Dear Mr. Farrow
I trust all is well in the Northland and that your preparations for this weekends Dirt Bag have come along well. Things are likewise excellent here in Rochester. We've had good turnouts for our Tuesday night social rides, Thursday night CX practice races and the indomitable Mr. Skogen's first micro cx race of the year. My health has been steadily improving over the past many weeks which is likely due in no small part to getting back to riding more gravel. Pleasantries aside I'm writing you today with regards to "The List". I understand that you generally only include performances which you have personally witnessed, but alas I am compelled to recount a performance witnessed this past weekend at the "Night Nonsense" with the hope that you will consider it for inclusion based on it's merit.
Young Tim Werts of Mankato traveled with the author to Iowa City Saturday AM. This was to be his baptism so far as gravel races go and he would be riding a borrowed bike and using borrowed lights. Upon arrival to Mr. Blakes domicile young Tim's nerves were apparent as he literally ran to and fro for 2+ hrs attempting to prepare his equipment and soul for the imminent destruction that was to be 90 miles of gravel and B road during a thunderstorm. It should be mentioned that Mr. Blake did everything he could to help young Tim to remain calm and to prepare. He opened his home, and all of his bike tools, to us in every way. I feel that we owe him a debt which will not be easily repaid. I personally spent most of this time sitting, with some of it spent offering minimal and sometimes questionable advice. When the race start neared young Tim seemed to reach a calm state and a different look came over his eyes. At the time I assumed this was a look of resignation or realization with regards to the difficulty of our shared undertaking. Perhaps it was simply determination.
At 8 pm the race began with a whimper. There was a long neutral pavement lead out. I tried to cull some of the favorites from the field during the lead out by feigning a complete lack of braking ability from my cantilevers (who knew they wouldn't work in a thunderstorm?). However, I was utterly unable to do anything but scare myself. Finally, we hit the true start of the race and I found myself up front. This was mostly out of fear as the group seemed crazed. It was almost pitch black with heavy rains as we flew through the northern suburbs of Iowa City. Ocassionally the road in front of us would be lit up by lightning which perversely was a welcome reprieve from the pounding darkness of the hour. During one of these strikes a hill formed before us and I knew that it represented an opportunity to spread out the field into something more managable. Thus split the remaining group was able to work much more cohesively for the next couple of miles. A road sign was twisted and the group altogether missed an early turn. Around this time young Tim rode up beside me to let me know that his light had died. Shamefully I quickly calculated my own need vs. his own and decided that despite having two good batteries I would do nothing. Moreover I also realized that the wrong turn had led to mass confusion in the group, quickly wished him the best of luck and took off down the road at full "go" for the next 3 or 4 miles. Despite his needs my cold calculations with regards to my own performance had taken the fore. He was left to fend for himself against the elements and the other racers with 75+ miles of hell left before him. I would not see him again until the finish.
I'll continue with my own experience of the race solely to underscore the conditions which young Tim was up against. The slight confusion mixed with my timely effort had completely broken the field. I pressed on working at a rate which I hoped would invite only my strongest fellow riders to join me. Soon we had a group of 3 and we began to work together. We were flying. We hit a dead end... We back-tracked and quickly became 5. We turned and looked for the road we had missed, eventually realizing that we hadn't missed any road, rather that we'd turned onto the wrong road (as there were two with the same name about 100 yards apart). We joined with the Eppens and took off down the right road with hopes of getting back to the front. our maps became soaked, our lights malfunctioned, we became woefully lost again. The Eppen contingent went hom. Eventually we found ourselves at the 31 mile checkpoint with close to 47 miles on our odometers, 3+ hrs on the clock and virtually no morale. The hills, soft gravel, thunderous rain and, of course, the darkness had all taken their toll. Our group had riders who had participated and finished multiple Trans-Iowas, Dirty Kanzas, 24 hr mountain bike races and scores of 100+ mile gravel events, yet all were near the breaking point. Eventually we rode on. The course did not let up. We struggled. We struggled against the resurgent wind, as whenever the storm abated it picked up, and against the slow gravels. We struggled with the darkness. Ultimately we even struggled with each other. Turning on each other in times of need despite not everyone even having a map. There was to be a checkpoint and aid station somewhere out there but it was forever coming. We hit a b-road literally covered in 3" of mud, most of us walked. Rabid dogs came out of the night, we climbed through the muck up and away from the cacaphony of the snarling animals. There it was! Shangri -La. Cold pizza has never been so necessary. We'd all been riding longer at that point than we'd expected to ride the entire course and our nutrition was lacking. Alas, due to our earlier failures the only beverages left were some sort of fruity alcohol/caffeine concoction, beer and water. We all refilled with water but only I dared try the "four loko" concoction and the beer went untouched. The difficulty of what we'd already experience had so colored our perception of the remaining 30 miles that FREE BEER went untouched... seeemingly impossible. It was nearing 3 am when we left that paradise for the darkness once again. We crossed a river of knee deep muck and water then navigating 7 or 8 miles of pot holed "trail" reminiscent of the "Dead Marshes". Finally winding our way across the gravels against the wind back to Mr. Blake's home.
I stood in the driveway straddling my bike looking at the others, at the beer and at the chairs unable to even lift my leg back over my bike to set it aside. The others I had ridden with were likewise looking quite rough- particuarly Mr. Shockey whose apparent pain was amplified by the black/blue dye that had run down from the balaclava he wore and formed some sort of a deathly mask. It was at this point when I was reacquainted with Tim. He ambled out of the house with a PBR and a grin to help me to a chair. Too modest to mention his own performance until Mr. Blake yelled out that he had gotten 2nd. Moreover he had finished with the winner in a non-contested finish out of respect and honor. He had ridden without a light just using what he could of the others' and thus felt indebted to the eventual winner enough to honorably decline from contesting. He had braved all of the things that had befallen my own strong and experienced group and he had utterly crushed us all. And with no light of his own, no map of his own, on a borrowed bike and with no previous gravel racing experience (he later admitted that this was the longest ride he'd ever been on).
I feel that Tim's performance is worthy of at least a passing mention in any recap of this years standout performances. His combination of honor and toughness represents the best of our form of cycling. I fully expect him to "show up" in a big way in the future.
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