When I traveled to Emporia, Kansas in May of 2011, I was had no idea the effect it would have on my life. It was my first try at a gravel race. Though I'd ridden the dirt roads and old mining doubletracks of Boulder County and beyond for some time, none of those outings had included a number or timing. It was also my first go at a double century. The Ride Across INdiana (RAIN) had been my previous longest ride at 163 paved miles and that had been several years prior.
I was in Emporia at the invitation of Salsa Cycles. They provided me with an entry to the race, a frameset to ride and a place to stay. The Salsa crew included sponsored riders and employees. We all stayed at a local's house (thanks Randy!) where we made ourselves at home, crashing on couches and sharing floor space.
Among the people I met I made friends who inspire me to this day. I discovered a new tribe and a welcoming one at that. Joe Meiser, now the Senior Product Manager at Salsa, later took me on my first multi-day bikepacking trip. He had finished Tour Divide in 2009 and after hearing some of his tales, I was enamored with the idea of tackling the route myself.
Lelan Dains lived at the house where we were staying. He volunteered to support us at aid stations. He's now a part owner of the Dirty Kanza and someone I hold in the highest regard. I can honestly say that without him I wouldn't have finished that long day of racing. His encouragement and unending enthusiasm pushed me to plumb new depths.
Tim Ek, a Salsa athlete, helped to allay several of my fears about the distance, the roads and the amount of calories needed. I was certainly packing my fears that first year, with far too many inner tubes and energy gels strapped to my bike. The day before the race we found ourselves relaxing, watching TV when 1984's "Red Dawn" came on. It was exactly what we needed, a cheesy movie to distract us. We joked that "Avenge me!" would be our call to each other if either of us fell victim to punctures.
And as much as all the people I've just mentioned mean to me, it was Jason Gaikowski who, over the subsequent years, has become my brother. He worked at Quality Bicycle Products at the time. We ended up sharing floor space in a quiet loft area of the house. Jason can be a reserved guy and I wasn't sure of him at first. But we stayed in touch after the race. We headed to Utah for our first multi-day bikepacking trip with Meiser. We rode the Katy Trail as part of a two-day, 315-mile extravaganza of suffering and started the 2013 Tour Divide together. A couple years later, he acted as officiant for my wedding. He remains one of my closest friends and confidante.
All this to say that I'm grateful for the experiences in my life and the people that I've met. The Dirty Kanza is just one of those experiences and the four fellows I mentioned here are but a small sampling of the wonderful people that have played a part in my life. I'm glad that my job at the time allowed me to head to Kansas and I'm thankful that I had the guts, or perhaps the ignorance, to attempt the race. So I encourage you reading this to take a chance, test your limits, and be open to the people you meet along the way.