Statement for the Record
Senate Select Committee on Poor Choices
Janeen J. McCrae
June 15, 2017
Chairperson(s) Mohn, Chairman Cummins, Chairman Denis, Citizens of Emporia
Thank you for inviting me to appear here before you today. I was asked to testify today by several esteemed members of the citizenry, (namely, a few random people on Twitter), to describe for you my interactions with the Flint Hills and the event known as the “Dirty Kanza 200”, or as it is sometimes known, the “Let’s Get Sweaty and Hurl Rocks at Each Other” event, aka the “Race You to the Bottom of Your Soul to See How Empty You are Inside” event. I will speak on subjects that I understand are of interest to you. I have not included every detail from my interactions with the Flint Hills—the many trees I was considering peeing behind, for example, are deemed to be of little interest to the public at large, and as such have been omitted from this testimony—but to the best of my recollection, I have tried to include information that may be relevant to the most honored and respected committee. I have also included a few helpful icons, which may help to guide the committee in reactions, namely the [bombshell icon] for information that may blow the doors of the joint, and the [pillow + cloud puff icon]. This means soft gasp.
June 2 Briefing
My first meeting with Kristi Mohn [pillow + cloud puff icon] occurred on Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas at approximately 5:30PM. I was demurely ambulating through the throng when I saw her, and we stopped and hugged each other in front of Mulready’s Pub, exchanging greetings and general chitchat. I would describe the hug as cordial and somewhat perfunctory, albeit little sweaty. But definitely not awkward. I say “first met”, but really, I’ve met her many times including one time actually inside of Mulready’s pub itself. It may have been one sultry night the year previously…I would have to check my notes. Regardless, to clarify: “I first met Kristi Mohn on THAT PARTICULAR DAY … etc. etc.”
I had just stepped out of the Emporia Granada Theatre after watching Blood Road, which is a film shot by filmmakers and not on an iPhone. I did not get the popcorn, as the line was very long. Nevertheless, I did fumble my sweaty fingers around inside a box of Reese’s pieces, which was offered to me in the darkness. At least, I think they were Reese’s pieces. I touched them all, and declined them the second time they were offered. I sat in the row second from the front, which is a fact easily verified as several photographers were capturing a multitude of surveillance shots during the Q&A. To my right was my friend (like real friend, and not just Facebook) Jon aka Juan Taco aka Taco, aka Little Jonny Teacup, and to his right, his girlfriend and my new friend (and also new Facebook friend) Alex, aka Alex. To my left was a man. I did not know his name, though he seemed to enjoy the film and stood to applaud at the end. We did not become friends on Facebook. The movie was good, although when I told Rebecca Rusch that I thought it was “a fantastic film” the following night at Mulready’s pub after the race, she thought I said “it was a piece of shit” and gave me a look that said our friendship was over. I never know if people are just giving me shit about my accent and pretending to mishear me or not, but it can lead to some sticky situations. I would like it noted for the record that my accent is not my friend, not even on Facebook.
So, Kristi Mohn, in the street. We exchanged idle pleasantries, and I asked her point-blank if she was ever going to race the Dirty Kanza again. It was at this time she expressed her current level of supreme fitness, and her temptation to just ‘saddle up and ride’ the following day. She followed this statement with a very throwaway line about getting over a cold at which point I noticed how close I was to her infectious breathing hole and had visions of pummeling her to the ground whilst screaming “Sick people should stay in bed, asshole!” I did not act on this impulse, should I be deemed a hostile foreign national and deported instantly.
It is important to understand that up until this point, the only details I had on the conditions of the route were based on hearsay and conjecture, so I took it upon myself to inquire as to the conditions out on course. Kristi Mohn at this point leaned in and said, somewhat conspiratorially, that it was going to be a very fast year. I glanced about to ensure that there were no counter intelligence operatives in the area attempting to record this conversation or the secrets held within. Though one suspects that with the clear blue skies, it was a fact evident to all.
At this point, Kristi Mohn mentioned that she would quite like to be at the finish when I crossed the line the following day. I had discussed with my brain earlier whether I should be prepared to allow unverified individuals to access my whereabouts at all times during the race, and her inquiry brought this thought back to the forefront of my attention. My brain agreed that it might be pertinent to allow select operatives access, at which point a tracking device was activated in my telephone and I considered myself under surveillance from that point forward by Chairwoman Mohn.
I felt compelled to document my first conversation with Chairwoman Mohn in an invisible memo. I then proceeded to file this memo amongst my copious records in my Vault of Memories, and cement the memory by returning the apartment and NOT pouring alcohol on it. This is a practice that I have not rigorously adhered to in previous years. Although I will admit that later, while in the process of filling a small emergency flask to stow away at Checkpoint 3, a small snifter of bourbon did happen to fall into my mouth and set about to warm my tumtum most pleasantly. Anyhoo, creating Vault of Memories records regarding proceedings in Emporia and the surrounding Flint Hills became my practice from that point forward.
JUNE 2 CREW MEETING
The support crew, Taco, Alex, and I had dinner on the top floor of the housing unit on Market Street. It was unclear at the beginning of the meal just who would be joining us for dinner, but as time progressed additional riders who were to be supported by Collin and Grady filed in, including retired pro and [bombshell icon] suspected maple syrup charlatan, Ted King. A note jotted in my Vault of Memories tellingly reads “operative planting subliminal maple syrup* messages with attendees.” [pillow + puffy cloud icon] We were seated on available chairs and any open floor space, and waited on ourselves. There was a large tray of lasagna, and a large tray of “Dan’s Mom’s Pasty” to consume, plus a large salad that most people forgot about until they didn’t. Cordoba attempted to curry favor with the support crew, Collin and Grady, by materializing a supply of ice cream as dessert with hopes, one would assume, of special treatment during his first ever Dirty Kanza. One would have to check with his testimony to ascertain if this was successful or not.
Many things were discussed during this dinner, including the flavors and breeds of hydration mixes that were to be brewed in various bottles at each stop; what special foods riders required; and where the support crew would attempt to be at each checkpoint for ease of access. My instincts told me that I was going to be, as always, the last person through the checkpoints and I was fine with the patronage relationship that was to be created between Grady and myself as he, as in previous years, would be my go-to guy. While I generally find it important to remind people of my independent status in life, I am 100% willingly operated by the caretaker when it comes to Grady’s tender care at checkpoints. I am but a kitten sticking out my chin for an under-jaw scratch, promising honest loyalty, which is not expected but offered freely anyway.
I alerted anyone within earshot of the existence of additional “Magic Bags” that I had compiled should they require them, and Ted King took one despite it containing no maple of any description. After picking up the bag, King proceeded to give me a fist bump, which is the universally recognized secret signal for undercover operatives in the field. Since no one else gave me a fist bump, I can assume that Ted and I were the only ones there on assignment.
After the riff-raff cleared out, I baked some Skratch Labs cookies at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, as instructed by the packaging, embedding chopped up Snickers into the mix. Finally, after these cookies cooled, I retired to my chambers. I slept fitfully and steeled myself in readiness for my meeting with the Flint Hills the following morning.
June 3 Pre-start
At approximately 5:50 am, whilst waiting in the 14:30 time estimate corral of the Dirty Kanza 200, a gentleman turned to me and inquired: “Is that one of those bikes you’re not supposed to talk about?” I had never before in my life seen this individual and wondered briefly how to answer since if I wasn’t supposed to talk about it, how could I confirm or deny it? Also, if I said yes, I knew this would compromise my credibility in the secrets keeping division of The Big Red Spaceship employment facility, which pays for all my vinyl via a biweekly paycheck. But since I had promised only “honest loyalty” to The Big Red Spaceship, and not straight “fall-on-your-sword, swallow a cyanide pill” loyalty, I answered: “Erm…, maybe?” The gentlemen then proceeded to assure me that he knew all about it anyway, since he knew someone in the know. He then asked me if it would take a Sawtooth tire, which suggested to me that his leaker was not terribly in the know, and I proceeded to just look forward and remain silent. There was an eerie quiet in my mind while the buzz of general pre-Kanza start orchestrations continued around me. Call ups, then countdown, and then we were off. I raced towards my unsupervised meeting with the Flint Hills.
June 3 The Race
Whilst I attempted to keep rigorous Vault of Memories notes during the race, some may have fluttered off the back in the Kansas breeze. It should be noted that it really was only a breeze this year, as compared with previous years where it really was a ‘blow your hat off your head and across the prairie’ kind of whoopdeedoo shindig how’s-yer-father affair. If you get my meaning.
For the first 10 or so miles of the race, I feigned skill and maintained a pace that easily kept me in a group of eager beavers who seemed content to let the field split and ride away from us. I watched longingly as the split grew wider and the front thoroughbreds sped away, clearly halter-less and with reckless abandon upon the obviously over-chummed gravel. A left turn and I saw up ahead the signal—known rather descriptively as Road D Hill—that the group I was part of was about to give me ‘the look back.’
Riders beside me rose from their saddles to climb. At this point, the first real hill of the Flint Hills made known that I was to be held back, stating that it wanted to speak with me, alone. I stayed in my saddle and climbed, falling off the back like a drunken passenger on the deck of a speedboat who is not informed that the throttle is about to go from go to whoa. A few riders lingered near me, before finally getting the message that I suck going uphill and slowly inched away. The Flint Hills excused them all, and then we were alone.
Thus, one-on-one, our conversation began.
“I want to talk to you,” said Flinty. “What are you doing? I have concerns about you.”
I recognized this for what it was, coming as it did so early in the proceedings. It was the first demotivation plant of the day, slipped effortlessly under the ego-skin like a осколок from an ancient communist floorboard. “What am I doing?” I mutter, “I’m launching my reverse breakaway in the same place I get dropped every year. My question to you, Flinty, is why are you trying to get me to resign this early on? Save yourself the trouble and fire me later. You’ll need to get your paperwork in order this year, though,” I say. “I’m feeling pretty pig headed and ornery.”
I didn’t speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.
With that, Flinty added that it had some other concerns about me, but did not specify as to what they were, and ended this exchange by throwing a rock at the beautifully unmarred down tube of my embargoed bicycle. My heart cried out at the chip of paint it must surely have sloughed off Bruiser, (which I would like to enter into the record at this time as the official name of my new bicycle).
And so I continued on, aware of this planted splinter, nestled just under the surface of my motivation, ready to fester and burn with the heat of a thousand embarrassing situations. I expected to feel it again at around mile 145 or so. I did not speak with the Flint Hills for some time after this brief but prescient exchange.
Some time later, whist hurtling along at approximately 20mph, a giant flat rock (shale perhaps?) was flung up suddenly and lodged itself between my single chainring and frame, rubbing on the tire for several rotations before I stopped and dismounted to remove it. I picked the piece of gravel from the frame—it was the size of the palm of my hand—and examined it for clues. I had heard that handlers often used any means necessary to get intel to operatives, so I checked for a note or words Sharpied onto the surface, but found nothing of pertinence. When I realized it was in fact some wicked kind of subterfuge designed to slow me down, I hurled it sidewards in disgust, then noticed it had taken a huge chunk of paint off Bruiser. I have been trained by my handlers not to let emotions show, but I feel no embarrassment in having this noted for the record that I rended my lycra garments like a maniac and mourned the loss by swearing most audibly.
At the first checkpoint, I negotiated a crowd bent upon misdirection. I stood quietly and scanned the area for the signal—a tied-died Sunflower shirt worn by Grady. He appeared like an apparition from the hubbub and bade me follow him down a brightly lit alley of parked cars to a grassy area, whereupon I proceeded to ‘dick about’ with no sense of urgency.
“My bike’s making a funny noise,” I said, to which Grady replied, “Oh, really?” and squirted a commode-load of oil on my drivetrain. The drivetrain said nothing further on the matter during the next leg. I was also informed at this stop that “Ted’s had several flats” and I commiserated at my fellow operative’s misfortune. Training would undoubtedly come into play for him, whereas I had practically skipped all training sessions prior to this event, and had read no manuals or field reports, so was banking primarily on the aforementioned stubbornness and pigheadedness to get me through. Grady then inquired as to the health of the ‘leaks’ my rear tire had been experiencing and I replied that it seemed to be ok. He squeezed it and concurred. I was not the source of the leak at this stage, and neither was my tire, it seemed. Bottles were filled with expert efficiency by Alex, glasses were cleaned immaculately by Sara B, and spirits were buoyed by all. I continued on.
I left this checkpoint merely aiming to stick to my current trajectory i.e. moving in a forward path as dictated by the direction of front wheel and the vigorous and consistent pedaling of my grass-fed thighs. At this juncture, the Flint Hills returned to the topic of my motivation and my questionable ability to continue. “You’re a good old lady and have been through a lot,” it said. It then repeated that I had done nothing wrong in my continuing to turn up and try to beat the sun at this race. It then said:[bombshell icon] “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. You’re a good old lady, but I hope you will let this go.”
Although I was made uncomfortable by this, I replied, “I AM a good old lady” [emphasis mine] (In fact, I had had a positive experience with my advanced age in the Flint Hills on two separate occasions over the past three years, and consider myself unfettered by the number of birthdays I have celebrated. I have been perhaps a little ‘fettered’ by the amount of birthday cake I’ve eaten over the years, but that’s between me and my scale.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
I immediately prepared a memo in my brain and discussed the matter with my alter ego, @thenoodleator. I had understood the Flint Hills to be requesting that I drop out of the Dirty Kanza, despite only being 70 or so miles into the race. I could be wrong, but I took ol’ two-faced Flinty to be nervously focusing on the prospect of me completing my third Dirty Kanza, leaving me a mere two finishes away from joining the Gravel Grail club, a reward it obviously did not want me to attain. Regardless, it was very concerning, given my role as Senior Badass Lady of the Plains, Prairies, Mountains and Sky, which was a title I gave to myself in that moment. My alter ego @thenoodleator, agreed with me that it was important not to infect my sensitive soul with the Flint Hills request, which I did not intend to abide by. We concluded it made little sense to report this to the Committee as the Flint Hills probably had this conversation with everybody at some time during the race, while also employing many DNF tactics ranging from throwing gravel at a rider’s face, to “gifting” a rider with multiple flats. Cramps were deemed merely the price of doing business. We also figured that the Committee would likely recuse themselves from an investigation anyway, due to them having concocted the route through the Flint Hills in the first place. After discussing the matter, @thenoodleator and I decided to keep the information very closely held, like a teddybear or woogie in the 2am night terrors timez, resolving to figure out what to do about the matter down the gravel-torn road as we progressed.
I moved ahead at full speed. I thought no more of leaks, or of letting things go.
At the halfway checkpoint, I drank a communist Coca Cola and enjoyed it very much. This is a fact not worth disputing. I mentioned to the support crew that “a cloud” had been hovering around me as I’d approached the checkpoint, and described how it had dropped some cooling moisture on myself and a gentleman who I’d been riding with at the time. Grady seemed surprised by this, as there had been no rain there, a mere half mile away. We exchanged general ‘how’s it going’ dialogue, after which I let the spirit move me and Gregory Hines-ed my way across the parking lot, cleats clacking and choreography sadly lacking, to the bathroom. Upon returning, I ate some jerky, stuffed my pockets and top tube bag with goodies including a Magic Bag, and rolled off again with much enthusiasm and a general feeling of ‘wow, this might be the year that I beat the sun.’ There was no wind to speak of. Weirdly, also no grinding sense of dread.
Shortly afterwards, ice sock melting gloriously beneath my bib straps, I remembered why I HATED this section last year. It was roller alley. Relentlessly so. Any average I hoped to maintain dribbled backwards down each hill behind me. At the top of one hill, I would simply see the next stretch out in front of me. It droned on and on. I recognize this to be Flinty’s power. Slightly too long, this leg of the race drags on, sapping away my motivation with it. The splinter, now infected, starts to burn beneath my brain. Doubt after doubt stacks in my psyche like some poorly painted Russian nesting doll.
“The Cloud” continued to hover around my periphery, teasing me with the threat of thunderstorm and the potential of some evil, derailleur busting mud. Fortunately, I’d stashed my Mud Buddy aka Mud Bud® (inquiries accepted but ignored) in my top tube bag, which gave me confidence and acted like a shield. It alone convinced the storm to ‘back the hell off’ and away from me. I wondered briefly what I could do to ‘lift the cloud’ for good, but my continued forward momentum seemed adequate and before long, I forgot to look for the cloud at all. Which is convenient, because all my attention, anger, and spiteful hate was focused clearly like the point of a Kanzan arrow upon the pure shittiness of the last, oh, I dunno, 15 miles or so of this leg.
“Why is this leg so long, you shitty piece of shit-colored shit?” I asked Flinty, demurring that we were in no way friends and if this continued, the likelihood of us becoming friends, real or Facebook, was next to zero.
“You need to get that fact out,” said Flinty. “I am a shitty piece of shit-colored shit and I’m sick of people turning up and thinking they can “Couch to Complete” me, like I’m some kind of joke. I am NO JOKE, be-yotches!”
(I did not tell Flinty that I would get this fact out for a number of reasons, most importantly because it would create a duty to correct should some giant bulldozer magically appear in the Flint Hills and set about to turn them into the Flint Plains. Also, I found Flinty’s use of the word “be-yotches” to be a little ‘oh look how hip I am’ and I believe that sort of yoof-speak vernacular should not be encouraged in one as old as the Flint Hills, brah.)
Flinty went on to reiterate that if people were turning up expecting to Couch to Complete this thing, it would be good to, you know, get that out, that Flinty was NO JOKE. “It would be great if you could get that out.”
In an abrupt shift, I almost threw myself onto the gravel going roughly 22 mph on a complete straight road about 5 miles out from Madison. I attributed this to a momentary lapse of concentration, one that I used as a reminder to ‘keep it together, dumbass’ and ‘stay frosty’ as I rolled toward the final checkpoint. I did not hear from Flinty again, nor loose gravel, prior to reaching this checkpoint.
At the third checkpoint in Madison, I was as dreamy as a summer’s afternoon. Grady had laid out a smorgasbord of food options—basically anything that was left over from all the other riders who had come before me—and told me to take my pick. Last through the checkpoint has its benefits. He mentioned that I seemed more cheerful than last year, which I took to mean I didn’t have a thousand-yard stare and that my “pit of despair, the very rock bottom of my soul” wasn’t showing this year. He gave me a Coke, then deliberately and gently laid down my tiny, emergency flask of bourbon on the table in front of me. “I’m just going to put this here,” he said, locking eyes with me, in a way that I interpreted as sort of like a dare. The thought of hot brown water made my lip curl, but then I touched the flask and discovered it was actually freezing cold. Grady had kept it on ice. “If you do it, I’ll do it with you,” he said. The Committee may not approve of such actions, but yes, I did it and I do not regret doing so.
Prior to leaving, Grady also remembered that he had stowed watermelon in the cooler and I gleefully chomped through a piece. It was mind-numbingly cold and awesome. “You want some pickle juice?” he asked, and we rolled about on the ground laughing like loons because he knows I F&*KING HATE PICKLES with the intensity of a ghost pepper announcing itself on a persons sphincter.
With my final ice sock slipped under my bib straps, I proceeded to leave. I was aware that this, the last leg, contained a couple of wicked sharp inclines, but that it eventually eased to gloriously fast road for the final 20 or so miles. I had nothing but the glory of once again not beating the sun to look forward to, so would describe my mind as delightfully unencumbered by pressure. I would describe the next 30 miles as being somewhat uneventful. Time passed. Gravel fell behind me. I was mostly truly alone at this point, occasionally passing a single rider, or being passed myself by one or two people working together. But, like I said, mostly left alone in the room with Flinty and no others.
It was at this point Flinty took a completely different tack than in previous years. Rather than telling me how much I sucked, it began falsely stoking my fire of possibility, explaining that because “we had that thing, you know,” that maybe I could still beat the sun. I did not ask what Flinty meant by “that thing” but my brain got out its abacus and began flinging beads from side to side.
Calculations flew at me. I had one hour in which to beat the sun, which by my math (and it should be noted that I am a writer and not a mathematician and that numbers are like Russian to me, meaning I cannot understand them), meant I had to ride this final hour at a speed of 19 miles per hour. I know I can ride at 19 miles per hour. If I have a tailwind. Or if I am with a group. Or if I am going downhill. Regardless, I decided to not give up and just put my head down to ride. A light illuminated on the back wall of my Vault of Memories. It read “You will miss it by 10 minutes,” [pillow + cloud puff icon] but quickly flickered out, because I am terrible at the upkeep of my Vault of Memories. I mean, I think originally I logged the dodgy light fixture way back in September of ’99, but what with the Millennium Bug, and climate change, and then Bowie died. I mean, I just never got around to replacing the bulb.
The sun seemed still to be very high and I keep the vague hope alive, but set my heart on simply beating the 15-hour mark. If I beat that, it would be my fastest ever Dirty Kanza. That seemed good enough for me, so I went for it. The Flint Hills watched in bemused silence, although I did think I heard them at one point whisper “DOJ” which I took to mean “Dumb ol’ Janeen.” I scowled a little, but continued on.
With about ten miles to go, I saw up ahead the railway crossing that had held up riders last year for 18 minutes. Pedaled. I watched the blinking taillight of a rider in front of me go up and over. Pedaled. And then blinking lights of another kind entered my view as I watched the barriers came down to indicate a train was coming and all forward movement was about to come to an abrupt halt.
“Noooooooo!” I uttered to no one and everyone. That was the final nail in the beat the sun coffin for sure, and I didn’t care so much about that, but the thought of not beating the 15-hour goal was a little devastating.
“Have I not been loyally honest?!” I cried. “Have I not been honestly loyal?!” I pulled up to stop and watch the freight train trundle by. Somewhat surprisingly, after maybe two minutes, the train ended and the barriers came up. I clipped in and wheelied across the tracks in a display of unfettered joy. At this point I would like to reaffirm my commitment to honest loyalty and just confess that there was, under no circumstances, a wheelie. It is just mentioned here for dramatic effect and to indicate my thrilled glee at being near the end.
Kristi Mohn WAS waiting for me at the finish, just as she said she would be. I saw her from some distance away down the finish chute, and the sight of her warmed me inside perhaps even more than the brown water at Checkpoint 3. She opened her arms wide and welcomed me home. “I’m sorry,” she whispered into my ear as she hugged me, “but you didn’t beat the sun.” I replied that I knew that, and looked deep into my heart to discover I was not in the slightest disappointed, although I sensed she was on my behalf. I was actually overjoyed. I had just finished the Dirty Kanza the fastest I had ever ridden it. 14 hours and 56 minutes. The sun can bite my ample ass.
About 20 minutes after that moment, I was standing in the bathroom of the apartment and contemplating the steps I needed to take to in order to make myself human again, so that I might venture back to Mulready’s Pub and join the gang for a post-race libation. I peeled my shoes and socks off my wrinkled and swollen feet. I struggled out of my dusty and salt-encrusted kit, throwing all the pieces to the floor with a thud. The kit almost stood up by itself, so thick was it with evidence of my endeavor. Balancing against the hand basin to get the energy to lift my leg high enough over the edge of the tub and into the shower, I gingerly stepped in and drew the curtain, readying myself for the predictable stings and overwhelming comfort of hot water on my fatigued skin. I stood for many minutes there, simply letting the water flow over me, head down and watching the dirt swirl and eddy around the slowly emptying drain, sucking the clogs and grime and reminders of the day now gone, off my legs and for one final farewell down the pipes and out of my life, forever. The shower ended.
That was the last time I spoke with the Flint Hills.
# # #
* Untapped Maple saved me during the ride. It is the easiest thing to get down when things are not going well. This is not a subliminal message. Thanks Ted!