Sunday, October 04, 2020

Trans Iowa Stories: The Lone Ranger Of Trans Iowa

 "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!

 Alone in a truck, bouncing around Iowa. These are the visuals I usually had to myself.

After T.I.v7, when David Pals decided to quit helping with the event, I was on my own again, at least in terms of 'day-of' operations while traversing ahead of the riders during the event. Previous to v8 I had driven myself in v1, v2, v3, and that was it. Versions 4-7 were with David in the car, and a few of those times it was David doing the driving too. So, dealing with everything on race weekend was a new-ish thing come time for v8. 

I suppose it was the adrenaline of that post-v7 deal that drove me to stay awake the entire time during T.I.v8, because I never really had any issues staying awake for that one. However; this was not the case for v9 and v10. The stories of me being the 'lone ranger' out there were concerning many Trans Iowa folks, and after some sketchy deals it was suggested by more than a few folks close to me that maybe I ought to have a rider along with me. So, this post is about how that came about and why. 

I suppose the whole 'near-crashing' story about the Level B road during T.I.v8 and the truck skittering all over was the warning bell for some folks. But then came v9, where I had a really hard time staying awake in the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning. The whole night was a blur to me, really. Driving at 20mph, having to stop multiple times to have the crisp night air awaken me, I'll tell you what..... There were more times than anyone knows about that I was probably a hairs width away from wrecking. Falling asleep at the wheel, its not a skill set for driving I'd recommend learning! 

Like I said though, I never really communicated how bad it was out there. I think people inferred from my "Trans Iowa Radio" posts how far gone I was at times. There were probably some folks also that were watching me closer than I ever knew. And- of course- there were the people who deeply cared about me and the event that worried about me out there no matter what they knew or did not know. Suggestions that I take on a rider in the truck for Trans Iowa duties started around the v9 time period. I brushed it off thinking, "Who would even want to do such a thing?" I mean, thirty-four hours plus in a truck with me, in rural Iowa? I thought that was far too big of an ask of anyone to sacrifice for the event and myself. 

What I learned though was completely different than my initial take on the situation. I learned that some people thought it would be an honor to ride along with me. It was even suggested that I sell time in the seat to people who might want a front row view of the event with me. Now.....that was crazy talk, in my opinion, but it opened my mind up to how folks out there- well some folks -were thinking about me having a driving companion. 

I literally sat here for three hours or so during T.I.v9....alone.
I finally made a turn-around on my feelings about having someone along with me during Trans Iowa v10. Before this though, I knew at times being a "lone ranger" of sorts was not at all fun. There were times of extreme loneliness. Sitting in the truck for hours at a crack, waiting for riders to come and appear as blackish dots on the horizon, or as little bluish points of light, bobbing in the night. 

It was boring, excruciatingly boring, and really hard to do at "o-dark-thirty" when it was near freezing. Now, I hate telling this story, really. Because it sounds like I am whining. I'm not- it is just how I felt about my choices in this event. I knew I was doing this every year I did not have a co-conspirator for the event. I knew full well this would happen, but I tell this story to help illustrate why it was I was resistant to having anyone else go through a similar situation. I figured it was part of the cost of putting on Trans Iowa. Why should anyone else be subjected to this type of experience?

Of course, there were fun times as well. I dearly looked forward to getting to checkpoints. I would check in with all the volunteers, gab about how things were going, maybe have a laugh and a beer along the way. It was always one of the highlights of the event for me. Kind of like having a secret meet-up with other ne'er-do-wells in the remotest parts of Iowa. We would meet up, then disperse, never to be heard from again. 

Or there were those odd times I had interactions with riders. This was much more rare than you'd think, but I remember these times very well. Particular to Trans Iowa v9 was the near mid-night contact I had with eventual winner Rich Wince and Chris Shotz just North of Brooklyn, Iowa on a chilly April night. I watched as Rich overtook Chris for the lead about a half a mile up the road from me. I spoke briefly with both men as they slowly rolled by me, watching for clues as to their condition, and soaking in the knowledge that these two men had already traversed over 200 miles of tough Iowa gravel to get to this point. No sleep till Brooklyn indeed! 

A quick hit-and-run beer gathering in the middle-of-nowhere Iowa during T.I.v9.

But back to what turned the nut for me about getting a co-driver, or a ride-along pal- It was Trans Iowa v10, as I mentioned. This was a night I will never forget. The wind was ferocious all day out of the East. This ended up stirring up a weather system which built up a line of thunderstorms which approached the Trans Iowa course from the South. 

I also had a bridge out situation in the evening which required a pretty big re-route of the course late into the event. I figured I had better not only mark out the re-routed section, but stand at the point where I had diverted the course and alert every rider I saw to be aware of what was about to happen on course. This ended up being at the end of a Level B road section on 190th and J Avenue in Tama County, right on top of a hill with a clear view to the South. I also had parked my truck in such a way that I was pointed due South. 

This is important because I could see the approaching lightning storm. With the heavy winds still blowing, there was a lot of Iowa soil being blown off the mostly bare fields up into the sky. It was very dark by this time, around midnight, as I recall. This made the lightning strikes appear red and orange. It would be pitch black, then the sky from the East to the West would light up suddenly, illuminating the dust and clouds with this ghastly light. There was so much lightning at times that the hell-scape I saw in the constant flashes was nearly overwhelming me with additional fear over the top of worrying about riders and the rerouted section being navigable by these worn out athletes. It was as if I was experiencing an apocalypse of sorts. The violent wind rocked the truck, and when the rains came, it was going sideways across the headlights. Let me tell you, it was horrifying. 

Just getting out of the truck to communicate with each rider was a struggle. A struggle to steady yourself in the strong, gusty winds. A struggle to even communicate, since the thunder and wind was so loud, I remember shouting into the ears of some riders just to get my points across. I didn't know how long I'd be there doing this, but it was a surreal experience. Fortunately the situation was handled extremely well by - once again- unasked for assistance. My volunteers stepped forward, and in doing so, they helped not only make the event a success, but they helped change my mind about this subject of a companion for the event with me. 

The finish line volunteers were all huddled in at The Barn along with some super-fans of the event. Rob Versteegh, who was concerned about how things were going, given the weather, contacted me via text message. Once he learned about my situation, he communicated it to some of the Slender Fungus guys there at The Barn. They, in turn, sprang into action to assist me in helping with the re-route issue. Driving about 60 miles to where I was at, two of the Slender fungus guys, T.J and the Bonk King, stayed on to redirect riders, allowing me to leave and pursue the course recon duties and to be at the finish line. Ari Andonopoulous, who also came along, as he is the "El Presidente'" of the SF, motioned that there was a rider needing assistance that they had picked up on the way to meet me, and that he and this rider were coming with me to drop the guy off back in Grinnell. 

So it was that Ari stuck out the rest of the night with me doing Trans Iowa stuff. It was a refreshing change from the years prior, and guess what? I never had to battle falling asleep! Whoa! A revelatory feeling swept over me upon experiencing this. I knew having a companion along for the journey was a great idea now. As long as someone wanted to do this, I was perfectly fine in allowing it to happen after v10. Obviously, Ari relished his experience, and he said as much, encouraging me to take on a co-rider or even have someone drive me. 

This ended up in Matt Gersib's volunteering of himself for just such duties. It was all set up to happen for the ill-fated v11, but I'll get around to telling that tale later. 

Next: The Story Of The First Barn Finish


teamdarb said...


Nooge said...

I learned as a young man how dangerous sleepy driving is. I ended up having my right front tire fall into a ditch then I hit a driveway with it. Scared the heck out of me, knowing it could have been much worse. I equate slept driving with drunk driving; both reckless. The irony is that while sleeping in my car in a parking lot to avoid sleepy driving, I awoke to a cop shining his light in my eyes. He didn’t believe me and breathalyzed me (I was fully sober). He insisted that I head home despite my tiredness. I was rested enough to make it work, but that was not smart of him.