|From a meeting at Interbike, circa 2010- (Image by Sonya Looney)|
The thing one needs to keep in mind about the first Trans Iowa is that all along Jeff wanted it to be a mountain bike race. You may recall his question I have quoted over the years to me which precipitated the snap decision to put on an event. Well, just before that we were actually trying to figure out if, somehow or another, we could string together snippets of the rare Iowa single track, linked by gravel roads, into a cross state route. That was the original intention behind what was to become Trans Iowa. It was supposed to have been an ultra-endurance mountain biking event.
And why wouldn't that have been the goal? Jeff was in the upper tier of solo 24hr racers at the time. It wasn't unusual for Jeff to come home the winner of one of those hamster wheel events on dirt. He was a highly regarded racer in the scene, and he had a very popular blog. He was sponsored by top tier companies like Giant and Cat Eye. Jeff was a mountain biker. Not a gravel grinder.
But Jeff was also well acquainted with gravel riding. He trained on gravel roads all the time for their higher resistance and more rolling terrain. That said, this new event was first and foremost promoted as a mountain bike adventure. NOT a gravel grinder. That's why you will still see references to the "Trans Iowa Mountain Bike Race" on the Trans Iowa site. Jeff wrote most of that blogsite up and created it in 2004. I left it as intact as I could since. So, the evidence is still there.
This is not only important from a ideological perspective, but also from an influencing perspective. Jeff, of course, tried to get his endurance riding friends and acquaintances on board with the idea, and most of them were excited about the prospects of a cross-state adventure. Sure, there was some grousing by many that it wasn't in a mountainous state, but Jeff managed to get many of the heavyweights of the solo, ultra-endurance mountain biking folks to commit to coming. They did this in deference to who Jeff was. Had I been the one doing the promoting, well...... Trans Iowa would never had been heard from again.
The whole mountain biking aspect of the original idea was why we stuck the single track of Pilot Knob State Park in the middle of the route. That was by my suggestion, if I recall, since I had ridden there back in 1995 or '96 with friends of mine from my first bike shop gig. We were also thinking about tying into the single track in Decorah, then running the route on to Lansing, Iowa, on the eastern border. However; when Jeff contacted the race director of the Decorah Time Trials, Richard, "Deke" Gosen, about this possibility, he came back with some other ideas.
Deke's ideas were to run the inaugural event Jeff was proposing to coincide with the running of the Decorah Time Trials which traditionally had always been held on the last full weekend of April. That way we could cross promote this new, crazy idea and the Decorah Time Trials. Deke was a bit reticent to have us running a similar course as his at the end of Trans Iowa, but offered that they could man a finish line which would be right where the time trial's was at. Also, Deke insisted on meeting face to face with us. So, one day in late 2004, we trekked up to Decorah to sit down with Deke.
The meeting was a bit awkward, but since Deke had run gravel events before back in the 80's, we were eager to be as absorbent as possible so we could learn something of how it was he did things. I do recall some banter about the old races, and "gravel grinding", the old roadie way of training on gravel. Then Deke asked us the strangest question.
"If you put on this event, and no one finishes it, will you be okay with that?"
Silence for a second or two. Jeff's and my eyes met for a brief moment. It was silently understood what the answer would be. We both agreed that would be okay.
"Yeah. I see no problem with that.", or something to that effect, was said by the both of us. Deke, who had been leaning in with a very intent look on his face then suddenly sat back, smiled, and said, "Good! Now we can get on with the rest of it!"
Deke later explained that had we been reticent to have an event so difficult that no one would finish it, he wouldn't have helped us out. His take was that this sort of challenge should be without compromise, but we had to realize as well that there was a huge responsibility on our part to be caretakers of that challenge, and of those who trusted us to pick that challenge up. This was a pivotal grain of wisdom which guided me for 14 years of Trans Iowa events. It was something I took hold of and based much of what I did around. Without Deke and his meeting with us, I very much doubt Jeff and I would have started out on the right foot with Trans Iowa.
Next: Why danger figures heavily into not only Trans Iowa, but the early gravel racing scene as a whole.