Trans Iowa this year was very special. The Slender Fungus have been thinking about this race for over a year now. For Ari and Giggles it has been several years of thought and preparation. To say the least these guys were prepared for the race. We have all ridden all year round, watched our weight, thought about all of the logistics, and lastly (and probably most importantly) prayed to the weather gods to be on our sides. Days before the event I was having a hard time sleeping just thinking of what clothing to bring, what to pack in my bags, what to eat, etc. It is a LOT of preparation going in to this race, you need to be ready for anything out there. This is a self supported race...and we were ready. Friday came and TJ, Gumby, and I hit the road to Grinnell to link up with our NY compadres. Seeing Giggles and Ari brought a big smile to my face as I gave them each hugs. We had been emailing for over a year and it had been a year since I'd seen Giggles and a long time since Ari moved from Sycamore. It was great see my friends as we prepared for battle against this bitch. I presented the men with some SFCA T-shirts that said "bonk off" on the back because I know my boys love bonking it, and we headed to the meat-up.
The Gigglet eating his "last supper"
Ari Safari eating his steak...made in 'Merica
The meat up at the Grinnell Steakhouse
The support crew of Gumbalaya and TJ...Thank you guys so much for everything!
Jeff talking about his awesome movie "300 miles of gravel" In which I was in way more than I expected....surprising. He showed my frustration with missing the checkpoint last year by 1 minute...and the end credit said that I would be going "full bore" into TIV8...which apparently I told him on the phone at one point.
The Gumby pugsley...custom Slender Fungus edition
The Gunnar Crosshairs....race ready, what a great bike!
Mr. Jeremy Kershaw's Gary Fisher gravel machine...proof that bontrager wheels can hold up on gravel
Ari's BMC with TJ's custom Slender Fungus edition pukesly
The start line at 4 am. This is where the story really begins. We were all tired going into the race and then of course we go to bed at 10 pm trying to get what little sleep we can. The alarm goes off at 2:15 am and we look out the windows to see 20-30 mph winds with pouring rain. On friday when we drove down the weather was dry but the wind was 20-40 mph out of the east. The rain came overnight and soaked the gravel. We made some last minute decisions about how much warm weather gear to take for the night and what stuff we should bring for the rainy weather. The radar showed that most of the ride should be dry once the little cell over Grinnell moved further east.
We got geared up and headed to the line. It was awesome to see so many different set ups on peoples bikes. Some people carried a ton of gear (Bill Graves....had a lot), some people had nearly nothing (Eric Brunt...won the race, congrats!). I felt like I had a lot of stuff but was prepared for anything and everything on the course. 4 am came and the wind was 15-25 mph out of the east with the gravel soaking wet to peanut butter consistency and tons of fresh gravel. When I refer to how much I hate the fresh gravel throughout this post let me describe to you what I mean. The fresh gravel takes a normal Iowa gravel road with small gumball to pea shaped gravel with more dirt than anything else which is usually hard packed if dry. This fresh gravel was golf ball sized and spread evenly across the road with no "line" to pick as you were riding it so you usually just had to ride light on the handlebars and hope that you wouldn't get a pinch flat.
The first 50-ish miles into checkpoint alpha I just went....I went my own pace and speed knowing that it might not be the pace that Giggles and Ari were riding even though I desperately wanted to ride with my buds. I found myself in a group with a few single speeders and eventually had to take gear off as I warmed up. My friend Jeremy Kershaw of the DBD from Duluth, MN and host of Heck of the North cruised up next to me and we got into a rhythm. It felt like we were the only two taking pulls out of the group and I was starting to wonder if I was blowing my wad too soon and I should ease off....but away I went and kept pushing. Along the way to the first checkpoint I met Maciej who is friends with my buddies Mike and Molly from Crystal Lake where I work. He said he was not feeling so hot and was sick earlier in the week but was still riding strong as he pulled in front of me. I also had the pleasure of riding with Mr. Charlie Farrow of the DBD into checkpoint alpha and during the first B-road....you are a monster Charlie.
The legs felt fried as Jeremy and I cruised by ourselves into checkpoint alpha. It was great to meet the time cut off this time and I knew that Jeremy and I were both feeling mentally strong at this point as we punched knuckles to our small victory. TJ greeted me with a big hug and pointed us to the convenience store for some food and drinks. It looked like a lot of people had made the checkpoint and we stocked up. We were hoping to not head east anymore into the wind but our hopes were shattered as we looked at the directions heading south east again....we took deep breaths and started pedaling.
The wind had ended up shifting and giving us a great little tailwind which we could turn up the speed on the southern sections to make up some time. Our average speed on the second leg had kicked up to 13-14 mph avg which is pretty decent given the ridiculousness of this ride. We hit a small town with a gas station and again fueled up even though we hadn't eaten that long ago. This was a very nice gas station and Jeremy and I had split a godfathers pizza and had chocolate milks for lunch. I guess Cornbread and the leaders were only 15 min ahead of this point from what one of the other nebraska guys said. We saw a female in TI pull up as we were leaving and were very impressed as to how far she had come and how strong she was riding...awesome!
Throughout the afternoon on the second leg of the race we caught a group of two in front of us and were caught by a group of two behind us. I believe we had Scott (moots SS), Bill Graves (pictured below, Salsa Vaya), Joe Partridge and Dan Jansen (Salsa Ti and Niner SS) and Jeremy and myself. We cruised the rest of the day together and all felt comfortable with the pace. Strength in numbers, it was great to freshen the vibe up a little bit and talk to some fresh faces.....not to say it wasn't great riding with you for 340 miles Jeremy hahaha
Bill looking out to the road as we waited for Scott who had a flat tire
Myself just taking a quick breather heading into checkpoint bravo. It was awesome to hit checkpoint bravo and we were hoping for maybe something other than gels and clif bars. Maybe a cheeseburger?? Our minds were playing tricks on us like a mirage in the desert. As we entered the checkpoint we saw a fire and more gels and clif bars.....ughhhhh, stomach rot. I was heartbroken to learn that Ari had dropped out and Giggles had not made the first checkpoint. My stomach sank and I was saddened. I took these emotions and turned them into more fuel and reason for me to finish. I hadn't come this far not to finish. Just as we were finishing up another rider Chris and Adam (the Gu rep) showed up, we waited for them to grab some food and the 8 of us turned on our lights and headed into the evening hours. By this section it felt like we had been going south all day. Wally told us that we were nearly 12 miles from the Missouri border....wow. So we headed back up north from here on out....only 160 miles to go after our 50 mile race and 120 mile training ride we had earlier in the day.
The secret checkpoint "Charlie" was in a small town called Attica. A few guys from Nebraska including MG were there with bananas, donuts, water, and yes....more gu and clif bars. Can you tell I was getting sick of eating this stuff by then?? We were told there was nothing from here to the finish. This made us have to fuel up for 130 mile leg of the course completely self supported. So, we ate and drank a lot and packed whatever we thought we would need for the rest of the race. We thanked the Charlie crew for all of their support....great people....and headed back onto the road. Riding with 8 guys through the night was huge for us. I know that a lot of us were getting tired and although you couldn't really tell physically you could tell mentally. After a few wrong turns and weird roads I decided to tell everyone to look at the cues so everyone could double check the turns, I could tell the guys on the back of the group were relying on the guys up front to find the roads. Bill Graves did a great job of this for the most point and was riding very strong through the night. To back him up I rode behind or next to him double checking the turns and calling them out as we came up to them just to make sure we were on track.
At one point circa 2-3 am we were approached by a car that stopped to talk to us. Inside was a crazy drunk woman who said it was illegal to be out on the roads and we couldn't be doing what we were doing....she insisted! We looked over and the guy driving was also drinking a beer....awesome
We came through a stretch which was in Pella, IA and as soon as we got to town it started to rain. We all through rain gear on and as we headed to town we found a gas station that was still open. At this point we had about 90 miles left in the race. We took a 20 minute break and got some actual food in our systems and refreshed for a quick minute. Upon leaving we saw two single speeders pull up and knew we couldn't have waited for them even though they probably wanted some more company. We were hoping one of this riders was Charlie as we heard he had gotten lost earlier in the evening. We were pulling for him to get back on track and finish the race. I was full on expecting him to pass us at some point in the night.
The sunlight came and recharged the batteries. Although, Jeremy said on multiple occasions that he felt like his body was floating above him and he didn't feel like his own arms were grabbing the handlebars, yea we were tired. Surprisingly there was only one or two times where I felt tired...I ate some more caffeine and kept going. I honestly feel like the long days at work where I was wiped out and had no choice but riding my bicycle home after work really helped. I was used to being tired on the bike and kept pushing through it. The adrenaline fueled me....I was doing this, WE were doing this....into the record books, there was no doubt in my mind....
And then....there came a doubt in my mind. We had taken a small wrong turn on more loose gravel which was just killing me at this point....and turned around. I kept asking Jeremy the time and doing the math in my head....we had to ride faster, we had to ride harder. Eventually Joe and Dan started pulling away....followed by Scott, then Bill, Jeremy, and I pulled away from Chris and Adam. We were falling apart. The plan was to ride throughout the evening and finish together in the morning....obviously people had other plans. Maybe Dan and Joe had done the math in their heads to and just wanted to finish.
The last 60 miles were hell. If Guitar Ted said there were 13,000 ft of climbing in this race it felt like 10,000 came in the last 60 miles....along with 90% of the roads being covered with fresh gravel with no lines....along with 15-20 mph headwinds.....along with being awake for a full day already and nearly riding 300 miles!!!! HOLY SHIT!!! Guitar Ted don't take this the wrong way but I hated you at this point....Jeremy and I were cursing your names and wanted to end up in one of the many cemeteries that we had passed along the route. The hills became walls...straight up and straight down....no end in sight...roller after roller. We just had to keep plugging away. There were many moments where Jeremy and I didn't talk to each other. We had a goal in mind and we were just taking dents out of this goal. We were on our way.
A very sad moment came. Bill's rack collapsed and he told Jeremy and I to go on without him. We waited and I looked to Jeremy and said that we needed to keep moving and pick up the pace. We hated leaving Bill there. He had ridden so strong during the evening that the thought of him not finishing was killing us. But, we had to keep going. The descents kept getting more tricky with the fresh gravel and combined with our fatigue we were getting a little sketchy. Finally, another small victory as we flipped the final cue sheets. We shed another layer as the temps warmed up and packed more of our gear into our already full camelbacks. By the way a big thanks to our Gore rep Brendan for the awesome Gore clothing...I used every piece of it along the route!
30 miles to go and we were headed 25 miles into a strong headwind. The legs were burning, my knees were killing, my hands had turned purple from not wearing padded cycling gloves just my thin wool hincapie gloves....but the thought of finishing never left my mind. My eye was on the prize. A big thanks to another DBD member Tim Ek. Your tips really helped throughout this race.....we focused on cue sheets, we stayed engaged, I ate when I was hungry and drank when thirsty and never encountered a problem. The Death Before Dishonor crew...a truly great group....and I was finishing the race with one of them. I felt honored to ride beside him for the whole race. Jeremy was such a great riding partner and kept me motivated....he rode strong and knew his body and nutrition...he stayed dialed. What an honor to ride with someone who has finished multiple endurance events at a top notch level! What a bond we had formed to get to this point in the race together.
In the last 30 miles we pulled through a small town and onto some pavement. Jeremy had gotten a slow leak and we frantically changed his tire like a pro crew at a formula 1 race. We knew we needed to haul to make the time cutoff. We kept checking the clock...ticking off the miles....and burning our legs into the headwind. We had seen Dan and Joe with 3 other riders ahead....we had caught back up to them. The 3 riders were from Nebraska and we passed the 5 of them on our cruise control setting into the finish. 8 miles to go we encountered a hidden b-road....we tried to ride just to get the mother fucker done but just clogged our bikes instead. We didn't see many tire tracks in the mud and wondered how many had finished....who had won?? The B-road seemed to take hours....we finally saw our last section of gravel 5 miles south and with a cross wind....we took it easy and knew we had finished at this point....just no mechanicals and no cramps!! PLEASE!!!
It was a long 5 miles....we got onto the bike trail and headed into the finish.
My number 427....I felt like lucky numbers.....4/27 was when the pre-race stuff was. My birthday is April...and I turned 27 this year....it was meant to be.
Heading into the finish was a truly great feeling. Jeremy and I again had knocked our knuckles together and thanked each other for the company. As we came in everyone was cheering our names. Ari, Giggles, TJ, and Gumby were all there screaming my name. I was overwhelmed with congratulations and had the bike taken from me as well as my gear....The bike was a part of me by this point and I didn't want to let it go....but was also so happy to be able to be done!!! My body was in bad shape...but no cramps all day! Legs felt strong!
Ari handed Jeremy and I a budweiser and it tasted like the best Belgian beer that you could possibly buy. I know I needed to keep drinking more water as we had both run out about 40 minutes ago but I enjoyed my first beer after this amazing race. Guitar Ted came over and congratulated us along with numerous others.
A scene from last years race with Charlie Farrow and Tim Ek....Charlies now famous "beer me" line didn't even need spoken as we crossed the line
We were wiped out but we had conquered a true monster of a race....the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
Jeremy: .....WE DID IT!!!! I've said it a hundred times already but thank you so much! A true pleasure to ride with you start to finish, we earned it my friend!!!!!
We had asked who had finished and I learned that Eric Brunt won followed by Troy Krause SS....wow what strength for those guys to finish hours ahead of us....my God!! Congrats!!
I'm sure that I am missing a lot of stuff but this is all I had in me for today...I will post some links to other peoples blogs when I get them.
Thank you so much to Guitar Ted for hosting this race and busting your ass to make it what it is....truly the hardest endurance event in the midwest! I hated you at points during the race but I know its not meant to be easy....great route, great ride, great weekend!!! To Steve, thanks for taking awesome photos. To Jeff thanks for making a killer movie...can't wait to get a copy of it for myself. To TJ and Gumby thank you so much for coming out and supporting not only us but all of the other riders. Truly giving a great name to the Slender Fungus! To my great friends Ari and Giggles....you guys put in great efforts, it killed me to not ride with you...KILLED ME! I wish we could have ridden all day....we will be back again and you guys are going to get this thing! Thanks for sticking around to see me come across the line...it was great to see all of you as we crossed the line. To my boss Bob, thanks for the time off to race this event as well as sponsoring something that you knew nearly nothing about until I came along. It means a lot...thank you! To all my family and friends I couldn't have done it without you....I know this is just an underground gravel race that not a lot of people know about...but this consumed every inch of me since I missed the checkpoint last year. Im sure many of my friends are sick of me talking about it....:"Ari this...Giggles that....Guitar ted....Iowa....gravel...blah blah blah"...thanks for your encouragement and thoughts as we raced this weekend!!! Trans Iowa V8 in the books! YESSSSSSS!!!!
- Jay, Slender Fungus Cycling Association