Guitar Ted, event promoter of Trans-Iowa, checks in with the final report from this Ergon sponsored event. Be warned….you will laugh…you will cry.


Trans Iowa V5 “Beyond The Rocks, Dust, and Dirt”
By Guitar Ted

Trans Iowa V5, the fifth running of the ultra endurance cycling event run around on Iowa’s back roads, is over. The reports are coming in from the event’s participants, and in all I would have to say it was a grand success. The question that many outside the circle of “gravel culture” may have is, “Why?” Actually, that is a great question, and one that is still being answered.

“There are plenty of races out there anyone can finish, it is nice to have some out there like TI to keep posers like me in their place.” Jim McGuire, 5 time Trans Iowa participant.

Known to racers as “TI”, “The Trans-Iowa”, or as something that haunts their unconscious mind until they tame the beast, Trans Iowa has been something of a cult. It seems to be a passion that is hard to explain to others unless they have been bitten by the bug that infects the soul of any who dare to toe the line at the late spring event.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the running of T.I.V5 and perhaps you will see a hint of just what it is about this event that elicits such a passionate outflow of training effort, determination during the event, and praise of the event and fellow participants afterwards.

The technical hard data on this event barely scratches the surface of what takes place out there during a Trans Iowa, but it is important to realize what the challenge is that is faced by anyone that pulls up behind “The Dirty Blue Box” at 4am on Saturday morning. Trans Iowa V5 was a 314 mile long modified loop course run out of and back in to Williamsburg, Iowa. Along the way each rider had to navigate themselves using cue cards provided at the start and at each checkpoint for the following sector of the loop. No one knew where they were going until the evening before when they received the cues for the first 40 miles in to check point #1 at Washington, Iowa.

So, you show up for a 300 plus mile event, and you do not know the course, or exactly where you are going. It is discovered along the way. Faith or craziness?

The course must be completed within 34 hours and each checkpoint has time cutoffs. Riders often do not have time for anything other than a quick stop to refuel or exchange clothing layers. Checkpoints are at convenience stores, and convenience stores are on the route, but the riders must use their own judgment to resupply or not. No services are supplied by the race promoters.

The roads are mostly crushed limestone and are dotted with sections called “B-Maintenance” roads that are usually nothing more than a dirt slot graded into Iowa’s rich soil. Hills and flats intermix to create a mosaic of pain that many riders find not only a great challenge, but a surprising and intoxicating mix.

“ Bravo for creating, developing, and continually enhancing such a masterpiece that is the Trans-Iowa. I have been around cycling for 30 years and the Trans-Iowa is to my mind the most incredible citizen’s event in USA cycling.” Charlie Farrow, 6th place finisher of T.I.V5

This year saw 52 participants take the rolling controlled start at 4am Saturday, May 2nd under starlit skies. The opening salvos of the event were rather flat or gently rolling hills. Iowa has a reputation for being somewhat of a flat state, but that notion would soon be laid to rest not long after Checkpoint #1 had been passed.

At about mile 65, the riders turned north at a town named North English where the big, incessant rollers started in earnest. The grade is steep, and one hill follows another with no respite. The roads were also interspersed with several of the infamous “B Maintenance” sectors that give one a feeling of remoteness and a hint of what our predecessors had to deal with in their Conestoga wagons 175 years ago. Although mud was at a minimum, the rutted, uneven surface of some of the B roads was difficult enough to force riders to walk the climbs.

Added to any Trans Iowa event is the wild card of weather. Sometimes the weather is such a factor that it precludes the possibility of any finishers at all, (Trans Iowa V2), or severely limits the amount of finishers and truncates the planned course (Trans Iowa V4). This year the weather was a benign factor for the most part with the exception of a stiff afternoon breeze on Saturday that happened to coincide with the riders traveling the part of the loop that caused this wind to be at their faces. The resulting mix of headwind, bright sunlight, hills, loose gravel, and B Maintenance roads was too much for a great part of the field. Only 25 riders would leave Checkpoint #2 due to others missing the time cut off, or “DNF-ing” before reaching it. The weather had its say in Trans Iowa V5, albeit in a subtle way.

Leaving Checkpoint #2 after 151 miles of the course was not an easy decision for some. Over half the course remained, and now it was going on into the dark of night on massive hills, B roads, and more gravel than you can imagine. For a few, the night time was a nightmare.

“What kind of insanity drives one to repeat this back of the woodshed total body beating year after year? That is the question my shivering, pain racked body was screaming at my brain with every turn of the pedals on the long road back to Williamsburg in the wee hours of Sunday morning.” Jim McGuire

Some “pulled the plug”, some wretched and vomited, some pedaled in a zombie-like haze to the beat of some voodoo playing in their minds. Whatever demons the racers dealt with, we can not totally fathom. However; the results of the pain and misery were evident upon the faces of the competitors as I observed them coming in to Checkpoint #3. Dave Pramann looked like he had aged ten years in the space of 65 miles. Charlie Farrow, whose body shut down on him in-between Checkpoint #2 and #3 limped in and hit the convenience store for much needed fluids and calories. Tim Ek was drenched in sweat and moving gingerly. It was plain that “the pain cave” had been visited somewhere along the way.

Now moving on into the depths of early Sunday morning, the final 15 riders left in the event forged on in whatever way that they could, relying on each others company to continue on in what would otherwise be a futile attempt to finish the last leg of Trans Iowa V5.

“I honestly don’t know how many people could have finished this entire ride alone. I’m pretty sure there’s no way I could have” Ben Shockey, fixed gear rider. 11th overall

The final leg was done by the first three finishers in just under 25 hours. Which was an incredible feat considering the toughness of this particular course. Joe Meiser took the finish line first with Dave Pramann and Tim Ek having made a gentleman’s agreement on the road to tie for 2nd out of respect for their helping each other along the way, both physically by drafting and mentally by just being there.

“I’ll never forget when I was drifting backward after a pull down the line past you and you (Dave Pramann) looked over at me with a huge smile and we held hands for about five seconds without a word spoken, we were winning the Trans Iowa.” Tim Ek, finisher of T.I.V3 and T.I.V5

Trans Iowa is a bit unique in its own way when you think about how it breaks a person down. The obvious thing is the physical part. The brutality of 300 plus miles of Iowa back roads is not to be taken lightly. However; the mental and emotional part is even more shocking, really. Grown men crying as they sit on the ground at the finish line. Freely given and accepted hugs, handshakes, and words flow amongst competitors and promoters alike. Alliances made upon the road become life-long friendships. It is hard not to feel it well up inside of me even now as I type out this story. Trans Iowa is like that. It gets into you, it breaks you down in my opinion.

“I’m still a bit unglued mentally from it, actually… but in a good way.” Matt Gersib, 8th overall, T.I.V5

“When we crossed the finish line and the stories were being told for about 10 minutes, then suddenly, slowly the group started to clap for us. I did all I could to not start crying in front of all of you” Tim Ek

So, what is it that gets into you and why? How can it really be explained to those that have not taken on such a challenge? I am sure this bit of writing falls very short of the mark in regards to answering those questions. I just know that it even has gotten into me, as a promoter/organizer. I can’t tell you how many times I have sworn off ever doing another Trans Iowa event, but somehow the “itch” comes back, and I am not satisfied until I have scratched it. Not just a little bit either, but maybe until it is bleeding. I think that the 15 finishers of Trans Iowa V5 would agree, and that many of the folks that fell short of the challenge would not only agree, but say, “Hell yeah!” Let’s do this again!

I think maybe it is all summed up in this quote from Ben Shockey: “…thanks doesn’t seem to cut it but it’s all I’ve got right now. You allow us…encourage us to chase a dream no matter how crazy it may seem to others”

That is what motivates me and keeps myself and David Pals doing this year after year. It is why folks come back and do this event year after year, and why new folks come to throw down what they’ve got in the face of this huge challenge that we craft for them. It isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely a life changing experience that all of us involved with Trans Iowa can attest to.

Even though T.I.V5 has just been completed, a T.I.V6 is already in the works. Look for updates on this event at

Photos posted HERE.



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