Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trans Iowa V10--A post years in the making

Some people assign a lot of meaning to certain events in their lives.  Bike rides aren't often viewed as something important, but a 336 mile, 34 hour bike ride might leave a bit of a lasting impact on your psyche.  Trans Iowa is one of those things you choose to do that sticks with you for a while.  You find yourself revisiting the event in your head every so often.  The time you spent training for it, the imminent looming pressure of it building as a deadline in your life... Will you be ready?  Will the gods conspire to derail your efforts?  Well, who really gives a damn.  You just get ready for it and when the day comes you lube up your taint, clip in to your pedals and hit the road.  All I know is I'm sure pleased as punch that I managed to pull it off.  The venerable race director Guitar Ted declared TIV10 as one of if not THE hardest TI any rider has ever managed to finish I feel damned proud to have been one of the few that crossed the line that morning in April.  If any poor soul training for Trans Iowa ever happens across this entry, I'd advise that you can train all you want but it really comes down to your head.  You're either ready for it or you're not.  Way more of a mental battle than physical.  I'm not a true athlete.  When I completed Trans Iowa I was a derelict college student, eating food out of dumpsters, smoking cigarettes, and drinking cheap booze more than I'd like to admit.  I skipped a lot of classes to go on rides.
 I just wanted it bad enough.  It's one of those things you can take with you.  A weird experience that you can only really share with the people that were alongside you while it occurred.  You try to tell people about and they just brush it off because it seems such an absurd thing to have done.  I think that's what attracted me to the event in the first place, it is regarded as so outlandish there must be something fundamentally strange about you to attempt it in the first place.  The funny thing is Trans Iowa really burned me out on that style of riding.  Some folks get addicted to it, but for me it was "one and done".  Ever since I have really cut out the idea of suffering and endless training, preferring to engage in more pleasurable pursuits.  Trans Iowa is not fun, at all.  It ruined my body for weeks after, and consumed me for the months approaching it.  I will always respect Trans Iowa for it's strict ethics though.  It is an uncompromising event, offering no concessions to participants.  Self sufficiency is the name of the game.  Try to make excuses, but it won't budge for you.  Success or failure, you are the only one who can be held accountable.  I have always respected tradition and things unwilling to bend to the demands of a larger audience.  Trans Iowa fulfills those ideals to be sure.  Looking back, I have funny feelings towards the experience.  I will always treasure the memory, but I have no desire to ever do anything similar to it again.  It was defining, but just another bike ride.  I held it in the highest of regards, an apex I would sacrifice to achieve.  In the end it taught me that I should just have fun riding bikes and doing what I love whenever I want.  It left me with the contradictory impression that I had done something amazing, but at the same time something completely pointless.  Same as there is no point to me writing about my experience.  I suppose this day in age it is difficult to find something that feels like a genuine, self supported, on the edge, threatening challenge.  Those of us who romanticize thee explorers of olde wish to capture a slice of that fun for ourselves, and maybe Trans Iowa approaches this.  But it really falls flat when you compare it to things like alpinism or other truly dangerous solo efforts conducted far from the safety of Casey's convenience stores and cell phone reception.  Events like this get recognition for being so difficult and committing, but really nothing serious is on the line.  I was never more than a phone call away from rescue should disaster strike.  Tradition is one thing, but commitment is another.  The greater the risk, the greater the reward.  By signing up for TI you risk wasting a year of training but really nothing else.  I guess I'm just saying don't blow it up too much.  It is an amazing event that has stayed true to it's roots over a decade thanks to the tenacity and steadfastness of ole' Geetar Ted.  But when it comes down to it, it's just a bike ride.  Have fun, don't beat yourself up.  Don't become some bitter old bastard obsessed with finishing the race, doomed to never achieve your goal. Enjoy the ride.  I encourage you to give it a shot yourself, so afterwards you can ponder why you even wanted to do it in the first place.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Study: San Francisco to Los Angeles

I planned this trip as a last minute alternative to an end of summer boundary waters excursion that fell through, leaving me with a week off needing filled. The itinerary was to fly into SF and hang with a friend there for the weekend. I would then zip down the coast over the next few days to meet my friend Jay who works at Topanga Creek Bikes and dig the riding around LA for the weekend before returning home. I managed to find some cheap airfare, bought a map, boxed up my bike and was pretty much ready to roll.

I flew in to San Francisco and met my pal who lives in Oakland. We hung out for a few days, eating pizza and going for a ride out in Shell Ridge and the Mt. Diablo area, fulfilling dreams planted in my head from hours spent ogling shots from the folks at Rivendell Bicycles. On the day I was to start heading down the coast I ran into another tourist named Stephen from Tucson, AZ. He had been on the road for two months at this point, on an odyssey that started in Tuscon and took him north through desolate territory through Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, the Rockies and high desert, across Oregon to Portland, and now back down the Pacific coast on his way home. It was a chance encounter that ended up being fortunate, as we would share the road for the rest of my trip. He was in total touring mode, caring little about anything except calories and a place to sleep. I think he was glad to meet me as well, because he said he hadn't ridden with another cyclist for more than a day during his entire trip. I could definitely sense the loneliness in the places he'd been and miles he'd spent by himself in his eagerness to ride with me. I let him know if he wanted to keep up with me he needed to be ready for long days. I had a schedule to keep and I needed to make it to LA in four or five days which meant averaging around 100 miles a day. On that first day I made it to a campground at New Brighton beach near Santa Cruz. I lost Stephen on the road earlier as I was pushing the pace, determined to make camp before sunset, and let him know where he could find me. Sure enough, in the middle of the night at the campsite he rolled up and let me know he'd be ready to ride the next day. I was surprised but happy to still have a companion. It obviously meant a lot to him to finally be traveling with another human.

The next day we took off into the dream scape of Big Sur. These were the best miles of the trip. As anyone who has been there would know, words do little to describe the beauty of this stretch of coastline. Forested mountains plunge into the sea hundreds of feet below the cliffs, where whales breach in the water and waterfalls splash onto the beaches. We camped at Kirk Creek that night, sharing a site with a hippie girl from Santa Cruz who was there reading messages from crystals under the full moon or something... In the morning we took off to enjoy the final section through Big Sur. Before leaving the campground a Mexican family stopped us and invited us to eat breakfast with them. They served us hot oatmeal with cocoa and almonds and filled our water bottles. We talked about bikes, cracked jokes, and they took a picture of us with their family before we thanked them for their kindness and set out. On the road that day we met a group of charity riders headed to LA as well. They were doing a fully supported style ride, all on fancy road bikes with no loads. They started to get a little irked as one by one, Stephen and I would pull up and draft them, then pass them and head off into the distance. I was coming off a year of disciplined training for a long distance cycling event, and Stephen had two months of fully loaded riding in his legs so it wasn't a surprise to us, but it must have looked weird to those roadies to see two dirty freaks on heavy steel bikes blowing past them, laughing all the way. In San Luis Obispo I started to get more of a sense of being in southern California. We were approached by two tweakers on beater bikes who invited us to their campsite outside of town... "Hey, you guys homeless? We’ve got snakes, TVs, and beer! You guys should come hang out!" Their offer sounded pretty good, but I was on a tight schedule. We stopped for food at a grocery store and I watched Stephen eat an entire package of precooked bratwurst cold and top it off with a tub of rice pudding. I was in awe. That night I think we camped at Oceano. The campground was full, so we waited until dark and just pulled our bikes into the eucalyptus trees near the beach and rolled out our bags for the night.

Day four was to be my last day of riding. We got going and started the day passing through the farmland around Orcutt and Lompoc. Ran into a desert rat on a beater bike with no racks, but carrying a military style backpack that must have weighed 60 or 70 pounds. He hung out with us at a gas station while we had coffee and donuts, telling us about how he was a veteran down on his luck and having a hard time getting any sort of benefits. He had been on the road a long time by the looks of it, and was headed to Arizona to work with his brother. I have no idea how he managed to ride so far carrying a pack that heavy, but it was all he had and he was getting it done. I gave him a portion the remaining food I had left as he only had a jar of peanut butter and some bread. This guy was in need of a little charity and seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture. Stephen and I pressed on into the blisteringly hot Santa Ynez valley, getting off the coast for a detour through Solvang and over the San Marcos pass to descend into Santa Barbara. As we were riding south on 246, we came across an accident resulting from a head on collision on the two lane highway. Traffic was closed off both ways on the road and helicopters were air lifting the victims of the crash off to hospitals. The emergency crew wouldn't let us pass even on the side of the road, so we had to do some trespassing through tangled brush and dusty farm fields to avoid a long back track. Fancy pastries and beer in Solvang at mid-day was a good rest stop. We started the climb up San Marcos pass at about mile 80. I was completely cooked by the time we reached the top, but the effortless seven miles back down to the coast and Santa Barbara made it well worth the work. We rode on to Carpenteria that night, finishing with something like 110 miles for the day. 

That morning I bid Stephen farewell as I boarded the Amtrak in Carpenteria to bypass the next leg of the trip into LA. I could have ridden, but I had more plans remaining than time, so I figured I’d make the most of my trip by skipping a less than enjoyable day of riding down the urban southern California coast. I got off in Van Nuys and met my girlfriend who had flown in a few days earlier and had been bumming around Topanga and the Santa Monica’s on a borrowed mountain bike since. We rode dirt roads to Topanga State Park and dropped in to the canyon to visit Topanga Creek Bikes and Jay. Jay is a friend from Illinois who recently moved to the area to work at the shop. They have an awesome set up there and were very gracious to us, letting us hang out for a couple days, go on their Saturday morning group ride and letting me use their tools to take apart my bike for shipping back home. We camped at the state park, had a real fancy meal at the crazy boutique bike gourmet establishment Pedalers Fork, and spent a shitty night in LAX before hopping on a plane back to Illinois to conclude the trip.

Photo: Sean Talkington

This short tour of the California coast was a great time and I’m grateful that I got to pack so much riding and relaxation time with friends into one trip. The southern portion of the route was not as scenic as the northern part but it was still fun and might be just what some people are looking for. With the majority of rides at home taking place on the empty gravel roads of the Midwest, the amount of people and car traffic in southern California was a bit off-putting in my search for bucolic bicycle touring bliss. As always, bikes prove their value as the best way to take in any area of the world by allowing you to see what you want to see at your own pace, fully appreciate the nature of the world’s dynamic landscapes, and by stimulating awesome interactions with strangers you'd miss out on otherwise.

As for Stephen, he went on to LA but ended up catching a train back to Tucson. The prospect of the lonely and utterly grueling ride across the desert was too much, but with 3,000 some miles under his belt on the trip already, I don't think anyone could fault him. We keep in touch on Facebook these days. He always seems to be planning more lonely trips through weird areas of America and this winter he rode from Tucson across Texas to Lake Charles, Louisiana. During his trip, I’d receive intermittent communications from him about encounters with Mexican transvestites and Border Patrol officers, frigid night time temperatures and whole days spent on the road without seeing a single town. It takes a certain type to get out there and do rides like that alone. I hope I get to join Stephen on another ride someday.

Friday, August 8, 2014


     Leave tomorrow for a trip from SF to LA by bike. This has been a pretty weird summer. Sometimes people you really trust just do things that seem unbelievable. So go clear your head and ride a bike and camp out, stare at the ocean and the horizon, soak up some sun. That's what I'm gonna do at least. Smell ya later!

"The more ups and downs, the more joy I feel.  The greater the fear, the greater the happiness I feel"
-Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jo Daviess Drifter Important Updates

Just got back from some final course reconning. A couple important updates:

First, parking. We will be parking at the parking lot in Apple River Canyon State Park just south of the river and on the east side of Canyon Park Road as pictured.

Second, route details. This is gonna be a long one, but there will be ample stops to refuel with the first at about 50 miles in Savanna and the next at about 100 miles in Galena. That said, there might not be water at the start so come with bottles full and enough supplies to get you through the first leg.

Third, equipment. Most of you should know what works for you. Make sure you bring tools and lights. It's gonna be hot so bring extra water storage. There will be some sections of the route that are totally off road, but that is the exception and most roads will be gravel or pavement.

Ride will be leaving AT 5:00 AM!!! I think that sums things up. Let us know if you have further questions. This route is big, but there will be a lot of cool features along the way. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


The Slender Fungus Cycling Association is pleased to officially announce the Jo Daviess Drifter 150!!!

This ride will take place on JUNE 29th 2014 and will consist of 150 miles of rugged road riding in the scenic and mysterious unglaciated glory of Northwestern Illinois.  Any sensible "all-arounder" style bicycle will do fine on this route, but wide tires and a wide gear range come recommended.  This location is dear to our hearts as a riding destination and we want to share the beauty of these ridges, valleys, rivers, and roads with you.  Yes, you!!!

The ride will start and finish at Apple River Canyon State Park to allow for parking as well as camping accommodations for those who might be traveling to attend this ride.  There will be a shorter route (60 to 70 miles) for individuals not wishing to ride the full 150.  Full routes and additional details will be provided as the date of the event approaches.  Keep your eyes peeled for updates on other blogs/social media, leave a comment if you would like more information, and please share this ride with your friends!!! 

  1. Ride starts at 5:00 AM from Apple River Canyon State Park
  2. Ride is self supported.  You are on your own if you are unable to finish the route.  That said, this NOT a race, and riders WILL NOT be dropped.
  3. Cue sheet and maps will be provided.
  4. Expect hot conditions and excessive elevation change.  Plan your hydration and nutrition accordingly.
  5. There will be opportunities on route to resupply on water and food.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Jo Daviess Drifter 150 and the long awaited Arrival of Spring

Well folks, we've made it.  Not that you would know it right now with the "wintry mix" coming out of the sky but spring is here.  I've got tan-lines on my hands from my crochet back gloves.  My clothes smell like camp fire.  My shirt has a salt crust on it.  Yes, these signs all seem to point to the end of winter and the arrival of spring.  I have been indulging in fun fair weather activities as much as possible over the past few weeks.  Last weekend held an excellent ride with Agatha and Jay followed by a weenie roast back at secret headquarters with Ari and his family.  It was a gorgeous day on the bike and we were all overjoyed to be showing some skin and cruising in the sunshine.  I was really glad to have Jay along for a ride out there.  He was putting on quite a display of strength riding his fixed gear Gunnar on the steep terrain of Jo Daviess, and didn't dismount for a single hill.  This weekend Agatha and I made it back out to the Driftless for a nice big ride scouting roads for the upcoming Jo Daviess Drifter 150.  Busy schedules have kept us from doing too much training together this year so far, and it was nice to spend a long day in the saddle together.  Saturday was hot, windy, dry and dusty--a mix of adjectives I haven't used in a long time.  In regards to the Drifter, I can guarantee this ride will traverse some memorable roads and show you some sights you might not have imagined Illinois held.  Hope there is a good turn out.

This road skirts the big river valley with impressive bluff views from north to south

Seem to keep finding these decrepit old bridges...  No cars allowed here.

We also joined some friends for a ride down to Shabbona on Friday.  They camped out down there for the night, but we had to make it back home so we could leave for Jo Daviess, so we headed back to DeKalb after a dinner of steak fajitas cooked in my cast iron skillet set right in the coals of our campfire.  When you're out for a S-24-O, don't ever skimp on dinner, release your inner campfire gourmet!

Barb City Bike Camping portraits.  Keep your eyes peeled for BCBC updates and maybe some patches ;-)

With all this fun it's easy to forget that Trans Iowa is lurking right around the corner.  I will keep up the training this week, and then rest the week before the event and make sure all logistics are in order.  At this point not much else can be done and we are mostly at the whim of mother nature.  The most recent course condition reports are encouraging but who knows what race day will hold? Pretty excited to get out there and see what happens.

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Important Training Tips, Recent Training Activities


Bicycling magazine has published this very helpful and informative guide on how to ride and race your bike on gravel.  I encourage all aspiring gravel riders to read and take this information to heart.  I have some changes to make to my training plans!  While you are at it, I also recommend this helpful training tool:


Next time you head out on a training ride, this can help take the guess work out of what clothing you should wear.  Thank me later!


Here is a dump of photos of spring training efforts so far.  Right now I am at about 700 miles for the month of March.  Looks like I will fall a bit short of the 1,000 mile goal, but I am not too discouraged as my riding has been of high quality and I have been running consistently as well.  Rides out in Franklin Grove, a trip down to the Ozarks for a week, a solo century, commuting, and other rides here and there make up the miles accumulated so far.  Training is going well, the weather at the end of April remains the unknown and unforeseeable variable.  Hope for the best, and keep at it until then.