Where most families enjoy picnics or backyard barbeques when they get together, mine goes on a hundred mile all-gravel bike race in the middle of Kansas during the heat of summer. It is called the Dirty Kanza and it is held every year in my hometown of Emporia, Kansas.
I think I need to clarify something. Your prototypical bike racer is slim, usually weighing in at less than 200 pounds – often more like 150. That does not describe the Bacon boys. In a corral of quarter horses, we are clydesdales. Or maybe buffaloes. If this were a swimming competition instead of a bicycle race, we would be in the Large Marine Mammal category. The point is that no possible attempt to describe us as having the right body types for bicycling would ever be credible.
The Dirty Kanza routes bicyclers through the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas; the operative word being “hills” because there are a lot of them. Last year rainy conditions forced bikers to carry their bicycles for three miles (see “One Dirty Mudder”). This year the enemy was wind.
And humidity and heat.
And some mud for good measure.
The conditions picked off racers one by one. At one point the road was lined on both sides with riders carrying their crippled bikes back to town. Cramps got my older brother just before the halfway point, leaving only me and my little brother (little is relative – he is the biggest horse in the barn) to continue on.
My youngest brother is a freak of nature. Laws of physics do not apply to him, or if they do they haven’t yet been discovered. He should not be fast, but he is. He should cramp up, overheat and quit from exhaustion, but he doesn’t. Ever. He is either a superhero or an alien, because I am human and our bodies do not share common characteristics.
At mile 50, after getting refreshed at the halfway point, my legs began to cramp.
I never cramp but there I was, looking with horror at both legs locked in painful spasms. It took a while for the cramps to subside, then we continued moving.
At mile 80 I had to stop to…catch my breath.
I was able to keep going after a while, but I must have looked pretty bad because a rider assistance vehicle drove by us and said they had received reports of a bicycler in distress and wanted to know if we had seen anyone having problems on the side of the road.
No I had not.
At mile 90 I had to stop again. To catch my breath again.
My alien brother kept by my side the entire way, keeping up the conversation as if we were chatting about the weather during afternoon tea. I’m not even sure he sweated.
We finished, but barely. My brother actually looked fresher than when he started. While he was receiving attaboys and hugs from adoring fans, I was met with comments like, “How do you feel?” “Are you always this pale?” “Why don’t you sit down over here?”
It is a bonding experience, for sure, including some of the family that rides a twenty mile version of the Dirty Kanza in the morning. We all deal with the elements, we all undergo hardships and challenges along the way, and in doing so we have begun to build up shared experiences that will last a lifetime.
That’s all great, but seriously. Would it kill everyone to just have a picnic now and then?