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.