Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Confession: I have very little sense of direction. The biggest concern my loved ones had about me doing Trans-Iowa had nothing to do with the whole riding a bicycle for 340 miles non-stop on remote gravel B roads in thundersnow/tornado/the apocalypse, and had everything to do with my ability to navigate. I made the argument that I appear to have nowhere to go but up, so taking away my GPS really was not such a big deal, and besides, I'd been practicing my smoke signals. They were not amused.
Trans Iowa requires cue sheets, that this year were handed out on the start line. I fretted over the best way to carry said cue sheets until this neat thing landed in my lap, courtesy of Bar Yak's sponsorship of Trans Iowa.
Here it is on my Salsa Cutthroat.
And from the bottom.
I've only done a few events with cue sheets exclusively before, primarily before I owned an evil beeping bicycle computer that tells me when to turn and then says "OFF COURSE MAKE A U-TURN" every 5 seconds. I got this possessed device primarily because I hated stopping and pulling cue sheets out of jersey pockets, or my sports bra, or wherever else they end up, and then making a mad dash after them when they tried to blow away in the wind. I looked at those plastic sheet protector-like holders that attach to your bars but always sort of doubted they were worth the money or effort.
I liked the look of this mini clipboard-style BarYak thingy, and planned on ordering one had the TI raffle not worked out in my favor.
A lot of things went right and a lot of things went sideways at Trans Iowa, and I have to say this is one of the things that went right. It stayed in place and intact despite my best efforts to destroy it with a couple of wipeouts in wind/loose gravel and another couple wipeouts in the construction site "B road". The times I got lost were user error, not cue sheet visibility/security error. Someone more coordinated with me could probably pull the cue sheets off the clipboard and turn them over when necessary, but I generally had to stop and flip to the next one. However, this was way faster with a clipboard than with pulling them in and out of one of those cue sheet sleeves. They were easily visible during the day and night (with a headlamp), no glare. I'd consider myself an intermediate-ish mechanic and could have easily attached them to my bars myself, but my BFF bicycle mechanic friend Jake at City Cycles did it for me since I was there haranguing him about other things anyway, and I only heard him swear once or twice in the process, which is about 18 times fewer than normal.
The only thing about this setup I would change: get the Q Pro up on my Fred bar to be closer to my face for reading purposes next time (contact lenses full of gravel dust = eyeballs next to cue sheets in order to read). My aero bars (ok, Jake's loaner aero bars that he said I could throw in a ditch in Iowa if I got sick of them) were set up fairly narrow, as I'm a narrow person, and it would have been a little too tight. This should be solved by going to bar ends and arm rests, which is the eventual intention.
Full specs from the people who make it here: Bar Yak Q Pro Complete
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
I wrote some stuff on my phone in the notes app (on an iPhone 4, no small feat) back in our hotel room at 2am, because the boy had collapsed back in bed (deservedly so) and I was alone with my feelings, and had a strong inkling that I needed to put them somewhere OR ELSE. You know how it goes. So I wrote some pretty raw stuff that I haven't wanted to look back at until now. Not because it was painful, moreso because in writing it I let a good deal of it go.
That stuff is going to go at the bottom, because I'm going to procrastinate opening the notes app on my phone that much longer, and I'mma start with the fun retelling of things & stuff.
I really was not anxious at all. I was a bit cold. It was in the low 30s. One of the terrible things about residency is I do not get to ride my bike outside much in any manner that would allow me to judge my fitness. This is also one of the best things. I now have no expectations and I just want to ride my bike. No jitters. And if you read my packing list, you know I packed my emergency bivy and puffy coat, so I didn't have to be jittery about freezing to death either because I could always just take a nice warm nap in a ditch somewhere.
It was very dark, but also very light because I had a super awesome light on my bike. I've yammered about the Sinewave Beacon in pretty much every thing about Trans Iowa I've posted, and I am in no way affiliated with them, it's just that I wanted this light and saved my pennies and then they had a production delay but sent one from their personal stash over to City Cycles for me to use in the meantime, which was super super awesome. So the Beacon lived up to its name and I pretended I was on the moon, which someone once told me to do while riding at night, and it really makes night riding much more fun. You're welcome.
I am a slow starter. Maybe it's physiology or my stiff ankylosing spondylitis-y spine, but I am a slow starter. I still made it to checkpoint 1 with about an hour to spare, and the sun was up. I switched out my cue sheets, dumped some trash, and carried on. The wind definitely became more and more noticeable. My seat pack stayed stable, no sway, but still sort of acted like a sail. I mostly rode by myself, and miles 40 until the second Casey's really blur together. The sunrise was quite pretty, and made me want to ride whilst the sun came up more often. I remember lots of corn and/or soy fields, some good-looking barns, occasional ag equipment sightings that I moved off the road for, about 100 free-range chickens having a party in this one yard, and mostly just constant wind and hills. I hit my stride around mile 100, which is not atypical for me, and probably means that I'm meant to race longer things. I passed people here and there, and caught up to Scott Sumpter right before Casey's #2. I remembered seeing him at other events but not sure we've ever exchanged words before. We had a very pleasant chat about the sun and wind and scenery and a strong mutual desire for C-store food.
I called in to TI Radio from here while eating potato chips and rambled quite a lot. I may have mentioned the song I wrote in my head called "99 Problems but the Wind Ain't One", based off of the analogous JayZ classic. Lyrics can be found at the bottom of this post. I had a lot of time riding into the wind very slowly in which to write this song in my head. A lot. I munched potato chips and observed that I had been and still was very happy the entire time despite this. Hm.
I rode in much the same manner to Casey's #3. I did not stop and eat potato chips here as I noticed I was crunched for time, a position I had not expected to be in, but the wind was just that bad. I refilled water and such and a volunteer hanging out there who I recognized from the rider's meeting the night before told me I was only the second woman he'd seen come through, although he missed the very beginning. I looked at him like he had 5 heads and said "that's not possible" and walked out and got back on my bike. It was here that I met Scott Galloway, who I would ride the whole way to Checkpoint #2 with, and get lost with twice, and get chased by the same set of dogs 3 times with, and a lot of other things. We hit a construction site and I thought to myself "well, it's on the route, I suppose Mark wanted to give us another B road, clearly he thinks I should be able to ride through this, let me give it a go, KERTHUNK." (the kerthunk is me falling over).
I kerthunked a couple more times but eventually emerged from the construction site and re-caught up to Scott G. We missed a turn and tacked on a couple miles and a big hill. We stopped to zip tie his headlight to his helmet. We stopped to electrical tape my headlight back onto my bike (kerthunk casualty). I took a swig of whiskey with a group of fast guys who had a good paceline going and had whipped by me several times in the last 100 miles when I stopped to put warm stuff back on. It got real dark and I turned my beacon on and pretended I was on the moon again, and if Scott G. thought I was nuts he at least kept it to himself. Then we made the infamous "Left on 210" which is still haunting me. Because I knew. I knew in my gut we weren't supposed to turn there but it said 210 so away we went. Also neither of us could really see because our contact lenses were full of gravel dust and we were putting our faces in our cuesheets and riding right up to street signs to read them. This is quite funny in retrospect. We went further down 328 even though it wasn't 338 "just to see" and because there were tire tracks going that way. Those big black dogs on the corner whose eyes glowed in the moonlight chased us every single time we went back and forth trying to figure out where we were. We eventually backtracked and got back on course, and I swore at myself and got mad and sad, and continued to pretend I was on the moon, and hit checkpoint #3 at 11:03pm, 3 minutes after it closed, with 10+ bonus miles on board, in 30ishth place. I cried a lot because I wasn't done mentally or emotionally, because I generally keep riding until all the feelings are gone, which somehow hadn't happened yet in the preceding 19 hours of hellaciousness. And I called Scott (who is neither of the aforementioned Scotts, but my emergency rescue Scott) to come get me, and woke him up because he had gone to bed 3 minutes ago figuring I was good, or at least asleep in my emergency bivy somewhere I suppose.
Photos credit: Jon Duke
Phone notes from 2am on April 29th:
"It's just a bike race."
Yes, but no. Sometimes it's a battle with myself, and I wasn't done.
So that is why I was so emotional when I just barely missed the last checkpoint cutoff.
I know I'm wrong, but I feel like I let a lot of people down.
Hearing that I was the third woman there by their count was gratifying in that it validated how willing I had been to empty myself out over and over again for the past 19 hours. I'm still pretty good at hurting.
Believe it or not, my primary intent is not to ride my bike faster than other people. That is merely an occasional side effect of having demons to fight, of having an addictive personality, of a compulsory need to see how empty you can get. I say occasional because sometimes the opposite thing happens and I pedal slowly and cry and sit on the side of the road having conversations with myself. Even in "races."
I can accept but not really understand how someone would make it there and then choose not to use those cue sheets. How do you know where your breaking point is unless you break?
I was ready to break if I had to.
Maybe I even wanted to.
"I Got 99 Problems But the Wind Ain't One", by Adrienne Taren
*This will make zero sense if you do not know the JayZ song. It is also in no way meant to represent what an actual roadside encounter between myself and the TI patrol vehicle would have been like. I was just very preoccupied with the wind.
If you're having gravel problems I feel bad for you son,
I got 99 problems but the wind ain't one, hit me
Year's '18 and my seatbag is not raw
In my rearview mirror is the mother$%$ TI Forrester
I got two choices y'all pull over the bike or
Bounce on the devil put the pedal to the floor
Now I ain't tryin to see no highway chase with Guitar Ted
Plus I got a few Casey's pizza slices I can fight the case
So I pull over to the side of the road
I heard "Son do you know what I'm stoppin you for?"
"Cause I'm young and I'm covered in dust and my stem's real low?
Do I look like a mind reader sir I don't know
Am I DQ'd or should I guess some 'mo?"
"Well you was doin' 8mph in a 25 zone
License and race number and step off of the bike
Are you carryin a GPS on you I know a lot of you are"
"I ain't steppin out of %$&* all my cue sheets are legit"
"Do you mind if I look 'round the bike a little bit?"
"Well my feedbag is locked so is the seatjammer in the back
And I know my rights so you 'gon need a warrant for that"
"Well aren't you sharp as a tack, you some type of lawyer or somethin',
Somebody important or somethin'"
"Nah I ain't finished TI but I know a 'lil bit,
Enough that you won't illegally make me ride into a headwind for forever and ever"
"Well we'll see how smart you are when the crosswind comes"
I got 99 problems but the wind ain't one.
(mic drop out)
Monday, May 14, 2018
What do you take with you for 340 miles of self-supported gravel on a secret route featuring an undisclosed amount of B roads, elevation, C stores (well, 4, but an unknown amount of distance between them), and unpredictable conditions?
Factoring in: priorities (as light as possible versus as prepared as possible), bicycle carrying capacity, individual limitations (celiac = no Casey's pizza 😒), and a preceding 80 hour work week.
Bicycle & Bags:
Salsa Cutthroat with an Oveja Negra top tube bag, Andrew the Maker feed bag, & Oveja Negra seatjammer pack. Last minute decision to put clip on aerobars on top of a Fred bar, which I ended up using not at all in the combination of heavy head/cross winds and loose gravel that made things...unsteady. There's also a nifty Bar Yak Q:Pro cue sheet holder on there.
I used a Sinewave Cycles Beacon headlight on the front powered by a SON generator hub.
Parts & Tools:
(all packed in the bottom of the seatjammer)
Crankbrothers mini pump
Wolftooth Masterlink Pack Pliers
Tire levers x2
Spare derailleur hanger
2x quick links + another spare small stretch of chain
Multi tool w/ chain breaker
3x tire boots
5x tire plugs
Emergency blanket/bivy (in the event of breaking down in the middle of the night in 28 degree weather)
It was 30ish degrees at the start line at 3:30am, and predicted to get up to near 60. The next night was supposed to drop down into the 30s again, and it's always colder in the valleys, plus wind, so let's say high 20s. Plus you're wet from sweating during the day at that point. That sealed the decision to use the larger seat pack and take my Patagonia puffy jacket. Lightweight but takes up some room.
Otherwise, I started with SOAS Racing bibs and jersey, a Search & State merino wool long sleeve jersey, Gore windblocker leg warmers, shoe covers, Handup gloves under Blackburn glittens, my favorite Rothera winter warmer cap, a random pair of arm warmers from the running days, POC glasses w/ clear lenses, and a buff for the dust. So much dust.
Around 10am I stopped and took off the glittens, cap, and wool jersey and stowed them in my seat pack. Around 9pm I put all that stuff back on.
Note the camping headlight attached to my helmet for seeing cue sheets and street signs. SO PRO. It worked though.
This is the fun part.
I packed GF Honey Stinger waffles, Clif nut butter bars, and a handful of Lara bars and Kind bars. I started with Sword drink mix in my Camelbak and 1 bottle, Nuun in 1 bottle, and took a plastic baggie with enough Sword to make 2 more bottles along the way. I'm bad at drinking plain water and am a salty sweater. I generally hate gels but DK taught me that at certain points I will not want to force down food. Vfuel gels are the most palatable, stomach-friendly, and not terribly viscous ones I've found. I had 6 of them with me for the trying times. Also learned at DK: sweet fatigue. I didn't eat or drink anything for the last 30 miles of that race. So I had ginger chews, 100% dark chocolate, and chewy Cinnamon candy in the shape of bears. Never underestimate the positive psychological value of eating something bear-shaped. This stuff all got spread out over the top tube bag, feed bag, with some reserves in the seatjammer.
I did stop at Casey's and ate some potato chips, bought more Clif bars and Kind bars, and refilled bottles with water and iced green tea.
I had some Firestar energy caffeine packets with me, but didn't use them. What ER residency taketh away in training time, it giveth in ability to stay awake.
I didn't actually weigh my bike, but I guesstimated I was around 30 lbs with all this stuff. I used pretty much everything, except for my spare parts (thankfully). The only thing I had to borrow was electrical tape, for the purpose of taping lights and things that dislodged themselves from my bicycle in a few wind gust and loose gravel-induced slide-outs. I suppose I also borrowed a shot of whiskey from a group of dudes I caught up to around mile 180ish, as my Stanley flask got triaged to the hotel room.