RAGBRAI 2012

Day 1

This year was going to be different. Everything planned was different from my experience in RAGBRAI 2010. From what and how I packed for the week to having a personal support vehicle/driver and a different trike.

My RAGBRAI 2010 camping/tenting/showering experience was horrid. No need to rehash … but it was horrid. I don’t like camping and every reason I don’t like camping happened that week.  This year would be different. Bruce Kleven wanted to experience RAGBRAI without riding so in addition to driving he would also be my tent master. I would not have to concern myself with setting up or taking down camp. The plan was him to text me the camp location.  When I arrived in camp the tent and cot would be set up. When I left in the morning I would just leave and Bruce would pack up.  A list of things to consider when choosing a camp site would be his guide. A borrowed pink tent would make camp easy to find.

Instead of peddling a Sun 3 speed upright trike, I would have a Sun EZ Tri-Classic 21 speed recumbent trike. Oh yes, this year was going to be different.

The route this year was the 9th easiest of the 40 years of RAGBRAI. No big named hills but rather constant steady rollers. Weather would play a big part in how hard or easy the route would by the end of the week.

The weather forecast for the start of RAGBRAI was hot. I joked the week before RAGBRAI that “I would be on a 471 mile ride across drought stricken Iowa. Should be a hoot.” There was no drought ending rain in the forecast. Only hot. I would be all right if I faithfully followed rule #1 of RAGBRAI. Eat before you are hungry. Drink before you are thirsty. Rest before you are tired.

Coffee at Casey’s C Store started the trip at 5:00 on Sunday July 22. The plan was to have breakfast in Alton 15 miles out. But coffee to start the day and trip was a good omen.

At least half the day would be spent traveling south with the remaining heading east. South winds of 10-15 mph made peddling a little tough at times and it was hot. Temps over 100 were recorded throughout the area.

The first ambulance siren was heard a 8:04. They would continue almost non stop for the next four days treating heat exhaustion.

One of the people I met that day was a gentlemen from San Diego.  He peppered me with questions about Jeffrey Dahmer. Nice to know that is still what some people think of when they hear Wisconsin?

Another guy was on roller blades. I saw him in my rear view mirror for some time back there. He was following me in the far right side 3′ shoulder of the road. A strip of paint outlined the 3′ shoulder just like many of the roads back home. He finally approached me and said he had been following me for some time. He was fascinated with how I was able to steer my tricycle with such skill to always keep it within the 3′ area. I told him of the many miles of practice I had on the same type of road and finished with “… and besides, I’m good.” He smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

Day one was a rather short 54.4 miles from Sioux Center to Cherokee. In addition to being short it was also fairly easy at only 1583 feet of climb. It was a different kind of climb today. All day long there was small hills that needed to be climbed with a couple of medium large hills thrown in. But there never seemed to be much of coasting downhill … Until just before Cherokee when a very long, very exciting downhill coast led us into town.

All in all it was a great Sunday ride. Sure it was a little hot but it was only 55 miles and much of it in the early morning. When I remembered how exhausted I was two years ago after the first day I felt really good.

Day 2

The forecast for Monday was once again hot. Sixty two miles of hot. The first half of the route was hilly with the second half rather flat. Nothing out of the ordinary.

After coffee at a C-Store I was on the road at 5:15.

When there is a big hill descent into a town you can be guaranteed a big hill climb early the next morning to get out-of-town. The hill was big enough there were a few walkers. It was still dark out so the hill could not be seen. What could be seen was a trail of blinking red lights on the backs of the cycles.  A really cool picture if someone had the right equipment.

A great breakfast of biscuits and gravy awaited me in Aurelia City Park. In the park the local high school jazz band was playing for our enjoyment and it was enjoyable. Many pass through towns hire bands or hire a DJ to provide music when most of the riders would prefer local music. Aurelia did it right.

I had my only good Bloody Mary of the week in Schaller later that morning. I became so disgusted with the Bloody Marys I quit drinking them. They reminded me of a local bar that buys the cheapest ingredients for their Bloody Mary and call them the Best in Town. Sorry but you can’t serve a good Bloody Mary when you use the cheapest ingredients you can purchase. But I digress.

The route today was more south than east and the hot wind was still coming out of the south. Obviously many on the route didn’t take care of themselves. Heat exhaustion was evident as many along the route were being treated. Others were able to ward of the heat exhaustion with rest.

With the second half of the route rather flat I found the route to be a good cruising day. I arrived in camp at 1:35. Then the problems started.

Lake View was the smallest overnight town of the week. Showers were in short supply. I had to stand in the hot sun on a concrete slab for an hour waiting for a shower. It was by far the hottest hour of the day for me. I didn’t take my lip balm with me to the showers and in just that short time my lips got burned. My worst injury of the week.

Day 3

Tuesday was the start of a 3 day stretch of 80+ miles per day. The forecast was still hot. With a long day ahead an early start to beat the heat was in order. How about a 4:35 start?

The sky was overcast to start and no moon light could get through. It was dark out there. The darkest I have ever cycled through. I later heard 2 cycles were hit by cars that morning in the dark. No blinky on the rear of their cycles.

The route today was mostly east with a little north at the end of the day to get into Webster City. When the heat started to rise and the wind started to blow it was directly from the east. It was a strong east wind all morning until about noon when it switched to the south. The wind was whipping decorations in town after town.

A very strange thing happened to me on this day. For some reason my legs wouldn’t work in sync. I compare it to golf. Some days it seems like you have never played the game before. My legs were acting like they had never been trained. The chain appeared to be sloppy and herky-jerky. I even stopped at a repair tent and the guy took the trike for a spin looking for a problem. No problem with the trike. It was all me. The next day I hopped on the trike and the legs worked perfectly. It was just this one day? Go figure.

By Day 3 the ride is starting to get into its groove. The week-long riders know their lanes. Riders have seen each other and exchanged small talk with many over the first two days. A comfortable feel starts to set in.

The pass through towns this day were very well spaced. The first stretch was 11.5 miles followed by 7.7, 9.3, 8.2, 6.3, 7.1, 5.4, 7.9 and finally 17.8. Lots of pass through towns to break up the riding.

It was observing the activity in a RAGBRAI overnight town that originally got me interested in RAGBRAI. Watching Tipton host RAGBRAI in 1982 then again in 2008 fascinated me. It is that interaction that intrigues me most about RAGBRAI. The tremendous amount of civic pride that goes into the planning and hosting RAGBRAI each year. Either as an overnight town or a small town pass through town.

Just try to image a small town of a couple hundred people hosting 15,000 visitors compressed  into a 4-6 hour period. Every church, non-profit and school group imaginable wanting a small piece of the financial pie that will be left behind. Youngsters help how they can by holding out a hose shower for riders to cycle through. Nursing home residents line the route and wave to the riders. It is a once in a generation chance to show off their town to the world.

It is virtually the world that does visit those towns. Riders from every state and many foreign countries are registered for RAGBRAI. The average age is 45. Not exactly a young person’s ride, yet riders of every age group, including too young,  are represented. All income ranges and professions are represented. (Did you know that attorneys talk too much all the time?)

Then to show how small the world is … On the back of my trike I had a RAGBRAI license plate which had my home town written on it. Shortly after noon a rider in his 20′s approached me and asked if I knew the Kelnhofers from Rice Lake? I replied I grew up 3 houses from Dick and Midge. “That’s my grandparents,” he exclaimed. We talked for a while and he was off. About an hour later he once again approached me from the back and he asked if he could take my picture.  He had already called his Grandmother Midge and confirmed that I really did know them.

It was about 3:00 when I rolled in Webster City. Long, hot, windy day but other than legs not working properly and chapped lips, doing fine.

Bruce continued to find excellent camping locations and the Middle School in Webster City once again filled the bill. The list of things to consider when choosing a RAGBRAI campsite included items such as showers, porta potties, food and late afternoon-evening shade. The top item on that list had quickly became late afternoon-evening shade. When I was attempting to spot the pink tent I always looked in the tree-lined shady areas first. That’s where I found it again in Webster City. Great job Bruce!

One of the best evening meals of the week was in Webster City at the church across the street from the school. A choice of Beef and Noodles and/or Vegetarian Lasagna was served to hundreds that evening. Their extra huge portions of desert was appreciated by all. After dinner Bruce asked me what I had planned for the evening. I replied, “Sit in the chair and stare blankly into space.” The two riders sitting across from us shook their head in agreement. Exhausted like two years ago? No. Fatigued? Oh yes.

Another long hot day was on the agenda for the next day. A good night sleep was in order. It didn’t happen. The noise during the night was non-stop. Cars, trucks, garbage trucks, drunks leaving the 3 Dog Night concert, you name it, they made noise during the night. Maybe I was giving Bruce too much credit for finding good camping sites? Just kidding.

Day 4 

A 77 mile trip from Webster City to Marshalltown. About 1/2 south and 1/2 east. A little shorter than the day before but 300 more feet of climb. The winds were strong from the SSW so we had headwinds half the time and glancing tailwind half the time. Temps forecast to still hover around 100. I hit the road at 5:01.

The pass through towns were stacked on top of each other. At one point they were coming 6.7, 4.3, 6.0, 6.0, 4.6, 8.2 and 2.6 miles apart. Lots of opportunities to “eat before hungry, drink before thirsty, rest before tired.”  And I did. I took it very easy. I found a patch of shade outside of Clemons and I sat there for at least a 1/2 hour watching the bikes go by. It’s fascinating watching the bikes go by. I can see why the locals do it. We are a sight!

I played passing tag with this guy most of the day. 

He is on a unicycle. A very big wheel unicycle. He passed me going up hills and I passed him going down. He always had to hold back on the speed going down. It was something just watching him ride some of the day.

Then there were these guys. Arm power. Their arms were bigger than my legs. The passed me like I was standing still. Grabbed my camera and grabbed a shot before they were gone.

On this fourth day of blistering heat I have to take time to honor the Iowa State Patrol and their support of RAGBRAI. This was now the fourth day in a row in 100 degree heat those officers stood their positions and helped direct traffic. At every major intersection and most intermediate sections the Iowa State Patrol was there to help us along. The same ones move along day by day with us assuming new posts each day. Always smiling. Always smiling.

This is not to forget the many local officers and volunteers who did the same in pass through and overnight towns. My helmet goes off to you all!

To finish the day the citizens of Marshalltown gave us a very warm welcome. A welcome that really impressed me. They were out in droves to meet us. Block after block of locals. There were more lawn hoses out to cool us off than we needed. The waves and hellos were unbelievable.

There were reports of possible rain tonight? Weather changing rain? A cooling rain that might change wind direction?

At 8:45 a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued for Marshall County, Iowa. Lighting and high winds could come with the storm. Bruce and I grabbed our valuables from the tents and headed for the truck. The storm came. The winds came. Many tents went down. No serious injuries but a few good stories to tell.

I got to bed about 11:30. That’s late for me.

Bruce grabbed his flashlight an went looking to see if anyone needed help.

One more long day to go…

Day 5

The last of 3 consecutive 80+ miles days.  I got to bed late last night because of the storm and didn’t get riding until 5:30.

Unlike the past couple of days the pass through towns at the start of today were few and far between. The first three towns out of Marshalltown were 15, 17.2 and 17.3 miles. That caused a couple of problems. First I couldn’t find coffee in Marshalltown. When I stopped for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy at an American Legion in Garwin I asked if they had coffee. The big ex-Marine answered in the affirmative. However when I got to the end of the line I found a coffee pot and tiny little restaurant coffee cups. After I downed the first cup I went back for a refill and found none. They had to make a new pot? If I don’t have at least a couple of cups of coffee in the morning I get caffeine withdrawals and a headache to go along with it. I took preemptive measures and popped a couple of aspirin to ward off that problem.

The second problem was the porta potty problem. With the towns spread out there were few porta potties along the route and those that were had long lines. So I took my first dump in a  corn field. Aren’t you glad I told you that?

The storm the night before certainly changed the weather. The temps were lower and the wind direction changed to NW. What a difference. The day was one hill after another but they were all doable and had some great downhill coasts.

A guy wearing a San Francisco Giants jersey passed me. I asked him if Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame? It touched nerve. He replied “No” and then added, “Those were terrible years for us.” He then peddled off very quickly. Didn’t want to talk about it.

When out on the road you catch little bits and pieces of hundreds of conversations. One of my favorites of the week was when a couple of guys rode by and one of them said, “Well … I’ll just tell her we’re packing our bikes and going to Italy.” I wonder how that conversation went when he got home?

This was not only Day 5 of RAGBRAI this was also Day 5 of my losing contact with the world. No news what was happening in the world except our little world in Iowa. No television to watch. Smart phone signal non-existent. I only read the sports section of the paper to keep up with the Brewers losing streak. For someone whose job is to follow the political news of the day this is a true get away from it all vacation. I realized I hadn’t been this disconnected from the world since RAGBRAI two years ago.

My text message said I would find camp in Ellis Park. While Bruce had found great camping spots before he outdid himself today. I found the tent directly across the street from the Cedar River. What I liked most about the camping location was it was right on the riding route. I would be able to watch riders coming in for hours. In fact they were still coming into town when I went to bed at 9:00.

Bruce told me he found this camping spot at 10:30 in the morning. The early arriving riders were just starting to get into town. Now imagine this. Riders already coming into Cedar Rapids and there are still riders back in Marshalltown, 85 miles away that hadn’t left yet. Literally a string of bikes 85 miles long.

Was the worst of the ride over? Were the high temps a thing of the past? Was the wind going to be a tailwind the rest of the trip? Or would RAGBRAI throw another curve at us?

Day 6

A short little ride of 42 miles from Cedar Rapids to Anamosa.  A well deserved short day.

Something happens on RAGBRAI when a short day is planned. It seems riders come out of the ditches to ride. There are 10,000 registered riders each day on the ride but on some days the number of riders can reach 15,000 – 20,000. These are bandits adding to the numbers. Riders who didn’t register. Thousands of them came out this day. More young kids on the ride than have been on the ride all week. The pass through towns were so packed it was hard to even walk through.

Throughout the week I received comments about my trike. A comment or two each day. “Nice ride” or “nice rig” they would say.  I never heard a comment like that two years ago. Not one. This trike had a little more respect on the road than my last trike.

Bruce and I went downtown in the afternoon. I had arrived in Anamosa shortly after noon. I stayed with him a couple of hours and then went back to camp. It was a short day but I still needed a rest. He wanted to party. I didn’t.

While laying in bed I could hear the band playing blocks away in the entertainment area. I don’t know who the band was but they had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. Combine a short day and the last night on the road and that is what you can get.

One day to go.

Day 7

Anamosa to Clinton. A ride of 69 miles with a smattering of semi big hills but mostly small to moderate. A cool day in the mid 80′s forecast with a slight NW wind at our back. The goal was to be in Clinton by 2:00 at the latest so we could get on the road back home. If possible I was going to try to make it by 1:00. I told Bruce I wouldn’t race to the finish but wouldn’t dawdle either. I left camp at 4:30. I had coffee and breakfast by 5:00. I was ready to roll.

 

As I left Anamosa the sign said “You are entering Grant Wood Country.” The artist most famous for the painting American Gothic. As an orange glow started to appear in the east, the sound of a rooster crowing could be heard. Believe it or not roosters still do crow at dawn.  As I rode, and looked over the rolling countryside and listened to the rooster, it was truly a Grant Wood moment.

The rest of the ride was unremarkable. No big hills to climb toward the end. The hardest days of the ride were long behind us.

When I reached the dip site I quickly realized I wouldn’t be dipping my tire in the Mississippi River. I could have but I didn’t know how long it would take and it was already 1:00 and I still had to find Bruce. It didn’t matter that much to me.

I had completed RAGBRAI again. This time I had corrected many mistakes I made the first time and was very content with myself. Very content. Except for sunburned lips it was a  fun week. Just out there blissfully ignorantly riding for a full week.  Yes, very, very content.

Would I do it again? Sure. But I’m not planning on it. Like I said I’m content. I took on this challenge twice and won both times.

But I’ve had a few friends over the past couple of years tell me they might like to try it?

Or maybe drive for me?

So maybe.

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