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.

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