This years Trans Iowa has been built up in my head since the day I crossed the finish line last year. I knew I would do the race again after I finished in 2012. Again, the Slender Fungus prepared all year long and thought about the single day in April that means more to us than anything. We had our eye on the prize. Not only does this race mean everything to us...but more so the place that it is held in. Iowa is beautiful and holds a special place in all of our hearts. As soon as I enter Iowa....my mind is free, my body relaxes, and I just ride. This was the case leading up to Friday April 26th, 2013. I couldn't sleep for the week before the race. I felt anxious, which I never feel. I thought of all of the riding I had done. I had trained hard despite the horrible conditions and brutal winter that Illinois had this year. It was hard for me to gain motivation to ride this winter....but as usual it came. I became more focused and started to get pumped up for Trans Iowa. I had logged 1100 miles riding my pugsley as a single speed, and 1400 miles on the new gunnar single speed. All of my nervousness and anxiety went away as Ari and I crossed into the Iowa border in my Honda Element. As we got the the pre-race meat up my mind was clear, I was free of worry, I was calm and collected.....and ready to race.
It was great hosting my two friends Giggles and Special K from Syracuse, NY. They came to the bike shop I work at on Thursday and we went out to a birthday dinner. I had turned 28 years old on April 25th and was very happy to celebrate with these dudes after a 10 hour day at the bike shop. Bob joined us and we went to my favorite bar next to the shop for some fried chicken.....yea I'm a classy guy....
After our meal we headed to my hometown of Woodstock, IL and unpacked all of their gear and had a few more beers and really chillllllllled out. We went to my favorite bar and topped the night off with a few beers and a shot of Templeton Rye for good luck. We came home and watched 300 miles of gravel to pump ourselves up.
I hardly slept at all and woke up pretty tired....we had breakfast at the local diner and then drove to Sycamore, IL to pick up the big greek and meet up with the bonk king and roll out to IA.
Ari and I were finally able to catch up in the car ride and talked about life and everything else. We arrived in IA rested and relaxed and unpacked all of our gear. Jeremy Kershaw of the DBD crashed with us and we met up with him before the meat up. He was running single speed this year and I was very excited to see my friend. We had aspirations to ride together and finish strong again like we did last year.
At the meat up we talked to old friends, new rookies, Guitar Ted, tons of other people and were sporting our fresh Slender Fungus threads. The shop I work at Wheel Werks sponsored the race and I handed out some prizes to some lucky winners. I hope everyone enjoyed! Thanks to my boss Bob for being so cool and allowing us to sponsor this great event and Mark for having us on as a sponsor again....what a cool guy.
After the meat up we went to Wally World and picked up some breakfast food and last minute supplies. We headed back to the room, watched some weather channel and couldn't believe our eyes. A warm Trans Iowa!!!! This wasn't happening....Ari kept telling us the rain would show up and that all hell would break loose because this just COULDN'T be happening. I kept telling him to bite his tongue and shut the hell up....this was the year!
We went to be around 10pm and I actually got some rest for once. I woke up feeling rested and relaxed. I gave the bike a final check in the morning. Finalized my clothing choices and was packed up and ready to go by 3:00 am. Shortly after we gathered the crew and headed to the start line. I picked up some chain lube at bikes to you in Grinnell and was so happy that the owner always gets up early and watches us roll out. That guy is rad, thanks for being open! I lined up next to Matt Wills and another single speeder. Eric Brunt looked over and we pounded fists getting pumped up and ready to rock n roll. We chatted on the roll out and it was good to catch up with him briefly. When the rollout ended, the race was on. I hung with the lead group for a while and tried to hold a line in all of the fresh gravel. I was top 15 position for a long time and saw Cornbread, Tim Ek, my buddy David Swanson, and a few others that I chatted with and wished them a good race. David reassured me of a turn as I was getting used to my cue sheet set up. We were on course and moving at a great pace. My clothing was comfortable and we had a tailwind pushing us to checkpoint #1.
We rolled through checkpoint #1 around 7:30 and were making incredible time. I saw Gumby and Baggio at the checkpoint, got my cues, took a leak....and was off. Jason Boucher from QBP snapped a quick shot of me on my way out and I headed up a steep hill to try and rejoin a group. I rode with Monika from Minnesota and Aaron from Nebraska for a while and we were still riding at a comfortable pace. The sun had come up and the sky was pure blue. I was all smiles and was prepared for a great day on the bike. At this point in the race everything broke up quite a bit. Riders would come and go and I told myself not to get anxious and that we had a looooonnnngggg way to go yet. I wasn't chasing anyone down or riding hard, but riding where I was comfortable....which was inbetween 15-18mph surprisingly. My 39/19 gear ratio was perfect for the hills and I knew that my bike was dialed. The 700x40c Clement XPLOR MSO tires were soooo nice and just floated over the chunky fresh gravel. Finally around mile 70 I was able to refuel. I came into the gas station alone and met up with a bunch of people there. We all decided to roll out together after we fueled up for another 100 miles. Ben Oney from MN and Chris left the station with me and we shortly met up with Tim Ek and Paul Errington from Salsa Cycles, along with Charles Parsons and Mike Johnson.
I knew that these dudes were heavy hitters in the gravel world....and had ridden with all of these guys before. I knew if I could stay with them through the day and into the night I would be in good shape. So, that was my goal....hang with the big dogs and make it into the night with a strong group. My goal worked and we rode together for a large portion throughout the day. I asked Mike if he was out racing hard today....he looked over and said, "I'm just out riding my bike" with a smile on his face...perfect! We even picked up Steve Fuller who was lean and mean and said he was feeling amazing and that the course seemed almost too easy in some spots. I knew he had trained hard this winter and he was a great addition to the group. Of course our group would break up here and there and run into other groups along the way.
A big chunk of the midday hours were spent with ben, tim, and paul. We ran into Paul Carpenter from DeKalb and my college NIU. I knew Paul back when I used to live in DeKalb and introduced myself again. He was riding with a guy named Josh and they were killing it.....they would pull away from us and were playing games along the long stretches of gravel trying to drop our group. I would look over to Tim or Paul after they would surge and say "what the hell???"....Tim looked over and said "Let them play their games, we will do our own thing, we'll catch them in a few miles"....and we did. I was spinning a really high cadence to hang with these guys....Tim is such a STRONG rider, he was hitting it hard, it was great to see him out pushing hard. Our group all came into the second checkpoint in blazing speed and we were 5 hours ahead of the cut off at 4:45 pm.
We were all pretty fried and came across a Casey's gas station around mile 180 where the group ahead of us had been resting and refueling. We saw Matt Maxwell and another single speeder, Cornbread and the Nebraska crew, and a bunch of other riders. We grabbed pizza, chocolate milk, and some real food....kicked off our shoes, and took and actual break. This was the longest stop of the ride. It was probably 25-30 minutes and was much needed. We had time on our sides and we let our legs rest up and enjoyed the warm food. I heard that Cornbread was out of the race with a knee injury, Eric Brunt had gotten dehydrated and bitten by a dog, and Steve Fuller was also bitten by a dog but was still riding. I wondered how my Slender Fungus men were doing. I sent a quick text to the bonk king saying "185 miles in, legs are feeling strong" and left it at that. Cornbread gave me a few skratch labs packets before we left....thanks dude!!! I used those things up! We took off and cruised into a headwind for a while as the sun was starting to set. We had made it about 210 miles before the sun went fully down. We had rolled out of CP2 with a group of 10 riders and acknowledged that we would ride through the night together.
The temperature began to drop and we layered up for the first part of the night. The forecast called for 47 degrees as the low temperature....none of us knew that it would get much colder than that. We ran into a lot of fresh gravel during the night. For some reason I seem to come alive during the night. Last year while riding with a group of 8 guys through the night I stayed on the front and did a lot of the navigating and I followed suite this year. I stayed on the front of the group and rode strong through the night navigating our turns and calling them out for everyone to hear. Paul and Steve would join me at the front and help me navigate. I would sprint up a lot of the hills. I wasn't doing this on purpose but just trying to stay on top of my gear. Paul would be right there with me during the climbs and said that he rode SS a lot as well. He was a quiet guy but one hell of a rider....I enjoyed his company greatly. Tim and I would chat about how strong the DBD had gotten and Big Buff was now the snow king of fat biking events. We missed Charlie Farrow on the ride and I wondered how my buddy Jeremy was doing on his SS. I secretly felt bad for flying off the front during the beginning of the race and not riding with him.
As we came into Brooklyn, IA we were hopeful for a convenience store as all of us were tired and hungry....and getting colder. We looked all around town only to discover everything was closed and our cue sheets pointed out a gas station 16 miles away. This seemed like FOREVER away..... but all we could do was suck it up and keep going. We put on every extra layer we had on. I even gave a base layer I wasn't wearing to Tim as he was freezing. We kept rolling and knew our average speed had dropped from 13-14mph to 10 mph. This gas station would be 1.5-2 hours away....FOREVER away. I tried to talk to everyone and ask how they were feeling and if they were ok, crack jokes, and keep morale up. We would get there and then we could rest a bit. That 16 mile stretch was a bad one.....we didn't talk much, we were hurting, and we were cold. We chased tail lights of a group in front of us all night. At one point they actually stopped on a hill to let us catch up and then took off again.....wow.
We finally made it to the truck stop. It was heavenly. We warmed up, got food, and relaxed. I saw my friend David there who was leaving as we got in. It was great to see him and I knew he was riding strong. He took off with Janna Varva and a few other riders. I grabbed a breakfast croissant, red bull, sandwich, and chips, and was so happy to be eating regular food. I was used to gels and gatorade on the bike that I was using earlier in the day to fight off some little cramps that I would feel come on. As soon as I felt a cramp, I would sit down and take it easy. I never cramped all day.....but back to my original point....it was great to eat real food! In fact on the course we would trade food a little bit. Charles had some awesome buffalo jerky soft chews and some almonds that were delicious, we would swap around just so we wouldn't get bored of what we brought.
After our final stop we figured we were 40-ish miles away from the finish. We knew we would all finish but would we all finish together? Would we be able to increase our average speed? As the sun came up I kept up my navigation roll on the front of the group and Charles and I tried to bump up the average speed a little bit more to 13-14mph again. This didn't work and our group got strung out. Eventually, it was Charles, Steve, Tim, Paul and I riding together in the morning. We wanted to bump up the speed and just get the race done with. My legs were starting to get heavy as the hours rolled on. Tim said his knee was killing him, and Charles seemed to be more alive than ever....he was thinking about the first sip of beer he would take at the finish line, and what kind of beer it would be....he had a Lagunitas Hopped Stoopid saved and we chatted about beer and breweries to kill some time. Evenutally, Tim had to stop because his knee was hurting so bad. We all reluctantly kept rolling. I was shocked 5 miles later to see him at my side again. He said he raised his saddle a bit and his knee felt great.....ohhhhhh how important the bike fit is (right bobo??). We were back in action and Tim looked stronger than ever. We could feel a south wind picking up and Steve, Charles, and Tim started to really kick up the speed. I looked over at Paul and was confused. I said "Hey man, I thought we were all going to roll into the finish together??" He shrugged his shoulders....I shrugged my shoulders and said "Well, I guess that's racing..." Charles was off the front with 5 miles to go, Tim and Steve were chasing, and Paul and I were happy to cruise our way into the finish together.
I saw a red barn in the distance and shook Paul's hand. "It was an absolute pleasure to ride with you" I said as we crossed the line together. Guitar Ted shook our hands and told us we had tied for 8th place.....WHAT?!?! We tied for 8th?!?! I was amazed and extremely happy, he told me I had placed 3rd in the single speed class....WHAT?!?! I was 3rd....I was nearly in tears.
I looked over at Paul again and was in disbelief. We were thrilled. What a great guy, and a rock solid rider. I saw Charles and shook his hand and thanked him for our time together. He handed me a beer and life couldn't have been better. Shortly after Tim and Steve rolled in....I was confused. Weren't they in front of us?! They had taken a wrong turn that put us 10 min behind Paul and I. I shook Tim and Steve's hands and thanked them for a great ride. Such wonderful guys....I seriously could not have picked a better group of guys to ride with for the majority of the race. True men of gravel grinding.
Dr. Giggles greeted me and I shook my head. I said "what are you doing here?!?! you're supposed to be out riding!!!" He said he called it after checkpoint 2 and had a great day on the bike. I was glad to see him and told him about my journey.
At the finish I saw my good friend David looking strong. I asked him when he came in. He said about 30 minutes before me and he took 5th place overall. I was so happy for him....I told him he rode strong and we had the perfect Trans Iowa. What an event...I could tell he was hooked.
The rest of our group trickled in and we congratulated them on their finishes and thanked them for a great ride through the night together. We were all finishers....we were all winners. I asked Giggles how Ari and Special K had done. He said that Ari was being picked up at that moment and special K was still out on the course. Ari had gone hypothermic during the night. My heart broke....I so badly wanted my friend to finish. I couldn't believe it. He had ridden so strong. Shortly after, special K had phoned in for a ride. He wasn't going to make the time cut off.
I thanked Mark. He reached over and gave me a big bear hug. From the bottom of my heart I told him "Thank you" with tears nearly in my eyes. This event moves me....it drives me....it consumes me. I put everything I had into it and was able to come out a finisher.
We regrouped and headed back to the hotel room, were a warm shower felt amazing, followed by some mexican food and a nice long nap.
Giggles, K, and I awoke and went back out for burgers and beers. We saw a group of 4 riders from the race and said hello, and also saw Tim and his wife Amy coming into the same restaurant. We chatted some more about our ride and smiled ear to ear about our day on the bikes. We drank wonderful belgian style ale brewed in Iowa and had a most delicious burger. Giggles, K, and I talked for hours and kept ordering beer after beer.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was when we had closed our tab and were the only people left in the restaurant. Giggles looked over at me and said, "Do you really want to screw with em'?" I said..."yea what you got in mind?"...."lets order another round"....so we did!!! Imagine that, more beers, more cheers, and another shot of Templeton Rye to end our weekend just how we started it.
We were feeling no pain at this point and wandered about Grinnell taking in the warm air and shooting photos of the town. What a night!!!!
I love this dude.
The Gunnar served me perfectly. It was exactly what I was looking for out of a gravel bike. Two finishes at Trans Iowa and both were aboard the Gunnar Cross Hairs....an amazing bike. Thanks to Johanna and Richard again for designing me a gravel prototype that ate up that Iowa gravel! An amazing bike!!!
I hugged Giggles and K goodbye the following morning and was sad to leave my favorite state in the country. Thanks to everyone that I rode with, everyone that volunteered, everyone that finished, everyone that started. Thanks to everyone that put up with my crazy training schedule and not being able to hang out because I had to "ride in the morning"....I made sacrifices to get to the finish line....and I made it, so thank you. Thanks to Mark for all of his countless hours of work that go into putting this race on. You are an amazing guy and do an amazing thing, see you soon my friend!!! Thanks to everyone that encouraged me and supported me. From the bottom of my heart I appreciate it.
What an amazing weekend.
I owe both of my finishes to a tall Greek man named Ari. He is a best friend of mine and has really shaped a huge chunk of my life. Much love.
- JB, Slender Fungus