Sunday, November 30, 2014

GDMBR Trip - Day 2 and 3

Still fighting the mosquitos, we ate breakfast, packed up and left. Tom was running a little slow, but somehow managed to sneak off ahead of Joe and I while we were taking some photos and waiting for him. It turns out that Tom thought we had left him, and since we were only about 100 yards from the start of the descent, he was irritated about us bombing ahead of him. After a bit, he realized that we were behind him, so he stopped and waited for us. The slope was generally downhill, but there were a few good sized rollers on the pavement around Whitefish Lake. Once we hit the edge of town, we stopped at a local burrito place for more food and then rode a few miles to Columbia Falls to buy some additional supplies for the few days. By this time, it was starting to rain a bit, so we put on our rain gear and headed out of town, criss-crossing the paved and gravel roads of the Flathead River Valley. The rain was picking up, and we were starting to get hungry plenty cold when we rolled through Swan River, but there was a line outside of the cafe and they were not taking any more people. We opted to roll on and then go off route a couple of miles to Big Fork in search of food. We pulled around to the back of a bar, pulled our bikes into the courtyard and went inside to warm up. 

The radar indicated that the rain was not letting up for a while, so we ordered food and a beer and pondered the rest of our day. It was still relatively early in the day, so we planned on eating and seeing if we could wait out the storm. After talking to a guy and his girlfriend outside, it turned out that they owned a bar and restaurant down the street. He offered to let us use his dryer to dry our clothes out. We took him up on his offer and returned the favor by purchasing a couple more drinks at his place while we waited. After a while, it was obvious that the rain was going to last a while longer. Since this was a vacation, and not a race, we opted to call it a day and find a place to camp in Big Fork. The gentleman that owned the bar, offered to take Joe to the local state campground in his car, while Tom and I gathered up our now dry clothes. Joe secured us a campsite, and we rode the mile or so to the site, set up camp along with some GDMBR riders, and called it a day. 

The next morning, we loaded up, and then rode uphill to the other side of town for a delicious convenience store breakfast and and additional resupply. A short ride along the river took us back to the route. After about 10 miles, the road turned upward. An hour and half of climbing and a little over 7 miles later, we were at the top. The descent was fast and twisty, and it took a bit of self-control to keep from going too fast. We continued riding in the foothills on the west side of the Swan River for most of the day, so the road just continued to inch upward without much of a break. We met a few more people touring the route, and also saw our first bear tracks. A sow and her cub had walked in along the edge of one of the dirt roads. The sow's paw print was as large as my outstretched hand.

By the afternoon, we approached Holland Lake. Since all three of us were running on fumes, we decided to take an extended break at the lodge. We dried dried out our clothes, soaked our legs in the cold waters of the lake, and, eventually, ate a very expensive dinner in the lobby of the hotel. After dinner, we took advantage of the daylight and got a few more miles in. Another 10 miles of riding up, led us to the shore of Clearwater Lake for the night. The lakeside spot was occupied by a couple of families, and after a search around the edge of the lake, we opted to make camp in a flat spot near the parking area. Since we were in the middle of the forest and there was no bear box, we put all of our stuff into a couple of our seatbags, and hung it from a tree for the night. After 85 miles in the saddle for the day, all three of us crashed out quickly. Before I fell asleep, I looked out of my bivy and marveled at how quiet it was, and how many stars were visible due to the lack of light pollution. It was a gorgeous night to be camping in the woods. 

GDMBR Trip - Travel and Day 1

For a number of years, my friend Tom has been trying to get a group of people to come back to his native Montana with him for a week of riding. There had been a number of attempts to put a group together, but they never worked out for various reasons. When the discussion came around in winter of 2013, I decided that committing to the trip was a good thing to do. A few days of riding on the GDMBR would allow me to gauge my climbing fitness, help remove some of anxiety about the route conditions, and let me discover how remote things really were. After getting an additional commitment from our friend Joe, we decided that it would just be the three of us for the week. This would simplify travel, and, due to vacation allowances, allow us seven days of riding.

Fast forward a few months, and while many of our friends were preparing to leave for RAGBRAI, we loaded three guys and three bikes into Joe's Toyota pickup and headed west around 4 PM on a Thursday evening. The plan was to take shifts driving and sleeping and make the drive to Columbia Falls, MT in one straight shot. Thinking ahead a bit, I opted to take the first leg, so I could drive when it was light, and so I could get two shifts worth of sleep in a row. The drive was, thankfully, uneventful. We made it to the WY/MT border on I-90 around 4 AM or so, stopped for coffee and breakfast in Bozeman, then took a side trip in Butte, so I could see where the Outdoorsman Bike Shop was, as well as do some sightseeing at The Berkeley Pit and through the hills outside of town. Afterwards, we kept heading west, making our way to Missoula for a good lunch and a couple of beers, along with a stop at The Adventure Cycling Association headquarters, where we were able to meet with some of the people we had been conversing with via email and Twitter, as well as enjoy a free ice cream bar. Tom had been up since we had left Des Moines, and was starting to flag now that the caffeine was wearing off. Joe and I split driving duties heading north, taking a few minutes to stop and pick up some fresh cherries from a roadside stand. We rolled into the home of Tom's parents around 5 PM or so, ordered some pizza for dinner and had a couple of drinks before going to bed.

On Saturday morning, Tom's dad drove us from Columbia Falls to Rooseville, MT where were unloaded our bikes, checked our tire pressure, and headed south on the GDMBR. We had rough idea of where we wanted to end up at the end of each day, but we were also smart enough to realize that things can change at any time, so we needed to be flexible with our planned schedule. We ran into an ACA tour group as they were crossing the border, and as they rode by one of the riders shouted y name out as they passed by, causing both Tom and Joe to give me a weird look. It turned out that this was a gentleman that I had been talking to via email earlier in the summer, and he had just happened to cross the border at this time. I had told him to look for a bike with a bright white frame bag, and he had managed to spot me. We chatted with the group for a bit after we caught up to them at the edge of Eureka, with a number of them making comments about how lightly we were loaded up for our trip. Many of them were pulling trailers or had panniers, so the comments made some sense. After a somewhat long stop in Eureka for lunch, we started riding in earnest, hoping to make Red Meadow Lake before nightfall. We rode over the first long climb, to Whitefish Divide, not too long after leaving Eureka, and I was already worried about how my legs were going to be the rest of the week. I was really hurting by the time we got to the top, and I was glad to stop and take some photos, as well as use my water filter for the first time. There was still snow at the top of the pass, and the fresh sawdust was evidence that the road had only just been cleared. We descended off the pass and through an area of burned out forest, and, after a few hours, began the climb to Red Meadow Lake. It turns out that Whitefish Divide was only a warmup. The climb to Red Meadow Lake was longer, and finish steeper than our earlier climb. However, a few hours of riding had given me time to sort out my climbing pace and gearing, and I was able to get to the top of this climb feeling less worked over. We camped at the lake that night, taking the time to chat with some other people camped there, including a couple of people who were riding solo tours of the route. The mosquitos were extremely fierce, so I opted to turn in early and get a good night's rest, while Tom and Joe continued to talk and share a beverage or two with the other campers.


Since it's announcement, I had been trying to work out when to try my TIMP attempt. With an August deadline, and a trip to Montana planned for the end of July, the end of June seemed to give me enough time to prepare and wait out some of the rain and flooding that had been affecting northwest IA. With my friends Scott and Andy having completed the trip in the middle of June, things looked set. I was a little concerned with being the the first solo attempt of the route. Being the first, I also felt quite a bit of pressure as well, especially considering how well my riding had been going to this point.

My wife drove with me to the start point in Harwarden on Thursday night, after a quick meal at Pizza Ranch, we went to our hotel room, where I prepped my bike and myself for my 5 AM start time. Morning came early, and I shoveled food in while we drove to the start line. After a couple of photos and a quick kiss on the cheek, I clipped in an headed East. Storms with lightning were making their presence known southwest of me. With the flat, sandy roads, and a lack of cover, the start was not looking too good. I stopped to put my raincoat as drops started falling from the sky, but 30 minutes later I had to take it off. The rain had stopped, the storms appeared to be dying out, and I was starting to overheat. I took a quick break outside of Orange City for some food and to strip another layer off and then kept moving. Not too far in, I saw the sign for the first section of B road. I was afraid of the condition of the roads having noted how soft the gravel was up to this point. When I hit the surface, it was a touch soft, but smooth and completely dry. My spirits lifted a bit at this point and I kept moving forward, keeping food and water in my system. The section between Orange City and Paulina was alternating flat sections of gravel and B road, some of which were 1.5 to 2 miles in length. It was fun riding all of the buff, lightly used B roads in this section, and I was happy that all of them were dry.

After a short break in Paulina, I continued on. The roads were getting a lot less flat now as I was nearing the Little Sioux River. The route through here was very scenic with lots of big rolling hills and views of the river valley from above. The reach of the previous month's flooding was very obvious. The route leaving Paulson crossed the river, and was marked as closed. I could see where the river had washed out the road, but pressed on, hoping that the water had receded enough to allow passage. After a big climb out of the valley, I was a ridge south of the river, and then on the north side after passing through the town of Linn Grove. I skipped past Sioux Rapids and kept motoring east. Soon I was on 510th Street, and the first real test began, as this stretch of road was 20 miles long and dead straight, until I stopped to take a break in the town of Mallard. It was getting warmer by now, so I opted to grab food and refill all my fluids in Mallard. I took a quick break again in West Glen and made my way towards Algona, where I stopped for some real food and a beer. I was about 13 hours and 150 miles in at this point and was getting sick of convenience store food. After a quick stop for spare headlamp batteries, I was on my way again. I hit another long stretch of flat straight road outside of Algona and it really started to zap my spirits.

As the sun set, I was really starting to lose the drive to continue, especially in the dark. At this point, I should have pulled out my iPod, but I had forgotten that I had packed it. I stopped in Crystal Lake around 10 PM and mulled my options over. The mosquitos that settled in around me certainly didn't help my mood any. At this point I called my wife and told her that I thought I was done, but I'd make the final call after a bit. Pulling into Forest City I knew my TIMP attempt was done. I pulled up a hotel on the GPS, routed myself to it, and grabbed a couple of misery beers from the convenience store across from the hotel. One shot to finish, and I had blown it.

Even now, a few months later, I'm not completely sure what happened. There wasn't a lot about the first half of the course that was interesting from a scenery standpoint. It was mainly flat roads with fairly flat land around them, other than the section near the Little Sioux River. Being alone for that amount of time had definitely started to take its toll as well. When your interactions with people are mostly "will that be all" and "here's your receipt" it makes for a long day. Despite not finishing, I did gain the knowledge that I will need to develop some coping techniques for when the loneliness sets in during Tour Divide. If I thought I was by myself in IA, then parts of the GDMBR will really going to be a wake up call.

I do want to take this time to thank Mark Stevenson for taking the time and making the to put this challenge together for us to attempt. I still have the route and the cues, so maybe I'll give it a shot sometime in the future, with the intent of finishing in two days, with a bit of a camp in between.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Long weekend w friends

Two short weeks after the Alexander, I met up with my partners in crime, Taylor, Kyle and Rick for what has become an annual ride for Kyle - The Great Memorial Gravel Ride to Cedar Rapids. Since this ended in familiar territory and I had to be in Waterloo that weekend for a family event, a plan was hatched - Ride to CR on Friday with "The Group" and then ride the Cedar Valley Nature Trail end to end on Saturday, finishing at my inlaws' house east of Waterloo.

I rolled out of the house at 4:30 Friday AM to meet the rest of the group on the Neal Smith Trail. From there we rolled pavement and gravel north at a fairly stupid pace until we turned east onto the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail and settled into something a bit more sustainable. Our route was a bit more seat of the pants than I would have liked for a ride of this length, but I opted to relax and enjoy the day with friends. We took a break in Maxwell, and then headed back out onto the trail, which is unfortunately a bit broken up due to right of way issues that plague some older railbeds. After a brief route reset at the trail's terminus in Rhodes, IA, we worked our way onto the paved trail which parallels Hwy 330 and rode that into Marshalltown, where we took our second break of the day, with about 67 miles between us and the start.

After leaving Marshalltown, we wandered north for a fair bit, arriving in Conrad, where we grabbed an ill timed adult beverage and rested in the shade for a bit. The temps were starting to climb and, although a cold drink sounded good, it didn't really sit well in anyone's stomach. We then hopped on the limestone Comet Trail, which, despite some weather related issues carried us into Gladbrook. Rick, Taylor and I wanted to stop in Gladbrook to get something cold to drink, grab a quick bite, and refill water bottles. Kyle estimated that we were just 7 or so miles from the next town, which had a restaurant and convenience store. Since we all had water left, we opted to head east and not take a break. Leaving Gladbrook, which I've now visited three times in less than two years thanks to TransIowa, we headed out onto a hilly section of road that was used for both TIV9 as well as TIV7. Estimating your distance via a small GPS screen is difficult, even when the route is on screen. It wasn't long before we passed the 7 mile mark and wondered which hill was hiding Traer. The hills kept coming, and the heat kept building. I pushed ahead and quickly realized we were still a long way from Traer. After an extra 10 miles, I hit the edge of Traer, sat in the shade, and waited for the rest of the guys. Rick came in next, followed by Kyle and eventually Taylor, who had run out of water a while back. Neither Rick nor Taylor looked too good at this point. We rolled into Traer, found a restaurant and made some decisions. Taylor and Rick took a ride to CR with Kyle's dad, while Kyle and I opted to press on. I put 10 lbs of unneeded clothes and camping gear in the SUV, and then Kyle and I then headed east in search of fame and fortune.

About 10 miles later, we pulled into Dysart and I needed to stop and grab a drink. I had dug a bit of a nutrition hole and was having a hard time getting out of it, despite the burger, fries and cola in Traer. After a bottle of iced tea, we hopped on the limestone surfaced Old Creamery Trail and worked our way through Garrisson and then to Vinton, where we took another break due to the heat. With 135 miles or so in our legs, we were starting to feel the day's effort start to hit. Knowing that we had just a bit of gravel left to ride, we headed out to Urbana, dodging some wild driving kids in a Lumina a few too many times on our way there. We caught the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in Urbana, which took us gently downhill to Center Point, where I told Kyle that I needed a break. The hole I had dug myself was getting deeper and my stomach was starting to turn. Despite the nauseous feeling that was starting to rise up, I forced a couple of pop tarts down and told Kyle it was time to finish this up. About 2 miles outside of Center Point, the trail turns from limestone to asphalt. This was also the point where all of the food I'd eaten finally became usable and our pace picked up measurably. I could hear Kyle spinning out his one gear in my draft and then coasting for a bit. We held a solid 16 - 18 MPH pace to Hiawatha where the trailhead was located. A few more miles of wandering through NE Cedar Rapids, and we finally arrived at Kyle's childhood home with just over 170 miles behind us. We both had a highly welcome cold beer, took a shower, and then all of us sat around and ate and talked for a few hours before collapsing on air mattresses in the basement.

After a walk and a good breakfast the next morning, I loaded my Fargo back up and headed north towards Waterloo. I took a side trip to my mom's house for a short visit before making my way to Center Point, where I stopped for the best pork tenderloin I'd ever had. Afterwards, I kept a steady pace north on the limestone portion of the trail, stopping occasionally to take a photo or stretch, since I planned at riding at a touring pace and just enjoying the day. I stopped at a bar in Brandon for two much needed gin and tonics, and again in La Porte city for ice cream and some udder balm for my seat. The trail turned to pavement from here on so it was fairly easy going, other than the sight of storms brewing to the SW of me. After a quick GPS check, I rode north out of Waterloo on a county highway, working hard to stay ahead of the storms. With the rain getting closer and the wind picking up, I took a right hand turn on to the 4 miles of gravel that took me to my final destination. Unfortunately, the rock was loose and chunky and it took a good amount of effort to cover the those last 4 miles. I pulled into my in-laws' garage just as the rain hit. Another 75 miles in for the day, bringing me to 245 for the weekend.

My Salsa Fargo was once again the right ride for the job. Steady and sure on all surfaces. Fast on gravel or pavement, despite the load and the mountain bike tires.

I managed to drag the camera out on both days of the trip. Photos are all here.

Alexander 2014

Three short weeks after TransIowa, I was rolling out of Spring Valley, MN at 5 AM on a Friday. This was the start of The Alexander, a 380 mile race across some seriously scenic and hilly areas in SW Minnesota, SE Wisconsin and NE Iowa. My goals for the event were to get serious miles on my bike loaded up with a representative Tour Divide level of equipment, finish, and finish on Saturday evening. The course encompasses almost all of the Almanzo 100 and Royal 162 courses, plus adds a third stacked loop for the additional 120 or so miles this goes beyond the Royal. A group of about 15 - 20 of us took the start, with a minimal amount of fanfare, with Chris Skogen telling us little more than to have fun, and enjoy the experience. We rode out of town in a fairly tight group and once we hit the gravel, things slowly started to string out. After a couple of hours, a decent sized group of us got together and things just kind of fell into place for the rest of the race. The group had plenty of big motors and long mile experience - Corey Godfrey, my teammate Mike Johnson, Ben Oney, Alex Oenes, and Derek Weider from the Slender Fungus Cycling Association. We covered the first 127 miles to Lansing, IA in just under 11.5 hours. After a well earned food and maintenance break, we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. After a short time, I started recognizing many of the areas we were in as being part of the first day of the 2010 TransWisconsin, including a spin through Mt Sterling, on through Seneca, and finally to Prairie Du Chien where we ended our day with a bunch of pizza, a beer, and 196 miles or so in our legs. 

We left PDC a little later than I and some others would have liked, but we snagged breakfast, resupplied our food and were really back on it by about 6 AM. The paved climb out of the river valley was long, but steady. Afterwards we were treated to a about 50 miles of fast descents and beautiful valleys, followed by some long hard climbs. What was easily the best rode of the route came in this section - We crossed a closed intersection, descended down a steep dirt road to an isolated creek crossing, and then proceeded to climb put on what was nothing more than a worn path over bedrock through a gorgeous grove of trees, finally exiting onto regular gravel next to a small farmstead. As the day went on, the breaks became a bit longer and more frequent. Some time after we left Decorah, Mike figured out that unless we picked up the pace, our chances for a Saturday finish were going to disappear. At this point, the group broke apart a bit as Mike, Ben, Derek and I drove the pace into a flat headwind section. After a brief break for food at mile 335 in Graf (which straddles the IA/MN border) we regrouped and started the drive to the finish. After a post creek crossing break to wait for a flat tire change, pressed on towards the ominous Norse Rd/Oriole Road section. Corey and I were able to bomb and ascend on this section with relative ease since we were on mountain bike tires. After the climb out of Masonic Park, our pace picked up on the flats, especially since we were within striking distance of our midnight finish goal. I recall being on the front and driving at 20 - 22 MPH for what seemed like forever. Finally, we took the descent into downtown Spring Valley and finished on the corner of Washington and Main at about 11:59 AM, just under our goal time.

A big crew of people from Des Moines that were there for the Alexander and Royal met us at the corner with pizza and beer, thanks to a generous offer from my friend Kyle Sedore and a well timed phone call. After a bit of food, photos, and interactions with liberally lubricated locals, we loaded our bikes up and headed back to the hotel. Too hyped from the finish, and the liberal application of caffeine, I stayed up a while longer after a well earned shower talking to friends and trying to get more food and fluids into me. I didn't sleep very well that night as my legs were sore and I was just generally excited about the ride and the finish. I think I ended up waking for the final time around 5 AM or so, heading down to the breakfast nook and devouring whatever I could get my hands on. I was very happy that my friend Ali offered to drive home so I could rest. It was also nice to chat with her for a few hours, which is something that I don't get a chance to do very often. 

My Salsa Ti Fargo was the perfect bike for this event, even with the gear load, it felt steady and sure, even on fast, loose, gravel descents. The stock gearing was low enough to allow me to finish the event, although I do plan on dropping it down a touch for Tour Divide, just so I'm not stressing myself so much on long climbs. I had no mechanicals during the event, other than my Garmin freezing up on the descent into Decorah.

Final Stats:

Day 1 - 196 miles. 12,800 feet of climb. 17:20:41 total time
Day 2 - 189 miles. 13,000 feet of climb. 17:59:23 total time

I managed to take quite a few photos over the weekend. They are all here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

TransIowa V10 - Race Report - Pt 2

After parking my bike out of the way, I trudged into Norway's convenience store and looked around. While it certainly didn't have the selection of a Casey's, it was not as bad as Mark had made it out to be. I was expecting the Wadena C-store that was used during TIV4. I wandered the aisles for a bit and finally settled on a quart of chocolate milk, a bottle of V8, a pizza burger, a slice of pizza and a bottle of Mountain Dew. I walked over to a small table, sat my food down and just stared at it while Mike Johnson and Ben Oney came over to sit and rest. I started eating the pizza burger, but it tasted like cardboard. I sat and stared at my food for a while, completely unsure what to do next. I grabbed my phone so I could make "The Call" when the time came. Ben noticed I wasn't eating and suggested that I start in on the chocolate milk to try and get some carbs and sugar into my system and jumpstart things a bit. I slowly worked through the quart of milk, V8 and the pizza burger. By this time more people were coming in and many of them, at first glance, seemed to be as miserable as I was. I heard some mumblings from others in my group about figuring out when to leave. I was still convinced that this was the end of the line for me, but I walked back to my bike to get my water bottles and at least go through the motions of getting ready to go. The chill of the wind hit me like a hammer and my body instantly tensed up and started shaking. I brought the bottles back in the store, sat down and warmed up a bit more. Despite sitting inside again, I was frozen, so I grabbed all of my spare clothes, other than my rain gear, and put them on. The guys I had arrived with were starting to put on their helmets, so I filled up my bottles, and pulled up Mark's number on my phone so I could call him after I put the bottles back on my bike. Mike must have sensed I was still hurting as he asked how I was feeling, then told me that I should just climb back on the bike, sit in, take it easy for a while, and give my body a chance to process the food. He mentioned the cooling temps and the tailwind we would be enjoying. It was all my brain needed to decide to hop back on the bike, at least for a bit. After all, if I needed to, I could slow down, or drop somewhere else on the course if I needed to. At this time I opted to use one of my bottles of 5 Hour Energy as a bit of insurance against the sleep monster. The next thing I knew, we were rolling west out of town on pavement.

We took it easy, letting the tailwind push us along. As we turned north and then west off the pavement and on to the gravel, it was obvious that I was wearing too many layers to be comfortable while riding. I stopped, quickly removed the neck buff and another layer, then rejoined the group while Mike soft pedaled to let me catch up. Looking at the cue sheets, I was pleased to note that we had a long, straight stretch heading west. Cool after removing the layers, and buoyed by the flat roads and tailwinds, my mood started to lift. Soon, I was up front, bombing the downhills and letting the tailwind push me along. After a couple of short jogs north and then west, we were once again on another long west stretch and I finally felt like I was getting some of my strength and alertness back. We crossed Hwy 30 and continued along a meandering 320th Ave for quite a few miles. A few short eastbound sections interspersed with our now northbound route confirmed that the winds were not letting up at all. By this time, it was well past dark, and we were well into a routine of stopping briefly for food or bio breaks once per hour, and I was feeling really good.  We meandered north for a while, and then enjoyed another big push west, with the wind making eerie howling noises as we passed underneath power lines every mile or so.

Not too long after this, we noticed another rider stopped up ahead. It turned out to be Sarah Cooper, who was dealing somewhat unsuccessfully with what appeared to be a fairly rambunctious puppy. It turns out that the pup was attacking her front tire and she had stopped in front of a house to figure out if the situation was going to get worse. Evidently, feeding him a snack had meant that they were now best friends and he was pretty much willing to do whatever she wanted. Our group of eight, now a group of ten with the inclusion of Sarah and her puppy, took off into the night. The nine riders took to the road, and the pup opted to run beside us in the ditch. We turned east onto a B road, and soon we noticed a vehicle parked where the B road ended. It turned out to be Mark, who was letting riders know about a reroute that was necessary due to bridge construction. After a brief chat, we took off along the reroute, which meant a bit more B road and heading east into the wind, Sarah's puppy in tow. After running with us, and in front of us for about 5 or 6 miles, the pup had disappeared and soon we were turning west and enjoying a bit more tailwind. Before running into Sarah, we had been taking note of a spectacular light show to the south of us. Concerned, we stopped and pulled up radar to make sure the storms weren't going to hit us. It appeared that we might miss the rain until we took this latest turn west. We were starting to ride straight towards a fairly strong looking cell that was sending plenty of lightning to the ground. Knowing we were going to get hit, I suggested that we stop to put on rain gear. Barely 5 minutes after this, there was a close ground stroke of lightning that caused most of the group to stop and assess the situation. With the rain starting, and more lighting flashes, we some of us decided to see if we could take shelter in some nearby farm buildings. A small wooden one was unlocked and had just enough room for our group, so we quickly piled our bodies and bikes inside just as the storm hit.

After we were out of the storm, we made a call into MTB Radio and sent a text to Mark to let him (and others) know what was going on, and that we were safe. We kept one eye on the radar, but also tried to eat some food and maybe catch a bit of rest while we waited for the storms to pass. It was obvious that another cell was headed our direction, so we decided to stay in place until that one passed by and then try and get moving. Luckily, we had time in the bank from earlier in the day, as it was 3:30 AM when we were finally able to start moving again. Two hours had passed, and while most of us were just a bit stiff from the break, our group was starting to shrink. Corey Godfrey had gotten too cold during the break and decided he was unable to go on. Corey had been riding strong all day and had been a steady source of encouragement and conversation to the group for the entire day, and it hurt me to see him go back in the barn and close the door behind him. Ben Oney had been battling stomach issues for some time after Norway, and they had finally caught up with him. He had called his girlfriend while we were stopped and arranged for her to come and pick him up in just up the road in Gladbrook.

We had a big push south out of Gladbrook. While it wasn't a headwind, the strong crosswinds were making everyone work and making it hard to hear or think. Along here, we passed Robert Fry who, based on his pace and state of dress, was obviously feeling the effects of both the long day and the storms that had passed. I thought that Sarah had slowed to talk to Robert and even heard her yell at him over the wind. I would find out after the race ended that she had gotten a flat tire at this point and was yelling to let us know. We rode on, leaving Sarah and Robert together. We made our way into Montour, on some of the very same roads we rolled over during TIV9. We were in a pattern of pedaling, breathing and eating. I was getting a bit disoriented as far as what direction we were heading. The roads were still hilly, and the scenery was still bleak but beautiful. At one point I rounded a corner, only to have to swerve around a large bull snake that was sitting in the middle of my line. We entered a small gathering of houses that turned out to be named Ferguson, and we were through it before I knew what happened. After a few miles, we turned east into the headwind and our pace slowed significantly. However, we knew that a town was coming up, so our small group of five buckled down and pedaled on. Like Norway, the convenience store in Gilman had a number of bikes sitting out front, and a number of riders attempting to warm up and figure out how to proceed. We went inside and fell into our normal routine of slipping out of wet clothes and refueling. Matt Gersib was sitting inside and was pulling the plug, despite being 40 miles from the finish. He was convinced he would not be able to handle anymore riding into the headwinds. I talked to Matt and tried to convince him to sit in behind us for the headwind push, but he had already made the call to both Mark and his wife, and he was sticking to his plan.

Our group, now down to four, headed out of town and after a few short miles, I found myself looking with dread at the next two cues -  L onto 318th. R on 90th. This was 9 miles straight into the headwind, with some big hills thrown in for good measure. We got into a paceline and Josh Brown went to the front and started pulling, like he had been doing for a good portion of the early morning. Mike pulled up next to me and told me this was the long headwind push that Matt Gersib had talked about. I nodded and said that all we could do was put our heads down and keep pedaling. Josh, Patrick Lackey and I settled into slow, but steady pace. Unfortunately, this was faster than Mike wanted or was able to go at this point. Having ridden with Mike most of the day, I knew that he was riding his own race and his own pace. If we would have slowed down, I was certain that he wasn't going to try and match our pace, even if it was in a draft. Josh, Patrick and I continued on, with Josh powering us into the headwind for almost all of this stretch. As we took the right onto 90th, I knew we were going to finish, it was just a matter of when, although I was worried about the condition of the B roads that were marked on the cues. Amazingly, both were ridable, probably due to the strong winds that had been blowing throughout the morning. As we looked at the last few cues, I was getting elated, and Josh couldn't understand why. After a bit of conversation, he had figured out that we would have a tailwind to the finish, and not a headwind like he thought. Both he and Patrick were happy that they were going to finish their rookie TransIowa. Mark managed to find 5 miles of hills and fresh rock for our last big tailwind leg just to make sure we were completely worked over. At the end of this section, the three of us stopped so that I could remove a few layers. The sun was up, and I was still riding with rain pants and some other insulating layers on. We had decided to spread out a bit so that everyone could finish on their own and enjoy a bit of time in the spotlight at the finish. In the end, Josh finished 8th, I finished 9th and Patrick finished 10th. Once out of the headwind section, Mike turned on the afterburners and came in just two minutes behind Patrick in 11th.

Once again, I had the support and congratulations of my friends and wife at the finish. Cold beer from Kyle Sedore in my hand almost as soon as I stopped (and demolished in record time) and a big hug from my wife. I was happy to be done and, at the same time, sorry that it was over.

A few thank yous to close this out -

Thank you Mark, for putting together a tough course for TIV10. The B roads, rain and the winds, despite being out of your control, made an already tough course even tougher. Thank you for 10 years of allowing us to have fun.

A huge thank you to my teammate, Mike Johnson, for digging me out of a deep dark hole at CP2. Without his race experience, and concern for me at that point in the race, I would not have finished this year. I cannot ask for a finer person as a teammate and as a friend.

Thank you to my coach, JJ Bailey at Zoom Performance, for getting me ready for this adventure, and many more over the next several months.

Thank you to Cindy McGuire at Hands On Sports Massage for keeping me in tip top shape, and being a great sounding board.

Thank you to all of my friends, old and new, that rode with me this winter and spring. You made prepping for TransIowa much less lonely for me.

Lastly, a huge thank you and "I love you" to my wife for letting me play bikes for the last 5 months, putting up with my crazy training schedule, plans, and keeping me company during the many hours I spent in the basement this winter.

Monday, May 5, 2014

TransIowa V10 - Race Report - Pt 1

My alarm went off at 2:30 AM, but I was already awake. Another TransIowa start was 90 minutes away and I could not stay in bed any longer. I took my clothes into the bathroom so that my roommate, Vin Cox could catch a few more precious minutes of sleep. I checked the temperature and made my clothing selections - 45NRTH merino t-shirt, standard bibs and jersey, arm and leg warmers, 45NRTH Greasy hat, lightweight Salsa windvest and a medium weight pair of Specialized gloves. By the time I was dressed, Vin's alarm had roused him from slumber and he, too, was in the process of getting ready for the upcoming day. Soon, we were both sitting in the hotel's breakfast room, along with a number of other riders, filling our stomachs with what we hoped were enough of, and the right, calories to get us safely to checkpoint one.

A number of us gathered at the front of the hotel, so we could ride to the start as a group. Leaving the hotel, I rode alongside one of my teammates, Brett Bebbe, and chatted. It was a cordial ride, good for spinning out the legs, with one hard sprint up a small hill to get them slightly warmed up for the day's work. Once we arrived at the start line, riders continued to arrive, flash bulbs flashed, and the level of excitement and nervousness continued to increase. Mark Stevenson, the Race director, took the opportunity to remind us about the railroad tracks and B road that we would encounter within the first few miles of the race. Soon, the countdown was on. A horn beeped, and I, along with 103 other cyclists, followed a dusty maroon pickup truck through the streets of Grinnell and into the black of rural Poweshiek county.

Unlike the start of TIV9, the people at the tip of the race opted to gently ease up to speed, rather than hit the gas hard. After a few rollers strung the field out, I found myself in a swiftly moving double pace line, keeping pace with the others, but not working outside of my comfort level. The tracks were bad, as promised. I lost one of my 3 full water bottles while hurtling over the second set. I opted to leave the bottle and keep moving, rather than lose contact with the main group. The wind was relatively benign and I wanted to make as much progress on the course as possible before it intensified. As we approached the first of ten promised sections of B roads, I allowed a small gap to form to the riders in front of me. I figured that would give me enough time to figure out if the road was ridable without sacrificing too much of my driveline. It turned out that this road was ridable, much to everyone's surprise,. I spent the next few minutes following the tracks of those that had entered ahead of me, shifting my weight to maintain traction as my bike crested the small hills that this road traversed. At the exit, a quick check of my tires and driveline showed nothing to worry about, so I continued to ride on, letting the movement of the wheels and the abrasiveness of the limestone clean the mud from my tires.

After a bit, I found myself in the company of Paul LaCava and another rider. We talked briefly and stayed together until we pulled up next to Matt Gersib. Matt had told us there was a group of four to six riders ahead, but that he dropped off to ride his own race. Paul looked at me and asked if I was going to chase them down. I knew it was going to be a long day, and I was happy with my current pace, so I told Paul "no". With that, he and the other rider picked up their cadence and steadily rode away from Matt and me. Paul would go on to finish the race in second place overall. Matt and I rode together and chatted for quite a while. I don't get to see Matt too often, so it was good to spend some time turning pedals with him in the quiet of the morning. We quickly noted that no one else seemed to be working their way up to us, we weren't even able to see any headlights at the top of hills when we looked back. This caused me a bit of concern, but I was still feeling comfortable with our pace, so I continued on. We marveled at the beauty of the fire red crescent moon with Venus in the east sky and pedaled on. A bit after sunrise, I noticed it was almost too quiet, and I looked back to see that Matt and I had split from each other. Matt is an experienced rider, and was obviously riding his race, so I continued past the photography crew and up the hill behind them. I arrived in Lynnville and took a brief wrong turn due to some worn street signs. I quickly corrected my error and got back on course. I saw the checkpoint ahead of me on the main street, but opted to drop into the convenience store first. Through poor race craft, I was behind on calories and fluids a bit, and I also needed to replace the water bottle I lost at the railroad tracks. The winds had been picking up since sunrise, and I knew that even four bottles was probably not going to be enough for the next 120 miles. The volunteers at the checkpoint were friendly and efficient. I had new cues quickly and they took any trash I had from me at that time as well.
As I finished a bottle of V8, I saw another rider coming in. At first, I thought it was Matt Gersib, but I could tell by the silhouette that it wasn't. In a few seconds, the smiling (?) face of Mike Johnson came into view. It didn't take Mike long to get his cues swapped and other affairs in order, and soon we were riding out of town together.

Mike and I rode together for a while, but it was becoming apparent that, although we were headed the same direction, our paces were different. Mike was locked into his plan and wasn't going to alter it, at least not with just two of us fighting against the east wind. Soon after, I was riding by myself again. The next 50+ miles passed without much fanfare. I stopped a couple of times to eat and to take a quick bio break and kept fighting the hills and the headwind. I found myself nodding off and yawning a few times, even though it was only between 10 or 11 AM. I wasn't sure what the cause was, but it had me concerned. A few miles west of North English, Joe Fox and a couple of other riders pulled up next to me. After riding by myself, it was nice to have some people to draft off of and share the work with. Joe said they had been catching glimpses of me for quite a while, but they weren't able to bridge up to me until just then. We rode together into North English and took a much needed break at the Casey's on the main highway. I remembered this Casey's from my TIV5 attempt, and at this point it looked much the same - Sunny with bunches of tired cyclists hanging out all around the building. Due to the heat and hills, I hadn't been eating properly for the past few hours, and had started to dig a hole in my energy reserves. I went in to the store, grabbed a chocolate milk, ice cream bar, a slice of pizza, a coke, a v8 and some water. As I was working through my pile of food, some riders left and others arrived. Soon, a good sized group rolled in - Ben Oney, Mike Johnson, Corey Godfrey, Josh Brown, Patrick Lackey, and a two other riders. Not too long after Sarah Cooper rolled in, looking fresh as a daisy. Mike reminded me, and others in his group, that the next C-store was the one that was supposed to have a limited selection of stuff. I passed that info onto Sarah and went in for a second round of food. Deciding that I was better off sharing the workload instead of trying to power through another 60 miles on my own, I cast my lot with Mike, Ben, Corey and the rest of their group. This was one of the smartest decisions that I would make all day.

As we headed north out North English, I remembered that the road we were riding on was also in TIV5. I also remembered that it was a series of big rollers, and we were going to be attacking them with a 20+ MPH crosswind. Remembering the sage advice Charles Parsons imparted on me in TIV9 - "Nothing but positive words from your mouth" - I said nothing about the upcoming hills. They were there, the winds were what they were, and we would deal with them, like those ahead of us had already done. We rode north for five or six miles, then turned west and enjoyed the tailwind for another four miles. Sarah Cooper, who had ridden with us since we left North English, turned on the afterburners on the tailwind sections and was gone. A couple of others in the group asked me what was going on, to which I replied that she had a lot of ultra distance experience and was riding her own race. I don't remember only bits and pieces about the rest of this section. We stopped near a river for a bio break and so I could apply some chamois cream to my shorts and backside. We made a right turn onto R Avenue west of the Amana Colonies and rode through a lovely flat section with lots of trees for a bit. The next left turn had us charging down a B road that I had chased riders up in the middle of the night during TIV7. It was really nice to be able to see the road during the day, as well as have it be perfectly rideable. Not too long after that B road, we arrived at Checkpoint 2. I had still been fighting sleep through the last fifty or so miles, and was becoming concerned that I was a danger to myself as well as the group I was riding with. I considered my options and, as the group prepared to leave, I got Mike Johnson's attention and made a slashing gesture across my throat. Mike motioned for me to pull up next to him and we talked for a bit. I was tired, I was sore, and just about to the point where I was going to crack. Mike convinced me to just sit in the group, refuel at the convenience store, and think things through. Although I knew I was less than a mile from the convenience store if I rode off course, Mike convinced me to follow him back to the group, which seemed like it was soft pedaling a bit to help make my decision easier. Although the roads were flat and we had a bit of a tail wind, the next few miles to the convenience store on Norway were some of the longest that I had ridden all day. My body and mind were in survival mode at this point, and I knew it. After just under fifteen hours since the start of the race, we were 183 miles in, and I had a short amount of time to make a big decision.