Thursday, December 28, 2006

Trans Iowa - 2005

"Pain is temporary, quitting is forever. Forever is a long time, but pain hurts…decisions, decisions." Unknown I believe the above quote, which I borrowed from an Internet message board, just about sums up my experience at the inaugural Trans-Iowa race. The race is one I will not soon forget because of the camaraderie with fellow racers, the tortuous 25+ mph winds and the lovely rural landscape of northern Iowa. Attrition was the overriding theme for the race as 51 racers took the start from Hawarden, Iowa and only 9 made it to the finish 305 miles later in Decorah, Iowa. Fortunately (I think), I was among the lucky finishers, completing the race in around 26 hours. The key to my race success was eating a lot and often, drinking a lot and often and resisting the urge to quit during the hours of 2:00am to 5:30am on Sunday morning. I ended up in 6th place and as I sit here on Sunday evening I feel pretty good, all things considered. We’ll see how I feel Monday morning at work. The winner was Ira Ryan from Portland, Oregon riding a cross bike with what looked like 700 x 32 tires. He did it in sub-24 hours.For the unfamiliar, Trans-Iowa is a 305-mile point-to-point race across Northern Iowa consisting of 95% gravel roads, 4% pavement, and 1% singletrack. The race started in rural Hawarden, Iowa near the border of Nebraska and heads east finishing in Decorah, Iowa. Making it more challenging is that the race is completely un-supported, meaning there are no aid stations and no outside assistance is permitted, except at the single checkpoint located at 127 miles in Algona, Iowa. Also adding to the difficulty is that there was a 10-hour cutoff to reach Algona and a 30-hour time limit to complete the entire 305 miles. Trans Iowa is the brainchild of Jeff Kerkove and Guitar Ted (sorry I can’t recall his real name) of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Tired of 12 & 24 solo events that charge hundreds of dollars in entry fees and send you around the same circuit ad nausea and inspired by other unsupported off road endurance races, Jeff and Guitar Ted decided to promote a new race…Trans-Iowa. Their creation (or their madness, depending on your perspective) is a 305-mile, unsupported point-to-point race across the gravel roads of Iowa with a very modest, bordering on ridiculously low $20 entry fee. They limited the field to 50 entrants and all the spots were filled within 30 days. I was able to enter the event when a registered rider canceled in March and l was fortunate to get the spot (I wasn't feeling so lucky at 4:00am!!). Overall, Jeff and Guitar Ted with the help of a strong group of volunteers did a great job on this first year event, which will hopefully become an annual one. Thanks guys. My Mom and Dad and I departed Cleveland at 5:30pm on Thursday evening and headed west towards Iowa. Thanks for coming Mom and Dad. We drove until about midnight and grabbed a cheap motel in Peru, Illinois. We were back on the road by 7:00am the next morning and made it to Hawarden by 4:00pm (central time). The event promoters had reserved a large private room at the Pizza Ranch, a rather large midwestern pizza franchise, for a pre-race meal. We dined on a plentiful pizza/past buffet, met some new people and received our race bags complete with route sheets, race numbers, free sunglasses and lots of other generous goodies. Best race swag I’ve ever got…unbelievable…all for $20 entry fee. A bargain at $0.07/mile. After dinner we rested in the hotel and I checked over my bike and packed my hydration pack and seat bag. I ended up going to bed at midnight as I stayed up late to watch the weather reports for Saturday and Sunday. The good news was that there would be clear skies, no precipitation and highs in the low to mid 50s. The bad news was overnight lows in high 20s and 20-25 mph winds from the North (with gusts up to 35 mph). We got up at around 5:30am, checked out and made our way to a local diner for a big breakfast consisting of short stack of pancakes, 2 eggs, sausage, toast, orange juice and coffee. What can I say, I like to eat. We arrived at the starting line at 7:15, just in time for the riders meeting, and were greeted by clear skies, temps in the high 30s and strong winds of 20 mph from the north. I had decided to ride my full suspension Specialized Epic, rather than my cyclocross bike, single speed or hardtail because I felt the extra cushion would be beneficial as well as I have done several 100+ mile rides on this set up. At the start, it was obvious not everyone shared my thoughts on bike selection, as there was a wide range of bikes including cyclocross bikes, hardtails with front suspension, fully rigid hardtails and a surprising number of single speed bikes. I carefully considered what I needed to carry with me as far a food, water, and clothing for the first 127-mile leg of the race to Algona. I was vacillating right up to the last moment, but I eventually decided to take my camelback with 70 oz bladder, two bottles of Accelerade, 2 PBJs, 4 Gel packs and a Powerbar. It was still not enough, as ran out of water about 80 miles into the race, but I was lucky to happen upon a nice man working in his yard who let me fill up my bottles and camelback from his well. Anyway we started right at 8:00am with a 2-mile neutral roll out. After the car broke off, the pace immediately quickened and the group for the first time felt the brunt of the 20+ mph cross wind from the North. Despite the wind and the miles that lay ahead, the pace was faster than I thought it might be. Within a mile or two we were “lined out” and by the 15-mile mark I noticed that the front group was already down to 20 or so. At about the 20 mile mark, a group of 5-7 rolled off the front. As I would later learn these guys were all on cyclocross bikes and based on their high pace appeared to not know this was a 300-mile race!! I thought for sure these guys would all blow up and come back to us, but despite their hard pace setting, 4 of the 9 total finishers would come from this group as well as the 1st and 2nd place racers. Behind the front group (hereafter referred to as the cyclocross guys), there were 8 or so of us that were chasing and the rest of the 51 starters were somewhere further back. At about the 40-mile mark we encountered the second B road section, which consisted of a dirt only path, wide enough for agricultural equipment, with no gravel that because of the prior days rain was pretty muddy. Just as we were approaching this section, myself and Patty from Canada, whose was riding a single speed with a 44x16 gear selection (what’s up with that?), had rolled away from the chase group. As we came to the B road section, the cyclocross guys had dismounted and were carrying their bikes in the grass to the side of the B road as it looked unrideable. So Patty from Canada rolls right through it and I follow and it is turns out to be rideable after all. So Patty and I are in 1st and 2nd with only 260 miles to go. I joked with Patty about there being a cash prime at the 50-mile mark. I don't think he believed me. The cyclocross guys, whose names I later learned were Ira, Brian, Jim and Steve caught up to us and I rode with them for 10-15 miles until I flatted. In hindsight, flatting was the best thing that could have happened as I was pushing it a little too hard with the front group. It took me about 4-5 minutes to fix the flat and by that time the chase group had caught and passed me. I rode the next 30 miles more or less by myself and this was when I stopped and begged for water from the friendly grass cutting Iowan. At about the 80-mile mark a group of 4 caught me. I would later learn their names, Joe Partridge, Todd Scott and Mike Curiak. Joe and Todd where riding single speeds and Mike was riding a sweet Moots softail with 700 Zipp carbon wheels. Before the race I considered riding my single speed for approximately 5 seconds but even I realized a riding a single speed in this event was not very prudent. A while later we caught up to Jeff Kerkove, the race promoter and a few others. At the 100-mile mark, we passed through another town and all but Mike Curiak and I turned off to refuel. I rode with Mike for the next 27 miles until we arrive in Algona. During this I learned that Mike Curiak, on the Moots with 700 Zipps, is from Colorado and has competed and won several off road bike races including the 350 mile Alaska Iditabike, the 1,100 mile Alaska Iditabike, the 2,500 Continental Divide race and countless others. It was nice to chat with someone to help pass the time and I figured if I could stick with Mike I stood a good chance of finishing in light of his top-notch cycling palmares. At least I would not die of exposure with Mike!! Right before Algona, Patty from Canada caught us pushing a ridiculously huge 44x16 gear on his Cannondale 1FG single speed. We arrived in Algona and I switched out my front wheel, lubed my chain, grabbed more warm clothes, ate a 6-inch subway Italian sub, grabbed more bottles, filled my camelback, and forgot my clear glasses (rats!). Within 20 minutes or less, I was back on the road. As it turned out, Mike Curiak and eventual second place finisher Brian (one of the cyclocross guys on a Redline) were leaving Algona at the same time. As we rode together, they informed me that only Alex Dolp (on a Specialized hardtail with front suspension), who I had met at a Mohican 100 last year was ahead of us by some 12 minutes. The rest of the cyclocross guys that had led the race, took a longer break in Algona, however, within 10 miles they caught us. For about 10 miles we all rode together, until Mike and I dropped off the pace. Having never ridden 300 miles at one time, I was more concerned with finishing than winning and thought I should stay with Mike the Alaska Guy given his experience in ultra endurance events (not to mention his survival skills, if things got really ugly). Mike and I celebrated the 150 mile half way mark with a high five. By the time we hit the 160-miles, we had our lights on, extra jackets on and were settling into a groove for the night. We nearly caught Alex Dolp, who had obviously been caught and dropped by the cyclocross guys, but we never quite did. At 175 miles, which I guess was around midnight, the two single speeders, Joe and Todd caught up to us. Joe was riding a single speed Airborne with titanium rigid fork and Todd was riding a fully rigid Kona hardtail. Each of them had chosen a far more sensible gear selection than Patty from Canada’s 44x16. We rode together until we got to the next town where we stopped at a Hardees to refuel. Two of the cyclocross guys (Jim and Steve) had just finished a burger and fries and were getting ready to roll out. Mike and Joe stayed behind at the Hardees, while Todd and I followed Jim and Steve. I rode with them for 5-10 miles but I dropped off by myself again because I wanted to pace myself. Soon Mike and Joe caught me and we rode together until we passed through the next town. It was about 3:00am or so and as we came into town, Jim and Steve, 2 of the cyclocross guys, were just leaving. Joe and I HAD to stop for water and food, however, Mike and my old pal Patty from Canada followed them. Joe and I were pretty messed up at this point. It must have been pretty humorous (or pathetic) he and I stumbling around a 24-hour quickie mart at 3:00am in full cycling kit both throat deep in the hurt locker. If that town had a hotel, I would have probably checked in and DNFed right there. Unfortunately the only option was to keep going. It was at this point I made a decision that in hindsight allowed me to finish this race…I bought 2 cheese, egg and sausage breakfast burritos. They were hot and looked delicious, so I devoured one and put the other in my jersey pocket, which secondarily kept my back nice and warm. Joe looked at me like I was crazy, but they sure were yummy. Joe and I rolled out of town and for the next few hours things were ugly…until 5:30am and the sun began to rise to bring light to the previously dark northern Iowa plains. Anyone that has done a 24 hour race know what a beautiful site that rising sun is…the suffering of night behind you and the hope that daylight will bring renewed energy and eventually the end of the race. Joe and I soldiered though the 265 mile mark until we got to the next town, where we parted ways. Joe went into town to rest up while I forged onward solo. What Joe and I did not know at the time (although I suspected it) is that we were the last 2 racers on the course, 8th and 9th place. As the race promoter warned us, the last 35-40 miles were the hardest of the race with endless supply of steep rollers and 2 or 3 legitimate 1 mile or so climbs. With the temperatures climbing to the mid to upper 40s, I stopped to shed some layers and to put some sunglasses on. I was feeling pretty good at this point so I picked up the pace with the hope of perhaps catching some of the now shrinking field. For about 10 miles I hammered in the big ring a section of rollers and was surprised how good my legs felt, rarely letting my pace over the rollers dip below 13-15 mph. At about 290 miles I caught Jim and Steve, two of the cyclocross guys. It sounded like they had a rough night in the cold and had taken some wrong turns that caused them to ride unnecessarily some steep hills. I rode with them for a few miles and quizzed them about who was ahead of us and who had dropped out. They told me a guy named Ira from Oregon and Brian from Colorado (two of the cyclocross guys) were ahead but they had not seen or heard anything from them since the 200 mile mark. I also learned that Todd Scott on the fully rigid Kona single speed had dropped them and that Patty from Canada was up the road on still pushing the massive 44x16 gear on his single speed. And much to my surprise, they also told me that Mike Curiak (Moots with 700 Zipps), Jeff Kerkove (race promoter), and Ernesto Marenchin (2004 winner of 24 Hours of Snowshoe) had dropped out of the race. They also told me that only 16 guys left Algona for the 2nd half of the course. So after getting an idea what was going on with the race standings, I told Jim and Steve I was going to try and catch Paddy from Canada and I quickly attacked. I hammered the next section of rollers and tried to get out of sight, which is hard to do in the plains of Iowa. I kept thinking they were going to catch me so I kept a hard pace going. The last few climbs were tough, but the last few miles of the course were awesome with a 25 mph tailwind roller section that was like an amusement park ride and a long twisty downhill finish that made me wonder if I was still in Iowa or had been transported to some strange land via a time space continuum. I reached the finish line and the looks of respect and disbelief from the modest crowd was satisfaction enough for a race I won’t soon forget. Thanks to Mom and Dad for spending a weekend road tripping with me and for driving my carcass home. Thank again to Jeff and Guitar Ted for promoting this event. Thanks for reading. –Brett

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