|Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek, Jeremy Kershaw DBD'ers|
I pounded out the miles early in the day, feeling fit, light, and fast. Focusing intensely on Charlie's wheel I eeked out every bit of his draft as he did the same to the two leaders in front of him. We were in an established break away and testing each other's strength with hours of racing ahead of us. Our plan was polished, practiced, and solid. We were committed to each other, vowing to do what ever it took to stay with the leaders in the hope that I would be able to launch late in the night for the win. Charlie was willing to “bury himself” for me during the race in order to keep me at the front. So goes the beauty of cycling, a sport so pure that one rider will give all of himself in order to see the other succeed. The art of sportsmanship is represented here in it's purest form when one is willing to acknowledge the chances are better for the other, therefore that one will “give it all up” to have a taste of success. I was humbled by his commitment and honored to train and race with him. Our bonds would only grow stronger as our plan would begin to take on new shapes.
Wet days leading up the the T.I. (Trans Iowa) had the gravel buttery and wet. It took only minutes to be completely covered in mud spray from the wheels of fellow competitors. I spit dirt and at times small rocks out of my mouth every few minutes. The fine Iowa grit reeked havoc on the drive trains of all machines. I winced through every climb as my chain groaned and popped up the hills. I waited for the sickening feeling of a pedal giving way to a broken link as the body suddenly drops to the top tube when all resistance disappears in an instant. A mechanical of this nature would doom all chances of success and destroy hopes of staying in the front. The bike became my number one concern. I would steal a glance to Charlie from time to time only to notice him straining immensely on the climbs as he was unable to change out of his big ring, forcing him to stay in a gear built for high speeds and flat terrain. I rode to him and shouted, “we need to take care of our bikes or all will be lost”. He agreed, but the peloton was not stopping for anyone. It was early in the first morning of the race and this pack of 30 hungry men weren't going to let up. Nervous tensions had things moving rapidly. We were caught in a dilemma, do we pull off to tend to our dangerously dry chains and risk losing the leaders? Surly if the big horses of this race knew that Farrow and Ek had pulled over they'd hit the throttle in order to either completely drop us or deeply hurt us in our efforts to get back. Against better judgment we took our chances and sat in with the group in order to make the first check point, there we would tend to our needs.
|The Iowa mud covere my La Cruz|
Ultimately, Troy struggled to hold our wheels and sure enough we were caught by the original leaders and the four of us were back together, but we were now dealing with 25+ mph hour cross winds that were taking us off of our lines like rag dolls in a dryer. Also, it should be known that the four of us were certainly not working together. There were two clearly established allegiances here, theirs and ours. Charlie and I fought to catch a draft off them in the quartering/cross winds, but they weren't having it. We were being beat down and clearly not as strong. We'd make it to c.p. #2 (177 miles into the race) as four, but it was tenuous at best. In other words, we knew it wouldn't last, this little gathering was going to split up soon. I felt their attacks and I hung on for dear life, but the constant closing of little gaps was taking it's toll and I couldn't help but think of the long haul. Charlie was thinking the same when he finally said, "we have to let them go". I agreed, we'd start working on contingency plans. Auger in and stay the course became the name of the game. Settling into a rhythm became paramount as experience told us that the real race begins when the sun goes down, boy were we right.
Watching them ride out of sight came as a bit of a relief in that I knew the stress of keeping up was over. I could talk with my friend again and just do what we do... ride. And, ride we did. We laughed, told stories, talked of how happy we were that we were still hooked up in the race just like we planned. We built each other's confidence as we played out countless scenarios of how this, that, and this were all going to happen and one of us was going to win the race. I mean hell, they were ahead of us, but Charlie and I still had a huge lead over the rest of the field. We were comfortable, for now.
The sun sank low and we faced different challenges such as coming upon a bridge that was out. The directors must have missed this one as we never saw a re-route signal. No worries, all part of the T.I. we figured, we welcomed these little surprises. However, I don't do that well with heights and this bridge was in a state of disrepair as large portions of the decking were missing. I kind of froze when we rolled up on it and I took note of Charlie immediately confronting the situation by hopping over the barrier and commanding me to "hand me the bikes!". I did, then I watched him shoulder his and wide step across an open section of decking with one foot on a 4 inch wide steel I-beam and the other foot doing the same about 3 feet away. My mind started calculating bad things that could happen, "our shoes are made of hard plastic bottoms and they're packed with mud, I could slip off and fall 20 feet down into that river, with my bike on my shoulder!" Charlie being an experienced mountaineer breezed through this situation as if he were changing t-shirts, while I gingerly tip toed across the beams with my heart in my throat. I got shivers through my whole body when I was done crossing. Soon enough I was back at home on the saddle and on the hoods.
|The cockpit I lived in for nearly 30 hours.|
We were in "no mans land" that abyss of being too far from the start and so far from the finish. The scary place where you don't really have a choice, but to keep moving no matter what the conditions. Also, neither Charlie nor I believe in carrying cell phones in this event as Guitar Ted makes it clear that this is a "no support" race, but he encourages the cell phone for an emergency. We see the cell phone as a way out, we don't want that option. As silly as it sounds, the Death Before Dishonor patch we wear on our gear has got us through these hard times. This patch means you don't quit, you just don't! Of course there are exceptions, but those are decisions each man will make for himself and none of us like putting ourselves in those situations, so we just go on and on. Finally, a stop for a cue sheet change and a chance for me to put on everything I had with me. A light weight wicking Helly Hanson hat under my cycling cap, an extra pair of fingerless gloves over my light weight full fingered gloves, some toe warmers, and a plastic $19.99 rain coat. I was a new man and ready to roll with a clear mind. Miles began to roll out behind us.
Our hour lead on Grelk and Krause was now gone, but still we weren't worried. We discuss how we'd stay with them until sun up, then just ride away with the hopes that the men up the road might be having some spot of trouble, allowing us to sneak in for the win. To say we were optimistic is an understatement. This would rapidly change as Grelk found his legs again.
The chasing began in earnest. Grelk hit the climbs with a vengeance, while the three of us fought to grab his wheel. After all, he was now navigating, we needed him and he had proven good at it. But, he was really hurting us on the climbs. Soon it became apparent that the 180 miles of hard riding earlier in the day were beginning to weigh heavy on Charlie and I. We exchanged concerned glances as the pace ratcheted up at different points throughout the night. I was holding my own, but feeling seriously tired, not only the kind of tied you get from a long bike ride, but I'm talking about hospital kind of tired. I would look for sympathy as I told Krause and Charlie, "I'm really hurting guys, my legs are cooked!". They wouldn't answer, instead they just stared straight ahead. I began to accept that this was how it was going to be and it was 11:00 p.m. My calculations had the race ending for us some time around 8:00 a.m. How would I make it through the night like this?
|Race Director, Guitar Ted and Tim Ek|
Suddenly, blinking lights appeared at the top of a climb. The leaders were stopped with a mechanical, we had caught them. A short conversation and a decision to offer them a pump had us moving on without them. We were in the lead or more accurately Dennis Grelk was in the lead. Approximately 50 miles out we encouraged Dennis to leave us as it was clear we were holding him back and he was the strongest rider at the time. He was hesitant, but itching to go. He'd hit the climbs even harder than before only to hold up a bit for us on the other side. I ultimately told him, "just go, I'll get us home". And, he was gone...
Grelk's disappearance was phenomenal as he was there one minute and the next he was out of sight. We all tipped our hats to him and began to root for him. I don't really even know Dennis, but I recall thinking, "Go Dennis, Go, You Can Do It, Don't Let Up!".
Krause, Farrow, and Ek were now the chase group, but we weren't really chasing, we were running, running from the earlier leaders, now behind us dealing with mechanicals. I took over nav. and I took it seriously as I viewed Krause and Farrow as my responsibility. I would get these boys home no matter what and I'd do it without any mistakes. This focus gave me purpose and drive. I rode at the front a lot and I felt them trusting me. I informed them of our distances in order to gauge nutrition and hydration, the sun would be up soon, then every thing would get better.
Being caught and passed by the earlier leaders just before sun up as they chased hard for Grelk had us demoralized, but intent on the bigger prize of finishing. I told the boys that it's about getting home now, just getting home, don't worry about them. This view point would soon change and the race would become a race again as the "what if" scenarios Charlie and I discussed earlier began to unfold.
Another flat had them side lined, we were back in the fight. I was renewed and driven. Farrow seemed to be coming around. Krause stayed positive despite extreme knee pain, he emerged as my rock and my co-pilot. Troy stayed tight on my wheel at all times giving me confidence knowing he was there. He proved to be the Salt of the Earth as I got to know more about his character. I remember thinking that I could ride to the corners of the globe with this guy.
30 miles turned into 15 and we were still in good shape. A large climb "popped" Charlie off our wheels as I grew increasingly concerned about getting caught. I began to lift the pace while Troy stayed hooked on. At 14 miles I rode next to him and asked about the finish. Troy politely stated, "I was just thinking about that and I think you should come in 2nd place and I'll take 3rd, but of course we have to ask Charlie". "Are you sure? And, yes of course we'll talk to Charlie", I said. We both turned around to see my friend about a 1/4 mile back. He was "popped", there was nothing more we could do for him. A sadness came over me as I said, "He's off the back, let's go". Without hesitation Krause and I slipped into a fast moving rotation and began to knock out the remaining miles. As the count down continued I began to get more excited and nervous. I took longer pulls, obsessively looked over my shoulder for chasers. We were doing it! 5 miles to go and I was riding harder than ever. Troy would report that we were clear, no chasers, while I would give him distance to finish information. With 1 1/2 miles to go I sat up. I turned to my new friend to hold out my hand. We shook, smiled and thanked each other, but more importantly we knew what we'd been through together and no one would ever be able to understand it or take it away from us, we were now connected.
Thank you Guitar Ted and D.P. for giving me the gift of finding out what I'm really made of and showing us all that we can be. Thank you Mike Riemer at Salsa Cycles for all that you've done for me. My Salsa La Cruz Ti was exceptional. Thank you Sean Mailen for the time I got to spend with you and I enjoyed getting to know you as well as watching you effortlessly handle your La Cruz. Troy Krause, you are one of the "good guys". I felt so at ease with you and deeply appreciated your approach to this beautiful sport as well as your approach to life. Finally, to my good friend and training partner Charlie Farrow, we did win buddy, we really did win.
The blanket of Trans Iowa covers all finishers and I will forever hold a corner of that blanket tightly in my fist. Thank you Trans Iowa for showing me who I really am.