Sunday, April 26, 2015

With a Bang and a Whimper

Driving Rain
The third time was supposed to be the charm, but the weather had other ideas.

In a nutshell, Mother Nature won this one 94-1. The course started out generally northeast, and that morning there was a 20+mph ENE wind, it was maybe 42dF and it started raining about an hour into the race. I will remember this event as 4 Hours of Drowned Rat.

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Neither of my fellow Madisonians signed up for Trans Iowa the Eleventh, but my postcards went in the mail at the appointed time and I got in. My dad agreed to be my support crew, and we drove down Friday morning by way of LeClaire (with a brief visit to Antique Archeology).

The Meatup on Friday night was great. Saw quite a few people I knew, and the pre-race was a little long but lots of fun. Back in the hotel room, everything was set bike-wise, so I laid out my kit, took a shower and laid down to pretend to sleep. There was a brief thunderstorm, followed by a wind that howled and moaned at the window all night.

Got up at 02:50 and looked at the radar on my tablet. A huge pinwheel of precipitation colors spun slowly over the state, complete with what looked like an eye on the Missouri border. East winds at 15, gusting to 22.

Ate a bit and dressed, putting a rain shell over my hydration pack. Rolled out of the hotel parking lot toward downtown and had trouble getting my body to follow my plans for a big ride. It wasn't raining yet, but it was cool and the crosswind was unmistakably strong.

There were 95 of us at the start out in front of Bikes To You, and the feel was tense compared to the previous two years. My dad had driven down and we said our goodbyes just as Mark stepped up to make the final announcements. A couple of minutes later he tooted the horn and we were off.

It was a real problem finding my rhythm that morning. I was just gassed for the first five or six miles (which were directly into the jaws of that wind) and fell mostly off the back. Distant flashes of lightning added to the consternation. Eventually we turned north and then west for a bit, so I was able to rally and get the diesel started somewhere around mile ten. Right about that time, droplets of water vapor began to swirl in the beam of my headlight, and by mile twelve it had begun to drizzle. The roads were already saturated from the previous night's rain, and I found myself pushing pretty hard even on the downhills. Maybe twenty minutes later, the rain began in ernest and a couple of bright flashes of lightning lit up the landscape. I stopped briefly to eat and put on my waterproof glove shells.

North again, then west, then north, and then there it was: the cue to turn directly into that headwind for eight miles. Though not visible, the sun was up and had turned the landscape into the storm at sea scene from many an old war movie. Recently graded, this road had a pretty good surface, but still required constant attention at the tiller. No eating, no photographs, no clothing adjustments. Just pedaling, cranking up the hills and rolling like a lumber wagon down the other side, as if waiting for the cold, sodden amber to harden.

A guy with a MPLS cap was on his phone in the lee of a couple of pines, so I pulled over to have a bite and touch base. My feet were soaked at this point because my rain pants turned out to not be impermeable. The rain had also run down my sleeves and gotten my inner gloves wet. I would find out back at the hotel that my dry pair had also gotten wet inside my frame bag. Eavesdropping on Edward's phone conversation revealed that he was dropping out and arranging for a ride.

This made me admit what had been obvious for at least the last hour—I was not going to make the checkpoint within the time limit. Not even close. I thought at that point that maybe the top third of the field would make it, but found out later that only one person would make 54 miles by 08:30. I got back on the bike and started up the next hill, starting to think about where I would drop out. I sort of wanted to see the B-level (dirt) road at mile 34, still ten miles away. I stopped to move my phone from my pants pocket to my jersey pocket (under my rain shell) to make sure it wouldn't drown. Edward passed me, wishing me safe travels.

Right about that time, two riders came over the hill in the opposite direction.

"You going home?" I yelled.

"Yup, all the way back to Madison!"

Turned out to be Chris and Adam, a couple of past Trans Iowa finishers, on their way back to Grinnell via 16 miles of pavements. It took me all of five seconds to decide to drop out right there at mile 24 and join them. Chris was cruising along in good spirits, but Adam was on a mission. He gapped us off within the first five miles and disappeared over the horizon soon after. Chris and I had a pleasant conversation about his recent move to Madison and hope to meet up for a bit of riding soon.

Disappointment? Yes and no. No, I was not disappointed to miss the cutoff. So it was a whole springtime of training—so what? If you aren't enjoying your Trans Iowa training for its own sake, you're probably doing it wrong or should just find something else to do. Yes, I was disappointed to not be able to ride all day, shooting the breeze with friends and meeting challenges out in the boonies. That seems to be Trans Iowa though. You just don't know what's going to happen, and that's part of the attraction.

Next year? Yeah, probably. If it happens.

(2014 report, 2013 report)

3 comments:

Kate Geisen said...

"If you aren't enjoying your...training for its own sake, you're probably doing it wrong." Love that. Probably because that's my perspective, too. :)

I was disappointed in the way TI went down for you guys, but it seems it was its own epic event as always, just in a different way than usual. And the pictures from the day are phenomenal.

Brian McEntire said...

Sounds a lot like my account, however, your's is much better written! Thank you for sharing your experience. It was great to meet you in person and I look forward to seeing you in Grinnell next year!

Michael Lemberger said...

Thanks to you both!

Having had a while to think about it, this might not have been my year anyway. I've really been hitting a stride in the last ten days or so...