Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 Trans Iowa V10 - Don't Stop Til You Get Enough

Photo by Wally Kilburg
In the week leading up to the event the weather was looking like it might be perfect. I sent texts to my partner in crime, Jamie, who would be facing the event with me telling him I hoped the weather wasn't too good. I didn't want our finish to have an asterisk next to it. Oh you finished Trans Iowa? Never mind, I see it was the easy year. Part of what had attracted me to this race in the beginning was how tough it was and I wanted the full gritty experience. You must be careful what you wish for. A week before the race, looking at the forecast worrying about it being too easy, I would have never guessed that after the race its creator, Mark Stevenson (aka “Guitar Ted”), would proclaim TIV10 as the toughest year in its 10 year history.

I am most attracted to races that have a high dropout rate. I feel like challenges that you aren't guaranteed to be able to finish carry the greatest personal reward when you do make it through them. That promise of difficulty and potential failure motivates me to get myself up early and do the work preparing in the months beforehand. So when I heard about Trans Iowa, a 340 some mile race on gravel roads throughout the rolling hills of eastern Iowa, that most of the people who have tried have failed, I had to give it a go. In the year with the very best weather conditions, only 30 out of 90 were able to make it to the finish. It normally requires 25 to 30 hours of constant riding on rough and hilly roads. No hills in Iowa you say, the course promises over 15,000 feet of climbing, which by the way is the same amount of climbing as the Colorado Death Ride that covers 5 mountain passes. Trans Iowa does all that climbing on gravel roads with no support crews allowed. Everything must be carried or acquired at convenience stores on the course which are few and far between.

It’s not as easy as just deciding you want to do it, TI is a difficult race to gain entry. People who have been in the race before get priority and then the precious few remaining spots are given to rookies. As a rookie you have to mail a postcard with exactly the right information on it to arrive on a certain day at a certain time. A day early, you’re out. Didn't include the right information on the postcard, you’re out! A day late, it’s full already, sorry maybe next year. Not wanting to leave it to chance, I sent mine and Jamie’s cards via FedEx with priority early delivery. I made two postcards that were fairly inappropriate and hoped that I appealed to the race director’s sense of humor and didn't offend him before we even met. I spent the day the list of participants came out refreshing the computer screen every 10 minutes until I finally saw our names hit the list. I was hit simultaneously with excitement and panic. We had bit off a huge challenge and now it was time to chew it up. As it turns out, he liked my card so much he chose it as one of his favorites in his Best of the Postcards blog post. We were off on the right foot. I now had 6 months to prepare myself for one of the most difficult physical challenges I have ever stepped up to.

I made my postcard out of this picture.
I made Jamie's postcard out of this picture.
Jamie and I trained through one of the worst winters in Missouri history to prepare ourselves for the coming challenge. I studied past race reports and practiced every challenge we might potentially face. I rode over 3,000 miles in the 4 months before the race in the form of 20 mile rides before and after work and 6 hour plus rides on the weekends, one ride included going out in the middle of the night with falling snow. Since there is no support, you must carry with you everything you might need during the race. I rode almost every mile in training with the bike fully loaded, which including water came in well over 30 lbs. By the time the day of the race came around, I had diligently put in the work and I was ready to go.

Jamie’s lovely wife, Yvette, would be driving us to the race and picking us up in the off chance we couldn't cover the distance. Of course, I was feeling quite positive that rescue wouldn't be necessary but you have to have someone there just in case. A day before we were to leave Jamie sent me a text saying, “The good news is Yvette is not pregnant. The bad news is she broke her pelvis.” They had just spent the night in the ER learning this. I’m not going lie, several thoughts and concerns quickly came to mind. I would like to say that concern for Yvette came first, before concern about not having a ride to Iowa and not having my partner drop out of the race at the last minute, but I would be lying. I denied my selfish and childish instincts and first asked if she was going to be okay. After he assured me she would survive, and after what seemed like a proper amount of time to wait, maybe like 30 seconds, I asked if he was still going to ride. He made me wait a good 20 minutes that did not pass quickly. Finally, my phone beeped to let me know he had responded. Not only did he say yes he was still in, he let me know Yvette would still be taking us! If anyone deserves recognition for the events of the weekend, it would be Yvette for suffering through two 6 hour car rides and staying in a hotel by herself while we raced, all with a fractured pelvis. From the bottom of my heart I thank you, Yvette.

Finally the day to depart on our adventure had arrived. It was a 6 hour drive from home to the start in Grinnell, Iowa. As I usually am before every race, I was worried about being late to the check in and pre-race meeting. This time, however, there was more of a reason to be on time than just satisfying my old military compulsions, if you were late to the check in, you’re out. You had to be checked in by 6:00 pm, and in the meeting at 6:30 pm or you weren't riding, no exceptions. We made it to the check in on time, but since the meeting was being held at a steakhouse, with Jamie being a vegetarian, we decided to have our traditional Mexican pre-race dinner at a restaurant in town and then come back for the meeting. We got a text from Josh Brown, my water savior from Land Run who was also racing, at 6:00 that said they were about to start the meeting. Fortunately we were on our way back already and we walked in at 6:05. The meeting was just starting!

Biggest grill ever. Photo by Jeremy Kershaw
My obsession with arriving early to everything was screaming bloody murder but in the end we were only 5 minutes late and nobody really seemed to care. Every chair in the room was full and we took a seat on the floor just inside the doorway. The meeting was short and sweet. After a few words from Guitar Ted we were called up in the order we had registered to get race packets and then were allowed to pick something from a table full of gear sent by sponsors. I had noticed when we walked in that there were handlebars and helmets and all kinds of sweet stuff to be had. Unfortunately, we were one of the last to be called and I only managed to snag a pair of socks. More important than free gear, however, we had made it to the check in and meeting and survived the first chance to be cut from the race. We were cut loose until the start time of 4:00 am that was coming quickly.

By a little after 7:00 we were back in the hotel room to nervously try and get some rest. We had our bikes in the room and all the gear laid out for checking and double checking. I imagined there was a similar scene happening in hotel rooms all across town. Once everything was packed up I tried to get some sleep. There was a small dog yapping somewhere in the hotel and it seemed like the only thing I could focus on. Eventually, I finally dozed off for what seemed like a long blink and then the alarm went off at 1:00 am.

I shared a bed with Jamie's bike.
The starting line was about 3 miles from the hotel. Yvette offered to drive us, but being the old men we are, we needed the time to warm up our legs before charging off the starting line. By the time we got downtown there were already several riders there. We picked a spot on a bench and enjoyed the last few moments of stillness before setting ourselves in motion. Fully tapered and rested I was feeling the strongest I had in a long time. When you first sign up for events many months ahead of time they seem so far away, before you know it you are sitting at the starting line wondering where all the time went.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
A few minutes before 4:00 am the call was given to start lining up, we parked ourselves on the side of the road a couple of rows back from the front. I repeated to myself the mantra we had chosen for the race, “float.” Not too easy, not too hard. Guitar Ted positioned his truck in front of the group to escort us out of town to the first of the gravel roads. 30 seconds before the start of the race Jamie says to me, “where’s your mirror?” I looked to the bar end where it should normally be to see an empty hole staring at me. They don’t look pro and they are against Velominati rule 66, but I like my mirror. For 10 seconds I considered hopping off my bike and running over to the spot in the grass where I had laid the bike down before the race to look for it, but I didn't want to cause the scene and thought I could live without it. I relived that moment and regretted that decision a thousand times throughout the day each time I glanced down to check for people or cars behind me. 
Photo by Yvette Wynne
Before I knew it the truck we were to follow lurched forward and the pack was on the move. Within no time we hit the first gravel and the pace at the front began to climb. We let rabbits go and settled into a reasonable pace just like we had practiced. Float. Even though I ride more gravel than most, I mainly ride pavement. It always takes an hour or so to get comfortable with the constant squirreliness of the bike jumping around underneath me. It didn't help that the first few miles were some of the roughest and chunkiest gravel of the day. The further we got from town the smoother the roads became.

Later in the day the groups would spread out considerably but in the beginning there always seems to be someone near you. I made lots of "five minute friends" as we worked our way through the small packs, “How’s it going, what’s your name, where you from, see you up the road.” It was still early and everyone was in good spirits. An amazing moon was on the horizon for us to marvel at. For some reason I had a Michael Jackson song stuck in my head all day and every so often I would work on trying to yell like he does in Billie Jean, “EEEEE HEEEEE!” The similarity in our voices is nonexistent. Towards the end of the day I’m sure it was actually far more annoying than entertaining to anyone around but it gave me something to think about other than the aches and pains.

B Road. Photo by Jeremy Kershaw
One of the elements that can make this race difficult are the B-roads, minimum maintenance roads that are just dirt. Having never traversed a wet B road, these were the subject of many of my pre-race nightmares. In most years there have been 2 or 3 spread throughout the race, but in honor of the 10th running of the event, Guitar Ted had placed 10 B roads in for our pleasure. Even when they are dry they can be rutted and difficult to ride. When they are wet they can be impassable and require you to dismount and hike. We hit the first one about 7 miles in. It was a muddy mess that brought everyone to a crawl.

We were off the mud and back to smooth sailing gravel in no time. I tried not to spend too much time thinking about the fact that in 24 hours I would likely still be riding. Try to imagine that. Get on a bike right now and ride it until tomorrow at this same time. Most people would have trouble sitting on a couch watching TV for that long. But right now I was feeling amazing and we were moving at a pace that would have us at the first checkpoint 53 miles into the race with loads of time to spare. In the past the strict cutoffs at the checkpoints have taken as many people out as fatigue. If you don’t make it to checkpoints by the designated time, you’re out. The first had to be reached by 9:30 am. We arrived at 8:00. Here we received the next set of cue sheets telling us which way to go and we also had the first opportunity to resupply at a Casey’s convenience store. Inside the tiny store was an interesting scene. In line were some 20 people in cycling spandex and one or two small town farmers wondering what in the world they had walked into. We had brought enough food for a long way so all we needed were fluids and we were back on the road in minutes. As it always does, our short stops and steady forward motion strategy had us pass a ton of people at the checkpoint.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
By this time the sun was all the way up and it was turning out to be a gorgeous day. The course turned east into a manageable headwind but at that point it wasn't anything to worry about. We had no idea what the wind had in store for us in the near future. Before we would reach the next checkpoint the fans would be turned on and we would spend the majority of daylight hours facing a headwind that was better than 20 mph and gusting over 30. We met lots of people on the course that I had read about in past TI’s. We spent a few miles with Charlie Farrow (check out Charlie’s Blog here) who was chipping miles off on a single speed. It takes a special sort of warrior to face a challenge like TI with only one gear.

It occurred to me that on any section heading east, we would be well served to tuck in behind one of the numerous groups that were still visible at all times. Even if they were moving slower than our normal pace, the rest might pay big dividends later in the night when energy wasn't so abundant. It usually turned out to be too difficult to just sit in and soft pedal, though, and I would find myself, sometimes with Jamie’s urging, pulling back into the wind and passing people. Sometimes groups would latch on for a bit and stay with us. The last several miles approaching the second convenience store we pulled a group of about ten people over the rolling hills and into the next oasis for the day. It was 1:00 pm and we had covered 111 miles and were a third of the way done.

Convenient Oasis. Photo by Wally Kilburg
Coming out of the Casey's we made our first wrong turn of the day. We only went about half a mile before realizing it. Getting back onto the course was for some reason more confusing than it should have been. I'm chalking it up to the first real signs of fatigue for the day. We stopped at a grocery store to ask for directions to the next road. It took 4 employees before one of them knew where Washington Street was. It was two blocks away. This extra mile on the computer, added to the .01 every 5 miles calibration difference between my computer and the cue sheet, would wreak havoc with my head all afternoon as I would have to work math on every cue to figure out the next distance to look for a turn. Right on 110th Street at 108.1. + 1 extra mile off course + .01 x 21 = 109.3. As you can imagine, this became more difficult with every hour that we rode.

The course finally turned out of the wind for a moment. I made the only call in update to Mountain Bike Radio and expressed how happy we were to finally turn out of the brutal winds. Little did we know that in a couple miles not only would we turn back into the wind but that the hills would become increasingly more difficult for quite some time. We still had over 200 miles to cover and the terrain wouldn't get "easier" for another 70 miles or so. An hour after this I had my first crash of the day. It wouldn't be a real race if I didn't crash at least once. We were riding north enjoying not fighting into the wind but still feeling its relentless push from the side. At times it felt like the bike was leaning at a 45 degree angle into the gusts with the tires skittering sideways on the gravel. It’s strange how comfortable riding in that leaning sideways configuration became. In a rare respite between gusts I sat up with no hands and began to open a cheese stick I had picked up at the last convenience store. As my sweaty fingers fumbled with the packaging the wind decided to get back to work and the bike shot across the road toward Jamie riding next to me on the downwind side. I managed to not take Jamie out with me but I went all the way down and left a little blood and skin from my elbow and leg. Despite some cramping as I first got back to my feet, within a few minutes I realized I hadn't done anything too terrible in the crash and we got back to the business at hand. I dusted off the cheese stick and ate it.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
Between the rising heat and fighting wind we were burning through the water. We came close to running out when we still had about 5 miles to checkpoint 2, and we knew it was another 10 or so after that before we could get water, so we started looking for the right house to approach. As luck would have it, we found a mobile home that had a water spigot not 10 feet off the road. With full bottles we knew making the next convenience store would be easy. After being able to splash cold water on my face and guzzle water without fear of running out I was a new man.

Since we had left the second convenience store we had been pretty much on our own without another soul in sight. We had been fighting ridiculous headwinds and hills all day. I kept thinking to myself the course can’t head east forever or we will end up in another state. We finally pulled into checkpoint 2 at about 6:30 pm. We were now 3 full hours ahead of the cutoff and had 20 hours to cover the next half of the course. You heard that right. We had been riding for 14 hours and we were only half way. There was an hour and a half of daylight left and we had a long ways to go still. At the checkpoint we also got the first word of where we were within the field, they said we were in the top 20.

Photo by Wally Kilburg
Another 10 miles had us at the third convenience store and likely the last place to refill supplies before the sun would come up the next day. We took the time to sit on the curb and eat some real hot food. I had a burger and Jamie had some pizza. I was pretty tired of the sugary foods I had been eating all day and thought that gas station burger was one of the best things I had ever eaten. After one of the longest stops I think we have ever taken in a race it was time to get moving again. The sun was below the horizon and light was fading fast. The temperature was beginning to drop so I put on my long sleeve jersey and leg warmers and prepared myself for the next leg. Again we passed several riders who were taking extended breaks. We were back on the gravel within a mile and riding west with a tailwind. We watched as the final traces of light left the sky and darkness replaced the rolling vistas of green we had been seeing all day. It was about this time that Dave Peterson from Minneapolis caught up with us. We had seen Dave several times throughout the day riding with a friend who eventually dropped out from knee pain. He joined up with us and stayed with our crew for most of the night.

Cue Sheets
Remarkably, despite some 275 turns on the cue sheets, we only made two deviations from the course which added about 7 miles total. The worst mistake causing us to ride nearly 3 miles back into the roaring east wind happened sometime after the sun had fallen. Jamie seemed to be just barely hanging on but Dave was up next to me and engaged in conversations. Dave seemed to be on top of navigating and I relaxed my vigil over the cue sheets to tend to my nutrition and suffering. The next cue had two instructions on one line, bear right on 245th and bear right on R, we got the 245 but not the R. We enjoyed a tail wind for 3 easy miles before realizing the mistake. A short pow wow had us heading back into the full brunt of the wind's fury to reach the right intersection. We traveled the 3 in the wrong direction in 14 minutes. The 3 back took over 30 minutes. It was 11:00 pm and we were 225 miles in.

At some point I began to notice that Jamie was spending more time following and riding several yards back as Dave and I talked. He wasn't interested in conversation and was all to ready to stop if I suggested a pee break which I kept feeling the need for but none were productive. It was a different place to find myself in. Normally in our partnership, I consider myself the weaker link. It is usually me trying to keep up with Jamie while he leads us on at a pace I would surely drop off of if it weren't for machismo. The temperature was slowly falling but it was still comfortable. The wind was raging but it was mostly at our backs. I don’t remember when the clouds moved in but it had changed from clear skies to low and ominous looking dark clouds with flashes of lightning becoming more common.

I’m not sure why I wasn't really worried about being struck by lightning. For the most part it always seemed to be far off in the distance. I don’t remember hearing much in the way of thunder either but it’s possible the deafening roar of the 30 mph wind was just drowning all the sound out. My most vivid memory about the lightning was how it would light up the entire countryside. For most of the night our world was reduced to the small area lit by our headlights. Shadows dancing over a circle of lit gravel in front of you surrounded by blackness. During the flashes, however, you would see the whole sprawling countryside laid out like midday and then it would all fade to black again. I had read in a blog that you could hear the sounds of the frogs at night and was looking forward to one of my favorite nighttime sounds, and we did hear a few in the early morning when we first started, but this night you could hear nothing but the howl of the wind. It was actually making that eerie haunted howling sound.

I fought the worst of the sleep demons in the first few hours of darkness. The course was mainly heading west out of the wind so the effort level was low and I was feeling relaxed. You know how when you have driven too long and you nod off for just half a second before jolting back awake? You aren't quite sure if you swerved a little or a lot but you know you lost touch for at least a moment. I was doing that on the bike while flying down gravel hills. A stark contrast to the beginning of the ride when it took concentration to keep the bike upright, I was now so relaxed that I was falling asleep at the helm. I took more caffeine pills and hoped I didn't wake up in a ditch.

Sometime near midnight the approaching storm changed from an event to watch on the horizon to something that was about to unleash on us, we decided to stop and bust out the remaining cold weather and rain gear we were carrying. I had brought enough to be warm in a freezing rain but had waited until the last minute to put it all on as the temps before the rain fell were still near 60. I had struggled with the decision of how much clothing to bring not wanting to carry any extra weight but an hour after the rain started falling, as the temps fell into the 30’s, I would be very glad I had decided to play it safe and carry plenty of gear.

With every passing minute the wind seemed to be getting stronger and the rain falling harder. We turned onto a muddy B road and were surprised to see several trucks parked and someone waiving a flashlight at us. They were standing at the next intersection we were to turn at. It took my mind a second to process what we were seeing but I eventually came to the conclusion that they were about to pull us off of the course and end the race. The storm must be too bad and they are worried about us. I went back and forth between sadness that it was about to end and jubilant relief that it was about to end. As we pulled up to the man with the flashlight he told us it was just a re-route. Apparently a bridge was out and they needed to direct us around it. I guess we weren't done yet.

It seemed like less than 10 cars had passed us the entire day. Late at night on a B road just after the rain had started falling, I certainly wasn't expecting a car to be behind us. Heading directly into the 30 mile gusts, I checked back to make sure I still had Jamie and Dave and was startled to see headlights right behind us. I yelled car back through the wind and we all moved to the right edge. The truck sped by quickly and I think, though I’m not positive, it was the race director Guitar Ted coming from where we had seen him at the re-routing, and for some reason in my groggy thinking I became worried he was really mad at us for riding 3 abreast and blocking the road when I know one of his race rules is don’t ride on the left. Sorry, Mark, if that was even you.

The re-route added another B road to the event making the total 11. We just kept pushing up the dark road. The rain fell steady and the wind blew hard. At one point there was pea sized hail pelting us and stinging my face but we continued rolling. From nowhere a farmer pulled up in his truck and asked us if we were lost. We said no we were in a race. Miles from any town, it was 2:00 am and storming hard, he looked at us like we were crazy. We continued on. At 3:00 am and 250 some miles we began approaching a small town. We could see the lights of a gas station awning and for a moment we thought we had reached an open resupply spot. Had we not have all been exhausted from 23 hours of riding we would have known this convenience store was on the cue sheet and everyone knew it closed at 11:00 pm. My hopes for a cup of hot coffee were dashed as we pulled up to the darkened store. We stopped on the side of the store out of the wind to collect ourselves for a moment. Dave let us know he had come to his limit. He didn't have enough clothing and the cold had zapped the strength he had left. He was going to call for a ride.

We spent a few more minutes standing on the side of the dark convenience store and said our goodbyes to Dave. As we got back on the road I was still not warm but my body seemed to have adjusted to the chill. We made it a couple more miles before the roads became increasingly muddier. I didn't think we were on a B road at the time but it may have been. 8 miles from the store we had left Dave at Jamie was riding just ahead of me on my right and I was watching the clumps of mud sling off my front tire and through the beam of my headlight. I felt the chain shift up a couple gears and then back down several steps and then I felt slack in the chain as the rear wheel slid to a halt. I called out to Jamie and he stopped. I looked down to see the rear derailleur had snapped off and then pulled up and wedged between the cassette and the frame. Disaster! It was 3:45 am, just shy of 24 hours of racing.

Fortunately it happened next to farm sitting right next to the road. There were several silos and a large three sided structure with a roof. The wind was still pushing us hard and the rain was still falling so that looked like a great place to take a break and assess what to do next. As we approached the oasis from the storm we realized it had a fence in front of it and was packed full of black cows hiding from the storm. They all seemed to be staring at me. Next to the fence was a giant mound of hay and there was a layer 6 inches deep surrounding it. I dropped the bike on the downwind side of the hay to provide a little shelter from wind's harassment and went to work pulling the drive train apart. The derailleur was shot and my only hope was to convert it to a single speed and finish the race off with one gear. I had ridden a fixed gear to work for many years so the prospect wasn't too daunting. I could finish this race without shifting, I think. What seemed like a simple enough solution in my head would end up proving to be a very difficult puzzle.

It’s possible that the 24 hours of rugged terrain we had just ridden increased the difficulty, and the shivering hands made fumbling with the muddy chain a lot harder, Jamie and I both took turns offering ideas and trying to sort it out. We broke and re-broke the chain numerous times trying to find a gear ratio that didn't have the chain either hanging slack or too tight to turn the wheel. The only ratio I could kind of make it work was 46 x 12 and that would be a difficult gear to turn on dry flat pavement, even if the jimmy-rigged chain managed to withstand the pressure. After what seemed like an eternity of trying, I resigned myself to facts. My legs were locked up from sitting on my knees while working on it. Exhaustion was making my eyes heavy and my attention was difficult to focus. I looked at Jamie and told him I guess I’m done. He decided to stay with me and wait for a ride in. And just like that the adventure was over. It was 6:00 am and we had covered 268 miles. There was still 70 miles to the finish line. We called Yvette and she crutched herself to the car and drove for over an hour to find us in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. 
We had an hour to wait for a ride so Jamie covered up with hay and went to sleep.
Josh Brown would later refer to this as The Manger Scene.
In the end I feel like the race beat my equipment selection and the choice to continue riding during the storms. For some reason, although still not painless, it is easier to accept this fate than if I had just stopped moving because of exhaustion and lack of will. For the most part I still felt strong. I take some solace in the fact that I had faced and withstood the tough weather conditions, both the wind and hills from earlier in the day, and then the side ways hail and lightning storm at night that eventually plunged the temperatures close to freezing. Ultimately I accept responsibility for the failure. Many friends have given me a pass in an understanding voice, “Hey, the bike broke, what more could you do?” But in my head all I can think is what if I had I stopped during the storm and let the roads dry out like many others did, what if I had I brought along an extra derailleur and cable, what if I had I been a better road-side mechanic and been able to get it running single speed, what if I had just stopped pedaling the first time it ghost shifted in the mud and cleaned it out, then things might have turned out different. Such thoughts will likely plague me every time I think of the race for the rest of my life.

104 people had set off for glory at 4 am the morning before. By the first checkpoint 4 had stopped. By the second checkpoint at mile 175 there were only 42 still racing. In the end only 19 made it to the finish line. One of the groups of people that passed by us while we were working on the bike went on to finish the race in the top 10, I would be lying if I said it didn't sting a bit knowing we had risen that close to the front in the middle of the night and then not been able to continue.

It’s been two weeks since the race and I’m still not sure of its full impact on me. There have been some lingering physical issues but nothing too terrible. For a week my hands would randomly experience periods of numbness, the big toenail on my left foot is black and I might end up losing it, it took a few days for my appetite to return to normal and the scabs on my leg and elbow from the cheese stick incident are about to fall off, but for the most part I think I escaped without any permanent scars. There is, however, a cloud that still hangs over my head that could best be described as a sort of anxiety for having not met the goal. I spend months refusing to allow myself to consider the possibility of defeat, so when I have to actually face it, I am unprepared.

There is a certain amount of fear that it could always be an unaccomplished goal. TI is a gargantuan undertaking to put on and Guitar Ted does it out of a love for the event and the people, but he puts it on out of his own pocket. He could rightfully decide to take a break from it at any time and has openly declared he is considering that TIV10 might be the last one. I sincerely hope that is not the case but would still feel nothing but respect for the man and his contribution to the sport if he decided it was time to step down. 10 years is a good run.  Thank you, Mark, for being willing to give such a part of yourself so that we can experience the impact this event has on a person. You can read Guitar Ted’s series of posts for an exceptional overview of the entire race and all of its participants here

Mark Stevenson with winner Greg Gleason. Greg led the field for the entire day and finished in 26 hours 22 minutes.  I met him the next day and he looked fresh as a daisy.  Hardcore.  Photo by Wally Kilburg
The barn at the finish I never actually saw. Photo by Wally Kilburg
GPS stats

Strava Link

Wait! It wasn't Billie Jean stuck in my head, it was Don't Stop Til You Get Enough. This version:


  1. Great read Jim! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great ride. Wow! You guys were flying. Fun talking to you on the course. Hopefully see you next year to exorcise the demons.

  3. Great read Jim, and thank you for coming up to do Trans Iowa. I appreciate the efforts, (and agree that Yvette's decision to come after the trouble she had was amazing), and it was an amazing ride that you guys put in. By the way, that was me that passed you on the B Road, and no worries about the three abreast! I was taking Gerald Heib back to Grinnell with Ari who found Gerald way off course and rescued him when he and the other volunteers came up to relieve me at the re-route. Anyway, I appreciate all you did to come and ride and your comments at the end of your report about me and the event are well noted. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for letting me know it was you! One less mystery to wonder about. See you out there!

  4. Great details Jim! What a tough race!

  5. Great read Jim. TI is a cruel mistress...

    1. Indeed she was! Looks like I'll see you in August at Cumming, perhaps another mistress to abuse us.

  6. Ooh, undone by your own toughness...I didn't anticipate that angle. It's a struggle, though...when is it weak to stop, and when is it smart? Where's the line between tough and misguided? Anybody who does races like these spends a lot of time skirting -- and crossing -- those lines.

    You didn't quit when it got tough, you didn't even quit when your bike quit when two hours of work failed to produce a workable solution. While you might question your choice of extra gear or your roadside mechanic skills, there's at least no need to question yourself and your drive to continue. If that's not at least a small comfort, well, it should be.

    Great report and great effort. I look forward to reading about your redemption race at T.I. V11.

    1. You always have insightful comments and I truly appreciate them. Thanks, Kate!

  7. Just got around to reading about your experience Jim. Excellent effort in the race, and a terrific read.

    "I'm proud to have rid with ye." (in case you're an Outlaw Josie Wales fan)

  8. Glad I was able to be a part of. As always, inspiring to be around those who partake in such adventures!

    1. You were an integral part, Yvette! We might still be laying in front of that hay bale now if it weren't for you.

  9. Jim, great write up. I remember reading your DK 2013 recap and that gave me some inspiration. I signed up for that event and I didn't even own a bike lol. I signed up for the TI this year on a singlespeed, I see you signed up as an SS as well. I will be great to meet you and I hope I can keep up with you Jamie. See you in a month!

    1. Thanks! Way to jump in with both feet, I respect that. See you in Iowa!