David and Julia Priest are local riders and members of the Stinner x Black Sheep Racing Team. This power couple spends their working days at Carmichael Training Systems in Santa Ynez, coaching their athletes to be the best versions of themselves. After this past weekend, the Priests have proven themselves to be some of the most physically and mentally resilient cyclists we're proud to know. Here is Dirty Kanza from Julia's perspective.
The Wizard of Oz, as I have read, is often recognized for its use of technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and unusual characters.
The Dirty Kanza, as I have experienced, is recognized for its vivid greens sharper than technicolor, its eternal dirt miles that piece together an amazing beer accompanied post-race tale; recognized for its fan-wagged cowbells, the whistling birds, and the crunch-ping-scratch-ding sounds of flint rock which all mix into a music genre only heard in the middle of Kansas. The characters are clad in spandex, spackled with soft dirt powder, and none of them you can call a usual character, as they all have toed up to a start line that only permits the unusual character.
To me, these two are related, and not just through Google Map locations. If anything, who hasn’t watched the Wizard of Oz and thought at some point, This is some kind of certified crazy. Who hasn’t raced the Dirty Kanza and thought, This is some kind of certified crazy.
I ride dirt but on a whim, on special occasion. It’s not that I don’t like the dirt; it’s that I don’t crave the dirt. My bike, a Stinner Refugio, craves the dirt. Lucky for me, my partner in crime at the Dirty Kanza was this very Stinner.
A week from departure, I wracked my Stinner Gibraltar (my roadie love) and swung my leg over the Refugio. From our first test ride, we weren’t friends. I hated the wide handlebars, the more upright position, and I wanted back on the road bike. But, once the test ride route crossed the first patch of dirt, the Refugio and I were dreaming up BFF bracelets.
The way the bike climbed and descended was amazing. I couldn’t wait to rip on the bike. The disc brakes offered a level of responsiveness I hadn’t had in the past. The titanium frame was lighter than expected and traveled up the climb with ease. At that point, I knew I had a great set up for Kansas and began praying I would have just as much fun on the Refugio pre-ride as in Kansas at Dirty Kanza.
If I were Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I would try with all my might to get back to Kansas too… given I was from Emporia. Emporia is the home base for Dirty Kanza. The city is truly one of a kind. It’s a perfect mix-match of brick store fronts–each one wears a dress a little different than the other, but they all sing in perfect melody together. Perhaps it’s a post-race fog, but Emporia feels and looks like fairytale Americana.
On Saturday, at 6:00 am, I left the storybook Emporia atop my Stinner and rode, almost literally into the sunset. My Chris King-hubbed Jones wheels would roll over stone, through river, and past farm, corner hundreds of turns, follow countless wheels, and eventually find a finish line.
I was out there, for a very, very... very long time, and all I can say was how well my bike and overall set-up performed. I could not be happier to be racing over rock, water, and all the secrets only us DK-ers know exist in Kansas on a titanium frame. Titanium is known for is fatigue endurance, the number of loads you can apply to the metal without it failing. Racing 206 dirt miles where endurance was important, the titanium Refugio frame was the candidate with all the right qualifications. The strength of that Titanium frame I know is not only because of the metals attributes but also from the artist that carefully maintained that strength while welding it. I have to give 206 kudos, one for each titanium ridden mile, to those who weld the frames at Stinner.
Am I plugging this frame? You bet your ass I am. But am I also plugging experiencing the world and your character on a bike? Of course.
The race wasn’t easy, but you’d be certified crazy to think that it could be. There are things I would have done differently, which means I learned. There are things that I would replicate, which means I succeeded.
The Dirty Kanza puts you in the middle of nowhere and it offers no descents longer than a minute. You are out there with your bike, pedaling constantly and you just have to figure it out. You are out there to make countless decisions. You are out there to learn your strength. You are out there to learn your weakness. You are out there to learn the true you. I could give you a play by play of my flat, my tire pressure, my sweet frame pump, or the 1,203.5 calories I consumed and how, but you don’t care. You just want to be inspired to ride, to test yourself, to try, to experience, and all you really need in this case is good titanium frame... hint hint.
Julia Priest ended up taking 3rd Place in her age group and missed the overall women's podium by the width of a hair at Dirty Kanza. We can definitely see more gravel in her future.