Sunday, December 19, 2021

Trans Iowa Stories: Checkpoint Madness

Dan Hughes bike at rest at CP#2 during T.I.v13
 "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!  

Probably one of the most unique things I ever did with Trans Iowa was to use the Cumming Tap's location along a converted rail-trail for cycling as a checkpoint for the event. This was maybe one of my most serendipitous moves as well, as things turned out in the end. So, I think a thorough examination of what purpose the checkpoint served and where it was both physically, and in terms of the route, is necessary for an understanding of why things turned out the way that they did. 

In the planning for the circumnavigation of Des Moines with the T.I.v13 route, Cumming, Iowa figured to be an important part in my plans. The city was right off gravel roads, had the aforementioned rail-trail connection, and most importantly to this story, was the location of the Cumming Tap. This bar's owner and proprietor was Bob Moural. He happened to be a cyclist and it just so happened that he was also a teammate of mine on the Renegade Gentleman's team I rode on. My thoughts were that if I could make the route work out all right, the Cumming Tap could be used as a resource. The bar had food, drink, and was open until well past the cut-off time to reach the checkpoint. It fell at a good place on the route for a checkpoint #2 location, and there was no other good option without having to add more mileage to the overall route. Plus, it not only was an easy to find place for drop outs, if they needed to bail out on Trans Iowa, but it would benefit Bob directly with business. Only one problem with it all- I couldn't tell him anything about this right away. 

Dan Hughes at CP#2.
Trans Iowa routes were, (and still are as far as it goes with me) a closely guarded secret. Not even my closest friends, my wife, or co-workers knew where the next Trans Iowa was going. Only Jeremy, Wally, and George were usually in on the secrets. I had a tough time not sharing things with Bob, but eventually I felt that it would be irresponsible of me to just have a swarm of sweaty bike riders infesting his business space unannounced. So, at the Renegade Gent's Race that year, which was about four weeks ahead of Trans Iowa, I took him aside and let him know that the second checkpoint was going to be at the kiosk at the trail head right behind his bar. He was pretty stoked by this news and promised to keep it under his hat.

The actual checkpoint was going to be held outside at the little trail head, as I stated, and not within the walls of the bar. I just felt that was the best way to do it because there may be people in the event for which going into a bar would be a bad thing, and I didn't want to force anything like that on someone with those issues. So, my two volunteers for this were Steve Fuller and Dan Buettner. Dan also had his teen-aged daughter there as well to help out. When we arrived, Matt and I, Dan and his daughter were the only ones there. 

It was rainy, but at this juncture the rain had nearly gone away and it was just really windy and cool. We all awaited Dan Hughes arrival and he came in finally at around 5:39pm and gingerly dismounted his bike and wandered into the bar for refreshments. MG and I eventually followed him in. The place was alive with the usual customers but a certain small number of folks were there to see the Trans Iowa madness. This- obviously- was due to information being leaked to certain folks, and I expected that to happen, but honestly, I thought it would be much worse than it was. 

This was totally out of character for me regarding Trans Iowa, but as I alluded to earlier, it ended up being probably one of the smartest things I ever decided to do, but not for reasons that would have been readily apparent to me when I made the plans. Conditions later devolved into a situation which became rather serious for anyone out of doors. The winds were very strong, probably in the 20mph-25mph range, with heavy rain, and with rapidly declining temperatures. In fact, may riders swear to this day that they saw snow. 

Will Ritchie (R) being told by Steve Fuller that he just missed the cut-offf time to CP#2. Image by Ari Andonopoulous.

 The Cumming Tap was approximately 192 miles into the event. After nearly a double century of riding, on gravel, most of it in the rain, the results were not going to be pretty. This would end up meaning that riders were very susceptible to hypothermia, or other issues connected to the cold, wet conditions. The Cumming Tap, therefore, ended up serving as an oasis from the storm, in a very literal sense, and as a platform for getting picked up, or taken back to Grinnell by willing customers and people connected to the event. Even the bar owner, Bob Moural, ended up ferrying some folks back to their motel rooms. 

The pool table was turned into a makeshift gear staging area for cold, wet riders seeking to continue on in T.I.v13 from the Cumming Tap. (Image by Ari Andonopoulous)

From about 8:00pm onward until bar closing time, the Cumming Tap was in various states of chotic activity. Riders were either waiting on rides or were desperately trying to dry out gear and refuel for the remainder of the route, which was about another 140 miles. The checkpoint officially closed at 11:00pm, but business related to Trans Iowa continued on well past that.

Bob Moural told me later that he was really pleased by the experiences and was very happy that I had chosen the Cumming Tap to be on the route for v13. I was also very happy that he was so willing to accommodate cold, wet, and very exhausted riders with free pizza and a warm place to stay until they were rescued or driven to their rooms. Like I said- it was very serendipitous and very unplanned. But what happened at the Cumming Tap that night exemplified goodness, a willingness to help people, and showed me what the good side of humanity is capable of when it matters. I will not soon forget the kindnesses shown at the Cumming Tap that evening. 

Meanwhile Matt and I were on down the road battling our own cold, wet scenario. Chasing down, passing, and then wondering where on earth Dan Hughes was at. All the while the scene at the Cumming Tap was unfolding in a beautiful chaos of activity, we were enveloped in a wet world closed in by a darkness so deep it seemed impenetrable. 

Next: Waiting For A Light To Shine.

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