Trans Iowa V5

This post is dedicated to all things pertaining to Trans Iowa V5 which was the first Trans Iowa not run in the northern part of the state.

The Changes: Well, for T.I.V5 it is quite obvious there was a big change- the location of the event! Still a “big assed loop”, Trans Iowa had to move out of Decorah and Northeast Iowa for one reason and it didn’t have anything to do with Trans Iowa, but rather myself. See, I also was involved in helping promote The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo, which was a festival created to have fun with 29″ers and like minded folks up in Decorah, Iowa. It is necessary to explain, for those who care, why Trans Iowa left its long time relationship with this great Northeast Iowa city.

The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo was to be held on June 20th-21st, 2008, but as many know, that date was preceeded by some of the very worst natural disasters the state has ever seen. Tornados and flooding ripped the area in early June, causing millions of dollars in damage, a high toll in loss of life, and a disruption in our daily lives that was unprecedented.

Along about 10 days before the Big Wheeled Ballyhoo, I was pressed to make a call on whether we would cancel the event or not to help vendors planning to come have time to divert their energies elsewhere if we were not going to be able to hold the event. Calls were made to Decorah folks and I was told that the vendor/camping area was not suitable for use and that there were no other viable plans that could be implemented in time to hold the event. It was related to me that the trails were okay though. However; it didn’t really make sense to me to hold an event where you have nowhere to put people, and all I had to go on was my information that I was being fed by folks at ground zero.

So, for that compelling reason and others, I called off The Big Wheeled Ballyhoo. On the scheduled day for the event, I took a trip up to Decorah to ride and posted this missive, which basically was about how I spent the whole afternoon up there and didn’t see but a few folks out on the trails. This got under the skin of certain locals up there and an e-mail was fired off at me that stated “…..please do not consider Decorah for any future events.”

So, leaving the reasoning for that aside, (That’s a whole different story), I’ll just focus on the effect it had on Trans Iowa. That was, I granted them “their” wish. As was stated in the T.I.V4 post, David and I had talked about moving the event at some point anyway, it just came a year earlier than I had wanted it to. Then again, we don’t want to incur any ill will, especially since it was connected to another event entirely, with me being the common denominator there. So, David and I left all that behind and moved on with a new plan.

It was David’s suggestion to use Williamsburg as a site to base T.I.V5 out of, and with that we also decided to split up the course finding duties. This was a first for me, and to be honest, it was less stressful and a whole lot of fun. Going to see what David had cooked up was a great time and his seeing my end of it had occurred over several years of actual riding on bits and pieces of my end of things. My plan utilized different sections of previous T.I. and GTDRI routes combined with some new ground that “plugged in” with the loose ends of David’s course.

We decided to tweak the checkpoint and cue sheet idea a bit. David suggested we go to a “short” lead out, with the first section being only 40 miles in. This did a few things in our minds. It kept the “fast guys” from planning out the first 100 plus miles of their rides with regards to where to resupply, and generalizations in regards to terrain, and how to pace their efforts. Now they would have a bit of the course to look at Friday night, but only 40 miles, leaving the rest a complete mystery, and forcing a stop, albeit perhaps only a few seconds worth. It also would hopefully persuade folks to soldier on to the second check point and beyond.

Other than that we kept things somewhat similar. On the sponsor front, we had more sponsorship proposals than we had ever had and all without looking really. It was flabbergasting, to be honest and David and I were super grateful.

The Run Up To T.I.V5: This Trans Iowa was preceded by a bunch of rain- 5.5 inches fell on the course one week prior to the event. This didn’t really have much of an effect though, since the spring time weather had been rather dry before that.  There were a few wet spots, but everything was passable, even the B roads.

The roads were spread with a lot of fresh gravel this time since Federal bailout money was available to the counties to use. That and a west/Northwest headwind the day of the event were the only extenuating circumstances that affected the outcome of T.I.V5.  Otherwise the weather was on par with T.I.V3 if maybe a touch cooler.

The roster, set at 75 and allowed to contract with no add ons after January 31st, was down to 52 by race day. About a typical number.

After the event, I posted this missive on the Trans Iowa site and also forwarded it to all of our sponsors……….Trans Iowa V5

“Beyond The Rocks, Dust, and Dirt”

By Guitar Ted

Trans Iowa V5, the fifth running of the ultra endurance cycling event run around on Iowa’s back roads, is over. The reports are coming in from the event’s participants, and in all I would have to say it was a grand success. The question that many outside the circle of “gravel culture” may have is, “Why?” Actually, that is a great question, and one that is still being answered.

“There are plenty of races out there anyone can finish, it is nice to have some out there like TI to keep posers like me in their place.”

Jim McGuire, 5 time Trans Iowa participant.

Known to racers as “TI”, “The Trans-Iowa”, or as something that haunts their unconscious mind until they tame the beast, Trans Iowa has been something of a cult. It seems to be a passion that is hard to explain to others unless they have been bitten by the bug that infects the soul of any who dare to toe the line at the late spring event.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the running of T.I.V5 and perhaps you will see a hint of just what it is about this event that elicits such a passionate outflow of training effort, determination during the event, and praise of the event and fellow participants afterwards.

The technical hard data on this event barely scratches the surface of what takes place out there during a Trans Iowa, but it is important to realize what the challenge is that is faced by anyone that pulls up behind “The Dirty Blue Box” at 4am on Saturday morning. Trans Iowa V5 was a 314 mile long modified loop course run out of and back in to Williamsburg, Iowa. Along the way each rider had to navigate themselves using cue cards provided at the start and at each checkpoint for the following sector of the loop. No one knew where they were going until the evening before when they received the cues for the first 40 miles in to check point #1 at Washington, Iowa.

So, you show up for a 300 plus mile event, and you do not know the course, or exactly where you are going. It is discovered along the way. Faith or craziness?

The course must be completed within 34 hours and each checkpoint has time cutoffs. Riders often do not have time for anything other than a quick stop to refuel or exchange clothing layers. Checkpoints are at convenience stores, and convenience stores are on the route, but the riders must use their own judgment to resupply or not. No services are supplied by the race promoters.

The roads are mostly crushed limestone and are dotted with sections called “B-Maintenance” roads that are usually nothing more than a dirt slot graded into Iowa’s rich soil. Hills and flats intermix to create a mosaic of pain that many riders find not only a great challenge, but a surprising and intoxicating mix.

“ Bravo for creating, developing, and continually enhancing such a masterpiece that is the Trans-Iowa. I have been around cycling for 30 years and the Trans-Iowa is to my mind the most incredible citizen’s event in USA cycling.”

Charlie Farrow, 6th place finisher of T.I.V5

This year saw 52 participants take the rolling controlled start at 4am Saturday, May 2nd under starlit skies. The opening salvos of the event were rather flat or gently rolling hills. Iowa has a reputation for being somewhat of a flat state, but that notion would soon be laid to rest not long after Checkpoint #1 had been passed.

At about mile 65, the riders turned north at a town named North English where the big, incessant rollers started in earnest. The grade is steep, and one hill follows another with no respite. The roads were also interspersed with several of the infamous “B Maintenance” sectors that give one a feeling of remoteness and a hint of what our predecessors had to deal with in their Conestoga wagons 175 years ago. Although mud was at a minimum, the rutted, uneven surface of some of the B roads was difficult enough to force riders to walk the climbs.

Added to any Trans Iowa event is the wild card of weather. Sometimes the weather is such a factor that it precludes the possibility of any finishers at all, (Trans Iowa V2), or severely limits the amount of finishers and truncates the planned course (Trans Iowa V4). This year the weather was a benign factor for the most part with the exception of a stiff afternoon breeze on Saturday that happened to coincide with the riders traveling the part of the loop that caused this wind to be at their faces. The resulting mix of headwind, bright sunlight, hills, loose gravel, and B Maintenance roads was too much for a great part of the field. Only 25 riders would leave Checkpoint #2 due to others missing the time cut off, or “DNF-ing” before reaching it. The weather had its say in Trans Iowa V5, albeit in a subtle way.

Leaving Checkpoint #2 after 151 miles of the course was not an easy decision for some. Over half the course remained, and now it was going on into the dark of night on massive hills, B roads, and more gravel than you can imagine. For a few, the night time was a nightmare.

“What kind of insanity drives one to repeat this back of the woodshed total body beating year after year? That is the question my shivering, pain racked body was screaming at my brain with every turn of the pedals on the long road back to Williamsburg in the wee hours of Sunday morning.”

Jim McGuire

Some “pulled the plug”, some wretched and vomited, some pedaled in a zombie-like haze to the beat of some voodoo playing in their minds. Whatever demons the racers dealt with, we can not totally fathom. However; the results of the pain and misery were evident upon the faces of the competitors as I observed them coming in to Checkpoint #3. Dave Pramann looked like he had aged ten years in the space of 65 miles. Charlie Farrow, whose body shut down on him in-between Checkpoint #2 and #3 limped in and hit the convenience store for much needed fluids and calories. Tim Ek was drenched in sweat and moving gingerly. It was plain that “the pain cave” had been visited somewhere along the way.

Now moving on into the depths of early Sunday morning, the final 15 riders left in the event forged on in whatever way that they could, relying on each others company to continue on in what would otherwise be a futile attempt to finish the last leg of Trans Iowa V5.

“I honestly don’t know how many people could have finished this entire ride alone. I’m pretty sure there’s no way I could have”

Ben Shockey, fixed gear rider. 11th overall

The final leg was done by the first three finishers in just under 25 hours. Which was an incredible feat considering the toughness of this particular course. Joe Meiser took the finish line first with Dave Pramann and Tim Ek having made a gentleman’s agreement on the road to tie for 2nd out of respect for their helping each other along the way, both physically by drafting and mentally by just being there.

“I’ll never forget when I was drifting backward after a pull down the line past you and you (Dave Pramann)  looked over at me with a huge smile and we held hands for about five seconds without a word spoken, we were winning the Trans Iowa.”

Tim Ek, finisher of T.I.V3 and T.I.V5

Trans Iowa is a bit unique in its own way when you think about how it breaks a person down. The obvious thing is the physical part. The brutality of 300 plus miles of Iowa back roads is not to be taken lightly. However; the mental and emotional part is even more shocking, really. Grown men crying as they sit on the ground at the finish line. Freely given and accepted hugs, handshakes, and words flow amongst competitors and promoters alike. Alliances made upon the road become life-long friendships. It is hard not to feel it well up inside of me even now as I type out this story. Trans Iowa is like that. It gets into you, it breaks you down in my opinion.

“I’m still a bit unglued mentally from it, actually… but in a good way.”

Matt Gersib, 8th overall, T.I.V5

“When we crossed the finish line and the stories were being told for about 10 minutes, then suddenly, slowly the group started to clap for us. I did all I could to not start crying in front of all of you”

Tim Ek

So, what is it that gets into you and why? How can it really be explained to those that have not taken on such a challenge? I am sure this bit of writing falls very short of the mark in regards to answering those questions.  I just know that it even has gotten into me, as a promoter/organizer. I can’t tell you how many times I have sworn off ever doing another Trans Iowa event, but somehow the “itch” comes back, and I am not satisfied until I have scratched it. Not just a little bit either, but maybe until it is bleeding. I think that the 15 finishers of Trans Iowa V5 would agree, and that many of the folks that fell short of the challenge would not only agree, but say, “Hell yeah!” Let’s do this again!

I think maybe it is all summed up in this quote from Ben Shockey: “…thanks doesn’t seem to cut it but it’s all I’ve got right now. You allow us…encourage us to chase a dream no matter how crazy it may seem to others”

That is what motivates me and keeps myself and David Pals doing this year after year. It is why folks come back and do this event year after year, and why new folks come to throw down what they’ve got in the face of this huge challenge that we craft for them. It isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely a life changing experience that all of us involved with Trans Iowa can attest to.

Even though T.I.V5 has just been completed, a T.I.V6 is already in the works. Look for updates on this event at

Post event I wrote this peice for and it was published 5-11-09……….

Here are some random thoughts as I leave T.I.V5 in the rear view mirror.

That wasn’t so bad now was it? To say things went smoothly is an understatement. We had some bobbles, to be sure, but they were very minor. Nothing that remotely affected the outcome of the event, and so were very minor concerns.

The dogleg issue. We will have to pay more attention to what will be seen in the dark now. Things get weird in the night, and maybe we could improve upon some things in this area.

Outside support was happening. I wasn’t too pleased about it, but it came in a form I had not considered before and hasn’t been addressed in a fair manner to racers before, so I withheld any judgements during the event. More on this in a bit.

That was about it from a critically important viewpoint. There’s more, but it is mere fluff in comparison.

The social side: Here’s where we felt this T.I. suffered a bit. The venue where we started was not conducive to larger public gatherings without spending money for spaces. Then other restrictions applied that wouldn’t cater to our type of folks either. It was just a difficult situation. To be honest, the pre-race meeting was figured out only within a mere couple of weeks before the event took place. That’s cutting it too close, but that wasn’t for lack of trying. There just were not many options there. We won’t even delve into anything post race! We are going to move the event, and one of the priorities for locating the event in 2010 will be in regards to pre and post race activities and where they can be held cheaply.

Trans Iowa Radio: Ya know…….This is just a bonus dealio I do. I sent out a disclaimer on, my site, and the T.I. site prior to T.I.V5 saying as much, yet certain folks bagged on me afterwards for doing things all wrong, or were being disappointed, (once again) that I didn’t mention their folks and that the posts were not coming up with audio. So, I see where this is going. I have to either make this a professional news casting/tracking/social media deal…….or I quit doing anything at all. You know- if you’ve been around Trans Iowa enough- that I don’t like adding extra work. So you might be able to figure out what happens next time. Trans Iowa Radio isn’t necessary. It isn’t integral to the event. It doesn’t seem to enhance my experience of it, and again- if I don’t have fun, it gets axed. (I “pay” for Trans Iowa, so I get what I want) Sound selfish? Well, then you just don’t get it. If I was charging $250.00 entry fee per person for this, then the tables would be turned. I may change my mind, if it can be done easily and in a fun way. If not, so be it.

The Date: I liked the date falling two weeks after Sea Otter. I had to go to cover that event. If I didn’t have to, I’d maybe go back to the last weekend in April. Had we done that this year, we wouldn’t have had the event. Five and a half inches of rain and severe lightning will shut you down. But I can’t control that weather thing, so I can’t worry about that. The date will be in discussion with d.p. and I and other promoters, most importantly, the DK 200 folks. We want to space out the dates so folks can consider doing both events. Plus I may not be going to Sea Otter next year. We’ll see.

Technology: The issue of technology used for and during Trans Iowa has come up. Mostly in reference to GPS units. I am not very concerned about the GPS thing since our cues are vague enough and road names are often repeated enough from county to county that doing anything in a timely manner with a GPS that might aid you in navigation is going to be difficult, if not near impossible. d.p. brought up a great point that screen size is so small that trying to read the screen while riding is not only difficult to do, but dangerous as well. So, GPS units, be they Garmin-type, stand alone units, or part of a cell phone app, are going to not only be hard to keep off the route of future Trans Iowas, but in reality also be nearly useless. That said, they still are against the rules!

No, my concern about technology isn’t so much the GPS unit, but rather the cell phone. Let’s take a look at this nuggett from Charlie Farrow’s T.I.V5 race report (Found on his blog) as an introduction to where I am coming from.

Note: In this era where a spontaneous life-line communicative capacity is available to anyone anywhere, this dogmatic approach to autonomy may seem rigid to some or antiquated to others; to me itz just the way I was raised and I am sure that I like it better than the new way, so I don’t plan on changing…

So, Charlie isn’t a believer in using the cell phone from a self sufficiency standpoint, regarding its use as somewhat of a diluting influence upon the experience of tackling a challenge like Trans Iowa. Maybe he casts caution to the wind, and doesn’t carry a cell phone at all, preferring to take the risks involved should he get injured, or seriously hurt, I don’t know, and I am not saying you should not carry a cell phone either. No, I want to focus upon the idea that a “life-line” of support is being established by some riders and that concerns me.

I witnessed this from several points along the course of Trans Iowa. People were off and on their cell phones talking to the person on the other end into going on, to keep pushing, and to not give in. I don’t know about you, but a clear headed cheerleader on the cell talking into my ear is support and a help in finishing the event. Outside support. Period.

I know this is outside support because of what competitors write year in and year out in regards to riding with others in the event along the route. Mentally this support is huge. Ask them. I am not making this up. The people suffering in the event together is one thing, but having some one available at anytime that isn’t a rider, that is entirely different. So if another rider is a support mentally to a rider in the event, (and that by pure chance) then what is a person on the cell that is talking to a competitor at various intervals, at any time one desires, throughout the event? You tell me.

This may sound harsh, but this is my gut feeling. If you had this cell phone “life-line” going on during T.I.V5, then you did the route with outside support. The people that accepted that support will have to live with that thought. Folks like Charlie Farrow will not. You decide which way is “right”.

That said, I don’t know what can be done about it, if anything, other than to say that this sort of thing better not be happening in my prescence next year or there will be DQ’s. I don’t like to have to say that, but I know that some will do anything to finish this silly event, and others will abide by the spirit of the event without admonishments from me. I want to support those folks in the latter group. Those that choose the harder road.

To this end I think we may consider changing up the way we do checkpoints as well. At least we will not be freely giving out checkpoint locations, that’s for sure. It creates an unfair playing field for those who can not, or do not have the possibility of getting folks they know to checkpoints. I’m not sure how this may play out. Maybe having checkpoints in remote locations will be what we’ll have to do.

Whatever happens, it is a problem that needs to be addressed.

T.I.V6: It will happen, it won’t be anywhere near the same location it was this year, and it will be tweaked in a few ways compared to the previous years. We were really encouraged by the outpouring of thanks immediately after the event. We were super encouraged to forge ahead and do another one. That said, Trans Iowa will not happen forever, and an astute observation to this very point was made by Charlie Farrow. Again from his T.I.V5 race report:

My message to all those that did not finish, for what itz worth, is to go for it again next year, but with an eye on using all that is given to you. One reason to make another attempt next year stems from the simple fact that guyz like Guitar-Ted and D.P. are a rare treasure to the cycling community and consequently, certainly, it would be unfair to simply assume that they will indefinitely be willing or even capable of providing us with this truly novel cycling experience year after year.

So, I do not know when that day will come that I will say, “No mas!”, but rest assured that it will. I do know that I have treasured the experiences and people along the way so far. I expect that I will be adding to that treasure in the near future. I want to say THANK YOU to all that have contributed to my Trans Iowa experience. I can’t ever thank you all , or thank you all enough.



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