RAGBRAI 2010 – Team jerseys, a Slip ‘n Slide and one big hill

Me in Dubuque. Photo by David Lee

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.

The Whiskey Riders who rode from Clear Lake to Charles City. What a sharp looking team!

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.

Bloody Mary stop at the golf course in Rockwell.

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.

Cartersville was a hoot watching all the swingers and we found a slip ‘n slide.
Amanda and I try out the slip ‘n slide. Photo by Brian Johnson
Michon and I hanging out in Cartersville.

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.

Taking a break for pie and relaxation in Parkersburg. Photo by Brian Johnson

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.

More riding and not a town in site. Photo by Brian Johnson

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.

Our hosts for the next two nights, Vicki and Darrel, hauled our gear in their RV. Photo by David Lee

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.

Dave bears down through the rain.

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.”

Michon and I drip dry at the bar in Winthrop with a cool beverage. Photo by Brian Johnson
Dave wrestles with a bag in Winthrop … and loses!

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.

Checking out the scenery in Dyersville.

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.

Dave leads the way as we ride into downtown Dubuque.

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.

Photo op on the Mississippi in Dubuque.

Next up on the cycling agenda: Cyclocross training for Jingle Cross Rock in Iowa City in November. – MICHELLE

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More prepared for RAGBRAI this time, and beyond

It was a hot day at Tour de Brew, and everyone wanted to be in the shade at the break points.

RAGBRAI begins in less than a week, and, for me, in exactly one week. I’m ready.

Unfortunately, I only get to ride the last two days of it this year. But I’m thankful that I get a chance to at all because it’s passing close by my home in Monticello, where I my lovely daughter Keira just turned 5 months old.

Keira, at 5 months old (already!)

It would have been too difficult logistically for me to ride any more of RAGBRAI or if it was too far away. My wife Megan is already driving me to Waterloo the night RAGBRAI stops there, and will pick me up from Dubuque when it’s over, all with Keira in tow.

And both days have less than 70 miles of riding, which was not the case last year, when I did the century and then 75 miles the day after that, along with two other days of riding. Last year hurt, and I was not all that prepared for that kind of suffering.

The main means of gauging my fitness is the Tour de Brew ride in Amana, which I did last year and this year. It’s two weeks before RAGBRAI, and last year I was in quite a bit of pain trying to finish the ride. This year went much more smoothly, thus I’m not as worried about RAGBRAI.

Probably the biggest thing I can attribute to this is that I’ve taken up running during my breaks at work. I was inspired by our sports editor, JR Ogden, who also runs during work. A few years ago, JR wrote about taking up “walging,” a combination of walking and jogging. Today he runs to and around nearby Cedar Lake from work , a 3.5-mile jaunt. He doesn’t seem to be gone very long so I assume he covers that distance with much more speed than a jogging pace!

And since I haven’t been able to get out much because I’ve had to stay home to take care of Keira while Megan works in the mornings, I just started running while at work as well. (I work mostly nights, so Megan stays home with Keira when I work. It’s been a very successful child care setup.) I also now keep one of my bikes at work so I can fit in a short ride. It’s all paid off — I definitely feel like I’m in better shape this year than last.

RAGBRAI’s not the real reason I’ve been trying to get in shape either. Now that I’m a dad (a realization that still wows me) I feel like I ought to set a good example for Keira, and also just be able to keep up with that cute little bundle of energy. I’m really excited for her to be old enough so that I can take her out in the bike trailer/jogger that we’ve bought, and I just want to spend lots of time outside with her running around and playing.

From left: Michelle, Katie and Linda. One of my favorite things about group rides is the cameraderie!

So once RAGBRAI’s over, I don’t plan on letting myself go. There will be other short-term fitness goals as well, including preparing for the upcoming cyclocross season, doing 5K races (and maybe 10K races someday), and even trying to do a triathlon.

But like I said, these are all short-term reasons for getting fit. The long-term reason just celebrated her 5-month birthday!

In search of singletrack in Colorado

Mountain biking on the Sugar Ridge Trail between Keystone and Dillon, CO.

Ahhh, summer vacation, gotta love it. Last week I was fortunate enough to find myself in Colorado for some tromping around in the mountains. The main goal of the trip was to climb a 14er — that is a mountain that exceeds 14,000 ft. And climb a 14er I did. The mountain was Gray’s Peak. Wikipedia says it’s an easy climb by 14er standards… um, well, it was pretty darn hard for this low-altitude, Iowa girl. On the climb up I thought my heart was going to thump right out of my chest and I felt like I couldn’t fully catch my breath. I actually had to concentrate on moving my feet to keep going. But once I finally reached the top I can’t even describe my feeling of accomplishment. And the reward of an amazing view atop the Rockies was well worth the suffering.

Ok, enough about hiking, this IS a bike blog. Don’t start thinking I’ve gone and changed my favorite sport. So, strapped to the back of my Jeep for the 13 hour drive to Colorado was my beloved mountain bike. For the first time in its life (I’m pretty sure on this since it was manufactured in Wisconsin) my bike got to be among its namesake. Yep, my mountain bike got to go to the mountains with me. My traveling companion Brian and I took a day off hiking to take our bikes out on some mountainside singletrack. We’d found a handy guide to bike trails at a nearby gas station. I flipped through the page and picked a trail not far from our base camp.

Brian leads the way in search of a singletrack.

On second look, the bike trail guide was awful. The directions didn’t give road names and we soon found that the trail wasn’t even marked. Brian doubted the narrow strip of dirt I found by the mentioned bridge was actually the trail, but in fact it was. We started out and soon found it was too advanced for us. We changed our plans and ditched the singletrack for the paved bike trail that runs between Keystone and Dillon.

Before you go calling us wimps, I’ll mention that we found another singletrack dirt trail off the paved path called the Sugar Ridge Trail. I told Brian we had to try it out. It was in much better shape than the one we’d tried before and was a good mix of ups and downs. It was plenty challenging and plenty fun, so I ended up getting  my fill of dirt trail mountain biking.

After some singletrack fun, we hopped back on the paved trail and rode to Dillon. The scenery was stunning with its glistening lakes and snow-capped mountains. At Dillon we found a quaint little Tiki Bar on the water for some mid-ride beverages. The ride back to Keystone was just as enjoyable as the ride out. What a perfect day. — MICHELLE

Lakeside biking near Dillon, CO.
Taking the bike path from Keystone to Dillon, CO.
Relaxing lakeside at a Ticki Bar in Dillon, CO.

Biking in the land of 10,000 lakes

For Memorial Day weekend I was kindly invited to join some relatives at a lakeside cabin in  Lindstrom, Minnesota. After some adjusting to my work schedule I managed four days off for some fun in the sun. Mind you, four whole days without biking would have given me withdrawals, so it was decided (by me) that I’d pack up the Trek X01 for some north woods riding.

Little Green Lake in Chisago City, Minnesota

Since I’d  been to Lindstrom only a couple times before, it was necessary to do some planning before taking to the roads. I logged on to MapMyRide.com and started plotting some points for a possible route. If you’ve never used MapMyRide.com you’re missing out. It instantly tells you how many miles there are from point to point as you click a route. It gives you the elevation and you can save your rides for future use as well as search through other peoples’ rides in your area or anywhere else in the world. Yep, you can see where those Aussies ride on the Gold Coast in Australia. Dave uses it, too. Remember his post Cham…how?? (Or: ‘Undermining the purpose of bike shorts’). His ‘undies or no undies’ test route was made on MapMyRide.com

Since I was on vacation I plotted out an easy 16-mile route that was sure to go by some lakes for a scenic ride. Here’s what I came up with:

And here’s that elevation feature I was telling you about. Remember, I said it was easy — it’s vacation!

To get to Lindstrom, Minnesota (from Iowa) you simply head towards Minneapolis on 35N, drive through St. Paul and drive another 45 minutes north and you’re there. I have to note here that Minneapolis was ranked by Bicycling Magazine as America’s #1 bike-friendly city. That’s pretty amazing considering it beat out Portland (#2), Boulder (#3) and Seattle (#4). What I found on my 16-mile route, and from talking to my relatives is that the bike-friendly roads don’t stop in Minneapolis. Every road I took on my ride had wide shoulders, it was like having my own lane. What’s also wonderful is that the air is crisp, clean and the many lakes make for a scenic ride. Perhaps it was all the swerving rubberneckers looking at the sparkling blue vistas of roadside lakes that prompted the wide shoulders to be built. Well, they just happen to be great for biking, too. Either way, I like it. Thanks Minnesota. — MICHELLE

Haulin’ gear – Spring bike camping trip

Camping next to the Cedar River at the Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area near Muscatine.

With biking season in full swing it was time to strap on the panniers, pack up the camping gear and go bike camping. Biking buddy Brian and I planned a two-day, 80-mile camping trip from Iowa City to the Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area near Muscatine as a challenging training ride for RAGBRAI and some warm weather fun.

Bike camping requires some planning and careful packing. Bikes don’t come with large trunks that you can carelessly toss any ol’ thing you think you might need into. One must find the minimalist in themselves and only take what is needed. Having some specialized gear helps a lot, too. Here’s a list of what I carried on my bike: PANNIER 1: Sleeping bag (Kelty Lightyear 25 degree bag with stuff sack,) sleeping pad (Thermarest Trail, size small,) rain jacket, wind breaker cycling vest, travel backgammon (a fun and exciting game for any occasion – if you have room) and a pair of sandals. PANNIER 2: Bag of clothes including a pair of socks, underwear, t-shirt, PJ pants, long-sleeved shirt, jacket, stocking hat and a pair of shorts, food (instant potatoes, ramen, granola bars, oatmeal, tea, Gatorade packets,) bug spray, lighter fluid, sunscreen, vanilla cologne (works great for repelling gnats), Swiss Army knife, matches, Kleenex, camp spork, tin cup and assorted toiletries. I strapped a small cooler to my back rack for some cool items including some beer, pears and two hard-boiled eggs. Brian was kind enough to haul the tent, camp stove, cooking pots and some more food items.

The route from Iowa City to Saulsbury Bridge Recreation Area was fairly flat and followed a nice stretch of light-traffic roads through Iowa’s countryside. We started out on Saturday around 1:30 p.m. and headed due south from Iowa City for eight miles towards the town of Hills then headed east towards West Liberty, our half-way point and a nice place to take a break. We parked the bikes in front of Jeff’s Supermarket and bought some more food items (tangerines and mangoes) and a couple of cold drinks to quench our thirst. We headed east out of West Liberty for a few miles more before turning south again. By this time a strong headwind had picked up making the three-mile stretch of flat road a taxing effort. Getting to our turn to head east again was quite the relief. The road also got more interesting as we approached the Cedar River. There were flooded backwaters where turtles sunbathed, bridges, and plenty of trees to block the side winds.

Rolling into West Liberty.

We rolled into the campsite area around 4:30 p.m., both of us ready for a break and some relaxing around a campfire. We chose a campsite looking over the Cedar River which provided a great view as the sun went down over the opposite bank. Having dinner and hanging out around the campfire was a great finish to the day. Oh, and those beers I hauled all that way, tasted even better than I’d imagined after all that effort.

The next morning I felt fresh and ready to hop on the bike again. My muscles were a little sore from the 40 miles ridden the day before but, as always, after about 12 miles or so my legs get warmed up and pedal away almost without thought. But I’ll admit, in those last few miles back to Iowa City I was getting pretty tired and ready to be off the saddle. The efforts of 80 miles in two days was starting to catch up with me. There was less chatting and more concentration on finishing the ride as I approached Iowa City (I’ll speak for myself, Brian has put in a LOT more miles than me this Spring and it shows, he’s a machine!) And then, when it’s all said and done, you look down at your odometer at those 80 miles you just put in and somehow you forget the suffering and start planning that next trip.

– MICHELLE

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BRR Ride 2010

BRR riders making their way from Perry to Rippey, Iowa.

Ahhh, I finally got back on the bike, rode outside and put the first miles of the year on my odometer! A good feeling after being cooped up for months riding stationary.

My first ride of the year was BRR Ride, Bike Ride to Rippey Ride, and yes, it was cold. It’s called the winter RAGBRAI because over 1,000 riders show up for the often cold and snowy event. Many are summer RAGBRAIers who get in the spirit early by clearing the snow off their team buses, load up the bikes and come out to Perry for a good time.

The ride started  at 10 a.m.

REWIND: I stayed in Des Moines the night before with my riding buddy Michon and my new biker friend Brian. I’m only telling you this so I can share with you a great restaurant we discovered the night before BRR Ride. Michon suggested we go to Fong’s, a fusion of Chinese and Italian food = Chinese pizzas and other gourmet pizza concoctions. Walking into the restaurant for the first time somewhat confuses the senses. Jimi Hendrix was playing on the speakers and patrons were ordering pizza in what is unquestionable a dining space decorated to be a Chinese restaurant. I inquired to our waitress how the idea for Fong’s came about. She told us that she and her business partner  were wanting to open up a late night pizza place when this Chinese restaurant (apparently the oldest in Des Moines, IA) became available. She said they couldn’t bring themselves to tear down the interior and change the unique decor that had been in place for many years. So instead, they based their restaurant and menu items around the already present theme. Thus, Fong’s was born serving Chinese cuisine-inspired pizzas. We ordered the Crab Rangoon pizza, delicious!

Crab rangoon pizza from Fong’s in Des Moines.

Back to BRR Ride: First things first, find marshmallows and beer. Let me explain before you jump to any crazy conclusions. In past years (this is Michon’s and my third year on BRR Ride) there has been a bonfire about halfway to Rippey where riders are welcome to warm up mid-ride. This year we thought we’d come prepared and and bring marshmallows for roasting and beer for celebrating our arrival to Rippey after 12 miles of riding – in the cold, mind you, so it seemed much farther and worth celebrating.

Brian (left) and Michon riding on BRR Ride.

The ride to Rippey was mostly flat, there were some side winds but once we turned due west it was to our back and pushed us along nicely. Brian strapped the beer and marshmallows onto the back of his bike. He attracted a lot of comments during the ride: “Hey, that’s a great combination!” and “Let’s follow that guy!” and “That’s the way to ride!”and “Did that guy have Leinenkugels strapped to his bike? I want to follow him!”

The temperature was in the mid-twenties, still pretty cold for riding outdoors. My biggest problem was my fingers freezing. To help take the edge off, Brian suggested wearing surgical gloves under my normal gloves. Sounds odd but it works. The latex gloves completely blocked the wind and kept my hands warm all the way to Rippey. One caution about the gloves: latex does not breathe, which means hands will sweat, the moisture has nowhere to go and cold moisture next to the skin is not good. On the ride back to Perry heading into the wind, my hands got cold really fast. I think it would have been wise to dry my hands off before getting on the road again; live and learn.

It felt good to roll back into Perry and find a place to warm up. We found ourselves a table at the Rockin’ Horse bar on main street and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing and mingling with other riders.

– MICHELLE

Michon posing for a photo behind our bikes parked in Rippey.
Biking in the snow on BRR Ride.