Friday, April 29, 2011

We're off to see the Wizard...the Wonderful Wizard of ____: T.I. Race Report

2011 Trans-Iowa Race Recap

"... there is no man that shall catch thee by a burst of speed, neither pass thee by, nay, not though in pursuit he were driving goodly Arion, the swift horse of Adrastus, that was of heavenly stock ...”

"...I was in another lifetime one of toil and blood.
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form "Come in" she said "I'll give you shelter from the storm".

Note: if you want to read an excellent account of my actual experience in this extraordinary race please refer to Tim Ek’s account (The Eki Chronicles). Or if you want great pics go to Jeremy Kershaw's site, "Gravel". If you want the truth about what really happened in this race...good luck :)

In the interest of transparency and accuracy, I am compelled to submit to you that I honestly do not remember many of the concrete details surrounding the actual running of the Trans-Iowa… Essentially I remember that it was awfully tough and very adventurous. Perhaps there is some truth in the adage that we are hardwired to forget the pain and remember only the good stuff—a rationale for why mothers have more than one child. Yet I also believe that as a species we crave (and some even thrive-on) adventure in our lives. Paradoxically, as we continually “progress” we further alienate ourselves from opportunities to experience true adventure. Sure modern civilizations make efforts at satisfying this need with things like Alpine Slides, Theme Parks, The Lutsen 99er, and the like, but these contrivances fool (or satisfy) only the most elementary of the citizenry. Perhaps then it is events such as the Trans-Iowa, events that inherently invite uncertainty and many of the other vital elements needed for a good old fashioned adventure, that act to satisfy this essential human need…but I digress.

In any event, like all of the adventures and misadventures that I have experienced over the decades, instead of crystal clear memories of this long cross-country race, within my fragile psyche there exists a surreal notion of having experienced a deeply satisfying encounter, perhaps even a kind of primordial experience, that contained all the makings of a true adventure. The kind of adventure that transcends the ages (or maybe even context) in that surely the raw feeling of uncertainty I felt that long night could not have been much different than what Ötzi and his comrades felt 5000 years old as they travelled across what is now the Italian Alps [google Ötzi ].

Included in this vague, but highly positive memory is the power of being intrinsically motivated, the sense of singular purpose that developed amongst our small group, and the manifestation of friendship demonstrated by Eki, Troy Krause, Dennis Grelk as we gave chase onto the stronger John Gorilla and Sean Mailen.

I do remember having a wonderful time traveling down to the race with brave Jeremy Kershaw. Bidding the Great Northern Lake adieu, we left beautiful Duluth on a fair Thursday afternoon and then 250 miles south amid domesticated farm country, stopped for the night @ a nondescript motel in Albert Lea where we enjoyed a few ales and wiled away the time laughing at the absurdity of our tenuous time here on planet earth as the rains began and our hopes of good conditions in Iowa diminished. Given our regular and hectic lifestyles at home, it was a glorious respite to be able sleep in on Friday. Arriving mid-afternoon in the idyllic hamlet of Grinnell we took time to explore the quaint main streets which included a bike shop from which we had a pleasant conversation with the owner.

The pre-race meeting was a resounding success with all in attendance in good-cheer to the degree that even the rainy, chilly weather could not damper the amicable atmosphere. Once the informative segment of the evening began, even the most dull-witted of T.I. patrons could not help but appreciate the hours-upon-hours of work that Guitar Ted and David Pals put into this special event. The logistical challenges associated with the course alone must take tremendous time and effort. Compounding the challenge of course creation is the unpublicized closing, alteration, or re-categorizing of roads. Eki and I were confronted with this very problem during the nighttime when we came upon a road that had been presumably “downgraded” from a minimally maintained B-road to a privately maintained C-road. Luckily I remembered G.T. discussing this very issue at the meeting and thus we were able to avoid what the others both ahead and behind did not. Also a public thank you to all the sponsors that generously donated a plethora of good product. Personally I found the GU gels to be life-savers.

From Grinnell to Check Point (CP) #1: When I consider the start and the first few hours— what stands out is occasionally looking back at the long line of bike lights that streamed behind us; all riding at a sustainable controlled tempo…I remember thinking that it was a good, competent group-effort especially when compared to last year when the group pace was harried, futile and ill-conceived; a recipe for mass failure, like lemmings headed collectively for the Cliff of Abysmal Failure. Perhaps like the Lemmings, last year’s group knew that it was doomed from the start. On this day, only one rider nearly screwed up the whole air of good-feeling as he took a turn way too fast and almost wiped out a bunch of guyz. He was the old haggard one, clad awkwardly in red tights riding an antiquated Merlin frame. Sadly a perennial peloton favorite, Corey Godfrey (aka Cornbread) had a catastrophic mechanical which put him out of the race. It was a real shame as I am quite sure that he would have been right up in the running for the win. Another casualty was Team Slender Fungus. My heartfelt message to them, in Lord Tennyson’s words, “Hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; 'Tis better to have loved and lost; Than never to have loved at all.” Come back to Iowa Dear Slender Fungus friends for next year may well be the one!

From CP #1 to CP #2: Having raced with all of the serious contenders left after the first fifty miles, from my perspective, of the remaining six that were in close proximity, John Gorilla and Tim Ek would be the ones to watch. Of course, Eki and I are training partners and good friends so I was hardly objective in my hopes for who would prevail.

My simple plan was to hang on for as long as I could during the initial 17o miles or so, shamelessly sucking off of the leaders’ wheels, and hope for redemption in the night-time and ultimate salvation with the sun’s arrival on Sunday morning. If things went really right for me and if a few of the others experienced bad luck, I’d have a chance to win it. Like the great Don Quixote, I always approach every challenge with the notion that if everything aligns just right I’ll be victorious…Of course, this perfect alignment has yet to materialize, but I continue to “dream the impossible dream!” Really, for me, a top five finish was what I was shooting for and at that point I felt like it was within reach. I was initially surprised at how well Dennis Grelk was riding, but when he fell off the pace after the first CP, I was not surprised as he is a notorious fast starter. I knew the amicable Troy Krause to be tough, fit, steady and thus I was not surprised at all when he regained the chase group (along with Dennis) later on in the night-time. Also, I knew young, charismatic Sean Mailen had potential, but I must admit that I was initially surprised at how strong he was riding, as well. Sean was nearly as strong as John in pushing the lead.

A happy memory involves riding a stretch of a flat railroad grade, Eki and I closely following the stronger Gorilla and tenacious Mailen. Laughter and joke-telling flourished as the pace moderated. But alas, by and by the tone turned serious again and it became once again a singular focus to just exert enough energy to hold Gorilla or Mailen’s wheel. I’d be a liar if I conveyed that I felt guilt for only drafting because at my age, weight, and ability— I feel entitled. It went on like this until, with about 5 miles to the second checkpoint, I started to fall behind, lost the slipstream, grew desperate, and then I experienced a rear flat. Remaining relatively calm, having two extra tubes, a patch kit, and three CO2 cartridges, (plus a pump), I was ready to deal with flats, so I made the change in good time and luckily caught back up with the group as they had stopped at a gas station (just a few miles in from CP #2). If a guy had to choose a place to have a flat it would have been exactly at that point for with the stop just up ahead I had plenty of time to do the repair and regain the group. Salvation.

CP #2 to Grinnell: Before I forget: A public "thank-you" to Eki for guiding me to the finish line in Iowa...had I been left alone I may well still be out there somewhere living as a farm hand. A public “thank you” also to Troy and Dennis for putting up with me, and another public “thanking you too!” to Sean and John for pulling me along for hundreds of miles.

In any event, Eki and I jumped passed the two leaders at the last checkpoint (as they leisurely met with loved ones and well wishers) in a forlorn hope of gapping them. They caught us in short time and we took our rightful position of chase group.

I have done enough of these things to know that the “real race” begins when the sun goes down. With the advent of darkness, Eki and I were in good shape and our spirits soared…we were pumped and flying high, really this was a Miller High Life moment. Truly the time spent alone with Eki racing fast into the night is a most happy and cherished memory on par with my time spent with Kershaw during the Trans-Wisconsin and Buffington at the Arrowhead. Even the complicated route finding was tolerable as long as I had Eki leading the way. Eki became the undisputed leader and care-giver, a true and loyal friend not unlike our great DBD patron Ernest Shackleton…”Long Live Eki!”

There were a series of pilot errors and mistakes made, including a second flat tire that took way too much time to fix. But, unbeknownst to us at the time, the delays and set-backs ultimately turned out for the best because it put us into contact with Dennis and Troy, who were chasing us. A renewed, energized, youthful, zestful, buoyant Dennis had seemingly undergone a metaphysical transformational resurrection (and along with the stalwart Troy riding shot-gun) was riding like Adrastus atop the fabled equine, Arion. Dennis is “good people” and actually apologized for putting the three of us in the proverbial hurt tank whilst trying to hold his wheel…

It was during this segment of the race when I began my rapid devolution into the Eternal Abyss of Self-Loathing (from which there can be no return). Note: evidence of the launch of the author’s downward spiral into the Eternal Abyss of Self-Loathing (from which there can be no return) was demonstrated in his inability to intellectually grasp the underlying mechanical principles of both the CO2 inflator gizmo and the mini-pump as he repeatedly tried to fix his second flat of the race. The long delay helped Troy and Dennis to catch back up to us…perhaps had Eki not stayed to wait for me, he may have won it all, given John’s problems later on…but it is doubtful given Dennis’ amazing surge of energy . I guess this counterfactual is left to best be debated at a tavern some day in the future with both an elderly Eki and aged Grelk buying the rounds!

As stated in an earlier post from about the twenty-four mark to the finish the events are blurry at best. I remember thinking that Gorilla was certainly having some bad luck and that the “Hinge Factor” swings freely and is not concerned with fair play or the like. I remember approaching the Emerald City in our quest to see the Wizard, but falling desperately sleepy as we crossed the fields amid the beautiful yellow and orange poppy flowers. I remember the monkeys singing old Beetles songs whilst swinging in the trees... I clearly remember a fair maiden calling to me from a distance, "Come in," she said, "I'll give you shelter from the storm."

AND I remember thinking that somewhere along the way I may have taken a Sacred VOW, along with Eki and Troy that we would NEVER, EVER, EVER, do this race again…but I’m not sure…not sure I got that right, so I better not write it….in the interest of…in the interest of transparency and accuracy.

Thanks again GT and DP.


  1. Well done old man, well done. Here, here! Only racing with you could I be in a belly laugh while trying to hold the wheels of two stronger men ... only with you I say. I truly had the time of my life.

  2. I am in the presence of greatness. Or something close. It was a true honor seeing you guys finish it. Inspiring in some prehistoric way. Congrats!

  3. You WILL do it again, I NEED you to!
    We ALL need you to!


  4. Bravo! Well done, good Sir. I am glad you came to ride in Trans Iowa. Thank you! I bow in your general direction.

  5. Wow. Sounds epic. I can only dream of being one of those 23% some day. What kind of bicycles do you winners ride? How wide are the tires? Mark Seaburg, Hopkins, MN

  6. The Slender Fungus ranks the DBD highest in Honors. When it comes time to suffer and dig to the bottom you are there. Congratulations on a great ride. We will be honored to ride with you again.
    With great respect,
    Ari, Giggles, Jay.