Short answer, “Yes.” Long answer, “No.”

“You look miserable.” “I think you have more integrity than this.” Those two quotes rang through my head. A reminder. Surely not a gentle one, but a loving one. Tough love. Those words came about during a conversation with my best friend the night before I left for Oklahoma. She was right. It wasn’t about one thing in particular. Just a mood I had been in for a couple of weeks. There is a lot of stress happening in my life. Pretty normal stress stuff.

Money.

Too much work.

Never enough time.

Strained relationships.

The list goes on. But that list is ever present in life. I had gotten to the point where I let so many of these things get away from me that I forgot how to do them in a way that worked. Last year was just as trying. I did a freakin’ great job last year. I am so proud of 2015…to a point. You are probably wondering how this rambling fits into my Landrun race report. My mental health is just as important as my physical health. The frostbite from Tuscobia was really tough.  This would put my mental health at a pretty low point. I made Landrun my carrot. I was waiting for this race. I knew it would be a wake up call. A slap in the face. I was afraid to get back on my bike. Not because my toes hurt. They are going to hurt for a long time. That was a great excuse though. The real reason was my lack of training. Sure fast is not everything, but for me, fast is fun.  Being healthy is happy. Being strong  is a big part of that.

Continue reading “Short answer, “Yes.” Long answer, “No.””

Landrun 100: All about that clay!

I am a simple lady. Riding bikes keeps me happy. Rain or shine, snow or burning sun, you cannot keep me off of these things. Factor in a burgeoning gravel scene and I have found my passion. 2015 will by my fourth year competing in endurance gravel events. I was instantly drawn to the format and ease of entry, mostly free! Within these four years of graveling the races have grown immensely. The TransIowas and Gravel Worlds have set the scene for a calender of races that happen nearly every weekend year round. My first choice of 2015 would be the Land Run 100. This would be the third year that District Bicycles in Stillwater, OK would be running the race. I had attended the race in 2014 and knew I would be back this year. Picking and choosing gravel races is hard because they are all impassioned, exhilarating events. I like that Land Run 100 is an easily accessible event, but it is challenging. It really embodies the spirit of true gravel racing. Unpredictable and sometimes mind-bending. That is what I was searching for and boy did I find it!

Continue reading “Landrun 100: All about that clay!”

A Tale of Two Gravel Centuries.

 This post is going to be a double whammy. Two race reports in one, but combined to showcase the gravel scene. The gravel community is getting big. I could do a century every weekend if I had a jet plane and a million bucks. That would just be silly though. I don’t want to do every race. I want to do that ones that mean something to me. I pick and choose my races based on some sort of criteria. Fun, challenge, community are just a couple. The first race in this post is the Heck of the North. This race meets all the requirements listed above, but it goes beyond that. I met the race director at TransIowa, Jeremy Kershaw, and I knew I had to explore up North to see what he was drinking. My first taste of the Heck was last year. I made the 8+ hour trek with my Mother. Let’s just say I really liked the kool-aid and decided I would be back this year. The second race in this post is The 101. An inaugural event in Perry, IA. Directed by Dave Mable, I was pulled in by the lure of a coffee mug, an Octoberfest, and a fast course. Another challenge, most of the gravel I ride is hard and laborious. What would a flat, fast course be like? Read on and see!

Heck of the North.

October 4th snuck right up on me again. After completing some pretty long rides and taking a nice break I almost forgot about the 110 mile event I had signed up for. I had plans to head up with my boss Ryan Baker, his cousin, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. A family event! We were equipped with every type of bike imaginable. Two Fargos, a Trek 7.3 FX, a Salsa Beargrease, and my Trek Boone. Every skill level was present too, from seasoned me to family members who have never ridden 100 miles, let alone on gravel. Needless to say it was going to be an adventure. Ryan, his cousin, and I piled into his truck and started heading North. Many moons later we arrived in Duluth. It was raining, possibly snowing, and gross out. I realized instantly that I didn’t bring clothing for this and started plotting where to acquire gloves, shoe covers, and a warmer hat. We checked into the hotel, ate dinner, and then readied our bikes. I would be riding my Boone as already mentioned, using a Revelate Gas Tank for snacks, two bottles of water, my handily crafted cue sheet holder (no GPS here), and my camelbak for extra water. I opted out of using the drop-bag. Clothing choice was extremely poor…I would be wearing my favorite Gore bibs, Gore Alp-X jersey, knee warmers, arm warmer, WOB vest, Giro shoes, and that’s all I brought. Good job, Andrea.

Waking the next morning I pounded some oatmeal with banana and peanut butter. I got dressed and went outside, instantly I wanted back inside. It was cold. Like right around 35 or something horrible. Arriving at the starting line I found Kershaw, gave him a hug and asked him for gloves. He graciously gave me some. I also acquired shoe covers from Ryan’s cousin, more gloves from Ryan’s sister-in-law, and a warm hat from Christina Anthony. I was now ready, after I had thieved all the warm goods. I really would not have finished this race if I hadn’t had those things. Ready, mostly warm, and raring to go we listened to Kershaw’s pre-race thanks and thoughts, then with a shout we were off! I stuck near the front half of the pack knowing what was coming up. We cruised a couple miles of pavement, onto the gravel, then onto double-track. I remembered this harsh road from last year, plus a creek crossing just to get the toes wet. Somewhere within the double-track/creek-crossing madness I found, Michelle, a friend I met last year. Flashbacks all around me! Only these puddles had happened during the last 15, not the first. This was going to be a trip.

Ryan's sister-in-law and company at the creek crossing.
Ryan’s sister-in-law and company at the creek crossing.

Heading out of the double-track were rode some miles of gravel then back onto a trail. This trail was full of humongous puddles. Puddles I could ride through, but didn’t really want to. Puddles full of rocks, big rocks. Once out of puddle city, we entered the land of pinch flats. I was smiling to myself, knowing how I met Kershaw I would expect nothing less than a slog of a gravel ride. My bike and I were already brutalized and I am pretty sure we hadn’t gone 40 miles yet. Brakes howling and bottom bracket dowsed we marched back onto gravel and found a good pace with some fast friends. The one fast friend I stuck with was Jeff Hunt, Benton Hunt’s Dad for those of you who pay attention to the guys that work at Salsa Cycles. Jeff was fast, and I stuck his wheel. We were riding into a headwind and I knew the checkpoint was close. A good 15 or so mile push with Jeff, but me at the checkpoint basically at the same time I had gotten there last year. Man, that guy is strong.

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Jeff and I at the checkpoint.

Stopping at the checkpoint I was lured in my the corn-dog. Why yes, I would love a deep-fried cheddar filled, jalapeno encrusted hot dog. WHY. I need a life-coach to just slap these things out of my hands. I ate it. Jeff rode on without me. 40 or so miles left, belly full of corn-dog, and head feeling food I left the checkpoint by myself. Last year this is where I cracked. This year I had a tail-wind and excitement of having a slight notion of where I was. Seven BRIDGES road was conquered, back onto the gravel I went. The miles rolled by and I decided to take some pictures. This is something I have never really stopped to do during a gravel event. I knew that Kershaw would want us to though. He goes out of his way to find the views that are worth it. Breathtaking.

10 miles left and I turned onto our last trail of the day. Soggy, rutted, and tricky. I rode on, knowing I was almost done. I was in great spirits too. A rare feat after such a punishing ride. Crossing the finish line I secured third place lady and a similar time as last year.

The last trail.
The last trail.

After heading back into town and peeling off my sopping wet and sandy clothes I relaxed at the AWESOME BREWERY, soaking up wonderful beers, foods, and music. Finally stealing a chat with Kristin Riching, and just enjoying the community. Thank you Mr. Kershaw for an amazing event. My bike and I were housed with a capital H and it felt great. I rode more than I thought I could and was challenged in ways that Iowa can’t offer me.

THE 101
Th inaugural 101. A gravelly good time to be had. Dave Farber asked me if I wanted to join in on this event. Knowing I would be completing a century exactly a week before I was hesitant, but also curious to see what I could do. Replying with a, “YES” I readied myself for 101 miles of flat, supposedly B-road lacking gravel roads. Farber and I arrived in Perry, IA early Friday night and settled in to our hotel room. My set up for this weekend would be once again the Boone, donned with two bottles of water, no nifty cue sheet holder (GPS would be my guide), and no camelbak. I would be wearing Gore bibs, Gravel Worlds jersey, knee and arm warmers, a warmer than usual hat, but no vest. The weather was going to be perfect.

Getting to the start was pretty uneventful. Breakfast this time around a toaster strudel and oatmeal. We rode our bikes the 2 miles or so to downtown Perry, checked in at the Hotel Pattee, then mosey on to the start line a couple miles down a bike trail. Lining up I started basically first in line, which never happens. We listened to Dave’s pre-race rules and then headed out for a controlled start. The pace was civil and I watched the front group start to form. There were some mega fast guys in that group and I knew I wasn’t going to stick with them. I just wanted to make sure there were no women in front of me. We cruised down a hill, turned a quick corner, and the controlled start was over. I watched the lead group take off, Lee Venteicher attacking instantly up the first hill. This was going to be a fast race. Finally turning onto some gravel I fell into line with a huge group of people. Some 20+ people including Geoff and Darcy on a tandem, some ladies, and a handful of guys.

The group was cruising, hanging right around 19 mph. We were split into two pace lines. Tandem leading one, the other line switching it up. I am always skeptical when giant groups get formed so early in such a long race. We would probably miss a turn, and we did, approximately 8 miles down the road I realized we weren’t going to turn right onto our designated path.I shouted, “RIGHT” as the front of the group went straight and the back half turned with me. Then our giant group was whittled down to maybe 10 or so people. We were still a fast group though. Farber, Dee Mable, a guy on a single-speed, maybe 5 others, and me. We pushed up a couple hills and it seemed like the group wanted to slow down. I didn’t! I didn’t spend all this time pushing a hard pace to slow it down 25 miles into the race. So I jumped, picked up the pace, and hoped others would follow me. They did. The group was more strung out now, but we were riding comfortably enough to hold conversations.

Rolling into the first gas station I hoped off my bike and ran straight to the gas station. I have been having problems with needing to go to the bathroom as soon as races start. Not very enjoyable. Our group began to reform at this point. Derek, who was on a single-speed caught back up to us, surprisingly so because he had lost his cue sheets. Leaving the checkpoint our group was still feeling pretty good, then we finally met some hills. We were warned about the hills. and I welcomed them. A chance to get out of the saddle and stretch. The monotony of flat roads were getting to me and I needed something to change it up. I got something else too, a b-road. The pre-race email did state there would be no Guitar Ted-esque mud filled b-roads, but I knew better than that. We rolled up to what looked like a b-road. We all noticed some sort of mud, but didn’t realize just how much there was. I rode straight into it, and then quickly dismounted my bike after realizing I would have to spend 8 years cleaning the thick mud off my bike. Then I gracefully walked the ditch until the end of the road. You can’t ride 101 miles of Iowa gravel without hitting one b-road!

That B-road.
That B-road.

Once we got out of the hills we started rotating our little pace line. I was feeling pretty good, the hills opened my legs up allowing me to push the pace a little. I took a pull somewhere around mile 55 or 60, looked back, and the only person with me was Derek. He jumped in front of me and we took off. For a second I wavered, was it too soon to take off? Could I hold this pace for the rest of the ride? Quickly dismissing those thoughts I pushed onward. We crushed the next 20 miles taking turns pulling. Derek and I were still in good spirits, chatting every once in a while. But somewhere around mile 75 I hit a wall. The gravel was thick, sandy, and annoying. The wind was getting stronger, I just wanted to be done. I told Derek that he could pull ahead if he wanted, but he stuck with me. Granted he didn’t have the cue sheets, but he didn’t want me to get caught. That had never happened during a gravel race before.  Right around mile 80 or so we started wondering where the last checkpoint was. We were thinking it was closer to mile 87. Cresting a little hill within this thought we saw our checkpoint. The glorious, extravagant oasis full of Gatorade and Clif bars. Plus we had less than 20 miles to go! Dear, sweet Lord, I was going to make it. The last 15 miles were a blur. We started taking turns pulling at every intersection and that sort of helped the monotony of flat, thick gravelly roads. We picked up one straggler, boosting my confidence that I was holding that ridiculous pace from before. Crossing the finish line I was the first lady in, and I was done. My moving time was an hour faster that my century a week before. I was physically fried, but mentally stoked. That was my fastest century. Granted it was flat and I had people to work with the whole time, but that is kinda the point. A different kind of challenge.

1st Place Trophy Plate!
1st Place Trophy Plate!

 Two gravel centuries. An hour of difference between them. It is just amazing what you can get yourself into within 100 miles. These were both challenging, but for different reasons. Both of them very rewarding.  You get to choose your own adventure based on what rides you sign up for, so make sure to do your research and choose wisely!

Dirty Kanza 200

This year Dirty Kanza nearly snuck up on me. I had registered for this race in January sometime and five months had flown by. Having started TransIowa and the Royal Almanzo already I was itching to get to DK and finish these three rides with a bang. Feeling pretty awesome after comfortably riding the Royal, I was ready to crush DK. I also wanted to make up for not making it past the second checkpoint at TransIowa.

My plan of attack was to make it into the top ten women, a 16-hour finish or better, and have fun. So far the having fun part was easy. I rolled down to Emporia with Dave Farber, a local crazy man and all around happy person. We left bright and early and arrived at our destination around 2. This is probably the earliest I have ever showed up for any race the day before. It felt great to be able to wander around the town and soak it all in. This event is getting big. I felt like I was at a day of RAGBRAI. Eventually ate some dinner with Dennis Grelk and Christina Anthony, actually went to the pre-race meeting, which was a great idea, and headed back to our dorms to get ready. One thing about that pre-race meeting, Mike Riemer had advice for us from the top notch athletes, and I loved what Rebecca Rusch had to say. I am such a fan-girl and I really hope I get to meet her some day *sigh*.

 

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The dorms were great. A simple room, so simple. I didn’t bring sheets or towels..cue Dennis and Christina, thanks for always being prepared guys! Anyways getting the bike ready is always a challenge for me, but this time around it seemed like I was starting to get the hang of it. I created the best cue sheet holder, a slight variation of Tim Ek’s creation. That was just about the icing on the Boone-cake. A little more about the Boone. I have only made slight changes to the bike, new handlebars, saddle, and tires. I am set up with the 38C CX0 tire. They worked flawlessly, they might wear a little faster than some other choices, but even I can set them up tubeless easily and they roll fast! On the Boone I carried three tubes, lube, levers with duct tape, four C02 (soon to ad frame pump), and multitool in an Arkel seat bag. I used a Revelate gas tank to hold foods, butt butter, and small ginger candies and mint gum. Finally two water bottles and a old classic camelbak were there for the hydrations. One thing I relied on for the first time was liquid calories. I used perpetuum in one bottle and roctane in the other. Roctane was the winner. Also liquid calories will be something I do in the future, especially during hotter weather. On me I wore Swiftwick socks, Gore Bike Wear Xenon 2.0 bibs (amazing), a local high-school kids team jersey (because I am 14), my ratty hat, a Lazer helium, old specialized gloves, terribly old specialized shoes, and tons of Her chamois butter.  Anyways it was quick to bed after that.

We woke up  nice and early to hit the dorm breakfast at around 5am. It was awesome. I felt like I should go to class afterward. But instead I went to the starting line, and holy cow there were a lot of people. I jumped in next to Richard and Lindsay from Dubuque. They were rocking Lance Andre’s tandem and while they were nervous you can’t really go wrong being so badass. It always feels nice to be around so many amazing people. The start was pretty uneventful, lots of slow and I had to walk a hill…I cruised with a member of Dirty Dogs Racing, Brian, for a while and he let me know I could utilize the support they had at each checkpoint. That was huge! I didn’t have support lined up, I was just going to wing it, but in the spirit of what Dirty Kanza has become I decided to take them up on the offer. Getting to the first checkpoint was pretty interesting. I was having terrible, horrible back pain. Down the left side of my back to my hip to my foot. I desperately need new shoes, I think this is where the issue stems from. I probably stopped three times to try and figure out how to work this out of me. It was distracting and frustrating. I shouldn’t be thinking about not continuing 3 hours into a 12+ hour day. I kept telling myself it would get better. It can’t get worse, because if it did it would probably be an injury. (Not the best thought, but I knew I would stop before injury really set in)

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Smiling, but my feet were killing me.

Rolling into the first checkpoint I found friends from Iowa City who filled my bottles and gave me free range to the back of their truck. I spent about 5 minutes just standing, kind of wiggling my feet and stretching my back. Actually swinging my leg over the bike always helps me double check me. I felt like I wasn’t going to snap in half anymore so I meandered over to a giant hill and back to the DK course. 50-100 was even less eventful. I figured out how to soothe my ailing back and feet while riding, continued to eat and drink, and turned on my music. Speaking of music I have been listening to The Flatliners and The Bloody Beetroots all year on the bike. That mix of fast paced punk and raving techno is enough to keep me going. I rolled into the second checkpoint right around 7 hours. That was fast for me. BUT DEAR GOD THERE WAS A TAILWIND, or just no wind. I was so stoked, so pumped. I found the Dirty Dogs tent and was greeted by Craig Irving, a shirtless Charles Showalter, and Josh Brown (hey, shirtless buff dudes are motivation). They were also playing some of my favorite music.

They lubed my chain, filled my bottles, gave me a brat, and generally just blew my mind. I did not expect anyone to even touch my bike. I was physically refueled, but also mentally ecstatic to be supported.

I rolled out of the second checkpoint into a headwind, that’s ok, I knew there was a tailwind out there. For the next 12 miles there was wind, I rode with some battery and light bulb guys from Minneapolis, but slowly pulled away. I was kind of thinking I should stay with them, I get crap a lot of times for not riding with people and working with them. But it just felt right to push into the wind, I wanted out of it as soon as possible. So I continued on and eventually got to my least favorite section of Dirty Kanza. I have only done this race once before but I will never forget this B-road. It’s twisty, rocky, and right in the middle of my race where I want to just zone out. But instead I had to focus on not crashing and realize just how slow I was rolling.

Once out of the B-road I just kept pedaling. The views were getting bigger, the sky wider, rocks pointier, and the heat hotter. I do not remember the giant baseball sized rocks leading to little water crossing last year…but this year, they snuck up on me. I successfully navigated all of them, after each crossing feeling a little more confident with each pass. Just bouncing off rocks, nearly closing my eyes, and letting the bike do most of the navigation. I stopped a couple miles outside of the third checkpoint to double-check myself again. Moved the trash around in my pockets to make sure I wouldn’t lose any, and seems like I might have been a part of a small group of people doing that. At a couple points I was joking to myself that I didn’t need support since there was literally handfuls of foods and bottles on the ground. On the way into checkpoint 3 I passed Lance Andre and Mike Johnson, which gave me a little pick me up. I was thinking to myself, “How did I pass these dudes, I must actually be moving pretty quickly…!”

Rolling into checkpoint 3 I was a little worse for wear. I didn’t really want to talk, or eat, or drink. I stood at the Dirty Dogs tent while Josh Brown’s wife peeled an orange for me, I ate part of an apple, and was generally confused about my eating habits. Never before had I wanted to eat fruit during a race. It made me feel like I was dehydrated. I started applying some new chamois butter while someone’s children were intently watching me. I handed them my empty butter packet…gotta start them young! At this point I also realized I was only comfortable taking little sips of water, and even less food. I headed into the last 50 miles in a much different place than I was last year. The sun was still up and would be for the next 5 hours or so. I had assumed I would be riding in the dark, but at this point it seemed I might be wrong.

Just keep pedaling. I kept toying with the idea that it wouldn’t be bad forever or good forever. At this point it was neither. I was just going. I knew eventually the course would flatten out entirely so I soaked in each up and down hill. I was actively trying to not look at my computer too, just the sun. It was still up. It would around mile 170 when I started trying to calculate whether or not I could beat the sun. I was already smashing my goal of a 16 hour finish time. I had no idea how many women were in front of me, and I am pretty sure I was still having some sort of fun. My thought process was something along these lines,

“The sun is still pretty high over there, how much longer ’til it’s over here, what time is it? Is that helping me figure this out, no..why is the sun getting warmer, it should be gone by now. I wish I could finish in the dark so it wasn’t so hot. When does the sun even set? 8:42? What time is it?”

A futile attempt to get my brain working. but I continued pedaling, getting myself closer and closer to the finish. The sun appeared to never move, but I was. Soon the course smoothed out and I started to hate it. Constant pedaling. No coasting. With something like 15 miles left we were out of hills to ride. This is more painful to me than riding up all the hills. I was still taking little sips of water and cursing the sun. I tried to ride with a group and then slowly watched them pull away. Bye, guys, have fun at the finish line, make sure to have fun. Only slightly demoralizing, but I was so close to the finish.

With 3 miles left I could see where I wanted to be. I could see the town, literally. I had a moment. Made a little yelp and pedaled slightly harder to try and beat this sun. I had something like 15 minutes left before it was gone. I pushed into town and onward to the finish line. I made it before the sun went down. 2 minutes before that sun went down. I finished within the top 200 people. I was the 5th lady to cross the finish line. I was half wanting to cry, half so happy. All the feels.

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Mike Riemer’s Photo

 

But none of that trumped the feeling of being done. Getting off that bike. Getting hug from Mike Riemer. Embracing the end. Nothing compares to that feeling. The pain was over. I could just sit. I did just that. On a couch for 45 minutes. I drank water and a recovery drink. I felt like I was hungover. This was a new feeling for me. A great one, I surprised myself. I had done a better job, and it was reflected in my finishing time. I cut around 3 hours off my previous time. I did a better job eating, the mental demons were defeated and handled with care. I accepted the good and the bad that is the Dirty Kanza. The big rocks and small rocks, I crushed them all! . Every mile I learned something new.  Whether it was to allow my brain to float around thinking about nothing, or if it was to continue to tell myself it was going to be alright and I was the strongest, most badass lady out there. Dirty Kanza is honestly a pretty uneventful ride. After I wrote this I thought I needed to add more, but then realized there wasn’t more. I am becoming the person I want to be. There doesn’t need to be much more than that. I am defining my passions and showing myself just how important I am, just how much little me can accomplish. I am proud of myself. I am excited to become a stronger cyclist and see just how far I can go!

Mike Riemer's Photo
Mike Riemer’s Photo

 

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” -Dr. Suess

 

Here is my super exciting Strava information from the ride. All the numbers and stuffs. 

Heck of the North

A seven hour drive, in trade for a 7ish hour bike ride. That seems fair. My mom agreed and we dumped my things into her car and headed North. A perfect weekend getaway, and by that I mean get as far away from Iowa as reasonably possible. The only way to justify this ride is to do it. It was awesome.

We woke up at 6am so we could arrive at 7am so my mom could volunteer and experience my events in her own way (the best way really). She was tasked with selling t-shirts and driving feed bags to the half way point. As she helped I settled in to watch people get ready and show up. Before I knew it I was on my bike lining up next to a fat biker and we headed off into the unknown.

We were instantly thrown into a bumping, rumbling, tumbling double track of sorts. I fell in line behind a lady on a bright yellow Macho Man. This lady was strong, I wanted to ride with her, so I stuck her wheel. After the rough start I learned her name was Beth. A Wisconsinite who works at a credit union, how unassuming. We plowed on to a wide open gravel road then back into a snow-mobile trail. Let’s just say I was delighted for about the first mile, then not so much. The trails were beautiful, but taxing, it was almost like maneuvering single track. Hidden rocks, squishy moss, and sticky mud would all challenge the bejesus out of me. Beth drove on and I stuck her wheel. Luckily none of the snow-mobile trails lasted longer than a couple miles.

Around 30 miles in we had collected a solid group of people to create a pace line of sorts. It started to rain around this point also, creating a peanut buttery gravel. Hooray. Also the snow-mobile trails were dubbed “Magical Fairy Land Mossy Trail of Squish”, if only that guy could have named all the trails in MN.  I still stayed with Beth.  Met a lady named Michelle who would become a friend later and we all charged on to the half way point and my feed bag.

Beth and I got to mile 60 in 4 hours. Soaked to the bone and hungry I shoved some kind of food in my face, put on a wind jacket, and headed back onto the roads. 8ish miles after that check-point I bonked. My tummy was twisting and wriggling and wanted to puke. I was having a difficult time choosing a line. I was either sucked in by washboards or ended up slogging through thick sandy mud. Beth waited for me up one hill and I knew that would be the end of our journey together. In the still pouring rain we hopped onto a paved road for about 5 miles and Beth pulled away.

Tummy still hurting and rain not stopping I decided to pause around mile 80 where some friendly faces handed me a bubbly drink to calm the knot in my stomach. It helped, and a tailwind paired with a long stretch of flat miles got me back on the bike. For the last 20 miles I spent a good amount of time talking to myself, cursing the rain, and cursing my failing derailleurs. As I turned into the last snow-mobile trail I started smiling, remembering why I love this stuff. I was moving considerably slower than before, but still moving, still upright, still picking lines that moved me past hidden rocks instead of into them. Finally I saw someone in my sights and it was Michelle. I rode with her for the last 8 miles of the ride or so. The snow-mobile trail turned into a sort of deer trail, spotted with gigantic puddles, and then turned into the trail we started this whole ride on. The end was in sight! I slowly pulled away from Michelle and cruised into the finish line covered in mud and rain but still smiling.

TransIowa V.9

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!