Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A crash that broke my neck – literally.

Apparently I still haven’t acquired the skill to catch myself with my hands since my last crash four years ago. Both times I successfully let my face take the entire impact. This time was worse though.

I was looking forward to Wednesday Worlds, a group ride in Eagan. We were supposed to ride 70 mi. I decided to ride to Eagan from my place to get a solid ride in before the gravel race on Saturday. I met up with the guys and off we were heading East on Cliff road. We were about 10-15 people and we rode two deep going about 23mph. There was quite a bit of car traffic but we had a wide shoulder so it didn’t matter.

I was chatting with Mike about a gravel ride clinic I am planning on putting on in the next months. I was sitting third wheel when all of a sudden a big chunk of asphalt popped up in front of me. Before I could react I hit it straight on, lost control of the bike and made my way over the handlebar. 

While tumbling screaming across the pavement, the riders behind me were able to avoid riding into me.
I knew immediately I suffered some serious road rashes.

An ambulance ride later and five hours in the ER I got the entire list of damage.

Almost the entire list!

Broken collarbone, four facial stitches, two chopped teeth and a solid amount of road rashes which required that the blood pressure cuff was put on my calf.

Two days later I learned that I also broke my neck…or better two transverse processes in my neck. Apparently not a big deal. There is nothing I could do for it.

Riding a recumbent is a heck of a workout!
Five days after the ride I was able to ride again…a recumbent bike. But this would not be possible without the help of so many great people. The accident showed to me how amazing this cycling community is. I would like to thank everyone who helped (I apologize if I forget someone):

  • Thanks to all the riders on the group ride for helping out and for not running me over ;) I received immediate medical help. It sounded like there was quite a lot of logistical stuff going on I was not even aware of.
  • Thanks to the fire fighter and the neighbors who stopped and helped out!
  • Thanks to Dominic and Roger who came to the ER and made sure I was entertained for five hours!
  • Thanks to Tom for taking care of me after the crash! I cant thank you enough!
  • Thanks to Angie Rake for taking care of my face! That is huge having an expert to make sure I do not get any scars! (http://www.dakotavalley-oms.com/)
  • Thanks to Jon Falkowski for the dental reconstruction! You rock! http://www.thedentalhealthcenter.net/page/show/203662-dr-jon-s-falkowski
  • Thanks to Grand Performance for taking care of my broken bike.
  • Thanks to Penn Cycle for the recumbent bike getting me back in the game.
  • And of course, thanks to everyone for all your well-wishes! I am so grateful for all your help!

The planned ride of the Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota this weekend was changed to a multi-day hike! I am excited!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dirty Kanza – Now the dirty stuff


To split the drive to Kansas, I stopped overnight in Iowa, and visited my Trans Iowa friend, Steve.  During a bike ride together, I realized that something was very wrong with my bike. I decided that I will not race my current bike at Dirty Kanza. I had to find a different bike. I had one day to figure it out.

Luckily, the Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shop equipped me with a rental bike. I was nervous to race a bike for 200 miles that I have never ridden before, but the alternative, I decided, would probably have been worse.

With some big competition showing up for the race I hoped that the bike change would not be a total disaster. When I rode with Corey the day before the race I was not really confident about anything – my bike, my legs, my mindset. The bike problem drained me mentally. Now it was a matter of how to deal with it during the race.

Although my legs were heavy when I woke up on race day as soon as I saw the start line, all worries vanished and I was ready to race.


The first 17 miles were head down, following fast moving wheels, trying not to let the lead group get away.
But that ended at mile 17 when we came up on a mud section. While everyone took the smart way through the grass, I chose the most direct way route, straight throught the mud.  I pushed my bike, walking beside it, collecting about 10 lbs of everything that could stick to my bike (I know, I know, I had 180 miles to think about this mistake).

While I cleaned up my bike so the wheels would at least spin again, everyone and anything passed me. After about five minutes I got back on my bike and fought for 15 miles to clip into my pedals (I use road shoes because of previous knee problems).  To put it mildly, I was rather unhappy with the situation.  I alternated between English and German curse words.

After stopping at a creek to wash off shoes, bike and Monika, I was able to clip in again.  I put my head down and rode as hard as I could to checkpoint 1.

After two minutes at the checkpoint, I was back on the road. I didn’t know how many people were ahead of me. I was afraid to ask. While getting ready to grind up the next 50 miles to checkpoint 2 someone came up behind me.


He had a flat earlier that cost him considerable time.

All unhappiness I might still have had from the mile 17 mudpocolypse dissolved. A new race began for me. A race with a friend, fighting together against our adversary, the headwind.  I say together, but I don’t really give the best draft, if any at all, to a 6’5” person.  We alternated pulling each other over the the hills and flats for the next 100 miles. We caught up with another Trans Iowa racer, Eric, and we all worked together and shared food. Man, those guys are awesome!  These moments are what makes gravel racing a great sport.

Around mile 130 they let me go. I rode my pace chasing racers in front of me. Strangely, I saw a bunch of riders coming my way. The wrong way. I got nine extra miles.  Others more.  Regrouped, ten or so of us rode together to checkpoint 3. One of the guys told me that Selene (who was also in the group) and I were second and third place as of now.

While in checkpoint 3 I ate everything I found on that table my support, the volunteer group Pablove Grub, offered. I was starving. 2 muffins, 3 cookies, a bar and a gel later I was back on the road.

Selene was up the road. For the next five miles we traded spots, but we ended up riding our own pace. I saw another racer in the distance. I wanted to catch him.  All the food I just ate kicked in and I was in TT mode catching my carrot in the distance. 

That carrot turned out to be a tough cookie though, because every time I came close, he sped up. We played that game for 45 miles. This was very entertaining because all of a sudden we were back in town with the finish line coming up fast.

Spectators were lined up for hundreds of meters along the road cheering and clapping. I couldn’t help but smile.  Although the race started on the wrong foot, I really enjoyed the day out there in the vast beauty of Kansas.  An epic day like this makes it difficult to go back to the mundane of everyday life.  But I’m happy to have the memories of our ride at the 2013 Dirty Kanza. What a great day!

Results are here

(After the race I couldnt find my car anymore and I asked the Emporian bike police for help. Seven motivated police cyclists made a town-wide search and found my car! I thought that was absolutely awesome!)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dirty Kanza 200 – A gravel race in Kansas!

It’s Monday morning and I am back to “normal life”. Just 36 hours ago I was riding through the Flint Hills of rural Kansas. The dichotomy of the two lives couldn’t be larger. How would it be possible to express in words what happened at Dirty Kanza?!

Let’s start at the beginning….

If I had to rank all US states for a race venue, Kansas would most likely be a favorite for the lanterne rouge jersey. Still, when I heard about Dirty Kanza, there was no question that this would be on my race calendar. I have never been to Kansas before and heard so much about it, most of it that it has a lot of cornfields and is supposedly flatter than a pancake.

So would Dirty Kanza just be a flat 200 miles gravel race circumventing cornfields?

I found out very quickly that it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Race promoter, Jim Cummins, created an event that draws cyclists from all over the country and even the world to Kansas. This event is not just a gravel race. It’s an adventure, a sightseeing tour and a festival all at once.

With 900 racers coming into the host town Emporia turned into a cycling mecca. The Emporians were all giddy with excitement. Restaurants and vendors made special arrangements and sales for this weekend. This was heaven for any avid cyclist.

On Saturday at 6:00am Emporia’s streets were swarmed by all the racers buzzing through the town. The excitement and nervousness lie heavily in the air. Spectators were cheering. A great start to a great day.
Racers at the start line, Photo by Corey Godfrey
The competition was tough: Nature!
This race proved our vulnerability to the elements. The racers fought through 20-30mph head- and crosswind. 
Working my way through the hills of Kansas

Innocent looking climbs were taking its tolls on the racers. The strong headwind doubled the time to climb those hills. The roughness of the gravel put strain on the rider and played games with our equipment. 

Flats are common in this race, Photo by Corey Godfrey
But exactly these conditions made this race so special. It pushed the physical and mental limits of every racer while creating an unforgettable experience that is hard to explain to people who have not had the opportunity to experience it yet.

Only few trees on the course that could protect us from the wind, Photo by Corey Godfrey

 The challenge was sweetened by the beauty of the landscape. The rich colors of the sky and the grass made me feel I was riding in a painting.
Photo by Corey Godfrey
  The sky and grass were melting to one at the horizon with no man-made structure in sight. Complete remoteness.

Photo by Corey Godfrey
Cows and horses were lingering in the vast land of grass. There were some sections of the course I wondered if I could see the Pacific in the distance. But other sections proved that Kansas is not exactly flat.

I had the fortune to share the challenge and the beauty of this race with friends I knew from previous races. We went together through ups and downs – literally. There is a certain bonding created that is hard to describe. 

Corey and I climbing up on one of those "small hills" 
Exhaustion evaporates when anticipating the finish line back in the town of Emporia after a grueling 200 miles through the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas. The joy of finishing is amplified by the greetings of hundreds of cheering spectators and a proud race promoter.

The awards ceremony the following day

I left Kansas with great memories that are hard to describe. Jim put on an unforgettable race that is challenging and fun at the same time.

A lot of thanks:
  • Thanks to the race promoter, Jim Cummins, and his crew for a phenomenal race! Fun, challenging and very well-organized! It’s a must-do for every gravel racer!
  • Thanks to all racers for making this a great race. 
  • Thanks to Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shop for setting me up with a bike! Without you guys the race would have looked very different!
  • Thanks to Pablove Grub for the crew support, especially to the girls at checkpoint 3 for cleaning out my dirty pockets!
  • Thanks to Jennifer and Natalie for a great hospitality!
  • Thanks to the Emporia bike police for finding my car.