First the facts, I don’t want to leave you hanging for details. Lets put down the borders and i will fill in the colors.
-I did not finish
-I rode 237 miles of 325
-Trans-Iowa changed me
-Mistakes were made
-I can’t wait for 2014
We got to the Meat up at Grinnell steakhouse and got signed up and chowed down. At the pre-race meeting we got cue sheets and Jay Barre and myself went forward and raffled out prizes, as both of us through our shops(Wheel Werks and North Central Cyclery)sponsored the event. Hands were shaken, names were dropped, and friends were hugged.
Quick run to Crap-Mart to grab a few last minute supplies, pop a 1mg meletonin, and i am asleep at 9pm for a solid 5:45 of sleep. 5+ hours of sleep is hero status before this ride, so i felt lucky that i was able to change my bodies sleep schedule in the month leading up to this event to make that easier.
The ride starts at 4am in the ghost downtown of Grinnell. I spotted Lance Andre and chatted him for a bit as his ride was pretty unique for the day, a Trek Domane. I spotted other people i knew and settled in to a spot in the herd waiting to be led out of town by Mark’s truck. We followed his truck for a couple miles and then we crossed a highway and were instantly on fresh gravel with rollers. That last bit would be a theme for the rest of the ride.
After a bit i found a long time friend to spend some miles with. Ari and i have spent some good miles together prior, and more time at work talking about this event in particular. It was almost surreal to be at the event Ari always taught me about while spinning wrenches, with Ari himself riding next to me. We kept a conservative pace with all of the early hills and the future in mind, and had good conversations recalling some of the fantastic rides we had done in Dekalb together. Ari’s friend “Special K” from New York was along for the ride with him also. He had never rode gravel much, but it was obvious he had spent lots of time on a bike and was a strong rider.
After two hours of loose gravel and hills, the sunrise gave birth to some fantastic views. There is something about the steady transition from darkness to golden light while in a foreign land that is absolutely euphoric. It was intoxicating. I can only imagine what the second sunrise felt like for the sleep deprived riders that made it that far. That feeling alone makes me want to finish the beast to see what it’s like.
After 80 miles or so and having passed through checkpoint one, our group of three was at a gas station slightly off route that was being pillaged by a dozen other riders. Everyone was doing the refuel dance, and i found a microwave bean burrito that had a ton of calories and sodium, and it tasted amazing. I remember the sodium in particular as surely being of the highest quality product. Must have been organic burrito salt, or maybe my standards were lowered, maybe.
I had been in a tug of war with myself over how to ride pace wise all day up to this point. On one hand i was with friends that had knowledge, and on the other hand i felt like i could ride a bit faster without really using any more energy. I had choose up till then to keep my pace very relaxed thus far and get my mind around how everything worked, and spend time with Ari for many hours. At the gas station i decided that i needed to explore my own natural pace for a while and see where it took me. I could always wait at a gas station or check point until i saw them again. Leaving the gas station i pulled out ahead, alone.
During the early parts of a ride like this, it’s important to keep in mind the entire time that you need to save some energy for 30 hours later. You are rarely thinking about the present as you are always thinking things like “I need to eat now and every hour so i feel fine in 20 hours”, and “No stops between miles 80 and 170, what should i carry”. The only other things running through your head are repeating the cue sheet distances to yourself over and over, and a seventh time again to make sure, and doing the math on miles remaining verses time remaining. Mentally everything is stripped away to a quite primitive focus. However when you are sure of what you are doing and focus on the current moment, everything becomes beautiful in the way that only the simplest of things can be.
Here i am, riding my bike, and it sure is pretty out here.
During the next miles of the ride i caught a lot of riders that were ahead, and had some good conversations meeting a lot of cool people. My time varied from being alone, to spending a chunk of time with a rider or two. I kept making good progress and catching more riders ahead, probably 20 in total by the next checkpoint. The longest riding pals during this time were Connor Ramsey and Steve Wagner. Connor is from ISU and knew Tobie and Ari from when he got a bike from NCC. We both rolled up a hill and found Steve begging water from a farmhouse well, apparently the same one that Eric brunt got attacked by a dog at. Our group became three for a good chunk of miles before Steve started having knee issues and Connor stopped to rest and eat, urging me to continue. I finished the 15-20 miles to checkpoint 2, alone once again.
I rolled into Checkpoint 2, happy to see a face again from the volunteers. I was well ahead of the time cut at this point off by over 3 hours. This checkpoint was at a cemetery with no supplies, but there was a gas station 10 miles further down the road. The sun was getting low in the sky and i had plenty of time, so i waited to see who came into the checkpoint to ride with. I didn’t want to be alone when the sun went down in foreign land. Besides, i had just rode my bike 14 hours over golf ball sized gravel for 165 hilly miles, i deserved at least a short break.
As i pulled my cold night gear back over my body and munched on some food items, a group of 3 single speed riders rolled in. They kindly let me join their party when i explained i didn’t want to ride alone at night. One of the riders was Matt Wills, who has ridden in every Trans-Iowa Except V1. He told me that all three times he had finished he was with other riders during the night, and he had never succeeded riding the night alone. I was excited for the company, and we set off for the gas station ten miles down.
The Casey’s shone as a beacon in the darkness, and was packed with riders who were spending a lot of time refueling for the upcoming segment of 90 miles(or so). People were taking long breaks to get recovered, totally hydrated, and satisfied. Matt ordered an entire pizza, and the four of us sat on a curb eating one of the best pizzas ever, with some of the best gatorade rain ever. When you have been pedaling a bike for 17 hours, everything is the best ever. After thirty minutes or so of all the best things the world has to offer your mouth, we continued off into the cold black darkness.
This next section of of 50-60 miles was hard on me. The constant large rollers became even more substantial, and it was dark, and it was cold. The weather reports were all claiming a low of 45f or so, and so i prepared clothing appropriate for such a temperature. What i wasn’t prepared for was temps as low as 34f, so much moisture in the air to form condensation on you, and 25mph winds on the downhills(moving speed). I was shivering on the bike for many hours, as only on the uphills could i generate enough body heat to warm up, only to then lose it all again on the next downhill. Because of the focus required to ride the constant fresh gravel rollers i had also slowed my eating, enough to where i was getting tired and my body didn’t have enough energy to produce much heat. I had been falling asleep on the bike for a while, and at one point something happened and i found myself rolling(crashing) into the ditch at riding speed. It was super comfortable laying there, like a bed, i didn’t want to get up.
We kept riding and the moon was rising in the sky. It was nearly a full moon, just waxing i believe. The quietness of the night, the remoteness of the moonlit landscape, the surreal aspect of the situation, and the amount of sleep deprivation created a truly ethereal atmosphere. We marveled at the grandness of it, which my words could do nothing to convey. In addition to the peaceful sound of gravel under our tires under a bright moon, our group talked about many things during this time to keep our minds occupied. These were some great guys.
John started a story at one point in the night for me about his experiences with the topic of mind over matter, to help me stay awake. He started his story with “So i was flying down to judge this thing called Cup Of Excellence…………..”. My eyes perked, and my mind refreshed to recall if he actually said what i thought he said.
Oh crap he did.
I instantly had two thoughts running through my head simultaneously. 1: This guy is a huge coffee geek, we will have something to chat about for hours!
And 2: Why did i have to proclaim loudly 5 hours ago that the Casey’s coffee was the best i ever had?
Shake it out chad, he knows the situation you are in, he must know everything “is the best” right now, just roll with it.
Turns out John is the master roaster at Parisi Artisan Roasters in Kansas City. He’s not just a good guy in the scene, he’s pretty awesome.
We chatted about coffee for a long time, at least long enough to annoy the other guys i’m sure, but at least it kept us all awake.
As time progressed through the night, and the rollers kept coming, and the gravel stayed boulders, and i kept falling asleep for another few hours, things became really hard.
That feeling where you can’t keep your eyes open, i know you’ve had it. That one where you are driving a car on a road trip or whatever, or watching a movie, yea that feeling. Even though i wanted to, and i had been fighting it for 4 hours straight, it was impossible to keep the eyes open and climb the hills, let alone descend them.
I found a rider on the side of the road and stopped, and i let the other guys continue on. The riders name was Vin Cox, he was from the UK, and he was calling for a ride out of there.
I had told myself before hand that even if i took 40 hours to finish, well after the official time cut off, i would finish by sleeping in a ditch to recover if necessary. I’d done it before on other rides, i’d do it again, and i was going to finish, as i am not one to quit. Stubbornness or something.
I contemplated my personal creed, and i knew there was no way i could spend time in a ditch with a lowered heart rate and available clothing and come out in better shape given the temperature, i was still shaking. It was both the easiest and hardest choice i ever had to make.
Anyone who has done a hard race can tell you that during the really hard times you wonder why you hurt yourself with such misery, and how the second the race is over you start planning the next one. I have felt that emotion time and time again, in races short and long. Laying in a ditch with Vin at 5am waiting for a vehicle i could not imagine signing up for trans-Iowa once again. Laying in bed at the hotel at 8am fully awake i could do nothing but plan what i would do differently. I was unable to sleep in a warm bed, it felt wrong. I felt wrong for not being on my bike, my mind was blaring warning signs for doing anything else.
Liz and i ate the hotel breakfast, and went down to the finish to check it out and see some riders come in. Derrick was still on the course, and our DKB crew waited for him to come in to congratulate him. Derrick is strong like bull. Matt, Matt, and John all came in an hour or two after that, within the time cut off. That was Matt Wills’ fourth single speed T.I. finish. I was so glad to see those guys tough it out, they were fantastic guys to ride with. Friend Jay Barre ended up with a very strong single speed finish, who ended up riding with T.I. rookie(and now finisher) and local legend Paul Carpenter for a good while. Ari and Special K made it a strong 255 miles before the hills, cold, and fatigue got to them. A new acquaintance of mine Mark Johnson from Sterling won the SS category, finishing second overall. I was very happy for these friends and all other finishers.
Before i left i thanked Mark once again for everything. Mark spends so much personal time and money to put this event on, and what he creates is priceless. The community around the event and gravel scene, the friendships, the stories, the struggles, the conquests, it’s all priceless. These are the things we will look back on fifty years from now. Thank you Mark for all of this.
Once i got back home my mind was still in bike survival mode. Something about 24 hours of a singular focus rewires your mind, and i woke up the next day with my instinct telling me to ride my bike. I rode everyday following T.I. for over a week, my mind made me, although the saddle was awful. I have been reworking my nutrition and how i am going to take in calories while moving. I have been riding regularly. I have built up a new bike, and working on packing it efficiently. I have been having fun exploring with bicycles and seeing new sights.
Training has begun, and i am already anxious for that 2:45am alarm clock in 2014. It’s going to be a fantastic day.