Today I did something amazing. I asked for money. I haven't asked for money since I borrowed $400 from my grandmother eleven years ago. That was to pay some bills that I thought were so incredibly overwhelming. I think, if I remember correctly, the total on all the debt I carried at the time was something like $1500. Smothering. Unbelievable. At the time it was. Now, not so much. Now there is a house and a car and some student loans and an equity loan on the house and a few other things. It is what it is and I know I've talked about it here before so I won't get into it again. It's money. We all live with it. We all deal with it.
Back to my story. Today I asked for money. Money to pay an entry fee at a race called the Dirty Kanza. For those of you that don't know, the Dirty Kanza is a 200 mile gravel road race through the Flint Hills in Kansas. The ride is very much like the Almanzo in that each rider is responsible for themselves. For all 200 miles each rider must take credit for their own success and failure. From the start to the finish. Self-supported.
Now, I know first hand the expense involved with putting together and hosting a gravel road race. This coming May will be my fourth attempt. To date, I have yet to ask for money for anything. Not a cent from the gracious Almanzo sponsors. Not a cent from the riders (although their have been a number of non-solicited contributions made by some generous participants). I have always felt weird about asking for money. It seems like it would be a bit odd. Seriously. I'm the one that has asked people to come to my home. To my city. I'm the one that has asked riders from all background to come and ride 100 miles of gravel. No one has forced me to do it. So why should I ask anyone to pay me for it?
The sponsors are generous with their contributions. Everyone that came to the race last year left with something. Everyone. Every last person took something home. That's the sponsors. I bought jersey numbers and some Ball jars. I bought some flour and eggs and I made pancakes. The coffee was donated by a sponsor. The packets were hand made. By myself and Matt and my wife. The map cases were donated. By a sponsor. The patches? Matt paid for those. Sure there was expense. Sure there was gas for the car and the multiple trips to mark the course, but if I didn't burn it on that trip, I would have burned it somewhere else.
My point here is that my race, the Almanzo 100, is an entirely self-supported affair. You come. You ride. You own it. I make it pretty clear that if you get stranded I'm not coming to get you. Does that mean I absolutely will not pick you up should you be stranded with no other option? No. What it means is that by coming to Rochester on the 15th of May this year, you are making the admission that you are taking on the sole responsibility that comes with riding in a "self-supported" cycling event.
I don't pay to maintain the gravel roads the Almanzo runs on. I don't take out an insurance policy to protect myself and the sponsors of the Almanzo. I don't have course Marshals to make sure you are not cheating. I don't pay a driver to go out and sweep the course and fill your flat tube with air. I don't stock aid stations with cold beverages and tasty food. I don't do any of that.
I buy jersey numbers, give you directions and send you on your way. I make sure that a sponsor has supplied enough beer for you to drink at the end of the day. I make sure that a sponsor has supplied the table with enough stuff to try and get everyone something. I make pancakes because I want to. I invite you to my house because I want you there. I want you to come and be apart of my life. I want you to come to Rochester and ride the roads that I ride because they are incredible. I want you to come along with me and visit some of the greatest gravel in the country. I want you to have fun and do something that most people will never do in their lifetime. Come, ride a gravel century. Do it with friends and do it for free. The way it ought to be.
Like I said before, I know very well the costs involved with hosting an event like this. I know what it takes. I also know what it's worth and the smiles on peoples faces after slugging it out with 40mph winds will go a lot further than a dollar any day. There are gravel races out there that charge an entry fee and that's perfectly fine. Cover your costs. I can respect that. There are also gravel races out there that are free, the way I believe them to be. No one is better than another. We are what we are. I know for me, and that's the only person I can speak for, keeping the racing free is more important than covering my expenses for jersey numbers or printing or patches. At the end of the day, you shouldn't have to pay to ride your bike.
So I thank you Mike, Jeni and Mark. Thank you for your willingness to help a friend get to Kansas, but I must switch my momentum and move back towards what I believe in. I cannot go to Kansas this year. I cannot pay to ride a self-supported race. I simply do not believe in it.