In a time long ago Mount Everest stood alone as one of man's great challenges. No one was sure if she could ever be conquered. It was said that the great Chomolungma or Goddess Mother of the World decides if and when she'd be climbed. Men greater than this writer have reduced themselves to superstitious rituals, even offerings in an effort to gain her favor and allow them the chance to stand atop the roof of the world. Mt. Everest
To some the Trans Iowa may be cut from the same cloth as Chomolungma as she too decides who will pass through her gravel abyss. As I towed the line across from Bikes 2 You in quaint Grinnell, Ia at 3:50 a.m. on the eve of the day that marked my entrance into this world I wondered who, if any of us would be allowed safe passage. An eerie calm filled the thick, heavy air and something just didn't feel right. I wasn't sure what it was, but I knew Mother Nature had something in store for the foolhardy that gathered on the street I stood upon. My only concern, had the "Trans" joined forces with her to condemn us all?
I hesitate to describe the time span of 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. as it remains a blur in my mind. I will attempt to do it justice nonetheless. Nervous energy reigns supreme at the start of all T.I.'s, this one was no different. The slow easy roll out seemed to last only seconds before Guitar Ted's Element peeled out of the way and allowed us to flex our muscles. The pace ratcheted up quickly and things quickly began to take a turn for the surreal. Once the gravel grinding commenced so did the pressure blast of grit in the face as Iowa dirt shot from the wheel in front and found it's home squarely between the eye lids. Glasses were of no use as they were completely covered in mud within a moment's time. Lighting was an issue as the lens was covered in mud. Some of the northern Midwest's best endurance riders quickly began to fight for the front, as it was here where respite from the hazardous conditions could be found. A friend and worthy competitor, Charly Tri quickly fired up his huge diesel engine and moved to the front and was determined to stay there. In doing so he lifted the pace to nearly 20 mph while I toiled in 5th or 6th position committed to staying out of trouble. I noticed the heavy hitters in the game around me, Joe Meiser, John Gorilla, Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey, Matt Gersib, Jeremy Fry and my fellow DBD'ers, Charlie Farrow and Jason Buffington. My nerves sky rocketed as we unleashed our bikes down blind descents at near 30 mph in a foggy darkness. Poor planning on my part had my map case/cue card holder changing position due to the air speed, thus blocking out my handle bar light. Imagine if you will, cascading down a soft, wet gravel road full of frost heaves that grab your front wheel and track it which ever direction it wants, surrounded by 50 other cyclists doing the same thing, all wearing blind folds. This was scary!
Safely through the first hour the tempo remained high and I became concerned with the frenetic pace, but knew things would settle and this was merely an attempt to separate the lead group from the field. This was standard operating procedure and I need not worry as I was committed to staying in the front. I'd been here before and survived, I'd do it again at all costs. The fog began to lift and things felt better. I was getting some slight twitches in my calves at times, most likely due to no warm up and riding at a pace conducive to a two hour race, but I knew ample hydration would keep the cramping at bay. This would be dealt with when things calmed down. Inspired by the ability to now see things around me I settled in. Wait! I forgot, T.I. and Mother Nature had gotten together on this thing, she (T.I.) had not yet decided how she felt about this and ordered some rain, Mother Nature delivered.
The rain fell steady and hard. I thought of putting on my rain jacket, but knew I'd lose the lead group if I stopped. I'd get wet, I was already there any way. The rain seemed to gain intensity, by now I was soaked through, but thought that my rain coat may allow my body heat to start the drying process underneath it. I set my goal on finding an opportunity to get my jacket on. Without warning I notice a small flash in the distance. Soon, what I thought was heat lighting turned into actual distant lightning strikes. "Cool", I thought. This is something we can definitely talk about later. Not cool! Eventually, these strikes were hitting all around us with occasional bomb blasts of thunder. Seeing lightning strikes in the farms of Iowa isn't the same as seeing them in the forested regions of northern Minnesota. As I pedaled I witnessed the strike develop in the cloud, then suddenly dart to the ground to some unsuspecting point. Hey, just as long as that point wasn't me. An almost apocalyptic scene began to unfold as strikes were hitting on my right, then left, then right again, some sustained for up to 5 seconds at a time. I recall noting the brightness of the bolt as one held it's position to the ground for a length of time that didn't seem natural. Suddenly, an enormous BOOM and my surrounding lit up brighter than noon on a clear summer day. In an instant I could see my fellow riders, the road, the fields and even my front wheel. It was gone as soon as I processed what it was and once again the lights went out.
I looked to the east and saw a glow that could only mean the day light would come. To be able to see what was in front of me would drastically change this dismal scene. I wondered where Farrow and "Big Buff" were. I hoped they were with me as I kept my eyes on Meiser, Gorilla and Tri. I was confident the DBD'ers were doing the same, I'd join with them later. The sun did rise and actually riding the bike became less dangerous, but the conspiracy to keep the foolhardy at bay had transformed itself into peanut butter roads that sapped energy from the legs in a way that felt as if I was riding my 35 millimeter tires on the beach. I wondered if the others were feeling like I was. I glanced at my gps for a mileage update and found that we were just over 20 miles into this 314 mile monster and I was tired! Tired? How could I be tired this early. Maybe "tired" isn't the right word. In fact, Charly Tri said it best later in the race, "worked over". I really thought that caught the feeling perfectly. I felt like I had been in a street fight and the sun had just come up, the race had just started.
A group of about 9 of us had broken clear of the field. My boys were among them and I was glad. The usual suspects were there as well and we were riding smooth. The clouds seemed to be breaking and an unspoken confidence that the road conditions would improve was palpable. Had the "Trans" relented or was it just a ruse? It was easy to see that Meiser and Gorilla looked strong, but I told myself that I was strong too. Hell, I had just come off an impressive showing at the Ragnorak 105 that I was proud of not two weeks ago. I had a season of training under my belt and was feeling fit. I tried to think positive, I told myself that "they're probably worried that I'm in this break away. Yeah, they don't want me here, but I am and I'm not going away." Yet the body can only do what it can do and the pace felt high to me considering the fact that we were riding on soft dirt with upwards of 24 hours of riding in front of us. I was concerned.
The miles clicked off and we were approaching the first check point when I noticed I was beginning to experience technical difficulties with my lighting system. Early in the morning my handle bar and main light had suddenly shut off due to moisture entering the body of the light. Obviously, this played into the danger I was experiencing, but I felt I knew what was going on and was confident that it would return to normal once it dried out. However, as we were closing in on the checkpoint I noticed my light suddenly turn on. Confused, I surmised that the button must have been still in the "on" position and the light itself had finally dried out enough to begin working again. I turned it off, but shortly there after it turned back on by itself. What? I repeated the process and so did the light. We, the light and I, moved through this back and forth game for about a half hour before I lost out to a light that simply stayed on all the time. I couldn't have that as I did not have an endless supply of batteries with me. I sat up on the saddle and removed the light from it's mount, pulled the batteries and shoved it all into a pocket to be dealt with later while riding no handed through frost heaves and quick sand gravel in a fast moving pack of 9 riders... nerve racking to say the least.
The first check point at 44 miles saw half the 2010 Trans Iowa field eliminated from the race due to not making the cut off in time. This was alarming as the cut off times for the T.I. are plenty generous and seem very possible. It spoke loudly and clearly to the conditions we riders were up against. However, the 9 of us were still in the game and moving on through the next 88 mile leg to check point two. Meiser and Gorilla kept the pace high and were exacting a toll on our little contingent. Suddenly Meiser pulled over with a flat rear tire, while Gorilla stopped as well to assist in pulling Joe back to us as they knew we'd roll on. Our pace stayed low. We made no plans to break in an effort to drop these two strong men. Instead we discussed our own long term plans and all agreed that we had one heck of a long day and night ahead of us and we better auger in and get comfortable. When Meiser and Gorilla caught us, we'd let them go without a fight. A young Sean Mailen wisely reminded us that they may just ride each other into the ground. I liked his thinking as well as his cool head for cycling. Mailen is one of those riders that just looks like he belongs on a bike. I later saw his drive as the day wore on and our bodies began to break.
Soon enough we saw two riders approaching in the distance, they'd get to us, they'd pass us. It happened and we let them go. They opened up a huge gap on us. I figured this gap probably saw 30 to 40 minutes at it's best point. It didn't matter, we were keeping our demons down as best we could.
"B" roads or minimum maintenance roads had made their appearance and proved to be not only impossible to ride, but nearly impossible to walk. Our little band of what now looked like misfits were forced to climb over the barb wire fences and push our bikes along the edges of the farm field while tracking the "B" road. These efforts went on at times for a mile and a half. This began to suck up valuable time and made the check point cut offs a concern. Sure, we knew we'd make the cut off to c.p. 2, but we'd be chewing up our "banked" time and it was just getting too close for comfort, yet we just couldn't go any faster. It soon became apparent that an average speed of just over 10 mph was where we lived. Could it be that these athletes were moving at a pace that a strong runner could destroy while RUNNING? The energy reserves were dwindling as the soft roads and wind continued to punish us. The $25,000 worth of bikes sounded like they all came from Walmart as drive trains strained to meet the demands being placed on them. Bikes capable of 20 gears were now operating off of 3. Chains sounded like they were going to snap at any point. One gingerly shifted gears with a grimace as any change in the bike's operation could spell disaster. We pushed on as the clouds began to gather once again.
A steady drizzle turned the roads back into peanut butter and silence prevailed, we were "wasted". Men's energy came and went as individually we battled our own nutritional needs. While one soared with new found strength others held on for dear life at the back of the train. We all took our turns in these rolls. My training partner, Charlie Farrow turned to me at one point and stated, "Eki, I'm not sure how much longer I can hang on". I reminded him to think positive an assured him that he'd bounce back. He would later do the same for me when I needed it most. Throughout this dizzying time the young Sean Mailen, who we affectionately referred to as the "boy" was just gone. He was on my wheel as we cleaned a final section of a "B" road, when I looked back he wasn't there. It was as if, some one or some thing, just reached down and snatched him from us. We felt bad about his disappearance and discussed going back for him or waiting. We had to push on ... we did. In one of my darkest times I road up next to the always strong Jason Buffington to check on his well being. Mostly I wanted to know if anyone else felt as bad as I did. "How's it going?", I asked. He replied in complete seriousness, "You know how it is". I did.
Check point 2 was just a few miles out and the rain was coming hard and steady. The Iowa skies were dark every where we looked. Things were not going to improve and we knew it. It appeared that we'd come into the c.p. with about an hour in the "bank", but the idea of commencing through the third 75 mile leg to c.p. 3 was in question. Guitar Ted had warned us that the third leg was the most remote of the entire course and c.p.3 was not positioned in a town, not to mention the final leg to the finish line was 107 miles long. I'm no math mathmatician, but I knew no one would be finishing the 2010 Trans Iowa.
As we approached c.p. 2 we saw Gorilla and Meiser sitting on a bench in the rain. I could see the miles on their faces as I'm sure they could on mine. Gorilla's teeth were chattering beyond his control and Meiser appeared to be occupying his time with mundane gear checks and small tasks. Charly Tri and I tried to organize a discussion with all riders at this check point about the realities of what lay before us. These lead riders consisted of Joe Meiser, John Gorilla, Charly Tri, Charlie Farrow, Jason Buffington, and myself. We were not getting any straight answers from the two front runners who had only a ten minute lead on us at the time they approached the check point. Amazing how competition still reared it's head at this stage of the game. Tri and I were attemting to ring the bell of reason and reality, while Farrow resisted as expected, claiming that he wanted to push on despite being soaked through, completely physically and emotionally spent as well. I admired his drive, but as a friend I tried to talk sense to him. I reminded him that it wasn't us that were "quitting", it was the T.I. wagging her finger in our face and saying, "Not this time boys, I'm not in the mood." I told him that we don't decide, the T.I. decides and she had made her decision. Just then "Big Buff" pointed out that a plastic pop bottle was floating down the center of the main street while a torrential rain took hold of the area. We watched from the window of a convenience store in a town I'll never be in again. Charly Tri was the voice of reason as he reminded us all that he was proud of what we'd done. He was right. Our race would end at c.p. 2 as we knew no one would finish the T.I.
Amazingly, a handful of riders pushed on into the rain gaining just over 20 miles in 2.5 hours before Guitar Ted and his partner David Pals called the race due to safety concerns.
The beauty of the Trans Iowa lies in the fact that it just might be so difficult that no one will be able to complete it. This event is capable of taking the strongest, most gifted endurance riders and breaking them down to a point that they are forced to look within themselves and ask, "should I continue?".
Jason Buffington, Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek (Death Before Dishonor)
Thank you Mark and David for giving me the chance to ask questions of myself that not many people get to ask and most importantly finding the answers to those questions. Thank you Charlie Farrow, Charly Tri, Jason Buffington and Sean Mailen for giving me this experience. Thank you Jason Novak for getting us the hell out of What Cheer, Ia. And, thank you to Salsa Cycles for all that you've done. While others struggled with their machines my Chili did every thing I asked her to do and more.
A post race pizza party with cake included was hosted by my wife, Amy. She called it a "little boy birthday pizza party". Clockwise: Charly Tri, Jason Novak, Jason Buffington, Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek
The time has come, the gear is packed, most everything is checked off the list, including "nerves". In my small world of bike racing the Trans Iowa has emerged as my everything. I think about it a lot! It's the one race that I've competed in that I feel has left a mark on me that will never go away. Most races are about competition and GOING FAST. Some races are about the experience. The T.I. is one of those races. My training partner (Hondo) once told me, and it stuck with me, "the T.I. is your race". Many seasoned racers have one race that they truly identify with and I agree with the old sage, the T.I. is what I hang my hat/helmet on. I may not be the fastest guy on the course, but I can feel the eyes on me. In last year's epic I went to places within myself I'm sure I've never been before, I'm happy to say that I was good with what I found there. It's kind of like being given the opportunity to see into the future, do you like what you see?
Amy and I will be loading up early Friday morning for the journey to the hills and farms of Iowa. While Amy bubbles with excitement and encouragement I remain stoic and frantic all at the same time, awaiting the "calm" that will at some point come over me. It is not my competitors that I fear, it is the T.I., for she and only she decides what lay before me.
Good luck to my fellow DBD'ers, Charlie Farrow (T.I. vet) and Jason Buffington (T.I. rookie). I also want to send positive vibes to my fellow racers, especially, Joe Meiser, Ari (I'll see you at the finish), CharlyTri, Sean Mailen, Jason Novak, Matt Gersib (my Salsa brethren) and John Gorrilla.
This just in: Duluth News Tribune Notices Local Riders
Ek leads Duluth contingent
Tim Ek finished second in the Ragnarok 105 ultra cycling race on Saturday in Red Wing, Minn, to lead a pack of four Duluth riders.
Ek covered the 105-mile gravel road race in 6 hours, 16 minutes, and finished just 10 seconds behind the winner, CharlyTri of Rochester, Minn. Ek was awarded "King of the Mountains" for his performance in ascending eight climbs.
Fellow Duluth riders Charlie Farrow (fourth in 6:17), Rich Hendricks (16th in 7:02) and Jeremy Kershaw (20th in 7:05) joined about 100 riders who competed in the race over hilly terrain.
There's nothing like a 5 day weekend to kick off the race season. Amy and I decided to jam as much in 5 days as humanly possible. Here are some of the high lights:
First up, a visit and tour of Quality Bike Parts and more importantly an opportunity to meet 'Kid' Riemer as well as the rest of the Salsa crew, these guys are the "salt of the Earth"! They made us feel right at home and welcomed us with open arms.
A training partner (Rich Hendricks - a.k.a The Human Map) told me that when I got to QBP it would be nothing like I had envisioned. Wow, was he right! This place is a MAJOR operation and clearly someone stayed up more than one late night trying to put all these systems into play. Mostly, Amy and I were struck by how the company really seems to care about their employees. They are offered what seemed to be a multitude of lunch and common areas complete with ping pong, natural light and even a masseuse. Hey, they're even given credit for riding their bikes to work! All I get are comments like, "you're crazy, why would you do that?".
The place appears to run like a well oiled machine. To the left is just a snippet of what really goes on. Amy and I got a chance to see some "sneak peak" Salsa goods where I was forced to keep the camera holstered or I might find myself pushing up daisies some where. Don't worry, the masses will soon be able to see what we saw and boy it's pretty.
That night some Rockin' was in store with legendary, mega stars - BONJOVI. Any one who really knows me, knows that I've seen and followed the band since I was in 12th grade when they did their "Slippery When Wet" tour. Once again, they didn't disappoint. A 23 song set full of classics that every one on this planet has sung to themselves in their car at some point were played. These guys are pros!
Friday night we found ourselves at one of Red Wing's best little restaurants and one of our favorites. The Lucky Cat Lounge is super cool and the food is amazing and real, not the Apple Bees chain type food. We're talking some real organic pleasantries here.
Saturday morning meant race day. The Ragnorak 105 or what we call the "Trans Iowa's dirty little secret" marks the start of the season and really gives riders a chance to test themselves against the competition.
I'll admit I was a bit nervous going into the race and wanted to represent Salsa the best that I could. I should add that this year's "Rag" seemed to be STACKED with top notch riders. Some of these heavy hitter included, last year's winner, Charlie Tri, my training partner - Charlie Farrow, last year's T.I. winner- Joe Meiser, last year's "Rag King of the Mountains winner - Larry Sauber, Dave Pramman, Jason Novak and a multitude of other talent.
My plan was simple, get into the "break" at all costs and feel out the competition for the King of the Mountains that consisted of 8 point scored climbs. I would make sure that I was included in the break away no matter what and that meant I would abandon hopes of winning the KOM if I had to. However, the new Salsa was climbing well and I felt light on my feet. I got a few late jumps and ended up chasing on some of the climbs, but felt I was able to close in on the leader when I needed to. Things went well in this department despite some mishaps. More on this Ryan Horkey, Tim Ek, Charlie Farrow later...
The break was initiated by Joe Meiser if I recall. We were about 25 miles into the race cruising comfortably among about 40 riders. I had scored in the first two climbs, but in a hideous fashion. I came up late on the first climb chasing last year's winner, Larry Sauber. It was clear that he felt me coming and began to dig deeper, he stole a glance back when I approached his wheel. We were about three feet from the finish cones when he over corrected to avoid the cone causing his front wheel to wash out. He was thrown side ways in an instant at which point I T-boned my left shoulder into his rib cage with a deep resounding thud. I still can't believe we didn't go down. This was just one of those things that one can't foresee, it happens. I'm not sure which one of us won that climb. It was then next one that had me concerned.
The second climb saw Salsa's own Sean Mailen making an early break and getting away alone. He looked strong and smooth as he gained ground on myself and the field. Again, I was late, but I went after him anyway. I closed the gap, but was red lined in the process. As I attached to his wheel I felt that we may be making a wrong turn at the top of the hill. Yes!, we were going the wrong way. Sean noticed at the same time and quickly corrected the mistake. His sudden adjustment caused me to correct quickly in order to avoid hitting his back wheel. Immediately my front wheel wash out and I was on the deck, HARD! I remounted and settled for 3rd.
The break came soon after. Some effort from 7 strong riders quickly separated us from the field. Out of sight from the main field left myself, Joe Meiser, Charlie Farrow, Charlie Tri, Sean Mailen, Ryan Horkey and John (Fargo, N.D.) riding comfortable and clear. The pace ebbed and flowed for the next 30 miles and at times I worried that it was too slow and we'd be caught by the field. Charlie Tri assured me that attrition was weighing heavy on the field and with the amount of climbs that made up the "Rag" we'd be fine. Some where in this mix Joe Meiser dropped from our little clan with a flat. We were sure we'd see him again, soon. It was not to be. Later, a member of our group saw him chasing alone among the corn stubble fighting the wind like a man possessed and bent on re-joining the group. There was discussion about ratcheting up the pace in order to ensure that he stayed alone. I reminded the group that if this strong man was able to catch us, then we should let him. Alas, riding alone in the wind against six guys working together is a feat not many can over come. Joe would finish behind our group.
After leaving the check point the miles began to pass and I felt the battle for the KOM deep in my legs. I began to worry that my hopes of winning the climbs would haunt me in the latter stages of the race. I went to the "darkness" as I tried to stay in the back of our group, hoping to recover. I went into the race very light, two water bottles for each leg meant to take me 50 plus miles and very little food. I was paying the price for being hell bent on going fast. My training partner, Farrow looked strong as he pulled the group for extended periods of time, while Tri remained hard to read as he looked tired at times, but soared at others. I was hoping for the best regarding the finish and was satisfied with winning the KOM, which I was fairly sure I had done.
Silence took hold among our group as we widdled down to 5 with John from North Dakota popping off the back. The finish was 10 miles out and soon this chess match would become a full on war. I knew Tri would be the one I had to watch. When he went, I would go. I was determined to bury myself in order to hold his wheel. The question was, how tired was he? As we approached the last major climb of the race I saw Tri positioning himself on Ryan Horkey's wheel (who had emerged as a very strong climber late in the race). I knew things were about to blow up! I dug as deep as I could to move up among the group, passing Farrow and Mailen on the climb I was in reach of the now 2nd place Horkey. I watched as Trisummited the climb and rose from the saddle to initate his break. Horkey gave chase. Once I was in position to begin my assault Horkey had 100 yards on me as did Tri on him. I immediately went low on the bike and tested the Chili. Horkey was holding steady and I wasn't able to gain any ground until the descent where I took huge chances. The two strong men in front of me looked impressive as they opened up 40 mph completely geared out through this long descent. I was doing the same and I was reeling in Horkey. I knew if I could hook on we might be able to catch Tri, not to mention Tri was appearing to be slowing on some of the lighter climbs that we approached. I moved passed Horkey in order to take a pull when he commented, "Go get him". "You're coming with me.", was my reply. With no words spoken we began to work together as if we'd ridden side by side for years and we were pulling Tri back in. We rode carelessly through the town of Red Wing with competition trumping safety at every intersection. Soon Tri was just seconds ahead, but so was the finish. I went passed Ryan for a pull when I recognized that the finish area was just ahead. I stayed out of the saddle and launched my final attack. Sustaining 27 mph on the flats and slight upgrades is how Ryan and I finished our race. Amazingly, my final push was enough to keep my counterpart at bay, but not enough to catch the now two time winner, Charlie Tri.
Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek, Charlie Tri
I was very happy to finish 2nd overall, approximately 10 seconds back and win the KOM. Now, some rest and relaxation before the big dance, the Trans Iowa in two weeks.
Recently I ordered a new pair of shoes from sixsixone. Unfortunately, the wrong size was sent to me so I was forced to slog through the return process. Yesterday as I returned to my "mud hut" I noticed an odd looking package on my front porch. Odd in the way that it appeared to be completely mangled. When I picked up the box it sounded like it was full of marbles. The box was crushed and the cardboard was like a paper bag. Frantically I cut open the tape to investigate the contents - my new shoes (correct size this time). The toe spikes weren't even in the box any more due to both the packaging box and shoe box being completely ripped open. In fact, the little poisonous thing that keeps the contents dry was blown apart and all over the inside. Needless to say, I was LIVID!! Now I am forced to muck through the return process again while the season closes in.
One of the shoes was cracked lengthwise from toe to heel. Unbelievable! They must have run over it with the fork lift.