Gravel Road Bike Race, Iowa
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Gravel Road Bike Race, Iowa

October 28, 2019


Kramer: Welcome to Palisades-Kepler State Park, an eastern Iowa destination located between our state’s second largest city of Cedar Rapids and the town of Mount Vernon. Visitors can follow dramatic bluffs down to the banks of the Cedar River where spring rains can fill this valley. In just a few minutes we’ll tell you more about this sprawling 840 acre park. But first, we’ll explore an Iowa bike race you’ve likely never heard of, a challenge of mind and body and Iowa’s springtime elements. It’s a peddling trial on our state’s back roads with a die hard crew with each biker hoping to conquer 300 miles of gravel. The forecast for Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas the rest of today, blustery, rain. This is ridiculous. It’s 3:30 in the morning, I’m about to hop on my bike and I’m in Iowa. We’ve got kind of a fine mist blowing around and the wind is really strong out of the east. I’ve never really done this before. Alright, where I’m at right now it looks kind of foggy. We’re not really traditional bike racers. You know, we like to go out and do something that’s different. It’s 300 and some miles. It’s not so much a race as a war of attrition. Don’t get hurt. Hopefully you don’t get hypothermia. Try to finish. You get out there and people start lining up at the start line, you know, and you’ve got your people who are really excited. So at 4:00 we’re going to leave. We’re going to have two cars block Highway 6 up here as we cross. So that inspired you, um, and then, you know, you start waking up and you realize, like, this is neat. Be safe, ride right, you know, and hopefully you all have a good time. Thanks for coming to TransIowa. (music) TransIowa, a homegrown bike race you’ve likely never heard of. It’s out state’s only cycling feat of strength and endurance. Bikers descend before dawn for a 24 hour, or longer, race across gravel and level B dirt roads. We call them B maintenance roads, some people call them minimum maintenance roads. Basically they’re roads that were etched out into the dirt years and years ago and never had gravel laid on them. Everybody’s been walking in the grass. Iowa soil is very sticky and it clogs up everything that it touches. That was harder than riding. And so when the cyclist tries to cycle a B road that’s wet it just, within a few feet your bike weighs a third again as much as it did when you entered the B road because of all the mud stuck to it all of a sudden. I’m expecting to be soft in the beginning and then I’m expecting to be running in the ditch where it gets muddy. I’m from North Carolina and I notice a little bit less grass. In a way, this is the anti-RAGBRAI, not for the faint of heart or for those who need a pork chop every 20 minutes. The race begins and ends in Grinnell after bikers complete a 300 to 340 mile loop. I think there’s six guys up ahead. We’ve got a long ways to go still. For nearly ten years, TransIowa has captivated a hardcore group of cyclists. Did everyone go the wrong way or something? Computer’s not working. We’re at mile 13.39. Crap, I only have 13.34. Each venturing out on a self-supported and self-navigated event. We got lost for about four miles. (dog barking) So we are going the right way? Right there. I don’t think we were supposed to go south and they went — They took a B road we didn’t have to take, hiked about a mile, two miles on a B road. The whole time I’m thinking, man if we don’t have to do this, oh, that’s going to be a pain to hear but it is what it is. Jeff Frings: If you stop for any particular length of time other than just to grab some food and, you know, if you have a mechanical problem, if you stop any longer than that you’re not going to finish in the timeframe that they’ve kind of allotted for a “official” finish. Unique road race inspired Wisconsin filmmaker Jeff Frings to follow along on TransIowa for his award-winning documentary, 300 Miles of Gravel. (music) Frings: This is kind of a fly by the seat of your pants kind of a thing. My wife drove the car and I shot all the video and didn’t know what I was going to get and how it was going to go. But in the end the storyline that I liked personally is Corey Godfrey, nicknamed Cornbread, and he, I think it was about the 50 mile mark, just before the 50 mile mark because his drive train on his bike just blew up, the chain exploded. Corey Godfrey: 50 miles in probably. So there’s not much you can do, tried to make it in single speed several times but the chain was so torqued and bent it just jumped gears, it jumped into a harder year and then there’s so much tension on the chain that eventually the chain just exploded into like 10 different parts. Frings: And he made his way to the first checkpoint and obviously since he got a ride there he was disqualified from officially finishing the race. But he got a ride back to Grinnell, Iowa where the race started and finished and fixed his bike, turned it into a single speed and then literally rode from Grinnell out to where his friends were on the course, caught up with his friends even though he wasn’t officially in the race and caught up with his friends, rode the rest of the race and ended up finishing, unofficially, with his friends. He rode 300 and some miles even though he didn’t officially finish just to do it because that’s kind of the spirit of TransIowa is, what can I do? Can I finish this? Can I push myself beyond what I thought I could do? Frings says his documentary aims to not only introduce Iowans to the hardest bike race they’ve never heard of but answer a question viewers are likely to ask early and often. Frings: From people all the time when I tell them about the documentary, why would they do that? And I hear that from people, I heard that from people when I did the 24 hour race is, why? You ride your bike for 24 hours straight? Why? Whoa! Frings: Here’s where you think your limits are and here’s where they might really be and even if you go a little bit past where you think they are you’ve learned something about what you can do and, you know, the limits aren’t what you think they are so it kind of teaches you to always push beyond what you think you can do. Guitar Ted: People would look at you today and say, gee, I don’t know why we do this, this is crazy, you know. In the bike shop I worked at, I still do this, Europa Cycle and Ski, I was first paired up as a mechanic with a fellow by the name of Jeff Kirkoff and he was talking about how some of the earlier Europa cyclists had taken road bikes and gone across Iowa in a day on road bikes and he thought, well, what if we did that on mountain bikes, what would that look like? And I said, yeah, we could do it all on gravel roads and forget that pavement stuff. And he goes, let’s do it. So, I was like, what? And the next thing I know we

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