73 days and counting

Just a little over two months from now, I will be lining up for the 11th running of the gravel grinding monster known as Trans Iowa. TI.V11, as it is called, takes place on the weekend of April 25-26, starting in Grinnell, IA. That is when the race starts, but that isn’t how the adventure started. The adventure began with a road trip to Europa.

Europa Cycle & Ski is a bike shop in Cedar Falls, IA and just so happens to be where Mark Stevenson, aka Guitar Ted turns wrenches. He is the race director/route planner/mad scientist of TI. You can find his blog here. In order to earn one of the 120 spots in TI, you have to enter by a post card sent to Europa. Registration is actually an entailed process that takes place over the course of 3 weeks in October/November. You can find specific instructions for this past year here.

The first week, there are 40 slots available to those who have either won or finished TI in the past. It is first-come-first-serve. Postcards can be mailed, sent by package service or hand delivered. If all of the slots are not used, the remainder is added to the 40 slots available the following week. Week two is for veterans- people who have started TI before, but not finished. The same process applies- 40 slots plus whatever (if any were left) slots were passed on from the prior week. Week three is for the 40 rookie slots.

Each week, registration starts on Monday morning when Europa opens and ends Saturday. You can’t send your card in early or they are thrown out. If it is late, it is thrown out. If it gets there after the 40 slots are full, you are out of luck. Timing is of the essence to get in to TI!

My original intent had been to just mail my card in and if I got in, great. If not, that would be great too. As the registration process was going on and I was waiting for the rookie week, I started to care more. I REALLY wanted to get in. I was emotionally invested now. To add to my self induced stress, Guitar Ted was blogging that the talk around “town” was that things would fill REALLY fast. His prediction was hours, not days. My brain got to ticking.

“You know, I bet I could take that Monday off, drive up the afternoon before, be there when they open and insure I get in!” So I did. 🙂

I left Sunday evening about dark and headed north. I stopped when I got into Iowa to grab a nasty burger on the run, then continued on. I stopped for the night at a rest stop and hunkered down in the car. Doing this on the cheap!

My alarm went off at 4:30 and I went inside the rest stop to wash my face and freshen up. Back to the car and down the highway to the next exit where I found a McDonalds. Hotcakes and coffee helped to make up for a not-so-restfull night in the car. I caught up on a little bit of reading as I had plenty of time. I only had a little over an hour left to drive, but I wanted to be in the parking lot early, not knowing if there might be others already camped out. Doors open at 9:00AM.

The whole way that morning I questioned myself. Should I have just drove on in last night? What if I get there, after having driven 400 miles, only to find out that there are 40 people camped out and I am out of luck? To make matters worse, I had to stop a few miles away for gas. Tick, tock, tick, tock…. Oh well. I got my gas, grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and headed for Europa.

When I arrived right about 7AM, I was the only person there. Yay! What a relief! Then I started thinking, “Was this dumb? I mean, what if nobody shows up and I drove 400 miles to hand deliver my card when I could’ve just spent 50 cents on a stamp?” I did’t have to think about it very long. By 7:10, there were two other cars in the parking lot.

As the time ticked away, we all waited in our cars and more cars kept pulling in. Now it was a matter of principle….I wanted to be the first one in the door! My concern was someone would make a move for the door and we would all bum rush the place, just to stand out there in line. That normally would’t be an issue, but it was pretty cold that morning and I did’t come prepared to sit outside for an extended period. So I sat and waited for someone to make a move.

By 8:10, there were about 10 cars in the parking lot. Shortly thereafter, UPS came by and dropped off a package. Wait minute! I was here first! How many entries were in that package? People can send their entries with someone else. Oh boy.

On top of being all worked up about the situation, the two 20 oz coffees I drank are just about to run through me. I can’t leave or I will loose my spot! Only 50 more mins. Only 49 more mins. The wait was truly painful.

Around 8:40, I saw someone get out of there car. This is it. I had been prepared to make a run for it, post card in hand, coat zipped, bladder bulging. I hopped out and headed for the door. It was a mass exodus. Like lemmings, everybody got out of their cars at once and started for the door. No running, but with haste. I had parked strategically and got to the door first and started the line. Now we wait more! Just in the cold. And I gotta pee!!!!

With a little less than 10 minutes to go before the 9:00AM hour, Guitar Ted felt sorry for us crazies standing in the cold and had one of the guys open the door. We all filed in and I proudly turned my card in at the counter first. WOOO HOOO! I was so excited. I should be in right? The only thing I could say was, “can I use your bathroom?” Nice.

Everyone filed in and handed their cards in. About 4 or 5 more entries came in right away attached to flowers and house plants from a florist delivery. In the mean time, I scurried away to the back and hit the can. Relieved in multiple ways, I ventured back to the counter and chatted with Guitar Ted a moment. I mentioned that I drove from southeast Missouri, 400 miles to hand deliver that card and I was really excited to have a spot in the race. He was very courteous and thanked me for coming, although he had a little bit of a look  that told me he thought I was nuts. I’ll take that. 🙂

Then he said that he would have to go over the cards and make sure all the right information was on there before the entries were official. Good grief, I hope I got everything right. I glanced around the shop, said my goodbyes and headed back out to start on my way home. The suspense was killing me! No sense waiting around though. The road beckons and I must drive!

Along the way, maybe 11:00, I stopped in southeastern Iowa at a Subway to grab lunch. While eating my sandwich, I pulled up Guitar Ted’s blog to see if there were any updates. Lo and behold, registration was closed. It had only taken 30 minutes for the 40 rookie slots to fill up. The roster showed my name as the second rookie, so I assume the UPS package was counted. No matter. I WAS IN!!!!! I get the privilege of toeing the line for the 11th Trans Iowa. How cool!

I’m so glad I made the trip. In retrospect, I would’t have had a chance mailing my entry. Even some of the Fed Ex entries did’t make it in time. It was a great adventure, but just a small speck in the story that will be told about this race. I have been training. Building my cycling mileage, running for cardio and weight loss and this week I start my upper body workout regimen. I am way behind what I wanted to be. My whole house ended up with the creeping crud after Christmas and I spent most of January coughing and hacking. I am back on the training wagon though and can’t wait. Not only is TI an epic gravel event, but for me, it is just another step toward a much bigger goal. Did I mention I am on the roster for Trans Am Bike Race as well? Next time. 🙂

The water is warm! (I hope)

If you have read any of my blog before, you know that when it comes to getting into something, I pretty much dive in. I have always thought that if you are going to jump in, don’t just ease into things. Have some flare! You are going to get wet either way. Might as well make a splash!

Some of Brian’s thought process history and actions taken:

“I think I want to get into bicycle touring….” Takes off on the 4233 mile Trans Am.

“MTB race? That sounds like a good idea.” OT100MTB- 100 miles of gnarly single-track.

So what’s next? Over the winter, Wendy Davis, the better half of the dynamic duo that put on the OT100MTB (no offense Jim, but you would say the same thing), posted on Facebook about some wild gravel grinding races. You see, last year Jim and Wendy completed DK200, aka Dirty Kanza, a 200 mile gravel road race in the Flint Hills of Eastern Kansas. Between that and their own MTB race, they know first hand about wild cycling events. So when they see something out there, they pass it along to the rest of us.

One of the links Wendy posted was for TI.V11, aka Trans Iowa. TI is a 300+ mile gravel road race in Michigan. NO! Duh! It’s Trans IOWA! Racers line up in Grinnell, IA at 4AM on the 4th Saturday in April, receive their cue card giving them directions to Check Point #1 and take off. The course is not given out ahead of time. No GPS navigation is allowed. There is no sign up fee, no prize money and no support. You do Trans Iowa on your own.

IF you make it to CP#1 before the cutoff time, you will receive the cue sheet to guide you to CP#2. This continues on usually (the course changes every year) for about 320-340 miles of gravel and dirt roads, rain or shine, through dark of night and on into Sunday. If you have the capacity to push yourself beyond what your brain tries to tell your body is possible, AND do so under the time limit, you can be one of the few to reach The Barn on the outskirts of Grinnell and proudly proclaim to be a TI finisher. Few can say they have raced TI. Far fewer can say they finish.

After reading about TI, I was hooked. I knew I had to do this race. But how do I sign up? That was an adventure all by itself. I’ll tell that story next time. For now, let’s just say that TI.V11 is in 74 days! I’m not even close to ready, but I can’t wait to dive in.


It’s been way too long

Here we are again. It has been 8 months since I last posted and obviously A LOT has happened since. It is funny how life click-clacks along and before you know it, time gets away from you.

When I last posted, I was smack dab in the middle of a week-long bike tour vacation through Southeastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. In an effort to immerse myself in the trip, enjoy my time out and not get too worked up about things, I ended up letting the blog updates for the trip slip through the cracks. I figured I would catch them up when I got home. Before I knew it, a month, then two months were gone. After that long, it just didn’t make sense to me to go back and do them. Over time, I keep telling myself I should finish it. So without further ado, let me quickly wrap up that trip for you.

I left Judy Cureton’s house in Cape Girardeau, MO on Wednesday morning, 5-21-14. I crossed the Mississippi River and headed across the windswept farmland of Southern Illinois to Golconda, on the Ohio River. Mileage for the day was 83.8 miles. I camped at Deer Run Campground, just south of town a couple miles. I was the only one there and it was a wonderfully quiet evening. The next day I struck out on the road and just north of Golconda, got back on the Trans Am and headed west for home. I stopped for the night after 79.8 miles in Murphysboro, IL. Originally I had planned on a shorter day, with a stop about 20 miles before Murphysboro, but I got there too early in the day and decided to push on. That left me with 86.2 miles home on Friday. I hit it early, dodging a rain storm and made it home by mid afternoon.

My little tour was a success in that I got to get out and enjoy the road, but alas, my thirst wasn’t quenched.

Soon after, the Trans Am tourists rolled through by the dozens. Every day, Jeneen and I would watch for riders. We met a few personally and enjoyed the company of some during dinner at some of our local restaurants. It is always a treat to hear stories of the road and offer a little bit of trail magic for folks when we can.

The highlight of the summer was the inaugural Trans Am Bike Race. This was an unsupported bike race along the Trans Am route from Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA. Imagine Tour Divide, but on the TA. 43 riders lined up in Astoria and hit the road. First one to Yorktown wins. No entry fee, no prize money. All guts and glory.

Jeneen and I quickly became “dot watchers”. That is, someone who follows the racer’s progress on trackleaders.com. Each racer carries with them a small device called a SPOT tracker that sends tracking data to the website. As the racers neared Farmington, we got the opportunity to go out along the road and meet them. How cool!

Of the 25 finishers, I got to see 18 of them as they came through. I went out and rode with race winner (in 17 days!) Mike Hall (winner of the World Cycle race in 2012 and 2013 Tour Divide winner) for a few miles as he passed. What a humble and likable soul. I gave 3rd place finisher Ed Pickup a high five. Jeneen and I enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant with 4th and 5th place finishers Jesse Stauffer (first place American) and Julianna Buhring (first place female and record holder of fastest female to cycle around the world in World Cycle Race 2012). I also rode with race organizer and 13th place finisher Nathan Jones for about 20 miles. My interactions with the racers were something I won’t ever forget. Each of the TABR riders that I got to spend time with were so friendly and showed great sportsmanship. Kudos to them all.

As the month of June came to a close, most of the racers had not only passed through Farmington, but had finished in Yorktown. The month long storm of excitement surrounding the race and our following of it came to an abrupt halt and the only thing I could think of was how bad I wanted to be one of those racers.

The remainder of the summer, when not working, I was usually riding my MTB preparing for the inaugural OT100MTB. September came and I toed the line for my first ever MTB race. 100 miles of Ozarks single track might not be the way most people kick off their racing career, but I am not most people!

It was an awesome event! Great support, the trail was pristine and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I rolled into the finish at BASS River Resort in just under 19 hours- slower than I wanted, but I finished. That was really all I was looking to do. It was a blast!

In October, I did the Trail of Tears century, a road ride near Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky. I hadn’t been riding like I should and this one was a bit of a slog. My only road century of the year, unfortunately.

Halloween weekend brought the OT100 endurance run. Crazy folks run the 100 miles of single track that we raced our bikes on back in September. No, I didn’t run, but I helped sweep the course, picking up temporary trail markers for the race. It was a great chance to get out by myself in the woods. I ended up riding 28 miles one day and 31.5 the next.

Prior to that weekend, my plan had been to bikepack the 60 miles of trail that I was going to sweep. In the end, the forecast called for temps dipping to a very unseasonable 20F or so. Without the gear to bikepack at those temps, I bailed on the idea and just went out for the day both days. It was a good decision!

Over the winter months I have been MTB’ing some, but mostly focusing on hiking and backpacking, namely changing from a ground dweller to a hammock camper. There will be more about this later. 🙂

So that brings me to current. I have some big things coming! I don’t want to belabor you with too much right now, but I will say I have committed to two big bike races as well as a few smaller ones and plans are in the works for big things in 2016 as well. All of it will amount to an amazing ride. I can’t wait! Stay tuned!