Monday, April 30, 2012

Trans Iowa V8 Recap

Riders lining up at the start

Another Trans Iowa has come and gone.  I'm still trying to recover.  My knees have been swollen for days, several fingers and toes are numb, and I just can't seem to get enough sleep.  I'm getting sick of icing my knees, popping Ibuprofen and the smell of Biofreeze.  Three days out and I'm finally starting to feel a little more back to normal.  This was the case last year too.  The toll that this event takes on your body is indescribably immense.  Just about everything hurts.  Feet, legs, butt, taint, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, jaw and even my eyes.  

Guitar Ted going over the pre-race info

The body isn't the only thing that gets trashed.  My bike was damaged again too.  Another bent der hanger on the Ti Indy Fab.  This will require another expensive repair OR just leave it how it is, Dremel off the hanger and make the frame a dedicated SS.  Still not sure what I wanna do.  And yeah, I know I shouldn't have ridden that B road, but we were 7 miles from the finish.  I didn't want to get off my bike and walk.  Stupid.

Troy has his game face on

Mentally, I feel broken down too.  I reached a deep dark place during this year's Trans Iowa.  A place that I have visited before, but never for as long as I did this past weekend.  Visiting that deep dark place is inevitable for most folks during the long gravel grinders.  Some folks get there, check out and call it quits.  Others battle through it and come out stronger, tougher, with the ability and desire to eat a bowl full of glass shards with battery acid and ask for a second helping with a bloody smile.  Some folks just survive and are left uncertain of how the hell they did it.  I fit into that category.  Honestly, I don't know how I was able to keep going that last 30 miles.  Mike Johnson and Charles Parsons were a big reason.  They refused to leave me behind and pulled my sorry ass for miles into a headwind all the way to my mechanical failure.  Luckily the mechanical failure came before an emotional or mental one.  All I could do was barely keep my eyes open, my head up and the pedals meekly turning over.  It was a sad and sorry spectacle.  

Heading out of town behind Guitar Ted

You know you're in trouble when the thought of lying in a ditch sounds appealing.  Or you start hoping for a flat or mechanical for one of your travel companions, not you, just so you can stop for a brief rest.  When those thoughts creep into your head and linger, you've reached that deep dark place.  And that's when you just don't care what happens.  Who cares if you've ridden 300 miles already!  If a pickup truck came blasting over the top of the next roller and instantly killed you, oh least your suffering is over.  At least you don't hafta ride these sons of bitches white rock covered incessant rollers into a headwind any longer.  And deeper you go into the darkness...

Wet roads from the storm that rolled through prior to the start

So why?  Why do we do it if we know we're gonna potentially reach the point of coming unglued?  That's a question I ask myself every year, during and after the event.  I suppose it's because I want to be part of something great.  Trans Iowa is just that.  Great.

Gravel was looking good during the morning hours of Saturday

The cumulative experience is what makes this event great.  And it's hard to describe that cumulative experience.  Words and pictures don't do it justice.  There are so many things that make this event unique and memorable.  The duration, terrain, weather, competition, magnitude of difficulty, and most importantly, the people.  The people make the experience especially great and keep me coming back for more.

Riding solo before sunrise on Day 1

From my experience, the gravel grinder folks are a unique slice of cycling culture who relish this difference.  Most of us have raced traditional races in the past, but have decided to move on to bigger and more difficult challenges.  Why?  Well, personally, I enjoy riding my bike.  So why not ride it longer and further?  Plus, the gravel circuit (yes, there is a gravel circuit) requires no racing license and most of the races are free.  It's got a grassroots vibe that I totally dig.  Plus, I've seen some beautiful parts of the countryside via gravel and dirt roads over the past several years while competing in the gravel grinder circuit. 

Charles changing out a flat while Dennis looks on

I consider the gravel grinder junkies some of the finest folks around.  I may only get see some of them once or maybe twice a year, but I definitely feel a bond to them.  Kinda reminds me of the bond folks in the military who have been to war feel with each other.  Call me a drama queen if you must, but dragging your ass across the Iowa countryside through the middle of the night in less than favorable conditions kinda feels like a war to me.  Or maybe it's the war against the deep dark place we all face during Trans Iowa that connects us.  Yeah, yeah...I know...sounds cheesy, but that's how I see it. 

Mark Johnson would go on and finish 4th overall in his second TI attempt
Like I said before, this year was especially challenging for me for many reasons.  I seem to have lost my desire for gravel glory.  Winning isn't everything, but it sure is nice.  After witnessing how fit everyone else is the past couple of years (or how less fit I am), I managed to adjust my expectations over the past year.  Now I'm more focused on the experience as a whole.  Getting to meet new people, see the landscape instead of riding on the rivet the entire race, and actually enjoying myself are my new priorities.  

Rafal on the War Axe in his first TI attempt

It was easy to shift to this new mindset after spending some down time with my broken hip.  I thought about what I was missing out on while I was on the DL.  Cross season was in full swing while the Midwest was experiencing an amazing Fall.  I had planned on racing some of the local cross races, but that wasn't what I thought about.  The things that I really missed were rides with my buddies on challenging two wheeled adventures.  The Ponca Ride was what I thought about most.  Just a stupid crazy long ride (well, it was considered long at one time) with friends with plenty of stops and lots of conversations and smiles.  Would I be able to do that again?  Would this busted hip heal and allow me to enjoy cycling like I once did?

Flat number two for Charles

Maybe the broken hip was just what I needed.  A reset button for my priorities.  Enjoying life and riding for fun are the most important things.  Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy suffering on the bike.  It has become a big part of what I do.  But if I had to make a choice, right now I'd go with JRA with friends versus a pissing match.

Mike gives Charles a hand 

And that's what I did at Trans Iowa.  Around mile 9 while pounding away into the wind, I decided to sit up and let the group go.  I felt like a complete pussy, but reminded myself of my shifting priorities.  I wanted to finish and enjoy myself.  I knew there would be plenty of folks to link up with sooner or later.


And a great crew was at checkpoint Alpha to greet me.  Rafal, Charles, Mike, Dennis, and Mark.  This was exactly where I wanted to be.  Good vibes and plenty of experience.

Rafal enjoying the ride

We rode together for around 50 miles.  Taking turns pulling and chatting all the while.  I managed to pull out the camera and snap several pics along this flat and dreary stretch.  Later during the event, even the thought of reaching for my camera was taxing.  So this is all I took.  Sorry to disappoint ya folks!

Nice and flat - this wouldn't last for long

We had several flats on that stretch.  Charles had two and Mike had the first of many.  This slowed us down a bit, but the breaks were a nice recharge.  It was early enough in the event for us to stop occasionally and regroup as needed.  We all pitched in and helped each other with our flats.  We were a team on a mission.  It was a great feeling to be part of that team.


For many miles, for some reason, silence was abundant.  Finally, Rafal said something, "You need to quit talking so much, Corey."  Ha!  I think we were all focused on getting to a convenience store for some warm food.  It was getting close to noon and we had been on the bike for almost 8 hours already.  I had grown tired of my stash of cold bars and chewy snacks.  It was time for some REAL food.  A convenience store pizza and an energy drink with side of candy sounded like heaven...

Break time
Having a larger group can be good for conversation and cue sheet verifications, but all the stops really add up.  The bigger the group, the more stops are taken.  Not a big deal for our group, but if we were running close to time cutoffs, sometimes you just hafta go and leave folks behind.  Last year, Shockey, Aaron and I made a tough call around midnight on Saturday whether or not to leave behind the large Lincoln based posse we were with.  We made the right call and finished with about an hour to spare.  Some of our other Lincoln brethren didn't make it.  I still feel a bit of guilt about that.

Mike's first of many flats

The gravel was fast and dry by noon on Saturday.  The sun was hidden behind the clouds and the wind was a meager 5 to 10 mph.  We had a air of confidence about us.  Our crew was beaming with excitement even though we knew what evilness lie ahead.  The positive vibe was palpable.  Nothing was stopping us!  We were gonna finish this beast! 

22 bucks of convenience store garage calories

We reached the convenience store and eagerly grabbed our lunch.  The pizzas were going fast and my first thought when I grabbed mine was how the folks behind were gonna be shafted.  Hopefully the store cooked up some more.

The only real meal of the event for me was enjoyed here

Last year I sustained myself on complete garbage.  This year I managed to eat a little better.  I only had one candy bar the entire event.  One pizza, a box of Pop Tarts, lots of beef jerky, several salted nut rolls, a few gallons of lemon lime Gatorade, a doughnut and a banana at Checkpoint Charlie, 15 to 20 Cliff Bars throughout the event (thanks Cliff Bar!) and a lot of GU Chomps (Mmmmmm....Peach Green Tea flavor is the bomb! - Thanks GU!).

Time to roll

Charlie, Matt, and several Lincoln buddies (Bruce, Scott and Aaron) rolled in while we were finishing up.  Charlie joined us as we left while Matt and the Lincoln trio finished their lunch.  We were about 100 miles in at this point.  Honestly, I have no idea the name of that town....
Matt, Bruce, Aaron and Scott (can you find Scott?)

I was stoked to have Charlie with us.  He's a veteran of many long endurance events and radiates positive energy.  He's almost always sporting a smile when I see him....

On our way!

We were about 70 miles from the next checkpoint and had plenty of time to get there.  With bellies full of the finest convenience store garbage calories in Iowa, we plugged away at our cue sheets.

Rafal's der explosion on a muddy B road

In the distance we could see a flat B road entrance next to a small farm.  It looked rideable...famous last words.  I'm not sure who was first, but we tested the waters and rode on the grassy sections of this two track dirt road.  The mud wasn't clogging up too badly so we continued on.  Eventually we reached a spot where the mud was much thicker...and then it happened....I heard someone behind me yell something.  Not sure if it was a profanity or just a plea for assistance.  I stopped and looked back to see Rafal very upset.  And understandably upset.

Not happy

Rafal's rear der snapped under the load of the additional power needed to navigate the muck.  Luckily for him the der broke and didn't touch his hanger or wheel.  Wish I had that same luck later on!

SS conversion

I went back to see what I could do to help.  The look on Rafal's face was familiar.  He knew his day was done.  Reminded me of my experience last year.  All you can do is shake it off and try to make the best of it.  You know it sucks, but you have no choice and must accept it.  Like eating a shit sandwich.  It's shit, but maybe you can put a lot of condiments on it to make it taste a little better.

Happy Rafal - for the time being...

We waved the rest of the crew on.  This was gonna be a long repair job.  Single speed conversion on a geared ten speed drivetrain is never fun or successful for that matter.  The crew reluctantly agreed to keep going and made an obligatory remark of how they would soft pedal.  I thought this might be the last time I saw them prior to the finish.  "Oh well, let's get this thing rollin'!"

Charlie! Always has a smile!

Rafal and I worked on the conversion.  Well, mostly Rafal did the work while I took care of some business.  He got it to work on the 34 x 15 which wasn't a bad gear.  We finished walking the B road and ran into MG and Aaron at the end of it.  They offered encouragement and a pat on the back.  Thanks, guys!

Unfortunately, the SS conversion wasn't gonna hold.  The chain jumped from the 15 cog to the 16.  The chain tension went from acceptable to ridiculous.  The chain would not hold for long.  I was having flashbacks of last year...I felt his pain...

Rafal decided it was futile and told me to continue on without him.  It sucked.  I was really looking forward to finishing this beast with him.  Next year, year.

Heading into the night with good company

Once the decision is made to call it quits, there's no turning back.  I've been there before during previous TI's and have learned this lesson the hard way.  Even if I rested, refueled, and recharged, once I decided I was done, there was no way I could get back on the bike and continue on.  The thought of a warm shower, a soft bed for a blissful night of sleep and a hot savory meal is the final nail in the coffin.  You gotta keep those thoughts at bay if you wanna finish.  Never allow yourself to get comfortable.  Never allow yourself to think about creature comforts of American life.  This isn't a vacation.  It's a war. 

Checkpoint Charlie

After saying goodbye to Rafal I continued on solo in hopes of tracking down the crew of Charles, Mike, Mark, Dennis and Charlie.  The next checkpoint was 70 miles away and I needed to boogie to make up some lost time.  Matt Maxwell and I rode for a bit together and it was great to finally ride with him.  We've competed in this event numerous times, but we've never ridden together.  Eventually, Matt and I parted ways as my pace was a bit quicker than his.  I was finally feeling good and making great time.  Some tunes helped me pass the time as I enjoyed the scenery and the occasional farm dog chaser.  I got lost once for a bit, but that's par for the course.  It wouldn't be Trans Iowa if I didn't get lost at least once.  :)

Lots of choices

A few miles before the second checkpoint I ran into Charlie who was stopped on the side of the road at the top of a large roller.  He was fiddling with his gear.  I was really happy to see him, but figured he must have been in a bad place if he was by himself.  We chatted for a bit and I got a pic (see above).  Even though he was hurting he still managed a smile and offered me some words of encouragement.  He then opened up his frame bag and whipped out some pretzels.  "Want a pretzel?" Man, I love that guy!

Refuel in Pella

Charlie informed me that the rest of the crew was just ahead.  I tried to get him to come with me, but he insisted that he was fine and I should continue on.  Knowing now that he got lost shortly after that really sux.

I managed to catch the crew a mile prior to the checkpoint.  As a joke I went flying by Mike and Robert Fry.  It felt great to be back with familiar faces before the sun went down.  Riding solo at night is not something I was looking forward to.

At checkpoint Bravo, we grabbed some bars and our cue sheets.  The next stop was Checkpoint Charlie which was about 30 miles away.  We needed to get there asap since most of us were almost out of fluids.  The crew was now six strong and took off for Checkpoint Charlie as darkness fell. 

A surly looking lot

Somewhere along the way to Checkpoint Charlie, we lost Robert.  His pace was steady, but not quite the pace we were going.  So he played it smart and told us to continue on without him.  I had time to chat with Robert and learned about his brevet adventures over the years.  He was no spring chicken.  He was a seasoned endurance rider who knew how to finish events.  I felt comfort in this fact and continued on with the crew.

At Checkpoint Charlie we were greeted by two gravel grinder veterans, Matt Gersib and Jeremy Fry.  They were a welcome sight.  They both knew what we were in the middle of and offered plenty of words of encouragement.  The spread that was available at Checkpoint Charlie was impressive!  Just about everything a person could ask for!  Thanks so much guys!

Game over

We left Checkpoint Charlie with around 120 miles to go.  The next stop was Pella.  We could refuel there.  We were all excited for warm food.  Our last warm meal was around noon and close to 170 ago. We were long overdue.

Riding at night on day two was a surreal experience.  Some folks struggle to stay awake once the sun goes down Saturday night.  For some reason I was full of pep and wide awake.  I guess the navigating helped me stay focused, but the whole ride at night was very dreamlike.  You can't really see too far into the distance or the around at the surroundings.  It feels like you're in a tunnel.  A tunnel of illuminated gravel.  Only able to see what's directly ahead of you in your beam of light.  The landscape and the size of the upcoming rollers were a mystery until you were upon them.  There were some huge rollers on that stretch.  Maybe not seeing them was beneficial.

Once in Pella, we promptly got kinda lost.  We stayed on course, but stopped a few times to figure where to go for food.  The lack of calories and desperation was affecting us. There were differing opinions on how to get to food.  Dennis was correct and lead the way to the Kum & Go.

There wasn't much there that looked appealing.  I wandered the aisles like a zombie looking for brains.  I had to settle for the worst sandwich I have eaten in a long time with a Red Bull.  We powered down some food and left with 90 miles to go.  There were a lot of moans of pain after climbing back on the saddle.  The posterior was raw and my knees were aching by this point.  It was gonna be a death march to the finish.

Dennis and Mark took off at some point during the night.  Charles, Mike and I continued on together and linked up with Matt for a bit once the sun came up.  We were slowly chugging along.  We were within 50 miles and I was beginning to get that feeling the deep dark place would soon make an appearance.  Unfortunately, the last 50 miles were brutal and probably the toughest part of the entire route.

Those of us who experienced those last 50 miles will never be the same.  I will forever think of those miles whenever I see fresh hilly gravel.  Around 30 miles from the finish, the rollers, headwind, and bumpy gravel had taken it's toll on my soul.  I had entered the deep dark place and was waging battle with the temptation to quit and get comfortable.  The gravel bounced us around and hurt every part of my body.  And couldn't shake the thoughts of pain and utter hopelessness.  Would this ever end?

Mike and Charles recognized my plight and kept me safely tucked in their draft.  It was getting ugly.  Our current pace of 8 to 10 mph was agonizing.  Especially when calculating the time left to get to the finish.  The roads were torturing us.  The fresh gravel was everywhere.  There were no good or even halfway acceptable lines to be had.  I felt like I was riding down a highway of rumble strips for the last 50 miles.  Bone jarring and demoralizing.

The miles slowly ticked away.  Minutes felt like hours.  Forty miles to go!  Thirty nine!  Thirty eight!  Every mile I counted down from 50 to the finish.  Quitting that close to the finish was unacceptable.  No fucking way.  I didn't come this far to give up now.

We hit the final B road of the event.  Eight miles from the finish!  Finally a smooth surface!  I'm fucking riding it!  Someone yelled at me to stop.  And that's when I heard the crunch of parts and felt the tug of my der going into my wheel.  I looked down in despair.  Toast.  The der sucked into the wheel and snapped.  Spokes were bent.  Der hanger bent.  I would ride no more.

Mike and Matt gave me a sympathetic look.  They knew my challenge had just gotten tougher.  Mike graciously offered to help me convert my mangled drivetrain into a single speed.  I quickly thought about it and knew it probably won't hold given my previous experiences.  I asked what time it was and calculated how long it would take me to walk the rest of the way to the finish.  Seven to 8 miles to go...I would just limp it to the finish.  I asked Matt and Mike to go.  I looked down and said, "Just go."  My frustration was bubbling over and I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of them.  Mike patted me on the back and said sorry as he began pushing his bike up the B road.  I knew I needed to do this myself.  For better or worse, I would do it. 

Mike, Matt and Charles went on to finish.  I really wanted to cross the line with them.

Fortunately, the last seven miles had some rollers.  So I removed the remnants of the der and the chain, lowered the saddle and turned my bike into a scooter.   I was able to get up to 15 to 20 mph on the downhills and walked the ups.  Robert passed me on my walkabout and we chatted for a bit.  It was great to see him finish. 

The walk/scoot to the finish took awhile, but wasn't all that bad.  I was gonna finish and that was my goal.  Mission accomplished! 

Once at the finish line I learned that the Lincoln Trio would finish and that Eric had won with Troy shortly behind him.  I was stoked!  Very proud of the Lincoln and Nebraska crew. 

Thanks to all that played a hand in making Trans Iowa a reality.  Also thanks to Jeff for making the documentary "300 Miles of Gravel".  I'm already excited for next year!


Malcolm said...

Good work Cornbread! I am printing off and hanging the 7th picture over my bed, so I can gaze at it as I drift to sleep :)

Anonymous said...

Love the Recap, perfectly said.
Congrats and great job!

Tim Ek said...

Cornbread, is one of the "Good Guys".

You hit me right in the heart with that post. Thanks!

Congrats my friend! You are one of the toughest S.O.B.'s I know.


Malcolm said...

Absence only makes the heart grow fonder. After a brief hiatus, one of the best posts I have ever read from you. You are the best Corey, and one of the reasons I ride the way I do. I miss you my friend.

PS: Not even going to comment on the derr.

MG said...

You are one hard Man. Pulling out the finish the way you did was one of the most amazing feats of an incredible event... Fantastic.

It's always darkest before the dawn. You will come back swinging harder than ever as a result of persevering through this, Corey. Mark my words...

Nice work.


Guitar Ted said...

Corey- what a great post. Fantastic description of "why gravel riding" and a great race recap all in one post.

By the way- fantastic recovery from the hip injury, my friend. I am so happy for you.

Thanks for all of your support for T.I. and gravel riding in general. You are one of the principals of this genre'. Without you, this scene wouldn't be the same.

Congrats on a great ride, and for gutting out that last seven miles scooter stylee. Hope to ride in yer neck of the woods again soon.

Anzalone said...

Amazing post! Battle well won! Hope you win the war for the 2013 season! I'm going to have to print this post and check back with it after those long rides for some motivation.

Cornbread said...

Whew, I think I finally finished this post. Another round of enduro-blogging!

Thanks everyone for the words of encouragement and praise. This year was another amazing experience. I couldn't have done it without ya!

Ben said...

Wow Corey, I just can't imagine what those last miles were like. I mean.. wow. I'm absolutely and completely blown away dude.

Amazing. Lance can eat his heart out.

Jeremy Kershaw said...

Great stuff, Corey. I'm glad you got it done. Look forward to some miles with you in the near future maybe. Thanks for taking the time on the write up.

Scott Redd said...

Despite your amazing write up, I don't think I can even begin to imagine what your experience would do to me. Just, wow.