My thoughts on TransIowa Version 3.
This was the third year in a row for the TransIowa bicycle race. The two previous years, the racecourse was from one side of Iowa to the other on country roads, gravel and dirt. The mileage was around 320 miles. This year the course was a large loop starting and ending in Decora in the northeast corner of the state, the total mileage being around 326. The start was Saturday morning at 4am. The cutoff time for the first leg of the event was 6pm that day. The cutoff for the finish was 2pm Sunday. The race has no entry fee, there is no pre-arranged support allowed and there are no significant prizes. Racers are responsible for themselves.
I attempted this event last year but the rainy weather made the roads very soft and very slow and no one was able to reach the cut off in the time allotted. That being said I was un-officially the racer going the eighth longest distance that day. But that was a measly 73 miles in 9 hours. Slow.
This year the weather was perfect for a long long long ride. There was some rain earlier in the week but the roads had a few days of sun and wind. The forecast looked good and I was getting excited.
I went to Decora with 4 other bike riding racer friends. Two other friends volunteered to drive us and be available during the event in case we needed to be picked up on the course.
The start of the race was very hilly and the pace was fast. The 60 person group strung out fairly quickly and I found myself riding with 2 of my friends. Our group of three rode thru the morning in the hills headed south as the sun rose, the wind picked up and terrain eventually flattened out to some degree. The wind was from the northwest, providing a tail wind for most of Saturday’s route.
We took little breaks as necessary and stopped for a while at a grocery store in one town at 9am and at a deli in a town along the route around 1pm. We arrived at the check point around 2pm. We left the checkpoint and rode south and west into the afternoon and early evening. Around mile 160 Jeff developed some severe knee pain and we called for help. Our non racing friends were out on the course taking photographs and were actually only ½ mile away.
Then we were a group of two riding into the night. The moon was out and we watched the moon shadow go from one side of the road to the other. I knew the night would be the hardest part, not having ridden my bike thru the night before. I was soon to surpass my longest ride ever at 200 miles. Butch and I were tired. Voices in my head told me that I could quit and attempt next year. I didn’t share these thoughts with Butch as I expected he was hearing the same voices. On a few occasions, I closed my eyes long enough to find myself weaving down the road. It was a challenge. We rode slow but consistently thru the night stopping at towns along the way with convenient stores still open, thankfully.
Out on the country roads, the other voices were telling me that I couldn’t guarantee this kind of weather next year and to keep pedaling. We accidentally got off the course around 5am and inadvertently added 14 or so miles going off and getting back on the route. After the detour I told Butch that I was getting worried that we might not make the final cut off and if we did it was going to be close. The start was fast but the night was slow and the extra miles didn’t help our time.
Sunrise brought about the most dramatic second wind I’ve ever gotten. The wind had switched directions during the night and was out of the southwest, blowing us back to Decora. Our pace picked up.
The heavy spring rains had caused several of the rivers and creeks to overflow their banks. On two separate sections of the course water had washed out the road with 12 – 18 inches of water for about 30-40 yards across. One water crossing was in the middle of the night. We crossed on bikes, dunking each pedal and foot into the water as we pedaled across. That made for some cold feet. The second water crossing was later in the morning with the air temperature warmer but the water deeper and longer. The bottom of my bike was submerged but I managed to stay on board.
The wind got stronger as the day went on and I could tell we were nearing Decora from the south. We closed on the finish line and I knew we would make it in the allotted time. We finished at 1pm with 1 hour to go before we would have not been counted as finishers. Only one rider was able to make it after us, with only 15 minutes to go before 2pm Sunday. It was amazing to have a friend with me the entire time. It made the nighttime riding possible.
It felt so good to finish this event. The night was hard and slow. The daytime was fast and scenic as we saw a lot of beautiful country and we had the wind at our backs 75 percent of the time. Manicured farms, beautiful rivers and creeks, lively towns, rolling hills, dead flat plains and blue skies. The finish was straight up hill, probably 600 vertical feet of climbing ending at a cemetery. The race promoter obviously has a good sense of humor.
340 miles were ridden by Butch and I, including our mini detour. That’s a lot of riding in a short amount of time. I think 22 racers of the original 60 finished the event. Even though the leader came in at 5am on Sunday, I was completely thrilled to finish at all, raising my personal longest distance ride to stratospheric levels. I love riding bikes. And to ride for that long was surely a test of my love for the sport. Not all of it was fun but I learned what determination can do.