John and Lee’s Epic in Iowa continues…
Part 2: Dude, Where’s My Monstercross?
Within a minute of my 2:30 A.M. alarm going off Saturday morning I was staring at the weather report. Still cold. Still windy. Still suck. Lots of suck. This is what I had planned for and it looked like we were gonna get it. I wolfed down some food and went down to load the bikes up in Lee’s truck. It looked scary outside.
Iowa sky right after sunriseStill very windy and the ground was soaked from an overnight downpour. The windchill was 20 degrees. It really didn’t seem like that many people were present at the start. 100 had registered. 67 were present. Attrition begins early at Trans Iowa.
Last minute fiddling Wingnut and ah, wingnutsCold wet startLee and I had a tentative agreement to stick together unless it just all went to hell and we got separated or died, that sort of malady. Guitar Ted did a controlled lead out right at 4 A.M. out of Grinnell onto the now mushy gravel roads. I tried to ride smooth and not run into other riders and was shocked at how fast the pace was. I didn’t want to push hard this early but also wanted to make it to Checkpoint Alpha 52 miles down the road by the 9:30 A.M. cutoff. Most of the cutoff times at Trans Iowa are based on a 10 MPH average. That is not a rolling average, it is TOTAL so ya gotta be moving good to make it and not get cut. One minute late and you’re out! GT mentioned he had given us extra time to reach this first check and we were finding out why.
I zoned out watching the lights ahead of and behind me and just sorta pedaled in my own world.
I quickly realized I was by myself so slowed up to wait on Lee and some others to catch me so I wouldn’t be alone in the now down to a pleasant 25 MPH headwind coming from the East. Lee and I were soon joined by a singlespeeder from Kansas named Warren and a few other guys I was not able to introduce myself to. The course has heading straight into the wind and hills were plentiful. I was torn. I felt like I was working too hard in our paceline and a couple guys were absolutely hammering the hills but on the flipside we were still only averaging 10 MPH despite our efforts! I was too scared to let the relative speed and safety of our group pass me by and I guess Lee felt the same. I was choking trying to eat because of the fast pace but knee better than to skip on calories during something like this. It had stopped raining at this point but the damage had been done to the roads. Wet gravel bounced off my glasses from the guy’s tire in front of me but no way I was losing my wind protection. After maybe 10 miles of this frantic pace the group began to splinter and I saw the concerned look on Lee’s face. The pace was too fast. Way too fast. Shit.
Around 20 miles into the course we entered the first B Road of the course. B road are unmaintained dirt roads that turn into a horrible bike sucking mess when wet, think DSG 2009. From past experience I knew better than to ride and gingerly began rolling my bike in the wet ditch along side the road. We got off the hook after a mile and it has back on the road into the wind to head towards Checkpoint Alpha in the small town of Montezuma. Iowa has many small towns and they all look quite similar. My memory is fuzzy of the last miles heading to the first checkpoint but I knew we would make it on time but not by much. The ground had a bunch of loose gravel on it from the county maintainers which wasn’t helping the quest for easy speed. If I was maintaining them I’d be out there with a broom…just sayin’. My legs hurt. My back hurt. I needed to recover some. Lee and I spun along at a more casual pace and pushed the steeper hills. After exactly five hours, we were at Checkpoint Alpha with 30 minutes to spare! At the time, I was too fatigued to be excited about our minor success.
“How ya feelin’ John?” Aaron Gammell asked me. I was now forced to take a look at how shitty I actually felt. I was cold, worried, and fatigued. I felt like I had just ridden the hardest race of my life and had 280 miles to go! My fingers were too cold to open my Ziplocs with the cue sheets in them so my attention turned to restocking at a local C Store. At Trans Iowa, you find your own food…nobody gives it to you. No sag station Oreos or Cheez Its. Same for water. I had a capacity for 150 oz. and filled it all, no telling where the next store would be. I was worried about the feeling in my legs and trying to push away the negative thoughts so I simply pedaled onto the next section of the course. This leg was 120 miles to Checkpoint Bravo. We spent too much time at the C Store and now had exactly 12 hours to get there. Before the race this would have seemed like eons but now…it seemed like a very pressing matter to be dealt with.
Turns out this section was great, my favorite of the course in fact. I met plenty of new people through here, first of which was the guy who puts on the Alamanzo Royal race in Minnesota. He was a strong rider and pulled away on a rare flat section of road. The course was now heading southwesterly through Iowa which meant less headwind! We came up on two geared riders who had a similar pace to us and more importantly, a pleasant demeanor. In a race like Trans Iowa, attitudes are infectious and a rider with a bad one can be deadly to those around him. The two riders were Adam Boone, marketing director for Gu Energy, and his friend Chris. Adam told me he had finished 8th last year and was out with the lead group this year when he decided he lacked the motivation to go for a record pace.
The four of us chatted about everything under the sun… or clouds as it was on this Saturday afternoon. Of course, the promising weather forecast was bullshit. The wind had died down some but it was still present along with a 50 degree high and cloudy, dreary skies. We were having a good time and had a great pace going with smoother, more friendly roads. We came across a fella on a Salsa Vaya from Nashville having a rough mental time of it. “I should have just done the Cohutta 100 again…I’m gonna quit soon,” he remarked.I tried to give him a pep talk partly to boost my own mental state but knew he would be done soon. There was supposed to be another B Road through here but our wonderful tour guide detoured us around it!
I don’t recall what town or what mile it was when a great convenience store opportunity presented itself. We took another too long of a stop but it seemed worth it as I was able to KO an entire gas station pizza and found my favorite candy, a Reese’s Fast Break. The fella on the Vaya and a few others quit here. If you are going to bail at Trans Iowa better to be in a city than a ditch 50 miles from anything. Lee had been complaining about his knee since mile 50 and I was suddenly aware of my right knee as we started pedaling again..
It wasn’t uncomfortable or achy. It fucking hurt.
I was baffled…I’ve had some left knee issues over the years but the right knee is usually the star of the show and now it was wavering. Put some Advil down the hatch and pedaled on. Somewhere along the way we lost Adam and Chris but neither Lee nor myself wanted to commit a chase group and potentially waste energy. We were both bummed about this turn of events but on we went.
Soon enough we came up on the Nashville guys with Scott McConnell, also on a singlespeed. We rode with them briefly but decided their pace was too hot to be sustainable so let them have at it.
The cue sheets were awesome…no wrong turns yet. No flats or mechanicals. Things were going pretty well. Attitudes were positive but our knees continued to degrade. Sharp, intense pain on the inside of my knee which I think was caused by too much seated climbing. Standing climbing and easy spinning was fine but if there was a headwind and I had to pedal it was on fire.
Around 8:30 PM Lee and I cruised in to Checkpoint Bravo with an hour to spare 170 miles into the course. The volunteers there were very helpful and gave us a rundown on the race. Lots of TI vets (read: badasses who have finished this behemoth before) had already dropped and we were somewhere around 25th or 30th place at that time. We got our sheets with directions all the way to the finish back in Grinnell. 157 more miles. Woah. I was low on water but apparently there was a secret location Checkpoint Charlie 30 miles ahead. Our attitudes were lifted by the hope of fresh food and water. It was now dark and the lights went on. I was pumped. Visions of all sorts of greatness at the next checkpoint spun around in my head. I was ready for a bonfire, pizza, some ice cold Coke perhaps. Who knows…they might have music too. I also took a glance at the Garmin. 8500 feet elevation gain so far out of 13,000 feet described in the pre race info.
“Awesome,” I thought out loud, “we have most of the climbing behind us.” This would also turn out to be a figment of my imagination. You have to have some delusions going through your head in the first place to attempt this race.
Gravel crunched as we rolled into the now dark and increasingly ominous Iowa countryside totally unaware of how much difficulty the last half of Trans Iowa had in store for us.