Thursday, May 28, 2009

Staring Down the Beast

May has been a great month. As the weather's warmed the rides have continued to flow. Of course there was TransIowa. Two weeks after was the Almanzo. Chris Skogen puts on a killer event, enough said.

Stamped Folders


River rides too and from work with these clowns have been fun. The trail is fast and the foliage is thick despite the lack of rain.



On the home front the garden is coming in, the hops are over 12 feet at this point. Onions, Garlic, Chives, Garlic Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Basil, Mint, Peas, Tomatoes, Yellow Squash, Zuchini, Raspberries, Pole Beans, Spinach, Carrots, Swiss Chard, and Jalepenos, are in the ground and comng up fast. The perennials are coming on as well, starting to flower and fill out. Much of this is thanks to Anni's parents who came in Memorial Day weekend and helped out immensely. I hope there's some vegetables left in late July.

Hops on a rope

Commutes, not on the river have been beautiful as well...

Morning's Dew

Finally, and you won't see this often... Anni and I went home to my parents mother's day weekend , got dressed up, and went to a friends wedding.

The Lovely Couple

So what does this have to do with staring down the beast? Tour Divide starts 2 weeks from tomorrow! Perhaps I'm keeping busy with everything but planning...perhaps I'm confident enough to focus on something, anything, to keep my mind off being nervous.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Burton suggested we go on an overnighter. Considering I was recovering from Trans Iowa and had been away from home for the weekend we settled upon Wednesday night. The weather held out, a storm front moved through, but dropped no rain over the Minnesota River Valley where we had planned our camp.

I got the call around 8:00, Burton was ready to roll, I was finishing up dishes and was near ready to roll. My Fargo is in a perpetual state of loaded so all it took was addition of libations, beer for the campfire chat and water for the ride and morning coffee. Burton rolled into the backyard and we were ready to hit the trails.

We made our way to the Minnesota River Valley and to our campsite in a good comfortable pace, stopping to take some photos and enjoy the sunset. We set up camp, I in my hammock for the first time and Burton in his new BD Betamid, and made a fire after clearing a small area and collecting wood. We were enjoying the beer we had brought along and some cookies when a hiker strolled into our site. He asked if we minded if he joined us and we invited him to have a seat and enjoy the fire. We introduced ourselves, David lived up on the bluff with his father and was just out for a hike in the twilight. It was a near moon and a perfect night. While the three of us sat down and enjoyed the fire another stranger walked into our camp, this time a deer headed down to the lake.

After a short time David departed and Burton and I climbed into our bags for some sleep. I slept well in the hammock, but ultimately got chilled when the temperature dropped. I had compressed all the insulation on my backside. So I climbed out of my Hammock and into my bivy. Shortly after I climbed into the bivy we were visited by another stranger, this time a large buck, snorting to get a smell of us. He was spooked off by my lamp and I went back to bed.

I was awoken by first light, partly chilled, partly as a result of the sun. I hiked down to the lake and enjoyed the sunrise.

Spring Sunrise

Burton and I had both brought our Esbit stoves to boil some water, so while we made coffee and tea we packed up camp.


Fargo Loading

While we enjoyed our breakfast and coffee I relaxed in my hammock, enjoying the views from my night's bedroom.


Taking our time, we loaded up and headed for work on the Minnesota River Trail, enjoying the great diversity it has to offer.



Burton was riding stronger than I on the 650B Rawland Sogn. I wasn't interested in going fast, just enjoying the morning.

Burton's Break

Light Head

We crossed Nine Mile Creek and made the rest of our way out of the river valley stopping at a Garage Sale on the bluff for a short period before arriving at work for the day.

Creek Crossing

I'd say this was a pretty ideal "commute".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TransIowa V5...The Short Version

At some point I'll be working on the long version. I have the files from my 5th place V3 finish and my failed V4. They've yet to be completed. This may be an indication of the long version's fate.

TIV5 was my 3rd attempt at the famed TransIowa event put on by the dynamic duo of Guitar Ted and David Pals. These fine gentlemen spent 100's of hours planning, route finding, driving, stuffing, and contacting folks to plan a legendary event. These two and all the other volunteers are the cream of the crop. Literally, they're all from Iowa. When I think about the TransIowa I imagine a cyclist pouring over routes, photos, and cue sheets 100 years from now. Talking about the nature of the event, the intensity of the routes, and the tenacity of the competitors.

Here's the excerpt that I posted on MTBR's Endurance Forum Sunday afternoon when I returned home. I had gotten less than 3 hours of sleep since Saturday's 2:30 AM awakening when this was written.
I have yet to even begin the process of finding the words to describe this year's event. My mind is blown, I can't sleep, but I can't stay awake. More information will come when I am right with the world.

A huge thanks the the "Iron Men of Minnesota" for working together throughout the event to get us all to the finish line. I can confidently say the win, would not have been possible without you.

To Charlie Farrow: I was deeply disappointed when it was apparent your tenacity would not be available for us all.

To Dave Pramann: You pulled long and hard for the entire event. In the heat of the day when the wind was blowing you made me suffer, my money was on you or Charlie at the finish.

To Tim Ek: Without your eyes, energy, and motivation for the last 100+ miles I would have gotten lost several {who was I kidding this should have, more} times. I'm not sure if you realized consciously that I could no longer read the cue sheets. Your intuition kept us on course, your motivation kept me from falling asleep on the bike in those last miles.

All I could say when asked how the race went was "It was so fun". It was so much more. I'm proud and honored to be part of the short list of finishers and now winners of this event.

D.P. and G.T. You put on a legendary event! Thank you for the 100's of hours that go into planning and agonizing over the details that make this experience what it is for those who participate!

I'm off for a much needed nap.

I should have added a congratulations to all of this year's finishers as well as all the volunteer's. Finishing is a huge accomplishment! Having these volunteer's to help along the way is a highlight of the event.

The race started out comfortably. Several of my comrades rolled from the hotel to the start line at 3:30 AM, nice and easy. Temperatures were in the mid-40's. The sky was clear and the wind was calm. Jokes were cracked at the start line as we awaited GT's final words prior to leading us out in the Dirty Blue Box.

We rolled out nice and easy following GT until he pulled off the front and the race was on. The group immediately began to splinter as the pace ramped up to a roughly 17+ mph average for the first 40 miles. A group of 20+ riders formed the lead group. The list included the usual suspects; Nearly all the Lincolnites, The Madison Contingent, da Minnesotans, and several others whom I have yet to meet.

We reached the 40 mile checkpoint unscathed. We had ridden through several pig farms and watched an incredible sunset as we headed Southeast. Charlie Farrow was second into the checkpoint. He quickly grabbed his cue sheets and scrambled back onto the road. I chased him and several others including Gorilla, Parsons, Tri, Vargas caught us quickly. Like many others we got lost headed out of town.

Once out on the open road and on route the lead group started working together, but not too many miles in Charlie Farrow and myself began to ride off the front. I was surprised and disappointed that the group had splintered. Charlie inquired of my comfort level with our pace and I inquired the same with him. It was agreed that we were both very comfortable and decided we would go on and work together. An agreement was made to roll off the front when you no longer wanted to pull. This would keep the other rider from worrying about having to pull through.

Charlie and I stopped for a refuel in North English, where we would be caught by Dave Pramann, Tim Ek, and Corey Godfrey. We had already refilled. They came in like a storm, Ek Saying "Let's go, Let's go". I hurried to get my bag on and get on the bike. Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek, Dave Pramann, and myself rolled out of North English in a hurry leaving Corey Godfrey behind to fend for himself. I felt bad, but not bad enough to stop. Godfrey was Ek and Pramann's responsibility if anyone's. A race is a race.

GT has written that he asked me about a downed tree here. I don't remember the conversation, or a tree. This is an indicator of the state of mind I was in during the race.

The "Iron Men of Minnesota" settled into a brisk pace together. Charlie and Dave were riding especially strong. Dave is incredibly smooth and powerful on a bike. Charlie is aggressive. I'd ridden with both of them at last year's Almanzo and new that this would be the winning group. Their experience, strength, and wisdom are intimidating. Tim Ek was struggling, but riding strong. He had chased on to the chase group after flatting early in the event, prior to checkpoint 1. When he and Dave caught Charlie and I, Tim had been battling for 80 miles.

Mid-day as the sun was high and temps were warmer I was struggling physically and mentally. My legs felt strong, but my stomach, head, and shoulders were weak. My stomach was churning. I'd later find out it was the pre-race fried chicken and french fries. I had a slight headache from the constant wind, sun, and heat. My shoulders ached from miles of riding overly stiff armed. I hoped my body and mind would hold out for a finish at this point. Surveying the competition I thought Charlie and Dave would be crossing the line together. This would be my lowest point during the race.

The "IMOM" reached the second checkpoint at mid-day 2:30-3:00 (ish). We took a long rest, filling bottles, eating solid food, reapplying chamois cream, etc... Jason Novak rolled in solo. The 5th Minnesotan had battled the afternoon's headwind to mile 150 mostly solo. After an ample break at the gas station the "IMOM" headed for the hills.

Just short of 200 the tenacious Charlie Farrow fell from the lead group. He had apparently been battling stomach problems from consumables at checkpoint 2. Not surprising, gas station fodder can be misleading and dangerous. Tim attempted to reattach him to the group with no success while Dave and I soft pedaled to wait for them.

I remember what it felt like to break the 200 mile barrier in TIv3. It was an overwhelming feeling, or I was exhausted. Either way, I knew that if I made it to 200 I would finish the race. I won't say it's easy after 200, but there is a certain euphoria that comes at this point. I'd be interested to read a study, or be involved in a study of what happens to an athlete's body beyond this type of barrier.

At this point Dave, Tim, and I had the wind at our backs and 20 miles to checkpoint #3, the final checkpoint. This 20 miles flew by. We were in beautiful country at this point and the sun was low in the western sky. At one point in particular as we were headed north, uphill, and towards a horse farm I noted how absolutely beautiful it was out. Dave, described it perfectly saying "What a bucolic setting". We were met by three horses trotting towards the fence as we trodded towards checkpoint 3.

We reached Traer, Checkpoint 3 at dusk after riding blazingly fast Ridge Road. On the way in we took a wrong turn away from the closed bridge and out towards 63. We ended up adding about a mile on the way in. We were met at the checkpoint gas station by Guitar Ted, David Pals, and several volunteers I have yet to be introduced to. Checkpoint 3 looked familiar and then it came to me. I had met Chris Plesko here during TIv3. He was nursing a flat tire mid-day and munching some pizza as Brian Dukek and I rolled in that year.

Tim, Dave, and I were happy for another long break, it had been 70 miles since checkpoint 2, the sun was getting low, the miles in the saddle were wearing on us, and we were hungry. I went straight for the sausage pizza, a 12oz. Coke, and a 2-pack of Reese's Cups along with 4 bottles of water.

With the Pizza, Coke, Reese's, and a Swiss Cake Roll I had carried from checkpoint 2 gone I prepared for the last 96 miles of the race. I filled my bag and water bottles adding the last of my nutrition mix to the bottles and handing off excess food and water for the next racer's through. I wouldn't need them. I then attended to my shorts applying cold chamois cream for the last time. Finally, I suited up for night knowing that I wouldn't want to stop to put on clothes.

After comments from the volunteers that we were flying and a few fingers pointed my way by my comrades I thought it fitting to suggest we soft pedal the first 20 of the last 96 miles. Tim & Dave both agreed and we were on our way in the final minutes of daylight.

I don't remember the first 40 of the final 96 and the last 60 weren't my finest hour(s). Somewhere around 11:30 we rode by a farmer mowing his lawn. I thought "that's crazy" and then realized the irony in that statement. I was getting tired. Tim was getting stronger. Dave seemed to be unwavering in his strength.

As we bumped along Ridge Road again I was having trouble focusing, staying awake, and losing motivation. I needed something for inspiration. I considered singing, eating more Clif Bloks, and finally settled upon a goal of being the first finisher under 24 hours. Tim, Dave, and I were 60 miles out at this point and had over 4 hours to make it in under 24. I asked if they were interested in setting the goal. I'm not sure what there response was, but in my mind it was "Yes, absolutely!" So, I set the pace.

We were making good time and cruising briskly as Guitar Ted and Dave Pals passed us shortly after the goal was set. I was looking forward to that next left turn, off Ridge Road, hopefully onto something smoother. Then it happened. Tim made the suggestion that we form what Dave has coined "The Devils Pact". That is, decide the race here and ride in together. I was prepared for a finish line battle I hadn't even considered this scenario. I had actually been agonizing over my plot for the breakaway. Would I break early and ride in solo, or wait until the home stretch to jump, risking a 2nd or 3rd place in a spring finish. Here was Tim and Dave offering me the win and negotiating 2nd. I didn't know what to say. I know I didn't say much. I was grateful and elated. I was at a loss for words. It didn't start to sink in until Tim said "Joe, how does it feel to win TransIowa?" I don't think it has fully sunk in yet.

The last 60 miles were a comfortable pace. We were on track for the sub-24 finish sitting up and talking, enjoying an incredible night with a bright moon. We made a navigational error on B-road I and added a mile or so and a few minutes. Not really a big deal considering riding B-Road I was equivalent to riding through a trash dump, literally.

As the final miles deteriorated on the odometer so did I. First to go was my ability to hold a straight line. As I read the cue sheets I started drifting towards the ditches. Fortunately Dave and Tim were there to call it out along with the soft apron on the dirt roads. Next to go was my navigational ability. A gross error was made and we missed the right onto 16th ave. adding significant mileage and eliminating our chances at a sub-24hr finish. I even broke down and called Guitar Ted at this point asking in my most polite 3am voice "Could we get some clarification on the cue sheets here". Never upset a race promoter, don't be an ungrateful ass, get invited back. Tim became our eyes at this point, taking over navigation from here on in. I might still be in Iowa if not for Tim, Thank You! Finally to go was my eyesight. I stopped being able to read altogether I'd look down at the cue sheets and just see the glare on the bag. I gave up reading at this point, trusting Tim to get us in. Mentally, I was a wreck, physically my body still felt strong.

As we approached the final 10 miles Tim came alive igniting what little energy was left in the group. The lights of the Williamsburg outlet malls came into view as did the faint glow of the Motel 8. Cheeseburgers were discussed, the finish line was near. Our success at finishing was celebrated and our plans for crossing the finish line were arranged. Thank you's were said, or so I think (If I didn't say mine to you Dave and Tim, Thank You! I hope my short tale lets you know what I think of your character).

Guitar Ted and Dave Pals picked a perfect road for a glorious finish. B-Road PP was an absolute mess. Muddy as the pig's pen we'd seen earlier in the race and rutted badly. We would have to pick our way through the mud towards the final 100 meters with a small group of congratulatory spectators cheering us as our headlights came into sight. The final meters were a blur as were the first few minutes at the finish. There were handshakes, hugs, some near crying, and the incredible feeling of having won the TransIowa.

I figured we'd come in to a quiet checkpoint and be congratulated by GT and DP. It was great to have so many faces greeting us at the finish especially by brother Mike and John Gorilla. Thank you guys for being there to literally pick me up and dust me off. Next year I hope you'll both be crossing that line. With me in front of you, of course.

Before getting to chilled I was whisked to the hotel by my "team managers" and towards a hot shower. I slowly found my gear tub and picked through it looking for clean warm clothing and the coffee I had stashed at 3am Saturday morning. I hobbled into the bathroom and loaded the coffee maker, slowly stripped the encrusted clothing I was wearing and began to assess the physical damage as I took a long hot shower. I am sun-burned, wind chapped, chafed, and sore all over. My legs are slowly recovering as is the rest.

Folks are starting to ask me if I'll be on the line next year and oddly enough with each recovering day my answer trends closer to... Maybe.