Tag Archives: Iowa



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.


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.


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

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.

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!