Just about a week before the last weekend in April I asked my father if he would be my support in the 325 mile self-supported bike race on gravel called TransIowa. Not entirely realizing what the event entailed he at least knew he had to say yes since his only daughter was going to participate whether he was supporting her or not. Over the next week I explained every detail to him. I would not know where I was going ahead of the race. I would be using only support that I created for myself. Carrying and obtaining things like food, water, and directions would be up to me. All my father had to do was wait, which was the hardest part for him to grasp. (later I learned he went to see a movie…pretty sure you have to turn off your phone to see those things…) “So you’re saying you won’t stop until Sunday, and you might be alone, and you will be outside all night?” These questions and many more were repeated basically until I left that April morning at 4am.
I left that morning at 4am set-up on my Major Jake, Kona’s cyclocross bike. I love this bike, except for the one lone bottle cage mount. The gear I utilized on this bike was a Revelate gas tank, Revelate feed-bag, Arkel seat-bag, small Camel-Bak backpack for more water, 800 lumen Light and Motion Seca light, small headlamp, a sweet jacket for the night, and another small velcro-zippy bag for extra small things. All in all this set-up was nearly perfect. I never ran out of water between the two bottles on my bike and Camel-Bak. The best of possibly most humbling part of that list is the fact that pretty much the only thing on that list that I own is the bike and the things in the bags. I borrowed more than half of the gear I rode with and I owe a million thanks to those people.
Anyways back to the ride! Left at 4am, following a train of lights, who were following a truck into the misty Iowa morning. Almost instantly I was alone. I was not next to Amy Oberbroeckling, a fellow crazy lady who I had hoped to ride with. In another instant I realized my ultra-finnicky computer was not working….imagine that. So I just continued to ride, following lights, around 20ish miles or so in I hear my name and see a familiar face, Josh Lederman! I quickly asked him what mile we were at and how fast we were going. I honestly don’t remember any of those specific numbers, but I know that this knowledge helped me start pacing myself. Around sunrise was my first sighting of Christina Mihaesce, the “most fiercest t-rex” I would find for the next 33 hours. After catching up to her and saying a quick “good-morning”, reveling in the sunrise, I rode off a little bit higher paced than her at this point. That would not be the last time I would see Christina.
Around 8:30 or so I rolled into checkpoint #1. 50 some miles in the books and I was psyched. I found a long lost friend Kyle Young. Young is one of the most intriguing and unassuming people, and someone I owe my fascination to endurance events to. I rode out to the start RABGRAI with him two years ago and his ultra-running pursuits (he ran the first day of RAGBRAI, no thanks!!) have always inspired my desire to push myself. Within the excitement of finding Kyle and getting new cue sheets I ripped open my homemade map case, good thing I spent meticulous minutes wrapping my tire levers in duct tape!! So far my spirits were high. I hadn’t gotten lost, trapped in any mud, or run out of anything necessary. I kept making the same joke over and over, there should be some sort of tour guide waiting to pop out of the corn fields welcoming you to the beautiful rolling hills of Iowa since it was so dang nice out. No complaints here, just plain awesome. I was amazed by the little things. The fog of the morning had rolled out to reveal beautiful green hills, something we missed last year.
Anyways, where was I. Leaving checkpoint one. Newly repaired map case ready to go. Legs feeling fresh, warmed up, friend Kyle Young by my side..it was shaping up to be a lovely day riding the Iowa gravels. Around 11 or so Kyle and I stopped at an off route Casey’s to stock up on water and food. I met Jeremy Kershaw there and we bonded over how wonderful cheez-its were. I rolled out of that convenience store alone after Kyle and rode with a number of random people for not more than 30min a-piece it seemed. I met some guys from Des Moines on the Wrecked Em’ racing team. That would also not be the last time I saw those guys. From here on things were pretty uneventful. Surprisingly I kept my music off until about mile 70 or so (which at that point was Five Iron Frenzy). Usually I swear by listening to music while I am riding alone, but my excitement kept me occupied. I met up with Kyle again around mile 130ish. A tiny bit of a headwind started up around this point so I rode with him and another guy to checkpoint two. Up to this point I felt pretty good about my food and water intake. I hadn’t run out of water at all. I had at least one meal of solid food(pizza). And I didn’t feel too mentally stressed(didn’t get lost was a good plus). The gravel had been easy to ride, the b-roads even better. It had been a bit warm, almost hot, but I could roll up sleeves and push around knee warmers to keep an even temperature going. Somethings that were not going so well were technology. My computer stopped working around mile 90. My phone died as well. So dead phone and computer left me with the clock on my computer to give me a sense of time and hopefully would line up with the cue sheets to help me understand my place. The last not so happy thing at checkpoint two was that the next convenience store was 10 miles away. 10 more miles than I thought I would have to ride to get to water and more food. This was like a little jab that landed a little more solidly than I would have liked. The hills within those ten miles felt a little bigger and longer. Kyle and his friend stopped at a farmers house because they were entirely out of water. I kept going because I was a bit mad and just wanted a freaking candy bar. I rolled up to the Casey’s and was greeted by Kershaw and about 5 others. My spirits were pretty low and so was my energy. I wolfed down a chicken sandwich(bad idea) and met Agatha, a fellow lady rider). She offered me some tea, and then she rode off with her dude friend. Leaving me even a bit more bummed out. I decided at this point to splurge and buy a phone charger. I plugged the $15 energy source into the Casey’s plug and called the only person who might kinda sorta understand what would be the best thing to say, Adam Blake. He answered right away and god only knows if I can remember exactly what he said. I really wanted to quit at this point. I had been at Casey’s for probably nearly 30 minutes and had fallen out of my happy flow. I was getting cold, a little afraid of the dark, and could make up a million excuses for why I didn’t want to go on. Then in the midst of my caterwaulling Christina showed back up. She had high spirits going and wanted me to keep riding with her. Her fast talking and moving convinced me to give it another shot. Shoving donuts in my mouth I rode off her into the night. I owe her.
Christina was on her single speed and me on a geared bike. Luckily our paces lined up. Christina kept telling me that I could ride on ahead if wanted to, but there was no way that I would leave the one person I had to keep me company. I learned so much about this lady while we rode together for the next 5 hours or so. I really hope I get to meet her again at some point in my life. Eventually my friend from earlier caught back up. So we became a group of three. Chatting to keep each other in high spirits and navigating together. Christina set the pace and it was perfect. It wasn’t too fast, but reasonable to reach the finish. At one point when I was walking a hill Christina was climbing she proudly stated that she was going to climb every hill on TransIowa, I really freakin hope she did.
Around 3am or so we all met back up with the Wreck Em’ riders and Agatha’s dude friend. I felt better paced with these guys and fell in with them. The gravel started getting a bit thicker, but we barreled on forming a nice pace line and I felt some of my energy coming back. I bombed it down a hill and was alone after that. Powering on into what must have been a tailwind or some magical burst of good feelings, because I kept that up until the sun came up. I was alone for those couple of hours and focused entirely on listening to Steve Aoki and checking my cue sheets and clock just about every 30 seconds. I wasn’t scared, but I sure was wide eyed.
Up to this point my computer still wasn’t working, I was relying on the cue sheet mileage to orient my position in the race. My phone also wasn’t working. Food supplies were fine. Pace was getting faster. My second light battery died right when the sun came up around 6ish. Right around then I rolled into a town where a magical Casey’s appeared. It was OPEN! I walked in ate a breakfast sandwich and a donut. I bought some cheeze-its and found another racer near the back of the store wearing a shiny space blanket cape. He said it was the only thing that kept him warm at night. I think he looked like a gravel astronaut. So after about 8 minutes of chewing the gravel astronaut and I headed off into the gravel. The gravel was even thicker and I was eventually dropped, no worries, just kept pedaling on. I had about 6o miles left, and apparently they were all hills. I was walking every hill. Walking, cursing, blinking at the too bright sun, and wanting to peel off every bit of clothes and find a source of water to wade in (ditch puddles would have been fine). Needless to say it was hotter at the tops of the hills. Each mile felt like a never-ending countdown. 40 miles left I wanted to hurl my bike into the ditch, along with my shoes. 25ish miles left I was navigating a stupid B-road that seemed much hotter than the rest of the Iowa gravel world. I still had plenty of water and food left-over from my 6am Casey’s stop. I think at this point I was wondering what the finish line would look like. I pictured a magical field leading up to a picturesque Iowa barn. Puppies and kittens frolicking, small children frolicking in wildflowers, yea, things were getting loooOOOooOopy. I would gracefully leap from my bike and land on a hay bale….no. After the B-road fantasies I realized I had around 12 miles left. I changed my music to The Menzingers and turned off my brain (now I can only listen to this band at the end of my rides). I could tell I was getting closer to the end. There were less trees and some more important looking paved roads to ride across. The last mile or two I was trying to smile/trying not to fall.
I finished at 11:30. Got a handshake from Guitar Ted, then promptly sat on the ground and took off my shoes (I would have thrown them if I could have). Kyle Sedore got me some food and sat me in the sun. My Dad/support arrived soon after and walked me to the car while Jared Morford helped carry my stinky shoes to the car. The last thing I remember my Dad asking me was if I was tired and me saying “No”, then I fell asleep sitting up in a matter of 2 minutes.
I want to thank Guitar Ted for putting on this race. I can hardly set up my own 100 miles training rides. I can’t imagine what it’s like to set up 325 miles that actually work. I am entirely grateful to the whole entire World of Bikes crew for lending me so much gear. I would have either gotten lost, froze to death, or some part of my bike would have exploded were it not for them. Also I am always amazed by the support of the whole Iowa City cycling community. The crazy amount of encouragement I have received is humbling. I am constantly inspired by the cyclists around me and I only hope I can inspire someone through my achievements. I learned a lot about myself within those 30 some hours. I am slowly unraveling these thoughts still and piecing together what I feel is most important. Overall I am most excited about the happiness this achievement has brought me. TransIowa is something I will attempt again and hopefully do it better and become stronger each time. I know I have miles and years to get stronger, this is only the beginning!