Adjusting back to reality after a few days on RAGBRAI is not easy. There’s a certain routine one gets into day after day out on the route. For my team it was getting up early, around 5 a.m., pack up the tent and belongings, throw our stuff on the RV and get on the road around 7 a.m. Then you power yourself 40-80 miles a day stopping in towns previously unexplored, eating your fill of delicious food and taking in whatever weird, wacky or fun-filled activities you choose – and there are plenty to choose from. When you get to the next overnight town, you put up your tent, shower and then hit the the town for some more food and exploring.
Now I’m back to my normal routine of sitting at my desk at the office for hours on end, noshing on vending machine food, seeing the same old sites (mainly my computer screen) and only being able to dream of places I’d like to be going. Well, at least there will always be the memories. Here’s my RAGBRAI 2010 experience:
Ok, I have to brag and exclaim that this year we finally did it, we ordered real team jerseys. I’ll admit that I waited until the last minute to get these done, but since I had some ideas for a design already in the working and I found a great company (V-Gear) that said they could get them done before the last week of July, badabing-badaboom, we have jerseys! You’ll notice we wore them as much as the sniff test said we could.
Clear Lake to Charles City [MAP]: Fellow Whiskey Rider, Michon, has grandparents who have a house on Clear Lake which made a great location for a Whiskey Rider rendezvous. Tim, Michon, Mike, Linda, Brian, Katy and I stayed at the house Tuesday night and prepared for our ride to Charles City (Dave joined us in Waterloo.)
With everyone sporting their Team Whiskey Riders jersey we rolled out of town on our way to Charles City. We cruised through the first town, Swaledale, and then had to make a stop in Rockwell because of some great advertising for Bloody Marys.
A lady sat on the side of the road in a golf cart holding a bottle of vodka and Bloody Mary mix with a sign saying they were serving them at the golf course. Mike got so excited that he and his bike almost swerved out of control, so we stopped for one. They tasted great, made with one of my favorite mixes, Zing Zang, plus we even got to garnish our own drinks with as many olives as we wanted.
Being that our jerseys sported the word whiskey, we didn’t leave the golf course without a few comments about being traitors and drinking vodka instead of whiskey – I’m not sure what a Whiskey Mary would taste like, but it might be worth looking into.
Next stop, Cartersville. From what I saw there wasn’t much of a town, there were more grain silos than buildings that I could see, but the townspeople did it up right for RAGBRAIers with plenty of food vendors and a newly constructed pond with an interesting swinging apparatus.
When we got to town there was a long line of spandex-clad people waiting to have a chance on the swing and drop into the pond trying to impress the crowd with their acrobatic skills. We saw flips, summersaults and a few bellyflops.. The crowd of riders rolling through town acted as judges with their ooing and awing at the complexity and skill of the swingers. There also were a few gasps when someone landed awkwardly and made a big , painful-looking splash. None of our group wanted to wait in the long line to try the swing as tempting as it looked, but opted instead to try out the slip ‘n slide. Tim, Amanda and I had a great time trying our diving skills on the wet plastic, all in good fun.
After having as much fun as possible in Cartersville we hit the road and made our way to the next overnight town, Charles City.
Tim found us a place to set up camp in one of his friend’s backyards so we hung out there for a while and shared our experiences of the day. Being the first day of wearing our jerseys, we had fun hearing people’s comments as they rode past us. Some memorable ones were, “Hey, do you serve on the road? What’s your favorite whiskey? Is that water or whiskey in your bottle? How much whiskey have you had this morning?” And Tim said someone asked him, “Are you a hard liquor?” (Interpret that one for yourself).
Charles City to Waterloo [MAP]: Thursday turned out to be another great day for riding as we began our 82 miles to Waterloo. The goal was to get a lot of early miles in as the day was heating up fast.
With long stretches between the first couple of towns it wasn’t until Parkersburg that we slowed down, found some pie and a patch of grassy shade for a good midday rest.
Driving through Parkersburg was a bit eerie after the two horrible tragedies they had in the last couple of years. From the EF-5 tornado that ripped through town killing six people in 2008, to the fatal shooting of popular football coach, Ed Thomas, in 2009. It was good to see that on this day the town was full of joy with RAGBRAI in town.
The rest of the day was kind of a blur. There was lots of riding and then some more riding, and then the terrain started getting hilly. It seemed that Waterloo would never come. In reality it didn’t, because RAGBRAI organizers held the festivities and camping areas set up a ways south of downtown Waterloo near the water park and casino. There was no town in site to indicate our final destination for the day, only rolling cornfields. Out of nowhere the Isle of Capri casino hotel appeared over a hill and was indication for the finish. Whew! It was nice to be done, I’ll admit my body was getting tired after all those miles in the saddle.
Waterloo to Manchester [MAP]: Rain rain go away. In my six RAGBRAIs I have never been caught in a downpour, so this year was a new experience as I rode half a day through heavy rain, thunder and lightning.
The morning started out overcast and humid. While packing away my gear and getting ready for the day’s ride, I felt my body heating up quickly. With knowledge of rain in the forecast I consciously chose not to take my rain jacket with me. I figured with as hot as I felt even before riding, getting caught in the rain would feel pretty darn good.
And so it came. A few miles into the ride on the way to Manchester the rain started to fall. It put a damper on the mood of the riders. There wasn’t much talking out on the road just people moving through towns hoping to get the day over with or hoping that the rain would stop.
For me, I was torn. The rain didn’t bother me too much while I was riding. I was able to stay warm enough if I kept moving. It wasn’t until I stopped that I started getting goosebumps.
At the turnoff to Winthrop where 99% of riders were flying by instead of riding the five blocks to downtown (15 miles from Manchester). We had to decide if we wanted to ride on to the overnight town and cut the day short, or make a stop in Winthrop and enjoy being out on the route with hopes that the rain would stop.
So stop we did. We turned off to head towards downtown Winthrop and found a great watering hole where a few other riders had also parked their bikes. We walked into the bar and received the good news of the forecast saying the rain was supposed to be done around noon. This gave us about an hour to sit back, relax and “do what Tim would do.”
By the time we left Winthrop the rain had stopped and sunshine was peaking through the clouds. The 15 miles to Manchester was just enough time to allow our clothes to dry.
Manchester to Dubuque [MAP]: The last day of RAGBRAI is always bittersweet. It’s rewarding to finish what you’ve started but it’s also sad to have to pack up the bike, go back home and know that it’ll be a whole year before experiencing the great ride again.
Saturday was a short 47-mile ride to the Mississippi River in Dubuque. Dyersville was our first stop to meet up with my friend Peter who had learned a couple days before that he was granted leave from his army post in Kentucky and could squeeze in riding a day of RAGBRAI. So he promptly flew back to Iowa to meet up with us.
After Dyersville we needed to be on our way since we were scheduled to meet our ride in Dubuque around 1:00 p.m. to take us back home. The only obstacles left for us now were a few more miles and one very big, mile-long hill called Potter Hill. Call me crazy but I was actually looking forward to the challenge of riding up the thing.
One thing I especially enjoy about the end of RAGBRAI is getting to ride in the river valley. It’s quite the contrast from the flats of central Iowa where I started this four-day journey. I welcome the rolling hills and curving roads because it adds a challenge followed by the sweet reward of coasting at speeds over 40 mph through the countryside. I wish I had some photos to share with you, but I wasn’t brave enough to snap any and I wanted to keep my momentum up. Dave, on the other hand, has some great shots. You’ll have to check out his post to see them.
Potter Hill lies just east of the small town of Graf. In this town a mass of riders were refueling up with food and drink before tackling the big hill. It was almost noon and the day was really heating up.
The road out of town was packed with riders making their way to the start of Potter Hill. At the Potter Road sign we made a sharp right turn and started up the beast. I quickly had to shift down to my lowest gear to bear the grade of the hill. It wasn’t until turning the first curve that I looked up and saw what I was about to conquer. The hill wound to the right then to the left getting steeper as it went. Looking ahead, I could see a wide line of riders off their bikes and walking to the top.
I was set on riding the whole hill even if that meant being passed by a walker. I found my pace and muscled up the steep grade with my hands gripping the drop bars and using my quads to push down as well as pull up to keep my crank turning. With the bright, noon sun beating down on me sweat instantly started popping out of the pores on my face, arms and legs. But I kept myself going at a steady pace.
Being among the other riders gave a sensation of being pushed along, making the ride easier than if I was alone. Someone had a large boombox on their bike blaring a song that had a good driving beat which was perfect for helping me keep my rhythm going.
Before I knew it I was at the top! The road leveled off, I could shift up again and I felt that wave of accomplishment and a feeling of, “that wasn’t that bad.” I stood at the top for a while catching my breath and looking at what I’d conquered as the sweat rolled off my skin; I felt great.
[Shortly after getting home I decided to ride up my old nemesis, the hill on Rosedale Rd. I’m going to blame the heat and the extremely steep grade of that hill for kicking my butt that day. I guess the week off of riding drained the conditioning I’d gained on RAGBRAI.]
Next stop, Dubuque. The closer you get to the Mississippi the more you start seeing RAGBRAI teams grouping up to roll in together to the last town. I saw a line of what seemed to be hundreds of riders from the Livestrong team pull onto the road two-by-two. There was a group of six riders from Italy that were each helping hold a large flag of their country while singing in Italian (I’m guessing their national anthem). There were teams from Australia, Finland and of course all over the United States and the rest of the world.
It was said to me recently that the two most well known cycling events in the world are the Tour de France and RAGBRAI. That sure makes me proud to be an Iowan.
Next up on the cycling agenda: Cyclocross training for Jingle Cross Rock in Iowa City in November. – MICHELLE