RAGBRAI news team
Sun, Jul 15, 2012 | by Michael MorainShare
Here’s a book idea, free for the taking: “All I Really Need to Know About Iowa I Learned on RAGBRAI.”
I’d write it myself and fill it with heartwarming stories about small towns and pie, but I’d rather publish the spin-offs: “All I Really Need to Know About Heat Stroke …” or maybe “More Than I Ever Needed to Know About Sweat …” Hollywood bigwigs are already scrambling for the rights.
This year will be my sixth on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. That’s too few for any records — a few old-timers have survived them all — but it’s more than enough to brag about to newbies and non-riders (aka “cowards”) who choose to spend July in air-conditioned comfort.
So take my advice: All you really need to know to conquer RAGBRAI you can learn from this list.
It is not a race. That second “R” in RAGBRAI is for “ride,” people. There is absolutely no prize for waking up before dawn and sprinting to the next overnight town. The eager beavers who think so seem to have confused this with the Tour de France.
Which brings us to the next point: Eat the pie, even if you’re not hungry. Would you go to Paris and ignore the Eiffel Tower? Would you tour a Burgundy vineyard and not sample wine? Non! You would not.
Then why skip even one slice of our own national treasure?
I remember a country church in eastern Iowa. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but a secret staircase to the basement led to a cavernous fellowship hall, as big as an airport hangar with acres of folding tables and every kind of pie you could imagine. We’re talking Willy Wonka factory here, with cinnamon-rhubarb and gooseberry and pineapple meringue.
Was I hungry? No. Did that stop me from eating a slice of raisin pie that was basically a brick-sized Fig Newton? Not at all.
I waddled upstairs and heaved myself back onto my bike. My knees thumped my sagging belly each time I pedaled. But did I regret it? No, I did not.
Even so, pack an extra granola bar, just in case. As hard as it is to believe, there are places along the 471-mile route where homemade pastries are not within arm’s reach.
A few years ago the pedal-powered plague of locusts devoured every crumb of food in a town tucked in a remote valley, at least 12 miles from the next stop. The locals were completely overwhelmed. They’d boiled some corn on the cob, but when it was gone, riders mobbed the Casey’s, standing in Soviet-like bread lines for the last Hostess Ding-Dong.
So stuff a snack in your shorts and save it for later.
And speaking of shorts, embrace the Spandex fashion vortex. You’d be surprised how stylish a pudge-hugging, petroleum-based fabric can look when 10,000 people are wearing it. The one guy in khakis will look out of place.
But no matter how comfortable you may feel, remember: Later you will see photos of yourself. And they won’t be pretty.
Embrace the time vortex, too. Scientists have long tried to explain why RAGBRAI has its own traveling time zone, in which everything takes at least five times longer than it normally should. A quick trip for ice? 45 minutes. A shower? Two hours.
If you’re driving a support vehicle, I suggest you practice in rush-hour Los Angeles. Pop in the audio version of “War and Peace” and take some Rosetta Stone CDs so you can listen to it in the original Russian.
Learn the lyrics to “Sweet Home Alabama.” You will hear it 3,472 times during the week. You will hear “Sweet Caroline” (buh, buh, buhhhhh!) even more.
Go wild — or don’t. There are rumors that RAGBRAI is a weeklong kegger, with a magic slip-n-slide leading straight to a drunken orgy. For some people, this is true.
But for the vast majority, the ride is a pleasant combination of pork chops, ice cream and naps. Last year the average rider’s age was 45.5 years old, with about 68 percent men and 32 percent women. Each year there are more kids and more retirees than ever.
Which brings us to this: Never underestimate the grannies. Those wiry old ladies will always beat you to the top of the hill. Always.
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