In anticipation of the upcoming Dirty Kanza 200 we continue our gravel series with Sean preparing to suffer on the roads of Iowa. -Kid
I awoke to my sweet Axel F ringtone and got to work. Soon everybody was up getting their stuff together and cycling clothes on. I knew there was a good possibility I would be wearing my knickers and jersey for 24-plus hours. I headed down to the parking lot and rode into town with Gorilla. We got to the start line and waited for everybody else to show up and looked over our gear for one last time.
Here we go. The route out of town was dryer and less foggy than last year, which was much appreciated. We hit our first B road but it was questionable. After we got done with it, we realized this didn’t look right. All of a sudden the big train of riders came to a stop and we tried to get our bearings. I watched as riders continued to come over the hill with lights on and the sun rising over the horizon. It was stunning. So cool. The group found its bearing and rode on again.
The peloton began to get stretched out and packs formed. It was hard to tell if you were in the lead group or if there was somebody ahead. I kept my eyes on Gorilla and knew he would be the front eventually. Soon the sun lit up the whole countryside and we were riding in a group of about 20. The wind picked up and John was up front. I kept close but his pace was strong. I knew I could stick with him if I was tucked in but not pulling. The normal faces of Eki, Charlie Farrow, Dennis, Troy, and Cornbread were there. We continued to thin out and I think pulled into checkpoint one with about nine riders. I found a grocery store and refilled.
Eventually we headed out to catch back up to Tim and Charlie who were already up the road but “were going to slow pedal.” We got lost a bit and then you could tell John was starting to think about those guys getting too far ahead. We starting hitting the gas and cruised after them with a tailwind. We were really moving and eventually caught Dennis who said they were up the road. Finally we found them and gave them a little ribbing but I think they legitimately kept a good pace; our time getting lost had just let them get that far ahead.
Soon Dennis came back up to us, so now we were five. The wind really picked up and John pulled, and pulled, and pulled. I wanted to help him but knew I might blow up at anytime and I didn’t want to take that chance yet. We had formed an echelon so it was hard to give Tim, Charlie, and Dennis part of the draft and I wasn’t going to give up my First Class ticket beside John. This went on for a while and eventually Dennis popped off.
The wind lessened but the hills started. Charlie started to yo-yo and you could tell Tim was trying to decide who to stay with. It was surprising to see Charlie drift off, plus see Tim trying to decide what to do. These were two very strong guys and I was surprised to see it happening. Maybe we were going too fast right now? Would we blow up later? Tim is very smart. Maybe he and Charlie were just playing lame and were going to come by and scorch us later?
We eventually reached a small town to refuel. Dennis caught back on again but said he was going to ride his own race; very smart. I did feel surprisingly good but I wondered if I was really riding my own pace.
Charlie, John, Tim, and I rode on throughout the day. Sometimes Charlie would drift off but always come back at a B road. The B roads were sometimes rideable and I was giving them my best shot. As we rode we saw a burning house, hard-pressed small towns, beautiful barns, lots of cows, nasty B roads, crappy fields, and interesting locals to get directions from. This continued on all day, until eventually the sun was low in the sky.
I looked forward to riding all night. I thought it would be a really cool experience. Nearing checkpoint 2 John and I could tell we were riding strong as Tim and Charlie continued to drift away. I still wasn’t sure if they were playing with us or really felt that way. We refueled and went onto checkpoint 2. I felt like a million bucks and couldn’t believe it. How was I feeling this good?
It was great to see everybody at the checkpoint. We rode away feeling strong and ready for the night. As we neared the first turn, John suddenly realized he had a flat. No big deal right? If only we knew how this would play out later! We fixed it quick and kept riding.
Coming to a nasty B road everyone was together again (Tim, Charlie, John, and myself). When we finally reached the end of it, everybody was really glad. It was long and nasty. We also knew it was time to turn the lights on.
John and I looked around and discussed the riding with Tim and Charlie. A clear split could be felt. It was decided we would ride on ahead. Now there were two teams of two, and we had a lot of miles to go, at night.
I wasn’t sure what would happen but for the first time I thought about the possibility of victory. If we kept at this pace John and I would be able to go for 1 and 2. A sprint finish? Too soon to think about that, I left the thought in the back of my mind.
Slowly it became dark and you could see each little glowing town. Which one was Grinnell I thought? John and I had some hiccups finding the route and learning how Iowa farm roads are marked. I also did not know there could be a 79 Street Drive and 79 Street. I ended up convincing John that we should go down 79 Street Drive and the cue sheet was marked wrong in a couple other spots.
The problem was 79 Street Drive was actually a C road! It ended up being a large WWI trench, nasty and slow. I ran in the farm field and John took the ditch. At one point he was literally 15 feet below me. We hit a real road again and kept on. Half a mile later I realized my mistake. Blast it! We were supposed to take the other road, not the C road. I remember Guitar Ted (the promoter) talking about not taking C roads but my mind just wasn’t making good decisions. Oh well, maybe everybody else would end up doing it too?
John and I kept riding but I think we were both thinking about how much time we could have given to competitors with our miscues and lost time. Eventually we saw two riding lights up ahead in the distance. What? We caught up, and it was Charlie and Tim. They had taken the correct road. We rode a bit together, got lost together, and then figured it out again. Eventually John and I were off the front again trying to make time.
I could tell the lack of sleep and hours in the saddle were messing with my decision-making abilities, but I was still very positive. I knew I felt great, was in the lead group, and was every hour closer to finishing. John and I moved smoothly on for a while before his second flat. What in the world was causing him to flat? We couldn’t find it and I questioned my logic of solving this problem. Was I thinking correctly or missing something? Nothing is worse than analyzing your thought process using the same brain that you suspect might be out of whack. This just made me more confused.
We continued on, then stopped for a bathroom break and grabbed some food out of caches. We started up again but then John yells “Oh crap, where’s my GPS? We got to find it.” It must have fallen off when we’d stopped and his bike had tipped over and fell over on the grassy side of the ditch. We went back but found no sign of it. I kept walking further back to where I thought we were. “I think it’s down here” said John. Everything looked the same in the dark: green ditch grass, bushes, fence post, cow crap, Busch Light can (the official beer of Iowa I’ve come to assume). We kept looking. I knew it was important to find for the both of us. I kept moving my light back and forth hoping to capture screen glare. Boom! I finally spot it. “Oh sweet” says John. We definitely feel like we have a victory and just maybe we can pull this off. Off we go to make up lost time.
Eventually we hit a creek crossing with the right road but the wrong mileage. “Let’s keep going,” says John. Mileage should be right. We get to the correct mileage but the wrong road. We stand there trying to figure out what to do. It feels so good to stop pedaling but is also mentally anguishing. I expect to see Charlie and Tim’s lights around every corner. We keep talking about what to do.
Up the hill somebody is blaring Def Leopard at 2:30 in the morning. Man, Iowa is weird. A car comes and I wave them down but they think I’m telling them to be safe or they are really drunk. They peel off. John and I keep discussing what to do. We call Guitar Ted. No answer. We finally decided to head down this road. It’s got to be correct. We head on and stop for John has to look at his tire again. Further on John asks if I see any bike tracks? My mind and the light are playing tricks on my brain. Yes, no, yes, no that’s a car, wait no, yes, maybe. We can’t tell and just keep riding.
It’s now past 4 AM and I think we have 70 miles or so left. My headlight has died so I’m using my handlebar light and not very excited about it. John is doing all the navigation because I can’t see my cue sheets. He finally gets his 3rd flat. Blast again! We can’t figure it out but I’m not very helpful at this point. I’m so tired, but my legs still feel good. How?
Finally I see a UFO coming over the hill. My mind has really gone. The lights are spreading out, floating above the landscape. Oh man this is weird. They get closer, and then I can hear the gravel crunching. Oh wow, its riders. Then I hear Tim Ek say, “It’s them. They’re right here.” Tim Ek, Charlie Farrow, Dennis, and Troy Krause pull up. Crud, we’ve been caught again. They stop and we talk. John continues to work on his flat. They looked dirty, beat, and tired. I don’t have a mirror but I guarantee that’s how I looked too.
They decide to keep rolling. I don’t blame them. Finally John and I are moving again. We keep pedaling and pushing faster and harder. We’ve got to catch them. Eventually we catch on, but they are missing one. Where’s Dennis! He went ahead, apparently right after they passed us.
John is gung ho to chase! I hold on but he is really moving out! We hit the B road just in time for me to decide I really hate B roads. We keep riding the B road even though at this point we probably could have walked it faster. Once we hit dry gravel the race is on again.
TO BE CONCLUDED...
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Sean 'Mailman' Mailen
I was born and raised in the hills of Tennessee. I decided in high school I wanted to design the best bikes and parts possible; I’ve been following my dream ever since. I love about every possible mode of cycling, mountain biking is the most fun, but if I’m on two wheels I’m happy.