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This weekend’s Trans Iowa Race will push bikers to the limit


Paul Jacobson knows what its like to push his body to its limit. The 39-year-old Gilbert resident has participated in a number of RAGBRAI events, a few marathons and other endurance races. Even with all those accomplishments, Jacobson longed for a new challenge and found it in the Trans Iowa Race, an annual event that tests the physical and mental endurance of its participants — a 314-mile bike ride, on gravel roads, in 33 hours.

“I first heard about the Trans Iowa Race when I was supporting a friend doing it,” Jacobson said. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it to think people would ride 24 to 30 hours straight on a gravel. I knew I just had to try it. I was unsuccessful during the second and third Trans Iowa Races, but did finish the fourth one. The other two races were such a huge disappointment that I was even more determined to finish.”

The weekend’s race, which is a loop route beginning and ending in Grinnell, is the sixth annual Trans Iowa that was created in 2004 and began in 2005 by Jeff Kerkove and Mark Stevenson. The idea of biking on gravel roads came to the pair, and the rest is history.

“The Trans Iowa Race really separates the men from the boys,” Stevenson said. “It’s an event that will push you physically and mentally — it breaks you done and then builds you up.”

Officials expect up to 75 participants — mostly males averaging about 30 years of age — to take stab conquering a race that hasn’t received much attention. Stevenson and David Pals, current co-directors, say the route is 90 percent gravel with 10 percent pavement through towns where participants can visit convenience stores for food and water. Riders are completely responsible for themselves and use cue cards that are given at each checkpoint to map where they must travel to next. Riders carry between 25 to 30 pounds of equipment with them, including, nutrients and repair kits.

“The mental aspect is a lot harder than many people think it’s going to be,” said Pals, who was unsuccessful at his two Trans Iowa Race attempts, but still volunteers each year. “After a while, it’s mind over matter.”

Stevenson says in the event’s history, riders have had to battle a number of challenges, but mostly bad weather.

“We received about 4 inches of rain prior to the second annual race,” he said. “That made it impossible for riders to pedal because the roads were absolutely destroyed. No one finished that year because of the weather.”

Stevenson said it’s not uncommon for participants to ride in snow, sleet, rain and strong winds. Some have even rode through ditches or walked along the edge of fields because the gravel roads were so bad.

“Besides dealing with all the unpredictable challenges, making checkpoints is the hardest part of the race,” Jacobson said. “Everyone can go the distance, but its meeting the requirements that really stressful.”

This year’s checkpoints are: Grinnell to Checkpoint 1 is 44 miles by 8 a.m.; Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2 is 87 miles by 5 p.m.; Checkpoint 2 to 3 is 75 miles by 1 a.m. (Sunday); and Checkpoint 3 to finish is 107 miles by 1 p.m. (Sunday).

Stevenson once heard a competitor say that, ‘Anyone can ride 100 miles, and 200 miles is all right. But the rest is mental and how much you want to hurt to finish?’

Still, Jacobson said anyone can finish the race if he or she is committed.

“If the conditions are right, it’s not an impossible feat,” he said. “The people who do it aren’t freaks of nature — they just put in the effort to have one of the most rewarding experiences of their life.” CV

 

Caption: Some participants during the Trans Iowa Race say riding at night is the hardest part of the event. Photo courtesy of David Story


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