Sunday, June 02, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: Jeff Kerkove & Guitar Ted

He started on gravel and now he races on it again. (Image courtesy of the Spotted Horse)
Obviously there is no story to begin with without Jeff Kerkove. I've written about how he had the idea to start Trans Iowa, and in the process, he is really the one responsible for gravel/all road events as we know it today. Of course, he would never admit to that. 

But that alone speaks volumes to who Jeff Kerkove is. He never sought the spotlight, but he also never shied away from it when it was shone on him. I was lucky enough to work alongside of him for about four years. In that time, we became pretty good friends, even though I was just about old enough to be his father, and our common interests outside of cycling were few.

Jeff was a young man just out of college when I met him and he was a laser focused person. The most disciplined person I have ever gotten to know. He was going to be a really good solo 24hr endurance racer, and no one was going to get in his way. Nothing was worth going off the training program. So, socially, well........there was no social aspect to Jeff. He was either working at the shop, or working on his training. He always used to tell me, "Everything is training." he lived life that way 24-7, 365 days a year. He never let up.

Now, I was a beer drinkin' lackadaisical, goofy dude that was married, had two children, played guitar, and liked to ride bicycles. Why on Earth did Jeff want anything to do with me, or me with him, is anyone's guess, but I had more fun working with that man than I had a right to. We had the greatest times at work. 

Back in the days when I worked with Jeff, you'd never know he was such a serious young man.
We worked hard, for sure, but we had a LOT of memorable times and we took every opportunity to be silly, goof off, and lighten up the mood of the shop. In fact, it got to be such a tight bond that our own boss was jealous to the point he'd try to break it up when he heard us laughing and goofing off. Of course, we caught on to his ruses quickly. One of those that the old boss man would routinely use is that he would come out and start spinning yarns of the old days. The days when he raced criteriums in the 70's and early 80's, and especially about the time he and three other guys rode across Iowa in a day on road bikes.

Now, that is a feat and no one would argue that. Especially since, to anyone's knowledge today, it hadn't been done before these fellows did it in 1980. But after you've heard the story told for the 25th time, it gets a bit......well, it grates on the nerves. And we had been getting an earful one day in November 2004 to the point that eyeball rolling wasn't going to assuage our disdain for the story anymore.

So, a bit of frustration with that was all the fuel that was needed for bored minds to start going off on random ideas that might trump this story. A story that had worn out its welcome with us a long time before this. Besides, we knew it was a ruse to get us to pay attention to the boss, and to break up our fun and what little time we had to enjoy our relationship, such as it was then.

"How about if you tried to do it on a mountain bike on gravel roads?", or something to that effect, is what Jeff said. We were thinking of something that would be even tougher than this story of the roadie, fully supported deal we had been getting drilled with. I said we probably could do that, sure. Why not? I figured that gravel roads pretty much criss-crossed the state in a vast network. I had been all over in the country on gravel roads since I could remember. The vast amount of these gridded out, square mile gravel tracks was surely something that could be laced into a coherent gravel course that would traverse the state of Iowa. Those were my split second thoughts of that moment. I was sure I could pull off a course. But, you was all just talk out of frustration. There was just no way it would........

"Let's do it!", Jeff immediately said as soon as I had answered.

Now, you all have no idea how shocked, how scared that answer made me feel in that moment. Right there and then, in late November of 2004, someone I knew only from work just pulled the rug out from under my feet. With the sound of those words, I was in a free-fall that I had no idea when, or if it would end, or if I would ever end up on my feet again. In the days and months afterward, my life was challenged, changed, and I became committed to something I had never thought I would ever be involved in. I was going to help put on an event that was unprecedented in cycling as far as I knew.

And believe me, I had no clue as to what it was I was in for.

Next: Jeff Kerkove & Guitar Ted- Part 2

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