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RAGBRAI "The 25th Ride"

It was the 25th year of RAGBRAI but it was the first for us (Brent, Lonnie, and I). Hey, Brent and I even made it on the PBS video. Check out our 6 seconds of fame in .MPG format:

PBS Special

High Resolution Version (1.6MB)
Low Resolution Version (160k)

How did we end up riding across Iowa? Well the ride idea can be traced back to Meredith.

Meredith

Meredith grew up in Iowa and runs marathons in NY. At some point, she met up with Lonnie in a running club and mentioned this awesome ride across Iowa each year. That's how Lonnie dragged Brent and I out there.

Heat, intense heat, humid heat (98 degrees + 100% humidity = 110 degree heat index), and being cooked alive alongside cornfields is my primary memory of Iowa. You don't experience that type of heat in California. Dry heat is one thing, but humid heat sucks the energy out of you. Actually, the first six days were just a little uncomfortable but bare able, but the last two days it heated up. It was great to experience moments of civilization (air conditioned shopping mall stop for food on the bus back to the airport after finishing RAGBRAI).

Friday 7/18 two days before RAGBRAI
Brent and I flew out from San Jose, CA into Omaha, NE on Friday night. As we left the airport, we were greeted by that hot humid central state air--even at night. Our plane was slightly delayed, so Lonnie (flying in from Newark, NJ) flew in earlier and was already at our room at the Ramada Inn.

Saturday 7/19 the day before RAGBRAI
That morning we asked the hotel if they had a storage area where we could leave our bike cases. They actually did have a room set aside for this since many others were flying in with bike cases for RAGBRAI as well. From Omaha, we planned to bike to the start of RAGBRAI which is about 30 miles from the inn through the hot humid air. We stopped someone for directions, and he was like "Oh, just take the interstate for 2 miles and then head on up this road." So we went on this interstate over a bridge--with cars zooming by just a few feet away at 60+MPH. My right leg cramped up just a little at about the 24 mile mark so we stopped and drank some great lemonade in a rustic seedy bar--cigarette smoke and all permeated the room. Even found Cornholio's nuts. Felt great to stretch out the legs. Our bikes were way overloaded (I still need to get some use out of those panniers that I bought for $100). My leg cramp was probably attributed to the way I was hunched over the front of my bike. The goal was to reduce the risk of any accidental wheelies that might've occurred due to my overloaded rear rack.

On the way there, that's where we picked up some sayings spray painted on the road that would last throughout the ride and continue on with others.

Grab your bikes.
Grab your gear.
We're off to Mo Valley(X).
To drink some beer!

Eventually, we arrived into town and setup camp. We went into town and picked up beer from the store. That night we got someone mad since our group (which included the Winnie & Pooh chicks) were talking so much that the old guy said his 82 miles the next day was going to be tougher than ours.

We laughed out how people were pitching their tents in stables. Later we wouldn't be laughing anymore since stables make great shelters to stay out of the rain. We even played bingo that night. We played three cards each. It took me a moment to realize I had a bingo, but I did win a few bucks. The postal service was also handing out passports (to get stamped in each town) and was also passing out clickers. (.MP3 audio file)

Official RAGBRAI Day 1 (Sunday 7/20)
Missouri Valley to Red Oak 82 miles

We arose to the sounds of people breaking camp at 6am. Meredith commented on how slow we were at packing up our tent, so she said we should get up an hour early the next day.

I tossed a practically empty bag on the baggage truck and carried most of my stuff in my panniers including the beer. Every other bottle was wrapped in a shirt so they wouldn't break. That morning was a mass exodus out of Missouri Valley. The road was flooded with bikes heading out of town.

We only climbed 3000+ft that day over 82 miles (flat by S.F. Bay Area standards), but it was a lot like riding over several hundred little overpasses through cornfields. Eventually we reached our destination of Red Oak and set out for food. We finally decided on a buffet place. I had two plates of food while Brent had three plates. He declared he needed at least 4000 calories a day instead of the average 2000-2500 a normal person needs.

Official RAGBRAI Day 2 (Monday 7/21)
Red Oak to Creston 55 miles

Woke up to hear Lonnie forecasting rain and it did rain like 5-10 seconds later (too groggy in the morning to be more exact). Brent jumps up out of the tent and starts frantically disassembling it while I'm just barely up--he didn't want the tent to get wet. Everything gets torn down, we're wet, and we lug everything into the nearby building instead of just putting the rain fly on the tent.

Having learned from the day before, I carried the bare minimum of stuff in my panniers (just beer) and tossed everything else on the truck that day. On our way to Creston, Brent slowed down to check his rear tire and it ended up being a flat. After a little while I noticed he wasn't behind me anymore. I stopped for lunch along the way thinking they would see me. Since I had an empty cup of ice after downing my soft drink at lunch, I broke out a nice refreshing beer from my pannier as I kept an eye out on the road for them. Eventually, I rolled into Creston and picked up another pair of shorts and RAGBRAI shirt in the vendor location and then hung out under a tree near the ever roaming bulletin board (where you can leave notes for other people) until Brent and Lonnie showed up.

We camped out on some high school field and took the shuttle into town. Downed a few beers at the beer garden and listened to music.

Official RAGBRAI Day 3 (Tuesday 7/22)
Creston to Des Moines 71 miles

On our way to Des Moines, we just wanted to circle around a block and we came upon John Wayne's birthplace, so we stopped for a photo.

John Wayne Photo

Started the morning off with a quick high-energy pace with Team Blaster--a tandem towing a trailer with a radio blaring using two motorcycle batteries for radio power. We would jump on the Team Blaster pace line several times throughout the ride. Sometimes it grew to over 100 riders riding two abreast. We eventually peeled off and entered the town of Cumming (yes a real town name).

Town of Cumming

That was definitely a party town with beer flowing and music blaring. I downed like 4-5 beers on an empty stomach. While Meredith was partying, it was either Lonnie or Brent who raised her unguarded bike seat on our way out of town.

There was a downhill after Cumming which I did around 32 MPH+ with cars passing on the left. I thought I was going to get some serious road rash but I survived without an incident. It's really hard to ride straight when you've had a few beers. That night we also did laundry and ate at the restaurant next door to it. At the laundry mat is where we met Jody and Chris for the first time. We became known as the "laundry boys" to Jody. She mentioned how it was almost a dorm-like atmosphere at the laundry mat.

We camped out on the zoo grounds that day in Des Moines and even showered in a vacated prison with bars on the shower stalls.

Official RAGBRAI Day 4 (Wednesday 7/23)
Des Moines to Chariton 55 Miles

While breaking down our tent in the morning, we happened to notice our tent neighbor's bicycle seat. He somehow mounted one of those long curved in the middle exercise bicycle seats to a normal bicycle. He said it was really comfortable. A few towns later, we ran into Elvis.

Elvis

Eventually, we made it to our camping spot--one that Brent chose at the bottom of a hill depression and about a quarter mile away from the baggage truck. After camp was setup, we took the shuttle into town where we took in more beer and music from the U.S. Air Force band--they sounded alright actually. That night we had some good rain, thunder, and lightning too.

Official RAGBRAI Day 5 (Thursday 7/24)
Chariton to Bloomfield 72 miles (optional 100 miles)

Woke up to find out that a puddle had formed on my side of the tent. I wasn't wet but my sleeping bag was a little. Eventually, the tent was packed up and we lugged our bags the quarter mile back to the baggage truck. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to ride the optional century route, but I managed to get Lonnie to go while Brent hung back with Jody and Chris.

On that optional 28-mile loop to make it a century ride, there was only one food vendor at the very end of the loop. Normally food vendors are found about every 5 miles along the route so you can stop for food and drink at any time. At one point along the ride, I noticed a rider sporting a Star Trek Enterprise ship on his helmet. A few people at that food vendor looked at me funny when I recited NCC-1701 (Enterprise's number which they didn't recognize). We eventually made it into Bloomfield where someone had painted a mile or so of road with yellow paint--their version of a yellow brick road. Lonnie and I picked a prime camping spot under shelter and had a nice pvc pipe shower to cool off.

tent

Official RAGBRAI Day 6 (Friday 7/25)
Bloomfield to Fairfield 72 miles

The plan was to meet Jody and Chris at Chris Cakes (one of the roving food vendors along with Pancake Man <flips pancakes onto your plate while cooking>, Pasta Man, Mama Veggie, and many others) for breakfast, but there was no Chris Cakes to be found. As we slowly made our way to Fairfield it got hotter. At the town of Bonaparte we jumped into a river to cool off. That's where the PBS guys filmed us.

Later on during the day, it got even hotter and I practically melted. I was thankful for the Iowans sitting out in their lawn chairs spraying riders with garden hoses as they rode by. Lonnie tossed up the tent on a football field when we arrived in Fairfield and I just laid back in the grass. At one point, Lonnie mentioned some nearby tent shade a few feet away and I just crawled over to it. 95+ degrees and 100% humidity does not a good time make. Dinner consisted of food we could get at the snack bar of a baseball diamond. That night I said I was setting my watch alarm for the crack of dawn (5:15am) and if they wanted me to help put the tent away, they'd better get up early too since I was planning on beating the heat.

Official RAGBRAI Day 7 (Saturday 7/26)
Fairfield to Fort Madison 57 miles

5:15am Saturday came pretty quick, and I rose out of the tent pretty quick as well. Nothing like the incentive of a cool morning ride to beat the hellish heat to get you going in the morning. Lonnie slept outside the tent since it was so hot inside. Brent was barely moving by the time I was ready to go. I was on the road a little after 6am and there were plenty of others out there as well. I hammered the last 45 miles and stopped only twice for a little breakfast (muffin & juice) and then a banana and more muffins later on. I did stop to take a picture at Mt. RAGBRAI

mtn bike


and for a Dove bar too.

Dove Bar Stand


Got to the end of the ride before 11am. Picked up some lunch and then it took some time to locate the Pork Belly People (bus service we hired to take us back to Omaha), but I managed to find them and drop off my bike. 98 degrees and 100% humidity was really uncomfortable. I took the shuttle to the YMCA for a shower and hung out at the pool for about two hours. Then I took the shuttle back to the Pork Belly People. I still remember one guy's comment at the Y, "It's great to be able to take a piss in something that's not moving all the time." By the time I got back to the Pork Belly bus, they already had my bike loaded up and Brent and Lonnie were already in the lead bus. We were lucky to be in the lead bus since the second bus broke down and those people didn't get into the Ramada Inn until 1am while we arrived at 11pm. Halfway through the 400+ mile ride back to the start in Omaha, NE we stopped at a mall for food. Civilization! It was 98+ hot and humid outside but inside was a nice air conditioned mall in the low 70 degrees. It was great to sit down and enjoy a fast food meal from Arbys. We then hopped back on the bus and made it to the Ramada. We hung all our clothes out to dry outside on the rear railing of our room on the third floor (a sight to behold) and packed our bikes away once more for the trip home. We were kind of amazed that a few riders were actually setting up their tents on Ramada property.

That Sunday morning, Lonnie took off first for his 7am flight. Brent and I had some time to kill so we rented a car and drove around Omaha. Got some real Omaha steaks at some steak place. We eventually got back to the airport in the pouring rain and took off for home--the land with no extreme heat and humidity.

Notes for Next Time

  • Bring own tent.
  • Only travel with necessities in panniers like beer to avoid carrying excess weight up hills.
  • Do not go back to Iowa in the summer (weather is nicer in winter).
  • Always check typical weather and climate conditions before deciding on future vacation spots.


Now for Brent's version of events...


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