Part of the Lincoln crew (Troy, Skip, Lincoln support crew Jeff and myself) loaded up the Mint Julep and were out of Lincoln by noonish on Friday. Several other vehicles with Lincolnites took off for Grinnell throughout the day. No need to caravan, Grinnell is easy to find. Get on I-80 and head east. Can't miss it. Even I didn't get lost.
Guitar Ted and David Pals droppin' knowledge regarding the who, what, when, where, and maybe even a little bit of why. Each participant was treated to a great meal (which was partly paid by the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce) and a bag with a Trans Iowa prayer flag and GU and Clif Bar products. We were also introduced to Jeff, a film maker doing a documentary on Trans Iowa.
Lots of moisture in the air Saturday morning prior to the start. There had been rain earlier in the week and also Friday afternoon. Make no doubt, the roads were gonna be wet at the start.
Guitar Ted tooted his horn (a Salsa Woodchipper handlebar) to signal the start of the event. We followed Guitar Ted's Honda Element piloted by David Pals through Grinnell in a neutral roll out fashion. We enjoyed our last moment of cleanliness for the next 34+ hours while rolling through town. Thoughts focusing on the task at hand while trying to brush away negative thoughts of doubt, fear and pain.
Yep, not much pavement at all. I'd say less than 5% of the entire course was pavement. Maybe even less. I'd venture to say that there were more miles of B (Dirt, MMR) roads than pavement. Who's with me on that?
Conserving energy anyway possible is a survival technique employed by most participants. Except John Gorilla. He just pulls the entire time. FYI, I'm a pretty good person to get behind. Unfortunately, there aren't many folks that I can get a great draft off of. Except Dennis.
I was always taking inventory of who was around me. There are several folks I was looking forward to riding with for the entire race. My luck just wasn't there.
The pace was subdued for the first hour or so. This is a very dark time of night. No one wants to wad it up in the first 20 miles, so take your time during the morning of Saturday. It's a long race after all.
As soon as we hit the first gravel of the day the mud started flyin'. If you weren't behind someone with a fender you got sprayed with a buckshot of tan runny gravelly spit. The folks up front seemed to be doing a good job navigating so I sat in and tried to find someone with a fender to follow. Eventually I found myself near the front. After having to stop at an intersection due to a navigational challenge I took over like papa bear and lead the posse. Soon we got to a turn that wasn't on the cue sheet. So we had a pow-wow and decided to take the B road pictured above.
The mud was thick and heavy in the morning. The sun and wind would dry the B roads out throughout the day.
After crossing the B road we realized we had made a wrong turn. A quick assessment of situation lead us down a highway to link back up with the route.
As the sun began to rise so did hopes of anyone finishing the event this year. I had my doubts after hitting the first B road. The top layer of gravel was wet, but the foundation an 1/8 of an inch down was fine.
Smiles were abundant during the morning after the sun came out. "Maybe we can make it."
By this point in the race everyone seemed determined to keep plugging along in order to reach the first checkpoint by 9:15. John Gorilla was up front setting the pace into a strong headwind.
Sitting in was prudent, but I paid the price by eating a lot of gravelly back spray. Glasses were useless. We had to all HTFU and relish in the moment of our badassness. This was some real Jens Voigt shit. Only hard men and women need apply.
The gravel slowly improved as the morning progressed. Sunshine coupled with a moderately stiff wind was drying things out.
Charlie Farrow sportin' a big smile. Bingo!
Muddy gravel transforming into smooth hardpack right before our eyes. Things were definitely looking up!
Everyone seemed to be having drivetrain issues. The gravel was drying and harding on the bikes and wreaking havoc on the drivetrain as we continued our march towards checkpoint #1 located in Baxter, Iowa. My drivetrain was making some awful noises and ghost shiftin' a bit. Since everyone else had the same problem I just put my head down and kept pedalin'. Big mistake.
Charlie, Tim Ek, and several others were dealing with finicky drivetrains. Playing the law of averages, I figured someone would eventually fall victim to a mechanical.
Eki enjoyin' the ride
Noting everyone else had the same problem I had I suggested we stop at the first checkpoint and find a hose or carwash. Clean the drivetrain, lube and bug out. That was the plan.
After soft pedaling up a climb I unexpectedly came to a halt. I looked down and saw what you see above. My der sucked in to the wheel. Luckily no spokes were broke, just badly bent. The der was toast as well as the der hanger. The chain snapped and badly contorted in several directions. Wow, I guess I gambled and lost. We were only a few miles from the checkpoint.
The der was partially stripped from the hanger. The threads on the hanger were gonzo. Joe Fox and Travis Braun graciously stopped and offered assistance. Thanks again, fellas! Several attempts were made to make a single speed. Finally we got the chain to sit on the 15.
Since the chain was warped it didn't take long for the chain to jump to the 16. That wasn't good. The chain tension went from acceptable to ridiculous. I rode it as long as I could knowing it would fail soon. I had no choice. Eventually the chain exploded into numerous pieces. Game over!
Lincoln crew at checkpoint #1 (Janna, Aaron, Support crew Lis, Bruce, and Scott)
After the chain broke I waved Joe and Travis on. I was gonna hafta pull the plug and find a way to the checkpoint. As I was collecting the bits of my chain a farmer came rollin' by in a pickup truck and offered me a ride to Baxter. My Trans Iowa was over, but not completely finished.
Ryan at Bikes to You in downtown Grinnell
The Lincoln crew was looking good at checkpoint #1. The whole crew made it to the checkpoint with time to spare. Not much time, but whatever. The first step is sometimes the toughest and that was the case at TI this year. I was stoked to see everyone and that immediately lifted my spirits.
Drivetrains were cleaned and lubed, tubes were patched (Aaron flatted twice in the first 50), bottles topped off, calories consumed, and hugs shared. After wishing everyone good luck and happy trails, the Lincoln support crew of Jeff and Lis loaded up my bike and took us back to Grinnell.
Bikes to You, the local bike shop was open so I figured I might as well try converting the bike to a SS and get back out there. What else was I gonna do, sit in the hot tub at the hotel and drink beer? Besides, the weather was perfect and the riders were gonna have a great tail wind all the way to the next checkpoint in Norway, Iowa. Riders had until 10 PM to travel the 120 miles to Norway. This would be the final checkpoint prior to the finish. Then it was 149.5 miles back to the finish. A tall task especially when some of those miles would be a night after spending all day in the saddle. I wanted some!
Ryan and I got the bike to work as a SS. We used the 34 ring in front (which I never use!) and the 15 cog in the back. We didn't have a SS spacer kit for the free hub so we used a bunch of cassette spacers and the lockring from the cassette. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. The chain line was great and I had a brand spankin' new 10 speed chain. Ah yeah!
So the 34 x 15 worked out. I was spun out a lot, but knew of the evil that Guitar Ted and David had in store for us with the large rollers. There were gonna be big, big gravel walls that we were gonna need to get up. I really hate walking up climbs, so this gear would work.
I took a highway out of Grinnell and then up another to the north for about 40 miles until I linked back up on the course. I guessimated where riders would be and made the right call. As soon as I turned onto the highway where I thought folks might be, I saw the Madison, Wisco crew cross the road.
I couldn't believe I was that lucky. What a great crew to ride with! BJ, Kristin, Vanessa, and Travis. BJ has ridden in 3 TI's and was a finisher. Travis was also on his third and was a finisher as well. Kristin was a TI vet. Vanessa was in her first TI, but showed a lot of strength late in her ride. I couldn't have better company.
The Wisco crew and I rode a lot of rollers on our way to Traer. The course wasn't a cake walk. GT and David found some monsters. Those that finished earned it.
Traer has been on the TI route for the past couple of years. It was also part of the third TI. Skip and I reminisced about a long break taken at the Pizza Palace in downtown Traer on TIv3. A resurrection occurred once in Traer...
The Wisco crew and I took long break in Traer. It could be our last stop prior to the second checkpoint. Might as well make the most of it. During our break the Lincoln crew came rollin' in. That was one of my favorite moments of the entire event. Seeing all my friends come in was an uplifting experience!
After refueling in Traer the whole group took off together. Around a dozen riders in total. It didn't take long for riders to settle in to their own pace. A few groups formed as a result. This is an inevitability in long gravel grinders.
A majority of the roads from Traer to Norway were relatively flat. It was perfectly timed. After eating a large amount of garbage at the convenience store in Traer we needed some chill miles in order to "let things settle". Eating crap is a necessary evil during Trans Iowa. You gotta eat a lot of calories to keep going. The most calorically dense foodstuffs at the convenience store aren't exactly healthy. Don't get me wrong, eating healthy during TI has been and can be done. You just gotta plan a little bit more than the folks who eat donuts, candy bars, beef jerky, and pizza and pound Red Bulls and coffee until they're in a tizzy.
Along that stretch we also hit crushed limestone trail that went for 15 to 20 miles. I remembered this trail from TIv3. I loved it back then and still do. The trail made me think about how my adventures have changed over the past several years. Before TIv3 my longest ride ever was little over a century. I ended up with around 240 that year before pulling the plug. This year I was going for a triple century. I missed part of the course when taking the highway shortcut, but I calculated I could still end up with well over 300 if I were to finish it out. And why not? I was there to ride my bike after all and I had the best company I could ask for. Game on!
The weather had been ideal most of the day. Overcast skies with temps hoovering in the mid 50's. At one point in the late afternoon I looked around and noted dark skies flanking us on three fronts. Rain would make our chances of making the checkpoint in Norway a distant hope.
During a 15 mile stretch we hit 4 B roads. It was a painfully slow stretch. Part of the roads were firm enough to ride, but a lot of it was an exercise in futility. Riding the muddy roads only clogged your bike with mud which forced you to stop and push anyways. I tried to take to the ditch as much as possible to minimize cleaning time at the end of the B Road.
Unfortunately even riding and walking the B road ditches lead to clogged bikes and cleaning delays. Make no mistake, the B roads tested your patience. After being on the bike for over twelve hours we were getting fatigued and grew weary of pushing the already heavy rigs. The only thing that made the B roads bearable were the folks traversing them with you.
I suppose we could have dwelt on how sucky it was to push our bikes in the ditch for miles, but we knew it served no purpose. Whenever we hit an unrideable section of dirt everyone just hopped off and got it done.
Ben and I ended up rolling into Norway a bit ahead of everyone else. We hit the convenience store and were bummed to find no hot food available. We were really hoping for at least some crusty 6 hour old pizza or hot dogs. Yeah, we were desperate. Garbage is garbage, but hot garbage is better than plain ole garbage. So we hit the only bar in town and ordered a couple of cheeseburgers, fries and Cokes. It was heavenly. Aaron finished off Ben's fries. "Sure, get a picture of the fat kid eating fries!"
The second checkpoint was on a gravel road just outside of Norway, Iowa. The crew rolled in with less than an hour to spare before the 10 PM cutoff time. Now all we had to do is ride 149.5 miles back to Grinnell by 2 PM Sunday. I tried not to think about the massiveness of the feat at hand, but rather just tried to think of getting through one cue sheet at a time.
Spirits were high as we embarked on the last leg of the journey. We were gonna need it cuz things were gonna get tough real soon. When the sun goes down on Saturday night the TI beast becomes more frightening. Everything gets exponentially tougher. Reading cue sheets, eating, drinking, staying awake, keeping warm, remaining motivated, etc. By Saturday at sundown you've been on the bike for over 18 hours. The accumulative effect of the numerous efforts begin to manifest into tight muscles and aching joints. You gotta keep moving cuz stopping and getting comfortable will end your ride.
Upon leaving the final checkpoint I was on a mission. I rolled out ahead of everyone and got pretty far ahead, but never further than an eyeshot of my blinky light. Eventually we hit a long MMR descent with a nasty climb on the other side. It was gnarly! Several of us rode the descent and hoofed it up the other side. This MMR splintered the group. MG, Aaron, Ben and I were the first ones to traverse this section. Aaron, Ben and I decided to keep on rolling and planned on linking up with the crew further down the road. Well, that never happened. That would be the last time we would see the rest of the Lincoln crew.
Aaron, Ben and I were on a mission to get through the night. We each went through a low point over the next 150 miles, but still found time to celebrate the 200 mile mark with some Cokes and some chips. Good times.
We took a few wrong turns during the night, but still managed to make good time. Each of us kept each other on track. Thanks again, guys. Seeing the sun come up was one of the great moments of the adventure. Like a shot of adrenaline the sun perked me up instantly.
There were no places to stop through the night. We had to sustain ourselves on our supplies from checkpoint #2. By the time we reached the next town Aaron was in rough shape. We were all in rough shape. It was a long night.