Day 7

The final leg of RAGBRAI was a 47 mile ride from Manchester to Dubuque. At mile 34 was Potter’s Hill. The hill everyone talked about for months leading up to RAGBRAI. A 1 1/2 mile long, 350 foot climb hill. A killer. (GeoBike Chart) After Potter’s Hill it was downhill into Dubuque where more hills would greet us before arriving at the Mississippi.

I awoke at 5:06. My first thought was “oh shit, the lines for the porta potties will be long.” And they were. If you got up before 5:00 you could normally get right in but after 5:00 was always a wait. The day wasn’t starting off right.

After packing up and putting my baggage in the truck I gleefully took my tent and threw it in the dumpster! I was done sleeping in a tent. Forever!

I grabbed a cup of coffee at a C-Store. I didn’t want to get in the position I did the day before and go hours before my first cup. Then it was off to Dyersville and The Field of Dreams. I had visited the Field of Dreams on a handful of occasions before but I never give up the chance to do it again.

The weather was getting hotter as each mile progressed toward Potter’s Hill. I wasn’t that concerned because I had decided months ago if I had to walk the hill I would walk it. No problem. Then it appeared. Three quarters of the width of the hill was covered by walkers with only 1/4 of the road being used by those trying to bike up. It was time to get off and start walking. It was then I discovered that walking up Potter’s Hill would not be as easy as I thought. I had never trained to push a 65 pound trike up a hill over a mile long. While bike riders were pushing along their bikes I struggled mightily to push my trike. I thought I would never reach the top. When I did reach the top my legs ached for the first time all week. I mean they really ached. I was sweating as much as I had all week. Exhausted is the only term to describe my condition at that point. Luckily I had about 5 miles of downhill to Dubuque ahead of me.

During the downhill decent speeds were achieved by the bikes that scared me just thinking about it. As bikes were screaming past me doing at least 50-60 mph the riders were yelling “YEE HA!” I was trying to hold the trike back at 30-35 mph thinking to myself, ‘OH SHIT!” Scary? Oh yes.

As I entered Dubuque I noticed the crowds on the sides of the street cheering us on but for the first time all trip I didn’t care. I didn’t wave to them. I didn’t say “Hello” to the kids pointing and smiling at me on my trike. I was in an absolute dead tired state of physical exhaustion. Potter’s Hill had done me in. I still had a number of hills within Dubuque to conquer before getting to the Mississippi. The crowds were saying “Only two more hills to go.” After two hills the crowds were still saying, “Only two more hills to go.” I thought they would never end. Up ahead I saw another hill with many of the bikers walking. I too had to walk that hill. Then another hill. Pushing my 65 pound trike along.

By now I was not just physically exhausted I was also mentally and emotionally exhausted. I wanted the finish line so bad and it just never seemed to come. I was so close to the “near impossible” yet still so far away.

Finally I could see the Mississippi. It was near tire dipping time. I wanted so bad to dip my front tire in the Mississippi to end this trek across Iowa. When I finally got there I saw a number of steps that had to be navigated to get to the river. I knew I would never be able to haul the trike down and then pick it up and carry it back up. After 500 miles I would not be able to dip my front tire.

I started to push the trike up the ramp leading away from the dip site. Next to me on the ramp was a young guy that towered over me in height. He looked down at me and said, “You made it.”

I looked up, nodded my head and replied, “Yes, I made it.”

He grabbed his camera and asked, “Can I take a picture of you?”

And for what must have been the hundredth time this week someone snapped a picture of me and my trike. I had done the “near impossible.”

Karen and her brother Keith were waiting for me somewhere. Not sure where but I knew they were somewhere. Before setting out trying to find them I found a patch of grass in the shade and collapsed like I did way back in Washta the first day. This time I covered my head and sobbed. There was nothing left in me.

After hundreds of hours of training and planning I had achieved my goal of riding RAGBRAI on my 3 speed trike with the comfortable seat. I couldn’t believe it was over.

When I decided to embark on this mission I had no intention whatsoever of making this a “near impossible” goal. I always figured there would be a number of other trikes like mine riding along.  I had no intention of attempting to do something that would bring attention to myself from other riders. I had no intention of attempting to do something so special.

Before the ride some of my friends playfully said I was “crazy” for doing this. When I got back I told them I was not “crazy.” I was just “too stupid to know better.” Nobody told me that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done so I just trained like I could do it. And I did.

One of the most memorable pictures I took was of my feet after I showered in a real shower. I doubt my feet will ever look like this again. That is a Sandal tan!

I have been asked many times if the ride was “fun?” I reply that my description of RAGBRAI will never include the word “fun.” I never had time to have fun. I had to conserve every ounce of energy for the ride.

Would I do it again?

I can’t imagine circumstances that would lead me to do it again. But not for a minute do I regret doing it once. Every hour of training and planning and doing was worth it. I placed myself in a position far out of my comfort zone and survived.

Upon returning home the first Quote of the Day I received in my inbox came from Victor Hugo (1802-1885). Victor said…

“People do not lack strength; they lack will.”

It was certainly “will” that brought me across the finish line that day.

It was all I had left.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by HANK on August 9, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Outstanding, Thats all I can say.


  2. Posted by Anne on August 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Oh my gosh… Your account of this journey is just about the best thing I’ve ever read. I’m so amazed, and impressed! =) Congratulations!!!!!!!!! Wow…


    • Thanks Anne.

      You obviously overlooked the fact it was written “first draft” complete with mis-spellings, typos and bad sentence structure at times.


      • Posted by Anne on August 10, 2010 at 4:02 pm

        haha! Honestly, I was so caught up in the content, those didn’t even enter into my awareness.

  3. Despite the “first draft” nature of the writing, this is still a compelling story, Al. I’m amazed at your will and determination. Congratulations on finishing the ride.


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