Monday, January 04, 2016

Trans Iowa: The Paved Version You Never Heard About

  A challenge to ride across Iowa in a day caused a media sensation in 1980

Trans Iowa is known today, (by some folks, at any rate), as a long distance, mostly gravel road event for cyclists that is around 330-340 miles long. It has a reputation as a tough, sometimes unfinishable, ultra-endurance test of mind and body. However; what you may not know is that "Trans Iowa" was originally an altogether different idea. An idea that is responsible for the creation of the idea of a gravel road ride across the state that has become what many of us know today. The catalyst, as it were, for what has become the notion of racing on gravel roads which has swept the nation.

The idea was concocted by four road cyclists who, in turn, got their inspiration for this feat from RAGBRAI, the annual crossing of Iowa by cyclists which takes place during the final full week in July every year. That event takes a full seven days to amble its way across Iowa. Using overnight towns, bicycle shop support, and various roadside food and drink vendors which hopscotch the route during the event, RAGBRAI is often seen as something of a feat in itself for many people. True, it can be quite the challenge, but for dyed in the wool, committed cyclists, RAGBRAI isn't all that difficult. If you spend days and months training to be a racer of bicycles, maybe something like this late July ramble is tantamount to an easy training day. For cyclists like these, RAGBRAI isn't seen as the pinnacle of cycling prowess like it is by many of that event's devotees. So it was for the four protagonists that undertook what became the first "trans Iowa"cycling event.

The second bit showing the route used by the first Trans Iowans.
What these four men proposed was a road bike crossing of the state of Iowa in less than 24 hours, showing that, if you really want to talk tough, doing a ride across Iowa looks like this. Four men, four bikes, a couple of follow cars, a support crew, and a lot of intestinal fortitude with a healthy dose of luck mixed in for good measure. Dubbed "FBRAIIOD"  (First Bike Ride Across Iowa In One Day), a nod to what RAGBRAI was originally known as, (The Great Six-Day Bicycle Ride), the four men were going to start in Sioux City, Iowa and end up in Dubuque, Iowa, roughly following U.S. Highway 20's route across the state. The four men, Carl Randall, Dan Warrington, Harry Rublack, and Russ Clarke, hoped that the record setting ride would only take about 18 hours. In August of 1980, they set out from Sioux City at 2:06AM.

Of course, not all bicycle rides go according to plan, and neither did this attempt. Carl Randall suffered cramps early in the ride which forced him off the bike, but he did re-join his comrades after 46 miles. Headwinds, which picked up in central Iowa, put the riders seriously off pace, and threatened to end the attempt. Some tension with drivers East of Waterloo, Iowa also was an issue. All that aside, their attempt was successful, and just before midnight, after 21 hours, 42 minutes, and 26 seconds, the first "trans Iowa" attempt was chiseled into the record books.

(L-R) Russ Clarke, Danny Warrington, Carl Randall. The riders take a quick break during the their attempt at riding across Iowa in a day in August of 1980.
Their feat was celebrated in the papers and news of the day, but over time, it became something of a hidden anecdote in Iowa cycling history. RAGBRAI went on to sear its imprint upon the consciousness of the casual cycling public to the point where, if you are seen on a bicycle in this state, observers will ask you "Are ya gettin' ready for the RAGBY?", or some other similar statement. It is as if there is no other reason to be out in the country on a bicycle. In that sense, the feat of the four fellows who wanted to make a point about cycling across Iowa in a day was mostly lost on everyone.

Click image to enlarge.

In fact, had Jeff Kerkove and myself not been working together in the bicycle shop that Russ Clarke owns to this day, I would not be involved in Trans Iowa at all. I wouldn't have heard about "FBRAIIOD" and Jeff wouldn't have suggested we do something similar with mountain bikes instead. Maybe gravel road racing would look completely different had these four gentleman not tried to do what they did on that hot August day in 1980.

Yep, you just never know how things might have been had this ride not happened. But it did, and look what happened because of it...... You just never know how what you do today will influence the future. Funny how that works, isn't it?

For more on this story and Trans Iowa's history, Click Here.
To read the article posted here simply click on the image to enlarge it. 

Note: Articles scans from the Des Moines Register. Images from Rick Rickman. Scans provided by John and Celeste Mathias. Back ground information provided by Carl Randall and Russ Clarke.


jeff said...

I don't know...expiring in their "kit" sounds pretty serious to me.

One Eyed z said...

"Are you getting ready for RAGBRAI?"
I have heard that many many many times since I moved to Iowa.
That or "Do you do the RAGBRAI?"
No other reason to be on a bike in this state according to some.

teamdarb said...

Learned something new today, now it's time for beer and chocolate chip cookies!