(photo, MS Photos)
be•cause (bi kôz´) 1. for the reason that; due to the fact that: The boy was absent because he was ill. 2. because of, by reason of, due to: Schools were closed because of heavy snowfall. 3. Dirty Kanza 200 [1275-1325: bi cause BY CAUSE]
For more than a year, my central “reason why” as an athlete has been “Because Dirty Kanza.”
Why get up before 4:30 to work out two or three days a week? Why drink less beer, eat less junk? Why dump an obscene amount of sweat over gym floors and back roads and bike frames?
Because of the Dirty Kanza 200, I’ve lost about 20 pounds. Made or strengthened about 20 friendships. Bought a new bike, set weird goals and logged thousands of miles.
I’ve called it gravel’s Augusta. I’ve run over a dog and two snakes, hit sparrows, dodged loose calves and geese and turkeys—all to be ready for it.
And I am ready for it. Give me a few days notice to eat and rest and drink for it, and I’m confident I could do it now.
So it comes as a cutting surprise that I won’t be riding it on June 3.
Registration opened on Saturday at 8 am. Last year’s race filled in just a few hours, so I was taking no chances. I was at my desk, logged in before 8 and ready to go.
I entered my information and watched the spinning “wheel of death.” I wasn’t immune to its irony. (I’m accustomed to spinning. There were moments in last year’s DK200 where my mental checklist ran as follows: “Are my wheels still turning? Are they still touching the ground like they’re supposed to?”)
So I wasn’t nervous. It was only 8:03 when I got an error message and started over. No worries. The spin was quick the second time. I continued to the next screen.
Father Time chose my age category. Father Visa chose my card number. Father Cummins would choose my race number. I am comfortable with all these realities.
I clicked purchase with grim satisfaction. Another quick spin of the wheel, and I’d be all done.
The wheel spun, and I was, in fact, finished. But not in the way I thought.
A screen popped up informing me that the “item” I had purchased was no longer available. Had I chosen the wrong age category? I checked back and discovered that in the time it took me to enter my card information, every male category for every distance (200, 100, 50) and every bike (open, single-speed, tandem, fat) was now full. It was not yet 8:10.
After the digital dust settled, race promoters posted a lengthy message that read, in part, “At 8:01 am, there was [sic] well over 2,500 of you logged on to our registration page. Each of you vying for 2,000 spots. So the reality is that registration was over before it even began.”
Fortunately, the four other Lincoln Abrahams vying for spots all got in. So did my training partners and honorary Abrahams Brad and Jill. I’m happy for them. Lest I feel like “the only one,” I visit the “seeking transfer” message board, where hundreds of us express our interest in other riders’ spots.
I am on that board. But I refuse to hope for the epidemic of broken collarbones, stolen bikes and chronic illnesses necessary for a transfer opportunity to come my way.
Instead, I’m searching for a different because.
Of course there are other races. But when your alarm goes off at 4:07, the thought, “I must prepare for my second-favorite race!” doesn’t exactly slide your legs out from under the quilt. I appreciate now how DK has sort of paved the way for a lot of my better decisions. That pavement is ending.
A couple hundred yards of pavement at Gravel Worlds 2016…
DK has been a crutch. The answer I lean on at 4:07. And it’s gone now. Once I get past the boo-hoo stuff, I have to say I’m fascinated about the answers that will take its place. Because DK200 isn’t really the reason I get out of bed in the morning. I’m a grown-ass man with a wife to please and kids to raise. A job to show up for. I get out of bed for them.
Sometimes the reasons I get out of bed are the same reasons I get on the floor. (Photo, Jason Wendt)
And I train for me.
This is some healthy stuff. At my last checkup, my doctor looked at my lab results and laughed. He laughed. He told me to save for retirement because my heart is determined to make me a very old man. Cycling has done that for me.
This is also some friendly stuff. If you want to turn a good friendship into an incredible one, I can recommend no better strategy than to habitually do something both enjoyable and difficult together. Cycling is that thing for me.
This is some personal stuff. I can get a little philosophical (if you haven’t noticed). (My soul gives a happy shudder every time I read a “PAVEMENT ENDS” sign, as if the Department of Roads had gone transcendental.) I need time and space to chew on things—to make sure I’m aware of and comfortable with this one life I’m leading. I’m happiest when I know why I’m happy. Cycling gives me the opportunity to do that examining, that self-knowing.
I like the training me, the racing me. That me has grit. That me is hell-bent on improvement. On that same slope is conceit—the risk of liking the man in the mirror a little too much. But that same self-awareness can help manage that risk. It’s OK if I like this cycling tummy, too.
So my new becauses are about my health, my friends and my self. I’m comfortable sweating for those things, too.
I remember last year’s DK—how the first two miles were a saturated floodplain. I watched the muck reach up and tear off people’s derailleurs—their Dirty Kanzas over at mile 2. One of the things I like about the race is that it, not you, will often decide your outcome. Under its strain, your bike might fail. Your legs, or nutrition, or hydration might fail. Your mind might fail. And you’re out. No reason for shame or sympathy either one. That’s it.
My registration lives in that same category. I didn’t do anything wrong, but it failed. That’s it. I’m out. And that’s OK because I have other becauses.
I’m excited to go to Emporia anyway and run support for my teammates. Because friends.
A friendly finish to GW 2016…