What I did this summer
In keeping with the college tradition (for me, anyways), I once again find myself scrambling to finish my homework on the last day before it’s due. That being said…
On July 11th at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon (a half hour late, of course) I headed out to the center of the bridge crossing the Big Sioux river with my friend and riding partner Don. A few weeks earlier we had signed up for the Trans Iowa Masters Program, a 380 mile individual time trial that traversed from one side of the state to the other run primarily on gravel roads. There was no official time limit on this trek, but the rules stated that you couldn’t stop for more than four hours at a time. Our plan was to finish no later than Sunday afternoon.
We took off from the middle of the Big Sioux, through Hawarden and on to the gravels with little fanfare as only my girlfriend Deb was there to see us off. The skies were overcast and we’d seen some minor sprinkles while getting ready (foreshadowing) , but apart from that the early portions of the ride were pretty unremarkable. Flat, straight roads were the order for the day and Don and I just focused on putting miles behind us with little conversation.
Let’s just Tivo past that and into the good stuff.
So there we were, huddled in home made bivy sacks underneath a flatbed trailer at 5am while rain dripped through the slats and mosquitoes hovered overhead searching for an opening in our thin protective shells…
Wait, that’s too far. Let’s rewind a bit.
The time is around 3am and we’re cruising down a gravel road in steady rain. Don’s not doing so well and having a very hard time staying awake. For the last hour or two we’ve been looking for a good spot to stop and grab a couple hours of sleep when about a mile ahead we see headlights. After a minute or two we realize they’re not getting any closer. As we approached, we realized it was a police car parked on the gravel at an intersection with a paved road. I flew right past him, not wanting to answer the questions of a suspicious officer wondering what two cyclists were doing on a gravel road at 3am in the rain, but Don’s a bit more social than I am and decided to stop and chat. I turned back and joined in on the following conversation.
Don: blah blah blah not on RAGBRAI, blah blah blah Trans Iowa, blah blah blah oh, I guess I should turn off my nuclear powered headlight so it’s not shining in your face. Hey, by the way, are there any parks in the next town we could bivy in?
Officer: Uh, I don’t know. That’s out of my jurisdiction.
Don: Well are there any good barns up this road we could sleep in?
Officer (looking uncomfortable): Uh, well, I don’t really know of any.
Me, about two minutes after rolling on: So you realize you just asked a police officer if he knew of any good places we could trespass, right?
And on we continued, until the next town, where we found a lot full of flatbed trailers. We picked one we could squeeze under and climbed into our Tyvek bivvies four an hour and a half of soggy, restless slumber. At around 6:30 I started getting cold and woke Don up. We packed up, hit the convenience store in town, answered all the requisite RAGBRAI questions and continued on. Three miles later we saw what would have been the perfect bivy spot.
Continue we did, rain off and on (but mostly on) for the rest of the day. I was digging it, but not so much for Don. Sleep deprivation and wet chamois issues wore at him throughout the day and by the time we made it to Forest City, about halfway through, I knew he was probably done. We agreed to grab a hotel room for a couple hours of sleep, but it wasn’t enough. After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that he’d stay the night and catch a ride back in the morning while I would continue on. At just before 10pm, and within minutes of the four hour maximum stop time, I was on my way again. I hit up a convenience store for a resupply, rode back to the part of the course we diverted from, and continued on.
Five miles later I had pulled up to Pilot Knob state park for the mid-term exam. After initially missing the turn-off onto the equestrian trail, I located it and hopped on for the next mile or so. While it had stopped raining and there was a full moon, I was also under heavy tree cover after dark on a very soggy trail. If I had been in a bad state of mind, this would have been my undoing. I was freshly rested and pumped though, and despite a little guesswork in areas that the trail diverged I made it through without getting lost, injured or eaten.
From this point on, the rest of the night was pure bliss. The moon was full, the skies were clear, there was no wind and a light mist shrouded many of the hills. The road was still soggy and slow, but the night was serene. As many night rides do, the hours blended together and the night boiled down to two images that I can still imagine as vividly as if I were there. One, standing at the top of a hill and looking out over miles of rolling terrain, moonlit with a fine mist pouring through the valleys. The second, on a concrete bridge with steel truss side rails, spanning a rippling creek. Both banks lined with trees and the full moon shown down the middle, shining off the water.
In spite of the two naps the day before, by sunrise I was finding it very hard to stay awake. After an hour of nearly nodding off while riding, I pulled off to the side of the road and laid down on the gravel for a short, ten minute nap. Two more times I needed to do this, laying down, falling asleep immediately, and popping back up five to ten minutes later. The third nap finally stuck and I was set for the rest of the day.
While most of me was still feeling strong and reasonably fresh, my feet were starting to suffer from the combination of miles, worn out insoles and dampness. My shoes and socks never had a good chance to dry out after all the rain and as the day wore on my feet drifted from discomfort to pain to “hey, this is really not cool”. I pushed on through Decorah, into the steep hills of northeast Iowa, trying to baby a set of contact points that really couldn’t be rested. I started counting down miles by the tens, then the fives, then just focusing on making it to Whitetail Drive and the inevitable long downhill to the Mississippi river finish in Lansing. At around 5:30pm, 49 hours after leaving the Big Sioux, I coasted up to the Mississippi and dipped my wheel while Deb cheered from the road.
And so another summer adventure wraps up, one among many. Thanks to G-Ted for organizing this little shindig, Don for rolling half of it with me, and as always a huge thanks to Deb for not only chauffeuring us around but also taking a day of vacation to do so. Now, on to the next…