Friday, July 27, 2012


This past week, I officially kicked off my round-the-world trip the way anyone would-- by riding my bike from small town to small town in Iowa during RAGBRAI.
I first heard about RAGBRAI a few years ago from Pam, a partner at my law firm. She'd just returned from the trip, having assembled a group of family and friends to ride with her across Iowa. I hadn't ridden a bike for more than 5 years, but I was intrigued by her RAGBRAI stories- she told me how this wasn't just a cycling tour, it was a rolling party. The small towns through which RAGBRAI passed went all out, serving up pork chops, pie, fried Snickers, basically any Iowa-type junk food you can imagine. And, of course, there was beer. Beer after the ride. Beer during the ride. Beer (or Bloody Mary's) before the ride.
Our team and our RVs
Fast forward three years, I was now doing some riding myself, and Pam, having recovered from a knee replacement (rock star) decided with her husband to revive their RAGBRAI team and have another go at it. I pretty much invited myself along, since I like biking, I like beer, and Pam and Randy (her husband) are one of the coolest and most fun couples I know (even if Pam is/was my boss.) There was also room for Anne, one of my tri buddies, who works in education and uses her summer breaks to fill up on adventure. So we committed (to the first three days of the ride, anyway, we've still got an Ironman to train for, and given how trashed my body still feels a few days later, it's a good thing we didn't try to do the whole week....triathlon training after that would have been seriously compromised.)
It takes someone with far more writing talent than I have to really do justice to the craziness that is RAGBRAI. It's a story better told with pictures, so I will tell it with pictures (some of which I stole from others-- thanks!)
But, first, anyone who knows me knows I tend to get myself into bad situations due to nothing more than my own dumbass-ery. And RAGBRAI is the type of event that is prime breeding ground for dumbass moves. To wit:
The $50 Bill Move

On Sunday night, in a beer garden in Cherokee, Iowa, I answered an age old question: What will Amanda do for $50? Answer: She will fish a $50 bill out of a port-o-potty. Yeah, I went there. Here's what happened: I had a $50 bill in the back pocket of my jeans skirt. It fell out of my pocket, and into the toilet. I thought about it for about 5 seconds, and then went in after it.

Now, before you judge, consider that there were multiple factors that went into my decision. For example:

  • The State of the Port-o-Potty: Cherokee was well-prepared for the thousands of cyclists that descended upon their small town, and had toilets a plenty. The port-o-pot was in quite good shape, really. My $50 bill was floating nicely right on the top of the blue liquid under the light of the moon, with no visible piles of anything gross around it.
  • The State of my Employment: As of six days ago, I no longer receive a pay check. So $50 means a little more now.
  • My Beer Consumption: Substantial. We'd been going for a while. That may have affected the decision making.
So yes, I fished a $50 bill out of a toilet. But I bathed both myself and the bill in ample quantities of hand sanitizer and then used that bill to buy more beer, to help me forget what I'd done.

The 8th Wonder of the World

On the first day of the ride, Anne and I rode our 55 miles, and rode them like total RAGBRAI rookies-- we started early, with our group, but we rolled through the mid-point towns (or stopped quickly), and got the ride done pretty early in the day. The real way to ride RAGBRAI, we learned, is to take advantage of the mid-point towns. The rest of the members of our group stopped for hours at the designated "meet-up" town, drinking beer and loving life. Because of that, we got the final town well before the RV arrived, and killed a couple hours in the mean time drinking 4 beers a piece in a small, "air-conditioned" local bar.

A few hours later, our camp was set up, and I decided to get in the 30 minute run that was on my training schedule. Never mind the beers, or this:

Doing this run at all was a dumbass move, but it was also remarkable because it was during this run that I found the 8th Wonder of the World: a stretch of highway in northwest Iowa, that, when run in an out-and-back fashion, is uphill BOTH WAYS. What a remarkable geological anomaly!
It was also during this run that I gained a fan. He was a guy on a bike, but likely not a RAGBRAI rider. He stopped me while I was running, and asked "is there a lake over that overpass?" I told him I was sorry, I'd just run a ways up the road and hadn't seen a lake but really wasn't sure. He was incredulous: "You know NOTHING about a lake?" Nope, nothing, sorry. He grew even more frustrated. "So you're just out here, running along a highway in 104 degree heat. And you know nothing about a lake. You're awesome."
Of course, he said it in a way that made it clear that he thought I was anything but awesome. I sort of agreed. And I finished my run (still uphill, of course) really kicking myself and feeling horrible about not having better knowledge of the lakes outside Cherokee, Iowa. Oh well.

The Extra Credit Ride
On Tuesday, the ride was supposed to be about 85 miles, with an optional loop that would (I thought) take it up to 100 miles. Dumbass Move #3- committing to the extra loop, and refusing to compromise.
This day ended up being brutal. It was still hotter than the surface of the sun, but we also had the added fun of an extremely strong headwind for, oh, probably 2/3 of the ride. Seth, Randy & Pam's nephew, and I made a good team, and we fought through the day, taking turns blocking the winds and jumping into pace lines whenever we could. The wind was so bad that I'd hammer it, riding at an effort level that had me basically foaming from the mouth, and look down at my computer and see we were going...a whopping 16 miles per hour. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. We should have just done the 85 miles and called it a day, but we were stubborn. And it was not fun.
We got so hot that we stopped to go down this slip 'n slide into a muddy river. Gross.
And, of course, I forgot to consult a map, and became extremely, extremely grumpy when we hit 100 miles...and there was no town in sight. We pulled over to the side of the road as soon as we hit triple digits, I threw a little temper tantrum, and then we spent some time commiserating about how we never wanted to ride bikes ever, ever again. The day ended up being 108 miles, and it just about killed us.
And now....the pictures.
The mass of people, in one of the towns along the way
You may think Iowa would be flat. It's not.
So, so confused. There was no stool in the bathroom, FYI.

Me and a guy who dressed like a banana the whole week

There were times when I was grumpy, and those times were before I'd had coffee. Or when I thought we were done with the century ride, but still had 8 miles to go.

The view for most of the ride (but usually more crowded, this was during the extra credit loop that took the ride to 108 miles)

When it's a hunded million degrees out, you bet we'll hang out in the air-conditioned bowling alley

The specificity of the name amused me. Can you imagine a scenario where someone would be like, "you're at Bonanza Wash North? No, no, no, you need to be at Bonanza Wash SOUTH. Major difference."

We ate dinner at places like this Mason Lodge, which had an $8 spaghetti dinner

One of multiple pork chops on a stick that I ate


Webster City put their tractors on display

After 242 riding miles in 3 days, I can't say I wasn't ready for a break, but RAGBRAI was an amazing experience. I'll be back for sure, hopefully for the whole week!


No comments:

Post a Comment