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.


  1. Charlie,

    This is Jake Kruse of the Slender Fungus. I last saw you in the hotel after TI, and before that at the mile 184 convenience store. I could not get your smile out of my head, it was great to see such positivity at that point in the event. I am sorry to hear how your ride ended in defeat, but I look forward to hearing your story. What a weekend.

  2. Kudos, man. This one sounds like it was a brutal one.