Sunday, May 29, 2022

Trans Iowa Stories: Lessons Learned - Part 2

(L-R) Riders Scott Sumpter, Nathan Griffee, and Corey Godfrey during T.I.v14 Image by J. Duke
 "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!  

Part of the reasoning for Tony to have us stop at that preserve where we were hanging out was to observe riders going by. The Coffman Wood Preserve was situated such that it was the only way on gravel you could go after the cues which he knew were going to provide a huge challenge to the riders of Trans Iowa v14. If someone missed a certain set of cues, he knew, and so did I, that if they did not pass the drive way we were standing on, that they did not get it right, and that we had an issue. Good thing Tony suggested this, as what he and I feared did come true.

Trans Iowa was a gravel event, true enough, but it was much more than just a gravel event. One of the challenges of the event was the time cut-offs. Another was the self-supported nature of the challenge. But one other challenge inherent to the overall Trans Iowa experience was navigation. This was done manually by cue sheets and, if you've never done cue sheet navigation, it is very mentally taxing. Especially when you are dealing with a fatigued body and mind running on little to no sleep after around 200 miles of riding on chunky gravel roads. 

I happened upon a delicious little twist set up happenstance by how roads were named and laid out in two adjacent counties. I knew it would provide a serious challenge to navigation, but my cues for this were unquestionably spot on, so if a rider actually paid attention to detail, they would sail through the sector with no issues. If they assumed what was happening, well...... That was what bit a lot of the riders and ended up changing the face of the event for three riders in particular. 

Detail of the area in T.I.v14 that caused navigational issues. Red arrows define correct route.

I wouldn't normally go into fine detail on such a thing as a route and cues for it, but in this case, it bears looking at because this detail derailed a lot of riders and caused many to miss Checkpoint #2's cut-off time. Also, this is what tripped up a few riders and got them disqualified from the event, which I will get around to later.

The riders were traveling Northbound on Keokuk-Washington Road, which is pretty much the county line road. Now adjacent counties often do not use similar naming conventions, and situations like this where roads cross borders don't often happen, but in this case, there were two 120th Streets in close proximity to each other both stemming off of Keokuk-Washinton Road.  One was a right choice, the other was not. 

The cues said: "BR (means "Bear Right") On Keokuk-Washington Road". Then the next cue was "L (for Left turn) On 120th Street

What tripped up many riders was that "BR" isn't usually critical. Just - you know - follow the road. it bends to the right. No big deal. Many riders would instead skip over cues like that, focusing on only the directional turns "L" or "R". So, the next turn after they got on Keokuk- Washington Road was a "L" at 120th Street. They skipped over the critical "BR" on Keokuk-Washington Road. Because of this, many riders made the mistake of turning onto the first 120th street they saw, (despite it not matching up with mileage, which was given to the nearest tenth of a mile on the cues), and fell afoul of that navigational difficulty. Many riders caught it right away. They backtracked and found the correct way. Many riders got it on the first try. Three riders forged onward, not backtracking the course, and ended up getting caught. 

(L-R) Greg Gleason, Stefano Tomasello, and Waletr Zitz got burned by the "120th Street Cue" issue in T.I.v14. Image by Celeste Mathias

The situation was that Luke Wilson had approximately an  hour, maybe a few minutes more, lead out on three chasers. They were Walter Zitz and Greg Gleason, co-winners of Trans Iowa v12, and Greg being the winner of Trans Iowa v10. With them was rookie to Trans Iowa, Stefano Tomasello. Behind those three was Matthew Kutilek, trailing that trio by about 45 minutes. 

As we stood in that driveway on that beautiful day, soaking it all in, we were also being vigilant to watch for riders. We observed Luke Wilson riding by. Then we waited. And we waited! Where were the three chasers? After what seemed like an eternity, Matthew Kutilek went by driving a steady cadence. Tony was the first to call out that the three chasers must have cut the course at the 120th cue.

What he meant was that by missing the second, and correct 120th Street, riders could cut off a 'lolipop' of the course by going directly West and not to the North, then West, and then South. It was this Southern road on the course where we were standing, and it was the only way, due to the way the South English river disrupted the normal 'grid' of gravel roads, to get by and find the next, correct part of the course. 

We assumed at that time that by going directly West that eventually that trio of Gleason, Zitz, and Tomasello found a correct road on the cues, decided that they were back on course, and proceeded on toward Checkpoint #2. 

On our way to Checkpoint #2, Matthew Kutilek (the dot ahead in the distance) was the only rider we passed.

We had a situation. Tony and Mike were hoping to get to the checkpoint, tell the three riders that we knew they went off-course, and ask them to rectify that mistake or be disqualified. However; they were too late.  One of the checkpoint volunteers, Dave Roll, texted me and said that Luke Wilson had been through and that three chasers were also through at 8 minutes behind Wilson!  Wilson had an hour-plus some lead before. There was no way that the chasers had put that much time into Wilson, unless the trio had short-cut the course.

Now that the three chasers had gone through CP#2, there was no going back to rectify their mistake, and we were going to have to disqualify the trio for short-cutting the course. Why Gleason, Zitz, and Tomasello were the only ones that decided to do this out of the entire field was something I never did find out, and it doesn't matter anymore. They made a decision. There were consequences for that decision. 

While Tony and Mike had gone directly to Checkpoint #2, Matt and I drove the actual course. By doing this we hoped to verify that the three had, in fact, not done the correct course, but Dave's text basically made that point moot. 

Now we had a difficult job to do.....

Next: Lessons Learned - Part 3


KC said...

This is exactly why I love cue navigated events & hope they're making a comeback. Call it an equalizer for all the head-down-wait-for-beep fast riders.
Of course it requires promoters to actually enforce the off course rules, which it turn out is a rare thing.

Guitar Ted said...

@KC - I agree with you, but riders tend to hate cue sheets after having done most events off gpx data files. Race Directors don't like them either because they are harder to produce and more costly on their end.

I would also suggest that cue sheet navigation is an equalizer in terms of barriers to participation. With cues, you don't need a fancy GPS device, and a simple analog computer will do nicely, which can cost ten times less than a GPS device. This was also another reason I stuck with cue sheets all those years.

CrossTrail said...

Cue sheet navigation through unknown backcountry was a major reason I was drawn to gravel events in 2013. What a great way to explore and discover new countryside through the guidance of a local showcasing their best roads, terrain, culture, and history. Years of riding gravel without digital navigation ultimately led me to navigate the entire Great Divide Mountain Bike Route solely by cue sheets and hard copy maps. I frequently stopped to check bearings, and learned so much along the way. I think it's the best way to travel.

MG said...

Those were some tough conversations…

Guitar Ted said...

@MG - Yes, they were. Necessary but I was wishing i didn't have to have them at the time. Such a bummer....