CIRREM IX:The Excusening

Last Saturday, March 4th 2017, saw the ninth running of CIRREM, a 100k gravel race which loops south and west from the Cumming Tap in scenic Cumming, Iowa.  It was probably the second best weather that has been seen, last year being a bit warmer, and all of the records were smashed. I think we have reached a point where it can’t actually be run any faster than it has been this year. The gravel was like a fucking hard pack highway in most places, the wind was sort of behaving and even did a little shift to the SW for the ride back in on the back side of the course.  It was all perfect, save for one thing: I didn’t finish. I had the bike dialed in, a 2016 Salsa Warbird Carbon, Whisky Parts Co Carbon Hoops laced to White Industries T-11 rear hub, SON 28TA front hub, Clement MSO 40’s, K-Lite light and USB charge system, J-Paks Gravelpak, Garmin Etrex 35t, all top notch stuff. This could have been a record setting bike beneath someone else, for sure. I did not have myself dialed it, so it would seem.


The WarBird before the race.

I was so stoked on this year, I have been putting in the miles over our extremely warm winter, albeit some fairly flat miles, done some fat biking, and have tried to keep my fitness in check as I have signed up for a slew of tough races throughout the year. I had also made a huge internet announcement that I would finish this year no matter what, even if it took me into the dark hours (hence the light system), which would have been laughable really as the start is at 10am and it’s 65 miles.


Riders starting to line up outside the Cumming Tap

From the rollout to mile 3, I felt like I could tackle this easily in under 5 hours, maybe even get down close to the 4 hour mark. Then on the last “Climb” to Adams Road I got very short of breath. This is not normal for me, and I don’t have a cold or any sickness, I got a little worried but whatever. It was a fast rollout, and I was not really doing my “warmup” pace.  It’s easy to get caught up riding with the wrong group for your abilities in these things with the adrenaline pumping, etc. I had the fortunate chance to ride with Scott Redd for a while and discuss camping, etc.  I have been following his bike camping exploits for the last few months. The climbs were killing me, my weight gain from the last year of fried chicken, booze, and depression was very evident (much less evident on flatter courses), but I kept a positive attitude the whole time. This is something I’ve been working on for a few years. It’s easy for me to get pissed at myself or my bike when doing poorly on a gravel race. Sometimes you just have to quit chewing on your handlebars, look up, and really take in what is going on around you.  I will never be a “Gravel Champion” but I can still be a champion of gravel and admirer of the scenery.  I think the view from the bike is one of the big reasons I ride where I ride. It keeps me level, adds perspective to life and how huge it really is.


While not the most scenic view of a valley or whatever, OPR has some really fun climbing, and one of the scariest descents on the CIRREM course

The above picture is from early summer a few years ago, I didn’t take any cool gravel photos this time around as I was too busy sweating and trying to finish the race I’ve never finished ever.  You get the point, though. Fresh farm air and delicious dust.


Early On. Photo Credit: Ken Sherman

I rode with Chad Terrell for some miles, which was a pleasant time. We discussed cargo bikes and gear ratios, ran into a group of three non-racers who were just out blazing around the Madison Co gravel (I would catch them a few more times during the day), and discussed Chad’s Cup O Dirt run and Triple Bypass out in Colorado last year. Great times, but I was fading for some reason (maybe being fat?), and fell back.  I reached a point where I could not pedal much faster than 10mph, which is my warning sign for dehydration/bonk, and usually signals time for the bail plan to be put into action. I could not bring myself to quit, so at this point my ride became a checkpoint chase.


Still in Thumbs Up mode, mile 25ish. Photo Credit: Rick Chalfant

The checkpoint is normally at the half way point, but this year they moved it further onto the back side of the course.  I had it in my head that it was at mile 42, but in fact it was at mile 45. For three miles I slogged along, and when you are in bonked-out-slog mode three miles is a really long fucking way, searching for this missing checkpoint. WHERE DID IT GO??? I was running low on water. I was running low on positive vibes hahaha. There was a great plan hatched that could only take effect if I reached the checkpoint: I would shotgun a beer, then have some food and re-up on water for the 20 miles back to the Cumming Tap. In those three miles, I had pretty much given up but still kept my head up and a smile on my face, all the while thinking “I’m so far off the back, they probably already packed up the checkpoint.” The CIRREM Oasis finally appeared at the top of a hill, I climbed up to see some of my favorite checkpoint folks and the guy I was racing for last place with. This is what happened:

  1. I shotgunned a 16oz PBR in just under 5 seconds
  2. I walked across the road to do the “Belch or Blow” wait
  3. It was belch. Success.
  4. I had one of my water bottles filled up for me
  5. I gave the fuck up
  6. I successfully weaseled my way into getting a sag back in from the checkpoint folks

I took a ride to the bar, and when I walked in the greeting were of “hey, you finished?” and the like.  It was close to 5 hours in, so it was feasible that I had finished in this time. In reality I reached the checkpoint at 4:10, and with 20 miles left I couldn’t do it. There were some disappointed faces, none more than mine though as I once again did not reach my goal. Fifth time trying, Fifth time fail, BUT I did smash the shit out of my past record of 32 miles by 13 miles. Keep in mind the year that I did 32 miles it was 15 degrees out and freezing mist which froze up the hubs on the bike I was using, and made for a really epic ice beard.


137 Auen Samuel M 4:10 DNF Des Moines IA

I then got to the fun part of the day: hanging out with friends and having a few cocktails with Zeke, who was moving back to KCMO in two days, meeting Bogus and Sarah’s new Frechie, Sherman, and spending time with Bob, Meg, T-bone, Lisa, and a ton of other fine folks. It was a great experience overall, and I have something to look forward to next year:




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