Rhinelander?s Schotz completes full day bike race
There are no pre-made maps, no water stations, no rest stops along the way. Just a few small index cards with directions and 340 miles of Iowa back roads.
That is what James Williams Middle School teacher Chris Schotz got himself into April 26 and 27 as he took part in the Trans Iowa gravel road bike race centered in Grinnell, Iowa. For Schotz, it was the third year he attempted the race and his best finish, taking third overall with a time of 27 hours, 50 minutes.
“I have done 24 hour bike races before,” said Schotz, who has been competing in ultra bike races for more than a decade. “I won the Wausau 24 hour race twice. But there is something different about Trans Iowa.”
One difference is racers are on there own. There is no help from support vehicles or race organizers, in fact, it is forbidden.
“If you have a support vehicle come and help you, you are out,” Schotz said. “This race I rode in a group most of the time. But last year, I rode 140 miles on my own.”
The course for Trans Iowa changes every year but the length is always the same, roughly the width of the state. But with the changing course, which criss crosses gravel backroads, bikers do not know the route before they arrive. And even then, the course directions are handed out piece meal.
“You get these note cards with directions on them,” Schotz said. “When you start, you get the first 50 miles. The note cards give you directions. It will say when your odometer hits such a number, turn left or right on this road. So you have to pay attention.”
After the first 50 miles, organizers hand racers the next pack for 120 miles and then so on throughout the race.
As for fuel, bikers need to find their own food and drink which can be a harrowing ordeal with a race that lasts more than a day and during times when stores are closed.
Schotz said he carries five bottles with him to help between stops but said five minutes can make or break a rider.
“I got to one gas station at 11:05 [p.m.] and they had closed at 11,” he said.
Luckily for Schotz, a rider he had been biking with earlier in the day had purchased him a sandwich and gave it to him when he arrived.
“I was lucky,” Schotz said. “There was a group that came in right after me and that got nothing. We found the next gas station at 4 a.m. but it was closed. They had a vending machine and everyone was excited like children to stock up on soda.”
While riders battle to make sure they have enough food and water, another obstacle was troubling at this year’s Trans Iowa.
Strong storms in the area not only created stormy conditions at times, it also created strong winds that battered the bikers.
“You would get to a clearing and there would be a strong cross wind,” Schotz said. “We all would be riding on an angle. Luckily it was a sustained wind.”
Although the side wind was tough to deal with, it was the head winds that were particularly troubling.
“They were 25, 35 mile per hour winds,” Schotz said. “Many of the riders gave up because of that.”
Because the course winds through the Iowa country side, there were times when the wind was an aide.
“When you had a tail wind it felt like you had a motor,” he said.
With all the obstacles in his way, Schotz said the toughest part of the race was still his old nemesis, midnight.
“Midnight is the toughest time of the race for me,” he said. “You are so far from the dawn and you have been riding in the dark for a while. If I can get past midnight, one o’clock, I know I can make it.”
Schotz said riding with a group to the finish also helped him keep going. The group was forced to seek shelter twice due to lightning and battled to the end together with three riders finishing within eight minutes of each other.
In the end, Schotz came in third just two minutes behind the second place rider and was one of only 19 of the 140 who started the race to finish.
For Schotz, it was his third-straight Trans Iowa and he is contemplating a fourth race despite his aches and pains from this year’s race.
The biggest issue is training for an April race while living in northern Wisconsin.
“You ride in some terrible conditions,” Schotz said. “But it gets easier. You learn that you can ride when the temperature is at zero, you can ride in the dark. The mileage gets easier too. I can’t really get excited about anything less than five hours.”
To keep it interesting, Schotz said he tries to find new routes and has ridden through most counties in central and north central Wisconsin.
This summer, he plans on putting together a ride where he climbs three of the four highest elavations in the state.
“You have to keep it interesting,” he said. “You ride for seven hours and it can get boring.”
As for his plans for the rest of the year, Schotz said he is looking forward to the Wausau race he has won twice before.
“There is a guy that has also won it twice who is racing this year,” Schotz said. “He’s won it twice, I have won it twice but we have never really gone head to head. So that should be fun and a challenge.”
And the challenge is what keeps Schotz in this sport and going to events like Trans Iowa.
“Trans Iowa is not an easy race to get to,” he said. “You have to drive a long way and just the logistics. But it is like nothing else I have ever done. And that is what you have to do, you have to keep challenging yourself.”