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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Events I’m Looking Forward to in 2012

I haven’t participated in many races or events since finishing the Tour Divide last summer, due to a combination of burn-out and brokeness. The next several months should be a most welcome return to the fold, as my calendar is quickly filling up! Here are some upcoming races that I’m looking forward to being a part of:

Ragnarok 105

Last year the Rok fell on my 26th birthday, and riding it made for one of the best birthdays I’ve had in the last several years. The race takes place on gravel roads surrounding Red Wing and the 105+ mile course contains a lot of climbing for southern Minnesota. In addition to a challenging course and beautiful scenery, last year’s edition even featured an impromptu support station dispensing artisan cheeses and San Pellegrino at the top of a particularly challenging climb! I’m excited to kick off the 2012 gravel season with this race, although I do plan on bashing its organizers on the internet if there aren’t any fancy snacks this year.

Trans Iowa

To say that I’m looking forward to this race isn’t totally accurate. Instead, I’m approaching it with a mix of awe and trepidation that seems appropriate for a three hundred mile race that claims one of the highest attrition rates of any race out there. I intend to post a lot more about my preparation for this race and my thoughts concerning it, but for now I’ll just say that I consider it to be the most intimidating ride that I’ve attempted and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Royal 162

This is the longer version of the Almanzo 100, aka THE gravel event of the year. It’s just two weeks after Trans Iowa, so I considered just signing up for the hundo this year. Maybe its a sign of gravel hubris, but when registration rolled around I felt compelled to go for the Royal again this year. After riding last year in some of the shittiest weather I’ve ever experienced, I’m looking forward to a (hopefully) more pleasant race this year. I’m also excited that this year the Almanzo weekend will include running events, and Alex will be coming down to Spring Valley with me to run her first 25K. The Almanzo is a big part of what makes being a cyclist in Minnesota so great, and It’s awesome to see the event growing and evolving again this year.

The Westside Dirty Benjamin

This year will be by first Dirty Benjamin, another gravel century that takes place in Carver and Winsted counties, just west of the Twin Cities metro. Obviously I’m a big proponent of this race based on its name, but other then that I don’t really know what to expect. In any event, the fact there’s a gravel event so close to Minneapolis is pretty sweet.

Chequamegon 100

This is an actual mountain bike event held in the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin. This should be a nice change of pace from the gravel scene, and hopefully a good incentive to start doing longer ‘real’ mountain bike rides in preparation for some of my future goals.

For now, that’s it. For anyone reading this who isn’t already familiar with these events, I want to point out that all of these races are grassroots organized and free to enter. As someone who has only been participating in these things for a few years, its easy for me to take that fact for granted and forget that free races aren’t nearly this common in most other parts of the country. I really appreciate the hard work that all of the organizers put into these races, and I consider myself incredibly lucky for the opportunity to be a part of them.