Sunday, September 26, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: Going The Long Way Around - Part 1


Various trips past the Des Moines area provided me with ideas.

NOTE: This post was supposed to have published 9/19/21, but due to a technical error it was republished today. I apologize for any inconveniences this may have caused.  "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 clicking on the "Trans Iowa Stories" link under the blog header. Thanks and enjoy! 

 I've been treated to some great Trans Iowa stories and memories from riders recently. I am collecting these to - hopefully - put into a book at the end of this series. If you were a Trans Iowa rider and have any memories that you'd like to share, please do and send those to Maybe your tale will also end up in the Trans Iowa Book Of Tales!

In the epic tale, "Lord of the Rings", J.R.R. Tolkien writes about hobbits and describes how some are very home-bound, not taken to adventure or wild ideas of travel to foreign lands. However; some of them, namely the Fallohides, had this adventurous streak. This was epitomized by the nature of Bilbo Baggins' character, who traced his lineage back to this clan.

I have a secret to reveal here- I am not much for travel. So, I guess I wouldn't quite qualify to be of the race which Bilbo Baggins claimed to belong to. That said, I do have an adventurous streak, so maybe there is something deep inside of me that is, as they would have said in the "Lord of the Rings", 'Took-ish". Whatever the case may be, I don't often travel, but generally whenever I did, be that with family or for events, the route invariably took me past Des Moines, Iowa on the interstate highway system. 

Since the time of Trans Iowa v8, I had an idea. This idea was to take Trans Iowa and make a course for it around the metro area of Des Moines. A circumnavigation. A 'ring' around the city, if you will. My quest since that time was in pursuit of creating this ring. Not a Ring of Power, like Sauron had made, but a Ring of Adventure. A course that would put not only the riders of Trans Iowa to the test, but myself as well. Just creating such a course, to my mind, was going to be a monumental feat. 

The annual CIRREM gravel event's course helped provide ideas for V13.
So, ever since 2012, I had been trying to figure out ways to accomplish this task of creating this ring around Des Moines. There were some very difficult obstacles to overcome in making a ring around Des Moines work. The course had to cross two major interstate routes, several U.S. highways, and various county roads. The course had to be less than 340 miles long, start and end in Grinnell, (already adding a bunch of miles right there!), and it had to be at least 90% gravel. How to manage all of that and keep the riders relatively safe was my task. I was not sure this would be something I could ever accomplish, but I kept working on it, silently, secretly, for five years, before I pulled the trigger and actually attempted it. 

Why even try this? A fair question. My motivation was from Gravel Worlds. Their early courses were circumnavigations of Lincoln, and due to the nature of their State Capitol building's architecture, one could almost always see a glimpse of the building from hilltops as you rode around the course. I thought that this idea was interesting. I also love Gravel Worlds and the people behind it, so I figured a circumnavigation of Des Moines during a Trans Iowa could be my tribute to Gravel Worlds.

Now, when I did travel, as I said, Des Moines was often on the route, so I always kept an eagle eye out for overpasses of I-35 and I-80 which I could use for this route idea. Several overpasses, which were gravel roads, were identified on those trips. Then I would research those out on the State DOT maps whenever I was back at home. These crossings would be a critical piece in making the ring around Des Moines possible. But just because I could find gravel road overpasses didn't mean that they were useful.

 If the road the overpass carried ended up at a "T" intersection with a county road, or went into a town and had no exit, that wasn't a good through route for Trans Iowa. Add in that these overpasses had to be as close to Des Moines as possible to cut down on mileage made the difficulty level rise again. Now think about resupply stops. These overpasses had to work into a route that made sense for resupply chances as well. So, as you can tell by the parameters, making this course work as a Trans Iowa course was going to be a monumental task. 

Next: Going The Long Way Around: Part 2

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