GRAVEL GRINDING: THE DIRTY KANZA 200 INTRODUCED ME TO A VERSION OF CYCLING THAT TAKES BIKES OFF OF SMOOTHLY PAVED ROADS, onto dirt and gravel trails. Let me be clear, I did not actually participate in or spectate this type of next-level sport excitement, but decided to investigate after my cycling daughter shared a video that highlights the DK200 (Project Y, Mythical State of, “Why People Do S*** That Sucks”; no longer available).
Oftentimes, news about a specific event will spur interest in an activity that had been appreciated by only a relatively few aficionados. Then, once the world learns about it, elites and their sponsors take over and organize most or all the charm out of what had been a small, unique, local contest. It becomes a celebrity event; that is to say, the event is the celebrity. Merely participating is an elusive goal for most.
Endurance sports often give birth to such events. There seems to be a formula involved in creating a ‘celebrity’ competition. A group of hard core athlete friends get together and try to find ways in which to physically punish themselves to extremes. The venue is typically their home turf; the course is brutal, often in a remote area. The course can ‘win’ if competitors do not complete the challenge activity. Of course, bragging rights go to all who are fit enough to attempt the grueling effort. Core group members often return annually, not to best others, but to conquer the course. The chance of death is sometimes real.
The athletes seem to be outsiders, people who love and live for a sport, far away from flashy environs that are training centers for famous pampered competitors. These outsiders test themselves in the wilds, in front of equals rather than spectators.
Earned Runs has and will highlight these endurance contests because each represents an example of a competition that began as a custom-designed challenge. Each is proof that there’s no need to wait for the organized world to come to you to enjoy sport in extreme or enjoyable competitions.
Your personal event need not be a death-defying act of survival in a distant isolated location, but a local gathering of like-minded friends. Add a prize or title (serious or silly), a chance to repeat or redeem a performance annually, and a few quirky traditions. The Earned Runs endurance event formula won’t necessarily punish participants, but might still bring all together in a rewarding challenge.
Before learning more about cycling’s Dirty Kanzaa 200, the sport of gravel riding requires an bit of introduction.
THE SPORT OF GRAVEL GRINDING
A redshiftsports.com blog piece explains the cycling activity variably known as gravel riding, gravel grinding, or adventure riding. It “combines elements of road- and mountain-biking, consisting mostly of distance riding over unpaved roads”, which can be gravel or dirt trails. Because urban roads and trails tend to be surfaced, these unsurfaced courses tend to be located in remote, rural settings with scenery seldom appreciated by the casual traveler.
“Old wagon trails, forest roads, canal paths, and more can lead to exploring the unexplored” says the “gravel riding 101” article, which provides the basics on what to expect if you wish to try this sport. “It takes cycling to the next level and provides riders with exhilarating discoveries. The captivating scenery along the way makes gravel grinding one of the most aesthetically pleasing riding adventures possible.”
That sounds almost idyllic. But the name “Dirty Kanzaa” implies a harsher endurance riding experience. In the Red Shift blog posting this event is identified as one of the most highly anticipated of the epic gravel riding events. The description suggests that surviving it might be one level of winning. As tough as it is depicted, beginners are encouraged to, rather than discouraged from, entering the competition, riding over shorter distances that will better match their experience and confidence levels. Training seems to be treated as a given, not an option. Dirty Kanzaa training camp attendance is specifically recommended.
What is it? The Dirty Kanzaa 200 event was founded in 2006, in the early days of gravel riding, according to the “About” page of the event website, by Jim Cummins, assisted by Joel Dyke. Jim was convinced the region he had been exploring on his bike for decades, while growing up in the Flint Hills east of central Kansas, had the “best gravel to be found anywhere in the world”. From 34 participants (18 finishers) in 2006, the DK200 now anticipates numbers above 2500. Proudly, it is described as a “grass-roots event organized and managed by folks who are passionate about cycling”, who have been enriched by cycling, and wish to give back to the endurance cycling community.
“The course is a 200-mile long single loop through the Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas. This is the last remaining tract of natural tallgrass prairie in North America.” The Quick Facts sheet indicates the fastest time to finish was clocked at 10 hours 42 minutes in 2014, by Brian Jensen. The last finishers are expected in after roughly 22-23 hours. Numerous checkpoints located on the course are spots where personal support crews can offer assistance to riders. “Other than that, Riders are completely on their own, and may not receive any outside assistance”.
The DK200, now a multi-day festival, is held the first weekend after Memorial Day; the 2019 date is June 1. Participation is determined by a computerized random selection process because high demand does not permit all registrants to cycle. There are several distances: 200-miles, 100-miles, 50-miles, and 25-miles, with quite a bit of detail involved in registering. If you are interested, best to get to the website pronto and do what is required to enter the selection process as an individual or a group.
Because of its popularity, the Dirty Kanzaa 200 has perhaps transitioned to being a celebrity event with big sponsors, restricted participation, a dedicated magazine, and a weekend festival. The organizers may have wished to, but were unable to, stop the race’s progression to this status.
Which means your custom-designed endurance event, death-defying or friendly, can fill the competition gap for friends and family, offering a chance to participate in a unique endurance experience without fear of restriction, which is accessible annually, and with registration staying open all year. It may even attract a 'cult' following! The festival is optional
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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