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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
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A Better You - An Essay
At 3:59 a.m. on Saturday, April 25th I will be straddling my bike on the main street of Grinnell, Iowa waiting for a man who goes by the name of Guitar Ted to sound the horn of his vehicle. The sound of that horn will cause me to put pressure on one of my pedals, launching myself into perpetual motion for what could be the next 34 hours.
Getting ready to toe the line in 2013...
This will mark the sixth time that I have stood at the starting line of the Trans Iowa, or what is often simply referred to as the "T.I.". To me, Trans Iowa is much more than a bike a race or a very long ride, it has proven to me to be a test of my determination, my confidence, my constitution. Pedaling a bike for over 330 miles on gravel is far from easy. In fact, it takes riders to another dimension, a place where mind and body crisscross in a confusing display of reality and dreamlike states. Oddly enough I long for these transformations as much as I fear them.
One might think that having experience on his or her side in such an event would offer an edge, but I tend to lean toward the notion that "ignorance is bliss". That is to say, going into this event knowing what I know only gives the butterflies in my stomach more fuel to flutter, and flutter they do. I have bolted awake in the middle of the night on and off for several weeks now, with thoughts like, "Don't forget to bring an extra derailleur hanger!" or "What if I forget to bring money?" The T.I. is a completely self-supported ride. The only help comes from you or the rider by your side. Those riders by your side tend to play an instrumental role in you making it to the finish line. Over the years I have received compliments and congratulations from people regarding the completion of this event only to have me respond with "Thanks, but I couldn't have done it without insert assorted names here."
This year I hope for many things, but above all I hope that I am lucky enough to travel with a good group of riders willing to look out for one another as I will look out for them.
Band of brothers...2013...
There are so many things to consider when tackling a ride of this size. One of the main things is the training. How much is enough? How to structure the training and how many long rides should there be? Should they be ridden hard or easy, alone or with others? I've struggled with all of these questions, but mostly I've always felt that I have never trained enough. The fact remains that I'm not sure if all the training in the world can make that feeling that comes over you after 20 hours of non-stop riding? It's the dizzying feeling that comes when one contemplates the distance covered, the obstacles that have been overcome, and the body’s refusal to go on.
For me this moment has presented itself in a sudden blast of overwhelming exhaustion. A deep yawn while staring at the blinking tail light of the rider in front of you, followed by the notion that the legs are really tired, then finally the panic that races through the mind when the feeling of not being able to continue becomes all consuming. Somehow, maybe driven by fear…I don't know…but somehow you keep pedaling making a promise to yourself to be there for your new friends, the way they've been there for you. Surprisingly, the moment passes and you find new ways to motivate yourself, usually the second sunrise is a good one. With the brightening sky in the east come new life, new energy, and a new reason to keep going.
The demons live within us all and to willingly push ourselves into something that invites them to open doors most would keep locked forever is a peculiar thing. I've met my demons, I've embraced their company, and I've had them turn and exit through the door I unlocked. It's a good feeling to see them leave, but it's also a good feeling to understand what they've brought to the fold and what to do with it. It's during these confrontations that I've forgotten I was even on a bike despite the gravel rushing under my wheels. It is during these moments that we begin to truly understand who we are.
The Trans Iowa is a living thing to me, an entity all it's own. It is so much more than another bike ride. A chance to look through a window many will never know is there. Looking through this window helps you find something more valuable than you could ever imagine; a better you.
Edit: Mike Riemer