Friday, May 2, 2014
Part II: Some context or “How I came to lie down upon the fresh grass on that lonely road, just six miles from my goal of finishing the tenth running of the Trans-Iowa.”
… Learning is defined as “a modification of a behavioral tendency by experience (as exposure to conditioning).” Basically what I get from that is that learnin’ involves not making the same mistake over and over again. So based on that definition, I not be a “learneded” man, cuzin’ if I was… I’d NOT keep headin’ down to Grinnell, Iowa nearly every spring in search of clarity through sufferin’. Whilst my memory is not a personal characteristic that I am proud of, to the best of my recollections, I’ve have now made the late April trip down to Iowa on five occasions to partake in Guitar Ted’s Classic Gravel suffer-fest and to the best of my knowledge I ain’t any better elucidated than had I stayed home…
The first time I tried the Trans-Iowa, I did Okay, plus I got away with a respectable effort by tucking behind two better cyclists than I’ll ever be (or was): One of them was this amazingly strong young buck named John Gorilla and the other was an enduro-machine from Michigan that was on a SS Gary Fisher Superfly 29er. The conditions were tough (very windy, wet, and cold), but not too tough, so we were going well, putting a lot of time on the rest of the couple remaining riders, one of whom was the indomitable Charles Parsons…Then suddenly and anticlimactically, in the later evening hours of that Saturday night (the bars were still open, but it was late out, maybe 10 or 11 pm or 18 or so hours into it), GT had to call the race because of an impasse up the road. A bridge had washed out and there was no way to change the racecourse, so late into the event. So I walked away from that one not too damaged. One lesson not learned the first time was: There is a BIG difference between riding for eighteen hours and riding for more than twenty-eight hours or even more. I guess I didn’t realize that as I made the drive back home to Duluth after that first effort.
The next time (I think it was the following April), nearly killed me. The only time I have been nearer to death during a bike race was during the Tuscobia some years back (but thatz another story). Like the year before, I went out with the leaders, trying to ride with Joe Meiser, Dave Praman, and my training partner, Tim Ek. Meiser and Pramann attacked early in the race, Eki and I were in the right place, so we went them and thus the foursome put some major time on the rest of the field. During the daylight hour of that perfect Saturday, Eki and I were just along for the ride, barely hanging on. Eki got a flat and got dropped, but bravely fought his way back to the three of us. Ultimately Eki was strong enough to hold on, and the three of them lead by the Über strong Meiser went on to collectively ride an impressive winning time of just over 25 hours or something incredible like that…I got dropped about ten or so hours into it and then really struggled. It was not a pretty sight; a grown man sprawled out on a lonely gravel road, barely strong enough to endure the dry-heaves. I had gone out way too fast and was completely shattered, especially during the dreaded nighttime hours. Four things saved me: 1.) The conditions were really good; 2.) Even though with the setting of the sun, I was alone, I didn’t get lost during the night; 3.) I’d built up a lot of cushion in terms of time to spare, when I was riding with the winners, so I was able to take a reinvigorating two or three hour nap in a cemetery and still stay within the time constraint; and 4.) I was lucky enough that with the rising sun, I was able to latch on to a group of three or four guyz. These three factors allowed me to make the finish line, but I was incredibly fatigued and swore I’d never do another Trans-Iowa. It is important to note that Ben Shockey was amongst the riders that finished that year—He rode the course on a fixed gear bike!
Of course, I did not learn my lesson and so I headed down to Iowa again the next year. The third Trans-Iowa, I tried was probably the one that I was most ready for in terms of fitness. Four of us from Duluth had trained hard all winter and we collectively felt like we could influence the race given our fitness and experience. Jason Buffington was along as was Eki, both endurance machines with the horse-power to win the race. I was probably the most in shape I’d been in 20 years. My altruistic plan was to try and help either Buffington or Eki (or best case scenario: both) win the thing and in doing so, to personally finish in the top five. The problem was that the conditions were horrendous including biblical rains a subsequent very soft track. But even so, we were doing well and making good time. Only Gorrilla and Meiser were a little wayz ahead of our chase group that included Lance Andre, Charley Tri, Eki, Buffington, and me as we headed into the 2nd check point. I was feeling good, the best I have ever felt in a Trans Iowa, so good that I began to believe that we could pull of a top finish. But alas the rains began again in earnest, to the point that even Buffington (Buffington never ever quits) became convinced that there was no way that the race could continue. His assessment was that given the time constraint of 34 hours combined with the incredibly slow conditions, the only conclusion was that no one would make the full course. The consensus was that to continue on with the certainty of not making the cut-off was foolhardy. Mieser, Gorilla, and few other guyz rode up the route for another hour or so, but they too pulled out at the next town. It was the third Trans-Iowa in which nobody finished.
Once again I did not learn my lesson in 2011, so I headed down, down, down yet another time to battle the gravel in April 2012. As stated recently in a post I made the same mistakes of going out too hard and then getting hopelessly lost. They picked me up in a car and rode me home in dishonor...
In 2013, I was too wiped out from the Iditarod Trail Invitational to even attempt the Trans-Iowa.
Which brings me to the 2014 version of the Trans-Iowa from the perspective of one use to seating in the cheap seats. Armed with my propensity to not learn from my previous mistakes coupled with my forgetful nature, I began to plan this year’s version without a care in the world.
The whole drive-train on my old trusty titanium Merlin was sorely in need of replacement, to the degree that I doubted it could make the 300+ rugged miles associated with the typical Trans Iowa, so I did the rational thing for a man without any extra monies and limited cognitive skills. I decided to run my old Kelly single speed, the bike I use all winter to commute. I figured, “how hard can it be?” Trying to be smart about committing to riding a singlespeed in the T.I., I figured a smart guy would ask his even smarter buddies about what they thought about the idea. Isn’t that what smart people do? Smart people ask even smarter people for advice. So, I asked my buddy Tim Ek what he thought about the idea, when his advice was not what I wanted to hear, I forgot about it and never asked him again. I asked my buddy Jeremy Kershaw about what he thought about my choice of gearing, when he indicated that he felt I was going with a gearing that was too stout, I forgot about it and never asked him again.
The more I considered my plan, the more it made sense to me, and the smarter I began to feel. When I heard that the youthful and talented Jay Barre of the secretive Slender Fungus was going to run a fixed gear bike at the T.I. my heart soared. I quickly emailed him and asked for his advice. I figured, by that point, that if I was being smart about riding a single speed, then that must make Jay a bonafide genius for riding a fixie. What developed was a kind of intellectual synergy betwixt the two of us smart people, since I had a smart guy to advise me, I no longer needed to consult with the guyz that I normally ride with up here in Duluth. I knew that a guy that was going to ride a bike for 343 miles on a bike of which one could neither shift gears or coast had to be a genius. Jay Barre was very helpful in sealing my fate for the T.I. #10….Thank you Mr. Barre…(looking back I guess I never considered that he was way way stronger than me?)
So I arrived to the quaint little college town of Grinnell, Iowa fired up to battle the hilly gravel road of Iowa…no worse from the wear of four previous efforts. Did I mention that I love this race?
Look for Part III in a couple dayz…
Part III: The race begins on a beautiful spring morning……