Having the phone cut out was worrisome, but I figured the boys would be smart enough to find me. I got back on the bike and rode a half-mile, turned right on 60th and climbed the remaining half-mile to F-46. All they had to do was drive the route backwards, and boom, there I'd be. I laid the bike down in the grassy ditch and commenced the wait. "Re-trace the route," I muttered over and over to myself. I took the caps off all three bottles and managed to consolidate a couple ounces of water, which I drank immediately.
It was a huge relief to see that VW top the hill on the other side of the highway. I stooped my stiff old cowboy body over the bike and removed the computers and lights, then slowly rose back to a hunched-over stance. Steve would later tell me that I looked about fifteen years older when they picked me up.
The car wheeled around and Grant, Steve and Nate piled out. Steve asked:
"Now, before we offer aid, you're sure you're done?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
All at once there were smiles, laughter and pats on the back for the smelly old dimwit. I was so relieved to be done. I might have been moved to tears of joy, had either joy or tears been in stock, but all of my cupboards were pretty much bare.
They hadn't brought water, but there was Gatorade, which might have been better anyway. I put my lights and computer in the back of the wagon and sat there while they loaded my bike. Another rider approached, looking rough too, but asked if everything was alright. I replied that it was. I don't know who it was or whether he finished. I don't think he did. [We think this was Dave. He was found wandering in the road a few miles away, out of it. He did not finish.]
Once underway, the talking began. I don't remember much of it, but I'm told that I had no filter between impulse and mouth. I may well have told them that I was not going to ever do TI again. Ever.
Back at the hotel, there was water with electrolyte, food, beer, a shower and two beds to choose from. Re-acquaintance with food and beer was clearly going to take a while. I managed a little of both, but more food than beer.
My first real encounter with my smell happened as I disrobed to shower, and I washed everything twice. Shorts included.
After putting on clean clothes, I laid down to take a nap not expecting that I would be afraid to go to sleep. I was afraid that if I went to sleep that I would die. Lose control and crash, perhaps.
We went to dinner at a restaurant in town. We saw some other TI racers and their crews, had a nice meal and rented a couple of movies from a Red Box. This is 40 was funny in fits and starts but mostly lame. Argo was excellent, at least judging by the parts I was awake to see.
It took at least a week to feel normal again. Large parts of my intellect went on hiatus. A few pieces would return each day, and I think most of it was back within a week.
Physical soreness was mostly gone in a couple if days, but I had night sweats for about a week. Electrolytes and hormones, most likely. My saddle area grew new skin within a couple of weeks, but would not be the same for most of the summer. My power on the bike returned in mid-May and I felt pretty good racing Almanzo a mere three weeks later, though I did fade substantially near the end. (There were a couple of flashbacks as well.)
I had gone into Trans Iowa thinking maybe there would be some kind of big epiphany out there in the wilds, which seems pretty unrealistic in retrospect. There did turn out to be big, obvious lessons, including:
- Ultra endurance racing is hard.
- Details (like hydration and nutrition) are always important.
- Positive thinking is essential.
- Seldom does anyone do anything like this in isolation.
Much of this I knew, but now understand more fully.
Also learned were some things about cycling:
- Everything is going to hurt at some point, and easing off to work through whatever it is usually helps.
- Staying seated while climbing keeps a steadier heart rate and seems to conserve energy.
- It pays to have your rig in top shape, and to train with the setup you intend to use.
- Within reason, gear is just gear and physical training only goes so far. Mental proficiency counts for much more than I had thought.
Sean Mailen said in 300 Miles of Gravel:
"The season of my life is good. I've got...I'm getting ready to get married, and a lot of things are going on, and it's just, like, that level of endurance you learn you have physically, it also translates into mentally...and like you know what, I can handle this."
Yeah, I guess, maybe. I had been through most of that (and some more interesting stuff) before TI, and frankly, none of it as clear-cut as dirtball bike racing. Maybe it is of profound help to some people. It'd be interesting to hear what Sean would say a decade from now.
For me, the most profound lesson has been that life's little annoyances are now more likely to be identified for what they are. I've got a little more courage to face the unknown. I'm a little less passive and a little less inclined to just muddle through. Not much more than that, but I'll take it. Every little bit helps.
I sent in a postcard and am on the roster for next year. Iowa gravel and I have unfinished business. I'm just about finished with overhauling the bike.
I had an exchange with singlespeeder Matt on Twitter:
Me: Also, will be taking another whack at #transiowa at the end of April.
@mdub71: Best of luck
Me: Thank you. Wait. You're not on the roster...
@mdub71: I got my three, and that shit is hard. You will see me around.
That shit is hard.