Trans Iowa part III
Part 3: It’s 3 AM and I am riding my bike.
It was 8:45 PM when we left Checkpoint Bravo at 170 miles into Trans Iowa. Clouds overhead obscured whatever helpful moonlight and stars would have otherwise been out to illuminate the night. On went the lights. I usually run a super bright Ayup headlamp and no bar light. For some reason I am still unsure of I deviated and put the Ayups on the bar with a small AAA lamp on my helmet. The gravel was unimpressive from Checkpoint Bravo to Charlie. There was more “maintained” road with nasty fresh gravel to soak up our energy but the wind was mild and the hills smaller. Fair trade I suppose.
Lee had given me some helpful advice earlier in the day. “Yeah, I’m not thinking about the finish…I just know its 11 AM and I’m riding my bike.” This worked great during the night. I simply noted the time and that I was riding then thought about nothing else. It took a lot of pressure off.
We had a couple interesting incidents with cars in the night on gravel roads. Most required us to simply ride in on the shoulder and let them pass. Some yelled at us. I felt like I was back home in Birmingham and this warmed my heart. Thanks, assholes. Most everyone in the Midwest is helpful and friendly but there was to be a few bad (drunk) apples around. It took longer than I wanted (story of the race, there…) to get to Checkpoint Charlie but I was stoked to arrive. My previous visions of bonfires and Papa John’s were replaced by a dark pavilion next to a church.
This was Checkpoint Charlie. The guys there were super helpful again.
It had no time limit and they had some supplies to get us to the finish.
“Now you guys know there is nothing between here and Grinnell, right?” one of the volunteers asked.
“Yeah, we know,” I told him and quickly asked, “How many are behind us…do we need to save some supplies?”
“There are three guys back there but go ahead and get what you need.”
It was 135 miles to Grinnell from this location which was totally remote. My knee was killing me again, as was Lee’s. Bad thoughts ran through my head and I began the familiar process of filling bottles and Wingnut then stuffing as much food as I could fit in my pockets. They did have some Cokes there which made me very happy at the time. I wanted to call Pete to come get me. I wanted to quit. I think Lee did to some extent also. We had been talking about our knees and both decided it was okay to continue. I deal with hurt knees all day as a therapist and know when one is seriously damaged. Mine just hurt like a mofo. Some hurt I can deal with, or a lot of hurt as it would turn out. I peed on a tree and felt some cold raindrops begin to fall…more rain? Dammit. I was cold, I didn’t want it to rain.
I thought of Pop’s words - “John…you can’t get mad at the weather.”
I put on my shell pants and a synthetic insulated vest, my emergency don’t die in the night gear. Turns out this was mostly for psychological reasons to get me to leave Checkpoint Charlie. A mile down the road I was sweltering and skidded to a halt to remove the vest. It was now past midnight and the reality of our night was setting in. I am usually a spot on night rider and thrive on it but did not feel right. I wasn’t as tired as I was disoriented. My different light setup was playing tricks on my head and fatiguing my eyes, I couldn’t focus on shit and became increasingly dependent on Lee’s ability to read the cue sheets. I was jealous of his headlamp and wishing I used something different. At least the rain had stopped for now.
I got off my bike to pee in a ditch and almost fell into it. What the hell was that?
Back on the bike, we rode more and more loose gravel. Lee was Boy Scout prepared for the night and brought an iPod which I also envied. I don’t remember ANY roads from the night, just vague characteristics of them. They were gravel, very dark, and difficult to find a clean line to ride. I was thankful to have some gels with caffeine with them and looked forward to grabbing one at the top of every hour. I was still falling asleep on the bike, usually on the downhills. I would be going 30 mph down the gravel, fall asleep, wake up and have no idea where I was but still be riding next to Lee. Small miracle we didn’t run into each other or a ditch during the night.
The cows sounded spooky, I guess they would rather moo at night than sleep. There were lots of other animals out there and they creeped me out. A possum ran into the road and Lee swerved to try and hit it. I hallucinated a lot during our night riding. At first I thought there were more animals running out in the road then I noticed a duplicate of Lee riding with us, then a third. Lee thought a pile of straw was valuable timber someone left in the ditch. I wanted daylight bad. I knew I would feel better with some light to ride by.
4 AM came around and it stormed again, pretty hard this time. I got really frustrated trying to put on my rain jacket. My knee was hurting enough by this point if I took a bad pedal stroke I instantly broke out in a sweat. My prayers for relief were answered by a jaunt through a town with a gas station that had some Aleve. The guy inside was mean but the Aleve helped both our knees. We also ran across the group of Adam Boone and Scott with a few others but they left before us.
Finally daylight came around and I was overwhelmed by happiness and we began to do some math on probability of finishing. All we had to do was average 9 MPH and we could make it by the 2 PM cutoff in Grinnell. The possibility of some smoother roads seemed very possible since the ones during the night sucked so much. It never always gets worse, right? Well that is true but sometimes it takes a long ass time to get better and this was the case on Sunday morning. I began to feel better and was riding more hills. We had about a 5 mile section of tailwind around mile 280 which was just glorious.
The more we rode the more hills we had to go up. They were huge, relentless, and often into a headwind. We made it all the way to mile 290 before making a wrong turn. The directions said bear left at so and so road. There was an obvious bear left here with tire tracks but the road sign pointed straight ahead. Lee and I were both dumb and confused here. If in doubt at Trans Iowa FOLLOW THE NAME OF THE ROAD. We followed the tracks for a mile or two and realized it was wrong. Backtracking was disgustingly hard, the road was all loose gravel and was uphill with a headwind (seeing a theme here…). It took quite awhile and instead of having a comfortable 4 hours and 30 minutes to cover 40 miles we were down 4 hours. We still considered this doable and found the correct road. The next issue was food and water. Lee was low. So was I.
I saw a house with a hose and strolled up to knock on the door to ask if I could use the hose when I noticed a very large dog sleeping next to the door. I backed away very slowly while Lee filled up a few bottles. The dog experiences had been mild so far (very friendly chasing, no biting) but I didn’t want to press my luck. The hills continued and we were walking most of them. While cresting a hill Lee said, “I think I’ve hit a wall.”
Hm, this was not good. I know Lee well enough to know if he says something like that he is bad off. I also know he would ask me for help if he needed it. Rather than have a drawn out conversation about his condition I went ahead and left to go by myself to the finish. I also didn’t want to deal with the whole Pete coming to find him then trying to pick me up too thing. I ate my last Clif bar with three hours and thirty miles left in the race. I came to a town and was destroyed when I saw the one freaking gas station in town boarded up. I turned right onto more gravel and began noticing a trend with my directions. Right turns took me south and left took me east…I was going southeast to the finish. This was bad due to the constant headwind…I even rode through a working windfarm in this section! It was really cool to see but reinforced my troubles in my head.
I came up on Chris who I had ridden with Saturday and he said he was done. He gave me a couple pieces of food to last me until the finish. Thanks man! I owe you some beer if I ever see you again! I picked up my pace again to try and make it in by the 2 PM cut. My knee still was killing me in the now constant headwind but that would be over soon. I saw a rider in a yellow jacket which I realized was Scott McConnell. Thank God…a human I could ride with again. I put in a burst of speed to catch him and we settled into a moderate pace. The headwindy sections began to get longer and slowed us down more. I felt like a critical moment of the race was occuring when I realized we had to 18 miles in 90 minutes. Not effin’ likely in the wind. We discussed the now impossibility of making the time cut but both wanted to finish the course.
We slowed down some and chatted the whole way back to Grinnell. It was great, really enjoyed Scott’s company out there. I rode a good bit with his friend Thad at Dirty Kanza last year who was also entertaining. I like Nashville folks just fine I think. We had conceded but Trans Iowa wasn’t done with us yet. It stormed again and the temp dropped. I didn’t care a bit, I was so close to being done. The final kick in the gut was a long, nasty B road 5 miles from the finish. My brain was no longer totally right and I rolled my bike right into the sticky mud like it was a do it yourself car wash. My 20 pound bike now weighed about 40 and I alternated rolling it in a ditch and carrying it until my neck hurt too much. We rode the rest of the course back into Grinnell in a steady rain and finished in 35 hours and 30 minutes. The time cut was 34 hours. Everyone was gone from the finish area but I still felt proud I did the whole course without quitting. The dissapointment of missing the time cut…well, it really didn’t bother me much and still doesn’t. I’ll save the coulda woulda shouldas…everyone has them and they don’t mean much. I tried hard and did my best. If I do it again I learned plenty this year that will help me nab an official finisher spot next time. I think Lee really wants to go back and I will probably go with him. Anyone else from Birmingham in?
After the race I huddled in the floor of an Element belonging to the guys from Nashville who let me have some food. Thanks, you guys were awesome. Pleasure to meet all of you. Pete and Lee showed up a few minutes later. Lee cracked after I left and had Pete come get him after completing 300 miles of the course. Pretty dang good. Lee is a great friend of mine and a tough rider. Glad to have him out there with me all those hours. I hopped into Lee’s truck and was taken aback at the amount of food and beer Pete had sourced while we were racing…partly because I had nowhere to sit and I was freezing my ass off. Amazing the effort he put into helping out a couple lunatics he barely knew race some gravel course for a day and a half.
ShelledRode in to Grinnell like this. B Road tenacity.Wouldn’t be a race without a beer that looks like motor oil.I was done. Things were finally better, they had just stayed worse for a long, long time.
Out of 67 starters, 19 finished by 2 PM, and I think Scott and I were the last two on course.
Final post will be a detailed account of bike, gear, and other stuff I used at Trans Iowa. I left out these details in the first couple posts because I felt it would take away from what really makes Trans Iowa what it is which is all the awesome people involved with it. Stay tuned.