2014 TransIowa Master Program trip report
June 6-8 with Scott Sumpter
Thurs, June 5th
After loading up Scott’s car at his place in Ankeny with our bikes and gear we headed out at about 2pm. We had a friend drive us up to Hawarden and drop us off at our hotel, the Hawarden Harvest Inn. We drove through a few patches of rain and thunderstorms in the Orange City area. I was hoping this wouldn’t make the gravel and B-roads too wet and mushy.
We got to Hawarden about 6pm and got checked in to the hotel. We went to the Pizza Ranch buffet for dinner which ended up being a poor choice. Back in the hotel after dinner Scott and I both had some gastrointestinal distress. I don’t think it was just nerves. We sorted through our gear and got everything packed up and ready for the next morning. I think we both managed to get to sleep by 11pm. Unfortunately, Scott got a work call at 3:15am. He was on the call for about an hour and I didn’t get back to sleep either. My mind was spinning through everything and anything I could think of related to the ride.
We started getting ready at about 4:30 and were out the door and checked out by about
5:10am. I’d found a diner(Central Cafe) in town on Facebook and confirmed they would be open at 5am. We had a good breakfast and got the owner to take a couple photos and headed out to the official start of the route.
After arriving at the start, we took a few photos of the foggy morning and at 5:52am pressed Start on our Garmins and, a few minutes later, officially started our ride. We rode through Hawarden and hit the gravel and noticed it was somewhat wet and soft, but not too bad. There was virtually no wind and we cruised along at a nice pace. There were some decent rolling hills that seemed like mini-loess hills.
At about mile 24 I remembered I hadn’t plugged in my Garmin to my external battery. Scott and I both have dynamo hubs in our front wheel which powered both our head light and a usb charger. I had my external battery continually charging from the usb charger and used the battery to charge my various devices; Garmin computer, mp3 player, phone. So while riding I tried plugging in my Garmin to the battery. I think I must have accidentally opened the flap containing the sd memory card next to the usb port. A couple turns later I realized my Garmin wasn’t giving turn notifications and more so wasn’t even showing the course. I figured out the sd card was loose and fixed that, but it took me another mile to figure out I needed to stop and restart the course.
After all this, we rode a couple more miles and hit the first B-road which appeared to be totally mud. Sure enough it was. I rode a few hundred feet in the mud trying to find a less muddy line without success. After both wheels completely locked up, I looked over and Scott was riding in the grass to the side. I pushed my bike over to the side, cleaned out my fork, stays and rims and started riding through the tall grass. The grass was pretty wet which helped clean things out and we managed to ride slowly to the end of the section. We spent a while cleaning our bikes out and got moving again. I would guess I cleaned at least 20 lb of mud and grass off my bike. We stopped a few more times over the next couple miles to clear mud out of derailleurs and other parts. At about mile 29 I realized my timer wasn’t running. Evidently when I restarted the course, the timer stopped and I didn’t restart it. Consequently, my gps track for part 1 is about 4.5 miles short of Scott’s.
The next several hours were fairly uneventful. I knew there were several more miles of B-roads, including two 3-mile stretches, which had me worried after that first one, but they all proved to be not much worse than the sand/gravel mix of the regular gravel roads. The one notable thing was the difference in the gravel roads versus what we’re used to riding in central Iowa. These roads were much sandier with smaller rock compared to larger limestone chunks. It seemed like there was quite a lot of new, untraveled road as well. We spent much of the time trying to find a good line and had to ride on a foot or two of edge on either side of the road a fair bit.
We took a few short stops in pass-through towns, then later in the afternoon and early evening took longer stops. I don’t deal well with riding in higher temperatures and even though it wasn’t especially hot (mid to upper 80s) I haven’t acclimated yet to those temps. So I was overheating and getting a bit dehydrated. We took long stops in Sioux Rapids, Mallard and Crystal Lake. The latter stop was pretty entertaining as we stopped in the only place open which was the Legion hall. The only people there were the bartender and a father-son pair that were pretty toasted and funny. We had two Mtn Dews each and stayed a good bit longer than necessary, but were having a good time. We took off after promising we’d find Matt, the son, on Ragbrai this summer and party with him.
After a stop in Forest City, the last town in the First Semester, we made it to Pilot Knob State Park. We pretty easily found the entrance to the double track trail through the woods. I think it was about 2am at this point and it was pretty surreal to ride this wet, weedy trail through these woods in a completely foreign park.
We made our way through the double track and emerged in a small residential area. We got our Garmins set for the Second Semester and started out. I hadn’t been too sleepy up to this point, but pretty quickly I was really struggling to not nod off. I tried all the tricks I knew; shaking my head, turning up my mp3 player, swerving on purpose, pulling sideburn, back of neck and back of leg hair; but nothing really helped. I took a caffeine tablet and ate some food which helped a bit. But I needed to stop every seven or eight miles to stretch, jump up and down, etc to get mybrain awake a bit. Then we’d start riding again and I’d be fine for a couple miles and then really sleepy again. This continued pretty much until dawn.
At about 7am, I think, we made it to Osage at about 245 miles in. We found a diner to have a sit down breakfast. I didn’t realize how hungry I was and while waiting for food I was almost falling asleep. I ate my food and almost immediately felt much better. We paid and found a c-store to get water and food. We spent quite a while there, and finally got back on the bikes.
About an hour or so later we hit a really rough mile of B-road. It was dry, but really rough and rutted. I would later notice my rear wheel out of true due to a broken spoke which I’m pretty sure happened on this road.
Shortly after this, we noticed the NNW wind really picking up and the skies looking a little ominous. We rode a few more miles and felt some raindrops. A light sprinkle turned into a light rain and pretty quickly it was raining. We stopped and covered up our bags quickly and started riding. As the rain increased in the next couple hundred yards we spied a farm with some out-buildings that we decided would be good shelter. Right after we got to a pole-building the storm unleashed and was an all-out downpour. At one point we heard sirens going off from a nearby town, Riceville I believe. We were pretty happy we got through that rough B-road before the storm.
After about an hour, we decided the storm had passed and we headed out. The gravel was pretty wet and soft which took a little more effort to ride in, but it wasn’t overly bad I think because of the sandy make-up of the gravel.
We finished up the 48 mile stretch from Osage to Cresco and took a decent break at Subway and then restocked at another c-store for the 38 miles to Decorah. It was getting close to 3pm when we finally got on our bikes and left Cresco. The wind was still pretty strong out of the NNW and we really felt it on the eight or so miles North towards the Minnesota border.
We recognized several miles of the route from the Almanzo Royal race we’d ridden just three weeks before which was pretty cool. This was about where we got into some significant hills. This would be a common theme for about the final 75 or 80 miles of the ride. My legs weren’t really feeling all that bad considering we’d ridden 300 miles. The much lower temps and cloud cover on Sat really helped me out.
One road construction item to note was on this section. At a little after mile 110, when turning left off Hwy W20 (Bluffton Rd), there was a Road Closed sign which we ignored. At about mile 112.25, on Pine Creek Rd, the bridge crossing Pine Creek was closed. However, there are a couple planks crossing a few foot wide washout. It’s easily crossable on foot/bike and shouldn’t cause any problems assuming it doesn’t get worse. I believe Scott has a pic or two of the closure.
With the hills came some really nice scenery which made the ride into Decorah pretty enjoyable.
With the hills came some really nice scenery which made the ride into Decorah pretty enjoyable. We got to Decorah at about 6:15pm I think. We opted to just eat fairly quickly at a Casey’s to try to not take too much time. Still we were there about 40 minutes or so. Regardless, we felt relatively good and were excited to ride the last 50 miles and finish.
We rode through town and hit a familiar gravel road. Scott and I were in Decorah in early March for the Pugsley World Championship fat bike ride which used the same steep gravel hill out of town. The next 15 miles or so were pretty nice even roads up on the ridge we’d climbed, with some hills mixed in. Then began about 35 miles of what seemed like non-stop climbing and descent. Unfortunately, the sun went down as we hit this part so we missed out on what I’m sure was some pretty awesome scenery.
We again both got really sleepy at various points in this final stretch which was even more nerve wracking due to loose, wet gravel and steep descents. Finally we were on the final descent into Lansing. We rode into town and after a couple minutes of sleep deprived confusion we found the end of Main St and the end of TIMP! We were both extremely happy and fulfilled to finish the ride, but were also extremely tired and the celebration was pretty short and subdued. My fiance was there within a couple minutes to pick us up and take us to the Lansing motel. We had a couple beers and cold pizza, took showers and promptly passed out hard.
Link to all my photos is here: Google Drive
Total estimated mileage, including to/from stores and restaurants
• First Semester: 203.3 mi (might be off due to Garmin issue)
• Second Semester: 177.8 mi
• Total: 381.1 mi
• Total time: ~42h40min
Interesting wildlife spotted during the ride:
● Turkey – not sure if wild or domesticated
● Snapping turtle – pretty good sized, shell was approx 15”
● fox(es) – one for sure ran across the road, possibly another
● a bald eagle & turkey vulture both snacking on a roadkill
● a farm dog that ran along with us for at least 7 or 8 miles