The 200 mile Dirty Kanza gravel event has been intriguing me for years, with stories that make it sound like a one-of-a-kind event for riders, supporters and spectators. This year I headed down to Emporia, Kansas to hang with friends and capture the event for Teravail.
Not only is the main event 200 miles long, but the aggressive flintstone riding surfaces make it a bumpy ride with a high risk of multiple flat tires and mechanical challenges.
Water crossings at the bottom of long descents force riders to decide how much to scrub their speed versus taking the risk of punctures. One small crossing in particular at mile 30 was eating tires, and challenging the technical skills of everyone. Adequate tire pressure and weight distribution on the bike was key.
Word on the street was there are more than 100 cattle grates along the course. These sketchy grates keep free-range cattle somewhat controlled so they don't wander to neighboring properties. This means that the spacing between each round, slippery grate is wide enough for cow hooves to fit through.
Climbs were also a factor. Kansas has long rolling hills mixed with steep, punchy grades in spots. Narrow "B roads" traverse the landscape providing ranchers access to their animals and homesteads. The vistas south of Emporia were beautiful, like the one at mile 68, where Heidi Rentz from The Cyclists Menu danced over the top effortlessly.
Checkpoint three at mile 163 was the point of reckoning for many riders. At this point most had been riding for 10 or more hours, and faced another 3-5 hours in the last 40-plus mile leg to the finish in downtown Emporia.
The scene in downtown Emporia was incredible considering this is a small, hard-to-get-to town, and a grassroots gravel event. It felt like a major international event with hundreds of spectators cheering, music pumping, and a party on the street as people were finishing in the dark. The vibe was awesome, to say the least.
The Dirty Kanza put a serious bug in me. I left Emporia totally stoked, dead-set on riding the event in 2018. Congratulations to everyone from the Teravail crew for an amazing day on the bike, and the Dirty Kanza race organizers for putting on such a world-class event in the rural heartland of America. Kudos.
A complete gallery of images is below (click an image to see full screen).