Friday, November 3, 2023

Q&A with Kenny Kocarek

I present to you the newest part of my blog: a written question-and-answer discussion with inspirational people that I know in the cycling world. I've always wanted to do something like this, and after seeing Kenny Kocarek take on the DWR 500 route, I decided it was the perfect time to start.

So, with that being said, here's Hamburger Talk #1 with Kenny.

Before we start, I'll give a brief overview of what it's about. Kenny rode 314 miles through the state of Ohio in a single ride, from the southern border to the northern border on Lake Erie. Pretty dang impressive. Oh, and he did it on a singlespeed, too. I've known Kenny for a couple years now, having met him at Transylvania Epic back in 2021, and he's always doing cool things on his bike. Plus, he's an all-star trail builder and volunteer at Camp Tuscazoar in Ohio. If you want to check out his ride on Strava, or find him on Instagram, follow the links below.

Kenny's DWR 500 ride on Strava -

John: Alright, so first of all, who is Kenny Kocarek? Give us a brief bio.

Kenny: Who is Kenny Kocarek? - a 42 year old married white male in search of crazy adventure ideas that can be enjoyed on two wheels! Seriously I’m a Quality Engineer with an awesome wife and two tuxedo cats if I’m not riding bikes I am Vice President of the Camp Tuscazoar Foundation and you will usually find me there working on a project that is usually trail related. Over the last 11ish years I have helped develop build and maintain the trails of what is now a 14 mile system in North East Ohio with plenty of room left to grow.

J: The Dirty Water Route 500, or DWR 500, goes all the way through Ohio from south to north, if I’m not mistaken. How did you first hear about this and what inspired you to attempt it on your singlespeed?

K: I was talking to Nick Campbell (another fellow Ohio Singlespeeder) on a group ride and he was wearing a DWR shirt, since I had recently completed Trans North Georgia singlespeed I asked him about it, he completed it on gears and said that no one has done it on a single yet and he wanted to be the first the following year, that caught my attention and I really liked the idea of racing him to be the first. He had some injuries and unfortunately when I lined up I was the only single and the first person to ever give it a shot so I had a bunch of geared guys to “race” and make sure that I was the first to get to Lake Erie with just one gear!

J: Describe your bike setup. Were you satisfied with it?

K: I rode a Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey 4, with Schwalbe G One Overland 45c tires. Gearing was 38x19, this type of riding is what this bike was made for I had a full frame bag and ran super light I believe I was still under 27 lbs “loaded” up. The Overlands were great because when I hit the few paved sections I barely lost any rolling resistance but had good grip for standing and mashing in steep loose gravel climbs

J: Now for the actual ride itself. I’m sure there were lots of highs and lows during the ride, so take us through how the ride went for you. How did it start? How did you feel? What were the high points and low points?

K: I woke up with a lot of hesitance, the week prior I had major pains in my left foot and limping, but when I would ride I did not have pain in my cycling shoe—after DWR I learned it was arthritis in my big toe, how lame - yes I did not go to the doctor before, I was not going to be benched for this if I could pedal - insert dumb male getting old comment here, I did learn because of the stiff shoes that is why I did not hurt on the bike so it all worked out! Anyway, I did tell myself if I had pain within the first five miles I would pull the plug A. Because my ride was leaving South Point, Ohio and B. I have a little bit of an adult inside of me!

We start at 5am at the Ohio River, I intentionally rode the first mile with my wife Corianne, and friends/teammates Amie and Sam. I wanted to “race” this but did not want to get sucked in trying to draft geared guys like this was a Hundo race I knew Rodney Reed was going to go for sub 24 and my goal was 24 to 30 hours but still latching onto his wheel was not good for my ride. Avg speed for sub 24 was 13.5 miles per hour and I was going to hold that until I couldn’t. As usual when riding a single about 35 miles in I started reeling in the geared bikes that shot off like rockets and the terrain started climbing and found myself into 5th place and closing up fast! 

My strategy was run light and make quick stops often, mile 50 was the first town and of course there is a beautiful Dollar General that just opened, I run in grab supplies and as I’m in line I hear the person off to the side say “Did you see the six cyclists just go through town?” WHAT?! I thought to myself, being my first time and not having a lot of course intel most of the people rolled right through town or made a water only stop so I was back in 11th place also stuck on a loooooong stretch of flat rode and no amount of spinning was going to close that gap. After 30 or so miles of flat, steep rollers, head wind and the heat of the day setting in I started to go to my dark spot. This route was very beautiful most of the time but not on this stretch or that’s what I told myself. 

I have done enough of these silly rides to know you will always get hit with the dark moment. It is how you mentally handle it that makes these events so great because that is the real challenge. I acknowledged it to myself and told myself to just keep moving forward. Mile 100 at Lake Hope I caught a couple riders at the water stop their surprised reaction was priceless. The comment was made “your still going?!” of course I played it off and acted stronger than I felt but the look of confusion and doubt was all over them…how is this idiot on one gear standing here with me?! Events like TNGA people seem to know if you are on an SS that it is not to be underestimated but this is a different world where they are not use to seeing a single speeder at anything other than the local cyclocross race, it was time to go to work and I felt some confidence come back.

I get to mile 114 and needed to stop for lunch, I yearned for Taco Bell but a McDonalds was a half mile closer, I caught two more riders just leaving and got the same confused reaction that the singlespeeder was still going. I order food ready to get in and out .. 15 minutes later I get my food… so much for fast food. I walk outside trying to decide if I was going to give up any more “relaxing” and just jump on the bike and eat and ride then I am tackled by Peyton Randolph and Van and Kayla in tow! 

They were in the area and caught me so it was decided to sit down and get a mental recharge. Having friendly conversation and getting to talk about my current down in the dumps mood is exactly what I needed. Back on the bike rejuvenated mentally I was ready to stop letting everyone else and my competitive spirit guide my ride, I went back to my mantra..protect your body (nether region, food, mental state) then the bike and let everything fall into place. Each town I would yo yo with riders and slowly overtake them as my little engine that could pace just kept chugging along. Good thing about DWR is that you have cell service almost the whole time so if I was walking a hill I’d check in on the girls, or read/respond messages from friends who were watching along. 

Then the sun set, most people the night is what makes them crack. Sleep deprivation starts so set in, mentally you lose all your stimulus because it is just a light on the road, this is the part I look forward to and embrace the battle that is about to happen! Of course in DWR this is when you hit Mohican territory, the biggest hills roughest gravel and the largest gap for fuel (almost 80 miles till next open gas station).

Before nightfall looking at the route I broke the main section into 18 mile sections—18 to bridge of dreams 18 to covered bridge then it was smooth sailing..that was a heck of a 36 miles! From Amish out cruising the zone ..rolling 6 buggies deep with techno music blaring and subs blasting, to a sheriff with full redneck light bar kit lighting me up and questioning me my obviously silly intentions I made it out of Mohican land in fourth place! 

From there the route tames down to chip and seal farm roads but the sleep deprivation leading up to sunrise and lack of road changing mentally hit me pretty hard I just wanted to lay in a ditch and sleep but I wanted to get done before the sun rose so I started singing out loud, at one point I passed a golf course and saw a pond so I dunked my head in the very oddly warm water and soaked my jersey, being 50 degrees it was cold enough to keep me “awake” I spun as much as I could, even raised my average speed up a mile per hour overall but all I wanted was for the sun to rise then I knew I would officially wake up and finish the ride on a good note. It was a beautiful sunrise maybe I missed a random goal but I was a few miles from the finish and I could “coast” in. I finished in 27 hours and 1 minute….yes 1 minute, I did not have a timer running on my Garmin if I would have known I was that close I would have pushed, but regardless I set the “fastest known time” anyway right?! I rolled in and Anthony Bunt the organizer was there to greet me, seriously MAJOR kudos to him he was there for Rodney who finished first and was there to welcome all the riders in that finished in the 36 hour window, that shows how much he cares about this route and those who participate. I doubted the intentions at first but that is a top notch move to make for an organizer, especially for an event that is now free. He awarded me with a custom DWR FKT SS trophy, broken derailleur and all we talked for a few hours and chatted with finishers, then I decided to take a nap in my truck.

J: Looking back on the ride, is there anything you’d change or do differently next time?

K: If I wanted to do another “competitive” run I would plan to make longer pulls and not stop as much, not knowing the course first hand put me at a disadvantage and strategically I could have made up some time in different areas…also it’s so hard not to stop at that random Dollar General though!!!! Seriously the one thing I would change would be to respect the course sooner I was just ripping through it and I think that is why I got into my dark spot so early, I was expecting an easy run through Ohio but forgot how steep our little hills are over and over, Anthony said to respect the course and the pre race meeting and he was 100% correct, it is a manageable course but it will sneak up and bite you if you take it for granted.

J: Do you have any other big rides or races planned? I know you did 24 Hours of Old Pueblo last year, any plans to do that again?

K: Well currently I’ve had about five people send me the PANTS route but I see that as maybe a more casual roll. I have yet to do a long ride where I get to actually bikepack and camp to enjoy it, not just sleep in a random barn or ditch, I really want that experience to actually ride a hundred a day then sleep.
Race wise looks like I am going back to the Transylvania Epic Stage Race, I’d like to get back to “shorter” 100k or hundo races with my all my East Coast Single speed friends - plus without me and Dahn the OH PA rivalry seems to be dying off----not that I was competitive in it, but I was the little yippy dog that stoked the fire.

J: I want to bring up something unrelated for a minute. I know you’re involved with Camp Tuscazoar in Ohio and the trails there, so tell us what’s that all about.

K: I have been involved with the Camp Tuscazoar trails for roughly 11 years, I randomly got involved when I was basically working part time and it had 4 miles of trails which were mostly the traditional Boy Scout fall line trails. It began for me as a personal training ground when I was a racer boy as it easily has over 100’ per mile in vert and plenty of techy bits. Then I realized that if you just make a hard trail it is destined to fail as you will not bring new people to the community so it’ll never grow thus no one will ever take over for me! So we started making the trail flow and built a stacked loop system our trail crew would build trails based off races that we attended and would replicate them on small scale, so we have a Raystown trail, a Rothrock Trail, A Pisgah trail, A snowshoe trail, it would be an easy trail then a hard trail depending on what the terrain gave us so while Tuscazoar is only 14 miles the variety of each trail in my bias opinion makes it the best in Ohio. The best description someone gave me was it’s like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, one minute you are in a difficult tech section then it will open up into a massive flow trail , it always keeps you guessing and does not get redundant. That is why it is a great trail for our Reign of Pain 6ish Hour race we hold the first weekend of July every year. It is a 6.5 hour hard stop race where the goal is to have fun and push yourself to personal goals (and our largest trail fundraiser for the year…last year we raised $8k for development and maintenance!) We have the traditional Stockade that forms the pit area for the race where people are playing music, cooking out on the grill, socializing…o yeah and maybe riding bikes around. We have a great mix of competitive riders and casual riders there just for the party and helping raise funds for our mission!

J: Alright, the exit ticket now. A lot of people know about the Pittsburgh vs. Ohio rivalry, and I have to say, it’s one of my favorite things. Do you have any insight into how that whole thing started? I have to assume it involves Dahn Pahrs somehow.

K: O boy, I get to give the first side of the rivalry!!! So it all began with Peyton Randolph deciding to singlespeed in the local XC series, he beat me down naturally but we became friends and that friendship inbred more Ohio SS’rs then we started moving out of Ohio to the NUE series where we would run into Dahn and other PA SS’rs, well the Peyton’s, Josh Kunz, Eli Orth’s started to step on boxes , naturally Dahn would make a wrong turn and we would sneak up ahead. Then Ohio kept inching closer without Dahn making wrong turns and the trash talking kept getting louder with each inch we got, luckily we have Joe Worby to help us with our social media trash talk! It all came to at TSE where there was a massive throwdown…..between Peyton and all of PA ... I mean OH and PA. Dahn claimed that OH would not see a podium and Peyton snuck one in and Ohio got to raise our flag in PA at singletrack summer camp. Dahn was so embarrassed, and I thought you all exiled him out of PA and to Utah. It’s a shame as he is obviously living his worst life out there hahahaha.  The rivalry has definitely cooled down since Peyton has a dad bod now and everyone is PTSSer’s and raising children but who knows maybe it’ll get fired back up in the future!

Ride Stats:
314.50 miles
21,996 ft elevation
Moving Time 24:35:57
Total time 27:01:06
9302 calories burnt

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