Women Stroke Gravel
Women and men equally stroked gravel, pedal stroked that is, in the 2016 DK200. They endured the stones, the heat and the wind together. They supported each other to the end. It turns out you can be the best racer on paper, have the best sponsorship package but when it comes to the DK200 everyone is an equal. The Flint Hills and its gravel welcomes everyone the same way. At this event, unless you win the race, people don't ask you for your time they simply ask if you were able to finish. In this year's race, the women's finishing rate was 56% and the men had a finishing rate of 58% virtually equal. No matter who you are the race becomes about stroking gravel, all 200 miles of it.
The number that isn't equal is the participation rate, which may not be a reality, but it's certainly a number that can and should be higher in the future. Currently the number is 10%.
Before the race I was trying to come up with a shooting angle that would make the race interesting to capture and interesting to view for the participants and organizers. I chose to focused on the women competitors in the entire mix of riders. I was interested in watch how they rode, how they would handle the conditions etc. There were water crossing, heat to wilt most things, winds strong enough to destroy morale, darkness both outside and inside so definitely elements to test ones entire being. It seems as more and more women ride bikes they are also stepping out of their comfort zones and entering events like DK200, which also offers a 100 and 50 mile course as well. The appeal of riding gravel is varied but there's a sense of adventure dating back to the early settlers exploring wide open spaces as well as the raw organic nature of the surface that offers challenging riding without the technical aspect of single track.
Men and women rode alongside each other in hopes of getting to the finish. I think Bobby Wintle is on to something with the unlearn pavement concept. He says, "Removing the barriers that keep us from achieving the legendary. To unlearn pavement is to follow your imagination into the wild, and to realize the true potential of the unexplored. Find yourself, and crush the limits you thought existed." Gravel racing is an adventurous spirited ride governed by grassroots ethics. It's about finding your limit and pushing it a bit further regardless of gender.
Women like: Rebecca Rusch, Amanda Nauman, April Morgan, Danielle Musto, Wendy Davis, Andrea Cohen and many more are very interested in growing the sport of gravel racing/riding. In their minds more women should race Dirty Kanza because of everything it offers the rider during and after the ride. The DK Production team which is made up of men and women are focused on making this event challenging but also equally are rewarding. Susan B Anthony once said. "she who succeeds in the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life." I believe the DK Production team had this philosophy in the back of the minds when they designed the event.
Along the gravel roads I found these beautiful flowers that appear to be dainty but are as tough as nails. They made me think about the women riders out on course, there is something that thrives within all living things, a force that drives us to want to live over anything else. We all feed on the glimmer of hope. The gravel community gives the racers that glimmer of hope because it is very encouraging, supportive, inclusive, and doesn't care about ones riding background. The people are all about riding and exploring on the bicycle.
There were 18 recognized racers on the start line, 5 of them women and 13 of them men, that number is impressive. I was surprised to see how many other women lined up right behind them. It made me realize this is a different kind of bike race. People respect each other for being on a bike and signing up for this event because it's the real deal. A lot of the women are inspired by the likes of the women that were called out: Rebecca Rusch, Amanda Nauman, Andrea Cohen, Lynn Bessette, and Kristen Legan because they are real women with real lives like them, they just happen to be badass babes. These days Its cooler to be stronger and fit in fact, healthy is attractive. The follow images are of some of these real women; confident, relaxed and ready to have a great time pushing their limits stroking gravel.
The race course is full of challenges but all can be handled with a smile.
The finish line was probably the biggest eye opener. The community of Emporia, the DK200 Production team and all of the racers embrace the moment other racers come through the finish chute marking their arrival. ALL racers are greeted and recognized with lots of high fives, a huge hug and a firm welcome home handshake. Everyone that crosses that line has been changed for life, they realize that they can tackle and conquer what may have looked like the impossible at times, but like the dainty flower they thrived to live and stroke gravel another day. The twinkle in the eyes and the spontaneous smile is etched in everyone's mind that witnesses it.
Andrea Cohen summed it up perfectly. She recently said this about this image @lindaguerrettephotography captured what I was left with after 207 miles of gravel. A smile. That grin. Happiness. Pure and simple.
Now I have to ask why won't more cyclists, women cyclist in particular, want to have a similar experience. The 2017 DK200 awaits you. Come out and stroke the gravel for a whole lot of stoke in exchange. The Dirty Kanza family is preparing your celebration don't be late to the start. I look forward to creating a new photo angle for next season.
Get your gravel on.
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