Monday, July 28, 2008

RAGBRAI 2008

478 miles in 7 days with 10,000 of my best friends. Here are the details of a great bike ride mostly as they occurred. Pics available at www.dmwebworks.com/ragbrai08

Day 0

I have arrived and am more or less ready to go. Easy flight in yesterday. Coolest thing from my plane ride was a new program I discovered for my iPhone - Shazam. It listens to music in the background and then tells you who it is - artist, album, album cover, etc. You can even buy it with a click on iTunes! Had dinner last night with my old Peace Corps friend, Merry Ellen (the one who gave us a tour of U. of Nebraska at Omaha when we were returning from Okoboji). Naturally I had an Omaha steak.

Everything is easier this year cause I know the drill. I slept in this morning cause I knew the bus would be late morning. Walked out, got on and left. Only about 30 min. to Missouri Valley. We were one of the first to arrive. Got setup quickly. Guy next to me, Sam, who I talked with on the bus gets a new tent every year for this. He was still reading the directions on how to put it up when I left camp 2 hours ago. It is fun to watch people pouring into this little town. Motorhomes, buses, trucks, cars with trailers and lots of bikes. I got my bike early in the day this year (another benefit of shipping it, thank you Billy!). Put it together and rode into town. Cool in the morning, but hot and humid now. Need to remember to keep drinking. Discovered my handlebars were loose (always something when you only take your bike apart once a year) and so found the bike expo at the high school and got one of the bike shops to show me the problem - I had 2 screws in backwards! Went in the high school for the air conditioning. Then saw they had a spaghetti dinner with no line, so I had dinner with a couple from Salt Lake City - Vince and Angie (names included to help me remember). They ride a lot and really like this ride. They go with a charter company called, Pork Bellies. More expensive, but they have tents with misters to hang out in.

I am reminded what a nice group of people do RAGBRAI. Everyone is pretty fit, friendly, and excited to be here. Easy to strike up conversations. I wish finding a/c was as easy. Everyone just leaves their bike outside when they go in somewhere and there doesn't seem to be any problems. According to the Des Moines Register, Lance Armstrong will be here one day this week, but they don't know which day. That will give everyone something else to talk about. I walked the expo and picked up some free samples of Chamoi Buttr. Will be nice if it works. Now if I keep vaseline on my lips I will deal with last year's 2 biggest hurts.

There is a real sense of excitement in the air and it is really fun to have my wristband on and be part of it.

Day 1
Stats: 62 miles; 13.7 mph; 74 rpms; 4:30 hours

Decided to take a break in the a/c trailer at mile 42 today. Day is going well although looks like we might hit a storm. Nice rollers this morning (think day 7 last year, Bill). I started out not drinking enough and got a headache (too enthusiastic I guess), but am making up for it now. I know I am near the front as it has thinned out a lot. Had bagel at Little Farm Fair Trade place, Bill. Then pancakes and lots of liquids. Saw Gabe, Bill, the Asian guy who we spoke with on day 1 last year. Also, saw the lady with the dog from our house last year. She still has a sign about stopping the oil war. All for now.

After my morning email, I walked out of the trailer and enjoyed a rib-eye on a stick (in Shelby). No knife needed! Very good and excellent protein, which I think I needed. I was one of the first ones into our camp in Harlan and that had several advantages: shady spot for my tent, no wait for a shower, able to recharge my phone (which is not getting a signal!), got a camp chair to sit on, and food with no line. Still I plan to (as Billy has coached me) take it very easy tomorrow. 83 miles and 5300 feet of climb. Will be a record for me. Had a nice lunch/dinner conversation with Julie - radiologist from Des Moines who is cross training for marathons. Then met Rob (from Michigan) in the line at the movies where we both were headed to cool off and almost fell asleep watching Journey to the Center of the Earth. Worth it for the a/c. All 50 states and 18 countries are represented this year. Oh, yeah, Bill, had dinner at Pizza Ranch - remember the first place we had dinner in Rock Rapids with the dessert pizza. Am now sitting in the library getting ready to take the shuttle back and get a good night's sleep. Between the trains, the interstate and the partyers, it took me a while to get to sleep last night. Shouldn't be a problem tonight. Weather looks quite good. Today's storm never developed. Harlan has done a good job of organizing the town for us.

Day 2
Stats: 85 miles; 13.3 mph; 70 rpms; 6:30 hours

Went to bed early on Sunday to get ready for the big ride and things didn't work out. The band at the fairgrounds (there is always a band) was so loud, I went to bed at 9 and didn't get to sleep till 11. Then at 2am I awoke to very strong winds blowing my tent flaps around. :30 later a horn starting blowing and a loud speaker voice said "this is an emergency storm warning. Please go to an emergency shelter." Of course we hadn't bothered to figure out where they were. So we wandered around for awhile. Some people collapsed their tents and left. Meanwhile we were getting very strong gusts of wind. It seemed to start from nothing and had been a clear night when I went to bed. Anyway, most people (in my group of 200) finally gathered around someone with a laptop which had a radar view. It appeared we were at the tail end of a front. Soon they blew the all clear and a voice announced the front had passed. The next day, about 50 miles out we saw storm damage - trees down, silo thrown into the ditch, 6' tall corn flattened. They said there were 85 mph winds, not a tornado, but a strong thunderstorm. We ride on.

This was the hardest day and I made it! 85 miles (horizontal) and 1 mile (vertical). I took it easy and actually enjoyed it till the last 10 miles when we got a headwind. The hills were more like rollers and we had some great long downhill stretches with very nice views (followed of course by nice long uphill stretches). The names of the town were very familiar from childhood: Elk Horn, Exira, Coon Rapids. I didn't remember any of them, but probably was there with Dad at some point. Jefferson was the overnight town and they did a great job. Our campsite was at a church and they supplied food, entertainment, etc. It rained a little as we were setting up, but then was nice. Much cooler now.

Easy day today into Ames (Day 3) where I will meet cousin Doug. I saw on the map that we are coming into Ames on Hayward Ave. The first house I lived on in Ames was 306 Hayward!
Stats:

Day 3
Stats: 59 miles; 13.3 mph; 70 rpms; 4:25 hours

Easy day. Mainly flat road, short distance, pleasant weather. Had a head wind the last 15 miles between Boone and Ames. Saw standing water in a lot of hills. Awesome to come into Ames. They wound us through campus from the back and people were cheering us on and welcoming us all the way. Went up Welch and I cut over 1 block to Hayway Ave. to take a photo in front of the old house. Rode around the old neighborhood and out to a sports field (was a farm when I lived there) to get my stuff and call cousin Doug. Great to see him, sit in a/c, get a real shower and sleep in a bed. We hung out and talked. Then took my bag back to the truck in Ames, drove around and went back to sleep. Had a very nice talk with Doug. Turns out Lance Armstrong rode this day (I didn't see him) and spoke briefly at the Styx concert (we didn't go).


Day 4
Stats: 69 miles; 13.0 mph; 73 rpms; 5:15 hours

Starting at Doug's in Nevada I cut off the first 10 miles and so slept in till 6. Started out and immediately saw people having flat tires all over. For the next 20-30 miles there were many flats. Turns out some kids (they caught them) threw tacks in the road. Bad joke. I was lucky and didn't get one, but at each stop everyone was checking their tires. Cooler weather and some hills but not too bad. Ate well all day. Bill, I tried Farm Boys breakfast burrito on Day 3 and it was great. Like Chipotle with breakfast stuff. I liked it so much I stopped again today. The line moves fast also. Sorry we didn't try it last year. Haven't tried Beekman's ice cream yet but I will. Bad headwind, especially the last 20 miles. It seemed that whichever direction we were going it was into the wind. Found my "home for the night" (friend of cousin Clair's), then went to the Presbyterian church where I met Clair and Veryly (wife of cousin). They were doing a baked potato dinner and sundaes for the riders. Had a great conversation and they took me back to the house where we talked some more. Great to sleep in another bed (my last) on this trip.

Day 5
Stats: 80 miles; 12.8mph; 69 rpms; 6:15 hours

Well, I can now saw I have ridden in rain. Cool, overcast, and drizzling. Going to be a long day (about 80 miles). There is more weather forecast in the direction we are heading. Pedaling into the adventure. Aunt Dorothy is planning to come to see me tonight, but not sure with this weather.

Well, Day 2 was not the hardest afterall. Day 5 was. I will take hills over the wind any day. Hills have a beginning and end, usually with a nice downhill reward. But the wind never ends. We had 5-8 mph gusts (according to the forecast, not sure what they acutally were) mainly in our face all day. It was sometimes from the side, but was only at our back for 1-1/2 miles. It also rained for about 30 min. twice near the beginning and end. It was a long, hard day which I broke up by taking many stops. Day 5 was hard last year also so maybe there is a pattern of getting tired at this point. On the positive side, it was cool (65) and overcast. Also, Billy, there was no line at Beekman's ice cream so I tried it. It is great ice cream and you get to watch them making it. Sort of between soft and hard. I only intended to have about half of my cup, but soon found myself at the bottom. When I got in I called Aunt Dorothy and suggested since it was raining at that time, she not try to come up. I didn't know if we could find a place to sit and talk inside. When "we" come to any town there are 20,000+ total people and most overnight towns have populations of about 5,000. We kind of take over. She seemed fine, said she was actually quite tired. Good hot shower at the local middle school. We had a great campground where we were the only ones and were far away from the noise. Enjoyed the company of my buddy, Paul, from Colorado. Another guy, John, joined us and he was a real Debbie Downer (see Saturday Night Live skit). We walked around and went to bed early. Today the weather looks good and the ride is shorter.

Day 6
Stats: 69 miles; 13.4 mph; 71 rpms; 5:10 hours

Today was a great day and a real treat after the wind yesterday. Some hills, but little if any wind and a much shorter distance. Also, people sense the end (at least I do) and that provides some energy. Much cooler today with a cloud cover which made perfect riding conditions. A woman was passing me today and asked where in California I was from (my license plate says: Dave, California). I said I was from Granite Bay, near Sacramento. She hit the brakes and quickly came back and said she is from Granite Bay also. Turns out we are practically neighbors. She lives about 1/2 mile away and is in one of the local bike clubs. Encouraged me to try riding with them which I will do. Also, is with a better (more upscale) charter company - Pork Bellies again. Among other things, they provide shade for people when they arrive and signs of how to find them when you get to town. My charter makes us go to the info tent to find out - sometimes requires backtracking a few miles which at the end of a long day can be frustrating.

Got in and took a cold shower at the school where we camped. Sat in the lobby (a/c) while my phone charged. Had dinner at the Methodist church with Jim, a journalist from Florida. He is writing a blog on the ride for his newspaper. We discussed the accidents we had each seen. I have seen 2 separate people shortly after their tires got caught in large cracks in the center of the highway. Ambulance for one, not sure of the other. He said there were 2 paceline accidents he was aware of (pacelines are when people get 6-12 inches behind another bike to draft - sometimes these extend to 50+ bikes though I saw many fewer of these this year, perhaps because they are easier on flat terrain like last year or perhaps because RAGBRAI discourages them). Went to the local cinema and saw the screening of a couple of new movies. Rode the shuttle bus around town to see everything and then went to bed.

Day 7
Stats: 54 miles; 15.9 mph; 75 rpms; 3:25 hours

An incredible day, perhaps the best ride ever. We finally found that elusive tailwind. Nice sunny day with cool temperature. Everyone was in a hurry to get to the end and we moved quickly through the towns to the Mississippi River. I averaged 15.9 mph over 54 miles which is by far my fastest day in 2 years of RAGBRAI. It felt like I had a sail on my bike. It is wonderful to come into town with everyone out and cheering you on, especially the last town, Le Claire. Rode next to a guy who was from Le Claire and who the week before rode from Le Claire to the start of RAGBRAI. He said that unfortunately, the headwinds had been with them for 2 weeks now. He is organizing a bike trip along the Lewis and Clark trail. Another guy on a recumbent said he is organizing a bike group to go from Paris to Istanbul. No shortage of ad hoc trips to pick from. Le Claire is actually a nice little "river town." Very nice waterfront.

I wanted to get to the end in decent time as our tour company has 3 buses and usually (last year) has each one leave when it fills up. This year he made everyone wait till they were all full. I hurried to get there, box and ship my bike, shower and change, then waited 3 hours (no shade) while we waited for the buses to arrive and they all the riders to arrive. Sat next to my friend from Colorado, Paul, all the way back and we designed the "perfect tour company." Will probably try out Pork Bellies if we do it next year. More expensive, but better service. Since we were all starving the bus stopped for a fast food dinner (worst meal of the week) and on to Omaha. We unloaded and Paul and I took his car to get a celebration beer.

A couple of observations.

  1. As I have often thought and said, the real benefit of something like this is the preparation - getting in shape. Having a challenging goal is important for doing that, at least for me.
  2. No surprise to great athletes, pushing yourself physically forces you to really pay attention to your body and anticipate what it needs. I don't think we do this or need to in our daily office lives. RAGBRAI recommends you eat before you are hungry, drink before you are thirsty, and rest before you are tired. If you get too far gone it is hard to come back.
  3. The cheering and encouragement from people along the way, especially in towns is very motivating and creates a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie among the riders. Pride is a great feeling.