Dirty Kanza 200: Meet Kristi Mohn of "200 Women Riding 200 Miles"
Interview by Allie Mariano
There was a moment during this year’s Dirty Kanza race when Kristi Mohn found herself in a paceline of about five women. The other women didn’t necessarily know she was one of the race’s organizers and founder of the “200 Women, 200 Miles” campaign, but they were all working together. “They were cheering each other on. I had tears in my eyes,” she recalled. Since getting involved with Dirty Kanza, Kristi has been doing her part to get more women riding bikes.
For those unfamiliar, Dirty Kanza is a 206-mile gravel race through Kansas known for being one of the most challenging endurance events. Starting in Emporia, the course weaves through the beautiful, remote, and incredibly challenging Flint Hills. Besides gravel, the elements riders face over the course of 12 to 20 hours include soaring temperatures, mechanical-inducing mud, and strong winds. It's also self-supported except for official checkpoints up t0 80 miles apart, with riders carrying all of the fuel and tools they'll need over the course of the race.
I caught up with Kristi just five days after the June 2nd race and had a chance to ask her about her involvement with the event, her thoughts on its development, and her plans for the future.
Kristi and her husband, Tim (another part of the four-person organizing team) began cycling around fifteen years ago. It was an effort to stay healthy while raising children: “That became our dates. We’d do a ride before sunrise and have quality time together.” She jokes that her babysitter has to clarify whether it’s AM or PM when Kristi asks her to come at 6. Kristi and Tim found their niche in the cycling community when Tim participated in the first Dirty Kanza. They loved the event and the community.
The first DK race was in 2006, with 34 participants and just one checkpoint. Tim biked while Kristi and the kids hung out with the other families at the checkpoint. When there was an opportunity for them to get involved as organizers, Kristi and Tim sat down with Jim Cummins and Joel Dyke, the original founders. Kristi says she saw a lot of opportunity for growth in Emporia, her hometown.
Growing the Women’s Field: "200 Women, 200 Miles"
Kristi loves the Dirty Kanza Promotions team: her husband Tim, Jim Cummins, and LeLan Dains. “We have an amazing team – the four of us – we all have insanely different backgrounds and scope of work and strengths. We are lightning in a bottle. We are really good at working together.”
But that hasn’t kept her from pushing the men on her team to recognize something missing from the event. Before 2016, only 10% of the participants were women, even though proportionally women were completing the event at the same rate as men.
“There was some in-fighting,” she admits. “I had been pushing for a couple years to block off some spots for women. Our registration is so insane. We have to give them a chance.” She tried to explain to the guys that there are barriers to entry for women in this sport: “It’s not that they don’t want to, they need a friend. They need to know they have people with them. They need to know they can handle fixing their bike.” She adds that these barriers also exist for elite women as well: “We pay for female coaches for the training camp. Their sponsors don’t pay for them. It’s not a level playing field. We have the ability and responsibility to make it a level playing field.”
Her team listened and they reserved 200 spots for women, effectively doubling the potential block to 20%. Those spots would be available for three weeks, and if they didn’t fill up, they would open up to everyone. They thoroughly promoted the initiative, branding it “200 Women Riding 200 Miles.”
“They thought it would take two to three years, and it took three hours,” she says. “The first year, it worked.”
As the event has grown, they have expanded the ride options. Now, in addition to the 200-mile race, there are also 100-mile, 50-mile, and 25-mile options. This year across all the events, 25% of participants were women, and 56% of the participants in the 25-mile event were women.
Obviously, though, the work is not done. This year, Dirty Kanza Promotions hosted a Gravel Expo the Friday before the race. Other events included panels and information sessions about gravel grinding, cycling, and the event itself. One of these panels was made up entirely of women in the cycling industry, including women who work at Specialized and QBP, in bike shops and in cycling photography, as well as former pro Amy Charity and current aspiring pro cyclist Ayesha McGowan. The women talked about the challenges facing women in the industry and the ways in which we can continue to move forward.
Moving forward is in Kristie’s plans; she’s already thinking about next year. “The panel may change to a question and answer session. We are going to keep pushing for more women. The guys are completely on board and see what a positive effect it is. We want to push for women in cycling.” They also plan to push for more youth in cycling, which is something Kristi really wants to advocate for in her home state, where a lot of kids “just don’t ride bikes,” she says.
Giving Back: Connecting DK & the Local Community
In twelve years, the event has grown from 34 people to over 2,000. For, Kristi, though, this means a greater impact for her community. She loves that her hometown has become a big part of the cycling world and is proud of what they have been able to give back. Even though the event is not a fundraiser, Dirty Kanza donates part of its proceeds to all of its local partner organizations. Last year, they were able to give around $55,000 to those organizations. This includes ESU scholarships; contributions to Never Let Go, which helps families of children with cancer; and many other organizations, including the local theater, which runs the beer garden during DK. “It’s changed the face of Emporia in so many different ways,” she said. “It’s a true fundraising weekend and a true community event.”
The race itself, though, remains a tough wild card of an event. This year, a huge lightning storm forced the organizers to push back the start time. The rain subsided, but it left crazy headwinds on around 90 miles of the course. This was Kristi’s first year to finish the race. She was the 10th woman to cross the finish line, 3rd in her age group, and 77th overall. Thinking ahead to next year, Kristi says, “Next year will be a different course, but [the challenges] could be anything. This year it was wind. The heat can drop finish rate to 15-16%.”
She seems in awe of the event’s popularity. “It’s crazy how it gets in everybody’s head,” she says. “It’s not for everyone.” But those people that do ride, they are her favorite part of the event: “The participants that do gravel are frickin’ cool. There are very few buttheads. I love it.”
On top of that, she gets to show all of those people how cool Kansas is. Another moment that stood out in this year’s race was a tough climb around mile 30. “We got to the top of Texaco hill, and I said [to the other riders]: ‘Look around.’ It’s ridiculously gorgeous. It’s beautiful out there. I love the scenery of the Flint Hills and the people who do the event. Emporia has embraced our event because the people are great.” And while Kristi works hard to push for more women in rugged endurance riding, its impact on her isn’t lost. “It’s an honor to contribute to the change in this sport,” she said.