Sunday, August 04, 2019

Trans Iowa Stories: Tales Of v1

The first roll out for a Trans Iowa. Image by Dave Kerkove
"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!

 Tales of the first Trans Iowa are rare. There were only 51 people in the event, first off, and since Trans Iowa kicked off in 2005, there weren't any digital, social media platforms to share anything on. It was a time when the "Analogue Era" was ending and the new "Social Media Era" was in its infancy. Any stories of heroism, tales of woe, or fascinating tidbits stayed with those individuals who were a part of those things.

And as far as Jeff and I were concerned, there were two focus points: Jeff's was competing in the event he helped to get off the ground. Mine was to facilitate the event. Taking pictures, writing reports, or sharing stories was not on our radar at all.

Of course, I did take a few images. However; I don't think I saved them! Then there was Dave Kerkove, Jeff's father, who took a roll of film, (film camera!), and shot some images up to the point of the Algona checkpoint. There were no images from there until the finish line shot. Isn't that crazy? But again- we weren't focused upon producing media for outsiders to consume. Once again, a bit of context is good to chew on at this point.

I'll say it again for emphasis: There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Snapchat.....nothing! Digital cameras were around, but not prevalent. Cell phones typically had no camera or very, very bad ones. People weren't yet "attuned" to share every freaking moment of life. So, why would we be doing that? We wouldn't even think of it. There was no reason to, as the only outlet for it at that time would have been the Endurance forum, (where we did share stories and images back in the day), or on Jeff's blog. (I did not start this blog until May 11th, 2005. Well after Trans Iowa had happened.)

Jeff Kerkove (leading here) and a group of v1 riders. Image by Dave Kerkove
So, from my perspective I recall being pretty nervous that cold, clear morning in Hawarden. My task was going to be to yak at a "pre-race meeting", which I was very nervous about, to tell the truth. Here I was, just some unknown mechanic from Iowa, who was along to help the very well known Jeff Kerkove. I was speaking to the legends of the endurance cycling scene at the time- Mike Curiak, Steve "DOOM" Fassibinder, Ernesto Marenchin, and others whom Jeff persuaded to come to the event. Ira Ryan was there, a phenom of rando-ultra distance cycling on the West Coast, and an Iowa native. There were others, and I don't mean to slight anyone by omission, but my point is, I was a nobody. No one knew a thing about me with the exception of maybe having seen a guest post of mine on Jeff's blog, a post of mine on, or from Jeff mentioning me on his blog.

And here I was telling them what to do and not to do. It was very intimidating, but I did my best. Then I had to hop into the shop van, which we borrowed for the weekend from the bike shop both Jeff and I worked at, and I headed out ahead of the field. I remember stopping and waiting at the tops of hills to see if the leaders were catching me, then sprinting off ahead to check more roads. There was a horrifying moment when I came up at a crossing of a County paved road and saw "Road Closed" signs. What to do! I went around the sign and saw that they had crushed the pavement, but it was still passable, so I crossed and figured (hoped) the riders would come across as well.

Then there were the Level B Roads. We only had three, one mile sections of dirt that first year, all within about ten miles of each other. They were left in and we had no idea of how they might affect the event. I saw that they were too muddy to drive on, at least the first two were, but the third.... Hmm. Looked passable. I tried it. Mind you, this was in a 90's era Dodge Caravan, front wheel drive only. I got about a third of the way in when I realized I had made a very poor choice!

I had one hope. Stand on the gas and hope that I did not lose my momentum. I knew that if I did stop, I was going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and no tow truck wasn't going to be able to help. Thankfully, I managed to steer through, but the mud was everywhere. Packed into wheel wells, all over the rocker panels, stuck all over the top of the van from flailing off the front wheels, and basically, it was trashed. Fortunately it still drove, so I forged on ahead to Algona.

(L-R) Me, Patrick Humenny, Dave Kerkove- Image taken by Linda Kerkove
Algona was a scene. It was cold, blustery with high wind gusts, and no one really knew what to expect, or what was going on for certain. One thing that I found odd were that some folks had tons of support while others were rolling in and doing everything for themselves. That was addressed for v2 with the elimination of "outside support". One thing was frightening- That was hearing about one of our riders wandering off course in a daze, angered at folks asking if he was okay. It turned out it was a person so dehydrated that they were a bit emotional and not thinking straight. Being that I had my hands full already, I couldn't go find out anything more than the bits and pieces other riders could tell me. This was one bullet dodged in the end that could have went waaaay bad. I knew then and there we needed more people running this event. 

Near the end of my time there, I felt pressured to address concerns some support people were voicing about the "unfair time cut off" announced at the onset of the event for the Algona Checkpoint. These folks wanted it abolished, or at the least, extended greatly. I ended up informing Jeff's parents that the cut off would be extended one hour. In the end, it made zero difference, but again- something to keep in mind if we ever ran this again. I was pretty stressed out at that point because I had to get to Pilot Knob State Park and mark a mile or so of single track. So, eventually I just had to leave without seeing some of the concerned folks face to face, but again- One guy running the show. Not good. Also, remember this was my first rodeo being the "RD" guy. It was pretty rough sledding.

Not many riders left Algona. We had nine finishers, but I think something like 13 left Algona. So, attrition was high and continuing on from Algona, I saw a few riders on my way out, and then I did not see anyone until well into Sunday morning. I had zero communication with Jeff, who was out of the event due to dehydration issues. I only knew he was out of the event. Other than having to call in anyone I saw at my Cresco, Iowa observation point to the Decorah Time Trials finish line volunteer, I had no reason to use my phone. So, with no DNF line, it got really weird out there in the night for me.

I cannot recall for certain, but I think I got a call from Dave Kerkove when the checkpoint closed shortly after 6:00pm that night, so that may have been one point of communication. But anyway, I was frustrated, bored to tears, and was wishing I had anyone else along to share this miserable time with. I hate to beat this point to death, but you have to keep in mind the lack of social media back then. I mean, I couldn't check a timeline, page, or anything. I think this point is now so foreign to us that we have a hard time fathoming it. So, it was boring as Hell, but most of all, the biggest issue was that I felt sleeping was out of the question, because of my charge to let the Decorah folks know when to expect a rider to finish. That was extra stress and I went through the wringer during the event's ending. The night time stretch was excruciatingly boring and difficult. It was really cold that night. I know we had a hard freeze and frost was everywhere that Sunday morning. All I had was a stocking hat and a rain jacket. Dumb!

By the time I reached my observation point just North of Cresco, Iowa, I was freezing to death and having to hop into the van, run the heater on high, and then try not to fall asleep! Back and forth like that for a few hours until at right around sunrise, a rider came through. It was Alex Dollp. Then about every hour or hour and a half, a rider would pass by till all seven had went by me. I had only seen seven because Ryan and Hannon bypassed my point in the night due to getting off course. But I didn't know that at the time.

Eventually Dave Kerkove called and said that there were likely around ten guys left and that he and Jeff were on their way to relieve me. That is the last thing I clearly remember about v1. I do vaguely recall the "award ceremonies" at Decorah, but only vaguely, and I could not tell you how I got home. Afterward, I saw that I did not even mention Trans Iowa on my blog a half a month later all the rest of the way through May. So, while it was a "big deal", it wasn't that big of a deal at the time, or so we thought.

All I know is that Trans Iowa, the first one that is, changed me fundamentally. Even without the other 13 Trans Iowas. Just doing that one really gave me confidence, inspiration, and a new viewpoint I had not had previous to it. So, thank you, first of all, to Jeff Kerkove. I owe it all to you, and without your inclusiveness, drive, and enthusiasm, I would still be "just a bike mechanic in Iowa". Then I gotta thank all those first Trans Iowans. You guys and Emily Broderson, (the lone female in T.I.v1) are to be commended, because without you, I don't become who I am today.

Next: Stories Of v2


Iowagriz said...

great stories! Such a contrast between this and the last one.

thejacobsons said...

GT, I was running support for Jim McGuire during this event. After he missed the cut off in Algona we headed back to Forest City, my home town. A friend and I set up lawn chairs off of the single track in Pilot Knob and watched the riders go through. I was in complete awe and this is what motivated me to ride in the next four Trans Iowa events. Thank you for your hard work with the event. - Paul Jacobson