Matt Gersib leads his rivals up a long grinder 160 miles into the race. PHOTO BY WALLY KILBURG
Matt Gersib leads his rivals up a long grinder 160 miles into the race. PHOTO BY WALLY KILBURG
I do it all for one moment.

When I ask myself “Why?” that is the correct response. Why do I crave biking Trans-Iowa, the 300-plus-mile gravel road race across the width of the Hawkeye State? When I’m just one nap removed from the finish of the last, what can mute the bodily harm I risk at this event? It’s that one moment.

Trans-Iowa is a million moments of stark beauty stacked upon a million chilly moments of preparation in the grey time between winter and spring. But it all comes down to that one moment that must come at some isolated point in rural Iowa. I never know exactly where and when the moment will drop. But the sun will likely be low on the horizon if it has not abandoned me completely. There will be no witnesses then. 

Somewhere between miles 150 and 300 the moment will come. There will be no applause, no fist pumping and no salute to the crowd. There will only be the steady grind of gravel and the gap between racers. It is assured that an unassailable gap will open at some point, somewhere. I’ve been on both sides of the gap. I much prefer to stay in front of it. But in Iowa, there is pain either way.  

When one rider has gone over the physical brink, another is not far from the same edge of exhaustion. On that precipice is where the moment falls, but the respect between riders is stronger and there will assuredly be private words exchanged as one passes the other. The time that final comrade fades into the lonely dark is a moment best postponed until the tiny morning hours. 

I revere that moment. I live for it, and all others are just a prelude to it. That is why Trans-Iowa exists, somewhere between hell and Missouri.

Trans-Iowa has been the sovereign of gravel grinders since it was brought forth 10 years ago by two guys sitting around a bike shop imagining a two-wheeled trek across Iowa that would shun pavement and comfort. The race has evolved into an annual April adventure on a circuitous route equal to the width of Iowa with its epicenter in Grinnell. The race is still shepherded by founder Mark “Guitar Ted” Stevenson. 

The entirety of Chris Schotz' account of the 2013 Trans-Iowa appears in the June 2014 print edition of Silent Sports magazine. To order a copy, call 888-706-4045. Or subscribe online here.