Monthly Archives: July 2013

RAGBRAI days #6-7

Thursday night we got to stay in a church in Oskaloosa, thanks to one of our camping group members. Pro: we were indoors during the overnight rains; spouse and I had our own bathroom. Con: even with my yoga mat and Thermarest, sleeping on the hard floor of the church nursery left me very stiff in the morning. Fortunately the rain stopped by the time we all got on the road, and despite cloudy skies we never got rained on. It was a cool, cloudy ride that I now barely remember! But when we got to Fairfield, IA, the clouds blew off and it got nice & sunny.

Our camping group ended up in a park…next to the train tracks. Fairfield has a no-whistle ordinance for the trains, but apparently the ordinance was lifted for RAGBRAI. And in the afternoon trains went by every twenty minutes, even more often than our first night in Council Bluffs. Therefore, we were happy to accept an invitation from Cathy and Mike, who live about ten miles from Fairfield, to stay overnight at their house. Spouse and I got to sleep in a luxurious bed, on a night when the temps dipped down into the low 50’s. It was the best night of sleep I got on RAGBRAI this year, with bonus coffee in the morning.

Today was day #7, the last day. It was very cool in the morning, unseasonably cool, and I was happy I brought a merino undershirt. Today’s mileage was 63, with some hills, but they turned out to be longer, less-steep hills for the most part, hills that I can ride up at a goodly clip. The last day of RAGBRAI tends to be fast and furious, as everybody is keen to finish up and head home. I was doing 18-20 mph on the flats, and getting passed by more people than I passed. But we had plenty of time to get to our bus for the ride home. Had to stand in line *forever* to dip our tires in the Mississippi River, but eventually our turn came; ironically that was probably the longest line any of us had waited in all week.

Overall, I had a really fun time at RAGBRAI this year. A week or so before we left home I felt really negative, and even told my spouse I didn’t think I’d be interested in doing RAGBRAI again after this year. But now I feel like RAGBRAI is an option on the table for future vacations. Sure, there were moments I was *slogging* up hills at 4 mph. Sure, my butt is kind of sore. Sure, I had to use some smelly portajohns. I got hot, I got cold, I got some scratches from tinkling under a tree. But the fun outweighed the downers. I met some great people, and felt really at home with our adopted cycling club from Ottumwa.

Now it’s time to put RAGBRAI to bed, and put myself to bed while I’m at it. I might as well abide by my 9pm bedtime one more night. Thank you for reading!


Day #5 has come & gone already!

Wow, two years ago my first RAGBRAI lasted a loooooong time, LOL. The first or second day I could barely imagine how the next five or six days would pass. This time the days have flown by!

Today’s ride was hilly again, big surprise. And I found that I was tired. My hands and wrists hurt, my foot was getting fatigued in the clipless pedal, my leg muscles are tender. But again I rode up all the hills as slowly as I needed to. Others in my camping group spoke of being tired today, so I was gratified to know it wasn’t just me. That said, I know I’m in nowhere near the discomfort I was in this time two years ago (thanks in large part, probably, to heavy use of Chamois Butt’r!).

Our first pass-through town was Pella, a very cute little Dutch town. Lots of good food! We fueled up on Dutch traveler’s sandwiches (big slabs of bread, ring bologna, Gouda cheese, & a fried egg) & Dutch letters, almond paste-filled pastries. Passed through a couple other towns. Ride was scenic, but the weather was not as good as yesterday. It turned hot today, and a little humid. We just drank and pedaled, drank and pedaled.

You can see just about any kind of biker on RAGBRAI. Well, demographically, mostly rich white people (and here I’m talking about rich by world standards, not necessarily USA standards). But you see all kinds of bicycles, and all kinds of bike riding styles, from the fastest guys riding the most expensive carbon fiber bikes in pace lines, to an 86-year-old woman riding a comfort bike “just for kicks.” Yep, I’ve seen her every day. So, even though I feel a kind of kinship of cycling with everybody here, I also have to acknowledge that not everybody rides like I do. I don’t have to keep up with anybody, and nobody has to keep up, or down, with me.

I’m grateful that my spouse chooses to keep pace with me. A lot of people come to RAGBRAI with friends, but they split up on the road and meet in towns or at some other point, like Mr. Porkchop or Beekmans ice cream. As for me, I think i would find that most lonely! I love cycling, and I love my solitude, but I’ve never been drawn to solitary road rides. It’s a social event for me. I feel the same way about traveling. Sure, I can do it by myself, and I have done it, but I enjoy it so much more when I’m sharing the experience with somebody.

Never believe anybody when they tell you,

“One more hill, and after that it’s pretty much all downhill to ____________.”

That’s what Iowans say to RAGBRAIers. Iowans who probably haven’t ridden a bike since they were kids. Iowans who drive everywhere & don’t recognize a hill in their car.

Dang! There were more hills today. But you know what? I now look at hills dispassionately. They are there, and I downshift and pedal up them.

Very steep hills will tire me out. They will strain my muscles. But I just do them, usually in granny gear and usually at 4 mph. And usually with one foot free of my clipless pedals, just in case I need to stop.

Long hills that are less steep are pretty much a piece of cake to me. Many people still pass me, but I’m not the slowest one, and I’m not exhausted at the top.

Today was a really nice day. The weather was great! It got really cool last night, and the coolness stayed with us until at least ten o’clock. And even after it warmed up, there was a dry, cooling breeze. I cycled well, although after several hills my butt muscles started to feel really tight, so we stopped for a massage by Julia. Julia & her husband Lynn set up a massage tent on the RAGBRAI route every year. This year they’re sharing farm space with Mr. Porkchop. Anyway, Julia worked on my muscles for twenty minutes, and I was on my way. I didn’t want to get any more relaxed than that when I still had twenty or so miles to go.

We had the BEST piece of blackberry pie at a Church of the Brethren way out in the country, several miles west of Monroe, IA. We later had good pie from the Kiwanis in Monroe. Later still, good pie at the Living Word Church pulled pork dinner–they admitted their pie wasn’t homemade, but from a very good bakery in Pella, which we’ll pass through tomorrow.

I still find it hard to believe how much more fun I’m having on RAGBRAI than I did two years ago. Some of the variables are quite out of my control, especially the weather. But It is gratifying to see my own changes, both in strength/endurance, as well as skill in cycling.

A short day turns long

RAGBRAI Day #3. Short: 50 miles! Cool weather, courtesy of last night’s cold front moving in! Easy, breezy!

The first half of the day did feel easy & breezy & fun. A hill or two, lots of flats, a little sun that became cool & overcast. And several pass-through towns were close together and we took little breaks to eat and use the KYBO. But somewhere along the line I started to feel tired. I think it was yesterday kicking in. My hands hurt, my butt felt tired of the saddle, and I kept thinking about taking a nap. One long stretch of road was hard concrete with a bump every ten feet. Very tiring. Oh, and the head winds!

We had a nice stop in Valley Junction, IA where we ate lunch before our final five mile ride to Des Moines. The plan was to stay with Rory, a Spoke Folk member who offered his yard & house for our use. Rory’s house was a couple miles farther than the end of the day’s route, with a huge honkin’ hill right at the end. Hill? The nerve of someone to buy a house at the top of a hill, and then open his house to cyclists! I had top stop halfway up that %$#@! hill and rest for a moment, but I refused to walk it.

Well, Rory lives in the cutest house you ever saw. It’s spacious & comfortable & seems to have endless hot water for dirty cyclists in need of washing. I took a lovely nap in our tent, which is set up on the front lawn, took a shower, and now Rory is cooking up a ton of burgers & brats for the gang. I believe I saw some potatoes baking in the oven, too. It’s such a reprieve to not have to go into town in search of food, especially after a tiring day.

P.S. I will add pictures to these posts after I get home & can merge content from the iPad, iPhone, and camera.

The day I dreaded is over

I was worried RAGBRAI Day #2: 83 miles, 4239 feet of climb. Last summer I did an 84.5 mile ride and was pretty much done in at the end of it. Then, the first & second days of RAGBRAI 2011 each had about 4200 feet of climb (plus heat & humidity) which also pretty much did me in. What would this Day #2 be like?

Well, it was not that bad! It was cool & foggy at the beginning, which meant very scenic and beautiful, but the first few miles were harsh, and frenetic. Since it was a long day, with an optional loop for folks who wanted to do a century, everybody started early, and there was heavy cyclist traffic for about the first 15 miles, where the century loop turned off. But once those riders left the course, riders started spreading out and I felt more relaxed.

So, the hills were hills, but they weren’t killers. And I guess this means that I do hills better and more easily than I did two years ago. Recently my spouse had remarked that he could tell I was much stronger than before, and I replied that I didn’t *feel* it. But yesterday I felt it. On my first RAGBRAI I would see a hill up ahead & be filled with a combination of dread and resentment. This year I just look at a hill and get ready to downshift.

I can’t remember about last time, but this year I am making full use of all my gears. I’ve discovered the joy of the big ring and hitting 20 mph on the flats, and the joy of hitting the small ring early on a hill & not being quite the slowest rider going up.

The evening of Day #2 we had a tremendous storm! It started around 8:30, fortunately after we had walked to dinner and such, and it lasted for an hour and a half. Spouse & I rode it out in the tent, and it was quite the thriller. Lots of rain, a little hail, LOTS of wind. Wild times. But once it finally stopped we toweled everything down and were able to get a good night’s sleep.


Wow, today couldn’t have gone better. Despite turning in early, our sleep was interrupted several times by trains; that’s the scourge of camping next to the old train station. Nevertheless, I did get rest. We were on the road shortly after six o’clock. There was a very scary looking spike on the altitude chart of the day, just outside of Council Bluffs, but the hill turned out to be long and do-able. After that there was a long descent, on which I reached a top speed of 32.8 mph. DH said I looked really cool and confident on the descent, but the reality is I was terrified of going so fast! It was really hard to not brake, but I took the left lane and just held tight and concentrated.

We ran into Robert B. a paraplegic who camped with our group in our last RAGBRAI. Last time Robert rode a trike, but he has re-mastered the art of riding an upright bike–with clipless pedals, even–and was proud to ride the Rivendell Long Low he had acquired shortly before the farm accident that took his legs. Robert spotted us at a church lady stop, so we chatted & took some pics.

The weather was very pleasant today. The morning was cool, and there were spotty clouds that would give us an overcast break occasionally. We sampled chocolate covered bacon in one town. I love bacon and I love chocolate, but the chocolate-covered bacon wasn’t all that. I’ll look for other treats tomorrow.

Thus far DH and I have sampled three kinds of pie: rhubarb, gooseberry, and blueberry. All three were pretty good.

Biggest contrast between today and Day #1 of RAGBRAI 2011 is that in 2011 it was almost all I could do to just finish each day. This year I felt like I had more fun on Day #1 than I had on the whole of RAGBRAI 2011!


Yesterday we drove from West Lafayette, Indiana to Ottumwa, Iowa, where we met up with Spoke Folk, the Ottumwa cycling club we joined. For a very reasonable fee Spoke Folk rents a Ryder truck and hires a driver who schleps our gear from overnight town to overnight town. And Spoke Folk also arranges transport for us from Ottumwa to the starting town and from the finish town back to Ottumwa. Without Spoke Folk, I’m not sure I’d even consider doing RAGBRAI!

Our camping post is on the grounds of the Cedar Bluffs railroad museum. We have our tents set up between train cars, and the museum is nice enough to keep their doors open all night so we can use the bathrooms. If it rains we can climb inside one of the display trains!

DH and rode our bikes down to tthe RAGBRAI expo. Blah. The ride was hot, dusty, nerve racking. The streets were kind of potholey, and we didn’t know exactly where we were going. Getting on a bike path made things lots better, and we figured out where to go. The expo was big and noisy and frenetic, and we left quickly, but not before I bought some bacon jerky, and some performance drink powder that has caffeine in it.

I had spotted a taco joint to try that was on the route back to the train museum. We went in, and several folks from our group were in there already. So, we sat with them and ate Mexican food and chilled out after the edgy trek to the Expo. Now we’re back at camp, ready to wind down for the evening, and rest up for the big day.

Tomorrow: I’ll report on the rain that everybody keeps talking about. Will it show?