I'll start posting more regular updates and meanderings during the next 7 weeks leading up to this years Grumpy Grind 7, so check back often.
Well I've been silent for a while now on this blog, but the weather is finally cracking and it's time to start providing some thoughts on this years Grumpy Grind. It has certainly been a tough winter for riding. Aside from the crazy elements our weather has provided, I've personally have been dealing with a stress fracture in my foot and had to forego most any aspiration for outdoor riding the last couple of months. As many of you know, when your physical health is in a funk, so to your mind can follow. I have always looking forward to spring riding and training for upcoming gravel rides, but I just didn't have the same enthusiasm this year. But now the weather is finally showing signs of warming up, and I'm finally able to get on the bike again. Perspective is shifting and things are looking up.
This big change regarding this years Grumpy Grind is that I have upped the mileage to 140 miles. I'm not sure it was a good idea to make such a drastic mileage change in the ride, but as I mentioned on the home page of the website, it was just something I wanted to do. Normally by now I would have had at least 75 pre-registered riders, but as it currently sits, there are only 13. I guess that should tell me something. Maybe change is not always good? Regardless, I can say that I have chosen a route that is challenging and enjoyable (yes, it is possible to enjoy riding 140 miles). If you choose to come ride, there are towns around mile 80 and mile 100 where you can choose to cash your chips in and call for a ride (from your own support crew). I have provided a challenging route, and the event is free, so it's worth testing your mettle to see how far you can go. I have a theory I tell my son... "When you can ride 30 miles, then you can probably ride 60. And if you can ride 60, why not just do 100. And by the time you ride 100, you might as well just do the last 40 and finish." I'm not sure there is whole lot of logic in those thoughts, but the ideas is that you are always probably capable of more than you realize. And gravel riders are all just a little bit crazy, right?
I'll start posting more regular updates and meanderings during the next 7 weeks leading up to this years Grumpy Grind 7, so check back often.
The spring is a busy time of year for me. The two things that take up the bulk of my time are coaching my kids soccer team, and preparing for and organizing the Grumpy Grind. Oh yeah, and I try and sneak in some training rides for another round of TransIowa (coming up next week!). All of these things are important to me, but rarely do they ever balance themselves out too well. My focus the last couple of weeks was on putting the final touches together for the Grumpy Grind 6.
Sunday's Grumpy Grind 6 proved to be a great day for riding. 90 riders started the event, and 82 of them finished. Those numbers both are pretty good for my event. Some of those riders were hearty gravel riders, like Kae Takeshita, a gravel worlds champion rider. And Bryce Mead, a local rider and former pro who burned up the coarse averaging over 19mph for the duration of 86 miles. Whoa! There were also plenty of first time riders who conquered the course and finished with exhausted grins on their faces.
I don't want to get overly mushy, but I really want to thank all of those who rode the event, all of those who volunteered their time in helping, and all of you who donated to help fund what turned out to be another great Grumpy Grind. I am always humbled by the willingness of my volunteers (mostly friends) who pitch in on the day of the event each year. And I'm grateful so many riders choose to come. Driving to Milledgeville to do this event is basically choosing to drive to the middle of nowhere with faith and hope that something good will come of it.
The Grumpy Grind isn't the biggest gravel event on the map by any stretch, and never will be, but I think I put together a challenging ride with amenities that make for a positive experience. That being said, not everything about the day was perfect. There were some missed turns by some, a few mechanicals, a strong head wind from time to time, and even a rumor about a "fight" among a group of riders who disputed which way to go. But those are all part of the adventure.
Next year the farm at which we have started at the last five years will be turned into a Dairy Barn once again. So the venue will have to change. This in turn means the date will likely change too, but we'll see. I don't have the answers to when and where the next Grumpy Grind will be, but I do plan on it happening. I hope all who rode and are reading this search the events page next year to see what the next Grumpy Grind has in store. I'll do my best to make it an adventure worth showing up for.
On one final note. I did not take many pictures, but a friend of mine stopped by in the afternoon and took some photos. I think he missed the lead pack of riders, but there are plenty of pictures of riders coming in over the last twenty miles. Click on the link to check out some nicely taken Grumpy Grind 2018 Photos.
We woke up to another morning of snow here in Sterling. My mom sent me a text that explained the weather by saying "happy 96th day of January." Right now my iphone is telling me it's 55 degrees outside. The weather is completely confused with what it's supposed to be doing right now. But the good news is it looks like it's going to be a pretty nice day for a ride on Sunday. It should be sunny and around 60 degrees if the forecast holds true. So make sure you bring plenty of liquids and sun screen, our bodies might go into shock with anything that looks remotely like spring.
I'm putting together all my last minute touches on the ride during the next two days, so this will likely be my last post prior to the event. If you have a specific question for me, either contact me on the contact page or post a comment and I'll get back to you asap.
The biggest thing you need to remember for this ride is that "This ride is a completely self-supported ride. Please come prepared." Please don't have friend following you and taking up space on the road that could make the roads unsafe for other riders. If you know you won't finish, call your pit crew for a ride, or have them meet you at the checkpoint at Wishful Acres Brewery.
Here are few last thoughts for those who are coming to ride.
-If you are camping out the night before please park along the field on the east side of the property so you don't have to repark your car in the morning. If you choose to sleep in the barn for some reason, please know I will be there around 6:30 Sunday morning and I might wake you up while setting some things up for the day. Just letting you know.
-Cue cards will come in a plastic baggie. The cues are not printed in waterproof ink, so don't get them wet. Trust your cue cards and not necessarily the person in front of you.
-There will be some unmarked corners. Those corners will be marked with a pink flag on a stake that alerts you that you should be turning the direction indicated on your cue sheet. There will be a couple of turns that will actually have an arrow because they are a bit confusing. Just use common sense with these markers, I promise it won't be confusing at all.
-Please ride safe. The roads will be quiet on a Sunday morning, but please still obey road signs. Perhaps the biggest thing I need to remind riders of is to always "Ride Right" when cresting a hill. A head on collision with a car is the last thing you want to happen at an event like this (or any time).
-Please make sure you sign in inside the barn to let us know you are there. Everyone needs to sign an event waiver, and after doing so you will receive your cue cards.
-And lastly, I continue to get postcards telling me what size shirt the person wears. If you read the registration page, it says specifically that your postcard had to be received by March 31st to get a t-shirt. I did not order extra shirts, so please don't expect one if you registered after that date. There may be some extra if some of those people are no-shows, but that is the only way you will be getting one. Sorry.
That's all I have. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!
Tis the ides of April and we are one week away from the 6th riding of the Grumpy Grind. It's right around now when I get emails with often repeated questions, so I'll answer a few of them to the masses. I apologize in advance if my answers are a little blunt, but that is the easiest way to respond to some questions.
*Question: Can I get the route ahead of time to download into my GPS.
Answer: No. Cue cards will be provided to all riders who sign in the morning of the ride. That's just how this event works.
*Question: Can I still sign up the morning of the ride even though I didn't send in a postcard?
Answer: Absolutely! I won't turn anyone away. The purpose of pre-registering with a postcard is so I can plan ahead with swag and other provisions. But the more the merrier! Let's ride!
*Question: Will the food guy accept credit cards?
Answer: No. Bring cash. It authentic and good Mexican food!
*Question: Are there showers available after the ride?
Answer: No. Sorry, this is a farm in the middle of nowhere, not the YMCA.
*Question: What does a cue card look like?
Answer: Cue cards are very simple. Refer to the image below.
R or L- means turn "Right" or turn "Left".
QL or QR: means "Quick Left" or "Quick Right. Usually this means a turn is around a tenth of a mile after the previous turn.
ST: means "Stay straight" on the road you are on. Normally this isn't a necessary cue, but points where there may be some point of confusion it will be noted.
CR or CL: means "Curve Right" or "Curve Left". This is usually noted only if there is confusion or if the road changes name after the curve.
XX: Means you are at the "Checkpoint" or "Finish". Both good places.
Your odometer should be pretty close to the noted mileage marked for each turn. The cues really are simple. Collaborate with your fellow riders and make a common sense decision if you are in doubt.
*Question: Is there food at the Checkpoint?
Answer: No. There will be water, powdered Gatorade, and some sweets like gummy bears and fig newtons, but no buffet of energy bars. Be prepared with enough food and drink to ride 86 miles. There will be a bathroom available at the checkpoint. The checkpoint is at Wishful Acres Brewery, and they do serve a cheese plate and soft pretzels, but they do not serve a full menu, so don't rely on the brewery for nourishment (but the beer is delicious).
*Question: What do I do if I have a mechanical breakdown or can't finish?
Answer: I don't know. This is a completely self-supported ride, so come prepared with a pit crew or some other plan for this type of unfortunate scenario. There will NOT be any SAG to pick you up. Sorry.
*Question: Can I still get a t-shirt?
Answer: Not likely. Only riders 1-55 on the Official Rider List sent in their postcards by the deadline to receive a shirt. If there are any extras, they'll be $10 a piece.
Okay, that's all I've got for now. I'll post a time or two more before it all goes down next Sunday. The weather forecast is putting us at around 55 degrees with cloudy skies for the day of the ride, but who knows if that will change. I'm getting pretty used to riding in this gloomy never ending winter weather we have, as I'm sure many of you are too. We might not know what to do if the sun shines on us for too long. It looks like things are shaping up to be a true "Grumpy Grind." See you soon.
We're down to less than two weeks to go until the Grumpy Grind. Registration postcards are still trickling in. I'm sure there are many riders who are still on the fence about coming and will make that final decision based on the weather. Last year I ordered up some amazing weather, and I'm trying to do the same this year, but so far weather management doesn't want to cooperate. For those of you who have committed, I'm just just going to say I think it's a pretty darn good course and it's going to be a great day for a ride (wind, rain, or snow?). With that in mind, I'm going to go over some things to know about the ride in today's post, and in the posts to follow over the next week.
THING TO KNOW:
*This is a completely self supported ride. Enough said. I'm not coming to get you. Normally my volunteers have the event covered and I get to ride, so I would be of no help anyways.
*You can camp out at the farm the night before if you'd like. Just be respectful of the farmer and his property. Usually there is a bonfire going and people have a good time camping out.
*RV's are welcome too, though I'm not sure there are any outlets available for keeping your electrical going.
*All riders must check in inside the barn for registration. This is where all riders must sign an event waiver, receive cue cards and a souvenir race bib.
*Ride starts promptly at 9:00. We won't wait for you.
*Riders must wear a helmet. If you don't bring any supplies for repairs or an odometer for mileage... well that's just silly. Come prepared.
*All riders must check in at the 47 mile checkpoint. Total mileage is 85.75 miles, so don't back track the course to get home or it will take you longer.
*The checkpoint is at Wishful Acres Brewery. If you only plan to go halfway, it's a great place to stop and have a delicious beverage. Just make sure to arrange for a ride home.
*A Mexican food vendor will be cooking it up at the finish area. It is NOT free. He accepts cash only.
*There will be free beverages at the finish... soda, lemonade, water and cerveza.
*If it is rainy or chilly out, the farmer usually has some heaters going in the barn, but dress accordingly just in case.
*If you made the cut-off for early registration, I'll have a t-shirt waiting for you. You'll get the size you ordered, no exchanges. There may be some extra available for sale for $10 for those who didn't register early.
*The first 75 finishers will receive a finishers mug.
My goal is to organize an event that has good food, good swag, great riding, and great participants. The concept is very grass roots like. It is a free event, but it really runs off of donations by those who value the event and the vibe it offers. If you have already committed to come, I hope to see you in two weeks. If you're undecided, just know you'll be missing out if you don't. Now if we can just get some sunny skies and 70 degree weather!
As a teacher I had spring break this past week, leaving me ample time to do some course recon rides to make sure all my cues were spot on. The weather for the week wasn't bad, but it still didn't have that warm feel I was wanting. Hopefully this means it is holding out to be a beautiful later in the month. I was impressed by the gravel road conditions. The recent grating of gravel, combined with snows and rain, actually made for some super smooth roads after the cars packed it down. And then there were some roads that the grating just clumped up the dirt from the "shoulder" making for a mess of a road. Still, it wasn't sloppy, and it was nice to be able to ride without have a dirty back or needing to clean my bike afterwards. At 86 miles, this course is the longest of any Grumpy Grinds. But as I told a friend, even though it is 86 miles, it really only feels like 79!
So what is the course like? Some parts will be familiar to those who have ridden the Grumpy Grind before, and some parts will be new. About 90% of the roads will be gravel. There will be some great scenery overlooking wide landscapes, some hilly wooded areas, plenty of rolling hills and false flats, and a few flat spots. Every time the course wears you out with hills, it will back off and give you a few miles of respite. And likewise, just about the time you think it is a little boring, some scenery or hill will come your way and you'll be once again energized. It's a fun course. It even goes by two microbreweries, with one being the checkpoint! But be wary of the sound of the brewery sirens, and resist the urge to stop or you'll be calling on your pit crew or uber (if they go out that far) to give you a ride back to the start/finish. Overall, I find it to be a pretty "fun" course.
The deadline for postcard registrants to receive free t-shirts was today. So if you see you're name on the list today (riders 1-55), you made the "free" cut. Sorry to those who didn't make it. I've had registrants send me postcards as early as December, so you had ample chance to get them in. Riders can still send me a registration postcard if you plan to participate. It helps me plan for the event accordingly. You can send them in all the way up to the date of the ride. You can do event day registration too, but it's a nice courtesy to register ahead of time. We're only three weeks away my friends, it's time to get out and ride!
We are 5 weeks away from the Grumpy Grind and the weather still can't make up its mind on how it wants to behave. This picture was taken last weekend when it was about 45 degrees and the gravel was soft and dirty. This morning I rode on gravel that was covered with barely rideable crunchy ice. I'm ready for hard packed roads and 60 degree weather, but March riding in Illinois rarely treats us so kindly. Still, it's better than being on the trainer, and I need to get some miles on my legs to prepare for some upcoming rides I have planned.
There has been a steady trickling of postcards coming in lately. I'd like to thank those who have sent some creative imagery and handmade cards. It's always a treat to find those in the mailbox and my kids really get a kick out of them. I know there a lot of people who are intimidated by long early spring rides and are unwilling to commit to the Grumpy Grind just yet, and that is fine, but here is a little incentive for all of you who may be on the fence about coming. There will be a deadline for free t-shirts given to riders. That deadline is March 31st. I need to place my order for shirts on April 2nd, so if I don't receive your postcard registration by then, you are out of luck. If there are any extra shirts on the day of the event because of riders who are a no-show, I will be selling those for $10. Also, the first 75 riders who finish the complete distance will receive a finishers mug. So get those postcards sent in, and get training so you can finish strong.
Yesterday I did a final recon drive to make sure the route was going to work out as planned for this years Grumpy Grind. The snow had melted and the gravel was starting to firm up some, so it made for an easy go of things. Every year there are little surprises that pop up, like a bridge being worked on or a great stretch of gravel being surprisingly paved. Everything checked out, and I even found a surprising turn in the course that I think will make for a better ride.
Last year I had many more entries submitted to me by this time of the season. Maybe people are intimidated by the 86 mile route? Maybe it's the winter doldrums still sorting themselves out? Maybe people are still figuring out what their riding plans are for the spring summer? Regardless, here are some final words on the course for those who might be coming to ride. The course runs largely north and south. So hopefully the winds are kind to us on the day of the event, or end up being cross winds. The exact distance this year is 86 miles, with the midway mandatory checkpoint being at mile 48. As mentioned in a prior post, the midway checkpoint is located at Wishful Acres Brewery. If riders only want to ride halfway, enjoy a beverage, and find their own ride back home, they can still get in a great days ride. About 85 percent of the course will be gravel.
The course is a good blend of hilly and flat terrain (mostly false flats). As always, the spring winds will play a factor. There is some pretty amazing scenery along the route, with views spanning far off into the distance. The route will pass by a couple of small towns, but you will have to take a road slightly off course if you want to head into these places to fuel up on anything. There will be water and Gatorade mix at the midway checkpoint to restock your bottles, but fuel and nutrition is up totally up to the rider for this event. I anticipate most riders taking 4.5-7 hours to finish the ride, so hopefully you know yourself well enough to know your needs.
The post ride eats and drinks will be a little different than in past years. There will be plenty of free post ride beverages provided at the finish, but food this year will not be free. A friend of mine is a cook who works at different festivals, and he will be grilling up fresh tacos, tortas, burritos, and other authentic Mexican foods. Price are very reasonable, ranging from $2-$6 depending on what you order. I don't believe he has many offerings for vegetarians, so be prepared for this if you are a non-meat eater.
February is upon us, and even though there is ten inches of snow currently out in my yard, I know that the spring riding season isn't really that far off. This years Grumpy Grind is 10 weeks away. That sounds like a long ways off, but it will sneak up on us quickly. As a rider, it makes you feel like you have don't have that long to train for an upcoming endurance event. And as an event organizer, well, there is that quiet lingering stress and excitement of having all aspects of the event come together. For the next ten weeks I'll try to make at least one post per week providing some general information about the Grumpy Grind.
Every year I deal with the challenge of trying to create a new route. The challenge of finding and tying together gravel roads isn't always easy when trying to achieve a specific distance. This year might be the last year I will be able to use "The Farm" as my start/finish (something I'll talk about more in another post), so I decided to make the ride include some of my favorite roads, include a favorite brewery, and not worry so much about the distance that needed to be ridden.
The distance for this years ride will be approximately 86 miles. Yeah that sounds a little long for the spring, but it is what it is. Come ride it or not. On a positive note, the midway checkpoint will be at Wishful Acres Farm & Brewery. This checkpoint will be at approximately mile 45. If you aren't feeling so great with your ride at this point, perhaps you can just hang out for a pint or two and call for your pit crew to come and get you. Who knows, maybe your pit crew will already be at the brewery waiting?
Registration Update: The registration postcards are slowly trickling in. Thanks to those who have already done so. My registration directions aren't too complicated, but some people already have failed to supply all the necessary information I requested. Please double check my list of required information. And please write legibly. I did request a t-shirt size, as I might have a sponsor willing to kindly get one to all participants for free, which is pretty awesome. On that note, if you know you are not going to come for any reason, please be kind enough to email me and tell me this so I'm not requesting more shirts than need to be provided. Despite its name, the Grumpy Grind is a pretty laid back event, so kindly keep me updated if you no longer plan to show up.
I use my blog mostly for informing people about the Grumpy Grind gravel ride I organize rather than making it a personal journal of my own riding experiences. The last time I wrote of my TransIowa experiencing was during a year when I did not finish. Maybe there is something about the challenging conditions I encountered this year that were similar to that in 2014. Regardless, this report is my outlet to purge some of my TransIowa thoughts and put mental closure on the event. Brace yourself, it might be a long read. (Also, I apologize for lack of pictures. My fingers were too cold to be much of a camera man.)
This year's TransIowa would mark my 7th riding of the event. Every time I take on this journey I learn a little more about myself and what it takes to finish a 300+ mile endurance ride. I had experienced three finishes and 3 DNF's (all for different reasons) in my prior starts. I was hoping this year would put me over the .500 hump, but a dismal weekend forecast of rain, wind, and cool temperatures made it look like my chances for a finish would be unlikely.
While resting with my nine year old in bed the night before my departure for TransIowa, we talked about what I would be doing over the weekend and why I would be gone. I told him that there was a good chance I might not finish this year because of bad weather. I asked him how far he thought I might ride before I had to quit? He randomly told me 182 miles. I liked his thinking. It was an arbitrary number, but it stuck in my mind throughout the ride.
My friend Jeff and I were both going to be riding TransIowa this year. It was Jeff's first year to ride and not have to wait back in Grinnell as my pit crew. We both ride a different pace and didn't plan to ride together, but it was still nice to know another friend from home would be out there.
The evening before the ride is always one of nerves and seeing familiar faces of TransIowas past. The Grinnell Steakhouse, where the pre-ride meeting and dinner is at, probably has some of the most delicious meats in Iowa, but unfortunately my mind and nerves never allow me to fully enjoy it. Looking around at the riders who attend always leaves me feeling a little intimidated. There are some pretty amazing specimens of riders out there with thick gravel and endurance resumes that are very impressive. It isn't that I necessarily want to be like them, but I deeply respect what they do and have done. That being said, these people, and all the riders for that matter, are all the kindest people you could meet.
Jeff and I already had most everything we needed ready to go when our alarms went off at 2:45 Saturday morning. I never sleep well the night before a TransIowa ride. But this year was different. I actually slept pretty sound. I think the inevitable bad weather might have taken away the self appointed pressure I normally put on myself. It was something well beyond my ability to control, so why stress about it. I felt like I had packed fairly light for the ride. Other than basic bike supplies, my pack consisted of multiple pairs of gloves and enough food/water to get me 100 miles. Everything else I was already wearing.
The beginning of TransIowa is always a beautiful site, with headlights and taillights flickering across the countryside in the dark. The weather didn't call for rain until mid-morning, so my goal was get to the first checkpoint before the cut-off and not have a TransIowa 11 experience (where only one person made the checkpoint in time). Somewhere in the first 46 miles I did some yo-yo'ing with Charlie Farrow, a character of a rider who I met during one of my first TransIowa rides. We talked a little. I asked him what he thought about this years ride and the possibility of anyone finishing. "A fools errand" he replied. Boy was he right!
Checkpoint 1 came and went with no difficulties or rain. Just me and my single speed, plodding our way across the Iowa landscape. The next checkpoint was about 140 miles off, so it was a good time to get into a groove and keep things steady. Somewhere among these miles I began riding with Dan Lockery and Bailey Newbrey. I had ridden with Dan last year some and he was a solid rider with a steady cadence and an ever resilient attitude. Bailey was a friend/acquaintance from Chicago who I respected for completing the 2016 Tour Divide. I figured these would be great guys to ride with who would keep things steady. We rode mostly together until we made it to Casey's for lunch in Madrid, Iowa. It was at this time that the rain finally began to fall.
Convenience store breaks along the route of TransIowa are always a great respite. Prior to stopping at one, you feel like you are the only person within miles of the route. But then you stop and all of a sudden you start seeing other riders stopping with the same intention. Corey Godfrey, another rider I met years ago at TransIowa was one of those riders I met at Madrid. He always brings a positive spirit to the event, and wherever he goes. So it was nice to see him briefly. I go with the feeling that it's never good to stop at these stores for too long. So it was back on the road after maybe 20 minutes and back onto the course. For the rest of the ride I would be riding into intermissions of rain, with the wind slowly building into a grand crescendo.
After logging about 150 miles of the route, things start to get a little more real. By this I mean that you no longer feel like you are just starting your ride. Your legs aren't fresh any more, and you no longer have that slight adrenaline push that you one had at the start. You begin to settle into a rhythm that you know will take you the distance. You ride just hard enough to not go slow, but just slow enough to not blow up at any time. My mind starts to become focused more on the road ahead of me than the surrounding world. I'm not worried about my place or time or keeping up with anyone. It's a peaceful place mentally.
I road with Dan during much of this time. His geared bike pulled ahead of me going downhill, and my single gear pushed ahead of him go uphill. We weren't competing with each other. We were just riding in our zones which just so happened to be of similar speeds. Somewhere along this time we lost track of each other and I rode solo until all I rounded a corner and suddenly found myself with another group of four riders walking a stretch of "B" road. It wasn't a typical B road. It reminded me of the swamps of Mordor. It was here I was introduced to Luke Wilson and Sarah Cooper, two very strong riders who I was surprised to find myself in the company of. Scott and Josh were the other two riders in the group (still don't know their last names). They all seemed to be looking out for each other and had a "keep the pack together" mentality.
Somewhere before Checkpoint 2 I pulled ahead of this group too. Riding a single speed bike can lead to a lot of solo riding time in an endurance event. I always have to push it in hills just to make it to the top, but then I also have to watch those with gears pass me by on downhills and tailwind sections. A single speed bike has to go its own pace. That is both the peace and frustration of such.
Around 8:00 Saturday evening I finally found myself in Cummings, Iowa at Checkpoint 2. Cummings is small enough to not have any convenience stores, but it has a great little bar and distillery that looked very inviting on a cold, wet evening. The volunteers told me I could go inside to warm up and grab a beer and some pizza. But I knew if I went in, there wasn't a good chance I would want to continue on riding. So I grabbed my cue cards and avoided the sounds of the sirens and made a quick decision to head back out onto the course. The rain and wind were starting to pick up more now , but I had my core heat and wanted to keep the good spirit of my ride going. So off I went into what I knew was going to be a long and trying night.
There is much of the ride that seems like a blur in my mind, but certain moments stand out. Usually ones of frustration. About 7 miles outside of Cummings the rain started coming down harder. My glasses were covered with water and mud, and my cue's, though protected in plastic, were getting messy as well and I was having trouble reading them. Taking a wrong turn was not part of my night riding agenda. Frustration! About this time while I was making sure I was on course, I turned around to see the lights of what looked like a pack of riders a couple of hills back. This was a welcome and surprising sight. As I mentioned before, TransIowa is such a long event that you often can feel alone, and then out of nowhere, another rider comes along. I decided to wait on these riders to have some camaraderie during the night.
I don't know what mile we were on or what time of the night it was. But it was raining pretty hard now. I know that based on where the checkpoint was and where the finish was, we would be riding a lot of head winds and cross winds all the way to the finish. My gloves were soaked and my hands were getting chilled. My feet weren't any better. My core was still okay. And I was riding with a group now. Strength in numbers. Right? Luke Wilson was seemingly the leader of the group. He was navigating and the others were following his lead. I placed my trust in his skills too. Still, this was the doubtful time of the ride. How far could my body go? How far would my mind choose to let me go?
Around 10:30 (I really don't know) our group rolled into a town (whose name I also don't know) and found a Casey's to stop at. I felt bad for the store. We were filthy, cold, and wet. The goal of the group was for everyone to get their heat back, fuel up, and then head back out into the elements. The managers and workers of this store were the kindest and most hospitable people we could have hoped for. They offered us giant trash bags for insulation, found us some old heat packs from the winter (for shoes and hands), and didn't complain once about the mess we were making. The resolve of the group was to head back out onto the course. I don't know if I would have made this decision had I been there alone. But I didn't want to be the member of the group who chose to quit. The instant I went back out to mount my bike I was a shivery mess.
The next section of the ride turned out to be the slowest section of TransIowa any of us experienced all day. The wind stayed strong, the rain was coming down steady, and then came the B road of all B roads. Time to walk. Again! For some reason I was the last in the line of six of us to traverse this section. Luke was somehow like a billy goat and his light could be seen well ahead of ours. Dan, Sarah, and I methodically were trying to not fall into the giant ditches of water while also still trying to not find ourselves walking directly in mud. At one point Sarah took a step that left her somehow flipped over with her bike on top of her. That step could have just as easily have been me. When the B road finally T'd up with another road, that road too remained a B road. That wasn't how things normally worked in Iowa. So we found ourselves walking what seemed like another mile in the most inhospitable terrain. Looking back on this moment, there was nothing rational about our decision to be doing this in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere!
Things began to get shuffled after we finished walking the B road. For the first time in any of my TransIowa rides I started to become sleepy while riding. I didn't know what to attribute this to. Maybe it was the cold wet weather that was slowly creeping in on my body. Maybe it was the pace that was slower than I wanted to keep (while trying to keep the pack together). Maybe it was because I wasn't focused on cues and I was allowing someone else navigate. Or maybe it was because it was now 3:30 in the morning and I had been riding my bike for the last 23 plus hours. Regardless, I was frustrated by it and was a little worried when I found myself often times not keeping a straight line. It was at this point in the night when I begin to hear from others about how bad they were hurting, and the concern of hypothermia was now on the mind of my riding companions. We were all suffering in our own way at this point. But when you are in the middle of nowhere what real choices do you have? If we had called for a ride at that point, it would easily have been at least an hour before anyone would have found us. My only thought was to keep on going.
I recall crossing a paved road and being at the front of our group. Dan and Scott were right behind me. Shortly after crossing the road I looked back for Luke, Josh, and Sarah, but their headlights were not to be seen. What? Our navigator was gone. And where had they chosen to go? I didn't wish to be insensitive to the conditions of those left behind, but I felt like in order to take care of our own health, the three of us needed to press onward. With our navigator now gone, we stopped at a corner where I could situate my cue cards and get a bearing on where we were going. While looking at my cues, I saw a street about 25 miles ahead labeled "Main Street". That was a good sign that we only needed to make it another 25 miles before we would hopefully make it to another nice warm convenience store. At one point during this stretch I recall Scott saying "We aren't going to make the time cut-off at this pace." We had until 2:00 to finish, why wouldn't we make it I wondered?
The sunrise certainly wasn't spectacular on Sunday morning. Light just sort of faded in on us. Still, it was better than riding in the dark. I saw a sign for Pella and wondered if that was the town we would be stopping in. We had stopped at Pella about six years ago in a previous TransIowa and I knew we'd find some place there to warm up and refuel. That place in Pella we stopped at ended up being Wal-Mart. All of the other stores were closed at the time, so that would have to do. Heading into the store to refuel, I recall Dan saying we would should try not to take more than 20 minutes or we would be pressing for time to make it to the finish. I was more concerned about warming up and refueling than heeding his words, but they ended up being more truthful than I could have known at the time.
We departed Pella with about 55 miles to go until the finish. The final countdown. The three of us headed down the road with a ferocious tailwind at our back. No complaints about that. But then I realized that the numbers on the roads we were passing weren't matching the mileage on my cue sheets. We had missed our turn. Now we had to back track a mile and half into some serious headwinds. Our turn we needed to make had been right next to the Wal-Mart we stopped at and we overshot it without looking. Stupid! As the person navigating I felt responsible for this error. And now looking back at how the rest of the ride played out, it may have been the error that prevented our group from finishing together.
Once back on course, our group quickly became separated. I don't know if it was because of the wind or hills or the physical drain on our bodies, but within a couple of miles I found myself out front of Dan and Scott by a considerable gap. I wasn't trying to race away from them. I was just riding at my single speed pace. I wanted us to ride together, but I also knew I had to ride a pace that suited my riding style and the gearing I had. It was here I encountered another B road. It wasn't too gnarly, but it was slowing me down. And it was darn right annoying too at this juncture. It was at this point when I actually started looking at my clock and started becoming concerned with finishing on time. It still seemed doable, but things would have to go smooth the rest of the way.
But things didn't go smooth. About eight miles later, another B road reared it's ugly head. What?! And so it goes. It was 10:00 after I finished walking this B road. I had 40 miles to go. I needed to average 10 mph in order to make it to the finish and be an official finisher. It seemed like a doable ride average, but it didn't leave me much time for error. Especially if there was another B road ahead.
Headwind, crosswind, headwind. Over and over. Hills too. Big hills. I was pressing the pace as best I could. Mostly pressing the pace to not go too slow. While heading north and cresting another giant hill, I passed a photographer who seemed like part of the TransIowa event. He shouted words of encouragement. His presence for that short moment was appreciated. There was still hope for me to finish on time.
A couple of miles later, my cue sheet indicated that I turn right and head east straight into headwinds for the next 11 miles. These was pure punch me in the gut headwinds. The rain had subsided thankfully, but this wind was oppressive. During this section I rode some monstrous hills. I looked down at my odometer and saw I was struggling to ride 4 mph at the steepest part of the hill. I just got off and walked. My knees were shot. My single speed wasn't doing me any good at this point. At 12:30 I still had twelve miles to ride. It was here I knew I could make it. Or at least I should.
I recall heading directly north into Grinnell for previous finishes. Climbing monstrous hills that were torturous. Once I turned out of the head wind for the final five miles, I knew I could make it regardless of the hills. The rain started to pick up as I rode onto the pavement for the final stretch of the ride. A passerby in a vehicle stuck his head out and cheered for me. I recognized him as one of the Checkpoint volunteers. I turned into the park and saw Mark (Guitar Ted) up ahead at the finish along with my friend Jeff and his step-dad Vince. What a strange feeling it was to finally make it here. It was unceremonious for sure, but it was a fitting ending to the ride. I gave Mark a giant hug. And Jeff too. I recall saying "What the heck took me so long to get here!" And then it was off into a warm car and back to the hotel.
I don't really know why I keep going back to TransIowa. Regardless of weather, the distance and terrain are brutal. It's a challenge that is out there that somehow fulfills part of me. It does something to my mind. I tell people that for 340 miles(ish) it's like being on an uninterrupted vacation where the only focus is me, my bike, and the Iowa country side. It's an experience that is hard to describe unless you have ridden it and finished it yourself. And even then, it's hard to explain why doing something so irrational can seem so rational.
Rider of bikes, teacher of art, husband of a beautiful wife, and father of two awesome boys.