RAAM 2017 photos

I need more time. More hours in each day and more days in each week just to slow things down a little. People often ask me how I manage to do all that I do as a cyclist and a parent of four, and the truth is that it’s often a little much. Sitting down to organize RAAM photos hasn’t been and isn’t going to be a priority any time soon, but I wanted to share what I could. There are plenty of cool photos of me on a bike during RAAM, but few of those are shared below. The more interesting side of any race to me are the people involved in it, and those are the photos and stories I want to share. So here are some of the photos and stories from RAAM 2017, in no particular order or priority.  The rest of the stories you’ll have to get out of me on a bike ride sometime.

This 3T stem was given to me by Tom Navratil, Men’s rookie of the year. Tom passed me in Ohio, and asked me why he was passing me after I had been ahead of him for the entire race so far. I explained the troubles with my neck and that I’d been riding sitting upright since Kansas, and he said he had something that would help. His crew handed the stem off to mine, and Tom himself even stopped to talk to my crew. English is not his native language, but sleep deprived and over 2000 miles into RAAM he took the time to talk with my crew about relieving some of the strain on my neck. This is the spirit of ultra cycling. We are all family, and even though it’s a race, we all try to help one another out as best we can. Someday I’ll pass this stem on to another athlete in need.

Cassie Schumacher came out to ride with me twice for a few minutes in Ohio. Once in the pouring rain even. She brought snacks for my crew, and a gluten free pizza for me. It was so humbling to have people like Cassie show up just to lift my spirits. It’s pretty obvious from my position on the bike that I was in a great deal of discomfort, yet somehow I’m smiling thanks to Cassie.

My glowstick family, Amy and David Croll from Urbandale, IA. David and his daughter showed up on the course after midnight near St. Louis with a bag of glowsticks and money for food for my crew. I asked David what brought them out there at such a late hour, and he said he ‘wanted to show his daughter what a strong woman looked like’.  I’m sure I looked anything but strong at that point as I was in a good bit of pain and struggling to hold my head up. Having the courage to be in that race in the first place, and remaining in that race and enduring all that it threw at me wasn’t exactly the display of strength I was going for, but they reminded me that it was strength all the same. Quite a lesson from a simple shopping bag full of glow sticks.

My crew tried a few times that night to get the glow stick necklace off me. I’m sure they were worried about the weight on my neck. I refused to let them have it, and replied that glowsticks are “aero as f**k”. They did eventually get them off me, and I never saw them again. Amy and David graciously brought me a new set at my welcome home party after RAAM.

My custom RAAM kit designed by Kim Hopkins from Velorosa. It was a bit anxiety provoking trying a new bib short so close to RAAM, but these ended up being real winners. I made it 3000 miles without any saddle sores. When they proved their worth in training, Kim and Lisa got me four more pair in a hurry plus helped me find similar non-custom black bibs to take on RAAM. It was quite moving to see photos of friends and people I had never met wearing a replica jersey that they had purchased to help fund the expense of RAAM. Thanks to Velorosa, the GoFundMe account that Connie set up on my behalf, the fundraiser at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee, and all of the people that mailed checks to my home address, more than half of my crew expenses were covered. RAAM is not an inexpensive race, and their generosity was much appreciated.

Stretch Wilson and Jenn Borst showed up on the side of the highway in Missouri. Both are good friends, and Stretch had a weird alien mask on when I first saw them and I didn’t even recognize him until he took it off! The sleep deprivation was real; a 6’6″ tattooed alien, and I didn’t guess that it was Stretch. They made the 5+ hour drive just to see me for a minute, then drove back to Iowa.

Gina and Bob Fourney caught up with me in Kansas. Bob escorted me into one of the Kansas time stations, and they followed me across much of Kansas. How can you top the experience of having a child decide on her own to follow your race? They were simply a delight to have along, and a pleasant diversion from the increasingly obvious fact that the race was otherwise not going as I had hoped. Gina hopes to be an endurance rider someday, and I’ll be honored to say I knew her back when.

The traffic on RAAM is a constant source of stress, especially for the day shift crew. The race passes through several high population centers and there are areas of heavy traffic that you have to be prepared to ride through. I have been hit by a car before, and have serious residual stress regarding traffic. Brian Arnold and Erik Newsholme were the primary drivers on dayshift, and they did an excellent job of alerting traffic to my presence, while Steve or Jill talked to me over the cardo about what was coming. From my perspective, how they managed that aspect of the race could not have been done any better.

Adam Ashwill and his family staff Time Station 30 in Fort Scott, Kansas. Adam follows many of the RAAM athletes on Facebook, and I enjoy following him back. It’s been fun to watch him grow as a cyclist and take a Strava KOM this year. I asked Adam to ride with me for a bit, and he rode the 7 miles from his house to the Missouri border.

 

 

 

And what do you do when your sponsor sends a youth medium shirt for you instead of an adult medium? You put it on Steve Fuller and take pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And thanks to RAAM media for capturing this gem:

 

100% of my training and race nutrition expenses for the entirety of the my 2017 season has been covered by Carbo Pro. The support and generosity has been truly overwhelming. Fully supporting an ultra cyclist is not an inexpensive endeavor considering I ordered what would normally be a year’s worth of product for one race. I used to despair of ever finding a nutrition sponsor, as I’d previously only been able to tolerate flavored products for roughly 6 months at a time. And once I’d raced gravel with anything flavored, I could usually never do so again. Gravel has a way of permanently influencing flavors for the worst. Carbo Pro has no flavor, so I’ve never been traumatized by it. Mix it with electrolytes, and I’m good to go for days. I’d been racing with it successfully for over a year when Connie contacted Carbo Pro on my behalf after RAW, and they’ve been taking care of my nutrition needs ever since.

Matt Taylor, a friend from REV cycling, met me in Ohio and escorted me on his bike into one of the time stations. Matt and I had made arrangements for him to accept shipments if I ran out of nutrition. I ended up not needing anything, but it was nice to have a plan in case I ran out. There is another picture that I can’t find where I’m hugging Matt, and it looks like I’m trying to take a catnap on his shoulder. I probably was.

 

The cheese finger. I’m not sure why I’m waving it, but it’s in lieu of a real finger and that’s the media crew in front of me recording this nonsense. The blue shirt I’m wearing is Connie’s Quad Cities marathon shirt. She let me borrow it when my base layer got rained on. It became like an emotional security blanket to me; a constant hug from Connie. When it got rained on in West Virginia again and they had to take it off me, it was like a kick in the teeth. I was so sad.

I mostly consumed liquid nutrition on the front end of the race. As the days went on, more food was added in to supplement the calories. Daren offered me a banana on the night shift, and he offered to serve it to me in at least four different ways. I lost patience with the multiple options,  saying “For f**ks sake Daren, just give me a f***ing banana”. Daren, without missing a beat replied, “Well you’re in luck. I happen to have both regular and f****ing bananas.” This isn’t THE banana, but any banana offered after the initial offense was a source of amusement. And however it came out the window was how I took it, without complaint.

This young man and his family were standing by the side of the road in hot, humid Kansas with popsicles. I’m so thankful that my crew captured the ‘You bet I’ll take a popsicle!’ moment. It was just amazing and so humbling to see how many people followed this race online, then either sent me a message, or positioned themselves along the route to be there to offer encouragement when I went by.

Erik Newsholme, self appointed road kill shoveler, popsicle man, and dayshift driver of the ancillary support van. I developed a taste for popsicles during my pre-race stay in Borrego, and Erik went out and bought a special cooler just for popsicles. He also shoveled all of the road kill out of my way across the entire country, so if you were ever behind me, your path was clear because of Erik. Later in the race I struggled with balance related to my neck issues. Quite often someone had to catch me when I stopped, because I couldn’t get off without falling over. This is Erik after a catch. I’m holding my head up with my fist, and you can appreciate the edema in my legs trying to bust through the compression socks.

This is my favorite picture of Alex. Everyone loves Alex. He’s easygoing, can fix anything, and can catch a rider before they hit the dirt. One of my sleep stops got interrupted, resulting in me falling asleep on the bike a few times before we got things worked out. Alex saw me starting to lose it, and was out of the car and had me in his arms before I hit the ground. I woke up in his arms looking up at his face. Falling asleep on the bike is never a good thing, but that ended up being one of my favorite moments of RAAM. It’s amazing the lengths my crew went to in caring for me.

I used to give my husband a hard time about his ability to fall asleep literally anywhere during his sleep deprived medical training days. Now I get it. 2 hours or less of sleep a day ensures that you can fall asleep anywhere, and sometimes without control. I fell asleep standing up waiting on a train in heavy traffic in Indiana. Jill and Steve were working on my neck, so I locked my knees and had a nap on Steve’s shoulder. They did eventually wake me and put me in the car, the train was that long!

 

Jill, Janice Sheufelt, and me at the awards banquet after the finish. I followed Janice’s ultra cycling career as I contemplated taking on longer races, and she is one of the women that inspired me. Janice stepped in as a RAAM official this year after the rider she was crewing for DNF’d. She poked her head into my van when I was stopped to offer encouragement during the big storm in West Virginia. I remember laying there like the dead listening to her tell me she believed I was strong enough to finish. I believed it too, but I really did not want to go ride in that storm anymore. I did anyway.

My crew chief, Brian Arnold. I’m almost certain when Brian agreed to be my crew chief that he did not expect to get felt up by his athlete on the side of the road while wearing a ladies disco top, but such is RAAM. Brian is very professional and not often seen running around in costume. In the haze of sleep deprivation, I couldn’t believe this was him so I grabbed a handful of pectoral muscle and gave it a good squeeze just to confirm.

The majority of my past crew members had been guys, so I did not anticipate my reluctance to communicate with Brian and the other men on the crew about things as they began to go wrong. I’d never done a race where so much went so seriously and scarily wrong at once. Everything is “fine” when you’re riding with guys that are stronger than you, even when it’s clearly not fine. I trivialized all of my major issues, beginning in Colorado with the pulmonary infection and the edema, and continuing through Kansas and the onset of Shermer’s neck. Brian was left to connect the dots and make decisions as best he could. I know he was frustrated with me on a few occasions, and I with him, and the responsibility for that was all mine. There are times to suck it up and be tough, and there are times when you need to say ‘I can’t ride the next 50 miles without stopping, or my head is going to flop on my chest like a rag doll and we’ll never get it back’… In hindsight, I wish I’d had the courage to do that. It would’ve been better for everyone.

The storm in West Virginia. It had rained for hours the day before in Ohio, and the crew didn’t tell me I was about to ride into the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy. I guess they figured I’d find out soon enough, and after several hours and a tornado, I think it was Daren that finally mentioned it. “You are telling me this nightmare has a name, and you didn’t think to share that with me earlier?” Like any good midwesterner, I enjoy complaining about the weather vigorously and often. It’s a nice distraction from the things that truly concern me, as it’s never wise to dwell on anything of importance during a race. I figure they cheated me out of several hours of quality complaining by not telling me about this in advance. Quite possibly someone had told me, and it was lost in the haze of sleep deprivation.

My Katherine. Everyone should have a friend like Katherine. Katherine managed the media side of the event for Kyle’s Bikes, and she and her husband Eric drove down to see me as I passed through Jefferson City, MO. There is a picture of me riding later on in Missouri while zapping my neck with a tens unit. I promise you that was not a pleasant situation to be in, but there is a big smile on my face because Katherine and Eric surprised me again there.

 

 

My coach Greg turned up first in Kansas, and later on in Maryland. Greg and I have been friends for years, and he’s been my coach since 2015. He told me he’d be out there somewhere, so I was expecting to see him. I was still in denial about how bad things were getting when he saw me in Kansas. By Maryland, there was no more denial. Greg once said he didn’t know anyone else that could tolerate pain quite like me. I think friendships like his are part of the reason why I can. There is confidence in knowing that people care about you, and believe in your strength. My body can utterly betray me, the weather can punish me, and the time constraints of racing are real. But the courage to continue making forward progress in whatever fashion that I can while I still can comes from somewhere. I’ve found a lot of strength in the relationships I have with my family and friends.

The crew does what needs doing, and sometimes things come up that aren’t the most appealing of tasks. Among many other odd tasks, Laurel ended up drying my rain soaked shoes under a hand dryer in West Virginia. I had two pair, both soaked. I was optimistically hoping for a dry day the next day, but the shoes ended up just getting rained on again. Laurel is also a trained massage therapist, and worked on my neck whenever she could. She also taught others on the crew what to do since the times that I was stopped didn’t always coincide with her shift. The goal was to keep my neck functional to the finish, and we did.

Alex swapping Ice Friction chains on my bike with Daren looking half asleep in the background. I’ve been using Ice Friction chains on my bike since 2016. The specially coated chains are designed to improve drivetrain efficiency and speed, with a side benefit of cutting down on maintenance and work for my crew. Rather than cleaning and lubing chains, they simply swapped them out on a schedule. This coating is far better than conventional lube, especially on gravel. I do most of my training on gravel roads. Gravel dust eats drive trains, and using these chains has prolonged the life of my entire drivetrain. I love it. It’s a noticeable disappointment when I have to ride a bike without an ice chain.

Rob White and his girlfriend Leanne made the long drive from northern Wisconsin to Missouri so Rob could ride with me for a few minutes. It was on the worst stretch of roadkill littered highway I’d ever had the displeasure of riding on, and Erik was frantically shoveling loads of dead, liquified armadillos out of our path. Rob can always make me laugh, and it didn’t take much more than “I love Missouri. This road was my favorite part of RAAM” to have me laughing so hard it hurt. Rob and I have been friends since my first 24 hours of Sebring in 2014, and I crewed for him for the first half of RAAM in 2015. The best advice he gave me was to make sure that I had thought about all of the possible DNF scenarios, and to be prepared to ride through anything. If there was any excuse in my mind, any reason to quit that I was ok with, I might take it. It was great advice, and a great way to focus my mental preparation for RAAM.

NEWBS! The only guy I know that would stand on the side of the road dressed as Burger King in the middle of hot, humid, Colorado when he was supposed to be in Kansas is Scott Newbury. I met Newbs (it rhymes with Bewbs) at a triathlon in 2008, and I haven’t had a Newbs free week since. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and helped organize the fundraiser and welcome home parties for me at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee in addition to surprising me in Colorado. It was over 90 degrees and humid when he put that costume on, and I’m thankful he didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion before I got there.

In the final miles, a group of cyclists out on their training ride came to ride with me. One of the members had been tracking the race, and knew that I would be passing through. They had to slow way down to stay near me. What a kindness that was. They obviously were giving up any semblance of a workout just to lift my spirits. I was pretty pathetically slow at that point; just when I had thought it couldn’t get any worse, I crashed during the night with about 70 miles to go, and my right side was messed up. It was surreal watching them surround me and flow up the hills without effort. The sleep deprivation and exhaustion added a dreamlike quality to the entire experience.

Eddie Rayford has been photographing me at 24 hours of Sebring every year for the last four years. He always photographs RAAM as well, and had told me that he would see me in Maryland. And when he saw me there it would mean that he was still alive, and that I was almost done with RAAM. Eddie got a big sweaty hug.

Kathy, coming to tend to me after a nose bleed on the way into Durango. Kathy was my daytime off the bike ‘mommy’, and for the last two years has spent the week prior to RAW and RAAM with me in Borrego while I acclimated to the heat. This year, the pre-RAAMcation was not so smooth. We ended up bailing on two separate condos due to bugs and a smoking air conditioner. She ended up on the pull out couch of a friends condo… RAAM started a little early for her.

 

Erik had arranged with Revolution Cycles to help me with a seat issue when I rolled through their Missouri time station, and when I stopped there was an enthusiastic group of girls with signs. I remember being amazed at their enthusiasm, and thinking that surely no one had told them that I was riding super slow and totally sucking. But then I realized they probably didn’t care, and wouldn’t have cared had they known. They’ll remember being there, and they’ll remember witnessing a woman competing in the world’s toughest bicycle race. I didn’t have many women athletes in my world as a child. I’m honored to have been there for them. It also ended up being a pretty slick and efficient stop. Revolution Cycles stays open 24 hours a day during RAAM, and they fixed up my seat and I was on my way in just a minute.

I was hard pressed to find a picture of me and Kate that didn’t look like I was trying to take a nap on her when she met me at the Mississippi River crossing. This one with what I think was supposed to be a smile is the best of the bunch. Kate Geisen is another friend from gravel riding, and I was so surprised and grateful to see her there as we celebrated getting over the Mississippi well within the time cutoff.

I wish I had more pictures of the night shift guys, but I just haven’t located many yet. Being on the night shift in direct follow, these guys had a lot of uninterrupted air time to fill, especially Daren. He was the master of sports psychology, positive talk and distraction. One time we saw what was likely a drug addicted man walking straight at my bike and the follow car. The rest of the night was filled with a discussion of zombies, halloween music, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The first thing that popped up when I opened Safari on my phone after the race was the search for zombie apocalypse music. I still haven’t cleared that page from my phone.

This is Connie and Joe with relatives of Joe’s that met me in costume at a time station at some wee hour of the night in Indiana. Connie is not a tall woman, and this pint sized, blue wig wearing bundle of energy that came up to Connie’s shoulder would’ve needed a step ladder to look me in the eye. She and her pink wig wearing husband were a delight! They are just one example of the many people that followed me on RAAM because of my family and crew members. 

RAAM media captured this photo somewhere in Arizona. I had been approaching 50 mph on a descent when my bike suddenly went into speed wobbles. It was terrifying. This photo was taken after I stopped. The guys tended to swapping out my wheel and tightening the headset, while Jill took care of me. In every photo I have of Jill, she is taking care of me, physically or emotionally. Ever practical and always caring, Jill never missed an opportunity to get sunscreen on me, cram food down my gullet, and offer a word of encouragement before sending me on my way again.

This is my favorite photo of Connie and Joe. Joe and I had raced together at Trans Iowa and the Alexander. After I registered for RAW in late 2015, they contacted me and asked if I needed crew. Joe offered to let me use his minivan as my main follow vehicle. Their generosity has been simply amazing. Connie took care of most of the lodging logistics for RAAM and RAW. Using their vehicle for both races saved me a lot of time, hassle, and money. Joe served as my co-crew chief for both RAW and RAAM. I can’t imagine that I would have been as well organized as I was, or as well prepared for the problems that ensued on RAAM had it not been for their help. Joe and Connie had crewed for other athletes at RAAM before, but had not made it to Annapolis until this year. I am proud to have gotten them there, and so grateful to them for their help and support.

Penny Barker and me, at the finish line. Penny took Kathy and I in when we needed a place to stay in Borrego before RAAM, and we traded text messages via our crew during the race. Penny knew that she would likely struggle with Shermer’s neck at some point during RAAM, and it unfortunately ended her race prior to Annapolis. As soon as she was able, she was out on the course offering encouragement and humor at some of my hardest moments. I knew as hard as that race became for me, Penny would have given anything to have been out there still racing. I so appreciate her support and friendship, and her courage continues to inspire me.


I’m not quite recovered from RAAM, but I am at least back to racing short distances on a fat bike. My hands and neck continue to be a problem, and I’m better off for now sticking with the fat bike. I asked Kyle if he had a set of wheels that I could borrow to make my tank of a fat bike more appealing to race on, and as is typical of Kyle, he just gave me his much nicer fat bike to use for as long as I need it. More than a sponsor, Kyle is a good friend. The photo does not lie, the fat bike is good fun!

I have so many more photos and stories, and maybe someday I’ll find a way to share them all. For now, life goes on…

 

 

 

 

 

RAAM 2017

4 nights after RAAM ended, I woke up for the first time thinking that I was still on RAAM. I truly believed when I awoke that I was still racing and needed to get to my bike. Hearing my husband asking me if I was OK set me straight. The night before that, I had awakened and navigated myself into my closet instead of the bathroom. Sleep deprivation is a crazy thing.

During the day though, I appear to be making rapid strides in physical recovery. I have significant bruising on my right side from my crash late in the race and my hands are completely numb, but I am beginning to feel more like myself. I have a bit of residual death rattle in my lungs, but as I’m not training currently, it’s not problematic. Hopefully that will resolve before I decide to run or ride my bike. Death rattle appears to be only a minor annoyance while sedentary. I’ve seen a hand specialist for my hands, and they’ve done what they can do for now. Time will take care of the rest.

Being tended by Kathy Fuller after rolling into Durango with a bloody nose

I’m not sure how to adequately tell the story of this race, and thank all of the involved parties. A blow by blow account seems like it would be quite boring, so I’ll offer you a brief summary here, with a few images. A more detailed account regarding the amazing people involved in my race will come out when I have more images to share, and time to do so. And of course there will be the Religion of Sports documentary next year. They caught some seriously funny stuff, numerous very painful moments, and hours of monotony. I believe they will turn it into something you’ll want to watch. I teased them quite a bit about their seemingly excessive sleep relative to mine, and regular meals. They were good sports about my grumpy envy, and cheered me on the whole way. I’m a very shy and private person, but the camera crew melded into the experience of my race. They captured me as I was, from elite athlete to rolling shit show. I think it will be a RAAM documentary like nothing else done to date.

Stretching. Photo by Jill Marks

I have had numerous falls from horses, several bicycle crashes, one head injury resulting in a dent in my forehead, and a few cases of whiplash. While I’ve never had trouble with my neck, I knew that I was at risk for Shermer’s neck during RAAM. It was still quite a shock to find it setting in by Colorado, not even halfway into the race. That in essence became the story of my RAAM past Colorado, and yet I refused to say the actual term Shermer’s neck to my crew. How do you ride from Colorado to Maryland with over 10 extra pounds of edema, a lung infection, and neck and shoulder muscles that are failing you? Slowly, painfully, and as upright as you can get. I had decided prior to the race that I would do whatever it took to finish and win, and ride through whatever the race dealt me. I won’t have the luxury of a second RAAM to try again for a finish. It was one of the most painful and yet amazing experiences of my life, filled with incredible scenery and fantastic people. I told Fred Boethling upon finishing that if you offered me perfect weather and a shot at the course record, or the struggle I had just endured, I would choose the struggle. It was an experience like none other. It was the ugliest win I’ve ever had, at the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Cuchara pass, Colorado. My favorite part of Colorado, and the beginning of the end for my neck.

People have asked me long before I had actual sponsors how to get them, and I still don’t have a great answer. Win every race you enter for three years, ask for nothing, and don’t be a pompous entitled jerk appears to be the method that worked well for me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa Cycling, Carbo Pro, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports Massage, Klite, Beaverdale Bicycles, and Ice Friction Technology. 3100 well fueled miles without a saddle sore or a major mechanical issue is something to be celebrated, and is due to their efforts both before and during the race. Any shortcomings during this race were my own, my equipment and nutrition support were worthy of a pro athlete. Unfortunately for them, I have the heart and mind of champion, and the lungs and 45 year old body of something far inferior. I thank them for their continued support, and look forward to sharing in greater detail their contributions to my race.

Obviously none of this would have been accomplished without the efforts of my 10 crew:  Brian Arnold, Connie and Joe Mann, Kathy and Steve Fuller, Daren Munroe, Laurel Darren-Simmons, Alex Hernandez, Erik Newsholme, and Jill Marks. Part of what makes this race so difficult is the relentless nature of the task, and the time limits imposed upon me. I had really no concept of time once I was off the bike and my Garmin was no longer in front of me, so it was their job to keep me safely on the bike as long as possible, and get me back on the bike in a timely fashion no matter the weather or my physical state. Seeing the photos and videos of my physical decline late in the race, I know that had to be hard for them to do. I am at most times pretty frank and blunt in my communication style and my expectations for their performance, and I can only say that that got probably both more entertaining and more abrasive for them as the race rolled on. So many stories to tell, I’m not sure I’ll get to them all! They gave up over 2 weeks of their life, their vacation time, and time with their families to do this, and all they received was a hat, a few shirts, and time on the stage in Annapolis. I hope the experience was all that they hoped for.

More later! Thanks for reading, and for following my journey.

Trans Iowa V13

I had all but given up on blogging since Race Across the West last year, but I’ve ended the blog hiatus to do at least one post on Trans Iowa V13. It’s hard not to want to talk about your experiences at a race like Trans Iowa. It’s unique, it’s brutal, and in any given year you never can say if or when you’ll finish. Now I’m 2 and 2; 2 finishes, and 2 DNF’s. Both finishes were on an even numbered year, so I’m holding out hope for a TIV14.

The weather is usually the main story for Trans Iowa, and this year it did not disappoint. Highs in the 40’s, lows in the 30’s, rain for most of the event, and winds gusting over 30mph. Even though I frequently train in poor conditions, I don’t usually choose to go out in weather like that. I get caught in it, or have to endure it for hours at a time during a race, but a continuous 330 mile gravel race in these conditions was a bit of a stretch for me. I have always struggled with hypothermia during endurance races. My husband calls it my kryptonite. It can be 70 degrees and I’ll end up hypothermic, and that’s no exaggeration. As lean as I am right now for RAAM, I was in the worst possible position for dealing with this type of weather. I invested in some better gear last fall, but still had never managed to last longer than 50 miles without needing to get out of the rain and warm up for at least a few minutes. A race like Trans Iowa with uncertain opportunities for shelter was going to be quite a challenge for me.

Part of my RAAM crew. Steve Fuller, and Joe and Connie Mann

I talked with Joe Mann and Joe Stiller about gear prior to the race. Joe Mann talked me out of shoes and into boots, and that proved to be a wise decision. Joe Stiller over night mailed me a set of his possum fur socks, which is just classic Joe. The opportunity to smell like dead possum with a side of Joe Stiller sock funk sounds like something I also need to bring to RAAM (Both Joe Man and Joe Stiller are on my RAAM crew). I also talked with my coach Greg Grandgeorge about using bar mitts. I couldn’t see my hands surviving that long in the rain without bar mitts, so I asked Greg what kind of aero penalty they would cause. Trans Iowa is a race where you can weight or aero weenie your way into a DNF, but I still like to know what I’m dealing with. He sent me some numbers and a formula, which basically translated to 20 minutes. I’d be roughly 20 minutes slower for warm hands. Sold.

To start, I ended up wearing a 200 weight wool shirt with Louis Garneau detachable bibs under a Goretex rain coat and Specialized Therminal tights. The Louis Garneau bibs I discovered through my sponsorship with Velorosa. The bibs are plain jane black, and I didn’t get to wear my sweet new Velorosa RAAM kit, but the detachable front meant that I could keep my jacket on and my top covered anytime I needed to go to the bathroom. That ended up being crucial in delaying the onset of hypothermia. The tights I’ve worn all winter in all sorts of cold and wet situations. They are water resistant, not water proof, but take a while to get really wet. It’s like wool, you end up warm and wet instead of cold and wet. I wore them with the Specialized Defroster boots, which are currently the best boot I’ve ever owned. The tops are more flexible than the 45North boots I previously used, and I can wear them for hundreds of miles at a time without pain. The tights fit over the top of the boots and keep the rain from running down into them. The bottoms of the boots are water proof, so I didn’t end up with a boot full of water until I thoroughly dunked them on a B road. With wool socks and foot warmers, my feet were warm and wet and not a problem until very late in the race.

On my hands, I started with a set of gas station throw away gloves that used to belong to Mark Skarpohl. One of the benefits of being a race director is that you get to keep anyone’s cast off gloves, and he handed me those last fall just prior to the Spotted Horse 200. I’ve been wearing them all winter, so I thought I’d take them along for luck. After it started raining, I switched to neoprene divers gloves. Between those and the bar mitts, my hands were never cold for long. The problem with the bar mitts though is that your hands are pretty much locked into one position on the hoods if you want them to be warm. That ended up causing some pain by the end of the ride. For my head, I had on a thermal skull cap, buff for both my head and neck, and a helmet cover after it started raining. I wear the helmet cover on my head like a shower cap under my helmet. It keeps my hair dry, and the water from running off the helmet and into my face and neck.

In my seat pack I packed a 260 weight wool shirt, waterproof rain pants, two extra pairs of socks, and a dry set of gas station gloves that I ended up not needing. I went light on repair gear, and only had one tube, two CO2, and minimal tools. I figured with it being cold and rainy, a big mechanical was going to be a DNF due to hypothermia even if I got it fixed. And I decided to trust the tires that have served me well for thousands of miles, the Clement MSO tubeless 36s. A new set is pretty damn durable, and I rarely puncture before a set has been on my bike for 1000 or more miles. In my frame bag, I had a third water bottle (only 2 on the frame), 1200 calories of Carbo Pro, and chocolate. I had spare hand and foot warmers, and one of the large body warmer packs. In my top tube bag I had my charger and cable for the Garmin, the only device I needed to charge. Also caffeine tablets and a few Tylenol in case my back went to shit. It sometimes does on long gravel rides, but has been less of a problem since I switched to the vibration dampening Specialized CG-R seatpost. For lights, I had a Blackburn battery headlamp zip tied to my helmet, and a k-Lite dyno hub light. My bags are custom BikeBagDude lite skin bags with one large and easily managed zipper pocket on the side. I prefer these bags to any other that I’ve tried. When the zipper gets muddy and my hands get sore and dysfunctional, I can still open and close the pocket.

I rode the same 10 speed Specialized Crux that I rode last year, only all of the components were new. I wore everything out last year, and replaced everything but the shifters. I have been using and abusing the Ice Friction chains and coated drivetrains on my road bikes, and this was my first gravel event relying on it. This stuff is simply amazing, and is far better than conventional lube, especially for gravel. The big deal about it is that it reduces friction in the drivetrain, saving watts over time and improving speed. I’m sure it does that for me, but what I appreciate about it on gravel is that it simply works. Usually on wet gravel, the chain begins to skip around and the entire system quits working eventually. Not once in the nightmarish road conditions did I ever worry about my drivetrain working, have to clean my drivetrain, or utter a single prayer to the lord to spare my drivetrain. It’s amazing stuff.

I weighed the entire bike and helmet and boots, and it weighed in at 37 lbs. That’s just a few pounds heavier that what I’d been rolling around with all winter, so at least it didn’t feel like I was rolling out on a larger tank than usual. I felt pretty confident in the set up, as I’d literally put in thousands of miles on it all over the winter training for RAAM. Packing for TI was less of an ordeal than it had been in previous years. It was just a few minutes of taking out a few things, and putting in some others.

Katherine Roccasecca was my support person again this year. We always have a good time together, and she’s good at the social media stuff that I’m supposed to do now that I have sponsors, but suck at. We went to the Meat Up at the Grinnell Steak House for the fourth year in a row (Katherine’s third year). After getting the first set of cue sheets at the rider meeting, Katherine mapped out the route to CP1 to let me know that the first town was going to be Baxter. That was one of the towns we passed through on TIV12, but it was at night.

Race morning was cold, damp, humid, and windy. I have struggled with an asthma exacerbation for the two weeks prior to Trans Iowa. I worked out a few times with a pulse ox, and I was desaturating into the upper 80’s in zone 3. That’s not good. I really haven’t had anything quite that bad in two years. I went to the doctor and got a new prescription for a rescue inhaler since the only ones I had were long expired, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately I got the worst. Shortly after the neutral roll out ended and the front of the pack started racing, I started to struggle. I thought I was going to die, actually. I got spit out of the front of the pack pretty much right away, and by mile 7 I was moving backwards through the field. I really couldn’t breathe at all. I was reluctant to dig out my inhaler in the dark with so many people around because I feared that I would drop it and not be able to recover it. The first B road provided some relief, and an opportunity to walk and catch my breath. I finally did dig out the inhaler when the sun rose and I had some room to maneuver and dig in my bag without worrying about being dodgy on the road next to another cyclist. By that point, I had been passed by both Janna Vavra and Leah Gruhn and was in third place. Being on the chase is not a position I find myself in very often at an endurance race, and I wasn’t terribly happy about it.

I got a rock stuck in my front derailleur on the first B road, which bumped the cage off kilter causing the chain to rub on it the rest of the day. After I got the rock out, I started passing people and moving forward through the field. It was pretty cool to talk with folks and visit a bit as I started moving forward again. I rolled into the first checkpoint with Dave Roll, and we caught up to Corey Godfry there. The crew at the checkpoint were all friends of mine, but I had no smiles, and when they asked me how I was doing all I said was ‘not good. I can’t breathe’. Most of the race I felt like I was breathing through a plastic bag.

I rolled out with Dave and Corey, but Corey soon dropped us. I think Dave had a pretty good idea how badly I was struggling, as at one point he told me to come over and get on his wheel. We rode together for a while, and then suddenly Dave dropped off and I was alone. Not long after that, I had another episode of acute scary wheezing. I’m really glad I had gone to the doctor and gotten a new inhaler. There really isn’t much to do when things suck that bad except give up, or try to find a pace that didn’t make things worse and hope for the best. I’m not big on giving up, so I settled in to my day of suck. My power output to the first two checkpoints was 20 watts less than I expected, and my heart rate was all over the place. I haven’t struggled that much at the beginning of a race since I can’t remember when.

We had been told at the race meeting that the ride would feature several local bike trails, and I recognized several of the roads on the cue sheets leading up to the High Trestle Trail. I knew there was a C store in both Madrid and Woodward, and as it was starting to rain as I approached Madrid I opted to stop there. The bathroom was pretty muddy, so I told the store clerk that Trans Iowa was coming through, and apologized for the mud. He laughed and said he’d seen a few of us crazies already and it was fine. I love Iowa.

I swapped out my light gloves for the neoprene gloves and put on my helmet cover. I chugged a coke and mixed new bottles, and was out of there in a flash. The nice thing about settling into a sucky lower zone pace so early in the race was that my caloric requirements dropped quite a bit. The 1200 calories of Carbo Pro that I had was going to get me a lot farther than I had anticipated. Since it was cold and I wasn’t going to be drinking much, I mixed everything super concentrated.

The next set of cues I recognized as heading towards the Raccoon River Valley Trail on a route that I frequently train on. It passes not far from where I live. I knew there were C stores just off route in Adel, and I made a quick stop there. I didn’t really need to, but knowing at some point there could be another 100 mile stretch without another opportunity to stop, I grabbed a coke and some more chocolate. It was raining pretty hard by then, and it was nice to get out of it for a minute. The clerk said another rider had just gone through 10 minutes before me, and I wondered it it was Luke. I knew he wouldn’t have passed up that C store, and with it being off route, people in the front of the pack might not have gone for it being so soon after the last one.

The next two sheets of cues were all roads I recognized, and included some roads from my own race course, the Spotted Horse 200. The route south on Hogback Bridge road and into Winterset on 8th street was a direction change that I have been riding frequently and was planning on adding to this years race. My race last year headed north past the Hogback Bridge, which is the easy way. Heading south, you get the harder climbing.

Pulling into Winterset, I got stopped by a traffic light and the wind was gusting so hard I had a hard time standing up. I pulled into the C store just off route, and Luke’s bike was there. For those that don’t know Luke, he is my training buddy, and he and Steve Fuller are the closest thing I’ve ever had to brothers. I was super excited to know that he was there, although I knew if I was catching him in the sad shape I was in, he was likely in sad shape as well. Luke had a severe stomach virus during the week before the race, had lost 8 lbs, and still wasn’t 100% by race day. I didn’t see him in the store, but I could hear the hand dryer running endlessly in the men’s bathroom so I figured he was in there drying his stuff. I camped out by the door in the ladies room and pulled my boots off to change into my dry socks. An older guy came out, and I asked him to please go back in and tell Luke I was there. The funny thing about Iowa is that most people really are pretty nice, and even though this guy clearly thought I was bonkers for being out riding my bike in the rain and needing a message sent into the men’s room, he just looked at me with a bemused expression and gave Luke the message.

The weather was really affecting me by then, my lungs weren’t good, and I don’t think I was terribly right in the head anymore. I think Jess Rundlett had the best description of the weather, “wintery monsoon”. If it had been just a bit colder, that rain would’ve been snow.

I forgot half my stuff when I went into the store, and I had to go back out to my bike in the cold three times before I finally had my act together. I didn’t feel like going back into the ladies room again to change into my dry shirt, so I ended up stripping right in middle of the store. Normally I’m excessively modest, but something happens to me when I’m racing and I just don’t have the energy to care about modesty anymore. Like that time on RAW when we were stopped at a construction zone waiting on a pilot car, and I wouldn’t get in the van to deal with my saddle irritation issues… I asked the construction worker if he minded if I stuck my hand in my pants in front of him. It makes me blush now, but of course he didn’t mind, and I’m sure no one in Winterset cared about the half naked woman in their store. Maybe someone took a picture and it lives somewhere on the internet.

I enlisted the help of another store patron who was hanging out having coffee and watching the shit show rolling in as other riders began arriving. I handed him things to open as I was struggling with my wet hands, and he happily obliged. Luke and I rolled out after what felt like forever, and we were joined soon after by a few other cyclists.

We hit the descent on Holliwell bridge road right after Winterset, and I warned another rider about it. Mark had warned us about some of the fast descents on the course, and this is one of them. It’s currently on my race course, and it was one I’d also warned riders about. It has a sharp, steep ramp that launches you over 40mph in a hurry and it keeps curving beyond what you’d expect for Iowa. It’s usually littered with loose gravel, so you are cornering fast and sharp with your bike bouncing underneath you. Gravel racing is not for the faint of heart.

Checkpoint 2. Photo by Steve Fuller

After this, things get fuzzy in my memory. I had already begun the slow decline into hypothermia, and my brain wasn’t good for much beyond reading cues and riding a bike. I remember a B road that was literally a swamp. I pushed my bike through a swamp in the middle of a wintery monsoon. The experience just boggles my mind. People who don’t understand Trans Iowa think that a race this tough must have been good training for RAAM. If I didn’t already have my mental and physical shit together for RAAM, I wouldn’t have been prepared for this Trans Iowa. It was that hard.

Sam Auen and me at the Cumming Tap. Photo by Sam

Checkpoint 2 was at the Great Western trailhead in Cumming, next to the Cumming Tap. I knew Steve Fuller was the Checkpoint 2 volunteer, and I had worried about him being stuck out in the middle of nowhere all day in the rotten weather at a checkpoint, and here he was hanging out in Cumming just a short drive from home! Given the nightmarish weather we had been riding in all day, it was simply amazing to walk into a familiar establishment and find friends hanging out there. It was a hero’s welcome to anyone that made it that far on such a horrible day, and it was a huge boost to my spirits. Mark has always been so vehemently against outside support of any kind during Trans Iowa, including emotional support, and had even frowned upon the social media stuff that sometimes happens during the race. So it was kind of surreal to find myself in a bar with Sam Auen getting a hug during Trans Iowa, but it sure was cool.

My Garmin froze up in Cumming. Luke said he would navigate for us, so rather than waste time trying to reset my Garmin while getting rained on, we rolled on. He said he wasn’t leaving me and I trust him with my life, so it wasn’t a decision I struggled with. I don’t think he realized he was dooming himself with his decision to take over my navigation, and I didn’t realize how much that Garmin and clock keep me tethered to reality and the passage of time. My lungs were still in a pretty bad state, and maybe I should have thought a little farther ahead about what might happen to me, but at the time I thought I was going to be able to tough it out to the finish.

Maybe it was the epic weather and hypothermia, but time and events became surreal. We headed south to Indianola on a route that used several roads from the 24 hours of Cumming course. There were very long and steep hills, some of which had rivers of water and thick mud on them. It was torturous. My glasses were so muddy they were useless, and I took them off. I ended up descending most of each hill with only one eye open, which probably was the most useful RAAM training exercise of that entire day. The B roads were so slow and difficult at night, and I lost body heat each time I had to get off and push my bike.

At some point we became a group of 6 riders. I can’t remember when any of these people showed up, which is unusual for me. Luke had to remind me who they were after the race, because I couldn’t remember any of their names. Usually I have vivid and sharp memories from my races. This one was a blur of struggle and pain with a little bit of fun. Our group was Scott from Oregon, Dan from Canada, Mark on the single speed, and Josh who used to live in Iowa and race for Sakari, but now lives in Colorado. Of the 6 of us, Mark was the only one who went on to become an official finisher.

We all ended up in Indianola at the Casey’s. I asked for a garbage bag, and one of the clerks got us each a few of the really big bags to put on our bodies under our coats. Luke even had one stuffed in his pants, which I found quite amusing. We made such a mess of mud in that store, but the staff were so kind and encouraging. It was simply amazing how nice they were to us, despite the mess and the oddity of our journey. Those garbage bags and their generosity were what enabled me to keep going. I was out of spare dry clothes, and the bags helped keep what heat I had left inside my coat. I put on the extra rain pants that I had brought along. Normally I hate wearing them because they are like a sauna suit at any other time, but they kept the heat in and the wind out.

It was tough getting going again, but I warmed up pretty decently. Once we left Indianola, I was no longer in familiar territory. Knowing where you are and when your next stop is going to happen is so crucial to successful training and self supported racing, especially in bad weather. The cue sheets for Trans Iowa are just a set of street names and turns. You are given no other information. Not what city you are in, not when your next opportunity to refuel will be, not where the B roads are… Just turn here, then here, for 330 miles. Mark used to give out more info, but people used it to cheat. So now we get basic directions, which oddly enough makes the race more difficult, and therefore better.

I don’t know what mile it was, but at some point after Indianola we reached a very long B road. It was a T intersection, so we trudged through the mud for a mile, and got to the end only to find a left turn and another mile of mud. I lost all of my remaining body heat walking that road. I fell into a thigh deep hole full of water, and filled my boots with ice water. I’m 5’10”, so thigh deep is quite a hole. That hole would have nearly eaten some of the other women racing. Cold water seeped under the bottom edge of my coat and reached my base layer. And that’s really where the end happened for me, although I didn’t stop until a few hours later. One of the guys pulled the bike off me while I crawled out of the hole. I’m really glad I wasn’t alone on that road.

I don’t know if it was that road, or a B road after it, but Luke actually came back down the road and carried my bike the rest of the way. Once you slow down and people start waiting on you, everyone gets cold and then you are all doomed. This is where not knowing how far we were from the next stop really made decision making difficult. I could see city lights, but it seemed like we were now riding away from the city, not towards it. It could’ve been another 50 miles before we got to a city for all we knew. We knew there was a 24 hour Walmart on the route, but not exactly where it was. The plan when we left Indianola was to get to that Walmart and buy a dry shirt and socks. Not knowing when that was going to be possible was a huge concern. It wasn’t safe to continue unless I could get dry.

My friend and RAAM crew member Laurel called me after the race, and she said something about how hard the decision to end the race must have been for me, and there must have been some serious thought that went into that, and how was I feeling… Um, no, there wasn’t a lot of thought, emotion, or inner turmoil. I was going to collapse and die from hypothermia if I continued, as well as endanger the safety of the people I was with, so I took shelter in a garage outside of Knoxville. Once we stopped in the driveway, it was over. I started shaking uncontrollably, and then soon after I stopped shaking or feeling anything at all, which is when you know things are quite bad. Josh stopped with Luke and me too, as he had been struggling longer than I had and was also quite hypothermic. I remember Luke telling me to lay on a dog bed in the garage, and he said after that I complained about it being dirty. I have no memory of that at all, and how odd that I would even think to complain about dirt on a dog bed when I was covered in mud. Luke had gone up to the house to wake the people that lived there so they wouldn’t hear what was going on in their garage and come out and shoot us. At first they weren’t too happy about being woken up and were suspicious of our intentions, but the wife convinced the husband to let us in the house. I think a dysfunctional, mud covered woman huddled on their dog’s bed in the garage may have helped convince them we weren’t criminals. She made us coffee, and he got us warm towels and blankets.

I called Katherine, and Luke texted Mark to let him know the three of us weren’t going to make the finish. We had a nice visit with the couple whose house we invaded, and discovered we were only about 6 miles outside of town. We only had about 80 miles to go to the finish, which seemed totally doable until it suddenly wasn’t. Looking back at the timeline of events, it took 8 hours to go less than 60 miles from the Cumming Tap. That’s just crazy slow. What crazy weather, and what a crazy experience. I lasted a full 24 hours outside in a wintery monsoon with rain, high winds, and temps in the 30s, pushed and carried my bike down impassable roads, and ended my race curled in the fetal position on a dog bed in a garage in Knoxville. You gotta love a race that pushes you to that kind of ending.

I’m pretty much ok now. My arms took a beating from being stuck in the bar mitts and carrying my bike, and I’m tired, but that’s about all of the damage. The lung stuff should resolve once the weather dries up. The rain and cold seem to make it worse. I feel bad that Luke was collateral damage in this situation, and that we had to wake up a couple of really nice people and disturb them early on a Sunday morning because of our foolishness. Luke and I will send them a thank you card and a gift, and I suppose at some point I’ll quit feeling like a big jerk and move on.

I didn’t put a lot of thought into whether or not I would do Trans Iowa this year. After last year, I thought I’d be done with it. I won, and had a decent race despite some mistakes. I had RAAM to train for this year, and Trans Iowa is dangerous. There is a high risk for injury if you mess up. But then Luke asked if I was sending in a post card again, and I said yes. My coach likes to remind me periodically that a life not lived is no way to live, and too much living is no way to die. I’m a 45 year old amateur athlete. This is my life, I’m driven to live it, and sometimes I ride the line. People always ask me why. I don’t know why. Why are some people so tame, content to get through their workday and have a drink and watch TV, have a socially acceptable number of children, ride the bike trail always, and take their vacations relaxing on a beach? Why?

If there is a Trans Iowa V14, I’ll send in a post card.

I’d like to thank the sponsors who have supported my training and racing these past few years. Kyle’s Bikes, Velorosa, Carbo Pro, Ice Friction Technology, k-Lite, BikeBagDude, Active Edge Orthopedic and Sports massage, Beaverdale Bicycles, Bar Yak. These are all relatively small businesses, and yet they do everything they can for me. In addition to assisting me with equipment, some of them even crew for me, which is simply amazing. I abuse the hell out of everything they give me, and I am so focused on training and racing that I don’t take the time thank them publicly often enough. So if you see me putting it in and on my body or on my bike, know that it works, and it comes from people that I trust with my body, my life, and my safety. I’m not paid to use any of it.

And to the cycling community of Des Moines, and the global ultra cycling community, thank you for getting behind me and supporting this crazy adventure that I am on. The jersey sales and the donations to cover my RAAM crew expenses have moved me to tears. My body might fail me at times, but my mind is strong and I won’t give up. Thank you for believing in me!

And to my friends who were so involved in this edition of Trans Iowa: Katherine, Luke, Steve, Connie, and the Joe’s. You guys are tops. Everyone should have friends like you.

The link to Katherine’s Flicker album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kariadne/albums/72157683206151016/with/34265384171/

Below are the photos of my bike and Luke’s bike post event. The devastation is amazing. I can’t believe we were still rolling. I cranked this post out in a hurry, and I’m on to other things. Sorry for the chaos.

the damage to my derailleur