Monday, May 7

TransIowa V3: A big bump in the road

Where to begin? This post has been much delayed, partially because I've been taking care of things on the home front and partially because I have a hard time remembering all the experiences and emotions of the event. Putting them down into electronic ink is even more difficult than just remembering them but I also enjoy the experience. It's also time to continue the day to day life of this blog so I need to close this chapter and move forward.

My TransIowa story all started in 2006, the year of the rainout. No I wasn't in attendance but I was watching intently while Dave Nice slogged it out with all the other starters only to have the entire field skunked by muddy B road after muddy B road. Marni and I joked how rediculous the race was despite the fact that I nearly took someone's spot several weeks prior. However inside I longed for my name to be on the very short list of finishers .

Months passed by and my riding and racing continued to progress. I logged mile after mile throughout the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, learning quite a few hard lessons along the way. I raced, I trained, I succeeded and I failed. There were days of manic triumphs and pretty crushing implosions as I willed my body and more importantly my mind into shape to not only ride endurance events but also race them. I set an agressive schedule at the beginning of the season and I was intent on seeing it through but there was doubt in the back of my mind if I'd be ready. TransIowa was a big test that would mold my final decisions on several races coming up.

All too soon the training was done and I was tapering and full of nerves. My 300 mile binge weekend went smoothly and left me feeling powerful and ready but it would still be the longest ride of my life. Thursday morning Marni and I had our weekly breakfast date a day early. She had to work late so I took the bus to the airport after work to catch my flight. Luckily my bike and a bag of stuff that couldn't travel on the plane was already headed to Iowa with Mike and Dave in Mike's VW van. Thursday night I arrived in Rochester, MN and slept at the airport hotel for the night. The morning saw me wake up at my usual work time but I rolled back over and managed to sleep in for a while, watching bad TV on and off. Just before the free breakfast closed I walked down for some waffles and an apple and then went back to shower, shave and get ready to head off to Iowa. After a quick taxi back to the airport I picked up my rental car and cruised the countryside towards Decorah. My timing was perfect and I arrived in Decorah shortly after Dave and Mike. I met them at the hotel and we all got settled in. We were all hungry so we grabbed lunch from a tasty little coffee shop/deli and then preped the bikes. The Yazoo boys rolled in as well as David Pals and we all gabbed a bit while making sure the bikes were ready for a shakedown ride. I did have one rather intestesting conversation with a nice older gentleman who noticed half a dozen of us riding around the parking lot and talking.

Old guy: "Is there a bicycle convention going on?"
Me: "No we have a bike race tomorrow"
OG: "Oh! I hope you don't have to go up any hills"
Me: "Well we might have to go up a few hills"
OG: "How far is the race?"
Me: "330 miles"
OG: Stunned silence. "How many weeks ya got?"
Me: "Well we have 34 hours to finish"
OG: "What? Say that again..."
Me: "Yea we have 34 hours to ride 330 miles on gravel roads"
OG: More stunned silence and disbelief. I think a bug might have landed in his open mouth.

Apparently he was in disbelief following our conversation and he tried again with one of the Yazoo boys only to get the same answer. Soon after the parking lot conversation Dave, Mike and I did a little gravel road recon from the starting line and found great conditions. My week of worrying about the weather and course conditions seemed to be unfounded but I was happy to be wrong. We circled back by the hotel and grabbed Mike's brother Matt and headed over to Mabe's for our dinner in the basement. I ate nervously and talked with many fellow bloggers and other racers before heading down the street to T-Bock's for G-Ted's pre-race meeting. Although 98 were still on the starting list at that point, only 64 would collect their bags and take the staring line at 4am. Still a big number gearing up for an unsupported 330 mile race.

After the meeting the Becks, Dave and I all headed back to the hotel for final preparations and to attempt sleep. I was comfortable on the cushy thermarest but sleep didn't come easily and I slept on and off until around 2:30am. I opened a card from Marni while I waited for my alarm to sound at 3am and the rest of the group to wake up. Once everyone was moving I ate quickly, sunscreened, got dressed and called Marni. It was hard to start without her there but I couldn't wait to tell her I finished and it was still great to hear her voice for a few minutes. All too soon we rolled out from the hotel towards the starting line and stopped when we reached Mark's blinking hazard lights and dozen's of bikers bliking taillights. I said good luck to the hotel crew and moved to the front of the group while they hung towards the back. I talked to Brian Hannon who I rode with earlier this year and admired his Erikson while waiting for the start.

Then just like that Mark got in his little blue Civic, honked the horn and we were off! Brian and Ira quickly took off up the road and my effort level was pretty reasonable so I just followed. Immediately we gapped the field and I had to work my spin to keep up with those two on any downhill section. Then as I was beginning to ditch my earband and unzip my jacket we had our first issue. The cue sheets were already disagreeing with our computers and we weren't sure if we missed a turn. While Brian, Ira and I circled on the hill discussing our options a decent sized chase group caught up. Eventually we all proceeded forward, still on course, and the group picked up the pace once again. There were only 1 or 2 other singlespeeds in the group so when everyone finally began to settle into smaller groups, I let Joe K ride off up the road with team Polska riders figuring I'd see him again. I had decided against trying to spin my 40x18 at 27mph any longer and set my own pace through the pre dawn roads. It was really fun winding up and down the hills by myself in the night, passing cows, some early rising farmers on their quads and just generally feeling the temperature swings riding up and down the river valleys. Looking back during a nature break I could see a train of lights, red and white, bobbing and twisting along. It really was a sight to see and I was almost sad I hadn't brought my camera along. But if it didn't fit into my jersery pockets, seatbag or tiny map case then it didn't come along.

Sometime later daylight came upon us. It must have been between 5:30am and 6:00am but at that point time didn't really register much. I just knew I was going to be riding for a long while, hoping to refill some water at towns and make haste to the checkpoint at 132 miles into the course. I had Ensure Plus in one of my bottles and that was going to give me all the calories I needed without stopping early on. So I rode along at a decent clip. Sometimes solo, sometimes accompanied by other riders. One young triathlete on a cross bike who dashed ahead when I made a wrong turn passing through a town. Then with EnduroSnob, Cory and Saris guy for a while when I got back on track again. We talked for a while about everything you'd imagine bikers talk about and I stayed at the front up most of the climbs. This group lasted all the way until the first town but I merely needed to refill bottles and there was a line at the checkout so I used the bathroom sink and got on my way.

Not long out of town I barely escaped the first disaster. The sun was up now and I was hot so I wanted to ditch my jacket. I took it off at the gas station and stuffed it in my pocket. Unfortunately my pockets were quite full and despite stuffing it in as far as I could it fell out while I was riding. By some miracle I turned around 50 yards after it fell out and there is was, my orange jacket surrounded by grey gravel in the middle of the road. I quickly circled back to pick it up and stuffed it up the front of my jersey, not willing to risk losing it, and the ear warmer in the chest pocket, again. It would be a cold and uncomfortable night without those things, especially in the valleys.

The next few hours passed quickly. I met up with Scott C and a rider on a Cannondale 29er and we rode on and off. I was feeling great and was covering ground at a pretty incredible rate given my effort level. Popping cliff blocks and endurolytes was all I really focused on. Somewhere along the way both the other riders dropped off the pace or stopped at towns and I kept moving. The final ride into the checkpoint was solo and perhaps that was a good thing. I was on time to reach the checkpoint by 1pm despite fueling up on some gatorade and a grilled ham and cheese at a gas station until I looked down and noticed my rear tire. Uh oh. Squishy city. I looked at it closely and determined that it was leaking out a hole in the sidewall. The stan's seemed to be sealing it up though so I just added some air after a brief deliberation and continued onto the checkpoint.

A couple miles later I reached the start of the nature trail and the checkpoint. I was definitely continuing on so they gave me the cue sheets and I reloaded and reorganized my gear. I rode back up to the gas station and refilled on candy and gatorade plus filled my bottles to the top. I was hoping not to stop again for a while but I didn't know the hardest part of the course was coming up next. After the gas station I rolled back down to the nature trail, eating an ice cream cone and yelling to a rider behind me who almost made a wrong turn. That rider would turn out to be Joe who I would ride with much of the end of the race. I cruised along the nature trail at an easy pace, eating my ice cream, assessing my tire situation and regrouping my mind for the next 200 miles. La Porte city was big and I just cruised through, now facing a headwind that the nature trail had sheltered me from. I was all by myself and the miles ahead of me were exposed windy and lonely. My tire began leaking air faster and faster and I wasted time messing with it. During one stop after a B road I ate, took some Endurolytes, lubed my chain and put more air in the tire. I looked back and I looked forward. I was in the middle of nowhere with no one anywhere to be seen. It was windy and hot. My only choice though was to keep going so I packed up and did just that but inside I longed for a little company. It had been a loney few hours with no one to ride with and only myself to figure out a few mileage/cue sheet discrepencies.

I was determined now to make it to the next town where I could sit down at a gas station, eat something real and fix my flat tire. Besides between worrying about my very squishy tire and out running multiple farm dogs the miles passed without too much thinking. Plus I could always see a couple different tire tracks in the gravel telling me that I was going the way everyone else was going at least. Rolling into Traer I wanted pizza. Probably more than I ever wanted pizza before. I don't know why but I almost stopped a great looking pizza joint along the road. Instead I pushed onto the gas station that had hot pizza, cold gatorade, more candy and a nice place to sit down and fix my bike. I grabbed my supplies, dug out my cell phone and called Marni while I fixed my tire. It was good to listen to her talk while I fixed it. It kept my mind off things for just a couple minutes. I didn't have much to say other than I was doing good and other than this flat I was happy. While I fixed and talked Joe and Brian showed up. Brian ate an entire jar of pickles and Joe resupplied as well. Brian was also on a singlespeed so when he took off before me I felt a newfound motivation to chase back. Joe and I packed up a few minutes later and rolled off in lazy pursuit of Brian.

Somehow the group of 3 all came together. We discussed where we thought we were and what direction we were headed. I had no clue so I mostly listened but no one was totally sure. Either way we just had to keep going as there were many many miles to go. The pace of two singlespeeders together was a little different than Joe's geared pace and after regrouping a couple times we ended up splitting. Brian and I rolled on happily talking and riding at a fast pace towards whereever our next resupply would be. The sun was setting soon and as we hit a short pavement section into the next town we turned on the taillights for safety. I can't remember what town we rolled into but I was quite happy about it. GTed was standing there checking on us and I ate some chicken and more blue gatorade. I called Marni again and told her that I was more than 200 miles into the race and had "only 200 kilometers" to go. We both laughed at how rediculous that statement was but I was cheerful and she was happy to have me check in again. Brian finished his sandwich and we rolled out pretty quickly onto gravel once again. Mark did a really amazing job with this course. We rarely rode on pavement for more than 0.5mile at a time and that was really fun. Sure the gravel pounded your body more but that's what makes this event unique.

Night was now upon us and that brought a whole new dimension to the race. First we came upon a road closed sign that led Brian and I off the road onto a very chopped up piece of land. No flat tires or crashes though and for that we were both thankful. Plus my tire seemed to be holding air just fine after the fix and I eventually stopped worry about it. The gravel here seemed much chunkier than earlier in the day so we constantly were searching for a smooth line but at least that helped pass the time too. I was still feeling really great and the further I rode feeling that way just compounded the feeling. I was determined to keep pressing on as hard and fast as I could until I hit another low moment and Brian seemed to be doing fine as well. Then we came to another blinking "Road Closed" sign. I wasn't prepared for what was next and as we rolled down the road slowly my headlight illuminated the impasse.

I imagine the water looked much like this picture taken at dawn but when we crossed the first of these things it was the middle of the night. With no idea where we were or how to detour around it we decided that everyone else probably went through it as well. I couldn't tell how deep it was so I got off my bike and carried it through the water. The water was cold but the night air was still pretty warm, cooling off slowly from the high of low 80s earlier in the day. On the other side I waited for Brian and rung out my socks, happy that I'd chosen my Smartwools even more now.

From there we rode on picking up the pace again towards Janesville, unknowingly our last resupply of the race, 85 miles from the finish. We never saw Joe's lights behind us but while we refueled at the gas station, chips, coffee and more candy, he caught up to us. One of the Polska riders was there waiting to be picked up and he let us know that we were now 5th, 6th and 7th on the road with one singlespeeder ahead of us. Joe was feeling better now and we rolled out of Janesville with our eyes set on Hawkeye thinking that would be our final stop, 39 miles from the finish. The group of three rode strong as there was always one or two riders feeling good. My Starbucks Doubleshot perked me up and I was still riding high and not sleepy yet. Brian started to get more and more quiet as we rode but I kept us clicking off the milestones. We had under 100 miles to go, then 90 then 80. We had ridden 400kilometers. Then we had less than 70 miles to go. Joe and I were pushing the pace with me secretly hoping the singlespeeder up the road, Joe K, would start to come back. By the time we hit another washed out road river crossing, Brian was at his low point. He'd been caughing and having trouble breathing for a while and wanted to stop. Before we left, the whole group took a small break eating jerky, pointing out our position on the cue sheets to Brian and making sure he had enough food and electrolytes. He sat down for a second, composing himself and eating. I told him that we were making awesome time up to this point and that he could take a nap for several hours, ride slowly and still finish. Then Joe and I said our goodbye's and headed off up the road for Hawkeye, another hour and change away.

We chased hard now with just the two of us although every speed felt the same. It felt like I was flying whether we were going 13mph or 23mph. We both appreciated the short turn sections and the longer 5-6 mile stretches began to seem pretty long. For a while we didn't talk much, just swapped turns pulling up the hills and looking for the best lines in the gravel. We rolled through some intermediate town with no services but held out hope for Hawkeye. By the time we were rolling into the Hawkeye city limits everything was dark and my spirits deflated a bit. What I wanted was a coffee and some thing hot to eat. What we found was a baseball field with a water fountain and a trash can. With no other options we stopped at the baseball field. I emptied my pockets of all unnecessary trash, my 2 extra water bottles and ate a cliff bar from Joe. From here finishing was merely a formality. I could tell the next little while was going to begin to test me as I got sleepy and ready to be finished but no matter what I was going to make it.

We rolled out faster than I wanted to but we both knew the fastest way to be done was to keep on pedaling as hard as we could. By now Joe was stronger than me it seemed and most of the time I just followed his lead. Now and then I would do my turn pushing the pace but for the most part I just hung on not wanting to ride alone yet. It got cold with our wet feet from the water crossings but overall I was warm enough. The predawn valleys and hills again alternated from warm to cool as the miles slowly ticked by. As the sun rose neither one of us was paying much attention to the cue sheets and we started up a hill questioning if we had missed a turn. Not wanting to ride miles off course we backtracked a mile to the street signs and determined that, yes we were on course. Now we were onto the 2nd to last cue sheet and with the last one being only 2 lines, this felt like the end. The sun rose and I was a big mix of emotions. Nothing I had to eat or drink sounded good anymore but I didn't care. I could pedal the rest of the way on empty. Joe was riding strong and I didn't want to hold him up any longer. As we reached Middle Ossam road, the last "long" stretch on the cue sheets I let the gap grow big enough to tell him to go on without me.

Now I was alone. I knew I would finish and I was thrilled. I wanted to call Marni and cry but I decided to keep moving. I hadn't seen anyone but Joe for hours but I was not about to give up my second place position by stopping. I pedaled on through the now hilly terrain. Tucking to 35mph on the downhills and coasting up the backside then standing and gritting it out over the top of each one. Turn by turn the miles disappeared slowly. The sun was up and a few random cars waved to me. I must have looked like death pedaling along for the last 26+ hours but I gave a weak wave back anyway. Mark made us push up several rediciulously steep hills at the end but I gritted my teeth and climbed them all. I hadn't walked a hill yet and I wasn't going to start now. Then I made the penultimate turn onto pavement. I coasted along, no one ahead or behind me in sight. From looking ahead on the cue sheets we knew the last turn was up a hill to finish in the cemetary. I watched the tenths of a mile click off and made the last turn. I gritted my teeth up the first half, gained speed on the false flat and powered up the last hill, mouth gapping the whole time. I could see the finish and then I was there.

I got off my bike and let it fall to the ground. Joe was there as well as 2 volunteers manning the finish. I gave them my number and name and let my 6th overall and 2nd place SS finish try to sink in. I sat in the grass and called Marni and we celebrated together 900 miles apart. I told her I was shelled and I was but other than the food thing which could have been rectified in any town, I could have kept going forever. I kept thinking about the rediculousness of having ridden 1/10th of my 2007 mileage in one push and doing my first double and triple centuries. Then GTed showed up and I thanked him for the adventure. Joe's wife showed up with breakfast sandwiches and I inhaled several, joking with Joe about bacon as that was our topic of conversation for many miles of the early morning. Yes we were motivated by the thought of bacon wrapped bacon.

Joe and his wife were nice enough to drive me the couple miles back to my hotel. I knocked on the window to find Dave and Matt there. They let me in, took my bike and gave me the shower. They congratulated me but I was moving in a fog. I showered and I think I took a nap for a short while. Matt went to the finish line to wait for Mike who was still out on course and Dave and I went to Mabe's for pizza. After the pizza and subsequent ice cream with some other TI participants we wandered over to the awards ceremony. Gted gave me an arm full of stuff and everyone cheered for all the finishers. 24 people slogged it out 330+ miles to finish TransIowa v3. There were lots of smiles and congrats handed out. Short versions of the war story were retold and the beer flowed for most. I still had to drive back to the airport so Dave and I headed back to the hotel after a while to pack my things and send me on my way. Fueled by more tea, candy and eventually 2 hot dogs and a milk shake I made it back to Rochester.

I thought this was the end of the story and I really wish it was. Unfortunately my plane was late getting to Rochester so I missed my flight out of Chicago. Despite running between gates on 330 mile legs and standing in 2 separate standby lines I never got a flight home on Sunday night. Marni and I were both upset but there was nothing that could be done. Even more all the food at the airport was now closed as it was 11pm and I was starving. I wondered across the street via tunnels to the Hilton and enjoyed a $50 dinner by myself. After several frustrating tram rides I made it back to terminal 3 only to find every security gate locked and closed for the night. Defeated I found the nearest chair and tired from being awake the last 45 hours I slept there until morning. 6 donuts and some coffee later I made it on a flight home to dinner and was never so happy to have Marni pick me up. We spent the rest of the day together, mostly sleeping.

This my friends is where my 2007 TransIowa tale ends. Will there be a TIv4 for me? Maybe if one is held. I'd like to mess around at the very front of the race with gears and a cross bike but right now it's too far out to say. We did have pretty perfect weather this year and that will be hard to beat in another running. What I can say is that I had a great time getting to meet and ride with everyone. I can't possibly thank everyone enough for the experience but hopefully you all know how I feel.

There are more really good pictures here and here. I didn't get any pictures during the race but these guys took some shots well worth thumbing through. Maybe you can find the one of me wheelie'ing across that sweet old bridge?

I also have to thank my family. First my wife for believing in me and supporting me through all the miles of training and racing. Even standing at the finishline of unsupported races just to see me finish despite the fact that you couldn't help me at all during the day. Marni I couldn't do any of this without your support. Also my dad I have to thank for getting me the best TransIowa computer ever made. The navigation function, while neither of us realized it before the race, was invaluable to my route finding. Also to my mom and sister and Marni's dad and mom for continually checking on for updates and cheering me on from St.Louis and Denver. Marni's dad Jim even got up in the middle of the night to keep checking for updates and listening for the announcement of my finish. Finally to everyone out there in my physical life plus blogger and MTBR land who have left such nice comments on my blog in support and congratuations this year. I really appreciate it from all of you guys and gals.

Finally I have to thank Mark and Jeff for putting on TransIowa this year. It was a great event that must have taken hours upon hours of hard work to put together, all for free. That's right they didn't charge a cent for entry. This event was an amazing experience for me guys and for a lot of other riders as well so thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your hard work.

TransIowa v3: Complete!


Cellarrat said...


Way to kick it Chris! I am so impressed with how much you have improved in the time i've known you!

Good luck with GLR, KTR, CTR ect....

Anonymous said...


It was awesome riding with you, and I really owe you one for getting me through the low spot after the second river crossing. Without your words of encouragement and endurolytes and Joe's food I am not sure how things would have worked out.

When I got home the day of the race I fell straight to sleep, took the next day off of work, and woke up only to eat. When my wife told me she had read on your wife's blog that you were trapped at the airport without food I couldn't IMAGINE how bad that must have been. I was so hungry, so beat up, and so tired that the idea of living at an airport overnight was over the top. But you made it through alive, and for that you have one more part of the story to tell your grandkids.

Brian Dukek

Guitar Ted said...


Thanks for your detailed write up, that was awesome. I learn alot from reading these and yours was one of the best I've read yet.

It was great to see you finish and really nice to meet you. I appreciate your thanks and that also means alot to me.

One last thing: I read your wife's blog out of curiosity, (I don't often get that kind of perspective) and I am sorry I terrorized her that night when I said I hadn't seen you come through Janesville. I know now I should be a little bit more careful about what I say! Please accept my appologies!

Here's to many more cycling adventures for you Chris! Take care!

Marni said...

Good job hubby. I am still so proud of how well you did! Great write-up too -- I feel like I've now ridden along with you. Now I need some pizza, ice cream, and a nap! Congratulations again. I hope babies get even an ounce of your talent and determination. Life with you is never dull :)

Meredith said...

Well done, very impressive. And most of all, thanks for sharing.

-m & d

See ya soon!

Dave Byers said...

Incredible write-up Chris. I have been hoping to read a full account of your Iowa adventure and I am glad that you had the energy to crank it out while still fresh in your mind. As I said before, incredible job! I hope to see you and Marni at KTR.

Stefan Griebel said...

Great reading the 1st hand account, Chris. The riding sounded hard and painful, but the return trip home actually sounded worse! Great Job, and a huge congrats on double *AND* triple centuries! Wow!

Doug said...

Chris I finally sat down and finished reading your write up. Thanks for putting it all down for us to read. Congrats on finishing, it's an incredible accomplishment!

Kibo said...

Hey Chris! I haven't had a chance to catch up on your blog lately, so I'm just reading this now. It was inspiring to read, and I'm glad that all your hard work has paid off. Isn't it strangely amusing how your head is probably full of details and memories that didn't end up in the blog because it would have turned into a novel? Congrats, man. :)