100MoN: Winner of the Iowa County Gravel Grinder In the Dead of Night Division

10.30.2014 | 7:56 am

A Note from Fatty: Today’s 100 Miles of Nowhere race report comes to you courtesy of Martin B, who first caught my attention when he posted this shot of himself on Twitter as he was riding Ragbrai, on a fat bike:

Screenshot 2014 10 30 07 10 59

Clearly, this is a man to be reckoned with. Plus I like his choice in clothing and his hair style, for some reason.

Anyway, when he started tweeting that he was going to do his 100 Miles of Nowhere as a gravel grinder, I got excited…and a little bit suspicious. Excited if he was going to really make it a “nowhere” ride—a true short course going around, on a gravel course, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, sounds about as perfectly “100 Miles of Nowhere” as is possible.

But I was also suspicious: was this going to really be what he was going to do? Or was he going to just do an epic 100 mile point to point at night and call it his “100 Miles of Nowhere?”

Note that there’d be nothing wrong with that; it just wouldn’t be quite as “nowhere,” as it were.

As it turns out, I had no reason to be suspicious. 

Screenshot 2014 10 30 07 07 23

100MoN: Winner of the Iowa County Gravel Grinder In the Dead of Night Division

2014 has been the year of gravel. I dipped my toe into the gravel scene last year and was hooked. I bought a fat bike and rode the gravel roads all winter, signed up to ride Dirty Kanza (the 100 mile “Half Pint” version), and even rode RAGBRAI on my fat bike.

I was having a ball.

So, when Elden announced the date for the 2014 100MoN, I knew I had to ride it and I knew exactly what that ride would be. It had to be on gravel. And to make it more interesting I decided to do it at night because I needed experience riding in the dark.

In hindsight I should have thought about it a little bit more.

Since I’d done several century rides this year I didn’t give much thought to preparation. I’d ridden Dirty Kanza in May and the memory of my suffering had long since been forgotten.

It didn’t take long for my legs to remind me that I should have prepared more.

With less than a week until the ride, I started thinking about my nutrition plan, what I was going to wear, and what music I wanted on my iPod. My box of swag for entering the 100MoN came in handy. I supplemented it with some peanut butter sandwiches, some small cans of Coke and baggies of almonds and peanut M&Ms and pretzels.

The day before the ride, I was ready, except I hadn’t yet chosen a route. I knew I’d ride somewhere west of town but not much beyond that. So off I went Friday afternoon to do some reconnaissance.

100MoN 006
Friday afternoon reconnaissance 15 miles west of Williamsburg, Iowa. Love the jersey!

There were several possibilities, but all had tons of climbing. Finally, I found a loop that measured a mile square and had “just” 304 feet of climb for each 4-mile loop. That works out to around 7600 ft of climb (Eric Gunnerson: I was happy to get it down to this).

100MoN Route
My route was in the middle of nowhere. Five farm homes and two abandoned homes.

100MoN Elevation
Up and down. Up and down. 7600 feet of climbing.

I had a four-mile loop with just over a mile of “Level B” road. In Iowa those are the roads that receive no maintenance. They can be full of ruts, random rocks and debris, and usually no gravel whatsoever.

100MoN 009
“Minimum maintenance” roads = Primitive.

I mentioned my route to someone who lives near there, and she cautioned me to be on my guard for coyotes. “They love to hunt along those “B” roads. Bring mace,” she advised.

Day of Reckoning

The forecast called for calm and nighttime temps hovering right at 50 degrees. Perfect. I loaded up the car and headed out to my staging location. At the edge of town, I realized I’d left my warm clothes and food back at the house. Damn. I’m glad I went back.

I got to “home base” around six. A family on the route was gracious enough to let me use their property as my headquarters. Sunset was around 6:30. A riding partner of mine, Mike, showed up to ride the first 25 miles with me.

Mike and I hit the road around 6:30. We did one lap before darkness took over. The moon set shortly after the sun, so I had dark skies the whole night. One lap done, no problem. Laps two, three, four, easy. We took a nature break on lap five (20 miles) and pulled in again after lap six. It was 8:30 and Mike was heading home to heat, food and TV.

100MoN 001
Mike (on the left) looks happy. He’s heading home after riding 24 miles.

My lights were working well. I had no trouble seeing the road and any hazards that lie ahead. About two months ago I’d bought a Salsa Fargo with the intention of using it for long gravel rides. Tonight would be my longest ride on the Fargo. It was comfortable all night and descended the gravel roads like a champ.

100MoN 008
Love this bike!

Around mile 35 a group of deer ran across the road just ahead of me. You’ve all seen Bambi.

Sweet Bambi.

Well, up close and personal Bambi is a freight train that could send me flying into the next county. Now I’ve got to worry about deer bursting from the fields and man-eating coyotes.

I learned a few things about riding at night.

  • It gets really cold in low-lying areas.
  • You can’t tell how steep a hill is if you can’t see it.
  • You can’t see what you’re eating.
  • You can’t see your Garmin so you never know what speed you’re going. I like knowing my cadence, average speed, climb, yada, yada, yada. But tonight I would be in the dark when it came to my riding performance (pun intended).

100MoN B Road
What I saw for nine hours

At mile 48, I picked up a baggie of almonds and M&Ms and dropped about five unwrapped snack-size Snicker Bars into my Revelate Designs Gas Tank. Trick or Treat to me!

I ate the rest of a Subway sandwich, and got a fresh bottle filled with CarboRocket. This is my new favorite drink. Raspberry Lemonade is wonderful.

You’ll note I’m not mentioning my hardworking support crew. That’s because there was no support crew. My friends were home in bed.

It was now around 11pm and time to start the second half of my 100MoN. Only 13 laps to go. I noticed it had gotten really cold. This didn’t feel like 50 degrees. I learned later that it was in the high 30s. I hadn’t planned on temps that cold.

I felt warmer after a couple of laps. Sometime around mile 60 I dropped my water bottle. As I turned around to pick it up I noticed something large and black coming straight for me. I started screaming, hoping to scare the beast away. Was it a dog? A panther? A raccoon? Nope. It was my shadow. Headlights on dark nights can play tricks on you. Trick or Treat on me!

I picked up the water bottle. I didn’t bother wiping off the dust because I knew it would have a fresh coating in a few miles anyway. Down to the bottom of turn two. Stay to the right and miss the washboards. Halfway up the hill, get to the middle of the road where there’s less gravel.

Crest the hill and stay in the middle because it’s smoother there. Go another half-mile and turn south at the cemetery. This is a little downhill segment that I could get up to 22 miles an hour. Up over the first two stair step hills at a good clip, then crawl up step three at 5 miles an hour.

Then it’s downhill again at 22 miles an hour. Turn west on the “B” road and hang on.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here, the video kind of tells the story:

I stopped at mile 72 for something to eat and sat inside the heated workshop that my host family opened up for me to use (flush toilet!).

Done Is Not Done

I was shivering. It was 1:00 am. By my calculations I could be at this until 4 am. I had hoped to finish around two. I went outside.

I looked at my bike and said to myself, ‘I’m done.’

But it didn’t seem right to quit at 72 miles. Who does that? I would feel better if I quit at 75, so I got back on the bike for one more lap.

Somewhere around mile 80 I spied two glowing eyes on the road ahead. Coyote? A Cougar? I could barely make out the shape of its sloped back. My blood went cold(er): Hyena!!!

Then the deer turned its head and walked away. Those weren’t the eyes of any normal deer; he was on this earth to claim the souls of those unlucky to cross its path.

Of that I’m sure.

100MoN 002
Aftermath of my encounter with a soul-sucking deer with glowing eyes

Then the countdown was on. Five laps to go. Then four. I was going to miss the four spent shotgun shells lying in the road. I was going to miss the dirt-caked vegetation on the side of the road that look strangely like dirt-covered snow that refuses to melt in late spring.

At 3:30 am, I pulled into the farm drive for the last time. I took a few pictures and let folks know I had finished.

Riding at night is dark. It’s lonely and quiet. The stars were spectacular. I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing when I’m cold, tired and hungry.

Thanks, Fatty. You make cycling interesting.

100MoN 003
I’m glad it’s over.

100MoN 004
I actually rode faster than the 0.2mph this shows!


  1. Comment by Janet | 10.30.2014 | 8:29 am

    Fantastic, and completely bonkers. Respect!

  2. Comment by BostonCarlos (formerly NYC) | 10.30.2014 | 8:30 am

    good lord. This might be the sufferiest sufferfest I’ve ever heard of.

  3. Comment by Brian in VA | 10.30.2014 | 8:47 am

    Chapeau! What a great ride report!

  4. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 10.30.2014 | 8:51 am

    I can see it now; an award for the most outrageous, sufferiest 100MoN. This one is definitely in the running! You’re crazy (in a good way).

  5. Comment by wharton_crew | 10.30.2014 | 9:14 am

    Riding at night is a total mind-job – everything freaks me out when I ride my local trail at night. Rabbits racing down the trail, coyotes, skunks – even an armadillo spooked the hell outta me one time…

    …it’s awesome!

    Nice job!

  6. Comment by ClydeinKS | 10.30.2014 | 9:15 am

    Yay! Great to hear a 100MoN story from “back home” (off I80 on the western side). Its been a long time since I’ve ridden those gravel paths and you brought back some memories. Thanks for sharing Martin, solitude in the cold and dark, great suffering!!

  7. Comment by MattC | 10.30.2014 | 9:35 am

    Way to GO Martin! 100 miles on a FAT bike, WITH climbing! You will get a very high Noodle-suffer score for sure!

  8. Comment by Tom in Albany | 10.30.2014 | 9:37 am

    Wow! Just, Wow!

  9. Comment by Lauri | 10.30.2014 | 9:58 am

    That looks like fun. Riding at night does weird things to your brain – especially when you’re alone. Good job keeping it together (until the whole soul-sucking deer thing).

    Also – your stick kick stand is very ingeniuous.

  10. Comment by Heidi | 10.30.2014 | 10:01 am

    Hahaha – your video seized control of my Kindle! The story it told, appropriately enough, was complete darkness. I was unable to adjust the volume of the music, which continued to play AFTER I TURNED THE KINDLE OFF. I think your soul-claiming deer possessed my Kindle. Cue the spooky music. (Or, maybe not.)

  11. Comment by MattC | 10.30.2014 | 10:58 am

    On a side note Martin, what handlebars are those, and do you like them? (and do you think they would be good for serious mt biking? ie: 3000′ climbs, descents, switchbacks, etc)

  12. Comment by Fat Cathy | 10.30.2014 | 11:23 am

    Terrific write up and quite an epic ride. Doesn’t get any better than evil shadows and soul-sucking deer! I’m still wiping the tears off my face.

  13. Comment by Marty | 10.30.2014 | 11:37 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I really didn’t think it was such a crazy idea until 70 miles into it.

    I think the shadow was actually Leroy’s Dog.

    MattC: the fat bike has Jones H Loop bars. I rode on RAGBRAI. They were wonderful. Very comfortable. I haven’t done it, but I think they would work really great for trail riding. I hear they handle great.

    The Fargo (the blue bike) has “woodchipper” handlebars. They are a little less aggressive than standard drops so you sit more upright when you use them, which is more comfortable. You’re not as aero as standard drops but the ride is more comfortable.

  14. Comment by Dave T | 10.30.2014 | 11:43 am

    Nice job Martin, love the video. Way to persevere by riding through the night by yourself. Riding with temperatures in the 30’s that’s just crazy.

  15. Comment by zeeeter | 10.30.2014 | 11:51 am

    Great write-up and content Martin – really enjoyed reading! Well done on not getting eaten!

  16. Comment by Kate | 10.30.2014 | 1:08 pm

    Fantastic report! As a gravel lover, I was a little jealous of your route. And I find deer (even the non soul-sucking variety) terrifying ever since that video of the mountain biker being plowed over by an antelope.

    Great training for the full DK in 2015! :)

  17. Comment by sr | 10.30.2014 | 2:31 pm

    Wow, dude. Nice.

  18. Comment by Fred | 10.30.2014 | 4:23 pm

    To sort of paraphrase the Noodle – the vehemence is strong with this one.

    Nine hours on bumpy roads in the cold. I’m now playing for second place. (I also can’t touch the 12k feet of climbing of a couple of days ago, so I guess I’m playing for third.)

  19. Comment by Ann | 10.30.2014 | 7:05 pm

    Thank for riding those great gravel roads for us. I somehow learn to ride bike on those roads! Very Nostalgic! Way cool.

  20. Comment by Corrine | 10.30.2014 | 9:07 pm

    Riding at night, alone, in the dark on a bumpy road. You are brave and strong! Great job.

  21. Comment by lynn e | 10.30.2014 | 9:10 pm

    Well, that answers the life long question: A fat cyclist who yells in the dark without a crew does not let a soul-sucking deer defeat him!


  22. Comment by Cyclingjimbo | 10.31.2014 | 7:57 am

    Awesome ride, and a great report. Hats off. Thanks.

  23. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 10.31.2014 | 3:43 pm

    Well done, great writing! Martin for the 2014 MoN overall win!

  24. Comment by Jacy Hildreth | 10.31.2014 | 5:30 pm

    My biking hero, wait to go! Wow, am interested to see what challenge you will take on next Marty. :)

  25. Comment by John Pitts | 11.2.2014 | 12:41 am

    Well done Martin!

    Loved the soundtrack. Appropriate too – I believe the Kraftwerk guys are mad cyclists.

  26. Comment by Kel | 11.2.2014 | 4:45 pm

    That is awesome! Looks like a fun place to run as well…. Would love to know more about gravel riding.

  27. Comment by Liz M. | 11.3.2014 | 12:27 pm

    Congratulations on quite the epic ride! Can’t even imagine how tired you must have been the next day. I like your bikes, too.


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