Sunday, January 19, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Legend Of Charlie Farrow

Charlie Farrow, (blue jersey), cemented his legendary status in T.I.v5 Image by K Stuedal
"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!

 The story of Charlie Farrow's adventures on bicycles was one that was well on its way to being a fairly successful, legendary one in the circles of ultra-mtb and in Minnesota/Wisconsin in particular, by the time I got to know him. However; what happened at Trans Iowa v5 may have cemented his status as "legendary" in the annals of the tales of the early gravel scene, never to be forgotten.

Charlie Farrow signed up for Trans Iowa v4 and when people saw his name on the roster I was noticing a certain reverence, a "respect" in the tone of conversations concerning him. Charlie came out of the Northern Minnesota scene, Duluth to be exact, and he and a few friends had formed a confederacy of cycling loosely held together under some cryptic name or another. (Death Before Dishonor? Something like that....) Charlie knew and drew in another cyclist into the fold named Tim Ek, another Duluth resident. Their training exploits were of epic nature and their friendship, at the time of T.I.v5, was solid. Tim, a finisher of T.I.v3 and Charlie eventually became stalwarts of the event in terms of support and performance in the event for a decade. But perhaps no story these two were involved in is more amazing than that of Charlie's ride in T.I.v5.

Charlie came into T.I.v5 with some high expectations from David and I. So, when Charlie showed up in the front running group at the first checkpoint in Washington, Iowa, we weren't surprised. If you've been reading this series you know Charlie figured into a four man break after the stop at the North English convenience store where his friend Tim Ek joined him along with Joe Meiser and Dave Pramaan, himself a rider from "up north". In fact, all in the break were from "up North"!

Things were going along well for the quartet as they punched through Level B roads and headwinds along their way to the second checkpoint in LeGrand, Iowa. If I recall correctly, David and I missed seeing them there, as we arrived before they did, and left to do a little recon of a "lollipop" part of the course before we decided to head on over to Checkpoint #3. That would be in a little town called Traer, Iowa. This is a town I doubt Charlie will forget for a long time, although I do not know if he even knows the name of it.

We commandeered another road sign for our own directions during T.I.v5
David and I were feeling pretty good about T.I.v5 as we rolled into Traer. Our checkpoint volunteers finally took up their spots at the convenience store and we waited. The furious pace which the quartet of break away riders were holding was so fast we knew that they, if they could finish, would be the group the winner came out of. Who would it be? Could they break the 24hr barrier to finish? It sure looked like it was still possible late into the event.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was getting toward nightfall, perhaps about 7:00-7:30pm. A fellow from my city, another cyclist named Paul Buchanan, showed up just to hang out and see the goings on. Generally I wouldn't have allowed such a thing, but Paul is cool and he actually ended up documenting, and helping out the event, so it was all good.  But where were the four Northerners?

Well, it wasn't much longer before they showed up in the twilight of an early May day. Three of them..... Wait! Three? Charlie? Where is Charlie?!!

A dismayed Tim Ek told us that Charlie had to stop. He had run into a gut issue and it was making him slower. They begged him to get back on and make it to Checkpoint #2, but he wasn't able to hang after that point, so they reluctantly had to cut him loose. Dave Pramann shook his head, and his words echoed Tim Ek's- it didn't look good for Charlie. There was some hope though, as I hadn't gotten any word that he had missed the Checkpoint, so he must have kept going.......

Charlie Farrow at the Traer, Iowa convenience store. Image by Paul Buchanan.
Well, at this point Charlie fell out of knowledge to David and I while the event was still underway. However; we know the tale of Mr. Farrow well now.

He did indeed have to fall off the lead break, and he apparently had to stop a few times to deal with his malady. He made it through the CP#2 on time, and eventually he made it to CP#3, but not before the convenience store had closed up, and nearly everyone else had left.

Feeling rather ill, Charlie went around town, gathering the unwanted advertising newspapers many people left in their mail boxes or that were in copious supplies at homes which were vacant. These were known to most of us Mid-Westerners as "shoppers", and Charlie put them to good use. He packed them around his body between his skin and clothing to build up a layer of insulation, and then he found a nice, quiet place, some say in the city park, others say in a cemetery, and he curled up, and took, what he described later as, a nice long nap.

Apparently the ill effects of "whatever" had cleared Charlie's intestinal system by the time he awoke, as he said he felt a LOT better. He had some water and something to eat, then rejoined the chase. He was back from the dead, as it were.  I recall MG saying to me several times afterward, when speaking of v5, that Charlie's appearance at one point during the night was a big surprise. As if he had appeared out of nowhere. See, when you do these events, you get a feel for who is near to you up and down the road as paths cross several times, and MG hadn't seen, nor heard about Charlie for most of the event. Charlie was like a ghost. He had disappeared, then hey! He pops up unexpectedly. So, it was definitely was a big surprise then.

Charlie Farrow after finishing T.I.v5
And no one was more surprised than David and I when we got word at the finish line that Charlie Farrow was not only still riding, but was going to finish! All we knew was that Charlie had passed the test of getting to checkpoint 3 on time, but we knew he was ill. How he managed to come back from being sick, we had no clue. At the time, it just seemed like a miracle. How in the world did he manage it?

And not only that, but when Charlie rolled in, he was chirpy and looked none the worse for wear. We were simply astounded, happy, and relieved. Our mystery about how he did it was satisfied after we were able to talk to Charlie, and we could not do anything but shake our heads in wonder at his perseverance and  grit in the face of such an obstacle.

Of course, sleeping in Trans Iowa as a competitor was not a realistic option for 99% of the riders that ever rode in the event. Charlie was afforded the "luxury", if you can call hobo-camping somewhere in rural Iowa a luxury, of sleeping due to his vast lead on time. Remember- the event finishers, Dave Pramann, Tim Ek, and winner Joe Meiser finished in about 25 hours, and Charlie was with these guys well into the event. He had built up a good bank of time to withdraw from, and his renewed vigor after his rest carried him home in 6th place, at a time of 31 hours and 18 minutes, a full 2 hours and 42 minutes before the final cut off for the event.

The legendary performance Charlie put in was never equaled again in Trans Iowa's history. Every time Charlie came to Trans Iowa, I knew he was capable of something special, or terrifying, or both. Charlie did Trans Iowa nine times total, and there are more stories concerning him to be told, but none perhaps more spectacular, crazy, and heartwarming as his story from Trans Iowa v5. But rest assured, his name will figure into several more "Trans Iowa Stories".

A final word on Charlie before I sign off here. He was especially kind in word and deed toward David and I, and for Trans Iowa overall. Here is just a snippet of words he posted on his own blog about Trans Iowa:

"Bravo for creating, developing, and continually enhancing such a masterpiece that is the Trans-Iowa. I have been around cycling for 30 years and the Trans-Iowa is to my mind the most incredible citizen’s event in USA cycling."

Thanks Charlie, wherever you are. I really appreciate you and what you brought to Trans Iowa over the years. 

Next Week: Some v5 Short Stories


Ari said...

He is an amazing man for sure. A leyend.

Iowagriz said...

I always enjoyed reading his blog. Was able to find this account of V4 in his tale of V10.

Story of him racing in 7Oaks 24hr solo and sleeping along side the trail about 1/2 a lap thru the course. Scared the bejesus out of someone as he sat up alongside the trail in the dark.

Guitar Ted said...

@Iowagriz - That blog of Charlie's was always one of my favorites. (And not just because he said so many kind things about me and Trans Iowa)

As mentioned, there will be more about Charlie coming in the future TI Stories posts. He about gave me a heart attack once as well.

thejacobsons said...

Excellent post GT. I love reading about the TI tales.