“Is this even a good idea?” I debated with myself, unsure of how worth while my second attempt of the morning to see the Great Smokey Mountains would be.

I had spent the prior night horizontal in the back of a Dodge van in the National Parks welcome center parking lot, and made my first attempt at experiencing the mountains a trail run, which less then a mile into, I bailed on. I just wasn’t feeling motivated or inspired, and the twenty-two degree temperatures didn’t help.

I had come to the Smokies with a goal. Despite having driven highway 441 through the center of the Smokies numerous times in past years, I had never once left the vehicle to explore, have an adventure, and immerse myself in the Park.

I couldn’t with clear conscience say I had really experienced the park.

Standing in the cold next to the van my thoughts gravitated toward how tired I was, how I had not eaten food in 14 hours, that I still had 11 hours of driving to get home, and that maybe the 7 mile long dead end mountain road to the tallest peak in Tennessee was barricaded off for a good reason.

Before concluding my thoughts I grabbed my bike and hopped around the “road closed” gate.
The moment I committed to the adventure, and bypassed both the physical gate and my mental barriers, I was free.

Once on the other side of the barriers I realized what a rare opportunity I was being treated with. Mountain biking on trails is illegal in National Parks, for valid reasons, and riding the narrow crowded roads filled with understandably distracted drivers gazing upon majestic vistas makes the pavement a non-option for cycling.

But here I was, with the unique opportunity of riding a National Park road closed off behind me so none could follow.
I was all alone, with a delectable treat, and I didn’t have to share.

The road was clear, perfectly smooth, winding upwards with just enough pitch for my body to get warm from the effort. The road was cut into the mountain with a wall to my right, and exposed to the best views of North Carolina to my left. I imagined what the area was like long ago, remembering that many scientists believe the Appalachians to be the oldest mountains on Earth. Existing long before our continent, and dating back to the formation of Pangea, the Appalachians were once taller then the mighty Himalayas, before time and erosion rounded them down to their present size.
Two months earlier I had watched the sun rise over the south rim of the Grand Canyon, perhaps the nations most iconic symbol of how small we are as individuals, where I sat and contemplated time on the massive scale of 20-50 million years. Now I was trying to comprehend both the formation and slow unyielding erosion of a natural wonder on the scale of nearly half a billion trips around the sun.

A few miles farther up the climb, the wall to my right started to become lined with a curtain of icicles, and the road surface was a mixture of slick ice and sure footed snow. Behind the wall of ice a creek was flowing that created a low drone, which was contrasted by song birds, and punctuated by the chime like ring of crashing icicles. I felt so isolated, and spoiled. The sun was bright, the air was still, and the sound track was phenomenal. A live performance never to be repeated.

The top of Clingman’s Dome, at 6,643 feet above sea level, is the third highest point east of the Mississippi river, and only 41 feet lower than the tallest, Mt Mitchell. The rounded off dome is surrounded by a fir and spruce forest, and the only way to take full advantage of your superior elevation is to climb a 40 foot tower constructed at the top.
From the top I had clear skies and wide reaching visibility. I could see Mt Mitchell and Mt Craig in the distance, and wondered if anyone was standing atop them looking back. We would be the tallest people on the eastern half of a continent, and perhaps we had climbed the tallest mountains in the history of the Earth.

Janurary 14th, 2016.

It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m sure you’ve heard that before, but it’s true.

It’s not that I didn’t want to talk with you,  I honestly just didn’t know what to say most of the time. Not that there was any lack of topics and stories, I just didn’t know how they fit into the context of the entire narrative.

Over the last 12 months life got crazy, it was just one wave after another, sometimes waves of good and sometimes waves of bad, but every single one of them was altering me in ways that I couldn’t understand until I started to see the end result.

The last 12 months have changed what bikes mean to me, how I want to talk about them, and how I want to use them. I want to write stories that are more approachable to anyone, including people that are not cyclists. I want to write stories that are more about experiencing the places and the people in them, realizing an adventure, and the human part of what I am doing.

I think I’ve made a transition from bikes being the end, to bikes being the means to the end, and the end is now the world, and that makes me excited.

So all of that is to say, I have had a lot of things I’ve wanted to tell you.  Starting from two week long solo tours living with foreign strangers, impromptu over night bad ideas, to the last 4 months traveling as a pro race mechanic. Hopefully I can convey them in a way that tells a story, and not a play by play, because I don’t think I would have been able to before.

This is not actually the Memphis International Airport. This is actually Ron, and I will never forget my experience with him.

Go create a story worth telling someone about.

More importantly, be your own audience, and give yourself one hell of a show.

The ride formally known as Ten Thousand

First off, everything that follows is a continuation of >THIS POST HERE<. So read that first, and then continue on to learn all about the best route I have ever created, for the event formally known as Ten Thousand.

Last year when designing a route for Ten Thousand my goal was primarily maximizing elevation gain, in order to hit 10,000ft.
I love every road on that route, but knew there were some unique and fantastic gems hidden further west that were simply too far out to hit while starting from Freeport, thus the change to Stockton as the starting location for 2016.

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Stockton has the distinction of being the highest town in the state of Illinois, and also teeters just on the edge of the Driftless zone. This opened up opportunities to go deeper, reach bigger climbs, and showcase a wider assortment of roads then was previously possible. My goal this year was to make the personality of the roads constantly evolve and have something different and unique around every corner, and I couldn’t be happier.

While pedaling the course with Bailey I stopped numerous times to lament how envious I was of everyone that would get to see those views while the trees are ablaze in the fall colors. If my recon rides last fall were any indication, October 17th is going to be ideal to witness that change.

So enough chit chat, lets get to specifics.

First off, IF I was going to be there for a grand depart on October 17th, I would start riders at 7am. I would advise riders start at 7am. Riders should start at 7am. WHY? Sunrise is at 7:14am, and sunset is at 6:17pm. This means you also want to take lights. Unlike Dekalb, you will not be holding a 20 MPH average. You will also not be holding a 16mph average. Last years event winner won the race with a 15.75mph average, and everyone else was much slower. This years course has 1,000 feet more elevation gain compared to last year, and it is wonderful.

TEN THOUSAND 2016  (Image link)
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TEN THOUSAND 2016 SHORT (Image link)
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First things first, someone is going to say “Ridewithgps says the route only has 9,000 feet of climbing!” Correct, and Strava says it has 6,000 and Mapmyride says it has 1,300. Tell me what your GPS says after you finish.

The first 52 miles of the routes are identical, at which point the short course splits off and takes a direct, though beautiful, route back to Stockton.

The first thing Bailey said to me about 5 miles in was “This course jumps right into it!”, and it does. The first 30 miles are tough.

Taking a bit of a jaunt just outside the Driftless, the early roads tend to still follow a grid pattern, which routes you up and over endless rollers. Later on in the route you will enter the true Driftless, and the entire personality of the roads will change.

The events only B-roads hit early at mile 19.8. I’ll comment on this part of the course as a rider or two were confused while navigating this section last year.

When you see this presumably dead end, you take the most left of the three options, and follow it down and up. It is rough, but much smoother then prior years, and all able to be ridden. After that you turn right, and follow another B-road down a long hill. Stay alert, as there is some heavy erosion near the bottom of the potentially fast downhill.

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The town of Elizabeth (Mile 46) is going to be your first chance to resupply. There is a cafe and a gas station, and I usually grab a sandwich and iced coffee at E-town Cafe as I roll through town. This would be a good place to assess how you feel about going deeper into the Driftless. This is the only food and water stop on the short route, and the best one on the full route.

The next place to grab food and water on the full route is in Hanover (Mile 66). The gas station there has a $10 minimum on credit cards, so bring cash, or buy for friends also.

After those towns, there is no guaranteed food or water. There are two campgrounds with water pumps at miles 75 and 114, but I can not guarantee they will be turned on that late in the fall. Leave Hanover with all supplies needed for another 60 miles of difficult riding.

There are some really cool sections on this latter part of the course, taking you right along the Mississippi river, and up what I consider to be the coolest climb in the entire state. Enjoy.

The rest of the adventure and it’s discoveries are up to you.

After your ride is done, there is a restaurant across the street from the starting park called JJ’s and Freddie’s, which seems like an ideal place for riders to satiate a ravenous appetite and share battle stories. If you see riders come in, even if you don’t know them, make your table bigger and find out how their day went.

Enjoy the day, look around and smile often, take lots of pictures, tag them so I can see them, and tell me all about your adventure. I sincerely want to hear all about it.

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Everyday, something new.

After my friends at NCC and I all announced we had put in our two weeks notice we constantly were being asked what we were doing next.

I didn’t have an answer, up until now, sort of.

From late September through mid Janurary I will be on the road doing support for the Raleigh Clement professional cyclocross team.

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Illinois locals know the Raleigh Clement team by their kind presence and humble dominance of Axletree’s Gravel Metric the last handful of years, and by Clement generously being one of the title sponsors helping us put on an event that is free to the riders. They are a great group of people, and I am beyond excited to go on such a 4 month journey, and travel to so many places I have not yet been, and places I know and love. Asheville, Tacoma, Providence, Waterloo, Gloucester, Boulder, Iowa City, and many more stops, and places in between.

I’ll be driving vans and trailers of gear coast to coast repeatedly, wrenching on bikes, playing gear tetris in the storage trailer, and other background tasks to help enable some of the top racers in the country to focus on going faster on bikes then us mortals thought possible.

After the National Champsionships in Asheville, I have no work lined up yet, but I am sure it will be another exciting new adventure.

I am really stoked for this short life experience. I have always been internally wired with a nuanced version of the “Grass is always greener” saying, but for me “The grass is always greener when you don’t know what is on the other side”.

Everyday, something new.

Willingly taking the path of more resistance, for fun.

My car rolled into Palos with two bikes on the back of my car, though I was the only one inside.

I was planning on riding my Single Speed mountain bike, but after taking the studded tires off and checking the brakes I discovered that no amount of sanding, alcohol, or even replacing the brake pads, could get the terrible oil soaked squeel of a winters commuting to silence.

I know, your first thought is “It is half way through August, and you just took your studded tires off your mountain bicycle?” Well, I live in BFE Dekalb, and very rarely have the option to use an automobile to get to the closest tiny little trail system 45 miles away. Trust me, this hurts me more then you know.

That day and the one prior, I was in one of those dark mental funks that normally only get to the core of my being during the harsh winter months. I really needed an escape, I needed to go ride a bike somewhere, and honestly the roads around my house do not suppress the dark aura, but actually feed it.

Quite frustrated, I threw the mountain bike on my car, thinking that maybe if I went and rode a few hours, I could bed the pads in, even though fifteen minutes in the parking lot did nothing at all.
I locked the shop, set the alarm, jumped in my car, and then ran back into the shop to grab another bike.

After the hour plus drive to Palos, I clipped in and rolled away from my car, with the feeling that I was entering the unknown.
I have ridden Palos plenty of times before, but only once in the prior 5 years, and there was plenty of new trail to discover. Also, this time I was on my cyclocross race bike, 33c tubulars and all.

There is that feeling I get sometimes, where I feel like I am getting away with something I shouldn’t do, but I am doing it anyway.
It is a complex melding of refreshment, caution, curiosity, accomplishment and unknown. I love it.

I hadn’t been on my CX bike to really push it for quite a while, and I needed to remember the limits of the tires grip and traction, as well as how it responds to my body language. I started off quite cautious, but with a big smile ear to ear. I was going to ride a loop of the Palos Meltdown course, since it was so well worn in and included the new trails.

As the double track gave way to tighter root strewn single track with some loose downhills I had to be very focused to pick good lines, bunny hop obstacles, and delicately bounce rims off of anything else in the way. The small tires set to 30-35psi didn’t have much room to compress before the rim hit rocks and roots, but by shifting body weight around multiple times a second the way a cars traction control works, I could navigate up and down everything pretty quickly, and I was having a wonderful time. Coming up the second ravine of the infamous trail called Three Ravines was the only spot I had to dab a foot, but I surveyed the line I took, and what other options there were, and kept on rolling down the trail.

I ended up following a group of mountain bikers around the new trail, completing the race loop, and then wandering around some of the other trails by Cemetery Hill.
After I had found water, I left for a second loop of the race course. I was having too much fun to stop.
I was feeling very in control of the bike, and was passing mountain bike after mountain bike on rooted single track. Granted, a few were wearing full face helmets and had full on enduro bikes. They must have been visiting from another state out west.

Back at Three Ravines I was clipping along much more comfortably and swifter then the first loop. I cleaned all three ravines comfortably, and kept smiling as I bounced over rocks and roots.

I finished the second race course loop on my 29 minus wheel size, for 25 miles of mountain biking on my CX bike.
Sitting in the drops of the bars, with a huge smile on my face, I couldn’t help but think about the next time I would get to make it out to Palos, and how I hope to have two bikes on my car that day.

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Pulling the Dirty Kanza hat trick or: If you want it then you shoulda put a single ring on it.

Preparation.

Any event of this scale takes some amount of planning, so I guess I’ll touch that briefly.

I had done this event twice before, finishing on a geared bike in 2012, and on a single speed bike in 2014. I really enjoyed my single speed ride in 2014, so I signed up that way again in Janurary.
Most of my training over the winter was more focused on getting ready for Trans-Iowa, but I did happen to do a lot of my winter riding on a single speed. I did the usual indoor trainer rides, and I was also running and lifting weights in a gym at least twice a week, which I honestly find has a substantial benefit to riding single speed. In addition, I did a 8 day gulf of mexico tour in Feburary, on a 93 pound bike, with one day as long as 180 miles.  I have trained through the winter the last three years, and by keeping everything so varied this winter I really feel like it kept me from getting burned out on the bike before spring hit.

Trans-Iowa came around, everyone froze and suffered, and no one finished. Despite what you might expect, everyone had a great time, it was a nice big family reunion and I loved every second of that weekend.
Afterwards, people back home were saying things like “All that training for nothing”, and I would respond in a way such as “You know, I plan to keep riding bikes still…”.
Also, whenever someone asks me how I train for a 200 mile event like Dirty Kanza, I respond with “I train for a 330 mile event,Trans-Iowa.”

I basically took the month between Trans-Iowa and Dirty Kanza off the bike. I did two rides that were 100 kilometers, one on my geared warbird, and another on a Brompton folding bike. There were a couple 10-20 mile rides in there also. All this time I had the dumb idea of riding Kanza on a fixed gear in my head. My buddy Jay Barre had done it at Trans-Iowa(A significantly harder event) after doing it geared and SS, a term I call “The Barre Exam”, and so that was the spark in my brain. I am very curious, and I simply didn’t know if I could. I already knew I could finish Kanza geared and single speed, I had already crossed those finish lines in the past. I guess the best way to say it is I just wanted to ride into the unknown and discover something new, I quickly get bored with repetition and certainty.

My bike was a 58c Surly Cross Check with Woodchippers, Aerobars, an Ergon magic seatpost and SM3 saddle, 42c Soma Cazadero tires, and a custom 3rd water bottle boss brazed on my downtube by the fantastic folks at Comrade Cycles.

Blood Wagon

Blood Orange , post ride

So 12 days before Kanza I laced up a fixed wheel. I played around with it, but found it was hard to stretch the legs and that the saddle hurt since you can’t really stand up, ever. After 30 miles I was really on the fence about showing up fixed, and was thinking of just riding my cross check single single speed again. Pedaling down every hill seemed like a cruel joke.
The thing that pushed me over the edge happened 6 days before at the Gravel Metric, which I spent riding with my friend John from Brompton, on Bromptons. We were talking about all sorts of good stuff, business at the time, when he said “If you hit every goal you set, then your goals are not very ambitious.”

Kansas, Leg #1.

At the 6am starting line I was pretty comfortable in what I was doing. I had done the event twice, so I knew what to expect, and I was just out to have a good time with other people out to have a good time. I was conflicted on where to start at the line up, because I felt that I would be quick during the starting flat miles, but get passed on the future hills when I was forced to pedal down each hill. I ended up starting near the rear, simply because I found some great friends there that I don’t get to see often enough.
The herd started moving and away we went. Once on the gravel the line of riders were slowing drastically for any small puddle on the road, and so my 42c tires and inability to coast would decide to hit the shoulder and hold my pace, usually passing a few dozen riders at a time. I did this over and over before a dozen or so miles in we hit the now infamous death march. At first glance of people getting off their bikes I yelled “No gears no fears!” and charged into the mud. Everyone laughed and 30 feet later I picked up my bike and joined the hike line.

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It went on a while, well over an hour in fact, but it wasn’t terrible due to there being a grassy shoulder on one or both sides most of the time. I was able to roll my bike on the cleaner vegetation the majority of the miles. To be honest, it was a lot easier to make forward progress then the B-roads in Iowa that have 45 degree shoulders and leave nowhere to hike. I ate 300 calories and marched on.

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I dig this one. It's hard to get this perspective in an event like this without participating.

I dig this one. It’s hard to get this perspective in an event like this without participating.

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Look at the horizon. Look at how expansive this place is.

Afterwards I heard people had found snakes during this hike, and looking at their pics I believe they were Massassauga(Sistrurus catenatus), a pygmy species of rattlesnake which I have wanted to find since early childhood. Massassauga are nearly extinct in my home state due to habitat loss. My buddy Bailey joked that had I seen them, I would not have finished, instead choosing to play with snakes all day. This is now in and of itself a reason for me to return to the Flint Hills, to find the Massassauga, but I digress.

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At the end of the mud it was carnage. I took my front wheel off to scrape mud out, and noticed my chain was oddly sitting on top of the chainring at a 45 degree angle. I swiftly cleaned what I could and fixed my chain, before clipping into my mud shedding crank brothers pedals with my brakes still unattached. At this mud to gravel transition my bike was barely rolling, but my plan was to start riding to see if mud would fly off the bike at a certain speed, and see how long it was till I saw water. About 2 miles later there was a nice water pool I was able to efficiently clear a lot of mud off the bike with, and also reattach my brakes. Mission successful.

Around this point we really entered the reason I come down to this event, the Flint Hills. I love nature, and being in an ecosystem unploughed and so expansive makes me smile. Miles 20 through 77(Checkpoint #1) were sort of euphoric, and I was just stoked to not only be on a bike in such a beautiful place, but have nothing else to do that day but ride.

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The first neutral water stop was at mile 32, and I stopped to assess my bike, as the chain felt slack. The reality was that my hub had come loose on the bearings and it had 2cm of lateral movement and had been bouncing side to side the last few miles. I was pretty shocked, but the mud had froze the preload adjust and when the wheel spun it threaded out. Worse yet my multi tool did not have the 2.5mm allen to adjust the hub. Thankfully a rider next to me had a massive tool with just what I needed, and I lubed my chain before clipping in to keep the smiles going.

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I made up the time lost hiking to safely clear the checkpoint, and after a 10 minute pit stop with Joel Hukill I was smiling on to leg two.

Leg #2

Aside from the cattle drive of the 3 mile b-road, I hadn’t really ridden “with” anyone all day, just a bunch of touch and go conversations with a few friends. Even more so then when riding single speed, fixed gear was a lone ranger ride. My 40×17 gear made me climb faster then most around me, but I still was swiftly passed on the downhills.

There were some really rough water crossing this leg of the course, and charging down a hill at 25mph, before jumping off a concrete pad onto a rock garden while pedaling a 140rpm cadence the whole time really reinforced my decision to run 42c tires. Everyone talks about Dirty Kanza flat tires and sharp gravel, but from my experience at three separate Kanzas the majority of flats come from pinching the tube on creek crossings. Run big tires.

Another mud section happened, we walked some but had enough of a time buffer to feel secure in doing so. I ate some calories during this walk. One of the things I’ve learned from Trans-Iowa is anytime you are walking, you are eating. It is those little tips early on that make the late hours more comfortable.

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Some of the cattle road in this area were rough, and really wet. I don’t think my feet ever dried all day. From mile 100 on there was also a strong headwind, which I would duck into my aero bars for to push my gear.
Eventually I came to the neutral water station, shortly before a few riders showed up with a dog in tow.
“This dog has been running with us for 30 miles, it wont leave.”

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I filled my bottles, ate a few hundred calories, and rolled out solo, besides a dog as a shadow.

Along this section of the route before we hit checkpoint two I spent a solid chunk of time with a guy named Matt from Lawrence, and a few other riders. It was nice to have conversation, and these miles were really enjoyable with gentle sweeping hills. I was getting bloated in the gut by mile 140, which is a recurring issue I can’t seem to figure out. We rolled into town and went our separate ways to our support, and the Legend Bobby Wintle grabbed my bike and directed me towards some fancy indoor plumbing which I used to it’s full potential. I returned to a smoother, faster bicycle with smoother and faster body. I walked down a few cars to Joel and my Dekalb friends and they got my bike restocked and another thick PB&J sandwich in my mouth.

Lately I have been big on foods that I ate as a kid. I think it is interesting how taste can take us way back to a period of our lives so clearly. PB&J is pretty easy to eat, tastes amazing, and remind me of when I was 10 years old and riding around my neighborhood on my bmx bike doing tricks all day.
I like to think that on some small level it helps me remember I am still just a person, experiencing a big vast world, by making small circles with his feet.

I was shivering while siting around eating my sandwich. I felt pretty great and alert, so I think it was more the fact that I had been splashing through water puddles and it was cold then that I was calories deficient.
My friends mentioned my shivering and kindly pushed me out of the nest to get moving and warm again, friends are so awesome.
I decided at this point that I wanted to finish by midnight. That was the 18 hour mark, and 2 hours before the the cutoff. I said this because that is when they stopped pouring beer on the main street. That was 42 miles in 3.5 hours. It was reasonable even this many miles in, considering we only had another 11 miles of headwind and the last twenty miles were pretty flat, as I recalled.

Leg #3

Shortly after rolling out I saw Matt again, who’s family forced him to continue on. He was feeling fine and riding strong all day, but he felt that due to the weather and hike he was riding slow enough to inconvenience his family’s travel plans. He considered stopping at the 2nd checkpoint in order to have the evening with his family, however, his family would not let him stop now after such a distance. Thus we were once again riding together, as we would until the finish line.

The sun set an hour or so into the last leg of 42 miles, and we navigated partially by maps, but also taillights and memory. We had both done the event at least once before, so some of the route was ingrained, or at least we recalled it once we made the turn.
The last hour or so was pretty painful for me. Once the hills ended there was no way to get out of the saddle well, and 17 hours of fixed gear pedaling was about my limit. I thought back to Jay riding for 34 hours to finish Trans-Iowa, and the deep respect I had for his ride increased even more so.

A few miles out of town Jeremy Kershaw passed us as we hit the final pavement run into town. Matt and I chatted and thanked each other for the company, and followed Jeremy across the finish line to great our family and friends, just 7 minutes before my goal of beating a midnight finish.
I heard I was only the second person ever dumb enough to finish The Dirty Kanza on a fixed gear. My words, not theirs.

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I felt pretty solid afterwards, all things considered. I reduced some more bloating, got multiple jimmy john’s sandwiches, and spent time with friends waiting for other friends among the amazing Emporia festivities. That town is incredible. The locals, riders, families, and everyone else create the best finish line atmosphere I have ever seen.
Eventually I left to take a shower, before returning to the finish line to great more friends crossing over to the recovery side. I ended up being out till quarter to 3am.

Home

I am pretty glad I took the leap and risks I did. Sure, fixed gear was more difficult then had I rode single speed, but it was a new experience and better story then had I simply repeated the same thing over again. It added another color on my three years of Dirty Kanza painting.

Bad ideas make good stories. 

40x17, I think I am in love.

40×17, I think I am in love.

Onward, to suffering.

…I hope.

I don’t doubt the fact that the start of a hard ride will be in 19 hours, I just hope that it ends up being a long one.

Physically and mentally preparing for the big dance called Trans-Iowa has gone great this year, and up until 3 days ago I was completely at ease with few butterflies. Not because I felt like it was in the bag or going to be easy, I am just very happy with my progress as a rider since last year. I am significantly stronger in the legs and heart then I was one year ago, my bike fits way better then it ever has, my gear is more dialed, my nutrition easier to swallow while riding, I know how to climb out of holes more confidently, and I have some solid uncomfortable weather training and multi day sleepless nights under my belt in the last 3 months.  I am really excited and pleased with my last year of training.

The thing that has me, and all the rest of the riders worried is the weather. Rain the day before, rain at the start, and temps hovering just barely above freezing both nights, and 20+ mph winds.

I am no too worried about my body in relation to the weather, I will have all the rain and cold gear I’ll need to stay cozy(Thanks Dean!). I am mostly worried about what the moisture does to the gravel and dirt we will be spending 331 miles on. Bikes getting caked with mud preventing wheels from spinning, derailleurs getting ripped off, cassettes getting packed to the point that the chain can’t sit on them, these are the worries running through my brain. I am worried about a short day on the bike due to mud.

Pic by the wonderful Jeremy Kershaw, of Heck of the North fame.

Pic by the wonderful Jeremy Kershaw, of Heck of the North fame.

The funny thing is, I am not worried as much about not finishing as I am about not getting the chance to battle the dark places. I am worried about not making it into the second night to fight the demons that only come out when you are on the bike for 24+ hours in a row. It takes a long time for the inoculation of Trans-Iowa to set in, that state of being entirely one with the dirt, where it seems there is no dividing line between the earth below and the rider above, and your mind becomes one with the darkness that surrounds you.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm  24 hours in is crushing.

Trans-Iowa: The blackness of a cold Trans-Iowa thunderstorm 24 hours in is crushing.

It’s a level of suffering you don’t get with single day events that start at sunrise and finish shortly after sunset. The sun is incredibly comforting mentally, and each time it comes up you get the sensation that everything is going to be ok. Riders get two such sunrises during this event, and I hope to be comforted by both.

The weather will start bad, and get easier after about 2pm, when the rain might let up. This will be a proverbial rabbit for us to chase, or oasis for us to look forward to, a literal bright spot on the horizon.  We will tell ourselves it will keep getting easier the deeper we go, that the best is yet to come, and we can look forward to a different set of challenges. Those are the challenges I am looking forward to, the notion of being on the bike for 24 hours, and knowing you only have another 10 hours to go.

Whatever happens, we will all have stories to tell, experiences we will never forget, friendships created and strengthened, and deep appreciation for the true privilege of finding out how deep our breaking points lay. Onward.