Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Trans-Iowa Transgressions: Part I: Time is Finite...

Part I: Making Summits matter in mountaineering, just as making the finish line matters in the Trans‑Iowa.  Either way, if you don’t make the goal, you fail.

Every dead hope is a phantom that grimaces over its tomb.

EDWIN LEIBFREED, "The White Feet of the Morrow"

I stared again, concentrating with rapt attention on my watch, my eyes hurt, my sight was blurry, slow to focus, my hands were shaky, but the conclusion was undeniable.  It was seventeen or sixteen minutes before 2:00 pm last Sunday, I was not going to make it. I had burned my last match a few miles back down the road, I was finished.  The music in my head went dead. I was done. I was neither happy nor sad, I felt nothing…I stopped pedaling, and put my feet down on the ground. I hesitated and sorta looked around, it was a weird, surreal moment, for I had not really looked around all that much whilst I was on the move.  Even the relentless wind seemed to pause…It felt strange to not be on the move...

Like an old automaton from a less complicated era, I stiffly climbed off my old trusty single-speed Kelly ‘cross bike and let it fall over into the grass. I pulled off my mud caked camelback and tossed it on the grass as well. I did the same with my helmet. My body was heavy and unwieldy, so I sat down hard, almost uncontrollably, on the grass next to my artifacts of a T.I. battle fought and lost.  I was sitting up on the side of a rural, nondescript hilly gravel road near to Grinnell, Iowa.

Finally after hours upon hours of fighting it, I let gravity take me and before I knew it I was laying flat out on my back with my legs straight out. The cessation of movement was so wonderful, so satisfying, that I just laid there and relished, at the most basic primordial level, the calm sense of being; a sense of uncomplicated existence washed over me, nothing really to think about other than the sheer experience of being alive in the moment and being able to draw in a breathe of air.

I laid there in an exquisite comatose for what turned out to be only a few minutes, but this quiet time allowed me to clear my head. Again, I automatically checked my watch, it was just a few minutes before 2:00 pm; the race was still on. A fleeting thought of serendipitous optimism: Did I still have a chance? Reality quickly re-emerged; I was less than six miles from the finish of the tenth running of the classic Trans-Iowa, but I knew now beyond any doubt that I was not going to make it in to the finish line by the cut-off. 

Momentarily I thought of calling Guitar Ted, the iconic race director, to plead for just another hour.  My head was clear enough to know that I’d need another hour even though I was only six miles out; I was going that slowly.  I thought about using some kind of lame excuse about how old I am or how the single speeders should get extra-time, or how he could put a footnote by my name designating me an “unofficial” finisher.  But as I labored to cognitively construct a reasonable argument to present to him, I became to realize unequivocally that such a request would only force him into the difficult and incredibly unfair position of having to tell me, “no.” My conclusion was sound; it is his race, his rules, his parameters, and I respect him way more than some displaced need that I may have about being able to claim my efforts during this race as being legitimate within the context of the rules of the Trans-Iowa.  The rules state that the race ends after 34 hours at 2:00 pm on Sunday, even in my devolved state I could understand that fact...So...Instead, I did the right thing;  I called my buddy, Jeremy Kershaw, and asked him to come get me.  I told him that was just up the road.  I’d be the guy in the ditch, covered in barn-yard muck, laying next to a bike and some other muddy and wet gear.  So it goes….

Stay tuned for Part II in the very near future…

Part II: Optimism runs HIGH: The beginning of the tenth running of the Trans-Iowa.  Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and good things never die (from Shawshenk Redemption)

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery of why we climb."    — Greg Child.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Your cheatin' heart...

Guitar Ted, founder and director of the classic “unsupported” Trans-Iowa gravel cycling races recently wrote down some thoughtful and compelling observations about the likelihood of some past Trans-Iowa racers engaging in less than honorable activities (the 10th running starts this upcoming Saturday). Suspect activities such as receiving outside assistance from ones "covert support group" and other sketchy digressions were mentioned as examples of clear violations of the rules.  As all good writing does, his thoughts became the basis of an interesting discussion. In this case, the conversation was amongst a small group of riders as we cruised along the back-roads of old Duluth on Sunday.  When I got home, I decided to put ink to paper in an attempt to better articulate my thoughts on this topic of cheating.

 As a high school teacher, I deal with this issue of cheating on a fairly routine basis.  Something like 80% of high school kids admit to cheating at some point during their four years, so I know that some kids will cheat in my classes. At the onset of every class, as a kind of prompt, I always tell my students that any test, essay, or assignment that they do in my class is not worth the price of cheating.  Some kid will inevitably raise his or her hand and ask the appropriate question.  The question  goes something like this (at least I am hoping for it): “Whatz that mean? Why is your class not worth cheating for?” My response is that, “I get that most everybody cheats at some point, but smart people have learned that when deciding to cheat, ya gotta do a cost/benefit analysis.  That means that you gotta think about whether or not the awards or benefits associated with getting away with the cheating is worth the risk or costs of getting caught.”

 The next question I am hoping for is: “So whatz the cost of getting caught cheating in your class?” Now I know that they are expecting me to say something like, “Ya won’t graduate or you will get suspended, you’ll get an F or I’ll call your parents or something like that.” Essentially, what they are expecting is for me to tell them that if they get caught cheating they will be hit with some kind of formal sanction. Yet, what I tell them is this—“I’ll be super disappointed with you, I’ll probably never trust you again, chances are we will never be friends, and I’ll tell my friends and co-workers that you are a cheater.” I go on to add that, “So in this class, the risks or costs are not worth the benefit in that the reward for not cheating is my respect and my friendship...Because our friendship is way more important or beneficial than any grade can get for you in this class.” The simple, but poignant idea, of course, is that when your reputation and/or respect is at stake, the respect and friendship you have earned from your peers is priceless and so clearly not worth the price of cheating.  I may be wrong, but I honestly suspect that only a little bit cheating goes on in my classes. As for the ones that do cheat, they clearly do not enjoy the respect of the other members.  By cheating they damage their reputations. Research bears out the fact that in most situations, informal sanctions are more powerful than consequences associated with formalized punishments. 

 In fact in my sociology course, just a few dayz ago, we did a short lesson on the socio-psychology of cheating. The Atlantic Monthly dedicated a pretty comprehensive article on cheating.  Essentially the conclusion was that most people will cheat given a certain set of circumstances, but only malcontents will cheat in situations such as the Trans-Iowa, where a guy’s reputation is essentially the only thing at stake.

For one to cheat in any competition, other than perhaps in the high stakes financial realm of a few professional sports, but especially in an amateur long distance gravel road race, too me seems like the pinnacle of moral dysfunction or misplaced value.  Who the hell cares? It don't mean nothin' to nobody except the guyz doing it.  Itz the guyz that you are riding with that matters...Thatz why itz so cool...The whole thing is about the experience. To cheat in a highly cohesive, inclusive group such as those like-minded individuals in a race such as the Trans-Iowa and thus to risk one’s reputation amongst the in-group seems absurd (Note: an in-group is a social group to which a person psychologically identifies as being a member).

Thank you, Guitar Ted J

Friday, April 11, 2014

Yet another reason why my chances (for survival) look good for the Trans-Iowa Part X

Pre Trans-Iowa positive thought of the day…or ”puttin’ a positive spin on seemingly a hopeless situation.” 

Obese Heart Attack Patients Are More Likely To Survive After Treatment Than Normal Weight Patients

Date: June 22, 2007

Oxford University Press

Summary: Obese and very obese patients have a lower risk of dying after they have been treated for heart attacks than do normal weight patients, according to new research. Researchers found that amongst patients who had received initial treatment for a specific type of heart attack, those that were obese or very obese were less than half as likely to die during the following three years as patients who had a normal body mass index.

This is good news for me as I prepare for the upcoming trans-Iowa….

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I could have won the Trans Iowa....but now I won't be winning.....

How I could have won the tenth running of the Trans-Iowa….But it would have been morally and ethically wrong. 

Whether it is in pursuit of summits or even victory on a bicycle; style matters.  The fastest guyz heading down to Iowa on the last weekend of April to compete in the T.I. will be pleased to hear that I will NOT be using Kershaw’s time-trial bars on my trusty Gunnar (or Kelly).  I put them on last night (rather than go for a training ride) and they initially seemed kinda cool, but my daughter mocked me sayin’ that those were for fast guyz not old fat guyz and then I couldn’t get them to stay in one position (no matter how tight I cranked the fastener bolts, both kept slipping down). So I did the right then and quickly gave up on the idea.  The problem with me is that I’ll do just about anything right now to try and figure out a way that I can finish that monster route.  As stated in a recent post, itz not the distance that is keeping me up at nights, itz covering the distance in the allotted time-frame.  I got enough miles in over the last thirty years to not be psyched out by covering a lot ground going nearly nonstop and unsupported, but to make 340 miles in 34 hours, that’s gonna be hard for me….

The last time I tried the Trans Iowa was in 2012.  I was just too tired to do the one last year as I was just back from Alaska and my whole body was racked with fatigue well into spring.  In 2012, I showed up to the race feeling good, so I took off hard and stayed with the leaders, but after about eight hours I was really starting to soak in the proverbial hurt-tank.  Quickly, I was dropped and then not long after being dropped, I unknowingly took a wrong turn and got hopelessly lost. After what must have been a couple hours or so, I finally lucked out and got to a small town, found a phone and contacted Guitar-Ted.  With his help, I was able to backtrack and get back on route but I was hopelessly behind in terms of making the time cuts.  I made the second checkpoint by just a few minutes and then basically fell victim to the Demons of Despair and Misery as I entered the sadistic realm of long long night time on the back roads of Iowa. 

G.T. mercifully sent Matt Gersib out to retrieve me.  I’m probably too bull headed to have made such a pick-up call, but when the sag-wagon appeared, I made no dissenting remarks.  Matt told me to get in the car and I complied. Had Matt not generously come to my aid, I probably would have crashed out in a field (or preferably a cemetery), languished in the supine position for a few hours, and then limped my sorry ass back into Grinnell well after the time parameter, and well after everyone else had gone home...

I guess my point is that this year my plan for success has to be to start the race at a reasonable pace, maintain that pace, and to NOT get lost…

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I be too busy to write......

 “You get to the top of a wall, there’s nothing up there. Lionel Terray, the great French climber called it ‘The conquistadors of the useless.’ Yeah, the end result is absolutely useless, but every time I travel, I learn something new and hopefully I get to be a better person.” 
–  Yvon Chouinard, 180 Degrees South  [Note: the idea of the conquistadors of the useless is so apropos when considering the material rewards one earns with taking on and completing the Trans-Iowa. 

Below are the ramblings of a man well past his prime. A man troubled by a race that awaits him in Iowa in just a few weeks away…

A man, too busy doing nothing worth writing about.  A very, very, busy man, a man too busy to take just a few minutes to reflect on the direction of his so-called “life.” Truth be told, what we have here is an aged-man who claims to have no time to write but admittedly also the same aged man that really has nothing really to show for being so busy. If he’s so busy, one may logically ask, “Where are the results?”  “What do you have to show for being so busy?” Think of a guy like John Kerry.  It would be one thing to submit an excuse on the order of; “I’ve been super busy working out a lasting peace deal betwixt the Israelis and the Palestinians. As well as figuring out a way for the average Syrian to live in peace” ; Or Mark Zuckerberg, “Please forgive my lack of writing, but you must understand that that I am brokering a super important deal between Facebook and Twitter.”  Or Bjorn Dahlie, (the best excuse possible): “Just can’t write ‘cuz I am battlin’ my way across the top of Greenland on my trusty skis and a small group of friends.

Too be honest, truth be told, itz a sad situation in that really nothing much has happened for me of late.  Can’t claim nothing of interest or even remotely impressive to report. No monumental, no earth-changing things have been achieved by the writer, of late…It’s a sad situation for a Man, (especially a man with one foot in the grave) to be devoid of meaningful results, to be devoid of important things to report, or even to be devoid of interesting retrospective comments on a life well lived. This lack of news to report, this inability to add to one’s overall existential timeframe, makes me think that I have become a man who is essentially already on the proverbial downward slope or at least existing in a kind of holding area.  A man that is not fired up for his next great adventure is a man that has thrown in the towel…think: Roberto Duran’s version of, “No mas.”

…. In any event, after months of pretty much just getting through it day to day, or putting on a brave face, or “playing silly games” that I associate with the banal artificial-constructs or daily mundane tasks of modern life, (punctuated briefly by periodically vicarious moments stimulated by my daughter’s ski and track meets) I have finally found time to write, but alas there is little of interest to share… Please understand that I am not blaming anyone for my recent harried, albeit uninteresting life-style, for the cages or prisons that we build, especially in this country, are largely self-built.  Even so, it is delusional for one to wish for self-actualization, even at basic very basic level, when engaged in activities that seem quite trite and meaningless…but I digress.   Finally I am able to put my ideas to paper. As alluded to above, there is not much to report…but there are perhaps a few noteworthy or semi-honorable struggles of which I have engaged in the last several months. Below is a brief summation….

In late-December, stalwart Eki, the youthful and most talented Peterson, and I made a decent effort to be the first to ride from Duluth to Grand Marais via the North Shore Trail but heavy fresh snow during the second day, coupled with very cold temperatures broke our spirit compelling us to bail after two very cold nights out. It was my third failed winter attempt on this route.  The North Shore Trail is significantly more challenging than the Arrowhead Trail.  On a happier note, Chris Finch and Cousin Jay, both of Duluth, did make the first winter ascent in late January.  They completed the route in four or five days completely unsupported.  Anyone that has tried the route, in any season or condition, knows that these guyz have earned serious bragging rights.  Bravo Mr. Finch and Mr. Gliddings! 

In late January, the Arrowhead 135 commenced on a pretty much regular or normal Monday morning given that itz winter and the fact that the geographical position of International Falls places it right next to Canada.  Even so, the temperature, (somewhere in the negative twenties at the start) inexplicably seemed to somehow “surprise” many of the bike racers, causing many to pull the plug.  For me it was a relatively uneventful race for the trail was solid, the skies were clear, and the slight wind beneficial or at least indifferent (except for a brief period of head winds, whilst crossing the lake to the half-way checkpoint).  In my world, I’d take a cold and solid-tracked trail any day over a warm and slushy trail.

In any event, I had planned to either walk it or preferably to ski it, but due to several snow-day closing at my school coupled with the surprising success of my kid’s first High School cross-country ski season (she made it to STATE as a 7th grader1), I was forced at the last minute to bike the 135 miles as I just could not justify being gone from my job the extra day or two it would have required of me if I have tried the route without a bike.  Although I had not been on the bike leading up to the race, I had understood the serious implications of trying to complete the Arrowhead 135 sans a bicycle, so I had trained pretty much every day for many months, either man-walking or skiing; the result being that I felt really good for the whole race. As always the most meaningful experiences in these kinds of events are social.   Seeing old friends and interacting with new and interesting folks.  I rode a lone wayz with two really nice guyz, Adam Curtis and Chris Tassava.  All in all it was really a fun event.  My plan is to keep doing that race until I am 70…and beyond. Given the generous time frame (60 hours to finish it) there really is little reason to not finish it if you live by one of my main mantras: “When in serious doubt, when itz getting really crazy, when all hope seems lost, take a nap. The longer the better.” 

Which brings me to the upcoming classic Trans-Iowa. The reason I believe that the Trans-Iowa is the toughest event that I have done in cycling is because of itz most challenging time-constraint of 34 hours….Thatz 320+ miles in 34 hours(this year the rumor is that the course is 340+ miles) .  I know that as you read this…you are thinking that it sounds reasonable to average 10 mph for 34 hours, but when you start to add in significant route-finding challenges, tough road conditions, lotz of hills, mechanicals, and general fatigue setting in…just finishing the damn thing is a huge accomplishment………..So hopefully I can now start to find time to write and also I hope that I can write in a few weeks time that I been pretty busy…busy completing the arduous Trans-Iowa Part X…Now thatz a fine excuse…an excuse that folks can understand…and even appreciate.  More to come.....