By Charlie Farrow
“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.” Albert Camus
“Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin." Andy Dufresne
“All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one... characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.” David Thoreau
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Hemmingway's A Farewell to Arms
I broke about fifteen hours into it. The miles-per-hour pace continued to stay steady at 17, 18, 19 even twelve hours into the race. Joe Meiser seemed unshakable, infatigable, unstoppable. The three of us, including Tim Ek and Dave Pramann, at one point even conspired against him by tacitly agreeing not to take turns at the front, but he did not even seem to notice. Several hours earlier I had developed a weird, albeit ominous, little protest in my guts which by the second checkpoint had become a big twisted civil act of intestinal disobedience forcing me to forgo any food intake. Knowing that at some point in the near future we would be buoyed by a change in direction and therefore an inviting wind, I hung on to that one hope. Essentially, I was hoping that the tailwind would allow for an easing of the energy output and thus buy me enough time until my stomach would come around. Finally, the change in direction came and the friendly winds did offer an easing of the output, but then almost immediately Pramann attacked, the others responded in kind while I broke both physically and spiritually. Significantly slowing down so as to let them move away in rapid fashion, hoping that I would be spared their pity, I instinctively lowered my head to stare at the gravel. Then, in an act of great compassion that I shall never forget, Eki realizing what had happened called a halt to the procession and then rode back to me. Eki and I had embarked on a series of ten super hard-core workout sessions over the course of the last seven months and we have developed into a band of brothers. He started to cajole me to continue, but I think my glassy eyes told of the futility of verbal positive reinforcement. I told them to go go go and that I would try to catch up after a bit of rest. Soon after they left, I was attacked with “extreme prejudice” from within, forcing my first bout of throwing-up. Intestinal insurgency, complete with suicide bombers masquerading as ibuprofen, caffeine, and electrolyte pills.
“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!” Bob Marley
I’d guess that I rested for about two hours or so in the home of the dead and upon rising I felt significantly better. I knew I was back in the game because I was pumped to ride. The cease-fire had held and I immediately started loading up on fluids and even some calories as I road onward. It was not long until the world became lighter and I began to “WAKE Up and LIVE!” I remember thinking a funny thought that represents a recurrent theme for me during many of these long races. This amusing thought that caused me to smile was that, “here I am once again in the middle of nowhere trying to get back, while Pramann is sitting in a nice restaurant ordering up a delicious breakfast…” It made me laugh out loud and my spirits soared.
Navigation is not my strong suit, but I was so paranoid about getting completely lost that even though I did make several wrong turns, I luckily figured out the mistakes in short order. Of course staying on route was toughest during the night, but my biggest screw up came just after dawn when I mistook “V” road for “W” road. It was not until I had ridden a couple miles that I realized the mistake. I stopped and was standing there arguing with myself about what I should do when I looked up and saw a small cadre of cyclists headed my way. Salvation was mine.
I have offered commentary before on the alluring lifestyle choices of the Single Speeder. I’d like to join up but with my dainty knees, I am worried that it would spell the end of me. The profile of a typical single speeder from my experience is that he is a tough as nails, talented rider that can often cause the mainstream cycling community to squirm. Case-in-point, the best ever was when Jesse Lalonde and his little brother Marko, riding steel single speeds, took top honors at the Chequamegon 40 two years ago. The lyrics of Willie Nelson perhaps are appropriate when describing this compelling cycling genre, “them that don't know him won't like him and them that do sometimes won't know how to take him, he ain’t wrong he’s just different but his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.” Well I know lots of them, I like them, and I am very impressed with them. Perhaps a couple analogies will help to explain what I am trying to convey— Single Speeders are to alpine ascents as roadies are to sport climbing; or single speeders are to rugby as roadies are to lawn tennis; or single speeders are to functional and durable wool as roadies are to light-weight designer lycra. The crew that I hooked up with during the last seventy miles or so of the Trans-Iowa consisted of four top notch cyclists and even more importantly really nice and fun loving guyz. Andy Stockman is a young man living in California, Matt Wills & Matt Gersib from Lincoln, Nebraska, and Ben Shockey, an accomplished mountain biker from Decorah, Iowa. Ben was riding a fixed geared bike which not only required the herculean strength of the single speeder to climb up the abundant hills, but to add to the challenge he also never got to coast, spinning his legs crazy fast down the hills as the rest of us took leg-saving breaks, coasting on all the down hills. Everyone knew that what he was doing was really something special and it was really cool how the others cheered and encouraged him. Of course the fact that so many were fired up about his accomplishment is a testament to his charismatic and amicable character.
Many years ago, as a dear friend and I were desperately retreating off of a heinous ridge that buttressed the western aspect of the majestic, but fearsome Mount Hunter in the Alaskan Range, we crossed paths with a duo from Briton that had just done the same thing on another ridge. Both teams were clearly bushed and both were slowly heading up the glacier to a kind of standard base-camp that was some distance away. “How’s it going?” we asked. “Pretty good” was the reply from the Brits. “You guys Okay?” asked the Brits. “Yeah were good to go.” And that was that, and as they moved along ahead of us, it occurred to me that what had just happened was a nonverbal conveyance of respect and empathy. Respect for each others abilities to make it out and empathy in that our shared experiences bound us together at that moment and that if help was needed it would be forthcoming without judgment. Respect and empathy, perhaps the two most treasured sentiments in man’s repertoire of emotions from which to conduct interactions with others. Such was our approach with Jeremy and George.
Part VI: The Hinge Factor, naïveté as strength, and other ideas and condolences.
Jason Novak was a student of mine many years ago. Back then his dad was a top notch cyclist and Jason was a high school kid with impressive quads and Pramann was sixty years old and racing and beating twenty year olds—that was over twenty years ago. At the second checkpoint Jason arrived shortly behind the lead group. We were doubly impressed not only by the fact that he is a total newbie to the enduro-sickness but that he had ridden solo through the strong headwind. In between hiccups, I tried to talk him in to going off with the lead group, but he declined saying that he was too new to the sport and that he was worried that he’d get in over his head. I remember chuckling to myself when he said that, for obvious reasons… he had just summed up my whole life in one succinct sentence.
Also of note is the great effort by Paul Jacobson, who tried before in years past, stayed with it and pulled it off this time! I remember riding briefly with Travis and Matt Braun the winners of the prestigious single speed category and therefore I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate them as well as the third place single speeder, BJ Bass. Riding it on a single speed is so impressive…
I know personally of a few guyz that are sad about not finishing the race and hence they are searching for an explanation or reflecting upon whether or not to try again next year. Apart from my own personal acquaintances, it is clear from the low completion rate that many went home unfulfilled. Certainly, the fact that the completion rate was low and is historically low is a tribute to the difficulty, which of course makes finishing it all that more appealing. My message to all those that did not finish, for what itz worth, is to go for it again next year, but with an eye on using all that is given to you. One reason to make another attempt next year stems from the simple fact that guyz like Guitar-Ted and D.P. are a rare treasure to the cycling community and consequently, certainly, it would be unfair to simply assume that they will indefinitely be willing or even capable of providing us with this truly novel cycling experience year after year. As far as planning for success, to me, the key is to develop a fairly detailed strategy so as to utilize the full time allotment. This year’s opportunity spanned thirty four hours, which represents a lot of potential time to rest/recoup and yet still enough ride time to achieve the goal. Finally, as stated above, do not expediently decide to bail, rather wait and rest for a bit before making the decision. Even just two or three hours of R&R in a cemetery can make all the difference, believe me, I know….
Part VII: Thanks for reading…but really it don’t mean nothing.
“A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.” Aristotle
These kinds of events and their importance pitted against the realities of the world we live in are really quite small and yet I would be the first to argue that if more of us did these things the world would be a better place. There are not a lot of other endeavors that can make the same claim….Oh yeah, one final thought— Their exists a real misnomer about these NO SUPPORT races, for if you ever want to experience genuine and sincere support from your rivals and/or competitors sign up for one of these No Support races…