Put to the test

Thirty-three riders battle heat, Jefferson County's toughest roads

Jeff Brunenn, left, and Andy Bastert head out on a 51-mile bike ride through Jefferson County on Saturday, July 25. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Jeff Brunenn, left, and Andy Bastert head out on a 51-mile bike ride through Jefferson County on Saturday, July 25. (Andy Hallman/The Union)

FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield Chamber of Commerce added a feather to its cap Saturday, July 25, by hosting a bicycle ride for the first time.

The event was the Level B Service Ride, which started at Maasdam Barns and then went through mostly gravel and dirt roads in the county before winding up back at the start. The 33 riders who registered for the event got to choose from three routes of varying lengths, a short one of 28 miles dubbed “Let’s Roll,” a medium one of 51 miles dubbed “Shut Up Legs” and a long one of 85 miles called “Masochistic.” The longest route went through 36 miles of dirt road and 7,563 feet of elevation.

Kalona resident Landon Beachy started the ride confident he could do the long route. After all, he is an accomplished cyclist, having gone on 100-mile gravel rides before and even three transcontinental rides across the United States. However, Saturday’s mixture of heat and humidity was too much for him.

“When I turned on my Garmin [wrist watch] that morning, it told me we were in a heat advisory,” Beachy said.

Later that day, the temperature hit 90 degrees, and the heat index had climbed to 108. Beachy heard later from one of the organizers that the heat index had even reached 111.

After biking 41 miles, Beachy realized the sun and the pedaling were sapping him of his strength. He pulled over and sat in the grass to catch his breath. One of the promoters of the event drove by in the sag truck, and asked him if he wanted to hop in. Beachy decided to call it a day, and climbed into the truck.

“I think if it hadn’t been so humid, it wouldn’t have been an issue,” Beachy said. “It was so humid that pouring water on my head really didn’t do much. I’ve ridden in a lot of races, but the humidity made this one of the top five worst.”

Beachy said he found the county’s dirt roads to be mostly passable. There were a few tough stretches of sand, a couple of water crossings, and some ruts, but generally the roads were hard enough that they weren’t a problem. At times, the dirt roads even offered him some shade because some are lined with trees, which was helpful when he was traveling east or west.

“It wasn’t too bad when I was going downhill with a breeze, but climbing a hill with the sun beating down on me was hard,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘This is a cooker.’”

Beachy said he’s glad he went on the ride even though he didn’t finish the route he set out on.

“It’s a good way to see the country and to get a different view from the one you get on the highway,” he said.

Jerad Ruble and Becca Kokjohn traveled from Donnellson that morning to do the short course. They felt the weather was a “little humid” but nothing out of the ordinary for late July in Iowa. Like Beachy, they found the roads marked “rough terrain” were not too bad.

“There were a few areas with looser gravel and some wash out,” Kokjohn said. “The sandy Level B roads introduced a very fun challenge.”

Kokjohn and Ruble stopped periodically for their own water breaks and at one of the snack and water stations the Chamber had set up along the route.

“The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce did a great job of letting us know about the various spots for breaks,” Kokjohn said.

The couple said they often ride dirt and single-track trails on their mountain bikes for 5-10 miles at a time, and they’ve recently gotten into gravel and endurance biking. They said they would consider doing this event again next year.

“We are huge advocates for cycling in general, and this race really exposed us to a broader cycling community,” Kokjohn said. “We really think more cyclists could enjoy this style of biking due to our abundance of gravel roads in the area. Overall, this ride was a great experience and we are excited to check out more biking in Fairfield.”

Jeff Brunenn and his friend Andy Bastert also came from out of town to participate in the ride, with Brunenn making the drive from Hamilton, Ill,, and Bastert coming from Carthage, Ill. Brunenn said he found the gravel roads to be rather difficult to ride.

“The dirt roads in some places were better than the gravel,” he said.

Brunenn said most of the gravel roads had just been topped with new gravel, which was loose and had not been worn down to create a smooth path to ride on. That made traveling on gravel all the more arduous. Brunenn said he often travels 18-20 mph on blacktop, but averaged only 12.4 mph during Saturday’s mostly gravel 51-mile trek.

Brunenn said he belongs to the Burlington bike club known as Bike Burlington, and that club routinely goes on 50- or even 100-mile rides.

“I’d say going 51 miles on gravel is probably equal to 80-100 miles on blacktop,” he said. “You have to keep your eyes peeled for so many more obstacles like big rocks. You don’t have to worry about that on blacktop.”

Brunenn said he likes to participate in the cycling events that are within 100 miles of his home. He’s a regular at Bike Van Buren, the annual cycling ride through Van Buren County. He said he enjoyed Saturday’s ride and is willing to do it again next year.