Sunday, January 03, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: Fruitless Searching- Part 2

Back in the game. Image by Jeremy Fry
  "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 last post described how recon for Trans Iowa v11 started out. This post continues on with the story of the ill-fated recon trip.

After securing our choice of village and the exact location of Checkpoint #1, we were still in pretty high spirits. As we left the small hamlet we discovered probably one of the nastiest Level B Roads leading out of a town anywhere, and just a plain ol' mean road in anyone's estimation. It was akin to driving down a plowed field.  There was a lot of debate right then and there between Jeremy and I about whether or not this would be too much of a gut-punch to the riders. They would barely be out of Checkpoint #1 and they all probably would have to stop to scrape mud off bikes and shoes! After a lengthy discussion, we decided to leave it in with a view to review this choice later. 

Then it was due South, for the most part. We had a super-gnarly Level B not long after leaving the proposed Checkpoint #1 location which had a very odd entry. Essentially, the gravel road leading to it and the Level B were heading in the exact same direction, but as the gravel came up to the dirt, the gravel veered left, because, well.....who in their right mind would go down THAT road? So, unless you were paying attention, and you'd probably have to know this turn was there as well, you would be directed right on by the entry to the dirt road and miss this. Now, it was signed, but it was obscured by trees and brush. Another debate broke out in the truck as to whether or not we needed to flag this corner. Things got fairly heated this time with myself in the camp that this was already marked, and we just needed a cue to indicate to look for the slight turn. Jeremy was adamant that we also needed to have the cue and flag it. In the end we agreed to disagree and we moved on. 

Hills and more hills! The first part of T.I.v11 would be rife with them.  

Driving recon for Trans Iowa was always an adventure and something I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Things settled into a rhythm after that with Jeremy reading off cues and myself driving. We ticked off the miles and made our way South, then eastward into areas I'd never been to before in Iowa. This was classic Trans Iowa recon. Classic times in the truck with Jeremy. Some of my favorite Trans Iowa memories are doing recon with him. I know he misses these times too. 

Then as we approached an area I was wanting to use to direct the event into a good city for resupply chances, we found a stellar road. I had initially chosen this because it was off the grid a bit, meaning it didn't follow the rigid graph-paper-like layout of square miles. This road meandered a bit, and that usually meant you were either on a ridge or in a valley following the contours of the land. An older road or ancient path, no doubt, that made it through to remind us all that things were once different in the land we call Iowa.

This road was really promising until something further down the line didn't work out.

Nearing the resupply city, we found this out on a Level B road. No doubt a popular teenage drinking spot.

Jeremy and I were pretty stoked on all we were seeing. Soon we would draw into a town we were expecting to use as a resupply point. I had pre-planned a route through, but it was a bit convoluted and the escape from the town on the Northeastern side was a bit sketchy. We'd take a look and figure that out, I thought at the time. That is until the approach route took a bad turn.

This was about three miles out, and the road was turning more and more rustic. A Level B that petered out to two track and then ended at a gate. Dammit! Out came the maps. We were scrambling to find a reroute now, as what appeared to be a newly rerouted four lane highway now had limited access across it from gravel roads. This was bad! Really bad. Why? Because of the nature of things being off the grid, which we thought was cool, well, that same feature also limited crossing paths and alternate routes. In other words, this route was entirely unusable. We would have to completely re-do about 30 miles worth of route out in the field. 

Another bit of the course we had to discard here. This Level B led to a water crossing which would be too dangerous for late April.

What was going to be a scenic, rolling course to this particular city ended up becoming a dead flat 13 mile stretch to a couple of dead flat Level B roads and entry to the city via a completely different way than we were anticipating. This was costly in terms of time and it caused us to have to make a return trip or two to get the route fully reconned in the end. But we were still running into issues even after that debacle.

Shortly after the first big reroute we had another issue arise. A really exciting, scenic, and difficult Level B road was eventually nixed due to a low water crossing. Jeremy and I stopped at the grassy area just off the roadway at the creek and considered this feature a bit. The verdict, agreed upon unanimously, was that in late April the cooler temperatures and likelihood of higher water was too much of an obstacle and a danger for us to consider routing through. Then we saw the 4X4 truck come crashing through the low water crossing, slow waaaaaay down, take a sideways glance at us, pull up the road about 30 yards, and then stop. "Uh oh!" This looked bad!

I told Jeremy we'd better get going, and get going now! As I went back the way we came down, the truck driver, who had pulled off just enough to let us pass, came in behind me and followed us out. It was as if we were being escorted. I reminded Jeremy that rural Iowans can be friendly, but if they think anything is untoward, they can be as surly as a junkyard dog. We were outsiders, and we posed a possible threat, so this guy was eyeballing us hard and I knew it. 

I was relieved when we finally got out of the Level B and the truck veered off and we were allowed to continue without the shadow of the unknown following me hard on my bumper. Oh, and we had another reroute! Uggh! It was seeming to us at the time that this route was ill-fated from the get-go. Yet we forged ahead. Things did straighten up a bit after that too, so we were encouraged to continue on, but that stretch was challenging and shook my confidence in route finding, for sure.

Next: We take a side route to look at registration. The processes, the gifts, the post cards, a prank that led to a serious debate about doping athletes and Trans Iowa, and all this together which led to a crazy registration process for T.I.v11. The end of which led to a fundamental change in how Trans Iowa was run.

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