediocre burger from Prison Brews and started heading toward Emporia.
I pulled in at dusk and headed straight to Mulready's. Where I forgot to put a Revolting Cogs sticker on the door. Damn.
There I ran into Tim Mohn (who I called Jim. Multiple times. I'm smrt.) He recognized me, but I was baffled as to where he could possibly know me from. I mean... from time to time someone approaches me and says something like, "Hey... you're the Revolting Cogs guy!" And I say, "You read that shit? I'm sorry." In this case we'd met at Frostbike. (I 'member now.) I got some local lore and next day intel from him... along with some food recommendations... and headed to Radius for some more beer and a salad. Yeah. A salad. It felt like I hadn't eaten anything green in days.
Then I hooked up with Matt Falwell, who was my bunk buddy for the weekend.
Matt and I had met at SSCXWC in Philly a few years ago.... both of us wearing Manwolfs gear. He'd appropriated the Manwolfs logo for his own team, Manwolfs CX.
I knew we'd be fast friends.

And if you need more... (which you most definitely do.)

The next day I hid in a coffee shop, did some email and tried to finish Frostbukake Part 3 (or is it 4?) I didn't, busy as I was watching people. But one day I will... and it will be no less meaningless then, either. I grabbed my packet, ate some barbeque with fellow Greensboroites Will Shore and Jimmy Williams, bought a book from Rebecca Rusch, and went for a ride.

Apparently, we love you. We really, really love you.
I honestly don't know why.

Jimmy, some dick, and Rebecca. 
About a mile into the ride, my rear tire blew off the rim. Well shit. I pumped it up and kept riding, but tentatively. My riding partner laughed at me. I smiled. But less about the flat and more about that laugh.
Later... as I was trying to ride my "drop bags" (a grocery bag full of... whatever) over to James and his wife Regina, who would be my support, the rear tire blew off again. This time I didn't smile.
The Kenda Happy Mediums that I'd chosen for this race were, it turns out, not terribly happy when inflated to more than 40 psi. Well shit. After much debate, I ended up swapping the rear tire for the spare I'd packed. It held, though I was ready to be that guy with the flat 3 miles in.
Instead my flat came 170 miles in.
I never made it to the race-meeting, as I was on the lawn in front of some random house fucking with my tire.
So instead I went to Radius for pizza and beer with Matt. How many beers is too many before riding 200 miles? As long as it's coupled with water, the world may never know.
I slept less than four hours and peed more than 40 times that night.

Don't ask why.
I don't know how many people toed the line at Kanza this year.. but there were 1500 people signed up. 428 finished.
I was the 69th.

Singlespeed was the right choice. Though it would be fun to run gears on a dry year and see what happened.
For those that give a shit about such things....
I was running 39x17, (Endless Bike, of course) which is what I run for cross racing. And Peter Chrapkowski approves, so it's good enough for me. It was pretty close to ideal. A little spinny on flat sections, a little stout for the three big climbs. But otherwise damn near perfectly balanced.
The Kenda Happy Mediums (40s) had all the grip I wanted, though having to run such low pressure (40 max) made for a little drag on the fast sections. Oh well. It was comfortable, at least.
Initially I was going to run a Revelate Designs Viscacha and Gas Tank, with all the emergency shit in the back and my food up front. On a geared bike, where I would be seated all the time, the Gas Tank works great, but I found that it rubbed my legs too much if I got out of the saddle. Which you do on a SS. So I opted for the Tangle, which held everything I needed and stayed out of my way.

Shakedown rides are important, kids. It's when you find out that you did a super-shit rush-job of wrapping your bar-tape and didn't tighten your chainring bolts enough. Or your stem bolts. Or brake levers. Or your fucking head.
Not assembling your race-bike at midnight with beer as your only calories for the day is also important.
Know what else is important? Falling in... and making love. Fucking is great and all. But making love...Fuck....

With the mud behind us, and the field dramatically diminished, I was alone much faster than I'd expected. I let my head go where it would, alternately smiling and grimacing. Laughing out loud and clenching my jaw. I jockeyed back and forth with Hunter Henry and Wes, and we played 1,2,3 singlespeed. A rider, I still don't know who, passed and stayed away. I wasn't eating enough. I knew it, but couldn't do anything about it. I rolled into the first check-point feeling a little deflated, but serviceable. James and Regina pulled in right as I did. Good timing. I could tell James was bummed about his own ride and still processing it, but they ruled as support and I was extremely lucky and happy to have them. I rolled out and a man in a chair told me that I was in 21st overall position. That seemed insane, but ok. I grimly wondered how long until my calorie deficit caught up with me and tried to choke down a ProBar.
It caught up with me at mile 100, about the time Will caught me...and lasted until the next checkpoint. "Hey Watts," Will said cheerfully. "I'll work for you. I got nothing else do for the next six hours."
Let me tell you a little about Will Shore.

Snagging some numero tres podium.

He is one of the strongest, most unassuming riders you will ever meet. He will tear your legs off without changing expression. He will do it on a 26 inch mountain bike and unshorn legs. He will also leave his house in a tshirt and safety glasses for a short ride and return home 100 miles later. He finishes most rides with more shit than he started.. his jersey pockets full of litter he's picked up along the way.
He's also a hemophiliac. Yeah... like Czar Nicholas' son. Which is one of the reasons his legs are unshorn. If he starts bleeding, he doesn't stop. Which doesn't stop him from going. You should take notes.
Will kindly pulled me along until I stopped to pee orange and a geared-rider train came through. Will hopped on and I never saw him again. It was good while it lasted.

My cadence began to slow. My head began to hang. My thoughts began to darken. And I slogged through 50 miles of doubt and demons and ghosts.
Some people... love themselves. Some people... don't. I'll just say this... when other people love me... I just wonder how long until they pull their heads out of their asses and walk away.

I was a shell of a man when I rolled into the second checkpoint, having tacked on some mileage with a wrong turn a little way back.
When I rolled out, I was a new man. A meat-laden sandwich from Jimmy Johns, a coke, a bike-cleaning-of-the-gods. I was bummed for James and his race. But I was happy as hell that he was my support. His yin-preparation helped balance my yang-whatthefuckever. I felt great. The bike felt great. I was confident that I could catch Hunter and Wes if I dug deep.
That fell apart a little when I got the flat, smacking a rock with my front tire and breaking the tubeless seal. I almost got it to reseat, but ultimately had to put a tube in it. At least one SS rider passed me. When I was rolling again, I went out quick, and passed a left turn. A few miles down the road I came across a closed bridge and a lone fisherman. "Man... I think you're way off course!" He said.
I turned around, the wind taken out of my sails. I glommed onto various groups and finally met up with fellow singlespeeder Derek. By this point he could have soundly rolled away from my defeated and deflated ass, but we stuck together and rolled across the line side by side. I guess I was a millimeter ahead of him, because I took 7th and he took 8th.
We highfived and I shook hands with Lelan at the finish.
Then I ruefully looked around and had a brief moment of sadness...wishing someone could be there for me at the finish... not sure how it could have worked, but still feeling a momentary pang.
The loneliness of the long distance rider.
Then... I filled my pint glass... and walked away... and tried to get my head straight.'s late... and I have too much to do today... so for the moment, I'll stop there. But suffice to say, I have more to say about Kanza. Both about the race... and about the aftermath... and the return trip.
It involves finding secret notes hidden all over my van, dick-head cops, old friends, an overwhelming urge to drive west...and giardia.
Aren't you lucky.

I'm guessing it was the cops.


  1. Love it! I find it weird we know the same people yet I have no idea who you are. You must be a pretty cool bloke tho, James and Scott are good peeps. Maybe some day we will share the same dirt, gravel and beers! Cheers! Enjoyed your blog about the the suck!

    1. Sounds like a plan, Korps. Kind thanks for the kind words.

  2. Nice. DK200: This ain't no game. TVB RULES!

  3. I walked past you in the hallway outside of breakfast Saturday, I'll say "Hello" next time.

    Nice job up there in the front!

    1. Thanks, Farmdogs. "Preciate it. You too. If I'm putting the pieces together right, I 'member seeing you that morning. And I almost turned north after the race and headed up towards Dekalb to see the shop and enjoy Tobie's hospitality. Another time.

  4. My mission was to get you across that finish line; come Hell or high water (incidentally, both were totally an option that day).

    - Yin