Dirty Kanza 2019 Recap

The bigger the challenge, the more I’m tempted to do it. And that’s how I ended up at the start line of Dirty Kanza in Emporia Kansas at 6am.

For the uninitiated, Dirty Kanza is an organized event that takes you through stunning gravel roads in Kansas. They call it the “World’s Premier Gravel Event.” They have a number of options for you to choose from, including a 25-mile, 50-mile, 100-mile, 200-mile, and invite-only 350-mile ride.

I opted for the biggest ride available to me, the 200 mile (DK200). And let me say, it was an adventure. Here’s how I did it—from aid stations to equipment—and what to think about if you’re considering doing this event.

Aid stations and prep

Dirty Kanza is a mass organized event like no other. There are no course markings. They do not have aid stations where you’re guaranteed food and water. You can’t drop your own stuff off at aid stations.

In that sense, you could argue that Kanza is as close to a true adventure ride as a mass organized ride can be. You’re responsible for you. It’s a big step away from other rides, and their style has its pluses and minuses. Personally, I’m cool with the minimalism, but it’s hard to justify the $220+ cost with that setup.

In the 2019 DK200 course, we had four aid stations:

  1. Aid station 1: Roughly mile 64. Our hired SAG crew was there waiting with our bags. They refilled my bottles and Orange Mud bladder, and threw some chain lube on my bicycle.
  2. Aid station 2: Mile 100. HALF WAY! This was a surprise water stop sponsored by EF. This was seriously a godsend, as the heat was picking up like crazy by that point. Your crew isn’t here, it’s a neutral water stop.
  3. Aid station 3: Roughly mile 120. This was another neutral water stop. Your crew isn’t at this one either.
  4. Aid station 4: About mile 151. You see your crew for a second and final time for snacks and hydration. And moral support.

To do Kanza, you need to have a crew (or friends/family) drop your bags of food, water, etc off at the designated aid stations. We hired our SAG crew from 3 Feet Cycling for $100 a person. We dropped off our bags the day before and they took care of everything for us at the aid stations on race day. While we were initially annoyed to have to hire a crew (as Kanza is already expensive), I was pretty grateful to have those guys and gals on my team by the end of the day.

Here’s what was in my aid station bags:

Aid station 1 (mile 64): 

  • 3 packages of Clif shot blocks
  • 3 Herbalife protein bars
  • 6 Nature’s Bakery bars
  • 1 Gu waffle
  • Tinted sunglasses
  • 1 bottle with 2 scoops of Herbalife Prepare mix
  • 1 bottle with 2 scoops of Herbalife Prolong mix
  • Rain gear (jacket, arm warmers, thicker gloves). Turns out that I did not need any of these in the 95+ heat.
  • Zealios Sun Barrier SPF 45 sunscreen

Aid station 2 (mile 151):

  • 6 Nature’s Bakery bars (I got really sick of these things by the end of the day)
  • 2 packages of Clif shot blocks
  • 1 smoothie filled Clif bar
  • 1 bottle with 2 scoops of Herbalife Prepare mix
  • 1 bottle with 2 scoops of Herbalife Prolong mix
  • Zealios Sun Barrier SPF 45 sunscreen

Aid station bag tips

  1. Vary up your nutrition. I made the unfortunate mistake of mostly only having Nature’s Bakery bars. This was mostly because I did not have time to go the grocery store.
  2. Bring food that you freaking love. You can probably bank on your DK being hot. For me, it’s hard to eat in the heat so I was force feeding myself stuff.
  3. Bring a mix of simple carbs, complex carbs, protein, and fat. Simple carbs are awesome, but you need more than that for such a big ride. Make sure you get some slow-release macros too.
  4. Electrolytes. My bottles had electrolyte mix and the Clif blocks did too. Thanks to that prep, I never cramped but I saw many people crippled by cramping throughout the ride. Make sure you are getting lots of electrolytes over the course of the day.
  5. Bring one more layer than you think you’ll need. Even if you feel silly packing the jacket, do it. In the small chance that you’ll need it, you’ll be so grateful to have it.
  6. SUNSCREEN! I might have mentioned that it was quite warm during my Kanza bonanza. I reapplied sunscreen at the second aid station and never got any sunburn whatsoever. I did add to my already existent lycra tan, but c’est la vie. Can’t recommend Zealios more, that stuff is amazing.

My setup and equipment

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 9.37.39 PM

I was pretty stoked on my Dirty Kanza setup. Honestly, there’s not anything I would go out of my way to change, besides maybe a handlebar-mounted fan (I’m only partially kidding). Here’s what I had:

  • An Orange Mud water backpack. I used their 4L Endurance Pack. A friend recommended it and I LOVED it. Lightweight and Super comfy for 200 miles.
  • Tob tube bag. I borrowed this from a friend and it was so handy. It made accessing my water bottles a little difficult, but I borrowed a bottle cage with a side-removal from my boyfriend and that worked out great.
  • Flat change stuff. 3 spare tubes, a pump, and a patch kit.
  • Lezyne Mega XL computer. SERIOUSLY THE MVP OF THE ENTIRE EVENT. Holy smokes this thing lasts forever (48 hours) and was incredible the entire day. I kept coming across people whose computers had died. As I said before, the course is unmarked and you need a GPS to get through the day. My Lezyne computer held up to the big task beautifully.
  • Front and backlight. I ended my ride right around 10pm and needed lights for the last 1.5 hours or so. Almost forgot to bring these, make sure you pack yours even if you think you’ll be super fast.

Equipment tips: 

  • Tubeless tires with lots of sidewall protection. I did not flat, but I had a very slow leak. I pumped up my tire at the second aid station and rode on a tire with about 12-15 psi for the last hour (yes I could have just pumped it up again but honestly I knew the finish was close and that I could make it there).
  • Make sure you have lots of sealant in your tire.
  • Test your computer’s battery life when navigating. Battery life without navigating is very different from battery life with navigating. Ran into a lot of people who couldn’t understand why their 15-hour battery life computers died 8 hours in. Running nav uses up a lot more juice.
  • Make sure the course is pre-loaded onto your computer and you know how to start it. You don’t want to think you downloaded the ride only to discover at the start line that something went wrong and you actually don’t have the GPS route.
  • Bring extra batteries for your lights. Just in case 🙂
  • Bring 2+ tubes. Ideally 3+. Fingers crossed you don’t flat, but if you do, you’re gonna need these.

Dirty Kanza terrain and elements

The ride worked out to be 201 miles with 11,200 feet of climbing in total. I rode for 14 hours and 37 minutes, but my actual ride time was around 16 hours due to all the stopping I did, mostly to cool down (that heat tho).

The terrain varied from compact dirt to rutted country gravel roads to big chunks of gravel. The ruts were tricky for me. You had to be really mindful of line choice and pay attention to what others are doing. I actually went down once because the dude in front of me braked hard (probably a domino effect), and I was in a rut with nowhere to go. The chunky gravel was tough but rideable.

Hills were rolling throughout the course. No “big” climbs, at least not from my perspective (granted, I had just done a 6K ft dirt climb the week before, so I might be biased). There was some punchy stuff here and there, but nothing too wild.

There were also quite a few creek crossings. All were totally rideable, but I opted to get off and walk through the creeks in an effort to cool down.

For me, the hardest part of the whole ride was the heat. My legs felt great from all the base miles I put in while riding from Reno to Mendocino. But I was not adjusted to the hours of 90+ weather. I made the conscious decision to respect the heat:

  • I knew that eating would be harder. Every 30 minutes, I made myself eat something. As the day wore on, it was harder and harder to eat, but I did it anyway.
  • When I felt too warm, I’d find a shady spot and rest for a couple minutes. I don’t normally like to stop on bike rides, but I felt this was necessary.
  • At every creek crossing, I’d dismount and slowly wade through the water. I’d also splash water all down my neck and head to cool down.
  • At the second neutral ride support, they actually hosed me down with cold water and it felt ***amazing***
  • I kept on drinking, even when I did not feel thirsty. I drank so much, yet was still incredibly dehydrated the whole day (full disclosure, I only had to pee once in the 16 hours I was out).

It never rained. Rain (thunderstorms, actually) were on the forecast, but I did not feel so much as a drop on the day (but oh man I wish I did). There was not a cloud all day, just lots of sun and blue skies. It was truly a gorgeous (albeit very warm) day. That said, be prepared for rain or shine.

Yes I would do it again

Won’t lie, Dirty Kanza is tough. I was covered in heat rash and extremely dehydrated despite my best efforts. When I got to Chase the Chaise 180-miles in, I cried tears of joy. After crossing the finish, I sat in somewhat disbelief for 20+ minutes before Blake guided me back to the car to change and get food. It took about 2 days before my appetite returned, and I christened that moment with an entire box of Annie’s mac ‘n cheese.

But, it was such an awesome adventure. It kept hitting me that I was out in the middle of Kansas riding super rad dirt roads. And honestly, the toughness of the challenge makes it that much more rewarding when you’re done. You’re like, holy shit, I did that. It’s pretty cool and yes, I would do it again.