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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

13 annual Trans Iowa Bike Race to be held this weekend

This Saturday intrepid cyclists will depart from Grinnell at four in the morning for the thirteenth year of the more than 300-mile long, two-day bike race known as Trans Iowa. This race is no casual competition as fewer than one hundred cyclists are allowed to participate every year on a route that is kept secret until the start of the event. The loop is designed to be between 320 and 340 miles, approximately the distance it takes to cross Iowa from west to east.

As if the distance alone was not sufficiently challenging, most of the race takes place on gravel roads, which make for rougher riding than paved paths. Since 2010, Trans Iowa has started and finished in Grinnell. Participants have 34 hours to complete the event, which averages to a 10 mile-per-hour speed. Additionally, the course is self-navigated and one wrong turn can cost a cyclist the race.

Event organizer Mark Stephenson, better known by his nickname “Guitar Ted,” works at Europa Cycle and Ski in Cedar Falls, said on his blog that Trans Iowa started “on a cold grey November day in 2004,” when Stephenson and coworkers were discussing what it would be like to bike across Iowa in a day. Stephenson then wondered what it would be like to pull off the same feat on a mountain bike on gravel roads.

In an email to The S&B, Stephenson highlighted the challenge of riding on gravel that is unpredictable.

“Gravel is most like riding on loose, irregularly shaped marbles which can shift and pitch your bike around,” Stephenson wrote. “Riders typically try to search out the path of least resistance (literally) and love it when the loose gravel gets pulverized and leaves a smooth-ish surface of compressed limestone dust and dirt. They hate it when the maintainers have just been out and the road is ditch to ditch loose gravel three inches deep.”

Stephenson acquired his nickname growing up with a love of rock musician Ted Nugent and the attention this attracted in his small Midwestern hometown. “Well, anybody that had their head so far up into something back then in a small mid-western town was sure to stick out!” Stephenson wrote on his blog.

Stephenson noted on his blog Grinnell’s hospitality and the help from the Chamber of Commerce he has received are the reasons that he has kept the event in Grinnell. “Working with local businesses that were Chamber of Commerce members we were happy to score a lodging deal, and a local restaurant, The Grinnell Steakhouse, we had a perfect Pre-Race Meat-Up spot,” Stephenson wrote.

Ultimately, Stephenson said on his blog that a race as audacious as Trans Iowa is not for everybody. “There is a certain element of society that ‘gets’ it, while the vast majority have no conceptual foundation for understanding Trans Iowa,” Stephenson wrote. “So, I’ve accepted the fact that most folks cannot grasp the idea. Just like a trillion dollar budget is inconceivable, so is Trans Iowa.”

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