(I posted this to our local MTB club forum but wanted to post here as well, since I've found so much useful tandem information on this forum. Thanks to all the experienced posters who helped us prepare for our first tandem adventure.)
Lorinda and I just arrived back from this year's Dirty Kanza 200 and I thought I'd give a ride report. We decided at almost the last minute to ride this as a tandem team. Lorinda received and built the Co-Motion tandem from Plano Cycling and Fitness a week before the ride. It's a beautiful Speedster Rohloff customized to take wider tires. We managed to get on it for a few shakedowns, dialed in the fit, sorted through a quick tire selection and went with Schwalbe Marathon Extremes 40c, liners, and slimed tubes. We had matching green kit, Plano Cycling Jerseys to wear across the finish line, and a bottle of champagne labelled DK200 2011. We were good to go.
The ride starts without incident and the first 60 mile leg goes great. We start out slow, warm up, and work out a nice rhythm. No mechanicals, no flats, and no accidents. This was our first tandem, but we manage to figure out the Rohloff Speedhub and most of the important captain-stoker communication stuff in the first hour or two. I occasionally yell stupid things like "look out" and "hold your line" on the downhills. Lorinda is polite enough not to mock my novice captaining. Mostly. In return, I remember to call out the rocks and potholes before we hit them. Mostly. It works.
The ride is one of the most beautiful we've ever seen. Meandering through Kansas ranch and farm land in the Flint Hills, it rolls over roads varying from maintained gravel to smooth double track to jeep roads. Winds are brisk at times but not unbearable. Weather is warm but not intolerable. There are a few climbs, but nothing we can't gear down and grind out, as long as we remember to pause before making the 8-7 downshift on the Rohloff. We reach the first checkpoint with 3 hours to spare. At that point, I tell the support crew to ice the champagne. We are 3 hours ahead of schedule. We aren't even remotely competitive with the other tandem teams, but all we want is an official finish and a glass of bubbly. What can go wrong?
Bouyed by our cutoff margin, we started the second leg a little too enthusiastically, and I developed some cramping about 15 miles in. No problem; we slowed up the pace to spin it out. However, some errant course marking led us astray and we lost 30-40 minutes riding back and forth and debating with other riders on where to go. Finally back on course, we negotiated some mildly technical creek crossings (without killing ourselves, or each other) and looked good to make up some time. Then the flint hills struck and we tore a small hole in the rear tire. Off came the wheel and on went a new tube and the spare tire. Blown valve stem. Try again. 20 minutes later we were back in business and on our way. We rolled into checkpoint 2 -- a little less full of ourselves -- but still confident we could finish. We were 100 miles in, leaving the stop at 3:30 PM. All we had to do was ride 60 miles before 10:30 PM. 7 hours. All good.
Out on leg 3, we saw some storms ahead. Lorinda remarked warningly on them, and I replied blithely that I could use a little "cooling down." When the lighting started up, we received a call from support telling us to seek shelter. We promptly ignored the advice until a few lighting bolts directly over our head changed our minds. Crouching on the ground like scared rabbits with 2 other riders, we wait out the fireworks and spent 15-20 minutes discussing the proper way to not be electrocuted. We decide that crouching on the ground like scared rabbits is the best course of action. After the lightning moves on, we wipe ourselves off, pick up the tandem, and saddle up. It's pouring and we are cold. But we are moving and the road is wet but rideable.
Until the mud. We take a turn off the gravel onto a previously beautiful stretch of double track, fly down a hill -- and into the mother of all mud pits. A few hours before this would have been one of the smoothest and fastest stretches of road on the ride, but it is now a stretch of impassable black goop. The single riders carry their bikes. The tandem riders push. And push. The Co-Motion weighs 2, maybe 3 tons in the muck. We try once to mount up and ride the tiny strip of green running down the center of the double track. We bobble the start, and -- stuck in our muddy pedals -- fall over. We straighten the stoker bar, examines a small cut in Lorinda's knee, and begin to push. And push.
Frustrated, I watch the remaining margin on our cutoff clock bleeding away into the black Kansas mud. Minute by minute, we are getting further and further from a successful finish. I swear. I curse. "Let it go," says Lorinda. "It is what it is." I swear again. But she is right. There is nothing else we can do. There is nowhere else we can go. We are channeled by 2 lengths of barbed wire into the mud. All we can do is push the tandem on the thin margin of soupy grass near the fence line. And push.
3.5 miles and nearly 2 hours later we emerge from the pit. We are caked, and we are baked. The 3 hour margin we enjoyed at checkpoint 1 is now completely gone. Thanks to the Rohloff hub, we can still shift. But, we are only 30 miles -- halfway -- into leg 3 and we have to make perfect time on the last half to make the 10:30 PM cutoff. Perfect time. It would be close, even if we had blacktop... and of course it's Kanza, so we don't. Some of the other riders have moved the course markers to direct people out of the muck, up the the highway, and over to checkpoint 3. Still hoping for an official finish, we ignore the easy out and cut back onto the course to catch one of the other tandem teams and a strong single speeder still grinding it out.
We make decent time on the wet gravel roads, but not decent enough. When we come upon a turn taking us back into the mud, we realize that it's finally over. There is no way we can make the cutoff, and we don't have the energy or the stupidity to spend another 2 hours pushing the tandem. We call it, and head up to the highway to ride into town. We spend the next hairy 8 or 9 miles on a pitch black highway with no shoulder, but manage to survive becoming a statistic. We pull into checkpoint 3 at 11:30PM. 160 miles. Our loyal support crew is there waiting with a smile and a sandwich. They are the only ones in the parking lot. But they are there.
This was a tough ride. Very tough. It's been a while since we have experienced such an Epic Fail -- and such an Excellent Adventure -- all on the same miserable and wonderful day. The bottle of champagne that says "DK200" remains corked, and unchanged.
Except that the "2011" is crossed out and now reads "2012."