So much tough in one weekend at the 10th running of the Trans Iowa. I’ll start with how it ended for me.
I made it about 240 miles; I quit at the end of a B-road near Gladbrook after flatting for the second time, changing the tube out in a thunderstorm sometime after 1 AM, with my jacket soaking through and my hands going numb. A couple of volunteers with a car were there helping with a course re-route, and I thought it best to pack it in.
I had changed the tube just 10 miles earlier, and could find no reason for either flat – putting my third & last tube in and setting off in the darkness, when the forecast called for rain potentially through to 6 AM, seemed dumb. As in hypothermia dumb.
I had made a bad call half an hour earlier. Bombing down the course with an incredible tailwind, I was trying to make it past that B-road before the rain started. I passed a couple of barns with doors open in the 2 miles before the B-road, as lightning struck just a mile away and I could smell rain.
I rounded a corner onto the B-road and felt my rear tire going soft. It was maybe a half a mile back up the road to a barn. Raindrops were falling. I decided to go for it and started running across the B-road.
Bad decision. Raindrops turned to a full-on downpour. I should have sought shelter a bit sooner, as the soaking I got ended my race.
Two people were waiting in a car at the end of the road to inform me of a re-route just ahead due to a bridge being out. It was against the rules for them to help me as long as I was in the race, and I thought, well, I might as well try changing my flat & see if I can find anything at all to fix.
As I worked feverishly in sideways rain to change my tube for the second time, I thought of the story of the man who lived by a river, which I first heard on an episode of The West Wing – and I thought “this car, with volunteers, in the middle of a thunderstorm – this is my helicopter”. I’d already blown past two earlier warnings, and didn’t want to get this one wrong.
I’m not a religious person, but the story has a ring to it. Often we don’t pay enough attention to the first signs that we should take action or change course. (Hindsight, of course, being 20/20)
I put my bike back together and told the volunteers I was done, & asked if I could use one of their car seats. They graciously agreed.
So, with the ending out of the way, I’ll tell the first part of the story.
I had prepped relentlessly over the winter and early spring, and felt even better than last year. I’d lost more weight, and logged more training miles, with lots of hills, on lots of gravel. I had made several small but nice improvements to my bike and related gear, and was feeling great overall.
I got a ride from Des Moines to Grinnell with Brett & Zach on Friday, laid out all my stuff in the hotel room, and went for a short ride to both check out gravel conditions and calm my nerves. The gravel looked great, and the nerves were calmed!
I got to the Grinnell Steakhouse about 4:15 for dinner & the pre-race meeting – had a great time chatting with friends old & new, picked up some Salsa Cowbell 2 handlebars from the prize table, and headed back to the hotel for a night of fitful sleep.
I’d packed up everything and filled bottles the afternoon before, so when I got up at 2:40 all I had to do was eat and get dressed. I got to downtown about 3:45-3:50, and all the racers were lining up. The timing was perfect as I didn’t need to stand around being nervous any longer than necessary. At 4 AM, we were off!
It’s a moderate pace for the first few miles out of town; when things opened up, some racers started pushing it right away. It was a beautiful morning to be on the bike, though the east wind was picking up steadily as sunrise approached.
We were treated to a beautiful sunrise above a pretty rural part of the state that Saturday morning.
The hills were non-stop. For those that completed the course, nearly 20,000 feet of climbing. That’s an entire Ride The Rockies, packed into less than 34 hours.
Our first section had us going southwest of Grinnell, around Lynnville, an area that was all new to me. Leg 2 went mostly east from there, and may have covered some of the same roads from TI v9, though in reverse. Very hilly overall. Leg 3 also re-used a few roads from v7 and v9, I think, and again – hills!
The forecast had the wind at 15-20 MPH out of the East; I’m pretty sure it ended up being more than that, all weekend long. And we rode into it almost constantly from Checkpoint 1 (55 miles, about 7:30 AM for me) to Checkpoint 2 (175 miles, 7:00 PM for me). It was demoralizing; a mental and physical drain.
The times we did turn west, the wind was uplifting, provoking huge sighs of relief from all of us.
Lots of people were out there plugging away for a long time. I believe that a record number made the first checkpoint; that’s awesome, especially considering there was a B-road that had to be walked in the first part.
I don’t make time to go out and participate in cycling events often enough, but I’ve been hanging around long enough that some people are starting to recognize me and we chat – which is nice, even if I can’t always hear well or am not always in a good mental place to hold up my end of a conversation.
I had a chance to talk to & get to know Corey Godfrey, Matt Gersib, Josh Lederman, and Sarah Cooper all a bit more, and I met Charlie Farrow, Eric Bossaller, and many other folks for the first time.
Around 1 in the afternoon we got to North English, Iowa, with a nice modern convenience store, and I stocked up on food & drink.
I hit checkpoint 2 at 7 PM feeling pretty beat, but determined not to give up. Photo by Scott Redd.
Just after checkpoint 2 we were at convenience store in Norway, Iowa, where I downed as much food and drink as I could & tried to regroup. Unfortunately, as I was packing up, my bike was blown over by a wind blast, tweaking the rear derailleur (3 Trans Iowas, 3 tweaked derailleurs. Hmmmmm). That took a little while to get sorted out, and I finally departed there at perhaps 8:30 PM.
I rode for a ways with Eric from Lincoln, and we chatted, but his knee was acting up and he was having to walk up some hills. He urged me to go on, and after initially deferring, I did.
Lightning inched closer from the east and the south as we blasted westward. It really was a beautiful light show, of the kind that worries mothers everywhere. I had peeked ahead at the cues and knew there was a B-road at mile 62 – I think the 7th of 10 total B-roads. The first several had been so easy, I didn’t want to have to hike any more than I had to after a rain.
My first flat was just a few miles from the B-road. The wind was raging, and a few racers flew by as I worked to fix it. There was no way to find a hole and patch the tube with that wind, so I wadded it up in my backpack and pressed on, desperately focused on getting past the B-road.
I rounded the corner and knew the tire was flat again, and suspected I was done, too. I saw headlights at the other end of the B-road and decided I had to press forward & find out what was going on. Halfway across that B-road, the skies opened up.
The rest, I’ve already told you.
Here’s the culprit – the little bit of flint or wood sticking through the tire at the 2 o’clock position relative to the dime. Chances of me finding this in a thunderstorm with 30 MPH winds: zero.
This race is supposed to hurt. Boy, did it ever. I blasted through the first leg, trying to follow the successful approach last year of putting “time in the bank” early on – and that worked, but I was maybe a little too aggressive. I felt tired battling headwinds all of leg 2, and had to work hard to convince myself – again – to depart on leg 3. Maybe that’s normal for this beast (I suspect it is!)
A huge thank you to Guitar Ted and all of the volunteers for making this event possible. Another big thank you to Mike Baggio and Tim James for the bailout near Gladbrook. It was a darned sight better than waiting for my family to arrive!
Will I try again? Yes. I might return as a volunteer next year; I’d love to experience this madness from another angle. In any case, I’m not done with TI yet.