Race Report: 2018 24 Hours of Cumming, Iowa, USA – by Adrienne Taren

To start off, here are the alternate names that I would like Steve Cannon to consider for this event in 2019:

  • 24 Hours of Type 2 Fun.
  • 24 Hours of Type 2 Fun and Let’s Be Real Maybe Some Type 3 Fun.
  • 24 Hours of Hills and all the Hills and just when you thought they were done More Hills.
  • 21 Hours of Cumming and 3 Hours of Dry Heaving.
  • 24 Hours of I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.

Now that that’s out of the way, the (current, real) name alone should be enough to capture your attention. There is, in fact, a Cumming, Iowa, and it’s a pretty fantastic little place. Mostly because of something called the Cumming Tap, which contains all the ingredients for happiness: bicycles and booze. But also Gatorade on tap, good people, and the Great Western Trail literally in its backyard.

24 hours of cumming race report

After a work-dazed drive (including an unintentional detour through Arkansas whilst preoccupied with a podcast on treating disseminated intravascular coagulation in the ICU – you know, normal things), I arrived in Cumming, Iowa on Friday evening just in time to grab my number plate, socks, and trucker hat. It took me way too long to choose among pink, orange, or neon yellow hats. I mean, take a look at these hats. They’re pretty great hats. After an overly drawn out decision-making period that included a complete mental cataloging of possible coordination with all bikes, kits, and socks that I own and employing linear algebra and multivariate calculus to create an advanced hat choosing algorithm, I went with pink because it made me happy.

Cumming Tap was filled with cyclist types inside and out (where the grill was fired up). Packet pickup concluded with the ceremonial raffling off of a table full of stuff from sponsors… two custom saddles, Bike Iowa gear, socks and hats, Squirt bike cleaner, tales of Steve Cannon’s epic adventures, and probably more that I’m forgetting. I finally peeled myself away to figure out where I was supposed to set up camp. Just a few blocks North there was a large camping area, or you could walk across the street and camp near a beautiful big house just off the bike trail, as the owners were out of town and had offered up their lawn as camping territory.

Iowa is good people.

24 hours of cumming race report
The view from the campsite.

I woke up in time to hear but not see the 100k and 200k riders start at 8am. The 400k (relay and solo) were slated for an 11am kickoff. Cutoff time 11am Sunday morning. Hence, “24 Hours of Cumming.”

It turns out I needed all 3 hours to hack together my setup, which included:

  1. Putting batteries (secured at Walmart on the drive up) into my tail light and electrical taping them in place because I forgot the back cover of said tail light.
  2. Securing my headlamp to my helmet with pipe cleaners because I also did not have my helmet mount.
  3. Trying to figure out which lights and batteries out of the box of lights and batteries I borrowed from two friends just prior to driving up would (a) fit on my bike securely and (b) looked like they would run for the appropriate amount of time.
  4. Realizing I forgot the pickles.
  5. Falling over myself getting to the jar of pickle juice when the gentleman behind the grill said “does anyone want the rest of this jar of pickles” about 20 minutes later.

So yes, my life currently lends itself toward the ultimate in preparedness.

Leg 1: 61.9 miles, 3062 feet.

So a bit before 11am, all 400k and 400k relay (2 or 4 person teams) riders lined up outside Cumming Tap. Someone said go and off we went. After 18 feet of pavement (yes, I googled how wide your standard road is), we were on gravel. Dry, dusty gravel of the hardpack and pea-sized variety. I stuck to the only plan I had, which was to let the relays and super speedsters take off and do their thing, because riding conservatively early on is the only way you make it through a very hilly 400k.

Notable items along the way: barns, hills, washboard, cows, hills, dust, wind, a nice gentleman on the side of his lawn with bottles of water, giant dust clouds behind any passing vehicle (of which there were mercifully few), hills, more wind, and three people walking hills or just straight up bonking already in the last 10 miles.

24 hours of cumming race report

Back at Cumming Tap, I found my support area, which is fancy nomenclature for “my cooler and a bunch of other stuff I thought I might want/need in a haphazard pile on the ground”. I ate a peanut butter sandwich and grabbed replacement bottles. Despite the fact that I would’ve run dry on 2 big bottles and a soft flask in the first leg were it not for some surprise on-course benevolence, I still did not opt to put on the Camelbak. Dramatic foreshadowing: this comes back to bite me in the arse. Gravel City superstar Adam Blake kindly wiped down my extremely dusty drivetrain for me, and off I went again.

24 hours of cumming race report

Leg 2: 63 miles, 2872 feet.

Leg 2 started out fine. Despite the fact that the GPS files say there’s less elevation, it felt like more in this lap. There was a bit more pavement which was a welcome relief from some of the washboard and deeper loose nonsense, but also, you know, pavement. I spun the hills as best I could, but I’m a masher at heart (spin coaching needed, anybody??) The wind and dust kept up, and it warmed up a bit. I realized I was running low on fluids. I realized half my soft flask leaked out in my back pocket because I’ve made it to my 30’s without properly learning how to screw on tops, apparently. I started hoarding water and eventually ran dry in the last 15 miles. I passed two people finishing the 200k race that had started earlier in the morning… props to them. I dry-lung hacked my way back into Cumming Tap, where I told several people that I needed to drink about a gallon of water, the Mohn’s (of Mohn Standard) brought me a chair, and I called my smarter half to tell him that I was still alive but only sort of. He said helpful things like “well you usually don’t feel good until mile 160, so, you know, reevaluate in 40 miles.” I did some thinking out loud while wandering around aimlessly, at which point Steve Cannon gave me a hug and directed me towards the fluids. All the fluids.

And oh, there was a GIANT PARTY going on all around me. It was fun. A lot of people called it quits at this point. Apparently, I had been far from alone in running dry and getting into a big hydration hole. When there is a live band and beer and barbecue and all of your gravel friends are just a little bit drunk the temptation to join them is for real. It does help if those same rambunctious friends and cheering at you to get your butt back on the road. After a bit of a gummy bear massacre and another drive train dust-extraction courtesy of Gravel City, I turned my lights on and headed out on lap 3.

24 hours of cumming race report

Leg 3: 61.5 miles, 3202 feet.

So now it was dark. I had a battery-pack powered bright headlight on my bars which I had borrowed from a friend, as my usual Urban800 is now down to a 1 hour run time on low. And of course, there was the pipe cleaner-secured headlamp on my helmet. I made it about a mile down the road and the headlight switched itself off. I stopped and checked all of the connections, poked a button, and it switched back on. I rode through another few feet of washboard, and it switched off. I turned halfway around thinking that I should maybe go back and grab a different light. I fiddled with it some more, tried to wedge the cable connection inside my top tube bag in a secure position, and went on. It stayed on for a good long stretch this time, but every time I would hit a big bump, it turned itself off. I don’t necessarily recommend this style of night riding, but it does keep you on your toes. I also have now gained valuable skills at coming to a screeching halt on gravel in pitch-black darkness. This was one of the many beautiful things about rural Iowa… there was no light pollution most of the way, and with the moon behind the clouds, it was truly… dark.

Other than the headlight-associated paranoia and the occasional patch of sketchy loose gravel that you couldn’t always see until you were in it, it really was pleasant, peaceful, quiet night riding. Briefly interrupted at one point when I convinced myself I must have loaded the wrong loop into my GPS as the directions it was giving me overlapped with what I remembered from loop 2. Those who know me know I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so I stopped to double check myself. As a general note on directions here, whether intentional or not, the overlapping of roads and routes at 24 Hours of Cumming can create the kind of mind-$%!$ that your average masochist (say, one who signs up for 400k of Iowa gravel in the first place) love-hates. I must have gone through the same 4-way gravel road intersection in all 4 directions in various permutations enough times to think I was losing my marbles (note: prob 90% of all 4 loops was unique. It was the perfect balance of sight-seeing and madness-creating, in this writer’s twisted opinion). There were other nice touches of  course-creator sadism, such as having us go partway down Road X, turn and ride another 20 miles out to who-knows-where, all to then find oneself riding back past what we can presume to be the other end of Road X, but now feeling even more death-like, prompting thoughts such as “#&$*% all this time I could’ve just ridden straight down that #%^& road.”

24 hours of cumming race report

Anyways. So here I was, cruising along in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere, when my end-of-lap-2 dehydration caught up to me in a big way in the form of nausea. Nausea that at first, you can force yourself to keep eating and drinking through, and then you stop eating, and then eventually you stop drinking, and then you realize you done effed up big time.

The good news was that I was wide awake. I am well-practiced at awakeness at all hours thanks to my real-life vocation. In my nauseated but wide awake state, I had been keeping a close eye on my mileage. We had been warned of a tire-grabbing wooden slat bridge with a reputation for breaking collarbones at mile 31.7 of loop 3 (or mile 156, for me). It was at the bottom of a descent, and I rolled up to it slowly, riding my brakes. By now my brain had dubbed it “The Bridge of Doom” in my head.

“That looks like something you could ride across!” says my delusional brain. “Self, listen to Steve, get off and walk, you don’t know up from down right now,” said the few logical brain cells left in my head. And I was glad I did because yes, 40mm tires fit PERFECTLY in between those slats, and I like my clavicles in one piece.

24 hours of cumming race report

I was, thankfully, moving a little faster, having acquired some electrical tape from a passing relayer to try to make my cable-battery connection a bit more secure (the first of only two other riders I saw on loop 3, both relayers, the entire time I spent out on loop 3. And it was a very long time.) The tape was sort of working, as in it only went pitch-black every 5 miles instead of every 5 minutes.

And THEN, the second-midnight miracle happened. I found a friend. In the dark when you’re hurting and dry-heaving and you find another cyclist, they’re automatically your friend. I’m sure this is written in a rule book somewhere. If not, then it should be. You’re probably imagining some magical happy moment between two people who love bicycles right now, so let me recap how it actually went down.

I see two reflective stripes in the distance. On a hill, because everything is either up or downhill. I eventually reach the reflective stripe and realize it’s a person standing next to his bicycle. “You good?” I say. “yeah, done, waiting on a ride,” he says. And I nod and ride on. I do spend some time thinking that a ride sounds nice.

10 minutes later this rider catches up to me. Apparently, I was “motivating.” Right now pretty much the only thing I’m motivated for is not puking. But boy is it nice to have a partner in death-slogging your way to the end. We stopped for sips of liquids. We stopped for re-attaching wayward lights. We stopped for general yelling at the universe. I started having cold sweats and was pretty sure I was going to need to be done after this lap and I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. About 2 miles from the finish of loop 3 we started hauling, and crossed the road into Cumming Tap to cheers and showers of glitter. By which I mean about 10 people who were still awake and keeping things running.

My bicycle and I lay down in the grass. I talked a bunch of nonsense to whomever would listen about IV fluids, magnesium, and thiamine. None of those things materialized, but chicken broth did. I told Steve I was probably done since I hadn’t managed to eat or drink for the past few hours of riding. I made it through 5 small cups of chicken broth and sat up about an hour later. I wobbled over to the fire, since I was still getting chills. It was now around 5am. I drank more chicken broth and weighed pros and cons of trying to ride more with my new best still-awake, fire-sitting friends. 2 hours had passed. I ate a whole bag of potato chips and poured the rest of that quart of chicken broth into one of my water bottles. And then I just picked my bike up and rolled out.

Lap 4-ish: 30 miles.

Why? Who the heck knows. Because I wanted to see what would happen, mostly.

I was semi-functional. It was 6:30am, and I knew I probably wouldn’t ride the whole loop, but why not go ride some more. I wanted to see what the rest of the course looked like. About 5 miles out, dark clouds appeared overhead and it spat some rain. I checked the weather on my phone just to make sure I wasn’t riding into a tornado or something. The rain felt nice and I pulled my jacket and hat off. The showers cleared quickly and I found myself in some of the prettiest scenery of the last 20 hours. 25 miles in I was ready to finish my ride. Nausea and chills were coming back, and I felt satisfied. When you’re sure that there’s nothing left, there’s nothing to be disappointed about. I pedaled up two more big hills for good measure, mostly because there were some pretty purple and yellow sunflowers lining either side of the road, and then hopped on the Great Western Trail back home.

24 hours of cumming race report

220 miles and 21 hours (actual moving time, 18 hours) later, I was back at Cumming Tap. My early morning friends were mostly still there. Some were off napping. Others were having breakfast on the Tap’s back patio. I laid back down on the ground. I considered rolling down the hill to my car, but there was a gate in the way. One super nice person put my bike and stuff away for me. I had mostly transcended the tired point, but a 6-hour drive home did not sound like a smart immediate plan. I contemplated various existential questions. Who am I, where am I, what am I doing (a: happily empty version of my normal self; b: surrounded by the best people and things; c: who the $%#^ knows, don’t care). After the appropriate amount of ground-lying, I got up and baby-wiped at least the top layer or two of dirt and dust off of me, changed, and took the Cumming Tap folks up on their offer of a futon nap.

Thus concludes my 24 Hours of Cumming experience. The vibe, the people, and the challenging course and conditions make this race a unique experience amidst the sea of gravel grinders out there now. My only regret is not getting an I ? Cumming shirt while I was there. But something tells me I’ll be back.

5 comments on “Race Report: 2018 24 Hours of Cumming, Iowa, USA – by Adrienne Taren

  1. Great story Adrianne! You have a talent for describing misery with the strength to ride it out. DK-200 can be a soul destroying bitch but I can’t imagine how you kept going through the night with your lack of sleep and lack of cooperating flashlights. I think I’d have lost it and disciplined my bike with a large roadside rock. Way to go and please keep the stories coming.
    K-Dogg

  2. The winter training rides are pretty awesome way down to Gainsville way where the women are strong, the men good looking and the children all above average. (Garrison Kiellor).
    Florida Cracker Rusty is working on a mid September gentleman race in the Ocala National forest. No fee, no prize and lots of dirty fun.

  3. Well written lady! Was fun finding this report and reliving our misery. Thanks again for “motivating” me to finish my leg of the journey. See ya next year! spence

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