When I thought about this post my intention was to write a race report about the Boston Marathon. That race was epic, to say the least, it was cold and windy with a deluge of rain the entire 26.2 miles. But as I sit here outside a coffee shop in Emporia, Kansas my thoughts are not focused on that race, they are focused on a very different kind of race, a race called the Dirty Kanza 200, otherwise known as DK 200. For those unfamiliar with the DK 200, it is a solo, self-supported, non-stop, 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills region in east-central Kansas, the World’s Premier Gravel Grinder race. If you are thinking, well at least it is flat, you are quite mistaken. This race has almost 10,000 feet of climbing on some of the harshest roads around. The heat and humidity can be unforgiving and if it has rained, well then it becomes a muddy, sticky mess. Just finishing this race is a huge accomplishment and winning is reserved for the top gravel grinding athletes in the world. It has become so popular, that this year’s entry was granted through a lottery.
When David and I first set our sights on the “vanlife” lifestyle, visiting Kansas was not at the top of my list. I am not sure it even made the list of places I was so desperately wanting to visit. But that all changed when David received the email that he and our friend Sean were selected to race DK 200 in June 2018. So, as plans evolved around this and our many other races we have, we decided to go to Kansas for the month leading up to the race. We thought it would be nice to stay in one spot for a bit and get some good training on gravel roads with minimal driving. David could spend his days gravel grinding and I could run (with Mira of course) on the same roads, swim in the local recreation center or one of the many lakes in the area and just enjoy some time in one location. We certainly had our fair share of inquires about why Kansas, what will you do there? you are staying a month, really, Kansas?!! But somehow, this was just meant to be.
We rolled into town on a Thursday afternoon, got set up at a local state park and went to Emporia to the local bike hangout and headquarters of DK promotions, Gravel City Adventure and Supply Company. We were immediately welcomed into the store and into the lives of the people there, the owners, the employees, and the residents that come to hang out in the lounge to socialize, catch up and talk all things gravel. They were all interested in our story, our travels, our lives and Mira but they were all also interested in making sure we had the best possible experience during our stay in and around Emporia for the next month. Tim and Tina, introduced us to Kristin and Adam and about a dozen other people, including Jacob, the local runner, and his wife Lyndsey. They were all so genuine, offering assistance regarding training and racing and bike gear, as well as local hangouts, running routes, and grocery stores. They gave us their phone numbers to call with questions or concerns, or really for anything that may come up while we are here. And this was just our first full day in Emporia.
We found ourselves in the shop everyday since we have been here, just to say hello, talk about how training is going and life. We met up with Jacob for an early morning run through Emporia, before he headed to work as a 4th grade teacher. He offered to have us join him for more running at anytime, or if we need a shower or to do our laundry. Again, of all the places to visit, this was not on my list, but somehow we were meant to be here.
While walking around the little shops of the quaint downtown, I wandered into the local shoe store, Brown’s Shoe Fit. As I walked in with Mira in tow, a nice gentleman started up a conversation. He very quickly realized that I was not local and inquired about my visit to Emporia. He was extremely interested in our story and excited that we were there for the DK 200. He asked if David was racing Maisie’s Pride. Of course, I had no idea what he was referring to, so I asked for more information. He proceeded to tell me the story of Maisie DeVore, an amazing woman from the town of Eskridge, Kansas. After hearing her story (click here to see her story) I knew that both David and I needed to be involved in this event. So, David will be riding 106 miles of gravel and I will run the 5K and volunteering at the Gravel Ride for Maisie’s Pride, on May 12. Again, of all the places to visit, somehow we were meant to be here.
While David is out gravel grinding today, I sit here in the shade, outside the local coffee shop, with Mira under my feet. I am approached by 10 gentleman in their 60’s and 70’s, who all gather around the 3 tables and it is obvious that they all know each other very well. They notice the van, ask where about in Washington I am from and why I am in Emporia. The talk goes from inquiring about Mira, to Seattle, to travel, to DK 200, biking in general and racing. They tell me about their meet up, every Monday and Thursday, for high stakes games of doubles ping-pong followed by coffee, and they graciously offered if I wanted to join them next week or meet at the coffee shop, they are usually there by 11am. One gentleman in the group, Steve, is an avid cyclist and is racing the 200 this year. He has raced the 100 miler the past 5 years (finishing only 4 times) but this year he is going all in with 200 mile race. He offers some suggestions for me to pass on to David, gives me his phone number and tells me to have David call him so they can ride together later in the week. He tells me to call him for any questions or concerns we have or if the weather gets bad and we need a place to go. He said that he and his wife Becky are more then happy to help out in any way possible.
So, even though we had not planed on visiting Emporia, Kansas, I will say it one last time, we believe it was meant to be. “I believe things happen for a reason, that you attract people and situations that are meant to fulfill your path.” We can’t wait to see how this month unfolds, and to meet more genuine, down to earth, friendly folks of Emporia, Kansas.