It lies just beyond the horizon, an ever gaining black mass of inevitability, creeping forcibly forward, strengthening and unrelentingly unavoidable. It's that thing that if your mind wanders momentarily, it pangs with the shuttering stillness of halting and sobering reality.
And there's nothing I can do about it.
Is what seemed to happen to me as the calendar ticked off February, March, then April. Game time.
Trans Iowa is a swallow you whole event. Overwhelming is an understatement. 340 miles of self-supported pedaling to be accomplished in 34 hours on rural dirt roads. No outside support of any kind. No GPS. No hitchhiking. No shortcutting. No worries.
At mile 163 a rider debates whether continuing onward is worth it.
It's the type of thing that when you toss the idea about, 9 or 10 months in advance from the safety of your home in some far away place, it really sounds like somebody just turned the awesome challenge amplifier up to 11. Really? No GPS? Nobody to help you? How do you know where to go? How do you bring enough food with you?
You don't actually know where to go 'til you're there, in, like, such as, the Iowa.
You get cue sheets, that look just like these guys here:
And, as you can see, they are highly detailed, down to the hundredths of a decimal place. Plus, there are crossings marked, even things in CAPS telling you to WAKE UP, DANGER! Somebody is looking out for you... who might this somebody be?
Mark Stevenson, known to many as Guitar Ted, is Trans Iowa's race director. No, he's not even technically looking out for you as this is 100% self-supported and people enter entirely at their own foolish risk and peril, but boy, you will not find somebody worrying more over you having all the tools necessary to properly attempt this monster, nor painstakingly walking through every last inch of it time and time and time again. Every year it is an entirely new course that is devised to give nobody an unfair advantage, every year it is scouted, mapped then mapped again. Even the day of the Pre-Race Meat-Up, the very night before the race began at 4am, he'd been out meticulously checking off the first 75 miles despite having thoroughly completed a full recon and mileage confirmation the Saturday before the race. It is as though nothing, including perfection itself, is good enough for Mr. Stevenson. His heart, soul, and being are poured into Trans Iowa, it brims over the fill line with undeniable care. Real deal care.
No, you don't have to cook meat, yes, there are vegetarian and other options. Getting up to grill is intentional - mixes people about, evokes pleasant banter, washes away pre-race jitters.
And that brings us to the Pre-Race Meat-Up, hyphens and all. Right about at the next oh no, this is really happening moment, just hours prior to departure is an absolutely mandatory rendezvous. Miss this, you've already missed the race, let alone the first 53 miles' worth of cue cards. But rather than what I envisioned for an event so monstrous - creaking heavy door, blackness, lightning somehow striking within, eery music, possibly a singing saw, and it somehow raining - rather than all that, you meet the volunteers.
Each number plate is personalized by race director Guitar Ted, how's that for an incentive to finish? First there were many, then there were none. Then there were also Legos. Legos are sweet.
People like Mike Johnson seen to left there, George Keslin finding the number plate, and cut off way right, Wally Kilburg. All of the volunteers love this race, have raced it, and those who haven't undeniably believe in it and believe in Guitar Ted. You immediately feel it, not suffocating, just a hanging respect in the air, an appreciation and thankfulness in the event's existence that's both embracing and uplifting.
Race director Mark Stevenson (L) and volunteer Tony McGrane (R) watch the leaders pass Check Point 1.
Wally Kilburg, whose beautiful images grace this rambling, and yes you should check out his lovely photography - I am being sincere and plugging here, it is possible - Wally mentioned that the feeling is still the same now after his seventh Trans Iowa captured as his first. Trans Iowa, you've not lost that lovin' feelin. Real. It is so real.
I'd be content ending the post right here - the sincerity, heartfelt devotion to the event, and ceaselessly perfected format is standalone worthy - beyond that, it's one and only - with one and only people, not to mention organizer, and the post need focus on it.
But, rapper or not, it's flip the script time. And this emcee got shamed at the rap battle and it's time to hear the tale, blow by blow, real time.
Race time. Lights, shuffling, affixing, loved ones, gear futzing, pre-regret, darkness at 4am. Then you're off.
The bunch somehow thins and you find some sort of rhythm, having kinda sorta come to terms with things.
Light hits the sky and it almost feels like a ride, seeing things, though the twist and turns follow the leader to somewhere style, and no physical understanding of where, is perplexing. Check Point 1, the first timed hurdle at 53 miles passes with new cue cards and a sigh of relief.
It gets hotter and whoever said the Midwest is flat is a stone cold liar. I've had a family-sized junk food feast (you mean I get to ride AND eat Twinkies - where do I sign?) at our first convenience store passing. This convenience store thing is nice. Quite nice. These abruptly undulating hills do not quit and I'm debating my layering misunderstanding while inviting myself alongside Warran Wiebe, Jim Cummins, and Scott O'Mara. It's a pretty good sign when the cofounder of the famed Dirty Kanza race does this one time and time again only about a month away from his own event.
Native Iowans, in a similar fashion to the fabled hyperbolic 5,000 Inuit words for snow, have equally as many names for the finer subtleties of gravel. This one, Suhke-soh-Hrrdhe, pronounced "Suck-So-Hard" means the start of sand. I am trying to be funny. It is not funny. The beginnings of sand at the wane of patience were just that, the beginnings of sand at the wane of patience.
This one - Soop-ha-Suhhke - I'll spare you. Yep, real sand did, soopa suck. Real wind also makes the crunchy frumpy bumpy dumpy getting to Check Point 2, at 160 miles in, totally awesome.
At Check Point 2, I saw awesome volunteers and flopped to eat a King Size Snickers. King Size Shamelessness is the name of this game. I glanced left, a familiar sound interrupted my wolfing. The metalic snap of a lancet device and what appeared to be a blood glucose meter. The ensuing conversation went like this:
Hey, you're a diabetic
Hey, that's awesome.
Nope, it's real sh*tty.
He didn't even look up. I know that one. It's like when people try talking to you 300 miles into a 500 mile bikepack.
No man, I mean, it's real awesome that you're out here, like this, a diabetic and this you know
Nope, it's still real shit*y
The man had a point. And he was over.it.dot.com
I know man, I've got like 30 GUs or something strapped to my handlebars. Way too much shirt to bring. Only I didn't say shirt.
He was unwrapping an overly large seat bag. Like a big big bikepacking one. The kind that even I'm a little embarrassed to be seen with based on its heft.
I've got four insulin pumps. Count 'em. Four. One already failed on me today.
Then we got to bitching about insulin pumps. He disuaded me of his, I disuaded him of mine, he posed another option he planned to switch to, I gladly pronounced why it sucked. We had a real nice thing going.
Then his riding partner came, even more overitdot.com, and they communicated in a way that only people that have ridden solely together for 160+ miles since 4am can understand and then pedaled off. I had no idea what was said.
That's a real shame, they're gonna call it at the next stop said a kind volunteer.
The sun goes down and that's when you feel like an idiot. People are barbecuing. They might even be on their second, perhaps third beer. You are pedaling - and for what?
I caught up with them at the next convenience store. They were doing that thing that's never good, calculating and forecasting what it was gonna be like and moving quickly but not in a happy about it manner. I heard talk of wind. Somehow the volunteers were there again. I asked several mommy, where does gravel come from type questions. Enough that even the volunteers left. I kept eating fried chicken.
First place finishers Greg Gleason and Walter Zitz triumphed the B-road in daylight. Not place finisher Yours Truly cowered past it sometime near 1 am.
And then I saw it. Ho-lee-mole-eee-mo-lee-mole-eee-eee. The famed B-road. Many of us fake west coasters had heard about, talked about it, perhaps even shamelessly written about it, B-road pursuits I think is the preferred coining - but there, infront of my eyes, was, a real, life, B-level maintence road. Such a boring name, so much excitement. It was kind of like a west coast singletrack, only a crapped out fireroad. And it was terrifying. Pitch black, I thought a million mountain lions were snarling atop the ledges that weren't there, breath penetrating the not cold enough to see your breath warm air. The B-road went up, the B-road went down, I didn't get eaten. Success.
I'm out of nighttime photos so this one of Salsa athlete Greg Gleason, in front of kind volunteer, driver, and good guy George Keslin, will have to do for timeline.
And somewhere either an hour before or after the B-road of enlightenment I came across a tractor. Everything was black and seemingly still but the tractor's lights pierced through the darkness, methodically turning the corner of a field, tilling at far too late of an hour. I could hear the metallic clicking of the plow, digging and bouncing over the earth above the repetitive din of the song I'd heard at least 4 times by now on shuffle.
I've come across this before, but I thought back to a moment when I was maybe 6 years old where I wondered what I'd be like when I was older. Would I like, get one of those icky girlfriends or something? Would I have glasses? I thought about that kid seeing me now passing a post midnight metallic clinking tractor of evil in a field of Iowa while riding a bike for a near inexplicable reason. That kid would think I was completely crazy. He'd probably be barbecuing by now, on his second or third beer perhaps.
And at right about the same time I called it quits, Greg Gleason and Walter Zitz crossed the finish line. They even held hands to ensure they crossed at the same time having ridden together so long neck and neck. Who does that when they're a mere minute off a sub 24 hour Trans Iowa 340 mile finish? Only in an event like this, with care like this, do winners ensure there's no first and second place. I'm still floored by this.
And Sarah Cooper took fifth place overall, first place women's finisher, hardly behind those two. You can read her properly crafted account of this race HERE
In a gesture of true gravel chivalry, Greg Gleason insisted Walter Zitz, his co-finishing companion, be given the Riddler 45 winning tires. The pair of 37s went, rightfully so, to Sarah Cooper.
And WTB is incredibly fortunate. As if just being somehow associated with Trans Iowa were not enough, we were too lucky to give the first place men's and women's finishers a set of the new Riddler 37 and 45 tires, we really could not be more thankful to give these tires to such worthy riders. We did everything we could to get every finisher a pair, but sometimes it just isn't possible and for now, the fastest woman and man of Trans Iowa get a pair of handmade Riddler 37 and 45 tires while we wait for the production order to hit inventory. We really couldn't be luckier. And Salsa rider Greg Gleason, mark my words, you will get your pair of Riddler 45s too, your generosity is just as mind blowing as this event. WTB cannot be more thankful for Trans Iowa v12 - here is to more Trans Iowas, to all who make it happen with a big thank you to Guitar Ted.
Long live Trans Iowa