Trans Iowa Musings: You Can’t Spell Enlightenment Without “Lighten”

mr show

I was supposed to go to Des Moines and race CIRREM this weekend, but a winter storm left most of Southern Minnesota with a bunch of snow and truly heinous driving conditions that kept me home. Instead I spent time riding in the snow, seeing friends at the Cutter’s Ball, and freaking out about how close it is to April. I’m really looking forward to going back to Grinnell for my third Trans Iowa, and while gearing up for a race that long always leaves me feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared, I feel like the past two years have taught me a lot. My thoughts about gear choices and strategies have changed significantly since 2012 – here is some of what I’ll be doing differently this spring:

1. Riding the right bike.

In 2012 I started Trans Iowa on a 29er with WTB Nanos that I had previously used with some success on the Tour Divide. I knew that TI wasn’t a mountain bike race, but I chose the larger bike due to a misplaced gut feeling that it would be ‘more comfortable.’ Dumb!! There’s nothing comfortable about lugging added, unnecessary weight up a hill and stressing about not making a checkpoint before its cutoff time. I certainly don’t blame the bike for my DNF that year, but it didn’t help matters either.  Last year I rode a humble, well used Cross Check with 35mm rubber and was way happier. This year I’ll be riding a Jamis Supernova Elite, a crabon cross bike (Thanks to The Hub Bike Co-Op!) with similarly sized tires. Whatever the fastest bike you have that you enjoy for ‘regular’ gravel century events is probably the right choice for your TI rig.

2. Packing less food.

In 2012 I started with a ton of calories, probably enough for 15 hours of riding. I maybe consumed a quarter of them before my DNF, but even if I had finished I would have been carrying too much. Last year I cut my starting food stash roughly in half, and relied on convenience stores for the bulk of my fuel for the back end of the event. I’ll be doing the same this year, probably starting with even less. I find that no matter what food choices I make at the beginning of the race, they inevitably seem completely unappealing midway through. The numerous C Stores along route are the best source of a wide variety of high calorie, palatable junk food that will get you through the night. Being able to choose snacks quickly and efficiently is actually a really valuable skill. If you start practicing now its a great excuse to eat Casey’s pizza and ice cream sandwiches every weekend!

3. Minimizing Extra Clothing.

I’ll hopefully get to spend all night riding, so no need for a down vest, long sleeved wool baselayer, or any of the other things that would definitely go in my kit for a more leisurely overnight ride. Last year it got COLD, down to about 36 degrees. It was moderately uncomfortable, but manageable. After the race I talked to a friend who took a nap in a ditch after pulling on all his extra clothing so as to be warm enough to do so. I feel like if you bring that much extra clothing as a contingency, you will make an excuse to stop and use it. Obviously everyone’s needs and preferences are different, but I’d say that if your TI kit involves a large Viscacha style seatbag or similar, you are probably schlepping too much crap.

Needless to say, my exact gear list is a work in progress that will be refined over the next two months. If anyone actually cares, I can certainly write up a more comprehensive summary of what I will be using, but rest assured that I will be second guessing my choices and making changes until sometime on the evening of April 25th!

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