Dusty Inspiration

At times during your life you read something inspiring. Something that someone else wrote (not just a meme, kids) that speaks not only to your heart, but seemingly from your heart.  It’s a thing you feel like you could have written, from your own perspective, to explain why you do what you do. My good friend Guitar Ted published something today on the Guitar Ted Productions blog that pretty much sums up what makes Gravel Travel such an enjoyable thing for me. YOU CAN READ HIS POST HERE.


Bike Iowa Gent’s Race 2: The Careless Whispers. Cumming Tap Bob, D-Corn, Steve Fuller, Guitar Ted, and yours truly. I love these guys. 

I’ve cultivated a pretty good solitary bike life over the years. As a lifelong introvert, I spent (and spend) a lot of time by myself. I wasn’t really liked by other kids when I was young, so I rode my bike alone quite often. Most kids wouldn’t want to ride like I did, or simply weren’t allowed. (This was around the time of the paperboy kidnapping in Des Moines, and although we were in Denison, some parents were a little freaked out and wouldn’t let their kids out of their sight)  These rides might be across town to my one good friend’s house to watch Chuck Norris movies,  or down to the creek to work on building a fort, or just to see how many laps I could do around our block.  Either way, if it was summer time these rides would sometimes last from morning until after dark, putting me well after when I was supposed to be in the yard. In or around 8th grade I got my first road bike, and took to the highways of Western Iowa riding from town to town, mostly alone, enjoying the peace and fresh air.  My mind was, and still is, always buzzing.  Riding bikes helped quiet that a bit, and in my adult years I have used these rides to organize my ideas and sometimes flesh them out a bit. I carry a notebook with me, and use the voice recorder on my phone quite a bit. Riding and being alone works well in my little world. I do have the luxury of being fairly well known now, so when I do get out of my own space I have many wonderful people to see and talk with. It’s a good balance for me.


In case you were wondering why it is called a “Meat Up” Pre Race meeting for TIV8

I’ve also cultivated a pretty good social bike life over the years.  I’ve done the BRAI and the ride out, and have gone on countless party rides where I have made some of my best friends to this day.  The bike scene in Iowa is one of the strongest, most cohesive, that I have witnessed in all my travels. I love all of my bagger friends, my party friends, but gravel riding… this is where GT’s words really come in to play.  Gravel folks are a different breed.  Humble, kind, smiling through pain, accepting, they are some of the greatest souls I have had the privilege of meeting.  They push their own boundaries and limits in order to get to a place they want to be.  There is a certain comraderie in this “scene” that is made up of what I would call Social-Solitary individuals.  Everyone* at these events has been through similar training, hours upon hours of sitting in the saddle while banging along those old dusty trails, many if not all of those miles and hours done alone, or sitting alone on a trainer in the winter just turning cranks and sweating to whatever movie or show you are binge watching.  When they all get together, it’s time to talk, smile, share, and look forward to crushing some gravel with like minded individuals. You can be grilling a steak at the Grinnell Steak House for the Trans Iowa Pre-Race Meat Up with RAW champion/Endurance Wunderkind Sarah Cooper and DFL slugs like myself at the same time, no egos, no bullshit, just smiles, laughs, and talks of dog chases and hill climbing**  I have met some of my favorite people and good friends through these events and going on gravel group rides, and formed life long bonds. I love riding with them, and even more my introverted side loves reading about their exploits.  When you know someone well enough that you can picture their words and tone when faced with problems on the road.  That’s what I’m talking about. I’m actually getting a little choked up here. Maybe I need to lay off the coffee.

What I’m getting at is that gravel folk are good peeps, and one of the main reasons I ride the shit that I ride. Love you crazies. GO READ GUITAR TED’S POST,  I should probably stop typing now, it’s time to ride.

Sam, CNB


*The last few years have seen a number of Type A mentality types trickling in to events.  They have taken to turning some of these grass-roots races into your typical draft-line road race.  That’s cool and all, but gravel grinding wasn’t supposed to be the domestic version of the Paris-Roubaix.

**Coming from a profession where the Ego is often oozing from my contemporaries, it’s refreshing to not have that stiff necked smirk across the table during conversation.

Ride Into Grocery Glory

Ride Into Grocery Glory


THE NEW FOURTH & COURT HY VEE. Photo Courtesy BikeIowa.com

This is where I stop bitching about the new HyVee store at 4th & Court. At least for the moment. It’s not exactly what we were told they would build for us downtown folk. Ok, got it. They built what they wanted, now we move on and either shop there or not.  I’m choosing to shop there as I have really been wanting a full on grocery store that didn’t require travelling 8-10 miles by bike. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but having the ability to hop on a bike or walk to pick up spur-of-the-moment goods is what we were really missing in the area. They do have a few Vegan prepared food options amongst their vast multi-station food court, just in case I get a little hangry while shopping, and there is a little bike parking out front, making it just a few steps from checkout to packing your bike. Very nice. This is so much easier than shopping by car (which also seems pretty convenient  with the parking garage out back).

Opening day at lunch time was a shit show, to say the least.  It was simply a mission to scope out the selection and strategize my future trips.  I ended up buying a few things for dinner that night, running into a cousin of mine a few times, and being jammed up by customers of the store and every company food/product rep that ever walked the face of the earth seemed to have shown up.  It was jam packed, as expected on the opening day, but it really wasn’t too bad to do a little shopping. I suppose now I know what the aisles will be like when another snowpocalypse hits the city. This first trip softened my opinion of the spot.


Parked out front, loaded up and ready for the mile-ish trip home.

My second trip was pretty casual.  It was early in the morning, and the place was near deserted save for the seemingly massive morning staff and a few other fellow scruffy, unkempt customers. This trip was my first time shopping Vegan at this location, and I was prepared for disappointment.  I was sorely disappointed to that end, as my shopping was easy, the selection of pre-made Vegan items was very good for the size of their grocery section, and the produce section carries everything I was looking for. Not bad, Hy Vee. Not bad at all. The gentleman cashing me out was super rad, the cheese department guy standing close was getting in on the positive vibes, and all was good.

This last trip, my third, was right before lunch.  It was a snowy, cold morning and the place was fairly quiet. I encountered no problems, aside from learning they do not have the Vegan “lunchmeat” I like (probably just need to request it), and they were out of LAVENDAR OIL (working on making my own beard oil), but these are definitely not complaints.  I picked up a bunch of produce, some canned goods for the pantry, and went on my merry snowy way.


The Grocery Getter for Trip 3: The Mukluk w/Chrome XXL Messenger Bag for the groceries

Downtown residents finally have that grocery store we’ve all been wanting.  It’s walkable, bike able, and they have a B-Cycle kiosk out front for when you buy some things that you might want to throw in the basket of a bike and haul somewhere, or even an impromptu bike picnic. It’s a really nice touch. Overall, I feel that the place suits my grocery needs and I will continue shopping there in addition to Gateway Market, New Oriental Market, Jung’s, and La Tapatia. I’m really stoked to have such a solid produce section so close to home, and hell yeah, they have a great liquor and beer selection for when I’m feeling like it’s bag beer time. That still happens from time to time.

Sam, CNB

Discovering The Root Problem

Warning: This is going to get a little personal.

I recently decided to make a return to the realm of Veganism. I spent a good chunk of my 30’s living meat free, but after returning to eating meat  I’ve spent the first few years of my 40’s as a chunk. Dining without restraint for the last few years has been quite an adventure. I’ve eaten the best of the best and the best of the worst from coast to coast, it was an incredible journey which culminated in me starting a Fried Chicken Blog and feeling like shit. I’ve failed miserably at races and rides, have problems being on my feet for more than a few hours, get out of breath easily, and it was pointed out by the Stoker last night that I have felt like shit after almost every meal we have had together as of late.  She told me to go to the damn doctor, and to maybe put the batteries back in my scale and weigh in to see where I was at.  I started with the scale thing yesterday.  Whoa. I was shocked at what I saw.

Health problems are no stranger in my profession, where there is a high rate of alcoholism/addiction, mental health problems, suicide, and a generally unhealthy regimen to eating.  Our time is short, stress is high. Meals are eaten at odd hours, lots of inadvertent binge eating happens, fast food rules the roost, we have to taste product (those calories add up), and when you dine out you fucking DINE OUT.  It’s awesome, the food, the fun, the networking over beers and whatever, it’s hard to trade those experiences away.  BUT there is a point when your body has had enough, and here I was standing on a scale looking directly at the first solid proof that my body has had enough.

FullSizeRender 2

Damn, Homie.

I’m not a small person to begin with, but this is absurd. My normal “operating” weight has been around 270 +/-10lbs the last few years, and in my Vegan days it was around 225, which is more in line with what I should weigh.  All those years of unfettered food shoveling has finally come to a head. I broke 300lbs. Goddamn. Now I have a good idea why my climbing has been so bad this year, why my endurance has been down considerably even with training and getting miles in during the winter.  My joints have been aching, my clothes don’t fit, exhaustion has been setting in after just a little time being active, I get out of breath tying my shoes. It’s been a rough state of affairs, and this number tells me that the changes I’ve instituted in my life are needed now more than ever. I’m the embodiment of the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” BUT I AM AN ACTIVE CYCLIST, WHAT GIVES?


Chunkier than the gravel, it’s me on CIRREM this year.

I can’t even imagine where I’d be without cycling. It would seem safe to assume that I would be fatter, sicker, and even more near death. Maybe I would be at 350? 400? More? I can’t.  I will say that the last week of plant based eating has me more energetic, positive, and mobile than I have been in a long while, but there is a long way to go before I am out of the health woods.  I’m still planning on doing my best to keep to my race and ride plan for this year, but my doctor has final say in this matter.  I’m still going to keep plugging away at “training” and I’ve accepted that the next few spring races are going to be really difficult to complete (TIV13 will be impossible, but that’s what it is anyway), and that I may have to spend more time riding shorter rides until I get back to multiple century shape.  One of my goals for 2018 was to ride the entire Trans-America Route, and I joked about being the fattest person to finish that Route in under 45 days.  That will probably push back to 2020, and I had better not be the fattest at that point.

This isn’t about a number. I’m not just bitching about my weight, this is a statement that I’m making a change for overall fitness. This is also a warning that you are probably going to have some opportunities to read about this portion of my life journey in the future.  I have family and friends that would probably like to have me around for more than a few more years. I’ve got BIKES TO RIDE DAMMIT, and so much more life to live, adventures to uh…adventure.  I’ve discovered the root of the problem, a root to which I’ve been turning a blind eye, and it’s time to choose life over just living. There’s a difference.

Sam, CNB


Stoker Stoke II: The Stokening

After writing about the mothballed Co-Motion Cycles Java tandem the other day, the thought of it just sitting there waiting for a good cleaning, tune up, and parts swap out was burning a hole in the pocket of my mind.  I decided to eschew my planned dealings of the day and delve into putting this beauty back on the road.

The Obligatory Before Picture shows that we are missing a stoker seat (the captain saddle was also poached for my road bike, this Selle Anatomica was put on a few days before the picture was taken), the bike is dirty, the  bar tape on the captain’s bars has started unraveling from the bottom (?) of the bars, there are also some Crank Brothers Mallet pedals on the stoke spot that were meant to replace the Mallets on the touring bike, as I had broken one of the retaining springs on the pedal but HEY IF YOU FLIP IT OVER, IT RIDES JUST FINE. Lazy ass.  There is an unnecessary stem extension that needs to be removed, it was installed while I was searching for some hand numbness solutions.  During the test ride it felt like the bars were in my beard. Too High. A problem I know all too well.


Co-Motion Cycles Java Adventure Tandem: a beauty, even in such a sad state of repair. 

The Nano 2.1 Tires are a little overkill for the planned pavement trial runs (stoker isn’t very experienced in off-road or gravel cycling, we are going to keep on the hard surfaces until we get more comfortable, also the tires are practically brand new, I would hate to wear them down on pavement), so they need to be swapped for high volume road tires.  The front shifting is a little wonky, I remember it was prior to being put in storage. The front Surly Nice Rack is total overkill, so that’s going to probably go away until we decide to do some actual touring/camping. My camping setup is small enough to fit in a Revelate Viscacha, I have joked about just bungee cording that to the top of the rear rack, eliminating the need for front panniers for S240 trips (which will most likely be the extent of our adventures for now).


JAVA on the road, looking healthier for sure. 

The Necessary After Picture looks a little cleaner, and the bike is rideable now.  The Stoker position has been adjusted, the Terry Butterfly saddle and Crank Brothers Stomp flat pedals have been installed, Schwalbe Big Apple tires have been installed, bar wrap has been redone, tune up has been performed, and I did a good wipe down. The stem extension still needs to be removed, and the front rack either leveled or removed.  I will  be digging through my water bottle cage collection, and the Edelux dyno light/USB charger needs to be moved back over from the Cargo Bike.  BUT SHE RIDES!  It’s so great to have this thing back on the road.  Here’s to hoping that the Stoker enjoys stoking, and we can get stoked on some tandem adventures in the future.  Up next: The Test Ride Report, coming to you after the snow melts and we can get this baby on the road.

Sam, CNB

Stoker Stoke!

I spied a Co-Motion Java Tandem on the floor at Bike World here in Des Moines a few years back, and it stuck in my mind that I needed this dirty hot rod in my life someday. It sat there on the floor waiting for me for more than a year and a half, patiently poised to spring into action when the day came that I could rescue her from that top floor perch.

If you are unfamiliar with the Java, this is the “Fargo” of the Co-Motion tandem line, a 29″ wheel, drop bar handmade rocket designed for road, gravel, and off road touring.  It’s a true beast that is equipped with Shimano Ultegra 3×10 shifting, DT Swiss/Velocity wheels, and 2.2″ knobby Geax tires that together can take you pretty much anywhere you could want to travel.  One day it happened. She came home with me. It was a glorious day, I took an Uber to the shop and rode this fresh tandem solo back to my house near the State Capitol. It was quite a rush.


The Co-Motion Java. Stock Photo from the Co-Motion web site

There were some modifications made,  such as a Luxos light system, new Son28 hub/Velocity Cliffhanger front wheel (Hand built by Ed at Beaverdale Bikes, my go-to for custom wheel builds, touring supplies, and dyno hub stuff here in Des Moines), Surly front and rear racks, a bar swap for Salsa Cowbell bars in the captain cockpit, saddles, and my then-favorite WTB Nano 2.1 tires. It was dressed to kill (some gravel).  My then-stoker and I put some miles on this beast, then we ended up with a Salsa Powderkeg (which has since gone on to another home and some great use by her new team), and the Java kind of took over a spot in the garage.  Life happened, stoker and captain parted ways, and the Java has been taking up that very spot in said garage for over a year. I’ve since poached the saddles off the bike, the bar tape has been abused and become ragged, the light system was moved over to my Big Dummy, it’s a sad state of affairs for such a fine hand-crafted steed.

2017 has seen some more personal changes, and I’ve found a new rocking stoker who is pretty stoked on giving the Java some attention.  It’s refreshing to find someone who is willing to give tandem riding a shot, as it’s definitely not for everyone (I mean, staring at someone’s back for hours on end without any real control of the bike you are riding doesn’t sound fun to me, either), and also someone who is the proper size for the small stoker station (this really helps haha). I’ve gathered Selle Anatomica and Terry saddles, flat pedals for the stoker position, pulled out a set of Schwalbe Big Apples from the tire archive for some trail/road riding, and I’ve dusted off the old Arkel GT-54’s.  This week will see some tune up action, bar re-wrapping, new parts installed, tires and light system swapped. Weather permitting, we will be giving the old Java a test run in two weeks, and hopefully all goes well.  I have a few bikes that have been collecting dust, but none have given me the feels like watching this one lean and become unclean.

I will post updates and pictures of the Java once I bust her out and the modifications underway.

Sam, CNB

Ride your bike.


I Like Bikes.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life with bikes. Riding bikes, looking at bikes, working on bikes, cussing at bikes, modifying bikes, collecting bikes, racing bikes, shopping for bike parts, learning about bikes, talking about bikes, you know. Bikes. I like riding on roads, bike paths, gravel roads, dirt trails, beaches, river beds, snow, ice, wherever. I like frequenting businesses who are bike friendly. I hang out at bike shops. I help race organizers with rides. I’m guilty of putting people I’m hanging out in that situation where they have to excuse themselves because I’ve run in to a bike friend and we are talking in bike.  If you don’t talk bike, like technical bike, not “bikelish” then bike conversations are about the most eye glazing bore fests you can be privy to. I do that. Bikes.

Riding bikes with others is a really great time, but riding alone for me is one of my favorite things to do. It gives me time to clear my head, time to think through things, time to breath fresh air into my lungs and my mind. The sounds of tires crunching through gravel, the wind whistling through the fields, and the thrill of farm dog sprints are all things I long for daily.  Maybe not the dogs haha. I think after all this time I’ve cultivated a bit of a solitary bike life, but it suits me fine. It’s time away from the world while simultaneously exploring the world.

I was bike-only for a 4 years after I realized I didn’t really drive my car so I sold it to make room in my garage for more bikes.

I started Tacopocalypse by bike. It all started during talks on bike rides and after bike rides at the Cumming Tap. When we started doing tacos there was no car or van to transport things, I used giant coolers on a Surly Bill Trailer, or a smaller cooler on a BOB trailer, when it all started. I sometimes rode 40+ miles to gather the groceries needed to make tacos for Tuesday nights. I sometimes rode through blizzards to get to the Cumming Tap to serve tacos. It was pretty brutal. It kept me in decent shape. I am pretty sure it’s the only restaurant in Iowa that was started by bicycle. Woot.

I’m back to pretty much bike-only after a few years of intense business building involving catering, driving big vans to the farmers market, traveling to sell tacos on RAGBRAI, etc. It’s great to be at a spot that I can get back to my roots and do what I need to do on two wheels. I live downtown, a few blocks from one of my restaurants, about two miles from the other. It’s a quick ride to either. There is a grocery store downtown now, it’s really more of a food court/liquor store, but you can get some fresh produce and whatnot there.

Anyway, my point is that I like bikes. You probably like bikes, too, if you’re reading this. If you don’t, maybe reading this will help guide you towards liking bikes. Bikes are good.


Here are some pictures of some of my bikes, except the purple Masi. That’s Mel’s in Philly that I was graciously allowed to use while visiting. Also that Powderkeg is owned by a great couple (and sometimes ridden by a Marco) who have put it to great use. 



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: