If you are not really a bicycle rider this post might not mean so much. Oh yeah, if you also aren’t over 50 you might not also get this post either. But since I am both – here I go! I’m going to try to put into words what this years Ragbrai meant to me.
When we first started to talk about riding Ragbrai back in 1999 I thought this should be on everyone’s bucket list and who would have thought that we would have carried that list with us for 20 years? So first things first – 20 years ago we needed a bike to ride for Ragbrai so off we went to a bicycle shop in Decorah to see what they had. We tried out a couple of used bikes and soon we found ones that became our bikes. It was exciting! What an adventure we were going to have!
Then we needed some clip on pedals because you were supposed to have better control, socks (I’m not sure why now 🙂 ), bike shoes for your clips, bike jerseys, bike shorts, bicycle rain coat, tent, sleeping bag, dew rags for our hair, helmet, gloves, and so on and so on and so on .. So I decided with all that expense we were not going to buy a new tent! Yup, that was our decision and at the time it sounded like a good one. There was a girl that I worked with at the time selling her tent – so SCORE for us right! Well without really knowing much about camping I didn’t realize that not all the pieces were included (more about that later).
So Daryl and I practiced with my brother and sister in law riding bikes around the country side and having the best time! Then the big day came. It was time to bring out bikes along with all our stuff to the Team we were riding with and get on the bus to head west. With a lot of nervousness of what the next 7 days would bring, we boarded the bus and quietly decided to ourselves that it was too late to turn back now!
And how was the bus ride? OK, whoever made up bus games to pass the time by is so not loved by me. But with a lot of pain playing the bus games we finally got to our first home for the ride. It was a hay field with the hay cut about ankle height. Not a huge issue, but I must admit kind of a surprise. And then the first day of the ride came and we were off. People were cheering and saying Good Morning to everyone passing by. It was unbelievable and honestly quite a rush. This day was going to be so much fun and with the training we did it should be easy right. Oh My Gosh it was sooooooooo hard! We started out the day with a slight headwind and then just hung out in one of the first towns for breakfast thinking that we had this trip licked. Yup, we did training, we were looking good with our bike shorts and socks, we were so set. Yeah, not so much! After checking out the towns attractions and getting our bellies full of pancakes and sausage we found our bikes again literally in a sea of probably 5,000 bikes and headed East. That’s when we knew we were in trouble! The wind had picked up while we were in town and so did the hills. By the end of the first day I had blood blisters on my hands and fingers from shifting from the gears 1 – 1 to 1 -2! This is the lowest gears you can be in and with the headwind that we had, it was easier to ride up the hills than down the huge hills because going down we had to pedal to beat the wind blowing at us. Now I don’t remember how many hours we were on the road but I think we got back to camp around 7:30 (and not because we were in the local establishments either!). We saw a lot of people walking or taking the SAG wagon, but at this point we knew that if we walked it would set the tone for the remainder of our RAGBRAI experience. Now the challenge was to keep pedaling because if you were going too slow you would tip over. Kinda funny now. OK I said kinda 🙂 So this day was the absolute worse right? With this day over, it was definitely a measuring stick as we went through the next 19 years of riding and we’ve never had to have this type of a day since. Thank the Lord!
And in the 20 years we’ve met some very good friends that we keep in touch with, and we’ve learned that even though wind is supposed to be your friend it’s hard to understand why. I can’t even imagine how many times we’ve laughed so hard that you can’t even talk, and having the chance to see new towns and meeting some very interesting people every year is such a great way to spend a week!
Over the years we’ve changed how we ride the week also. We did the first 9 or 10 years tenting which is a different type of fun. The real kicker is when you buy a used tent and it rains did you know that if you don’t have a ‘rain tarp’ on your tent you can get around 2 inches of rain in your tent? Well when that happens not only you and everything you own gets sopping wet, but you actually start smelling a little funky as the next day goes on. And I’m not talking about a good funky smell either! So now we stay in houses with air conditioning and running water for showers (well except for the occasional water hose hanging outside or the make shift car washes into showers) I can’t even start to say all the great people that we’ve met these last years with our host houses. You would think when you have around 15 extra people staying with you that you’ve never met before you would want to get rid of them the next day wouldn’t you? Well to be honest, we usually get invited to come back when we’re in the area and to make sure to stop in to say Hi!
So for Ragbrai some people plan to ride a couple of days and with their schedules that works for them. But when you ride the whole ride through the winding roads of Iowa, up and down the hills, and you’re hot, tired, and have been rained on by at least one day – by day 7 you just might be ready to call it quits. But there is no better feeling than crossing the finishing line and hearing the crowd cheer for you. And you know that you did it!
With this year being the 20th year the last couple of miles were brutal for me to get to the finish line. We were following the river which is always good because it means that you should be about done with climbing hills, but this year we ended up with a huge hill that wound around and around and then finished with going straight up! Yeah, so no cool. Well I was behind everyone and was just trying to not die or break my chain! Or seriously maybe both, who knew? I thought if I died going up the last hill on this ride I was going to be so mad!! But I made it with a lot of huffing and puffing – and I couldn’t be more proud!
Well with the Fall weather fast approaching and my bike just sitting there just begging for me to take it out for a spin, I can’t help thinking about a conversation that I had with my dad when I was a kid and riding my white banana seat bike with an awesome basket in the front that had flowers on it. I remember riding my bike all around the farm that summer and when I was down by the cow barn with my Dad he needed some kind of tool from the tool shop. Yup I was all ready for this type of job! I ran to get my bike and was prepared to become just a streak of lighting because I’d be so fast. Well I had to stop quick when I saw my Dad’s face and he was saying something. It was one of those moments when you knew you should stop, but man oh man you really didn’t want to. So I stopped. Now he must not have known how fast I was going to get just what he wanted and I’m sure he did know that I was going to look so awesome with Tommy the Tom Cat in the basket helping. But guess what he said? I remember it as plain as yesterday. He said ‘that if God wanted everyone to ride bikes all day that he would have made them into bicycles’ But being a fast thinking an very knowledgeable kid for my age I replied, ‘I guess if God wanted someone to get your tools fast he was sure to invent the bicycle!’ Now I thought this was clever, but for some reason I don’t think my Dad did. I never looked at his face, but 50 years later I’m thinking it wasn’t the happiest he’s ever been. But I took off with my bike and made it to the tool shop setting all types of speed records in my mind!
I never got in trouble that day and maybe that was the point in my life when I new that riding a bicycle was always going to be something that I enjoyed. So here’s to the past 20 years of Riding Ragbrai and around 10,000 miles of open road! Cheers!