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.