Blissful naivete or wisdom gained from experience? That can be a difficult question to ponder.
I see both sides now, but early on I saw only endless gravel and many, many questions. Thousands of miles of gravel racing now has me lining up at the start line with dreams of winning. I know what to expect. I have a lot of those answers. But sometimes I wish I didn't know now, what I didn't know then.
I am a much different bike rider now than I was when I first dreamed of participating in the Trans Iowa. That was back in 2007, and 320 miles of unsupported gravel road riding was daunting to say the least. So daunting in fact, that I considered it possibly life threatening. Completing the ride seemed as far away to me as riding my bike on the moon, yet I wanted to do it. I didn’t want to “try” it, I wanted to DO it!
Researching the Trans Iowa became my obsession. I scoured the website daily, reviewing everything written about the race and heeding the warnings. I took it all very seriously and to be completely honest it really scared me. I wasn’t sure I could stay up all night, let alone ride my bike all night. I had never ridden in the dark before and I certainly had never been involved in a race that required self-navigation, nutrition/hydration management, and possibly bike breakdowns. So, there I was completely ignorant, but excited to learn.
I remember considering all those factors as I prepared in the months leading up to the race. I would just buy whatever I was hungry for in the gas stations, without a thought to nutritional value. I hoped for nothing more than a simple flat tire, because I didn’t really know how to fix much of anything else. I was certain I’d ride the whole race by myself, so I’d really have to pay attention to the road signs. Little did I know that I would hook up with, and form a bond with, a small band of riders who I'll never forget. Oh, and mentally the idea of riding 320 miles was the easy part. I would just never quit. I guess you could say I flipped a switch in my mind, telling myself that if the race directors packed up, I’d still be riding my way to the finish. Quitting was never an option. For me, riding 'start to finish' is one aspect that has never changed.
'Oh…just some spare clothes'....
My equipment was a 26”-wheeled Specialized S-Works hardtail mountain bike with a rigid fork. I loaded with about a 3 lbs light system, and a head lamp that I stretched around my helmet, which fell off in the first mile, breaking open when it hit the ground. I loaded my commuting pack with enough clothing and food to take care of ten riders. I recall checking through my gear in the hotel room at about 2:45AM (race start being 4:00AM) and thinking, “Wait a second…this pack is just too heavy” and taking about 5 lbs out and leaving it on the bed. The pack still weighed in at about 17 lbs. The pack was heavy, but I was ready for the most detailed, and possibly implausible, of “What if?” scenarios. I mean if I had to sleep in the ditch, I had a tin foil emergency blanket in the pack to keep me warm. If memory serves I think I had a 2 lbs bag of trail mix in that pack. Did I think there wouldn't be trail mix in the gas stations?
I shake my head when I think back to the training I thought would prepared me for a race that scared me silly: A self-made 12-week program I was sure would whip me into shape. This program would include one 100-mile ride as its longest effort. It’s safe to say I don’t follow that program any more.
Finally, the race was underway and I was determined to battle my nerves and conquer the Trans Iowa. Soon, I was riding with a nice group of guys and I must admit that I was more than a little embarrassed when they would ask me, “What the heck do you have in that pack?” I told them a bit of a fib when I casually mentioned, “Oh, just extra clothes. That’s why it looks so full.” I’m glad they never got the chance to lift it.
In a strange way I miss those days of blissful ignorance. Those days when I had no idea how much it would hurt or how hard it would really be. Those days of riding into the unknown, looking forward, and never back. Today, I keep searching for that feeling, only with a lot less stuff.
Out of the saddle on the way to the finish line of the 2007 Trans Iowa…
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Tim (Eki) Ek
Tim Ek was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and still calls it home. He’s always had a passion for competition and seeking his own extremes. Tim's true love is the woods: Out in the wild is where he clears his head and finds his peace, and he prefers getting there by bike. Tim Ek: The Eki Chronicles, ekichronicles2.kinetic-fitness.com