Throughout the afternoon we were recieving some information regarding DNF's and also on who was left riding. We were sure of three guys at least: John Gorilla, Charlie Farrow, and Joe Kucharski. Rob Walters, our photographer, saw them ride through Winthrop on to the second checkpoint. Other rider information was sketchy at best. We thought for some time that Marcin Nowak was still riding, but that his brother Maciej was missing or out, depending upon who we talked to. At any rate, I was thinking that only a possibility of five guys remaining was the reality and that three was probably the truth. Things changed as we got to Checkpoint #2.
<===Cory Heintz commandeers a childs rig for some good laughs at Checkpoint #2.
When we arrived, we were fed some first hand info indicating that there were indeed five riders still out on course. The three leaders: Kucharski, Gorilla, and Farrow, but the remaining two were complete surprises to me. Charles Parsons and Corey "Cornbread" Godfrey were still plugging along. We recieved info that four of them had pased through Delhi, which wasn't far from Checkpoint #2. This was awesome news to d.p. and I for a couple of reasons.
First, we knew that our course re-routes had worked. We were most pleased with this fact. After all the miscues and stories of riders not seeing our course markings south of Cresco, we were really relieved to hear that the protocol seemed to be effective in getting the riders up the right path.
Secondly, we were stoked to hear that we had more than three riders up the road. Now it seemed possible to have some finishers in Decorah afterall. This was shaping up to be something good after all.
We took things at ease for awhile in Earlville. d.p, and I were bushed from all the re-routing stresses and the length of our day was fast taking it's toll. Joe and Jeremy, two of our Checkpoint #2 volunteers, fired up a grill and we all shared some steak. A few beers were consumed and we had some relaxing times mixed with good conversation for just a bit. John Gorilla's wife Adele was there, and we chatted a bit with her. She seemed confident that her husband was going to come through fine.
We left the checkpoint at the fall of dark and continued on with our recon. Immediately the roads were pock marked and frost heaved far worse than anything we had yet encountered. I was down to driving at about 20mph or less most of the time.
Then we discovered another miscue coupled with some really bad roads. Frantically d.p, and I looked over the maps, drove to a few points to check on some things, and set a plan in place. We went to work only to be checked up by a fallen tree that blocked the entire road. We needed to use this section. So d.p. went up on foot to mark the corner and I stayed behind and broke off branches by hand. I pitched branches into the ditch as fast as I could, thinking to myself, "How do you swallow an elephant? One bite at a time."
With that section marked we turned our attention to part of the course we had seen that was impassable by car, but looked all right for cyclists. We had to hoof it around two foot deep ruts and three foot high frost heaves. The road was unrecognizable at this point and felt like fluff under our feet. Weird, but rideable. We set to marking the corner as best we could.
Since we couldn't drive the actual course from this point, we decided to go around on pavement to Edgewood. Through some earlier intelligence provided to us by our other photographer, Marty Larson, we knew that the road out of Garber was under about five feet of water. We set to bypassing that and the sure to be under water crossing in Bixby State Preserve just north of Edgewood.
<===The straw that broke the camel's back in car lights.
We decided to look at an early cut from the T.I. course on Glacier Road. We had considered this stretch in our early planning but discarded the idea when we got serious about making choices back in the early winter. The road starts out as a meandering slightly downhill stretch. Then it gets really hairy!
Glacier Road takes a big dive downhill at an incredible pitch, which in great conditions would be muy dangeroso, but in the state we found it, it was death waiting to snap it's jaws on an unsuspecting cyclist. We were still willing to entertian the thought of going this way, but at the bottom, nature vetoed any thoughts of choosing this solution.
<====.....and by the light of the camera flash. Imagine using a marginal light at an approach speed in excess of 40mph!
The downhill, rutted and rip rapped by the recent rains, was about a mile and a half in length if you only included the steep section. Yeah......some fast descending! So finding this at the bottom was not good. Added to that was the fact that the big rocks you see were loose, moving, and slimy from water when you walked on them. This put the nail in the coffin. T.I.V4 ended here for us.
I suppose we could have routed the guys on pavement, but at an hour approaching midnight and on a Saturday night at that, I wasn't about to subject the remaining riders to that risk. Keep in mind, beer cans littered the roads as it was, a constant reminder of what locals call fun 'round these parts.
It wasn't even a discusion on our parts. I think we just knew it was time to do the right thing for the riders safety and to keep from having the cue sheets/re-routes spiral out of control. Riders with 200 plus miles in their legs are not usually the sharpest tools in the shed. Sorry if I offend anyone with that comment, but I have seen it for three years running. It is what it is.
We ventured back to Edgewood, picked out a likely finish line and awiated the leaders.
Next: The Endgame