Riders Write: The Fire of Dirty Kanza

By Tim Ek,

This race just won’t leave me alone. I poured over its details beforehand and now that it’s done I can’t stop replaying the scenes in my mind. I close my eyes at night and there I am back on Battle Creek Road, trying to remain calm as I scan the flint rock under my feet for a lost tool. When I do fall asleep, the dreams I have are visions of leaders slipping away from me as I succumb to another flat tire. 

The 2012 Dirty Kanza was a beauty and a beast to me. She seemed to grab me by the shoulders and look me square in the eye to say, “This ain’t gonna be easy.” I felt her test me as I struggled to find sense in a confusing situation of failure. In fact, at one point I thrust my head back and yelled to the bright blue sky, “WHY??!!” as I contemplated my third flat tire.  It wasn’t until 200 miles had passed that I felt I really had an answer to that question.

It turns out the Dirty Kanza doesn’t care if you’re a bike racer or not. It turns out the Dirty Kanza wants you to know that she may or may not allow you to pass over her gravel. It turns out the Dirty Kanza needs to know you really understand her before you’ll be allowed to know her beauty.

I may have been a two-time veteran of this race, but it seems I didn’t take enough care to respect all that it is, not this time anyway, a mistake I won’t make again. The D.K. ate my tires, forced me to kneel in her flint, cut my finger open, and even sent a bumble bee to sting me. It wasn’t until I had been through these hardships that she (and I) realized I was still looking for her beauty.

Sure, I could see it with my eyes, but I wanted to feel it, I wanted to know it. It wasn’t until I decided to stop racing the riders around me that she allowed me to continue. It was when I chose to race the sun that my problems abated.  Not until I began looking over my shoulder at the arc of the sun’s descent did I began to feel the grace of the prairie.

It seemed the tighter the race between me reaching the finish line and the sun reaching the horizon, the more stunning the Dirty Kanza became. The colors began to take on a heavenly, yellowish tint as the open expanses seemed to dance with fire where grass met sky.

The “Dirty” was no longer a part of the “Kanza”. In fact, the race was no longer a race to me, but more of an adventure. An adventure that I needed to prove I was up to.

Please believe me when I tell you that as I came to the finish line sadness came over me. I had been a part of something bigger than myself, bigger than any race could ever be. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to ride right back out into the prairie and hold her fire for those final fleeting moments before darkness took her into its nightly grasp.

The Dirty Kanza was hard on me, yet gentle with me. She reminded me why I ride my bicycle great distances and more importantly she reminded me that I can stare adversity in the face and say, “I will not quit.”


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