Last but not least!
Leg 4 of my Dirty Kanza report!
As I'm leaving CP3 I remember that I'd had my Garmin bike computer (being used for navigation) beep a "Low Battery" warning at me a few miles before the CP so I quickly stop and pull the very small back up battery out of my pocket and plug it in to the computer. Then I use an old pump strap to secure it on top of my stem.
As I'm about to set off again, I hear someone call my name. It's Steve from Texas.
I'd met Steve the day before as he was in the hotel room next to Robert and Matt. Steve is in his mid 70's and had come up to do the 100 mile race and we'd chatted about tire choice as I put the final touches on my bike assembly. Later in the evening Steve bailed me out when I was trying to fill my brand new, untested, Camelbaks. I was having issues with them leaking because I was in a hurry and was cross threading the tops. He figured out the issue and helped me get them sorted. Thanks Steve!
Apparently he had crashed 60 miles into his 100 and had to stop but was there at the CP for some reason. He warns me about some pretty rough bits about 10 miles out that had caused his crash and then cheers me on as I get rolling again.
As I get pedal off I glance back and see some of the other guys from what was the front group pretty close behind me. I'm not sure if they are just arriving or if I'd taken so long in the CP that they are leaving with me.
This last CP was kinda cool with the support crews stationed all along the sides of the street. There are lots of cheers of support, and being near the front of the race meant that most of the support crews are here waiting for their riders.
As I round the corner about 2/3rds of the way through the CP I hear a familiar voice yell my name and offer some very encouraging words. What they were exactly I don't remember, but I remember they were very much appreciated. Thanks Matthew Bianchi!
I'm feeling pretty good as I leave for this last leg and I quickly realize that the other riders I'd seen a few seconds ago had been just arriving at the CP and I'm all alone. I settle into a comfortable pace and try not to think about the final 45 miles or so to the finish.
At one point not too far into the leg I round a pretty fast 90 degree left turn with particularly deep gravel and I notice a skid mark gouged all the way to the hard road bed underneath. I think, "Ouch, somebody missed that turn!"
Unfortunately, I'm also feeling a bit of a pit in my stomach. Running out of drink mix and water in that last leg is coming back to haunt me. Or maybe it was the pickle juice and coke combo? Probably all of the above, but whatever it is, it doesn't feel so good and it's an effort to keep drinking and eating the gel and mix I have with me.
So I'm more than a bit relieved as I round a corner to see Gordon W. Wadsworth hunched over a cooler loading cans into his back pocket. I stop to join him and find a selection of mini sodas. One in particular tickles my fancy, Dr. Thunder. Despite having never heard of it, by the name and the design of the logo, I know what this one's going to taste like and it tastes fantastic! I guzzle one and stick 1 in my pocket for later.
Once we get going I notice his shorts are torn and there's blood on his left knee and hip. I immediately think back to that deep gouge in the gravel and ask if that was his. He said he'd tried attacking on that bit and just went into that corner too hot. Obviously it didn't work out so well! OUCH!
I don't know if it was his plan to distract me or if I was just really tired and happy to be in the position I was in, but we got to chatting about all sorts of things. On second thought, I think he's just a very friendly dude and was also happy to have someone to talk to at this point.
The course, of course, never let up, and for the first time all day there were sections where we really started to feel the wind blowing in our faces. On that front, it was really nice to have someone to rotate with and get a bit of a break from the head wind.
The only photos we have of this leg are a bridge crossing series courtesy of Linda Guerette... https://goo.gl/TxvEr7.
I'm pretty tired at this point as I'm sure most were. I've also got shooting pain in my right big toe. On rough bits of road it feels like what I imagine having someone jam bamboo shoots under my toenail would feel like. On smoother sections I can actually pedal, but as soon as the road gets a bit rough I'm pretty much just pedaling with my left leg as it hurts too much to use my right.
I'm thankful for the company and the conversation to distract me from the toe pain, and exhaustion, that's setting in. So when he asks me about how I see the finish going down I tell him I won't contest the sprint. Not that I could anyway, with the way he keeps peppering me with questions, I can tell he has way more energy left than I do. He could easily just ride away from me at any time if he wanted to. He sticks with me though. Thankfully.
As we're rolling along this leg we are catching quite a few of the folks who are doing the 100 mile event. We both say hello and offer some encouraging words, just as they do as we pass them.
On the last half of the leg we also come across a couple local families out in their yards giving handups of cold bottles of water (OMG! That tastes so good! OMG that feels sssooo good on my head and my aching toe too!), and others closer to the finish, sitting in lawn chairs with signs all over their yards, drinking beer and cheering us on to the finish.
Having done the race the year before on the same course Gordon has been giving me updates now and again with how close we are. Then, before I know it we're riding next to the baseball fields that Robert pointed out to me as we drove into town. A quick left turn through a short tunnel and another left onto a nice paved city street next to the Emporia State University campus and we're staring up at the final roller before the finish. It looks like the Alpe d'Huez! Feels like it too!
After a right turn at the top, we descend through the ESU campus and approach a flashing red stoplight with a cop car and orange cones everywhere. I start to slow as I recall the rules stating we're on open roads and that we have to obey all traffic laws just as Gordon launches his sprint. D'oh! I didn't mean to make it that easy for him!
I get out of the saddle for a few hard pedal strokes as we enter the coned and fenced off chute to the finish lined with cheering crowds on both sides. Wow! Now I get why this race is so popular. Even as tired as I am I feel the electricity of the crowd.
As I cross the line I roll up next to Gordon already getting his handshake and hugs from the promoters Jim and Lelan. Such a special greeting! They greet each and every finisher this way, and it's pretty damn cool. Definitely an awesome way to be greeted at the end of such a grueling day on the bike.
Photo courtesy of Jason Ebberts... https://goo.gl/jtLwJC
I hang out in the finish area for a bit as I sign the finish banner, get a photo with Ted King who finishes a few minutes behind me, and generally just soak in the atmosphere.
Matt finds me a bit later and gives me an update on where Robert is. He has some cold chocolate milk he bought for Robert but offers me some. I drink half and decide to wait the hour or so we expect Robert to arrive in. In the meantime I take advantage of the Elevated Legs sample booth in the "Recovery Zone".
Once Robert arrives we get a quick photo together then head back to the hotel. Matt offers me a ride but I decide to ride the 2.5 miles. It actually feels good to move my legs a bit after standing around for so long.
We make plans to meet in a half hour or so to get an Uber back down to the finish for dinner and beers. The shower feels like the fountain of youth! So does the chicken stirfry and cold blood orange radler from The Free State Brewing Co.. I have 3. I think.
Not long after I'm fading fast so Matt gets me an Uber back to the hotel. Done.
P.S. I know I don't describe the actual road conditions much in these reports. Here is a great video courtesy of Gravel Cyclist that gives you an idea of what they were like.