RAGBRAI 2015

IMG_1303

Happy to dip our tires in the Mississippi River and call it a week.

In 2011 & 2013 I wrote daily entries about my RAGBRAI experiences. This year I think I can summarize it all into one post.

First off, on Day One, Doug and I decided this is the last time we’ll do RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is hard. It’s a lot of work for a “vacation”! And it’s not even the bicycle riding that makes it so hard, it’s dealing with the crowds, being surrounded constantly by other riders on the course, waiting in line for everything, getting up at the crack of dawn to take down the tent, get ready (including standing in line for the toilet), schlepping baggage to the truck, and trying to hit the road by 6:15 a.m. Et cetera, etc!

And sometimes the bicycle riding *is* hard. Our first day was 76.5 miles with almost 4000 feet of climb. That’s pretty hilly, and long. I actually had a good Day One, though. I felt that my hill climbing was solid, and not as slow as in years past. Day Two we awoke to rain overnight, and in the morning flew to the first town to beat more rain. After stopping for breakfast & waiting for a while, we rode in the rain for maybe an hour. I really did *not* enjoy this. I got cold, I worried about maneuvering on wet pavement surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists, and so on. But nothing bad happened & of course it got nice & hot later in the day.

IMG_1296

One of the many public libraries we visited.

Day Three was beautiful–good weather that was worth the price of a little rain the day before. 73 miles and not much climb, fun to ride…but at the end of the day I had no interest in riding the Karras Loop, which gives folks the option to ride one hundred miles. Day Four was the shortest day at 58.4 miles, but the entire day was a slog for me; I just never felt energetic. I had to grit my teeth and just do it.

Day Five was fun, 70.9 miles and we stopped at several small public libraries along the way. Day Six I can barely remember (wait–it was the day that a storm blew up and we camped out in a pie-serving church for an hour or two, and then we road in blustery winds until it got hot & sunny & humid & hilly again); the overnight town was Coralville, and I don’t much like the approaches into the bigger cities. They usually involve long ascents on noisy highways and finding our campsite gets more complicated… Day Seven was fun and fast (we hitched a ride to the midpoint and gave ourselves an easy day), and we got to cool off at a public pool in Davenport before being bussed back to Ottumwa.

IMG_1297

Pie. RAGBRAI is fueled by pie.

So that was that. The one thing that makes it hard to say we’ll never do RAGBRAI again is the friends we’ve made by joining Spoke Folk, the Ottumwa cycling club. This is the third time we’ve camped with several of the same folks, and they are the best. It’s hard to say “never again” to them.

I have concluded that if I choose to do another cycling vacation, a few criteria must be met:

  • it must last fewer than seven days
  • the mileage per day should be around 50 miles
  • the number of riders must be considerably smaller than RAGBRAI (15-16K riders per day, sheesh!)
  • beds, flush toilets, and easily-acquired meals must figure in

Rain

After posting about hills and wind, I was really hoping I wouldn’t have any reason to write about rain. Wrong!

I came out of the gym today and guess what, it was raining. Big surprise (it’s been raining here a lot lately). I had no choice but to suck it up and ride home in the rain. Well, I generally don’t mind getting wet on the way home. My hair was still wet from my shower, anyway, and I can just peel off wet clothes when I get home & change.

Today’s rain shower gave me a chance to evaluate the Da Brim Rezzo Visor which I had put on my helmet primarily for sun protection. Riding in the rain is tough when your glasses get coated with water and you can’t see, or your unshielded eyeballs get smacked with big raindrops. I am happy to report that Da Brim did a great job of shielding my sunglasses so I could see clearly all the way home.

Two comments about Da Brim. First, there’s no good way to attach my rear view mirror to Da Brim, so I had to attach the mirror to my sunglasses;  in general, I prefer attaching it to the helmet. (This is why I was wearing my sunglasses while it was raining.) Second, a couple days ago Da Brim blew off while I was riding into a wind. After I retrieved it I was able to attach it in a slightly more downward position and I haven’t had any trouble since, not even during yesterday’s windy ride.

I have the big-ass 4″ Brim, about which several cycling friends have already made light-hearted comments. I don’t care! When we’re old and your face is all wrinkly and mine is not, I’ll have the last laugh!

Wind

Yesterday evening some of the club bike rides were cancelled (“weather is too uncertain,””stay dry!”). But I kept an eye on the hourly weather forecast and there were no raindrops predicted for our area all evening. And our dear ride leader didn’t cancel.

Five of us went on a twenty-mile jaunt that was punctuated by staunch winds. We ended up taking a route a few of us hadn’t ridden since last year, and it was nice to have a change of scenery. There were a couple hills in the mix, too. As per usual, I was the last to arrive at the top, but I always made it. It always amazes me how much a headwind can slow you down, and the noise of the wind in my ears gets tiring after a while.

On the way back into town we passed the 500 W hill, and I considered asking the group if anybody wanted to join me in another practice run…but I didn’t. I felt that riding into the wind had given me sufficient training for the night.

cropped-img_05783.jpg

Hills

Last night my riding (and life) partner and I went out to ride a few hills. Here in north central Indiana you have to seek out hills, and it’s rather easy to avoid them. But in the spirit of preparing for RAGBRAI, I thought I’d better give the ol’ bod some idea of routes to come.

We took off through the Indiana countryside, made a few turns, and headed down a lovely, curvy wooded road that slopes down toward the river. Got to the bottom and rode along til we got to the practice hill, 500 W. It’s a very steep hill that goes straight up; spouse’s GPS reported that the hill was 140 feet high, fourteen storeys. Spouse zipped right up, but I downshifted to my smallest chainring early in, and used my lowest gear, which I usually try to reserve for emergencies. It was a slog…but doable. The worst part of it was how buggy the air was combined with my breathing through my mouth.* Oh, and the fact that 500 W hill doesn’t stop where you think it will–you get to the perceived top and there’s another 50 yards that continue sloping up at a gentler angle.

We rode home via Newman Road, which offers a couple more hills, including one that has a curve so you are never quite sure what’s going to happen. Then we rode to campus and up Hilltop Drive through university apartment buildings. A speed bump at the top added a little insult to injury. And this hill drill included a “mystery hill” that I won’t yet name in case any cycling club members read this (you’ll have to do the ride to find out where it is!). All I will say is, spouse was right that it was a hill I had never climbed, or even *considered* climbing, by bike. I made it about a third of the way up, and he nailed it. I’ll definitely try it again!

First RAGBRAI, hills filled me with dread…but I watched and learned from other cyclists passing me, and as days passed became a much better hill climber.

Second RAGBRAI, I looked at hills dispassionately. I wasn’t scared of them, and felt confident that I could conquer just about any hill on the route, as long as I took my time.

This time around, I haven’t ridden many hills this year, so I was kind of languishing in the fear/avoidance realm, but after last night’s ride I’m starting to feel confident again.

As Chloe always says, “I’ve never met a hill I couldn’t walk!”

* Note to self: Wear lots of lip balm so bugs and cottonwood fuzzies get stuck to your lips instead of flying down your throat!

Fourth of July tradition

IMG_0112For the past three years a small group of us has ridden to a town about thirty miles away to attend their Fourth of July fair, then ride home. It’s a lovely, almost completely flat ride out in the Indiana countryside. There is little shade along the way but this year the morning part of the ride stayed reasonably cool, and the afternoon never got terribly hot.

Although there is a variety of food available, our group gravitates toward the fried chicken plate with fries and slaw offered by one of the local churches. They’re usually really nice about letting us fill up our bike bottles with lemonade. We listen to the band for a little while, then walk around the antique car and tractor show and flea market before heading home.

IMG_0106

IMG_0099

Our ride leader explains something to us, probably about history or agronomy

Sixty miles was the longest ride I’ve done this year. I was pretty wiped out when we got home. First day of RAGBRAI is coming up fast and it’s 76.5 miles. However, on RAGBRAI we get a little more rest because bottlenecks in the pass-through towns force you to stop and walk your bike, and we’re all about taking a break, eating a snack (such as a smoked pork chop), and filling up our water bottles, anyway.

Speaking of RAGBRAI, I had been worrying a little about the hilly first day. In addition to 76 miles, there will be 3900 to 4100 feet of climb (those different altitudes are posted at different spots on the RAGBRAI website). Ack! That’s like the second day of our Annapurna Sanctuary trek, which I felt was harder than my ENTIRE first RAGBRAI. But I looked up the climb from day #1 of 2011 and we climbed just shy of 4300 feet. I didn’t walk a single hill that day, and I feel that I’m in at least as good shape now as i was then (not to mention a better hill climber). Mercy! If I could do that then, I can climb 4100 feet this year. And subsequent days are much less hilly. I guess all I have to worry about, then, is the weather!

IMG_0101

Rivendell Man in his natural habitat

45 miles in Amishland

IMG_1526

Rick, Gary, & Doug inspect a giant mushroom

Yesterday we cycled in the annual Pumpkinvine Ride in the Amish country of northern Indiana. We arrived Friday evening at the home of new friends Patricia and Pete, whom I had “met” via Facebook through my cousin Dorothy. We planned on camping in their back yard, but when our air mattress deflated, Pat & Pete unfolded their guest futon without hesitation. We all went out to dinner at the new Goshen Brewing Company, which was cozy and offered great food & beer. Goshen seems like a pretty cool little town!

Weather for the Pumpkinvine was excellent. The skies were overcast until about 11:00 a.m., which kept it from getting too hot. We started out headed to Middlebury with our friends Gary and Rick, who suggested we stop at Krider’s World’s Fair Garden along the way. Krider’s Nurseries were at one point one of the biggest seedling supplier in the country, and Krider’s designed this garden for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34. Anyway, it was fun to stop and enjoy the beautiful garden for fifteen minutes instead of intently blasting away on the cycling trail as so many riders seemed to be doing.

IMG_1525

Rick, me, Gary, Doug at Krider’s Gardens

At Middlebury we parted from Rick and Gary, who were doing the 61-mile route, opting for the 45-mile “hilly” route. Doug was interested in this route, although the word “hilly” left me disinterested… But in the spirit of getting reading for RAGBRAI 2015’s first day of 74.3 miles and ***4110*** feet of climb (um, more by a couple hundred feet than the Nepal trek from Tikhedunga to Ghorepani, which I thought was harder than my entire first RAGBRAI), I thought I’d better suck it up and get some hill practice. Turns out the route wasn’t *that* hilly! It was mostly rolling hills, with one big steep hill that started around a curve and didn’t give you a chance to gain any momentum for the climb. I usually reserve my lowest gear for extreme emergencies, and kind of pride myself on rarely using it…but I shamelessly used it on this hill.

Then the hard part was over. We returned to the SAG at Middlebury where we ate more sandwiches & potato chips, listened to a lovely band called Back Yard Brass, and chatted with a woman named Joanne who has a Betty Foy set up similarly to mine and also purchased from Dick Denning of Celina, OH. Joanne insisted I ride my Betty next year, and to meet her promptly at 9:00 a.m. for the start. Yes, ma’am!

IMG_1532

Elderberries were in bloom all along the route

Turns out I was quite satisfied with riding fewer but hillier miles (subtext: 45 miles was ENOUGH!) . I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever passed a horse-drawn Amish buggy by bike, and I learned that in Amish country potholes in the roads tend to occur in the middle of the lane where the horses’ hooves strike, rather than on the outsides of the lane where the wheels go. We saw many Amish of all ages riding bikes on the roads and trails in the area. I suspect they mostly had utilitarian purposes for their riding, whereas we were riding for recreation.

Pat & Pete offered me the opportunity to take a nap before driving home, and I zonked out pretty quickly for over an hour. Refreshed, we hit the road, stopping first at the Maple City Market, where my membership at my local food co-op Cityfoods was honored. I was tired last night, but today I feel pretty fit and don’t have any sore muscles.

RAGBRAI is still a few weeks away. I worry about being trained well enough…but I suspect I’m overall stronger at this point than I was two or four years ago for my previous rides across Iowa. I just need to keep riding, and seeking out the occasional hill (or three).

IMG_1533

Funky beehive in Patricia & Pete’s back yard, which is full of all kinds of wonderful garden stuff

RAGBRAI training 2015

IMG_1491 Ride leader Gary waits while I take some photos

I have about a month left to train for RAGBRAI. Last night I did a 22-mile ride during which I felt a little worried about not being prepared enough. Then I realized that I’m probably right where I need to be, and that a lot can happen in the next four weeks.

After a six or seven week hiatus from working with my personal trainer (during which I went to Nepal and then Merlefest) I’ve been working with Matt consistently, even upping my sessions from two to three a week especially for RAGBRAI training. And I am feeling (more than seeing) results: I feel a lot more powerful in my hips while I’m cycling. I spring up from sitting in chairs more easily. My shoulders and back feel strong. When I walk, I feel very tall and straight, no listing to one side–as a matter of fact, I actually feel taller. In short, I’m not too far from strutting around like I’m a total badass. (That usually comes after completing RAGBRAI!)

To do for the next month:

  • Ride most days of the week;  body needs to get used to doing it day after day
  • Aim for a pace of 15-16 mph rather than 12-13 mph;  faster finishes will mean more rest time
  • Seek out more hills (remember, I live in Indiana);  RAGBRAI day #1 has 4100 feet of climb

Here are some pics from yesterday’s ride in the bucolic Indiana coutryside. On Tuesday evenings we usually ride past the Farmers Institute, a Quaker meeting house that was originally a college.

IMG_1490 IMG_1489 IMG_1488