I am back to work now for several days after spending most of Sunday working on cleaning out the camper and getting the kids situated and ready for their work schedules. As I reflect back on the my most recent RAGBRAI experience (my 4th now), I must say that I am especially grateful to Lee for making this a reality in my life once again. Prior to this time, the RAGBRAI was something that I never ever thought or wanted to do again.
My now ex-wife and I used to do these rides together with our family and unbeknownst to me I found out that she was having an affair with another married individual that she met on a bike ride. She would even tell me that she was riding with this person and I thought nothing of it at the time. It was many months later that I learned the bitter truth of what they were doing during their rides. I hung on for a year, hoping it would stop, but it never did. His wife suddenly died with cancer which only simplified their choice of eventual marriage and a life “happily ever after”.
Riding a bicycle after those very dark years would make me literally ill. I tried to force myself many times to get on a bike, but couldn’t force the images and emotional pain I felt out of my head, finally giving it up, hanging my bike up in the garage where it collected dust for many years and believing at the time that I would never ride again.
Through this whole process, I managed to rekindle my friendships with many people of my past, several of which were my friends from my college days. They were there for me throughout the entire dark time in my life and have now become very close. Lee, my former roommate and the best man at my wedding, was one of those friends that I grew close too once again and it was as if there was no loss in time as we have had many fun times with each other and our respective families. He was the one that would always ask me about the RAGBRAI and how it was on his bucket list and that he really wanted me to do it with him. I insisted that I was not interested at all. He knew how I felt about riding bike again, but persisted nonetheless. (Did I mention that Lee is a professional therapist? I think he used his superb skills to finally convince me to ride again).
Since Lee NEVER quits or gives up (one of his endearing features), I reluctantly agreed to do the ride again this year with him at my side. I truly believe that Lee’s desire to participate in the RAGBRAI was only partially to serve his own desires to complete something that he has known about for many years. More importantly, at least to me, was that I believe Lee wanted to see me finally get on a bike and mentally force myself to suppress the demons that had prevented me from even considering doing this ever again. I can not thank him enough!
With the full support and outright encouragement of Natalie, my new love, I started planning for the ride as best I could with my work schedule. Training wasn’t as I would have wanted it to be, but it would be enough to see me through this relatively easy physical challenge. Lee and three of his friends joined us and I was lucky enough to have one of my favorite sons (Luke) ride with us and one of my other favorite sons (Noah) drive our Airstream to Orange City and to all the overnight towns on the route (a generally boring job, but he smiled a lot over the weekend for sure and was very helpful along the way). It was a great experience that will for ever more be filled with nothing but enjoyable memories and funny stories to recall in the years to come.
As I sit here contemplating all the energy that went into planning, preparation and participating in this great bicycle ride, I can’t help but to dream about the future ones I will be participating in, almost certainly with Lee at my side (or at least within two miles ahead of me on the route) and our loving friends and hopefully many members of both of our families, peddling their way from west to east, corn, bacon, pancakes and beer everywhere, during the hot and humid Iowan summer.
Finally, to top of the entire week, while Luke, Noah and I were driving back home from Lansing, Luke said, “Dad, that was the best RAGBRAI ever!”
Luke couldn’t have been more correct!
The entire route will be new RAGBRAI territory as will journey travels 44.8 miles with some nice climbs totaling 3,200 feet throughout Allamakee County. You will not think you are in Iowa as scenic landscape and winding scenic byways show off the splendor of the Driftless Area. RAGBRAIers will visit the town of Waterville for the very first time and then ride through the Yellow River State Forest. Riders will then pull into Harpers Ferry, another first time RAGBRAI community. Riders can dip their tires if they wish in the Mississippi River at one of Harpers Ferry’s many boat ramps. The last 13 mile leg of RAGBRAI XLV will travel north along the Great River Road as we travel to Lansing to end is the beautiful river town on Lansing. If you didn’t get enough fun on the bike, you can climb the ultra-steep Mt. Hosmer just blocks from downtown and the river. Lansing will be a great ending to RAGBRAI XLV!
This was a tough, but very fun and very scenic leg of the RAGBRAI! Luke, Lee and I lost each other early on, but were able to meet up the last 20 or so miles. Those hills were killers, but both Luke and I agreed that we would much rather have the diversity the hills bring us rather than the flat flat flat areas we encountered on the western edge of the state. Some of the very steep inclines lasted more than 1-2 miles and despite sharing the roadway with perhaps 30 people within a very short distance, there was no noise, no talking and just heavy breathing as we all trudged ever so slowly to the tops.
The Mississippi river valley is absolutely gorgeous and despite living here for a large portion of my life, I will never get tired of the beauty. The changes in elevation even brought some drastic changes in temperature with us experiencing very low 50s in the deeper shade-covered valleys and then out in the sun at the tops of the hills it was in the high 70s. I stopped several times during the last 10 miles to take pictures and Lee and Luke went on ahead, but luckily they waited for me at the end so we could all experience the ride into Lansing together.
Once there, according to RAGBRAI tradition, we dipped our front bike tires into the Mississippi River (the back tires are traditionally dipped into the Missouri River at the start of the ride) an finished our few miles into town. Noah was waiting for us in town and we hung out for awhile as the remaining team members arrived. Brandon, broke a chain while en-route and the Air Force, once again, came to his rescue!
Luke, Noah and I headed out in the early afternoon and were able to make it back to Steinthal by 7:30 PM, just in time for a movie and popcorn. One of their personal favorites!
The route travels 60.1 miles as we climb 2,483 feet. RAGBRAIers will visit Decorah during the 51st annual Nordic Fest, which celebrates their Norwegian heritage. We’ll ride through Decorah for the first time since 1999 and we’ll ride past one of Iowa’s top breweries in Toppling Goliath. RAGBRAI will then make a return visit to the town of Ossian before travel to Castalia and Postville for the first time before making their way into Waukon. Friday is College Spirit Day where we encourage you to proud wear your school’s jersey or apparel.
This day was a falshback for me. We left Cresco for Decorah, home of Lee and my beloved alma mater, Luther College. Of course we had to stop and tour the college and pick up a few items from the bookstore before heading into downtown Decorah which also happened to be hosting the Nordic Fest. We decided to bypass the crowds and ate breakfast in Ruby’s Restaurant. The place was packed and Luke, Lee and I waiting for seating along with a single rider in his early 60’s. The hostess had a table for four available and asked if the four of us would like to sit together. We agreed and had the best conversation with a high-level former NASA engineer and Iranian immigrant who lead the development of NASA’s Earth Observing System (EOS) during the Clinton Administration. He currently is working on top secret projects for the government and is a professor of engineering at the Univeristy of Maryland. The conversations were fascinating and it was immensely satisfying to watch Lukas and our new guest engage in very intelligent (albeit it over my head) engineering conversation. All I have to say is:
After breakfast we hit the road and road through Ossian (my boyhood home), Castalia, Postville (home of a large orthodox Jewish community) and then Waukon, the last home of my mother prior to her untimely death about 20 years ago and where she was buried.
Waukon was an absolute BLAST! Noah found a great site (once again) parked along the East Elementary School and we were within a short walking distance to the downtown. That night, we witnessed Hairball. This band was a true event that brought back great memories of the big hair eighties rock bands! My ears rang for two days after the concert as Lee and I, unwisely perhaps, decided the best location was to be 3 rows back. There were well over 15,000 people packed in the street watching this and although I have been to four rides previously, it was the first time I really had any idea of the magnitude of the Ragbrai. Very impressive indeed!
Thursday’s route travels just 54.6 miles but we will start to experience some hills as we climb 2,257 feet. We will visit the towns of Ionia and New Hampton for the first time in 40 years! We will also make our inaugural visit to Lawler and then a final stop in Protivin before heading north to Cresco. Thursday is RAGBRAI Jersey Day.
Unfortunately, at this point we lost all ability to use cellular data and were actually enjoying some cellphone silence. This was a great day for all of us and the ride was very easy. It has been fun for the closer we move East as all of these towns were very familiar to me during my childhood. Notable memories for me were seeing a young man traveling along the route in a conventional wheel chair. Saw one older man that was a double below the knee amputee with prostheses that was riding on a conventional bike. He even clipped in which I though seemed very risky as it seems like it would be a challenge to unclip. I also met a nice 8 year old boy on a very fancy road bike (along with Dad) that was riding the route to Cresco.
Cresco is a very familiar town to me being so close to Decorah and Ossian (my boyhood home). Noah was able to find a very nice camping spot at the local county fairgrounds right next to the race track and the crew felt that a trip to Decorah in the truck was in order. Lee and Dan were excited to head to Mabe’s Pizza in Decorah and enjoy some of the food we both enjoyed while attending Luther. After that we headed back to the campsite and called it a night, prepared for our trip through a part of Iowa that brings back many memories to all of us, but especially me. More on that a little later.
Wednesday’s RAGBRAI route will visit the town of Thornton for the first time in RAGBRAI history and then ride to Swaledale, which featured the inventions of local farmer Dale Caspers during our last visit in 2010. Dale passed away in February and we hope Dale’s inventions can be brought to life again during RAGBRAI. Rockwell has a great aquatic center for our meeting town and Cartersville will also be on the route, a stop that was quite memorable in 2010 for their swinging aquatics! Rockford rounds out the route, home to devonian fossils in the the Floyd County Fossil and Prairie Park Center. Wednesday is Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, honoring the brave men and women who help protect us everyday.
I didn’t ride this leg of the ride due to potential bad weather and also to help Noah with some maintenance issues with the camper and truck. We got into Charles City around 9 AM and found a good overnight spot.
As it turns out, the weather was not as bad as we had predicted and most of our team was able to get back without getting too wet. Corey, unfortunately got into a crash in town and cut up his elbow, but only superficial and that should heal in a few days.
We headed downtown for dinner in true hillbilly fashion with lounge chairs in the back of the pick up truck. We decided to play dueling banjos during the ride. Afterwords, we headed back to camp and played sheepshead and poker. Not completely sure, but I think Noah might have one at poker.
The day’s ride covered 51.4 miles and just 934 feet of climb. Although we will visit only four pass-through towns, they are towns that have done a great job of hosting RAGBRAI in the past. The last 6-mile stretch between Ventura and Clear Lake is a scenic ride around the northern shores of Clear Lake. Tuesday is also PeopleForBikes Day.
Today would’ve been a great ride had it not been for the strong winds. We made great time and were able to spend an hour in Garner enjoying the sights and listening to the music.
We saw one bad crash on the way. Horrible head injury with an unconscious biker in the road. That site really keeps everything in perspective. The United States Air Force was once again there to provide services while waiting for emergency medical staff to arrive. Luke and I made it into Clear Lake together and no I found a perfect spot for the camper on the high school practice football field.
The crew finished the evening listening to great music including Bob Marley’s The Wailers! Unbelievable reggae music to be followed with an amazing firework show.
We just got home around 1130 tonight and are questioning whether we are going to be riding tomorrow because of thunderstorms along the route.
The route travels 71.7 miles and a relatively flat 1,631 feet of climb. You can ride a century that day by riding the Karras Loop to Plover. A highlight for many will be a visit to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, truly one of Iowa’s gems! Monday will be Mr. Pork Chop Day a we ride in the memory of the late Paul Bernhard who served RAGBRAIers tasty pooooork choooops for decades!
This was a pretty rough ride for us. Lee and I stick together for the majority of the ride. Lukas decided to do the century and we finally made it to Algona only a little more sore than yesterday.
One exciting moment of the ride for me was about 8 miles into the start, my entire pedal assembly broke off my bike and was dangling to my clip on my left shoe. At the time I was on the far left hand side of the road and had to carefully maneuver back to the right with no ability to move my left foot or put it on the ground and my right foot was clipped to my bike. Luckily I didn’t fall over or get hit by another biker and I made it safely to the other side. The United States Air Force has a 150 member team of active duty men and women that provide an amazing service to the riders during the entire week. They always stop for anyone in distress and often times help with changing tubes and fixing other mechanical problems that inevitably occur. In my case they were right there by my side within about one minute and after five minutes we were able to figure out how to put the pedal assembly back onto the bike so that I was able to continue without needing a support vehicle to take me to the final destination.
The route encompasses 62.6 miles and 1,283 feet of climb. You can add to that total by riding the 3rd annual optional Gravel Loop to Sutherland. The Mile of Silence will take place after Granville in honor of those cyclists that we have lost.
We made it without incident. Headed over to Ryan and Sonia’s house. It was a perfect ride.
Today we spend our time doing cartwheels, jumping jacks, sit ups and pull-ups in preparation for our first leg of biking tomorrow morning. Noah is already taking a five dollar shower this morning at the high school locker room. The rest of our team is currently en route from Lansing Iowa and their bus should arrive sometime around 2:30 this afternoon. In the meantime, we plan to head to downtown Orange City for the Expo.
So far the only negative we’ve experienced has been the campers located right next to us. They have the absolute loudest generator you can possibly imagine. We essentially are unable to even talk when they have it on and despite the rules of quiet campgrounds after 10 PM, they insisted on leaving it run all night long. I even politely asked if they would mind shutting it off and they refused because they absolutely would not go without air conditioning. So Noah and I endured listening to their generator all night long while they slept in the comfort of their air-conditioned camper. Lukas was perhaps the smartest of our bunch as he strung up his hammock between two pine trees near the baseball field about 30 yards away from us.
The rest of our team arrived at around 3 PM today. They are currently setting up tents while Noah and I headed over to the drivers meeting at 4 PM at one of the local churches. After this, we plan to head back to our camp and reconvene with the rest of our group and then head downtown for the evening and the expo which expects to see 25,000 people.
We will be up and around 5:15 tomorrow morning and hopefully biking no later than 6 AM. Our longtime friends and fellow Luther alumni, Ryan and Dr. Sonia Sather will be hosting us tomorrow.
Spencer, here we come!
We spent approximately 30 minutes unpacking and setting up our camp. Generators are working perfectly and we could have air-conditioning running if we needed it. It’s not that hot so we have decided to save energy and “rough it”. Luke, Noah and I have already biked over to the local Mexican restaurant and enjoyed an amazing dinner. The boys are anxious to find a book to read so they have decided to drive over to a nearby city and look for a bookstore there.
Tomorrow the rest of our team arrives and the RAGBRAI expo begins. There are a few last minute items I will need for the ride and also I plan to tweak my bike just a little bit more before we head out early Sunday morning.