Hey… is this thing on… Clearly we’ve gone a while without a race report. Like Marji of 2017 long. Yikes.
I started writing this shortly after TIv14… but got bogged down. In the interest of getting it out there, you’ve got minimal edits to what was written through Casey’s #1, and then quick writing summary style to finish this thing off.
Better late the never or something like that.
Thank You For The End
I’ll jump straight to the end. Not of my race, but of THE race. Guitar Ted has decided that TI, at least under his direction, will be no more. I didn’t really come to know of TI until a few years ago after he had already nearly shut it down once. Since V10 I think it has been an annual question of will there be a TIvWhatever+1 each year. This year we know the answer. There will be no TIv15 and I’m glad… and I’m disappointed.
I’m glad because now I won’t be tempted to sign up for the stupid race ever again. Who decides to ride 340+ miles of Iowa gravel roads in April every year anyhow? What a dumb idea. I mean, first of all, that is a long ways period. And second it is so early in the year you HAVE to commit to fitness all through the winter. And then there is the unpredictable weather in April. Thank goodness I don’t have to sign up again for that nonsense.
Now I’m disappointed because neither I, nor any of my gravel loving friends, will have this amazing opportunity to really explore those boundaries of fitness and mental toughness in some unknown B road in the middle of nowhere Iowa at 3am some late April night. Well, we still can, but it won’t be the same without having Guitar Ted pour a bunch of his love and care into devising such an adventure.
Guitar Ted, thank you. For both creating this amazing and awful event and for drawing it to a conclusion. I’m in no position to really gauge where TI falls in the grand scheme of all things gravel, I can only really say what it means to me. And it means a lot. I got two cracks at this thing. And both were AMAZING. Between the two attempts it was a hair over 61 hours of TI bike time. But it will be a lifetime of memories of the preparation, the challenges, and ultimately the completion.
My Race As Seen From Cloud Nine
OK, time to change the sappy stuff to something else. How about what an amazing bike ride it was this year! As you will gather when I talk about my event prep, I really had no business feeling as good as I did on the bike. Mile after mile, hour after hour, I awaited the inevitable crash and burn. It never came. OK, actually it did, I rode through Bonktown, but it turns out Bonktown is only 10 miles NNE of Grinnell.
Don’t get me wrong, none of the ride was easy. Things hurt, I was tired, it got cold, but I never went to that dark place I saw some of my riding companions do. You could tell when someone was in a low spot. They’d drift to the back, or off the back. They would get real quiet. There would be a vacant stare when we would stop. Many times they would rally after a bad patch and be back, but slowly, one by one, folks would drift off the back never to be seen again, or they would miss the cut-off, or they would call for extraction.
I’ve told some folks that it was a magical day on the bike for me. That seems to be the best descriptive term I have come up with. Beyond the miles up miles of strong riding, I fell in with a great group of folks to ride with. Much like last year when I shared the majority of TI with Trent (this year he rode extremely strong and was out in front of me), this year I fell in with Trenton Raygor and Charles Parsons and their motley crew. With something on the order of 7 total finishes between the two of them, they were on a mission to get a crew of rookies to the finish line. I was not among the original four, but I benefited greatly from probably close to 24 hours of riding with them.
OK, lets get back to the regularly scheduled program here. We’ll hit the usual topics with event prep, then a race walk through (maybe we better run for this one), and finally a conclusion and what’s next.
As alluded to earlier race prep was WAY below what it was last year. A couple of reasons for that. The first reason was a perceived lack of urgency and concern relative to equipment and gear. For the most part I rode the exact same setup as I did last year and over the course of “The Year of The Bike” I felt I had sorted out the majority of my gear needs. So this year I didn’t feel strongly driven to go try all of my stuff under varying conditions to make sure I knew what I had.
The second reason… the weather SUCKED. Last year the weekend before the Birkie I did a road ride in shorts and a short sleeve Jersey. This year? I did a classic ski race on natural snow on April 16th, less than two weeks before Trans Iowa. All of the big spring gravel rides were either postponed, cancelled, or shortened. Last year I had done at least two centuries, more than a handful of 70+ mile rides, and was putting in 150-200 mile weeks on the bike. This year, one 5 hour trainer ride and my longest ride outdoors was 80 miles at Ragnarok.
The other reason I wasn’t riding much is because it isn’t “The Year of the Bike” anymore. When we get to the What’s Next section we’ll cover that, but the point is that what was all bike time last year has also included running and swimming this year (and the extended ski season). So I may have not been getting the Time In The Saddle, it wasn’t replaced with Time On The Couch.
Generally speaking I was running the same gear as last year. I was running the same Salsa Warbird. This year I set-up some new Donnelly 40mm MSO’s. I’m not sure exactly what is going on, but they don’t hold air great. Not sure if its a rim strip, sealant, or rim issue. (Note: Some many months later when finishing this report the tires are holding air just fine. I’m suspicious of operator error on the initial setup).
I made a new, slightly larger framebag the week of the race. That’s a good idea right? With the expected fair weather I wanted to see if I couldn’t pack enough stuff in there and in my jersey pockets that I could go without a hydration pack. Riding unencumbered sounded fantastic. At the end of the day I did just that.
I carried three bottles on the bike and purchased a 500mL collapsible bottle that I filled at each Casey’s and stuffed in my jersey pocket. As I finished a bottle on the bike I’d transfer the contents and then squish up the collapsible bottle and stow it away. With up to 100 miles between refill locations it definitely came in handy.
As far as clothing goes I rocked my Woolly Bike Club kit from Podiumwear again. 350 miles in the same chamois and really no worse for the wear. Good stuff! Otherwise my clothing outfit was as below:
- Thin arm warmers
- Thin smartwool top baselayer
- CyclovaXC cycling jacket
- CyclovaXC buff and an NNF buff (one for my head and one for my neck when it got cold)
- Windproof vest
- Waterproof jacket (This was my last ditch jacket I had intended to put on to keep all the heat in during the wee hours of Sunday morning, but instead I loaned it out to Trenton to get him through the night)
- Thin Toko roller ski gloves (too thin!)
- Leather work gloves purchased at mile 245 Casey’s at 2am Sunday morning
I rolled into Grinnell Friday afternoon and tried to check into my hotel for the evening. Unfortunately I made reservations for May 11th… WTF. Nicely done. Thankfully Trent Hovenga, my riding partner from last year let me crash with him. Thanks for saving me from sleeping in my car Friday night Trent! I was just hoping that would be the last major issue of the weekend. The first was I left all of my liquid nutrition at home, no Tailwind for me this year. Just Casey’s food and what I would start with on the bike.
Packet pick-up and the Meat-up at Grinnell Steak House were simple and good. Not much to report there other than a bunch of nervous energy with everyone excited about the impending good weather TI. After the Meat-up I ran to Walmart for a few last minute purchases and then it was off to put the finishing touches on the bike and get some sleep. I suspect I got 5 hours of light sleep before Trent and I were both up before the 3am alarms we had set.
Half a salted nut roll for breakfast and no coffee! and I was off to the start area for cue sheet pickup. It was a little disorganized but I think everyone got their sheets and we were lined up well before 4am to start.
Let’s ride shall we?
Start -> Check Point 1
Trent Hovenga and I had discussed trying to ride together again this year. We lined up together probably closer to the back of the field than the front. As the horn sounded we were off. Things were calmer from my perspective than last year. Last year I think my nerves combined with early morning winds made me pretty cautious in the opening miles. This time I felt pretty good. I definitely wanted to stay within myself though and not go out too quick.
When we hit the first little roller just outside of Grinnell, Trent went up the road and disappeared into the darkness. I think I saw him again shortly before rolling into CP 1, but that was it. He went on to crush his race and finished tied for 7th place. Well done Trent!
Instead I got to spend a good portion of the opening miles riding with Kate Ankofski. Sadly she did not materialize any cats in the early morning hours. Perhaps even more sadly she ended up crashing out somewhere around mile 100 on the super loose gravel. Drats!
The rest of the 3:27 and 44 miles to check point one is a bit of a blur. I remember chatting briefly with a few folks but no organized riding with anyone. I do also remember my hands being COLD. I had opted for the thinnest gloves I had thinking I didn’t want the extra bulk for all day riding. I was already starting to worry about the wee hours of Sunday morning and the sun hadn’t even come up Saturday yet.
Check point one was a quick stop. Basically long enough to stuff the first set of cues in my bag, strip a layer now that it was warming up a bit, and stash my lights away to charge. Looks like about an 8 minute stop.
Check Point 1 -> Casey’s #1
Rolling out of CP 1 I was far from alone. There was a good group of folks including my first run-in with Trenton and company.
It was less than an hour ride and just about 10 miles down the road and we found our first Casey’s in Brooklyn. Guitar Ted made sure to let everyone know that there would be only 4 stops on the entire course and you could expect to go 100 miles between stops. That meant every Casey’s was a mandatory stop.
I know I missed out on pizza at the first stop as they were fresh out. I hit some chocolate milk and a few other things I can’t recall now. Topped all of the water off and then got ready to roll with a group.
Casey’s #1 -> Casey’s #2
Rolling out from that first stop I fell into a large group. We seemed to be heading into the teeth of some headwind so I thought it would be good to do some drafting. Initially the group felt like it was rolling just a bit too fast for. I momentarily drifted off the back deciding it would be wiser to let the group go and ride my own race. Ultimately I decided that wasn’t a good idea and dug a little deeper to get back onto the group. Thankfully the pace eased back some and I was comfortably in that group or loosely in that group afterwards.
This is the group that included Trenton and Charles and company, plus a bunch. People came and went… <and I stopped writing a detailed report basically mid-sentence, from here on out you get the bullet point outline I had plus a little extra verbiage>
That group rolled to Kalona together for the 2nd Casey’s stop. I learned Trenton and Charles (both multi-TI vets were on a mission to lead a group of friends to a TI finish). Food and supplies were consumed and stocked and we rolled out.
Somewhere along here my tubeless set-up just wasn’t holding air. I was slowly getting flat. One time I stopped and pumped up only to remove my valve core when taking the pump off to go COMPLETELY flat. Trenton stayed back with me and I was able to use his pump to get myself sorted and we got back to the group. I ended up using Trenton’s pump several more times. Thanks man!
It got dark. We made a wrong turn. As did many. It was a much discussed thing post event. Fairs fair I figure. After recognizing the missed turn I chased down the leaders and we all started heading the right way. I was pretty concerned about missing the next time check so I dropped the proverbial hammer and sped off in search of the CP and the time limit of 11pm. I think I made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Some of the rest of my crew made it. Some didn’t. Some did and decided to pull the plug anyway.
A much reduced crew of 4 or 5 rolled out. I think it was myself, Trenton, Charles, and Kimberly. Somewhere in the night we picked up Derek Henry. It got COLD. I bought some leather work gloves at the last Casey’s stop around 2am. Trenton was cold so I let him have my rain jacket. The arms were probably 3″ too short, but it kept his core warm and I was managing fine without it.
Somewhere in the dark I tried to destroy my chain. I was having some chain suck and in the dark I wrapped it around my crank arm twice before I stopped. I had to break the chain to get it untangled and put it back together. Alone. In the dark. In the middle of a dirt road somewhere in Iowa. At 3am. Good times. The small group did realize I was missing eventually and I caught up to them when they took a short break to see if I showed up.
There was another Casey’s somewhere. Maybe. I think.
The sun came up. We were all tired. We were probably 10 miles from Grinnell as the crow flies, but we had something like 70 miles or riding to go. And we seemed to be riding with the wind. And away from Grinnell. And the wind was getting stronger.
Eventually with about 50 miles to go I was worried about making the time cut at the finish. I told my trio (Charles, Trenton, and Kim, we had lost Derek somewhere) I wanted to push on ahead. They said if I was feeling it to go for it. So I did.
I pressed on with the wind for a few more miles before eventually turning into the wind. Oh man. The wind. Riding right next to the gigantic windmills.
I remember doing the math, oh, I’ve only got 40 miles to go. At my current pace that will only be… uh… 4 hours. Ugh, I can’t imagine riding another 4 hours. Keep pedaling.
Eventually I turned with the wind again… away from Grinnell some more. No!!!!
I did get a sweet picture of that though.
Then came the bonk. Shockingly I had been riding for 30+ hours and 340 miles and I hadn’t bonked yet. But I did then. And hard. 10 miles to go and something less than 2 hours to do it. I figured I could make it, but it was hard. Even the last few miles of pavement I couldn’t believe how hard it was to just keep the wheels turning.
But made it I did. The last finisher of the last TI ever.
1:17pm, just a mere 33 hours and 17 minutes after starting. 349.4 miles according to my Garmin with the bonus miles before CP2. Despite my usual tendency to get round numbers, there was no way I was going to go ride laps around the parking lot to get to 350 miles.
All The Usual Post Script
We are going to skip it. Most of the usual how did it go stuff can be found above anyhow. The What’s Next? Well it has been 8 months already and we are about to head into the heart of Nordic Master Blastering season. Some other things definitely happened in between. Maybe they will get some summary eventually, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.