Riding shotgun with the Iron Cowboy: Indiana



Last night as we pulled out of Michigan, I got my first taste of driving the Iron Cowboy motor home. It’s a big beast of a thing with a heavy top and tired suspension. For some reason, the entire world decided to convene on the same chewed up stretch of highway in the middle of the night and drive their 18 wheelers towards Indiana. We must have somehow missed the Evite. Lucky for us, we showed up anyway.

It was the first time I had ever driven a motor home, and the fact that James’ entire family was on board didn’t put my mind at ease. Somehow though, it felt oddly familiar – as if I’d done it many times before. I racked my memory, but nothing seemed to emerge. Then I recalled being a young teenager, illegally driving huge trucks full of produce between farms and fruit stands out in rural Eastern Oregon. The first time I ever challenged a muscle car at an intersection was actually from the tall seat of a big rig. I glanced over at the tiny Camaro, and revved the engine. A middle aged man with a flat top craned his neck as he looked up into my youthful face.

He chuckled.

I snarled.

It was on.

When the light turned green I quickly let out the clutch as I slammed on the gas. A huge black cloud arose from the smoke stack above me and the engine roared. Tires squealed as the Camaro peeled out and began to disappear down the long stretch of road. “I’m coming for you!” I yelled, maxing out first gear at a blazing speed of 4 mph. I quickly shifted – the truck shuttering as it fell into 2nd gear. “Bring it you sissy little toy! I’ve still got four more gears if you count reverse!!” I shouted in a hollow threat. The giant truck rumbled along, watermelons bouncing out of their boxes in the trailer behind. The rumble turned into a terrifying shake as I reached 5th gear at a face melting speed of 43 mph. I finally accepted defeat but only because the whole machine threatened to fall apart if I pushed it any faster. “You can have this one.” I thought, looking down the road at the tiny spec of a car – enjoying the thrill of my budding career as a drag racer. “Try me again when I’m not hauling 6 tons of melon.”

As the night rolled on, we rotated drivers in the Iron Cowboy motor home. Amidst the sleep deprived delirium, Aaron got all sentimental about his platonic relationship with both his fellow partner in crime, Casey, and the mechanical beast that was transporting us into the sleeping state of Indiana.

Aaron: “In this RV, we are like a monkey and a banana.”

Casey: “What the hell does that mean?”

Aaron: “I don’t know, I guess it’s like we are one with each other.”

Casey: “What?!”

We arrived in a small town in Indiana in the middle of the night – an hour before the swim. The little hamlet was where the motor home originally came from, and the wingmen hoped to take care of some serious mechanical issues before the trip resumed. The 8 of us tumbled out of the motor home into a small hotel room – the wingmen and I spreading out on the floor, while 4 of the 5 kids tucked into a single queen. James slept in the Van as Jordan and Jessa drove through the night to the swim start. When we awoke, Casey and Aaron dropped the Motor Home off at the repair shop and hoped for the best -hesitant to get their hopes up considering the state of the vehicle. It turns out that completing 50 Ironman distance triathlons, in 50 days, in 50 states is hard – especially on the live-in support vehicle.

Casey posted a diagnostic report of the following:

  • The generator went out
  • The expanding “slid-out” with the bed, does not slide out
  • The stairs no longer extend/retract
  • The fan belt is destroyed and makes a Morse code sound when we turn on the A/C

After the drop off, the three of us drove through Amish country in an attempt to meet up with the Iron Cowboy for the bike portion of the day. The landscape was covered in big fields of corn -the low lying areas covered in water as if the crop was planted on top of existing swamps. Between the fields were huge farm houses with Swiss architecture, and accompanying barns that boasted a meticulously intricate craftsmanship. Amid the signs of civilization there were no motorized vehicles – rather the farms were scattered with individuals on foot, struggling to push huge loads of hay in oversized wheel barrows. Along the sides of the road were signs that told passing motorists to be on the lookout for horse drawn carriages. Within a few minutes we approached one, the orange triangular reflector that hung on the back, in stark contrast to the horse and carriage that seemed to emerge from a distant past. Riding along was a sturdy man with a beard that would put any hipster to shame, and a few women with  high necked, long sleeve dresses black black bonnets covering their long hair. I was instantly in awe and in love with everything I saw. Right in front of us, a large one story barn arose out of a field that bordered the road. Bold black letters on the white roof spelled out the words, “LIVE UNITED” –  a message that attempted to reconcile the devout, yet industrious life of the past, with the narcissistic, technological frenzy of the present.LIVE UNITEDAs we drove, Casey and Aaron discussed the likely possibility that the repair shop would not be able to meet the needs of the Iron Cowboy motor home within this short time frame. We talked about potential worse case scenarios and the possibility of fixing the mechanical issues ourselves. Casey is convinced that the fan belt – the one that incessantly screams Morse code messages when the A/C is running – is actually trying to communicate with us.

“If only we could decipher the message!” he exclaimed as we drove along. “It would either tell us what is wrong with the vehicle, and give us intricate details as to how we can fix the problem. Or…It would lead us to a treasure and we’ll all be rich.” – both fortuitous scenarios.

We met up at the location of this morning’s swim – the Tuhey Pool in Muncie Indiana – which would also serve as the home base for the entire day. As we approached, a reporter from the local news channel emerged from behind her SUV. She had the pleasant air of confidence that you would expect from a reporter, but what set her apart is that she was dressed from head to toe in cycling attire and accompanied by a sleek road bike. She took an ethnographic approach to her story today, covering the swim  by swimming alongside the Iron cowboy, and covering the bike, by cycling with the huge peloton for a large portion of the 112 miles – GoPro in hand.


As bikes began to trickle in, we got word that one of the cyclists – a man named Randy – had gone down extremely hard and was in very bad shape. Apparently a branch had somehow flipped up into the spokes of his back wheel, the jolt forcing his front wheel off the road and into the gravel. The abrupt change in terrain launched the bike into the air, while throwing Randy over the handle bars.  He fell hard on his shoulder and head, and although he was wearing a helmet, he lay  motionless for several moments. When finally came to, he had lost sensation throughout his entire body. An ambulance quickly arrived on the scene and he was rushed to the local hospital. He was later transferred to Park View Hospital in Ft. Wayne. He has since completely regained feeling and function, with the exception of his left arm and hand.  James and all of his crew are deeply concerned for Randy and wish him a full recovery.

Despite the horrible accident, the large group of cyclists rallied together and brought James through the 112 miles in good time. The sun beat down hot through a blue sky. Dark tan lines appeared on the arms of the legs of the cyclists as they stripped out of their kits, and into their running gear. There was a constant buzz about Randy and his condition. Everyone was concerned and a bit shaken by the experience, knowing that it easily could have been one of them. Some of the athletes who were present when Randy crashed had accompanied him to the hospital. There seemed to be a hesitancy among the rest of the athletes -a heavy question as to what was the appropriate thing to do in a moment like this.

The crowd swelled as more athletes joined the Iron Cowboy for the Marathon. James’s asked about Randy as he prepared for the run, and listened with deep concern. “Ok.” he said with a nod -the news troubling him deeply. James pushed his torn and battered feet into his running shoes and looked down the road as he laced them up. He walked towards the hesitant crowd who saw his eyes and in an instant, knew the right thing to do – “Just keep moving forward.

The crowd parted as James approached, and enveloped around him. “Let’s go.” he calmly said, motioning with his head towards the marathon course.  As the slow walk evolved into a run, an odd thing happened. Rather than allow the accident on the bike to bring down the energy of the large group, Randy’s crash seemed to do the opposite. A sense of unity swelled as fresh legs combined with weary legs and the large glistening throng moved resolutely down the sun-baked road.MUNCIE 5k

It was as if the run represented the personification of struggles, challenges, and obstacles in general – the kind of opposition that makes an entrance anytime an individual, or a group of individuals, set out to make a change for the better. The opposition’s weapon is a call for inactivity. It manifests itself through fear, passivity, and trepidation – effects that today, had threatened to sideline the athletes and silence the message of change, human potential, and a better future for our children. The group realized as they ran along, that the correct response was action. It was what James knew all along. It’s what started this whole thing in the first place.  MUNCIE MARATHON All thoughts were on Randy as the solid group pushed resolutely into the setting sun. There was a unity and a fire that radiated through the crowd. It was as if every stride was a message – a collective action that symbolized a shared internal conviction. It was the same conviction that moved each of them, including Randy, to wake up this morning and accompany the Iron Cowboy.  Each had overcome their discomfort, and silenced the voices inside that encouraged retreat.  With every struggling step, the group of runners voiced their stance – as if staring down that embodied version of life’s obstacles, and solemnly declaring: “We will not back down. We will not be moved. We will not retreat. We will not surrender.  We see you. We acknowledge your strength, but we’re not afraid – because together we are stronger. We will strive. We will fight. And we will win.”



*If you would like to donate to Randy’s recovery fund, please visit the link below:


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