Monday, September 29, 2014

Trans Iowa V11: Recon Report

Downtown Grinnell Iowa
Trans Iowa is an event with a big course every year. Every year that course is different. That means I have to go out and see if the roads I have drawn the course over actually exist, or are the kinds of roads we would want for a Trans Iowa course. The process of examining the course is called "recon". That's what my friend Jeremy and I did on Saturday for 14 hours.

It's not easy, but it has to be done. 4:00am comes early especially when you can't sleep the night before because you are thinking about the course too much, about what you need to bring for recon, and whether or not the course would be correct for Trans Iowa.

One thing Jeremy and I do know and that is you have to start by having breakfast at the Frontier Cafe. It may not look like much from the outside, but inside it has some "old school" charm and more importantly- great food and service. Let's just say that this stop for breakfast is a highlight of the whole trip for both of us.

Well, with bellies full and everything set, we took to the start line and drove off to see the course. The day which looked like it may start out wet was actually beautiful, sunny, and with little wind. Oddly enough, the vast majority of all the roads we traveled, (but not the dirt ones, obviously), had freshly laid gravel on them, so it was dusty. Really dusty. At this point, that was merely an observation, but it would be an important factor later on the day.

It didn't take long for us to find a discrepancy in the maps versus reality. A road we chose was truncated by a bridge that had been out for at least ten years, judging by the trees growing behind the barrier. However; that wasn't the oddest thing. We saw something strange on the barrier and checked it out. It was a HP laptop that had been punctured/shot/drilled by someone. We took some pictures and left it where we found it.

Okay, that oddity out of the way, we moved on. Then there was, almost immediately, another strange road that was signed as "Road Closed" but had been freshly graded and we drove through just fine. Of course, it was dirt, but still. Anyway, we decided it was too weird and decided to make another re-route there as well. Moving on then. We found a pretty rough B Maintenance road, and went onward. Then there was a big mess we had to work through due to a road being paved that wasn't marked that way on the maps.

The harvest is in full swing out there. Corn here is being dumped into wagons for transport.

An B Road overhung by trees on the course.
Further on we ended up scrapping about 15 miles and re-routing down a completely different set of roads to get around a very difficult knot of B Roads, truncated roads, and pavement. It was a very frustrating middle of the day, for sure.

I will say that we saw some really rad B Maintenance roads that would be a blast to ride on, just not roads that were suitable for Trans Iowa in late April. Some roads were drawn on a couple different mapping sources that were, in reality, now C Maintenance roads and gated off. Some we drove had low water crossings, that although were dry when we were there, probably would not be when April came along.

This is why you have to go look at your course before your event, (unless the course is the same all the time and you travel it often), because you just never can trust the maps. Anyone's maps. Even the State DOT maps are often in error. You also should look at your course to see just what the riders will face in the order they will face it in. Only then can a race/event director make informed choices on the course. Anyway......that's what I believe.

It got so dusty that my camera's auto focus started focusing on the window!
So, back to the course- It was a mess, but we figured out a way to make things work. It was not just the roads either, but we even re-routed the course for re-supply reasons. Twice!

Ongoing dustiness was a cause for concern. We almost got pegged by an oncoming car once that was hurtling around a corner in a huge cloud of dust. This obscured our vision around said corner for us. Another time it was a van ahead of us that was kicking up so much dust that I had to keep slowing down to avoid running up the backside of it as it slowed to make a turn. I just couldn't see it at all in front of us. The dust also made seeing difficult as it was accumulating on the windshield and the glare of the Sun off that was darn near impossible to see through. No amount of washer fluid and wiping seemed to be effective.

I know....cry me a river, right? That said, the dust actually was a reason we had a slower trip than maybe we should have. Having only 80 miles left to look over is better than going into the ditch. It was a long day too, and fresher eyes and minds will be a good thing for the last bit.

It is going to be a very different Trans Iowa course. Without saying too much, this course will feature an entirely different feel than anything Trans Iowa has ever had before. Well......that is if I don't decide to pitch a bunch of it and change things up more. Expect less climbing than you've known or heard about. Expect dirt roads. That's all I'll say for now.... Stay tuned for a recon follow up coming in a month or less.


Scott Redd said...

Excellent! I love reading recon reports just as much as race reports. Thanks, Guitar Ted and Jeremy for doing all of this work. It is much appreciated.

Chris Wells said...

I also add my wholehearted appreciation for the time you and Jeremy (and everyone else along the way) selflessly donate to make this awesome event happen. Thank you!! See you in April