Sunday, April 19, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: It's About The People - Part 2

They say Trans Iowa changed people's lives. I guess this would be evidence of that.
"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!

I always said I kept doing this event for the people, the relationships, and for how it changed people's lives. I guess you can't really see the last part, unless you are Al Brunner.  That's his Trans Iowa tattoo to the left there.

Al started coming to Trans Iowa around the point in the story I am at now. He started with v5 and only missed v8 afterward. Eventually he even brought along his son, Travis, who rode in three Trans Iowa's with his father. When Al sent me this image of his tattoo, I was flabbergasted. In fact, I still am. To think I put on an event that led to such a thing is beyond my comprehension, but there is the evidence right there. Trans Iowa changed lives.

Then there is Craig Cooper, who was there for us from the beginning of our tenure in Grinnell. Craig was so important to the success of the event, not only in his hooking us up with the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, but in his direct support. The early years of our Grinnell era were marked by Craig parking his RAGBRAI trailer at the start and finish of the event to assist us in any way he could. He even opened up his shop, which we started in front of nine times, at 3;00am in the morning. He provided hot coffee, last minute purchases and repairs, and maybe most important of all, a bathroom. 

Craig would always visit the finish line area, no matter where we had it, and it moved to four different places over those nine years! He attended many of the Pre-Race Meat-Ups and was just a great person to the event. I recall one year we were to face some poor weather and he set out a table of close-out Winter gloves for the riders to choose from the day before that particular Trans Iowa and he sold through them all. So not only did we benefit from Craig/Bikes To You, but Craig and the shop got some love back from the riders too.  

There are more stories concerning Craig than I have room to share, but keep your eyes peeled for some good tales of after Pre-Race Meat-Ups where Craig figures heavily into the story for several versions of my Trans Iowa experiences.

Trans Iowa won a Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Tourism Award. Here Craig Cooper presents the award to me in his shop.
Dennis Grelk at CP#2 during T.I.v7 Image by Wally Kilburg
 Another important person that came into the story of Trans Iowa around this time was Dennis Grelk. He ended up winning Trans Iowa v7, and so he became someone that held the respect of other event participants afterward, but if it were up to Dennis, we probably wouldn't know him. Quiet to a fault, in person, Dennis was a hard book to read for me. But when people that had ridden with him related their stories concerning Dennis, it was obvious that the phrase, "still waters run deep" perhaps fit no one better than Dennis. His acute powers of observation often resulted in sharply focused, meaningful statements and the driest of humor.

It was Dennis who said of Trans Iowa, "It’s like a train wreck in many ways. You can see the imminent disaster coming from a long ways off, the witnesses can’t look away, and the participants can’t seem to escape it.” He also made this observation about Trans Iowa: "TI is definitely all about the journey, ’cause the reward at the end is sleep deprivation, soreness, and deep hunger. And maybe some sort of brain damage that makes you want to do it again every year."

Dennis also ended up becoming indispensable to the event as a volunteer. Along with his wife, Christina, they ran the first checkpoint for the last few Trans Iowa events to perfection. Now Dennis has moved on to helping out with getting the Trans Iowa-inspired "Iowa Wind And Rock" event off the ground. But my best memories of Dennis were from his T.I.v7 winning ride. Post-event I asked him how he managed to come from behind to win. His answer- "Gummy tarantulas!" And that was it! 

Of course, we finally got a woman to finish Trans Iowa in Trans Iowa v7 as well. The whole deal with the participation of women for Trans Iowa was always a sore subject with David and I, and for me personally after David left, it was a high priority. We always strove to make things easier for women to get into the event, but you can only do just that. You cannot make women enter. Because, of course, that would be quite rude. But I know we were always bummed to get the DNF call from the last woman in the event every year, up to v7, that is. 

Janna Vavra being congratulated on her T.I.v7 finish by fellow finisher Troy Krause.
That's because that was when we saw Janna Vavra cross the line with minutes to spare. I cannot tell you how happy I was for her, and for women overall, because when someone breaks through, it kind of sends a message that "it can be done". And Janna's accomplishment in T.I.v7 did just that. 

After that, we saw the women's field every year for Trans Iowa increase and attract more talented athletes. It wasn't long before we had multiple women finishers- a thing I could only have dreamt of before Janna crossed the line in Grinnell exhausted. I recall that she said that she never cared if she ever saw another Level B Road again! But, of course, given some time away, she must have changed her mind because she came back four more times. In fact, she was the last woman to ever finish a Trans Iowa. Pretty neat distinction there, I think. 

In many ways I saw Janna and Dennis as somewhat similar people- quiet, determined, tough, and wise. They were always the kind of competitors that came to Trans Iowa that I never worried much about because of their inner strength and conviction to being self-supported. 

My biggest disappointment was that Jana's tremendous accomplishment escaped the camera view for the film, "300 Miles of Gravel". It was a sub-plot worthy of being a major part of the flick, and had I been the editor, I would have made that effort. It is one of my bigger complaints about the project, but it is what it is. No matter what that film says, Janna holds a great place in Trans Iowa history and always will. In fact, I would posit that Janna Vavra is an unsung heroine of the modern gravel scene. She deserves a lot of credit for opening the doors to what was possible for women in gravel events. 

Next: The Tale Of Stressful Changes


MG said...

Spot on post... We’ve been fortunate to meet some absolute legends thanks to Trans Iowa. I rode with Janna and the ‘Lincoln group’ for most of v7, and her grit and determination were amazing. She’d have finished much earlier too, if they’d have just left myself and one other rider behind. We finally forced them to leave us about 30 miles from the finish, because we knew if we stayed on, they wouldn’t have finished within the time cut. She’s a tough, talented cyclist and an awesome person. I was reminded just the other night of how many people her riding inspires, when an up and coming local rider spoke of her in awe when we chatted after a mountain bike ride (don’t worry, we were 6 feet apart ;-).

Cheers, Brother!!

Rydn9ers said...

I've been mulling over a Guitar Ted tattoo myself, just need to figure out if I want clean shaven or full beard Ted.

That is some next level commitment to an event though... made the rookie mistake of including the year though, could only use it for the one race. ;)

Al said...

Yep the tattoo is specific to V9. The outline is the gps track of the course that year, the cue sheet text is from one of the actual cue sheets and the bottom lists the mileage and my finish time. The tire tread is from the tires I used that year, Schwalbe marathons I think. And can’t forget Casey’s and their pizza. Al

Guitar Ted said...

@Al - Hey, I hope you are doing well! Thanks for the comment. I didn't know that about the tire tread on that artwork. That's rad! The rest I had known or guessed at.

Take Care!