Sunday, March 22, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: Help Unlooked For

A section of Level B reconned by David in 2009 for T.I.v6 which led to CP#3
 "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 end of Trans Iowa v6 was one of those deals where things were so stressful, crazy, then relieving and almost fun, that I cannot do it justice with words. It was singularly unique, and those few that were involved in it experienced something really special. The experience for me was so twisted and such a roller coaster of emotions that I was kind of on cruise mode by the end of it all. It was just that overwhelming for me on a personal level.

Things obviously got started off with my high expectations and then were slammed into a valley of darkness with the early morning severe weather worries. Then dealing with a pushy, surly spectator/support person added to my stress levels going into an afternoon of tense driving on roads that, frankly, were barely passable in David's Honda Element 4X4. Follow that with the stress of the fight to reroute the course so as to take out Level B Roads which would make getting to Checkpoint #3 on time impossible, and it was a recipe for emotional shutdown.

First of all, I do not mean to make light of anyone else's experiences out there. Obviously, stress levels were high for many T.I.v6 participants. Take Matt Wills, for instance, who commented on my blog afterward on one of the T.I.v6 recap posts: "soaking wet in a ditch, hiding from the lightning about 15miles from CP2." These are the kinds of things that keep event directors up at night, in case you ever wondered what putting on an event was like. I remember reading that and it was like a punch to the gut. I responded," @mw: Sorry you got caught out. We didn't see that lightning, but we were north of you at that point." To which Matt responded,"oh it's nothing to be sorry for or anything i regret. i wonder if i would have been with someone that i could have motivated myself thru the part of the course i was stuck in the lightning on.

TI is a monster and i'm ok that it's not always possible to complete for me or anyone."

That last line! Pulled me right back, but I have to say that Trans Iowa attracted some of the best, most stand up characters I've had the privilege of knowing. People like that and more are why the gravel scene grew to what it is now. The scene is standing on the backs of all these great folks. Because I'm telling you, if more of the riders were like the surly spectator I had to deal with, I would have quit doing the T.I. thing long before I did.  

I visited the never-used CP#3 location for T.I.v6 last Summer
Back to the story at hand- The post checkpoint #2 part of the event was marked by David and I being stressed out and in a huge hurry to find re-routes that worked, and then mark them with flags, before any riders showed up. This was, in the end, a fools errand, but at the time we were busting our butts trying to work as hard as we could.

That's an important point, because we had a LOT of rerouting ahead of us plus the fact that we knew that checkpoint #3 was impossible to reach due to three sections of some of the gnarliest Level B Roads in Tama County. They are hard to pass when conditions are perfect, as I found out last Summer, but given the unholy nature of the gravel roads we were driving on, we knew there was absolutely no passage on those steep rollers of pure clay morass.

To be honest, I'm not even sure we had contemplated fully what getting to CP#3 would entail, but in the end, it didn't matter. I recall when we were headed North and crossed I-80 on a gravel overpass, that shortly after that it started raining so hard that we could no longer see to drive! Now about this time it was getting pretty dark as well, as the Sun was low in the horizon and shrouded from view by the thick cloud cover. It basically was night time. I knew David was stressing hard, the vibe was so thick with it, and I turned and asked him if he really wanted to continue to drive through this madness. His answer came without hesitation. No. He was done.

So, I called the event with David's blessings right then and there. Checkpoint #2 had already closed, so there was no "catching" anyone there. We decided to backtrack the course once the squall we had been stopped by moved on. We headed back the way we came slowly and methodically. Suddenly I got a text from Joe Meiser asking what the status of the event was. He and John Gorilla were holed up at an ice cream shop/cafe' called the "EV Malt Shoppe" in North English, the next town out from CP#2. This would have been approximately 25 miles down from CP#2 on the T.I.v6 course. I found out that it took 2.5 hours for Gorilla and Meiser to cover that distance.

By the way, I didn't even get a chance to answer his text before he called me to repeat the same question. Meiser knew by the math that T.I.v6 was officially over. No one was going to make CP#3 on time. He wanted to know where the impromptu finish line might be, and his call was to get that info ASAP so he and Gorilla could guarantee a 1-2 finish, if I was going to do what I did in T.I.v4. Gorilla would have known this, since he won that truncated event.

The phone conversation was comical. We were both being extremely cagey with each other so as not to show our hand. In the end, I asked that he and Gorilla look out for the remaining six riders we knew about coming through there. We were ending the event right at that place they were holed up in. Meanwhile, the rain was pounding and David and I were carefully driving back to North English, now on pavement wherever possible since we knew that we weren't going to see any riders now.

What happened then at the EV Malt Shoppe is something I'll never forget. The goodness of people. Empathy. Caring. Love for fellow humans. These are the deals that give one hope, a reason to carry on. It's when we are at our very best. No politics, no grandstanding, just goodness. Pure goodness.

Matt Braun, (L) and David Pals with an unidentified rider cleaning up in the background at the EV Malt Shoppe in North English, Iowa. 
When we arrived, David and I, at the EV Malt Shoppe, Meiser and Gorilla got up and motioned that we probably had better set up operations at the convenience store down the street because the Malt Shoppe was closing at 8:00pm, which was minutes away. The owner of the shop, who had overheard this conversation, then came up and interrupted. He was having none of that. He and his employees were willing to stay as long as it took to get the six riders in and accounted for. Not only that, but his waitress and cook stayed on and opened the kitchen back up. Hot chocolates and french fries soon hit the tables and wet, cold riders we were pulling in off the course were warming their hands on the hot cups and gratefully gulping down the grub.

Not only that, but my CP#3 volunteers, and some T.I. support folks all swept in to the Malt Shoppe and we ended up with more than enough folks and vehicles to get all home safely. The owner of the shop even allowed the muddy riders to hose themselves and their bikes off with a garden hose out the side door of the place.

Clockwise from the left: Jay Petervary, Traci Petervary, Matt Braun, Charles Parsons, Joe Meiser (seated).
By 9:45 pm all was wrapped up. It was over. We dodged another bullet, but now we had to get back to Grinnell and to the Barn to see who would show up at our now, unneeded finish line. Ironically, it would take until Trans Iowa v9 before anyone would actually finish at The Barn, and then we only got to do that for T.I. v9 and v10 before weather and other life changes caused The Barn to fall off the radar of T.I. history.

I'll never forget seeing that barn from the hill on the west side overlooking the valley where it sat. I walked in a driving, cold, sideways rain with David to join the few hardy folks that actually showed up at The Barn to hear the tales of the day. It seemed like a big failure to me at that time, Trans Iowa v6. All this grand planning and sponsorship, and all the hoopla surrounding our first time in Grinnell. All washed away by a wicked storm. I felt really low walking up to that barn, like I didn't belong in this game.

Then we came out of the weather, the lights were bright, people hailed us, we were congratulated. Riders were cleaned up and in high spirits. We asked if we could make anything better, and all we got were compliments on how we were already doing things. One suggestion, by John Gorilla, was to make accommodation for folks who had actually finished the thing to get in again. Otherwise we heard no complaining at all.

I've said it before, but the reason I kept doing Trans Iowa was because of the people involved, and that night sealed the deal for another running of Trans Iowa again. But sometimes people let you down, it is true, and sometimes I let others down, which is very true as well. Sometimes you dodge a bullet, sometimes you get hit and wounded. All of this would come into play for the next Trans Iowa, which in my view is the most pivotal Trans Iowa event of all fourteen.

Next: It's The People

1 comment:

Ari said...

I remember that day very well. I remember being very cold and soaked to the bone. There is no jacket that works with "that" kind of storm. I remember telling Giggles that the lightning bolts were hitting right and left of us. I also remember that it was raining perfectly horizontal that day. Only in Trans Iowa.