A few more weeks and Trans Iowa 8 will be taking place. My training over the last couple months has been geared towards hills and gravel on the cross bike. I have also thrown in a few long road bike rides for good measure.
In addition to some hill work last week I was able to convince a couple buddies to join me on a gravel road century on cross bikes. I create the course using Map My Ride and tried to go on gravel roads I had not ridden before. I verified the cue sheets, as far as the direction of the turns, but did not have a way to verify if the road was paved, gravel, dirt or not a road at all. We had all four of those types during our loop.
To add to the adventure, and to closely duplicate the Trans Iowa routine, I did not take a map of the area just copies of the cue sheets for each of us. I did not tell Jean and Mike where we were going and only gave them a fourth of the cue sheets at a time. I didn't want them anticipating what was coming or where we were going. They seemed to be up for the challenge.
As we rolled out of town at 7 AM the sunny was warm and the breezes were light. The forecast was for all that to change around 11 o'clock with cloudy skies and a slight chance of rain. The weather was far from our minds as we leisurely rolled down the bike quiet path to the south of town in search of gravel.
South of Muscatine is pancake flat. Even the gravel does not have any hills. However once you reach the bluff that runs on the north-west edge of Muscatine you experience some nice long climbs. The bluff along highway 61 on Whiskey Hollow road was our first nice climb. Once up on the bluff there are several chances to go back down or you can stay up on the bluff. Not having ridden this portion of the course we anticipated the quick decent. After snaking along the edge for a few miles we finally reach a downhill that spit is out on Stewart road at the bottom of the big hill we all know too well.
The route did not take us up the daunting hill but down a road at the base of the climb. This was a greatly appreciated and unexpected surprise. Two miles down the road or good fortune ended when the road did. The county was replacing a small bridge across the drainage ditch that led to our next road. With heavy hearts we retraced our tracks to find a road at the top of the hill.
After cresting the hill and finding our road we stopped at a really old cemetery that over looked the Lake Odessa area. This looked like a perfect place for a quick break.
After the stop we headed towards Wapello. The route then swung to the north towards Columbus Junction where we would make another quick pit stop. During this time the bright warm sunshine began to be blocked by clouds and the wind began to increase. On the way to Columbus Junction we had two roads on the cue sheet that did not exist. One was taken over by a farmer and the other we never found. Without a map of the area we just winged it to get back on course. I knew the general area we were headed so there was limited guess work and we easily rolled into the Casey's in Junction.
The wind continued to increase from the south and the next run was straight to the north and pure flat so we moved along rather quickly to Nichols. This section included a two mile dirt road that was in pristine shape. They must have just graded it because it was hard to find any ruts and there were no wet spots. I hope all Trans Iowa dirt roads will be that great in a couple weeks. Before we hit Nichols a light rain began to fall that helped to settle the dust and cause us to quicken our pace as we approached the end of our journey.
In Nichols Jean decided to head straight to town on the pavement so Mike and I forged ahead. The rain did not amount to much and the dessert-like gravel absorbed the moisture like a sponge. Near town we encounter very familiar roads and no cue sheets were needed as we rolled along both feeling pretty good.
Once off the gravel and into town the pavement had dried and we finished dry and satisfied about a nice training ride in some unexplored areas. This also gave Jean and Mike a very small taste of Trans Iowa. With a little persuasion I think I can get Mike to partake in the big adventure in the future. He has done a 600K that took us 26 hours so Trans Iowa is not much more of a stretch.