Sunday, December 15, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: How This Event Became "The Trans Iowa"

Furniture on gravel roads is nothing new. From the T.I.v5 recon
 "Trans Iowa Stories" is an every Sunday post which helps tell the stories behind the event. You can check out other posts about this subject by going back to earlier Sunday posts on this blog. Thanks and enjoy!

Words mean things. When people talk about events or stories, their words that they choose tell a story behind the thoughts on whatever it is that they are referencing. Take this event, Trans Iowa, as an example.

I only ever referred to it by the numeric description and basic name for the event's most recent version: For example, "T.I.v5" was "Trans Iowa v5", and nothing more than that. I never wrote or spoke about Trans Iowa as some did by writing and saying "The Trans Iowa", (capitalized "T" in "the" my emphasis.). Some even went so far as to call it simply "The Trans" in their speech. What were these people saying about the event by referring to it in this way?

Going back to the beginnings of this event, I do know that Jeff and I sparked a lot of imaginations. People realized that yes- they could do this thing. They could produce events like this. It was easier than they thought, there were rules to borrow, and a precedent had been set. But more than this, my feeling is that what Trans Iowa represented and started was an example of the "people's event". The type of bicycle racing that was for the regular folks. It was relatively easy to get in to an event like this in the beginning, it was easy to understand these events, and it usually didn't cost an arm and a leg. They were different, they had no shackles or restraints. This could be anything you wanted it to be. So, many folks set up their ideal events. I am not sure a lot of what happened would have happened without Trans Iowa kind of making it known "that you could". I think that was our biggest influence early on. We broke the glass case and let the ideas out of the bag.

Trans Iowa blurred the lines between reality and myth for many. Image by J Kerkove from v2

However; as an "event", Trans Iowa was, admittedly, weird. It stood apart from most of what followed in our wake. Most early gravel events mimicked what people romanticized as the classic European road event, the Paris-Roubaix. This was reflected in the various takes on the name "Roubaix" in many event's names, or in the way they were set up as Springtime events, trying to cash in on the "hardman" weather Spring often brought. That precipitated further growth, and by 2010, Trans Iowa was pretty much the odd man out in the growing niche of gravel based cycling events.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been told how Trans Iowa resembled that odd running event dubbed the "Barkely Marathons". The running event that has been spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, and derided as "not a real race" by both its admirers and its detractors. More than the event itself, it is the aura around it that, I believe, has more relation to Trans Iowa. More so than the way I ran T.I. compared to the Barkely's race director.

That running event is almost always referred to as "The Barkley Marathons" and sometimes just as "The Barkley". Sound familiar? Folks have personified the event. It has a mythical air around it, and its "out there" aesthetic and culture is unlike any other running event on the planet. This event is downright weird, but many people have found an odd attraction to it.

This is pretty much what Trans Iowa had going on with how folks saw the event by Trans Iowa v5. It was an event that had a personality, and it was given power by those who rode it as if it were a thing that was alive. I recall many a person saying that "If  'The Trans' allows you to pass, count yourself lucky", or some variation thereof, as if Trans Iowa were some "gravel god" that granted passage, or not.

To say that I was uncomfortable with any talk of that kind about the event is an understatement. I never could adopt such thoughts regarding the event, and I often dismissed any expressions resembling these characterizations of Trans Iowa. I get it though.... For some it was a valid way to believe in the event that was hard to wrap their minds around. But I am still not very comfortable with thinking about Trans Iowa in those terms.

Another odd thing about Trans Iowa is how some folks use "Trans Iowa" and "Guitar Ted" interchangeably.  As if the event and I are the same entity. This happened when I announced the end of Trans Iowa when a few folks told me, "You ARE Trans Iowa!" I figured it was all just emotions at the moment when the event was ending forever. But just the other day, a co-worker said, "I see you got a mention in 'Velo News' recently." Wait........I was mentioned in 'Velo News'! Well, as it turned out, Trans Iowa, the event, was what was mentioned, but this person equated myself and Trans Iowa as one deal, and he isn't even into the gravel scene! The event apparently has swallowed me whole. "THE Trans Iowa" indeed!

Next week: I get into the stories surrounding the one-off Trans Iowa held in Williamsburg, Iowa- Trans Iowa v5.

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