Sunday, December 30, 2012

"A trash bag and a Bulls Starter jacket."

"A trash bag and a Bulls Starter jacket." -Lee Neal, when asked by Pete what to wear in severe riding conditions.

I think I had a Bulls Starter jacket when I was ten, big time school bus cool factor then.

Although some might laugh at the proposition, it DOES get cold in Alabama in the winter. Not Minnesota or Iowa cold, but we definitely have some chilly months in the year. The only thing bike riders around here bitch about more than the heat is the cold. Maybe it is because we don't have enough of it to actually know what to do when it arrives.

My friend Scott recently did a post on his website about his cold weather gear for the Tour Divide that you can check out here: Bears, bears, and some clothing stuff.

I was inspired to write down part of my own setup after talking to Pete about what he needed to get setup with to ride through the winter as he gets ready for Trans Iowa.

I am going to go from the top down with this because that is what popped in my head first.

Any helmet that has room underneath for a hat or balaclava. Being warm is pointless if you can't get a helmet on.
Gore Windstopper hat below 40F and a Smartwool neck gaiter goes on in the low 30s
Smith Pivlock glasses have broad coverage. Protect your eyes in the cold, it can do really odd things to your vision.

Bici Coop Racing kit for starters. Gotta represent, brah.
Defeet SS Wool base and Swiftwick arm warmers go on under 60F.
Twin Six wind vest with mesh back under 55F.
Montane windshirt goes on at 40F when the arms start getting cold. This is good down to about 25F!
Patagonia Nanopuff as emergency insulation, I've never been cold enough to ride in it but its nice to have.
Patagonia Torrentshell hooded rain jacket for full on storms. The windshirt has a DWR coating that can handle showers but the real deal is nice if the weather totally goes to shit.

Meh, hands are tough. I can use normal long fingered gloves down to 50F.
Outdoor Research Vert gloves go on after that, these are thin softshell gloves that are warm down to 35F.
I have some MLD Event rain mitts that can go on if it storms or gets super cold BUT have not used them much yet. Bringing two pairs of gloves is actually a really good system as you always have a dry pair to put on!

This part is easy. Start off with bib shorts.
Knee warmers go on at 60F. I have some Pearls that are decent but want some wool ones.
Tights or Rivendell knickers below 40F. I have been down to 20F like this without issue.
Patagonia Torrentshell rain pants chopped to knickers if it comes a big ol' storm.

The worst part of all. Feet are nothing more than dumb hands, especially when it comes to staying warm and dry. I wear wool socks all year round. If I am racing in the cold I just wear normal shoes and let my feet stay wet and cold, it doesn't bother me much. For other riding I have a kickass pair of Shimano MW81 winter boots. If it is below 35F I use a wool sock plus GoLite nylon VBL sock to prevent sweat from soaking the insulation of the boot. Pretty simple.

All of this has worked really well and is still warm enough if it gets wet, which it will, from sweat or rain. There is no such thing as a "breathable waterproof" anything for exercising so don't obsess over finding it. Find things that are warm when damp. The things described above have a very flexible temp range. I have pondered getting one of Gore's Windstopper jackets and tons of people like them but I feel like I have more control over ventilation and whatnot with the windshirt setup. A typical layering setup is described as base, insulation, then some sort of shell. I feel like this is poor advice if you are working hard on a bike. You just end up sweating through all the precious stay warm stuff and BOOM, you're cold again.

Jeez, that was way longer than I expected. Kudos to anyone that read through all that!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just some transiowa ponderings.

Well, how about that, it is Trans Iowa registration time again.

I finished last year but missed the time cut by an hour or so. I thought I would be mentally tortured by this but it really didn't happen. The urge to go back has slowly decreased over the past few months. I am at peace with the race now and don't feel like I HAVE to go again...

I would like to do TI again but I want to have a year with the option to race in the summer. I miss out on this every year due to recovery from some sort of behemoth of a late spring race. Time for something different.

Lee is going back as well as plenty of other folks I met and rode with last year. Pete, our crew from last year, has mentioned going but I don't know anything definite. I might go back to help crew. Who knows.

For those of you thinking about doing it, fucking do it already. Otherwise, you will forever wonder about it. How hard is it? What can my body handle? My mind? Does all farm country look the same? Either go do the same rides you always do next year or go take on something bigger than all of it. Plenty of people simply aren't interested in this sort of race. That is probably a good thing.

Yes, there are plenty of "buts". I think what scares most people away from Trans Iowa is failure. It sure is common there. It really is a great race. Guitar Ted and the volunteers work so hard. It is amazing. Mark, thanks for putting on this race year after year. I know it is hard to plan and work out the kinks, but it really is one of a kind. Hardest one I've done, that is for sure!

Guitar Ted has plenty of equipment and bike tips on his website for the race and they are great. Here are some of my own thoughts that might help those interested.

Bike Choice:
Cross or MTB. Take whatever you trust and are comfortable on. I did a cross bike last year but would take a mtb with a rigid fork and 1.8 tubeless tires if I went again. Mud clearance is a big issue. I remember being with Scott McConnell on a B Road 315 miles in and digging mud out of a cross bike while he rolled his mtb right on through... It is dark and scary and you need to be as comfortable as possible given the highly probable shit conditions you will be in. Singlespeed people...go easy, the hills are STEEP. Think low 50s for gear inches. I think a 32/17 would be perfect on a 29er. Unless you want to win, then knock yourself out.

Learn to eat crappy gas station food. I was already great at this so it was a non issue. If you are going to implode without 1.25 Honey Stinger LA edition waffles per hour you might have an issue.

Everybody knows what to wear when its hot. Some know when its cold or wet. The trick is getting a combo of stuff that will work together in many conditions and not be redundant. Experiment. Read about stuff hikers use, they have it figured out.

Like the bike, go with what you know. I made a huge mistake here and kept my awesome lights on the bar instead of my helmet like I am used to. If I went again I would do one of my Ayup lights on the helmet with an emergency light on the bar.

Get out in the wind and cold and roll. It will not be pleasant every time. Test your gear, make sure it doesn't suck! The longest ride I did before TI was 9 hours and that was plenty. Ideal training would be at least 12 hours a week with a 12 hour MTB race a month before TI. Unless you are a really good technical rider spend plenty of time on hard trails, it takes a whole different kind of fitness.

Let's say you actually get in and go to Iowa to race. Try and get some sleep two night before the race since you won't get much the night before. I failed miserably at this and had some disturbing night riding moments.

Be very careful about who you ride with. Negativity spreads to everyone around. People that get really quiet all of a sudden are probably bonked or about to. Make friends and talk to those around you. You will know quickly if they will be a good riding buddy. The goal is to be around people who want to FINISH.

You have to be moving pretty quick to get to the checkpoints on time. 10 MPH average sounds like nothing until you are in two inches of peanut butter gravel with a 40 mph wind in your face.

B Roads are as hard as you make them. Don't ride through them, just pick the bike up and start walking no matter how "not that bad" it looks. It is that bad, really.

The party starts in late April. Get some: Trans Iowa V9

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Learning the Turkish Get Up and other fun stuff.

Yeah, wtf. I know.

Weird title.

Weird content also. How about that?

I have been riding again every day and am feeling better. Doc said I might have a torn medial meniscus but didn't feel it warranted surgery at this point so as he said..."Go ride." We will see I guess.

I have been following orders and have also been paying close attention to ways my body functions other than riding a bike all day.

I bought a 16 kilogram kettlebell a couple weeks ago and it has been a great workout. If you want one in the Birmingham area go holler at Grant at Wright Exercise Equipment. Relates to riding quite well I think. Swings are great for posterior chain strength which is lacking in many cyclists. Basically think of an explosive movement that counteracts riding and desk posture.

This is Tim Ferris with a great instructional on the swing.

He says do 'em 75 reps 3 days weekly. I've been doing 100 or so daily. Get tired from them and it gives the same "after ride" tiredness that feels so great.

Another goodie is the Turkish Get Up. These are a real bitch to learn and have a big penalty if you fuck it up with the weight overhead so yeah, practice carefully. Maybe with a shoe to start?

Gray Cook has one of the best instructionals I have seen.

Fun, right? Best way I have found to discover how far reaching my weaknesses and assymetries actually are.

One last bit of fun. The frog stretch could be referred to, as yoga people say, a hip opener. Much like Jerry Rice could be referred to as a decent football player or Mitt Romney as well off.

Point is, these will destroy you. Have fun.

Late edit: While I was at it I should have added this. It is a daily joint mobility routine by Steve Maxwell. I'm not sure about some of the spinal flexion movements early in the AM (look up the research by Stuart McGill on this issue) but I like the general feel of it.

Steve Maxwell's Daily Dozen

Monday, September 3, 2012

Endurance Racing Preparation

Here is a good article on how to race a mountain bike all day and only be as miserable as you absolutely have to by Gerry Pflug from the Salsa Cycles site.

Endurance Racing Preparation

Gerry has been doing this stuff a long time and wins a bunch so I figure he knows what he is doing.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Some things are happening.

I haven't updated in a bit because I really have not had much bike related things to say but now I have a little to say about a multitude of things.

First things first.

Yes, that is an engagement ring. Melissa and I are getting married! The ring was originally her mom's and Melissa was set on using it if/when we got married. It is badass, sort of vintage looking with a satin type finish on the band. No time soon for the wedding, but we are doing some planning and it is not going to be a traditional type deal. I'm really excited about it. I'm amazed I found someone I have lived with for three years and am happy to see every day when I come home. Sometimes things work out pretty well.

My riding the past couple months has been pretty mediocre. I suppose I have been doing 10 or 12 hours a week, most of it pretty slow riding to work. Just enough to knock down the weight from my post Kanza food and beer binge. I should limit those to a day instead of two weeks so I can actually fit into my pants after big races. Lesson learned. Maybe. I am not totally sure of the meaning of the work plucky but it could probably be applied to the condition of my knees. They were good at Kanza but felt shitty when I started riding again here. They are getting better, but slower than makes sense to me. I might need to eat more meat or something. I already shelled out money for a fit and the bikes feel like they fit really damn knees just hurt at times. Meh, anyways. I want to do Double Dare in Pisgah in October, I really miss riding up there.

Picky son of a bitch that I am, I sold the Niner. The just freakin' built Niner.

Turns out it is possible to have too nice of a commuter bike. I came across a good deal on a cheaper commuter and it should be here this week sometime. The Niner was super easy to sell so away it went. A flat black, old man hybrid bike will be all mine soon. Possibly with a wireless Powertap on it. I miss having the power meter to track progress.  This will be real similar to my Soma that I sold (like an idiot) last year and was my favorite road riding machine yet.

It seems ridiculous to sell bikes so often but I was worse when I had access to more shop EP deals. Twelve bikes in the garage at one point. I have only two right now and three when the FX gets built. Three is ok, I'm good with that. The dining room cannot hold more.

I have been riding the Nature Boy to work in SS mode and forgot how much work that is. Singlespeed is king, makes you strong like a bear. If bears rode bikes, they would probably ride singlespeeds. One of the new Surly Krampus bikes I bet.


I almost forgot. We are kicking ass with the Couch to 5K thing. 15 runs so far at 3 times a week. It will be much more pleasant when the weather gets cooler.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Running and dogs

For the second year in a row, I have taken up jogging just as the hot part of summer is hitting.

Last summer I think it was because I read Born to Run. I think that guy could have written a book about picking up trash and I would have jumped at the chance to join a local waste service.

Melissa decided she wanted to start running a couple weeks ago and we got around to doing the first one Saturday night. We went for thirty minutes, alternating jogging and walking. No barefoot sandals this time for me. After stepping on some sharp objects in those I'm over it. And absolutely ZERO pure barefoot running. I stepped on some sort of splinter running barefoot last year...holy shit that hurt.

On a semi related note, one of my worst fears came true a couple weeks ago. Whenever I wear flip flops I am nervous about something happening to my toes. We went over to Andrew and Melanies to hang out, grill, and drink beer. I fretted over the flip flops and wore them anyway. A few beers and a couple hours later a frisbee came out and a cul-de-sac with some nice, tall curbs was found. You see where this is going.

I took off to catch a toss way over my head. My pace was good, I was moving fast. I was the Jerry Rice of Frisbee. Then my toes met the curb. At full speed. Crushed the poor things. They still look nasty but nothing is broken. Walking and running still hurt and mountain biking is pretty unpleasant. I can't say I learned an actual lesson due to this incident because all the contributing factors are things I will likely do again.

Beginning running is tough to do around our house since it is all hills. Walking up some of them is harder than running on flat ground.

Last night went better...she found a program called "Couch to 5K" and it said to do twenty to thirty minutes three times a week. We would jog for sixty seconds and walk for ninety seconds, it went pretty well and neither one of us is all that sore. I can't say that I "like" running but it is better than any of those dvd type exercise programs.

Melissa seems to be liking the running so far. Proud of her for getting out in the heat and not seeking the solace of a treadmill.

She sent me a link earlier today to a running program for dogs called Pooch to 5K.

I investigated and damn if it does not look like a carbon copy of the Couch to 5K program for people. At first thought, it seemed like a great idea. Then I realized how hot the dogs are after walking them for 15 minutes in the heat here. The high temp for the next week is above 95 every day.

I am worried the dogs would overheat if we tried to start taking them with us on runs, which is too bad cause it sounds fun. Sugaree (our beagle) overheated last year at Bump and Grind and I had to do some extensive hiking carrying her. It took her forever to cool down and I don't want a repeat of that. It is hard to tell when a dog is getting too hot because they look so happy doing it. I see people out at the park all summer here with dogs on the verge of heat exhaustion dragging them around. Watch our for yer dogs, folks.


Sugaree (L) and Luke (R) at Moss Rock

Sunday, June 24, 2012

First ride at Coldwater Mountain.

I first started mountain biking when I was 15 (this sounds like a paper for school already) mostly around the Anniston/Jacksonville area in eastern Alabama.

I hung out at Fun Wheels and pestered Jimmy Pettus for bike fixing tips and food. He taught me how to work on bikes and gave me expired Powerbars.

My mom would drive me to the meetings for the NEABC, the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Club. There are some cool trails out that way other than the most popular one of the area, the Cheaha Mountain Express. Mark's Loop, Linda's Loop, Gene's...Iron Legs. I had not ridden out there in years until today. I just didn't feel like it was worth the drive.

The recent addition of some IMBA built trails at Coldwater Mountain changed my thoughts there. I saw Marcus Tillman at the Sunny King Crit and he said the trails were top notch and a must ride. They opened a month ago and me and Tyree were able to make the trip out there this morning to check it out. Here is some information on the trails: NEABC Coldwater Page.

There is a 1.5 mile Beginner Loop which has plenty of places to make a beginner eat the dirt but it was a nice warm up.

The main loop is 9 miles or so I think with about 1100 feet of climbing. The whole trail is just like a giant BMX track...its nuts. The first climb is a biggun, 3 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain. Okay, it is big for Alabama, how about that? Here is a link to the Strava data: Strava for Coldwater.

The downhill afterwards is really the reason to get out to Coldwater. Jeez. I really don't have much to compare it to...maybe lower part of Jekyll and Hyde but trickier. Lots of doubles to hit or manual and fast, fast, fast. I want to ride it some more and learn it better. I predict lots of broken collarbones out there. It isn't a "no brainer" trail. You have to pay close attention. Well, you don't have to. But then you would crash a bunch. Your choice. It didn't seem very bumpy but then again I threw a bouncy fork on for it.

It felt great to be back on a real trail. I'm in pretty shit mountain biking shape right now but that will improve quick since I'm riding again after Kanza.

Coldwater was awesome, if you have not been yet GO.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Another commuter: Niner EMD 9

Remember that oh so lovely semi custom Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross frame I acquired?

That's okay, I barely remember it either and I paid for the damn thing.

It was a good bike and I hope whoever ended up with it is enjoying it. Yeah, I sold it...because of the dropouts:

The super cool, do it all dropouts turned out to be a colossal pain in the ass with the disc brake, derailler, and horizontal dropouts conspiring to frequently create what my friend Daniel's father calls a "goatscrew". There is probably someone out there who loves a setup like this but it is not me. Vertical dropouts for gears from here on out.

Oh, and suprise surprise semi custom niche bikes are incredibly hard to sell. Either way, it is out, and this thing is in:

I waited to say much about this bike to make sure I actually like it. Fortunately, I really like it, much like I did my old Air 9.

It has the same parts as the old BMC. Some of it is exciting but most is quite standard and boring. Here are the basics:

Niner EMD9 frame
$10 Surly fork with protruding goiter like canti mounts intact.
Industry Nine wheels with Stans rims
Fat, touring tires
LX 9 speed drivetrain (I even left the 22 ring on)

Basically, a pile of parts that will work for a long time and I won't have to think about much. It needs some barends but I have been too lazy to put them on.

It has really close geometry to my On One and it rides nice. Sure is slow though...I rode with Boris this weekend and even had to ask him to slow down some. That hurt.

I was going to say more about the Niner, but damn, it's my bike I ride to work. One thing worth mentioning is how well Niner preps their frames at the factory. Everything is faced and all threads are ready to go. That is huge, especially if you are going to be building one in the middle of the dining room. I lied, two things are worth mentioning. Don't mess around with trying to put a hybrid crankset with a 48 ring on this. It "clears" but really does not work well at all. I gave up and used a standard 44 crank.

The posts here will get even more exciting as the week goes on. I need to write a review of some ProGold stuff now that I have had a chance to test it out proper. Whoooo, chain lube. Might be some talk about our beagle also.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dirty Kanza 200 Blog Posts

Eric Benjamin, the Adventure Monkey, has started a collection of links to racers' write ups from this year's DK200.

There is some good stuff in there.

Check it out here: DK200 Blog Post List

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dirty Kanza 200 Gravel Road Race (full report)

After last year's mud caked disappointment at the Dirty Kanza 200 there was no doubt in my mind I would be back to try again in 2012. That was decided before we even began the drive back to Alabama last year. I had to go back.

I had marked the race on my calendar and was patiently awaiting registration to open when I got an email from my boy Richard at Backcountry Research (one of the sponsors of DK). He had four spots available for sponsored riders and I had a chance to be one. After a couple quick emails I was in before registration opened along with Lee Neal, Thad Hoffman, and someone else whose name I cannot remember currently.

It was also around this time in January when I mailed my registration card in for Trans problem, I thought. Ride 330 miles at Trans Iowa, rest a week, train a couple weeks, rest, and go tear it up at Dirty Kanza for 200 miles.

 I'm dumb.

Trans Iowa is known for putting the beat down on riders and it sure did a number on me. My knee to be exact. That son of a bitch hurt too bad to even squat down or ride to work for three weeks. Hm, this was not part of my oh so simple plan to do two of the hardest bike races in the country back to back. How unfortunate.

I was worried...but I also wasn't buying the whole, "Well friend, if you ride that far something bad will happen." Days passed, things improved, and I made the call to drive 1500 miles to go for a ride in the Flint Hills. Yet again, Lee came with me to race (Bici Coop, yo) and Zach...well, Zach ate bacon and drank beer. Kidding aside, Zach once again was good company and a badass crew. Thanks dude.

We stayed in a hotel, ate shitty food, and pondered what the race had in store for us this year. Ya know, things bike racers do on the way to bike races. Nothing exciting.

High Gear shop cat.
It was raining on and off and forty degrees cooler than when we arrived in Emporia last year. It was strange but at the same time, the promise of cooler weather had my hopes up. I kept quiet as to not jinx it. The prerace meeting was similar to last year and I even won a sick purple koozie emblazoned with the Chamois Butt'r logo! Eric Benjamin (the Adventure Monkey) unveiled the amazing looking print for the winner of the David Pals Award for good sportsmanship. I knew I would not win the race but I'm a pretty good sportsman. I took a swig from Zach's beer and set my event goal: get David Pals award. Well, that, and then there was the whole finishing thing. I was too full of self loathing from last year's disaster to handle another DNF. I wasn't even gonna think about quitting.

At 6 AM the next morning, 460 racers lined up outside the Granada Theater to take on 200 miles of midwest gravel. We were staged in waves this year by guesstimated finish time. We took a spot in the 18 hour area since it was closest to the car and looked around to see very few people behind us.

Back of the pack at the start

 The16 hour group looked better so we shuffled forward fifty feet or so. I was amazed at how many people lined the streets to watch the start. People in Emporia are all about this race, it is so damn cool. All the stores have signs welcoming racers and places open early or stay open late.

Early roll out...and guy with moustache

 After a mile or two of pavement, we hit gravel and I was instantly glad I chose to ride my mountain bike. The gravel was rough was being sprayed everywhere by the hundreds of riders in front of me. My mouth was already dusty. I could feel gravel settling into my helmet vents and pinging off my sunglasses.

Ten minutes into the race, I decided it was second breakfast time and munched on one of Melissa's amazing ham and swiss sammies as I watched the sunrise off to the left. I was happy to be racing and simply focused on riding my bike rather than worrying about which wheel to follow or what paceline was faster. The urge to stay in pacelines with the gearies was strong and we did so for about 25 miles before stopping to shed some layers. As I pulled off the road I realized a rider near me (rather aggro fella at that) thought I had stopped in a ditch simply to let him by. This provided a good laugh and soon enough we settled into a group with a nice easy pace that I was content to stay with. It was great to have an actual map holder this year rather than digging it out of a pocket every two miles.

This is what the maps we got were like

 Part of my plan this year was to obsessively watch the map it made my whole day better. The terrain was beautiful. The colors are so intense in the Flint Hills. Coupled with the remoteness of the region, it is just amazing. I remember at one point saying out loud to myself, "there is so much...nature out here." It made sense at the time.

I switched to an easy gear (32/17 which is 55 gear inches) a couple days before the race and realized its awesomeness as we pedaled up one of the only long climbs of the race, Texaco Hill. I reached the top still breathing calmly and said hello to some locals watching from their tailgate. Leg 1 was 63 miles and we reached the "town" of Cassoday around 10:40 AM anxious to find Zach and get back on the road. I looked left, looked right, and rode around the parking lot some. No Zach. He was either lost, late, or still asleep. I placed my bets on the third option and pondered what to do. A lady beside me asked if I wanted water and, yes! The race had an option this year to pay for support provided by the Pablove Foundation. The lady offering food was with the Foundation and saved the freakin' day for Lee and myself. We refueled and hit the road, confident we would find Zach 45 miles down the road. Thanks Pablove people, you guys were awesome. You have a donation headed your way.

Leg 2 to Florence, KS was where I began to have a come apart last year after getting lost twice and chasing too hard in the heat to make up lost time. We made all the right turns this year, which felt like a huge victory and added to my lack of stress. It was maybe around mile 70 I began to notice my left knee hurt. I knew something would hurt during the race and figured that would be the culprit. The right one had recovered from Trans Iowa but the left one had bothered me the week before the race but was not even close to as bad as the right one had been a couple weeks before. I was also beginning to feel the consequences of riding a 135 gram Selle Italia SLR saddle in a 200 mile mountain bike race. It was punishing but I decided I would wait until Florence to dick around with it. We hit a really cool road I don't remember the name of but it was super rocky and had a few shady creek crossings. The temperature was probably around 85 but my ever pessimistic Garmin had climbed up to 102 and was starting to psych me out. Before the race, I made a wild ass guess and suggested we keep a 13 mph average but sure enough we were pretty close to that. We were going a bit faster actually but I felt like we were riding easy. Around 2:15 PM we hit 105 miles and rolled into the second checkpoint in Florence.

Checkpoint Two in Florence. Hot.

This was possibly the happiest I had ever been to see Zach. Turns out he got to the first check ten minutes after we left it! He mentioned it was only 85 and I vowed to ignore the Garmin's insane suggestions that we were approaching the center of the Earth.

Lee and I both made some taint saving saddle adjustments and got on our way, headed towards the section that had destroyed us so thoroughly in 2011. I felt well hydrated and strong but it was getting pretty warm. I noticed my calves were getting twitchy. I had actually noticed this 80 miles before this but began to take the issue more seriously and upped my mustard an salt intake which worked nicely. Twenty miles or so into this leg, we acquired a guy from Kansas City named John Welsh. John was also on a singlespeed and our duo was now a trio. A couple other riders joined us and the miles passed quickly as we rode and just generally shot the shit under the relentless Kansas sun. It sure was hot now but I was still sweating and actually looked forward to eating the food stuffed in my pockets. I was frequently starving and considered that a good thing. Suddenly, Lee hollered something unintelligible and swerved. I followed his wheel and saw a small turtle in the road. This was one of four turtles we saw during the race and managed to not hit any of them! I like turtles and didn't want to run over one.

"Yurtle the Turtle" began to run through my head and I asked everyone if the knew who sang it. Nobody knew and it would take me another 50 miles to realize it was a Chili Peppers weirdo B Side.

 Me and Lee decided to stop and change maps and slowed down rapidly forgetting we now had a group of five or so people with us. Chaos ensued as people skidded to a halt and a guy on a Soma ran into Lee. We took off and now had a group of four that was working together quite efficiently to make it to Council Grove, the site of the third checkpoint at 165 miles into the race. Our fourth rider was the guy who ran into Lee when we stopped. His name was Ryan and this was his first bike race. I was and still am in amazement someone would choose a race this brutal as their first. He told us about all the miles he put into training and how excited he was to be racing. Later in the day, Ryan put forth a thorough explanation of why the DK200 was harder than the Bar Exam. I made a foolish mention of how calm the winds were and they instantly gusted up a couple times as a warning of sorts.

Lesson learned. I didn't say shit about the wind after that.

We began to see riders laying in ditches or in front yards trying to escape the heat. The beautiful gravel roads had become the avenues of broken dreams for those who had gone out too hard or forgotten to eat. After passing a bridge out sign we saw three riders standing in the road, one of which was vomiting onto the hot gravel. On we went. I realized early into the third leg I had not had to walk any hills yet and instantly vowed to not walk a hill the rest of the race no matter how steep it was. I mentioned this to Lee and he was on board. I gave him half a packet of chamois cream and we discussed the possibility of this act garnering me the David Pals award. It was a rush to ride the B Road section that ruined the race for me last year. B roads are awesome when dry and devastating when wet. Things were looking good, goals were being met, gravel was being crushed. As it should be.

John announced he had a flat and pulled of the road and we discussed what to do. He had everything to fix it, so Ryan, Lee, and myself went on without him. I saw a field off to the right that made me instantly think about Tom Petty. After some discussion, Lee and I decided the field looked like the album cover of Highway Companion.

I noticed an older rider wearing sandals and wool socks, which I found interesting.

"How do you like those sandals?" I asked him.

"Sandals and aerobars...sandals and aerobars!" he yelled excitedly. Dude was pumped about his setup.

 We rolled into Council Grove and quickly found Zach. I drank part of a beer, then a Coke, and they both tasted wonderful.
Awkward chamois tending in Council Grove

I had been saving my iPod for when I found myself in a deep, dark pain cave but this moment didn't seem like it would be happening. Yeah, I hurt. Lots. I didn't mind, I was doing what I set out to do and had other things to think about. I found some Metallica on the iPod and we met up again with Ryan to knock out the last 37 miles back to Emporia. 37 miles! So close but I didn't want to get cocky so I didn't say much about it. Neither did Lee or Ryan. Scott McConnell was walking into Council Grove with a flat tire and a bum knee as we were leaving. I felt bad for him. We rode the last 30 miles of Trans Iowa together and I hoped he would finish this one too. Lots of people were quitting in Council Grove. That is how this race goes. Even under ideal conditions, many fail.

The weather was finally cooling off and the first seven miles of the fourth leg was an awesomely fast shaded rail trail. We rolled along at 17 mph which felt insanely fast after riding for 13 hours already. The hills on this part of the course were disgustingly steep. I made sure not to look at the percent grade on my computer. It didn't matter, I was gonna ride them no matter what. It had already been decided. The course took us over a bridge where some people below were on a houseboat drinking beer and cheering us on. I was happy, jealous, and pissed all at the same time. They looked so comfortable while my pain level was steadily increasing, tempered only by hopes of finishing the race. As darkness fell, the lights went on and navigation got trickier. The maps were hard to read but the course was marked better this year. I was shocked at how many riders on course simply depended on others to lead them around. I had decided before the race I wanted to know where I was at all times and now it was paying off. Thad and a couple other guys passed us twenty miles or so before the finish. I rode with them briefly but hung back to ride with Lee and Ryan to the finish.

There was some tense discussion at a couple intersections but we made all the correct turns and soon hit pavement. Two miles to the finish! I had been looking forward to the pavement since it would roll easier than the gravel. I didn't realize what a disadvantage my bike would be once off gravel.

Lee had a bigger gear than me and the others were on geared bikes. We were rolling fast and my heart was racing trying to keep up. I had no idea why were going so fucking fast but was too breathless to complain so I just accepted the last two miles would be really hard for no good reason. The pavement was marked with spray paint which was tough to see but I guess Lee had good spray paint vision and was proving to be a competent leader. The course went through the college campus in Emporia and we saw a red light up ahead.

 No traffic. Run it. A hundred yards to go.

The finish line scene on Commercial Street was nuts. There were so many people there and they were all so happy. Genuinely happy. Or drunk. Or maybe its all the same, who cares. It was awesome. I crossed the line with my two riding partners for the previous six hours and someone put a Finisher pint glass in my sweaty hand. People kept trying to shake hands with me and I was paranoid about dropping the pint glass.

I also wanted to fill the Finisher glass with what I though would be free Finisher beer. It wasn't free.

The guy serving either felt sorry for us or liked us as he gave us the beer anyway. Soon after, a random piss drunk lawyer made friends with us and bought us beer after finding out we finished on singlespeeds. We talked to his family some. They were from Emporia and super nice. Malcolm from Colorado came up with a bucket of fried chicken and biscuits from KFC. I ate a biscuit that someone had already eaten part of as we watched the award ceremony. A guy with a gnarly beard walked up and gave me and Zach cards to join the Emporia Beard Club which I was really proud of.

Done. Sorta happy.
Lee and his sparkly Gunnar
Someone rode 200 miles on this. Baller.

I've never been as happy to finish a race as I was with this one. Last year's failure made it that much sweeter. Thanks again to Zach for all the help, Pablove Foundation for the bailout, Backcountry Research for sending us, Melissa for being so cool about me doing stupid shit like this, and all the wonderful organizers and volunteers. I have raced 585 miles of gravel so far this year. These events have an awesome vibe to them and I have met some great people.

Oh yeah, we finished pretty well too.

I was 19th Place Singlespeed and Lee was 20th. We did the course in 16:28, beating cutoff by about five hours and didn't walk one single hill... Dunno if that has smart but it sure felt good. Somewhere in the 120ish out of 460 overall racers. Here is the data on Strava.

DK 200 quick post.


19th Place Singlespeed. 121st overall. Full write up soon. Hopefully tonight.

EDIT: Click for full write up.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Scott Thigpen interview

I did an interview with Tour Divide hopeful Scott Thigpen on his website...and I didn't swear once!

Check it out here: Driven2Divide interview

Look around at the rest of his site while you are there. Lot's of good info and funny stuff.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trans Iowa V8. Bike and Gear Setup

Ahhh, the last Trans Iowa post...for now, anyway.

If you missed the previous three installments of my posts on Trans Iowa they can be found here:

You might have noticed these first three were a bit lacking on details describing my bike and gear. I did this for a couple reasons. I felt the story read better without being cluttered with things like, "I was so stoked I ran 4mm derailleur housing instead of 5mm blah, blah, blah..." and this will hopefully help anyone else dumb enough to go tangle with Trans Iowa in the future.

The Bike and Gear:

Post race. Sorta gross, as was I

Bike: All City Nature Boy frame and fork

Wheels: Stans ZTR Arch rims built by me to Surly hubs with DT spokes. Brass nips.

Tires: Schwalbe Marathon Extreme 700 x 35C tubeless w/ Stans juice at 45 psi.

Drivetrain: Dura Ace crank, KMC Z610 chain, White Industries freewheel. SPD pedals. 39 x 19 gearing.

Brakes: Shimano XTR V brakes with Avid levers. Continuous cable housing.

Controls: WTB Vigo saddle, Niner 680mm flatbar, Ritchey WCS barends, ESI grips

Bar setup, Garmin missing from mount.

Pack: Wingnut Hyper 3.0 w/ 100 oz. Camelbak bladder. Mountain Feedbag on bars. Left a Revelate  Tangle bag in hotel room just before start. 2 24 oz. bottles on the bike.

Wingnut Hyper 3.0. Great pack.

Lights: AYUP bar light w/ 2 12 hour batteries. Princeton Tec EOS helmet light. Superflash rear blinkie.

Gadgets: Cateye Strada Wireless computer. Garmin Edge 500 GPS w/ Geomadic charger run off AAs.

Tools: 2 spare tubes, 15mm stubby wrench, 1 tire lever, Pedros multitool hacked down to bare minimum. The rest of my toolkit was contained in a Tulpurse from Backcountry Research. This contained a spare chainring bolt, superglue, duct tape, tire boot from Rich at Backcountry, two zip ties, chaintool, extra links, spoke wrench, patch kit, razor blade, 12 lb test fishing line with curved needle...all in a two by two package. Lezyne pump wrapped in duct tape on bike.

Tulpurse and multitool

Cue sheet holder: Homemade from a piece of plastic and packing tape reinforced Ziploc bags.

Extras: Suunto compass, Iowa map, small packet chamois cream, wet nap, eye drops. Survival blanket.

Thoughts: Everything worked great here with a couple exceptions. I was really glad to have the flat bars on the 30mph downhills in the middle of the night. I don't feel like I can get the same control with drops. Also, zero blisters or hand soreness after 332 miles...didn't expect that! I should have run the Ayups on the helmet and left the extra AAA battery light in my pack. The Geomadic Garmin recharger worked perfectly and as a bonus kept the unit's backlight on all night. No shoulder or neck soreness from the fully loaded wingnut.


Defeet wool base layer - worn at all times

Jersey and bibs - worn at all times

Knee and arm warmers- worn at all times

Rivendell MUSA knicks

Twin Six wind vest - worn at all times

Icebreaker merino ski socks

Giro thin summer gloves and $10 double layer fleece gloves

Ancient falling apart Specialized shoes

Even more ancient Trek "test ride" helmet from Cahaba Cycles

Smith Pivlock V90 glasses with clear lenses. Never removed them.

Montane Featherlite smock windshirt. 3 ounces. Packs to apple size. Non edible.

Patagonia Torrentshell rain shell. 10 ounces

Patagonia Nanopuff vest. 8 ounces. Emergency insulation

Lantiseptic Skin Protectant for chamois use. This stuff is awesome but disgusting. If you are riding a long time check it out. My ass was sore when I got done but no lasting er, issues.

Nanopuff vest, Montane windshirt, rain shell

Thoughts: Clothing system worked well. The weather started out sub 40 and raining with a 20 deg F windchill, warmed to 55 and partly cloudy, turned cold, then went to shit again at 4 AM. Not easy to dress for. I was able to add or subtract layers easily and was usually comfortable. I am going to change the glove setup and use wool gloves with MLD Rain Mitts to go over them for storm use. I only wore the Nano vest once and it was way too warm, I think I would be good down to 15 degrees with it if needed! Clothes storage was an issue. I want a Revelate seat pack, my system was to stuff extras in the Wingnut and this got slower and more frustrating throughout the race. I would also add a pair of Gore Tex or Event baggy shorts. Pretty happy overall here.


Electrolytes: Nuun tabs. Succeed S Caps if the weather turned hot.

Extras: Sportlegs, mustard packs, Advil

Food: Started the race with five ham and cheeses made by Melissa (love that girl), three Little Debbie cosmic brownies, three Larabars, an oatmeal creampie, and lots of caffeinated gels for the night. At gas stations I bought Snickers, pizza, Reese's cups, breakfast sandwiches, Payday bars, more Cosmic Brownies. A couple of the checkpoints had Clif bars, which I hate but also, I had to eat!

Thoughts: I added it up. I consumed close to 9,000 calories in 35 hours and my stomach felt fine the whole time. No cramps. I burped but I always do that, consider it part of my charm. I found I mostly preferred sweet junk food and never tired of it. If it was hotter I would have had more salty, savory foods. Absolute favorites were the ham and cheeses and a Reese's Fast Break I found in Montezuma at the first check. I hate Clif Shot gels, the stupid tab leash thing was confusing to me at night. 

Jeez, how's that for detailed? If anyone has any questions about this stuff I would be happy to answer them. Just leave a comment below. Trans Iowa is a tough race and tough to plan for. You have to deal with your choices and the ensuing consequences for 35 hours. Plan carefully and DON'T try to save weight.

After the race

Some might be wondering, "how did you hold up?"

After hearing some other riders post Trans Iowa horror stories I feel pretty good. I went to work two days after the race and felt totally normal except for my right knee which is pretty well a lump of shit right now. I noticed after the race my chain developed a tight spot right where my right leg would press down every pedal revolution. I started having knee pain about 10 hours into the race soooo 26 more hours x 3600 odd pedal strokes and hour equal one furious and inflamed knee. I went to one of the doctors I worked with about it yesterday. I didn't damage anything, just have some irritation (lots) in the medial patellofemoral ligament and articular cartilage. I need to rest it so it can heal. This means no Skyway and DK200 is uncertain...I'll make that call in a few more days.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trans Iowa V8. Part 3

Part 3: It's 3 AM and I am riding my bike.


It was 8:45 PM when we left Checkpoint Bravo at 170 miles into Trans Iowa. Clouds overhead obscured whatever helpful moonlight and stars would have otherwise been out to illuminate the night. On went the lights. I usually run a super bright Ayup headlamp and no bar light. For some reason I am still unsure of I deviated and put the Ayups on the bar with a small AAA lamp on my helmet. The gravel was unimpressive from Checkpoint Bravo to Charlie. There was more "maintained" road with nasty fresh gravel to soak up our energy but the wind was mild and the hills smaller. Fair trade I suppose.

Lee had given me some helpful advice earlier in the day. "Yeah, I'm not thinking about the finish...I just know its 11 AM and I'm riding my bike." This worked great during the night. I simply noted the time and that I was riding then thought about nothing else. It took a lot of pressure off.

We had a couple interesting incidents with cars in the night on gravel roads. Most required us to simply ride in on the shoulder and let them pass. Some yelled at us. I felt like I was back home in Birmingham and this warmed my heart. Thanks, assholes. Most everyone in the Midwest is helpful and friendly but there was to be a few bad (drunk) apples around. It took longer than I wanted (story of the race, there...) to get to Checkpoint Charlie but I was stoked to arrive. My previous visions of bonfires and Papa John's were replaced by a dark pavilion next to a church.

This was Checkpoint Charlie. The guys there were super helpful again.

It had no time limit and they had some supplies to get us to the finish.

"Now you guys know there is nothing between here and Grinnell, right?" one of the volunteers asked.

"Yeah, we know," I told him and quickly asked, "How many are behind we need to save some supplies?"

"There are three guys back there but go ahead and get what you need."

It was 135 miles to Grinnell from this location which was totally remote. My knee was killing me again, as was Lee's. Bad thoughts ran through my head and I began the familiar process of filling bottles and Wingnut then stuffing as much food as I could fit in my pockets. They did have some Cokes there which made me very happy at the time. I wanted to call Pete to come get me. I wanted to quit. I think Lee did to some extent also. We had been talking about our knees and both decided it was okay to continue. I deal with hurt knees all day as a therapist and know when one is seriously damaged. Mine just hurt like a mofo. Some hurt I can deal with, or a lot of hurt as it would turn out. I peed on a tree and felt some cold raindrops begin to fall...more rain? Dammit. I was cold, I didn't want it to rain.

I thought of Pop's words - " can't get mad at the weather."

I put on my shell pants and a synthetic insulated vest, my emergency don't die in the night gear. Turns out this was mostly for psychological reasons to get me to leave Checkpoint Charlie. A mile down the road I was sweltering and skidded to a halt to remove the vest. It was now past midnight and the reality of our night was setting in. I am usually a spot on night rider and thrive on it but did not feel right. I wasn't as tired as I was disoriented. My different light setup was playing tricks on my head and fatiguing my eyes, I couldn't focus on shit and became increasingly dependent on Lee's ability to read the cue sheets. I was jealous of his headlamp and wishing I used something different. At least the rain had stopped for now.

I got off my bike to pee in a ditch and almost fell into it. What the hell was that?

Back on the bike, we rode more and more loose gravel. Lee was Boy Scout prepared for the night and brought an iPod which I also envied. I don't remember ANY roads from the night, just vague characteristics of them. They were gravel, very dark, and difficult to find a clean line to ride. I was thankful to have some gels with caffeine with them and looked forward to grabbing one at the top of every hour. I was still falling asleep on the bike, usually on the downhills. I would be going 30 mph down the gravel, fall asleep, wake up and have no idea where I was but still be riding next to Lee. Small miracle we didn't run into each other or a ditch during the night.

The cows sounded spooky, I guess they would rather moo at night than sleep. There were lots of other animals out there and they creeped me out. A possum ran into the road and Lee swerved to try and hit it. I hallucinated a lot during our night riding. At first I thought there were more animals running out in the road then I noticed a duplicate of Lee riding with us, then a third. Lee thought a pile of straw was valuable timber someone left in the ditch. I wanted daylight bad. I knew I would feel better with some light to ride by.

4 AM came around and it stormed again, pretty hard this time. I got really frustrated trying to put on my rain jacket. My knee was hurting enough by this point if I took a bad pedal stroke I instantly broke out in a sweat. My prayers for relief were answered by a jaunt through a town with a gas station that had some Aleve. The guy inside was mean but the Aleve helped both our knees. We also ran across the group of Adam Boone and Scott with a few others but they left before us.

Finally daylight came around and I was overwhelmed by happiness and we began to do some math on probability of finishing. All we had to do was average 9 MPH and we could make it by the 2 PM cutoff in Grinnell. The possibility of some smoother roads seemed very possible since the ones during the night sucked so much. It never always gets worse, right? Well that is true but sometimes it takes a long ass time to get better and this was the case on Sunday morning. I began to feel better and was riding more hills. We had about a 5 mile section of tailwind around mile 280 which was just glorious.

The more we rode the more hills we had to go up. They were huge, relentless, and often into a headwind. We made it all the way to mile 290 before making a wrong turn. The directions said bear left at so and so road. There was an obvious bear left here with tire tracks but the road sign pointed straight ahead. Lee and I were both dumb and confused here. If in doubt at Trans Iowa FOLLOW THE NAME OF THE ROAD. We followed the tracks for a mile or two and realized it was wrong. Backtracking was disgustingly hard, the road was all loose gravel and was uphill with a headwind (seeing a theme here...). It took quite awhile and instead of having a comfortable 4 hours and 30 minutes to cover 40 miles we were down 4 hours. We still considered this doable and found the correct road. The next issue was food and water. Lee was low. So was I.

I saw a house with a hose and strolled up to knock on the door to ask if I could use the hose when I noticed a very large dog sleeping next to the door. I backed away very slowly while Lee filled up a few bottles. The dog experiences had been mild so far (very friendly chasing, no biting) but I didn't want to press my luck. The hills continued and we were walking most of them. While cresting a hill Lee said, "I think I've hit a wall."

Hm, this was not good. I know Lee well enough to know if he says something like that he is bad off. I also know he would ask me for help if he needed it. Rather than have a drawn out conversation about his condition I went ahead and left to go by myself to the finish. I also didn't want to deal with the whole Pete coming to find him then trying to pick me up too thing. I ate my last Clif bar with three hours and thirty miles left in the race. I came to a town and was destroyed when I saw the one freaking gas station in town boarded up. I turned right onto more gravel and began noticing a trend with my directions. Right turns took me south and left took me east...I was going southeast to the finish. This was bad due to the constant headwind...I even rode through a working windfarm in this section! It was really cool to see but reinforced my troubles in my head.

I came up on Chris who I had ridden with Saturday and he said he was done. He gave me a couple pieces of food to last me until the finish. Thanks man! I owe you some beer if I ever see you again! I picked up my pace again to try and make it in by the 2 PM cut. My knee still was killing me in the now constant headwind but that would be over soon. I saw a rider in a yellow jacket which I realized was Scott McConnell. Thank God...a human I could ride with again. I put in a burst of speed to catch him and we settled into a moderate pace. The headwindy sections began to get longer and slowed us down more. I felt like a critical moment of the race was occuring when I realized we had to 18 miles in 90 minutes. Not effin' likely in the wind. We discussed the now impossibility of making the time cut but both wanted to finish the course.

We slowed down some and chatted the whole way back to Grinnell. It was great, really enjoyed Scott's company out there. I rode a good bit with his friend Thad at Dirty Kanza last year who was also entertaining. I like Nashville folks just fine I think. We had conceded but Trans Iowa wasn't done with us yet. It stormed again and the temp dropped. I didn't care a bit, I was so close to being done. The final kick in the gut was a long, nasty B road 5 miles from the finish. My brain was no longer totally right and I rolled my bike right into the sticky mud like it was a do it yourself car wash. My 20 pound bike now weighed about 40 and I alternated rolling it in a ditch and carrying it until my neck hurt too much. We rode the rest of the course back into Grinnell in a steady rain and finished in 35 hours and 30 minutes. The time cut was 34 hours. Everyone was gone from the finish area but I still felt proud I did the whole course without quitting. The dissapointment of missing the time cut...well, it really didn't bother me much and still doesn't. I'll save the coulda woulda shouldas...everyone has them and they don't mean much. I tried hard and did my best. If I do it again I learned plenty this year that will help me nab an official finisher spot next time. I think Lee really wants to go back and I will probably go with him. Anyone else from Birmingham in?

After I was done I realized I was soaking wet and shivering. The Nashville guys let me curl up in the floorboard of their Element until Pete came to get me. Thanks, you guys were awesome. Pleasure to meet all of you. Pete and Lee showed up a few minutes later. Lee cracked after I left and had Pete come get him after completing 300 miles of the course. Pretty dang good. Lee is a great friend of mine and a tough rider. Glad to have him out there with me all those hours. I hopped into Lee's truck and was taken aback at the amount of food and beer Pete had sourced while we were racing...partly because I had nowhere to sit and I was freezing my ass off. Amazing the effort he put into helping out a couple lunatics he barely knew race some gravel course for a day and a half.

Rode in to Grinnell like this. B Road tenacity.
Wouldn't be a race without a beer that looks like motor oil.
I was done. Things were finally better, they had just stayed worse for a long, long time.

Out of 67 starters, 19 finished by 2 PM, and I think Scott and I were the last two on course.

Thanks to Guitar Ted (Mark Stevenson) and all the badass volunteers for making sure the race happened.

Final post will be a detailed account of bike, gear, and other stuff I used at Trans Iowa. I left out these details in the first couple posts because I felt it would take away from what really makes Trans Iowa what it is which is all the awesome people involved with it. Stay tuned.

Trans Iowa V8. Part 2

Part 2: Dude, Where's My Monstercross?


Within a minute of my 2:30 A.M. alarm going off Saturday morning I was staring at the weather report. Still cold. Still windy. Still suck. Lots of suck. This is what I had planned for and it looked like we were gonna get it. I wolfed down some food and went down to load the bikes up in Lee's truck. It looked scary outside.
Iowa sky right after sunrise
Still very windy and the ground was soaked from an overnight downpour. The windchill was 20 degrees. It really didn't seem like that many people were present at the start. 100 had registered. 67 were present. Attrition begins early at Trans Iowa.
Last minute fiddling
Wingnut and ah, wingnuts
Cold wet start
Lee and I had a tentative agreement to stick together unless it just all went to hell and we got separated or died, that sort of malady. Guitar Ted did a controlled lead out right at 4 A.M. out of Grinnell onto the now mushy gravel roads. I tried to ride smooth and not run into other riders and was shocked at how fast the pace was. I didn't want to push hard  this early but also wanted to make it to Checkpoint Alpha 52 miles down the road by the 9:30 A.M. cutoff. Most of the cutoff times at Trans Iowa are based on a 10 MPH average. That is not a rolling average, it is TOTAL so ya gotta be moving good to make it and not get cut. One minute late and you're out! GT mentioned he had given us extra time to reach this first check and we were finding out why.

I zoned out watching the lights ahead of and behind me and just sorta pedaled in my own world.

I quickly realized I was by myself so slowed up to wait on Lee and some others to catch me so I wouldn't be alone in the now down to a pleasant 25 MPH headwind coming from the East. Lee and I were soon joined by a singlespeeder from Kansas named Warren and a few other guys I was not able to introduce myself to. The course has heading straight into the wind and hills were plentiful. I was torn. I felt like I was working too hard in our paceline and a couple guys were absolutely hammering the hills but on the flipside we were still only averaging 10 MPH despite our efforts! I was too scared to let the relative speed and safety of our group pass me by and I guess Lee felt the same. I was choking trying to eat because of the fast pace but knew better than to skip on calories during something like this. It had stopped raining at this point but the damage had been done to the roads. Wet gravel bounced off my glasses from the guy's tire in front of me but no way I was losing my wind protection. After maybe 10 miles of this frantic pace the group began to splinter and I saw the concerned look on Lee's face. The pace was too fast. Way too fast. Shit.

Around 20 miles into the course we entered the first B Road of the course. B road are unmaintained dirt roads that turn into a horrible bike sucking mess when wet, think DSG 2009. From past experience I knew better than to ride and gingerly began rolling my bike in the wet ditch along side the road. We got off the hook after a mile and it has back on the road into the wind to head towards Checkpoint Alpha in the small town of Montezuma. Iowa has many small towns and they all look quite similar. My memory is fuzzy of the last miles heading to the first checkpoint but I knew we would make it on time but not by much. The ground had a bunch of loose gravel on it from the county maintainers which wasn't helping the quest for easy speed. If I was maintaining them I'd be out there with a broom...just sayin'. My legs hurt. My back hurt. I needed to recover some. Lee and I spun along at a more casual pace and pushed the steeper hills. After exactly five hours, we were at Checkpoint Alpha with 30 minutes to spare! At the time, I was too fatigued to be excited about our minor success.

"How ya feelin' John?" Aaron Gammell asked me. I was now forced to take a look at how shitty I actually felt. I was cold, worried, and fatigued. I felt like I had just ridden the hardest race of my life and had 280 miles to go! My fingers were too cold to open my Ziplocs with the cue sheets in them so my attention turned to restocking at a local C Store. At Trans Iowa, you find your own food...nobody gives it to you. No sag station Oreos or Cheez Its. Same for water. I had a capacity for 150 oz. and filled it all, no telling where the next store would be. I was worried about the feeling in my legs and trying to push away the negative thoughts so I simply pedaled onto the next section of the course. This leg was 120 miles to Checkpoint Bravo. We spent too much time at the C Store and now had exactly 12 hours to get there. Before the race this would have seemed like eons but seemed like a very pressing matter to be dealt with.

Turns out this section was great, my favorite of the course in fact. I met plenty of new people through here, first of which was the guy who puts on the Alamanzo Royal race in Minnesota. He was a strong rider and pulled away on a rare flat section of road. The course was now heading southwesterly through Iowa which meant less headwind! We came up on two geared riders who had a similar pace to us and more importantly, a pleasant demeanor. In a race like Trans Iowa, attitudes are infectious and a rider with a bad one can be deadly to those around him. The two riders were Adam Boone, marketing director for Gu Energy, and his friend Chris. Adam told me he had finished 8th last year and was out with the lead group this year when he decided he lacked the motivation to go for a record pace.

The four of us chatted about everything under the sun... or clouds as it was on this Saturday afternoon. Of course, the promising weather forecast was bullshit. The wind had died down some but it was still present along with a 50 degree high and cloudy, dreary skies. We were having a good time and had a great pace going with smoother, more friendly roads. We came across a fella on a Salsa Vaya from Nashville having a rough mental time of it. "I should have just done the Cohutta 100 again...I'm gonna quit soon," he remarked.I tried to give him a pep talk partly to boost my own mental state but knew he would be done soon. There was supposed to be another B Road through here but our wonderful tour guide detoured us around it!

I don't recall what town or what mile it was when a great convenience store opportunity presented itself. We took another too long of a stop but it seemed worth it as I was able to KO an entire gas station pizza and found my favorite candy, a Reese's Fast Break. The fella on the Vaya and a few others quit here. If you are going to bail at Trans Iowa better to be in a city than a ditch 50 miles from anything. Lee had been complaining about his knee since mile 50 and I was suddenly aware of my right knee as we started pedaling again..

 It wasn't uncomfortable or achy. It fucking hurt.

I was baffled...I've had some left knee issues over the years but the right knee is usually the star of the show and now it was wavering. Put some Advil down the hatch and pedaled on. Somewhere along the way we lost Adam and Chris but neither Lee nor myself wanted to commit a chase group and potentially waste energy. We were both bummed about this turn of events but on we went.

Soon enough we came up on the Nashville guys with Scott McConnell, also on a singlespeed. We rode with them briefly but decided their pace was too hot to be sustainable so let them have at it.

The cue sheets were wrong turns yet. No flats or mechanicals. Things were going pretty well. Attitudes were positive but our knees continued to degrade. Sharp, intense pain on the inside of my knee which I think was caused by too much seated climbing. Standing climbing and easy spinning was fine but if there was a headwind and I had to pedal it was on fire.

Around 8:30 PM Lee and I cruised in to Checkpoint Bravo with an hour to spare 170 miles into the course. The volunteers there were very helpful and gave us a rundown on the race. Lots of TI vets (read: badasses who have finished this behemoth before) had already dropped and we were somewhere around 25th or 30th place at that time. We got our sheets with directions all the way to the finish back in Grinnell. 157 more miles. Woah. I was low on water but apparently there was a secret location Checkpoint Charlie 30 miles ahead. Our attitudes were lifted by the hope of fresh food and water. It was now dark and the lights went on. I was pumped. Visions of all sorts of greatness at the next checkpoint spun around in my head. I was ready for a bonfire, pizza, some ice cold Coke perhaps. Who knows...they might have music too. I also took a glance at the Garmin. 8500 feet elevation gain so far out of 13,000 feet described in the pre race info.

"Awesome," I thought out loud, "we have most of the climbing behind us."

This would also turn out to be a figment of my imagination. You have to have some delusions going through your head in the first place to attempt this race. Sometimes delusion is quite similar to motivation. This was one of those times.

Gravel crunched as we rolled into the now dark and increasingly ominous Iowa countryside totally unaware of how much difficulty the last half of Trans Iowa had in store for us.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trans Iowa V8. Part 1

Part 1: The West Wasn't Won on Salad

Last week at the Sunny King Crit Kyle Campbell posed a question to me that made me pause.

" what made you want to do Trans Iowa?" he asked.

This made me think hard and I quickly scurried away to the free beer tent with Tyree to ponder my friend's question. There are many answers to The Why Question. So many. The challenge. The combined fear and appeal of the Unknown. Camaraderie with other racers. How much can your body handle? What about your brain? There is no finite answer to those last two questions but I do know that it is one hell of a lot more than one would think.

I should interject here for those wondering ,"What the hell is Trans Iowa?"

It is an unsupported mountain bike race in rural Iowa on gravel and dirt roads. The course ranges between 320 and 340 miles with a time limit of 33-35 hours most years. It's hard. Most people don't finish. It's dangerous and scary. There is no entry fee. The weather is shitty up there in the spring. Whats not to like?! Here is some info:

Race Website: Trans Iowa Race Page
Race History: Trans Iowa Race History
Race Rules: Trans Iowa Race Rules

I have been fascinated with Trans Iowa for years. Some years a few people finish. Some years nobody finishes.  I noticed a vast array of bikes the riders used, everything from road bikes to full suspension 26ers. The thing remaining the same every year(apart from the insane weather) was the way it seemed to change those that participated. The pictures and stories were crazy. I lurked from afar but couldn't shake my interest in what is one of the hardest bike races in the country if not the world.

The last straw came at last fall's Chainbuster 9 Hour at Oak Mountain. I was shooting the shit with George Mattison and Lee Neal when they asked me if I was in for Trans Iowa. "Sure," I replied. It was done. We were going. Sorta.

I waffled on the call right up until the deadline for postcard entries and sent it in with Melissa's sleepy blessing. The Alabama boys got in with 97 other lunatics. I put in some nasty miles this winter in preparation. Lee did also. George did some then year, George? Anyway, the prep. 35 and rainy? I rode. Dark? No problem. Seven hour fixie ride day after food poisoning? Yeah, that happened too. Not one of my better decisions. My coworkers think I am a moron who will refuse a ride home no matter what. They are right. Body and bike were comin' along just dandy but the logistics were proving to be a real bitch.

The hardest part was finding a support crew. This isn't your typical support crew at Trans Iowa, the can't do anything for you except come get you when/if you quit. Eventually Pete Foret stepped up the month before the race and proved to be the best damn support crew we could have asked for. He has my eternal respect and gratitude after this weekend. Great guy, thanks dude.
Support Crew. Baller

I wasn't that nervous leading up to the race, mostly concerned about the weather and my bike/gear setup. The weather I couldn't do much about. As my Pop once told me with a wry smirk while I glared at the rain, "John, you can't get mad at the weather!"

Gear setup is a huge deal for this race. Mess it up and you get to think about it for 35 hours best case scenario. Worst case scenario you freeze and get hypothermia or have to hide in a ditch while your crew drives a hundred miles to come look for you...that's assuming your cell works. I'm an obsessive planner for races and was pretty happy with what I brought. My setup will get it's own post after all the racin' stuff is typed.

Pete instantly asserted his road trip dominance by driving us the whole freaking way to Iowa Thursday night in one go. We had the right guy.
Guy here called Lee a college kid

 I slept like crap in the truck and worse in the hotel. Oh well, I considered it practice for all the sleep deprivation yet to come in the race. I woke up with a couple missions on Friday morning in Grinnell, Iowa. I wanted to get my homemade cue sheet holder windproof firstly. Lee bought a premade one which looked burly and I was growing worried about my flimsy piece of shit I spent hours making. The wind was a sustained 30-35 mph which is stronger than I have ever been in. Even getting out of the truck was rough in the wind.
Local shopping

 A couple office clips later and the holder was better but still not real inspiring. My other worry was dogs and Lee's preparation outdid me again as he showed me the pepper spray he packed. A couple guys at the local shop, Bikes to You, told me not to fret so I followed orders and headed over to the prerace meeting at the Grinnell Steakhouse.

This place was sweet. You get your own meat of choice and grill it on a giant grill inside. I made another bad choice and got chicken...what was I thinking? Chicken? You can cook chicken like a champ and you still have a stupid piece of chicken. I wanted BEEF. As a bumper sticker I had seen earlier in the day read, "The West wasn't won on salad."

Misspelled last name...PRO

We ate at a table with the Braun bros from Wisconsin who would be leading the event for awhile the next day. After eating Guitar Ted got on with the prerace meeting and we got to see a film by Jeff Frings called 300 Miles Of Gravel, a documentary of last year's race. Seeing the riders' condition in the movie was eye opening and I appreciated Guitar Ted's obvious passion for an event he puts on for free.

300 Miles of Gravel Trailer from Jeff Frings Photography on Vimeo.

Back in the hotel room, Lee and I were pissing around with gear when Pete made an excellent point which proved instrumental in our survival.

"Ya know, you can always take clothes off but you can't find any extras in an Iowa ditch..."

Fuck it. I packed everything. Weight be damned, it was brutally cold, windy, would likely rain and I wasn't going to underdress as my bad experience at Southern Cross doing so still weighed heavily on my mind.

I checked the weather one last time before falling asleep.Rainy and 39 degrees at the start with 25mph wind from the East. Saturday afternoon looked better with 55 degrees on the screen and Sunday looked downright pleasant with partly sunny skies and a high of 60. I was skeptical since it still sounded like a small scale hurricane was outside.

The wind buffeted the side of the hotel room and I heard large raindrops began to splat against the window. I was still excited to get on with the race but very aware of what rain would do to the course.

In four hours it would be time to rock and roll.