Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trans-Iowa Race Report: Fear and loathing in Iowa

To be perfectly honest—the 2012 version of the Trans-Iowa damaged me both physically and mentally and the toughest part of reconciling this hard truth is that I believed going into it that I was sufficiently trained and mentally prepared to do well. I was hoping to finish in the top five and instead I basically started to fall apart very early in the event and never really recovered. Certainly, taking a wrong turn and thus getting hopelessly lost in the hinterlands with only just a few miles from the second Check Point (CP) was the final nail in my coffin, but I was in trouble from the get go… Furthermore, in the spirit of full disclosure, that stupid mistake of route finding was not at all the single cause of my demise. As stated above, I struggled from the beginning and I must admit that it is a worrisome trend because the same can be said of my last big effort back in February at the Arrowhead 135. I was able to finish the Arrowhead, but only after a six hour bivouac. I use to take pride in the fact that I could overcome that sense of foreboding dread that we all feel when confronted with the prospect of a long drawn out physical ordeal; that I could fight through the demons that plague all of us with the onset of darkness…

This version of the Trans-Iowa was perfect for a guy like me—slow, tough conditions that tend to force the really talented riders to ride with guyz like me because to do otherwise invites an expenditure of energy that is too costly. In a Trans-Iowa like this, where the conditions make for difficult riding, the potential pool of guyz that could win expands. Maybe that is what happened to several of the top riders that did not finish this year: they simply went out too hard and in this race that can be a death sentence if the terrain does not ease. In this year’s race the course just kept getting harder. The last fifty miles will inevitably become the stuff of Trans-Iowa lore as every finisher will no doubt be plagued by nightmares of huge unconsolidated gravel for endless miles, all the while battling a strong unrelenting headwind.

In any event, this one really got me...to the point that I am worried right now that I may have lost that “never die” attitude that has served me well all these years, if you find it will you mail it back to me? But enough about me and my problems…letz focus on the good stuff!!!

The pre-race meeting was a grand affair capped off with a showing of a very well done documentary on the 2011 Trans-Iowa. Jeremy Kershaw and I were giddy just to be alive as the trip down had included battling a headwind that was so fierce that it blew Jeremy’s bike partly off my bike rack and then blew my side mirror right off the driver-side door. The onslaught of the winds was of such force that we felt like at any moment the car was going to go flying into the ditch. Yet the time passed quickly as we laughed and told jokes as men do when freed from the daily routines of modern existence. Guitar Ted was gracious in his informational presentation; the time and effort he puts into this event is most impressive. I have to believe that it must be one of the most labor-intensive races in the country—every year a new course, each unique course involving cue sheets documenting hundreds of turns and mileage points, etc. It is a first class operation performed by a gravel maestro!

The troubled night before the 4:00 a.m. start was plagued by steady cold rains complimented with numerous thunder storms, but luckily the storms were done by the start. Like the 2010 race the start was very fast and within just a few miles about six to ten guyz were off the front…never to be seen again. Although several of the main contenders would not finish including the two Braun boyz, who by all accounts, were the pace-setters for almost the whole race. They bailed with only fifty miles to go!

During Saturday, I had the pleasure of riding with my friend, the Lonesome Luddite, Matt Maxwell and a group of very amicable fellows from Lincoln, Nebraska including Bruce Currin, Scott Bigelow, and Aaron Schnee. These stalwart Lincoln guyz are no “spring chickens” but they had that confident look about them—you know that Clint Eastwood-kind of look that sez, “Don’t try and stop us! We be goin’ to Grinnell…with or without you!” I also had a nice, albeit brief conversation with the talented Dan Jansen of Michigan. Also got the opportunity to hook up briefly with my friend, Dennis Grelk (last year’s winner), Mark Johnson, Charles Parsons, Mike Johnson, and the always friendly Cornbread. Charles Parsons was a heaven-sent gift of cheerful optimism during my time with this group. But alas my legs felt unresponsive and so I was simply unable to keep up after riding with them for five or so hours. I did not want them to wait for me and I was thankful that they let me bow out with a semblance of honor.

Not long after I was dropped by Parsons’ group, Cornbread caught me up after staying back and helping Rafal Doloto, who had the misfortune of a broken rear derailleur. We spoke briefly and then I cheered him onward as I feigned “looking busy” with clothing exchanges. It was very soon afterwards that I made a wrong turn and embarked on a series of miscues that ultimately lead me way way off course. Thanks to the help of a kind farmer and then an elderly gentleman at a gas station and then finally a desperate call to Guitar Ted from the gas station, I was able to ascertain where I was and the details needed to backtrack to get on course again. The mistake was costly. Instead of arriving at the 2nd checkpoint with several hours of time to spare, I arrived at 8:50 p.m. and only forty minutes to go to the cut-off time. The guyz at the CP were very supportive, but I was nearly out of water and they had none to give. They were in the process of taking the camp down… I left that CP a weak, dried-up Man, but still an intact Man with some fight and hope left in his aching soul.

Immediately after the second CP one is confronted with a long ascent and then a fast scary descent. At the bottom of the descent is a bridge and a substantial pothole. I hit the hole straight on blowing out my front tire. Numb, I calmly laid the bike down and then collapsed down next to it in the road and closed my eyes, hoping for a big farm implement or the like to run over me. The thought of my emasculated corpse helping to fertilize the rich Iowan soil was a source of comfort to me. Did I mention that I am worried right now that I may have lost that “never die” attitude that has served me well all these years, if you find it will you mail it back to me? But enough about me and my problems…letz focus on the good stuff!!!

I waited and waited but no tractor came to end my misery. The rain began and I finally began to work to change the flat. I was no longer a Man; I had devolved into an immature and confused mollusk. It took me a long time to change the flat. Finally I got back on the bike and started slowly pedaling. A mollusk is a hermaphrodite and works only on physiological rudimentary urges and tends to follow lights. So thatz what I did…I went on like this for some indiscernible time period. An especially bright light came towards me, I was drawn to it. I pedaled towards it. The light stopped, I was mesmerized and suddenly I had the instinctual urge to dig a hole in sand, lay eggs, and bury them. Then a familiar voice from beyond the light called out something to the effect of, “Hey Charlie, Whatz your plan?”

It was Matt Gersib, a top notch young man that was helping out with running the race. “My plan is to find a place to lie down," was my pathetic response. “Maybe you should get in the car and I’ll drive you back to Grinnell,” was Matt’s kind and compassionate rejoinder. Justly so and will little fanfare came the end of my 2012 Trans-Iowa Race some four or five miles out from the third and final checkpoint. So it goes…

But enough about me and my problems…letz focus on the good stuff!!! The best of the good stuff was the conjoining of the secretive Slender Fungus Cycling Group with the DBD Adventure Society in the duo of Jay Barre and Jeremy Kershaw. This indomitable pairing of MEN went on to finish this most difficult of the several Trans-Iowa’s that this writer has experienced. Bravo Jay and Jeremy the future of enduro-bike racing rests deep within your lofty loins.

Special Congratulations to the top five: Eric Brunt, Troy Krause (on a Single-Speed), Chris Schotz, Mark Johnson, and Dennis Grelk. But as stated above anyone that finished this TI is a true Champion in my eyes…


  1. "If you believe," he shouted to them, "clap your hands; don't let Tink die."

    Many clapped.

    Some didn't.

    A few beasts hissed.

  2. Does a mollusk have loins? I am honored. I am still looking for the monster that screwed my legs on backwards and too tight. You're still my hero, Farrow. Thanks for the great trip.

  3. Charlie,
    You inspire a lot of people. The Slender Fungus is so proud of Jay and Jeremy. We are so proud that the two finished together and have united us forever.

  4. Charlie-
    Your exploits and perseverance have inspired me on many occasions. My will was broken once too on the Afton Alps two years ago, and your example helped get me back at it. I hope to see you a few times this summer. You'll be back tougher than ever.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Thank you sir, a pleasure to ride with you for a brief while and an inspiring story to keep fighting after so many problems. See you soon in the heart of your mother country.

  7. Always great to see ya! Wish we could have rode together longer than we did. Sorry to hear about your bad luck.

    Next year things will work out...

  8. Dude, you inspired me before this race and still do. Hope to actually meet ya one day.

    My buddy and I must have left Bravo riiiiight before you came in.

    My story of the race is here, might be of some interest: http://johnfkarrasch.blogspot.com/

  9. Sir, I felt honored to be able to carry such a Man, even in defeat. This year was a tough one, even for the best-prepared. You saw how it went down for the Braun bros. Heck, John Gorilla dropped out and got a ride just seven miles from where I found you. So don't get down on yourself my friend. You rode a valiant race and it just wasn't in the cards this year.

    As the old TV commercial said, "sometimes ya' feel like a nut, sometimes you don't." And when it comes to endurance bicycle racing, I think you can safely say that's true.

    Good show, old chap. Like Cornbread said above, next year, it'll all work out. And hopefully I'll be there with ya'.