RAGBRAI XLII Countdown – July 20-26, 2014
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A Reunion with Iowa: A RAGBRAIer’s Adventure



This is Bruce’s story of his RAGBRAI adventures!

by Bruce D. Woods of Seneca, SC

Before the Ride

RAGBRAI is the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  But, for an ex-Iowan, it was a reunion with Iowa itself.  If I decided to it, I’d be forced into getting into better condition & losing some weight.  In late 2011, I decided to ‘go for it’.

I wasn’t prepared.  I had a mountain bike but I knew I needed a real road bike.  I bought a hybrid style – similar to a road bike but beefier with flat handlebars to reduce back & arm discomfort. Along with some extras like lights, mini-saddlebags and tools I also got bicycle shoes and a seat suitable for my elderly 215 lb. frame.  That raised my posterior comfort level from painful to tolerable.

Now came the part you can’t buy in any store – training.  There’s an old adage:  “You can’t fake endurance”.  True!  I mapped out a 6.3 mile loop around our neighborhood which includes some hills that require low gears on my bike.  My first 6.3 mile ride in February was hard.  Hello!  The ride is 471 miles long and I was a LONG way from being ready!  My training schedule called for mileages to increase gradually to about 200/week by mid-July.  I hoped that was enough but I wasn’t sure.

The Ride

It was now the Saturday (July 21) before the first day’s ride.  We double-checked our list of needs and loaded our bikes & SUV to start our trek.  The support duo was Sandy Host (my cousin) & Shirley (my wife).  The team riders were Tony Host, Dennis Day & I.

The ride was broken into 7 segments.  Each day was a unique chapter of my reunion with Iowa. (Sioux Center to Cherokee – 54 miles, Cherokee to Lake View – 62 miles, Lake View to Webster City – 81 miles, Webster City to Marshalltown – 77 miles, Marshalltown to Cedar Rapids – 85 miles, Cedar Rapids to Anamosa – 42 miles, Anamosa to Clinton- 69 miles.)

The start was almost magical.  Despite the thunder & lightning north of Sioux Center, we got to the start about 6:30. Already there was a never-ending stream of bicyclists on the road.  It was just past dawn and the parade was underway.  After we had done our gear checks, we joined up with the early crowd and our adventure began.  My first impression later proven accurate was that the riders were very safety conscious and looked out for each other.  Despite often being in a large crowd, I rarely felt unsafe.  Riders were also excellent at alerting others about oncoming or approaching vehicles, road hazards [such as the infamous & very unpleasant “rumble strips”] and if they were passing you left or right.  Also, nobody that broke down along the way was without help if they needed it.  The breakdowns were mainly flats but included other mechanical issues and later when it reached the mid 90’s or more there were riders who succumbed to the heat & dehydration.  There were, unfortunately, some nasty crashes but in every case the first responder was another rider.

The ride brought back memories and created new ones.  We saw wonderful farms and the world’s best soybean and corn fields – despite the drought that was beginning to affect some fields July 22-28.  Every where one looked, there were several wondrous shades of green.  When your eyes long for the beauty of nature, they don’t have to go to some exotic or famous locale to be satisfied; Iowa’s beautiful landscapes are second to none.  On several segments of our ride across Iowa, the road was on a ridgeline which enabled long distance viewing on both sides of the road.  The panoramas were spectacular and I found myself detached from the forced rhythm of riding a bicycle to become a passenger in some vehicle just to see the scenery.  The much slower average bicycle speeds {13-14 mph} enable one to see the panorama change slowly.  You could appreciate the subtle changes that cannot be easily observed in a car.  The farmsteads ranged from modest old-time white clapboard houses to elegant & huge near mansions.  But, a common thread among all these farm residences was the obvious pride farmers have in their property.  On several occasions, we saw picnic areas on farms with mowed grass in a stand of hardwoods that was obviously a farmer’s gift to weary travelers – one could stop, enjoy the shade and relax.  RAGBRAI riders appreciated those special stops.

I think what I’ll remember most about RAGBRAI is that every town welcomed us like we were returning victorious soldiers or long lost relatives.  The friendliness, smiles, good cheer and support were beyond what I could have imagined.  Whether it was a city or town of any size, the people were just wonderful.  Virtually everything a rider could need or want was available – often for free or at a bargain price per typical venues.  It would be difficult to focus on any one town along the way because they all did such a magnificent job in making us feel welcome.  They were proud of their towns and it was not a misplaced pride.  The welcome and good cheer in every town along the way was like a ‘booster shot’ of energy & spirit for tired and dehydrated riders.  The townspeople not only provided all physical necessities, they were our fans.  It was like they were reciting a movie script.  But, it was not a script; it was a genuine expression of their hearts.  It was a bit humbling but we loved it!

Along the way, we saw all sorts of “bicycles” – road bikes, trail bikes, recumbents, double & triple tandem bikes, unicycles, roller blades and even a skateboarder or two.  Bicyclists have given themselves permission to dress up about any way they want to; I guess once you start wearing lycra shorts, anything goes!

There were also lots of special signs – advertising, jokes, encouragement, etc.  One set of three signs was an introduction to Iowa:  “This is corn” [pointing towards a corn field], “This is beans” [pointing towards a soybean field], “That’s about it!”  It was fun to read all the signs and it reminded me of the Burma-Shave signs.

Where else can one eat breakfast on a downtown bridge?  (In Cedar Rapids we could.)  Where else are you welcomed into town by women dressed in prison stripes?  (In Anamosa that was our welcoming committee.)  Where else can you find a rest stop at the top of a long hill on someone’s farm with tents, free cookies, water, and lemon-aid?  (There were several stops like this.)  Where else do you see Mr. Porkchop every day?  (BIG chops grilled to perfection.)  Where else can you find so many wonderful pies, pastries, cookies, etc, baked by the best cooks in the world?  (All across Iowa!)  Where else can you find so many bicyclists who get along and watch out for each other?  (The good cheer and friendliness didn’t waver despite the heat, humidity and occasional stiff headwinds; few bothered to use locks.)  This was a special ride in a special place!

And, on Saturday, Day 7, the ‘Welcome to Clinton’ was magnificent.  Hundreds were waving and cheering.  Despite the weariness than one night’s sleep cannot erase, we were energized by them and knowing the ride was almost over.  We got to the place where the riders got to dip their front tires into the river and to have their victory poses photographed.  It felt like we’d won Olympic gold medals.  What a great day and a terrific week!

Postscript

Sunday was, indeed, a day of rest.  (Everything ached except my earlobes.)  We enjoyed a celebratory dinner that evening.  RAGBRAI was over.  It is truly a unique and wonderful experience.  And I’m planning to be back for seconds in 2013.

 

4 Responses on “A Reunion with Iowa: A RAGBRAIer’s Adventure

Timbo

April 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm

This was my story last year, but I came from Istanbul, Turkey to take the ride. Just found out a few weeks back that I will once again be available to do this ride for my second time this summer. Very much looking forward to it. I think I was more ready last year, but am working overtime now to get back in shape for the summer adventure. As my next assignment is in the WDC area, am hoping to keep making this a summer tradition. All the best to the first-timers. Its worth every minute, every hour and every day.

Debbie (Jackson) Geiger

April 14, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Sounds just the way I remember it. And, why I think my Dad did RAGBRAI for so many years. Thanks for sharing.

John Melville

April 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

What a great remembrance of all that RAGBRAI is! This is exactly how I felt on my first ride – Ragbrai XV – and, although some things have changed, it’s an amazingly accurate picture of Ragbrai XL!

Avatar of Pdiddly

Pdiddly

April 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for the article. I too was returning to Iowa for the ride for the first time. I grew up riding the farm country around Davenport and Iowa City. I loved it but never did RAGBRAI. What overwehlmed me starting out before dawn from Souix Center last year was the fragrance of the air and the farm fields. You just don’t get that aroma out west! Can’t wait for this next ride.

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