Gents Race 7: A Most Epic Drop Out


The Moots and the Bird

As most of you whom have had the experience of reading this blog know, I like to make a grand exit when dropping out of gravel races.  I’ve thrown my bike into a field then chugged Jim Beam (CIRREM 5), shotgunned a PBR pounder and grifted a sag from the checkpoint personnel (CIRREM 9), I’ve found the only bar in North English, IA, drank many PBR’s and Wild Turkeys,  then ended up at a Pizza Ranch after buffet hours and convinced them to make me my own buffet at my table (TIV10), taken a tailwind back into Grinnell to a Cafe for breakfast where I convinced them to let me stand next to their cooking equipment because I couln’t get my body temperature up, then ended up in the middle of a college dance party at the Rabbit at 8am, then day drank with the locals until my ride home showed up (TIV8), and so on and so forth.  My point is, when I ditch an adventure race/ride, I like to make it a completely different adventure.  Gent’s 7 was no departure from my modus operandi, but there was a twist. We will get to that a little later.


Mark’s Steed, a total classic.

Let’s get back to the start, though. The Bike Iowa Gent’s Race is a 60-some mile gravel race held north of the Des Moines metro starting/ending at the Nighthawk Bar & Grill in Slater, IA. You assemble a team of 5 folks, you’re assigned a start time based on some secret algorithm developed by Kyle and Bruce, main organizers of this madness, and you line up and enjoy some mostly flat rock roads.  The staggered start has the fast teams going off the start later in the morning, and the slower teams at the beginning so that everyone can get to the finish around the same time. It’s pretty cool, IMO. The course is deceptively easy, as in you look at the elevation and say “easy peasy.” This is not true.  My team, the Careless Whispers, have done this race every year, and between the unforgiving wind from which you have no escape (last year we had 25+ mph sustained winds), and the sudden appearance of tens of miles of fresh chunky rocks, it’s always been a challenge. Some years almost comically challenging.


K-Corn had a Top 5 beard.

This year as we gathered the Whispers, sans D-Corn and plus K-Corn, everyone was feeling pretty good about things. Mark, Steve, Bob, Kathy, Kathy’s amazing yarn beard, and myself took off at 9:04 with smiles and hope.  There was zero wind. In April. In Iowa. What a rare treat!  The first gravel was in impeccable condition, packed and fast, and we were off to a great start.  We were cruising along at a good clip, enjoying the scene, everyone was joking around and smiling. Except for me.  From the first few pedal strokes I just didn’t feel right, and within the first 5 miles I started experiencing the same shortness of breath and erratic heart beat that plagued my CIRREM attempt this year.  I’ve been on the road to recovery from a few years of bad habits taking their toll, and even after 5 weeks and almost 30 lbs of weight gone I just could not get it together. I sucked wind for a while, staying silent as I didn’t want the others to hear how bad off I was. I felt like a weight was on my chest, which was incorrect. It was my still-existing gut mass that was pressing up into my diaphragm that was causing some of the breathing problems. Super fucking cool.

As we neared the ten-mile mark, it became apparent that I was done.  Mark had spent some time hanging back with me, and had started discussing guitar gear.  It was a great device to help work through the pain I was in. If there is one thing that will take my mind off of just about anything, it’s discussing guitars. Lungs, Heart, Legs, all were gone, though, and I felt that it was time to stop before I hurt myself. It was embarrassing to say the least.  Ten miles. No wind. Fast roads. I had finally resigned to the fact that my day was over.  I crept back up to Mark, quietly stating “Mark, I’m done.” Now, my team mates are all great folks. I’m honored to be able to ride with them every year, and this is usually the only time we are actually able to get together in the same place at the same time. Mark lobs back calmly, “Ok, Sam. It was great to see you and ride with you for a little bit today.” I accepted his acknowledgment then started formulating a plan for extraction.  We were close enough to Slater at that point that I could just soft pedal it in then call for a ride, but I needed to find the right place to do so.  We rode for a bit longer.


The King Of Drop Bags

The Whispers kept on whispering, I tagged along still plotting my exit. The miles kept ticking away, and as I swiped my Garmin screen to see how far we had gone.  nearly 20 miles had passed.  I had caught up to the group at that point,  then told them that I had quit like ten miles ago. I was doing a really bad job of dropping out. At this point, it made more sense just to ride the next ten to the checkpoint at Snus Hill Winery and have a few beers with the team before hanging a right and riding the mile back to the start.  We ended up being the last team out of the half way point, but when you have as sweet of a drop bag as the Whispers, you stay until you have only enough leftovers that you can pack on the bike.


Half Way Checkpoint Time! Still quitting!


Remnants of our “Drop Bag”

Our three beer stop was over, we packed it in and headed back out on the dusty trail.  I was planning on hitting that right turn and booking back to the Nighthawk.  I was still cooked. So I turned left with the rest of the team. Bob says “Come on, it’s just three tens!” so we embarked on that first of three.  At this point everybody had loosened up, and the train was rolling.  Bob was setting the pace, the FullerKeg was rolling strong, and Mark was crushing it as well.  I settled in behind the tandem and ticked off miles staring at that rear Nano, eating a shit ton of rocks along the way.  Our pace had picked up, and my legs finally found a cadence that worked. Fucking incredible. Mile 38 came, and we stopped for a little whiskey and whatnot.  I was at drop out mile 32, and still dropping out.  I don’t think I have ever dropped out for so long in my life. It was incredible.

We stopped again at mile 48 to finish what was left of our liquid lunch.  I got a text. The Stoker was at the Nighthawk and was ready for me when I got back.  I didn’t expect her so early!  We finished up and set to burning through those last 13 miles.  The dropping out got exciting. We were moving at a great pace, my body was cooperating, although a few times I had to call time out and back er down a notch to get re-situated.

“Hey, Mark, does my rear tire look ok?”

We were just a few miles from finishing, and my rear end was a little more wiggly than it normally feels.  Hissssssss. Shit. Fuck. Flatting at the end of a race is so disheartening.  After all these miles of quitting, there was finally a mechanical. THIS BIKE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO FAIL.  Alas, the team assembled to disassemble and reassemble my rear tire situation. Thanks, Steve, for doing all the pumping. You are a hero.  Also thank you, Mark, for being the best human bike stand in the history of humans and bike stands coexisting. The Warbird was back up and running in a few short minutes, and the Whispers were once again screaming towards a solid near-DFL finish. Hell yes. A few more miles passed and BOOM!!!!!!! My rear tire blew out at mile 59. We all searched for another tube, but it seems that the sidewall had blown away from the kevlar bead. FUCK.


Steve standing by as Mark discovers the root of the problem. Shredded Tire. The High Trestle Trail is about 50 yards up in the distance.

I had almost finished dropping out of the race, and here I was with a major mechanical within sight of the finish line. The silos stood off in the distance mocking us as the team formulated a plan of attack. The Fullers rode back and were going to drive their truck to pick me up.  They ended up sending Meg (thank you one million, Meg!!!!) to  the rescue.  We had some visitors come by and Fireball was distributed, thank you Jess and Michelle, we waited a bit longer, and finally it was time for yours truly to be done with the quitting.

The Stoker and Mini Stoker were waiting for me patiently, my hour estimate for return was about an hour past. I said my goodbyes, packed it up, and headed back to the DSM for some dinner and rest.

It was a great day for epic quitting, but not the best for stopping.  Thank you to all that put on the race, the volunteers, the Nighthawk (a regular summer stop for me), Meg for the rescue, The Stoker for the ride home, and Mark, Steve, Kathy, and Bob for being the best team mates (and substitute team mate) I could imagine having.  It was an honor to spend the day with the Whispers, I can’t wait until next year.

Sam, CNB