Post by Yuri Hauswald, GU Community Development Manager
This one time, at gravel camp, I rode with the King of the Kanza himself, 4x winner Dan Hughes, and he didn’t drop me, but he did “win” every county line sprint. I also spent three days riding with forty folks from all over the country, in a region of eastern Kansas and north central Oklahoma that contains the largest intact tallgrass prairie in North America. I’m talking about the Flint Hills, which surround Emporia, Kansas, and also happen to be the launch pad for the Dirty Kanza gravel camp and the home of the Dirty Kanza 200, arguably the hardest gravel race in the world.
There are no National Parks in Kansas, there’s no BLM land, the paved roads tend to not have safe shoulders to ride on and there certainly aren’t any mountains, so gravel gives people a chance to see the landscapes just a few miles outside of town and get away from it all. And the landscape that’s outside Emporia, KS, the birthplace of the Dirty Kanza 200, well, it’s stunning. Yeah, I know, most folks don’t put “stunning” and “Kansas” in the same sentence, but they obviously haven’t experienced the geography that makes this part of the state unique and beautiful. The Flint Hills, also known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills, are a region of eastern Kansas and north central Oklahoma that contain the largest intact tallgrass prairie in North America. Less than 4 percent of the original tallgrass prairie remains—and most of it is in the Flint Hills of Kansas. One of the other distinguishing features of this region, and the bane of those who dare to ride bikes through it, is the sharp, flint rock that has survived eons of erosion and is what prevented the tall grass prairie from being plowed under for farmland.The beautiful gravel roads come with some peril in the form of sharp flint rocks. Ride at your own risk!
There were campers from Arkansas and California to Iowa and Colorado who made the pilgrimage to the world’s epicenter of gravel to hone their riding skills, to dial their nutrition plans, to experience the beauty of the Flint Hills and to get a first, and exclusive, peek at the 2017 course. Campers ranged the spectrum from Dirty Kanza first timers and relative newcomers to the bike to seasoned gravel veterans and road racers. No camp can be successful without a dedicated, passionate crew of counselors, and the folks at Dirty Kanza assembled a stellar group of gravel luminaries to help out. From endurance mutant Jay Petervary, who just won the 350 mile snow bike race, the Iditarod Trail Invitational, to Andrea Cohen, Crystal Wintle and 4 x DK 200 Winner, Dan Hughes, the diversity in coaches/guides/mentors/mechanics is a testament to the quality of instruction that this camp provides. And what cycling camp could run smoothly, literally, if it weren’t for some of the prairie’s best ninja mechanics from Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop and District Bicycles.
What does a day at gravel camp look like?
Well, obviously copious amounts of the best gravel roads that the Flint Hills have to offer up, and lots of food. It also involves some quality time with a diverse group of folks. Over the three days I rode with a lawyer for the Army Corps of Engineers, a teacher, a child psychologist and a real estate agent. Unfortunately, the weather gods were not smiling upon the prairies in the week leading up to camp, and unleashed a deluge like none other that left the surrounding areas covered in more water in one week than they had ALL winter. The prairie precipitation meant our first ride of camp was actually on pavement, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits as we had Old Hwy 50 to Nebo, KS, basically to ourselves. Following a hearty BBQ lunch that did much to fill the caloric void, the mechanics did a bike maintenance presentation, which was then followed by yoga……and then dinner! I think you get the picture: ride, eat, eat. Not a bad routine to follow for three days, huh?!
Why should you attend gravel camp?! Beside the fact that all the cool kids are doing it and that it guarantees you a spot in the race? Well, it’s the best way to get inspiration and information from some of the world’s most experienced/seasoned gravel veterans and extreme endurance riders. The other bonus is you get to ride almost 200 miles of stellar gravel roads in three days, and be one of the few that gets treated to a sneak peek of the course. So, what are you waiting for?! Sign up for gravel camp, the Flint Hills await you. Plus, you’ll be able to say, hopefully with a straight face: You remember, that one time, at gravel camp…