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First Timer from Canada!

I’m a first timer participating in this ride.
Not sure what to expect. Please share any tips you have. Thank you 🙂

25 Replies

Bentongoing, June 2, 2016 at 10:26 pm

1. Iowa is not flat.
2. Americans only know the first two words of our national anthem, but sing both of them when they see our flag.
3. There is a LOT of corn!
4. Best 7 days you’ll ever spend.
5. It gets really hot in a kybo. We call them port-o-pottie.

If you see a guy on a red trike with a Canadian flag. Stop and say hi. This will be my 5th ride. I keep coming back.

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jwsknk, June 3, 2016 at 8:29 am

Oh, Canada….

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jwsknk, June 3, 2016 at 8:39 am

my home and native land… actually it’s been about 300 years since most of the family left there. Could be some distant relatives Isle de ‘Orleans or Chateau Richer area. these two rides seem like possibilities, https://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/blog/ten-things-you-ll-love-about-ontario-s-great-lakes-waterfront-trail/ or http://wnegreenway.org/bike-routes/

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Julie Peden, June 3, 2016 at 8:56 am

Not flat you say eh? Ok good to know now. I love corn so this is good. Are there lots of Canadians that do this ride? I’m excited and nervous about doing the ride. I’ll keep an eye out for your Canadian flag. I have a tattoo of a bike on my left caf, say hi if you see me.

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Julie Peden, June 3, 2016 at 8:59 am

Hi jwsknk,
300 hundred years is close enough…we’re a generous country, we’ll still thank you and sorry until the cows come home. What’s the significance of your picture?

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jwsknk, June 3, 2016 at 10:01 am

34th RAGBRAI this year, 32 with Team Skunk.

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jwsknk, June 3, 2016 at 10:06 am

this site does daily profiles for the ride. http://www.geobike.com/geobike/gbmain.shtml

And soybeans! he forgot soybeans. You can not use a soybean field for a bathroom. Although, I have seen it tried.

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KenH, June 3, 2016 at 10:17 am

1. Iowa is not flat.

*** Not even close. But you get used to it.

2. Americans only know the first two words of our national anthem, but sing both of them when they see our flag.

*** Americans only know the first five words of our own national anthem. We may sing them when we see our flag, but then we may not. For the few of us who know the whole national anthem the last two words are, of course, “play ball!”

3. There is a LOT of corn!

*** A lot of corn and a lot of beans. Beans are useless on RAGBRAI but corn has many uses, as you will discover. It will give you pause the next time you eat cornflakes however….

4. Best 7 days you’ll ever spend.

*** By far!

5. It gets really hot in a kybo. We call them port-o-pottie.

*** Most of us call them port-o-potties too. Or port-o-lays. Pretty much only Boy Scouts and RAGBRAI riders call them kybos. Apparently the term goes back to the use of empty Kybo Coffee tins as tent chamber pots at a Boy Scout camp somewhere on the east coast years ago. No one knows exactly how it got transplanted to Iowa except that in the early days the RAGBRAI port-o-pottie vendor was named Kybo and the units carried a sticker on the door that featured that name prominently, so perhaps the owner was an east coast Scout all grown up and moved to Iowa.

There are other traditions too. First time riders are supposed to have someone write “VIRGIN” vertically down one or both of their calves with a big, bold, permanent marker. At the end of the ride you dip your front tire in the Mississippi River. At the beginning in many years you dip your rear tire in the Misouri or Big Sioux Rivers but this year rumor has it that there will be a substitute of some kind since the start town is 10 miles from the Missouri. I didn’t see this much last year but traditionally riders will decorate road kill with plastic beads. Plastic forks and knives are optional but a nice touch.

There are so many Canadians in the US that we won’t even notice that you are Canadian unless you use the word “eh” too much. Even then we will just think you are from Minnesota, eh?

If you haven’t figured it out yet one of the uses of corn fields is as a nearly always convenient kybo. So there is a such a thing as a corn kybo but corn bears and corn bats are just stories we tell to Canadians and Europeans. The corn will be as high as an elephant’s eye by the end of July so it makes good cover for when nature calls between towns and the farmers don’t seem to mind. There will be plenty of corn on the cob to enjoy if you can get past how it is fertilized. If an Iowan should comment to you about the sugar content of an ear of corn best just to nod your head and agree with whatever their opinion is. You won’t win that argument should you try to disagree.

The sheer number of riders is mindboggling to a newbie. You will wait in line for many things. Any town with much in the way of anything to eat, drink, or sell as you pass through will be so crowded that you will have to dismount and walk your bike through even if you don’t plan to stop. Cell phone service will be spotty at best as the cell phone towers melt from the overload.

Names that you will come to love: Mr Pork Chops, Beekmans, Farm Boys, Chris Cakes, Hy Vee, any Methodist Church dinner (but other denominations are fine too), Carbo Hut, the Amish … not enough room to list them all!

Iowans are extremely helpful, your fellow RAGBRAI riders are extremely helpful, and the Air Force Team riders sometimes trip over each other trying to be the first to help you. If something goes wrong and you didn’t get help that is because you didn’t ask, and sometimes you don’t even have to ask! If you need professional help with your bike there are several bike shops that set up booths along the ride so many of the pass through towns will have one.

You probably want to bring $30 – $40 US a day to spend on food plus whatever you might want to spend on other things.

If you have serious, specific questions you can ask them and we will try to stop being silly and answer them for you.

You will be in Iowa, not heaven, but there will be times when it will be easy to see how the two could be confused.

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Bentongoing, June 3, 2016 at 10:20 am

Julie – are you using a charter? I have used Brancel each time, both to get from the ending town to starting town AND for luggage/camping support. Great people!
Highly recommend them.
You will have a blast!
And I’m sure you are the ONLY person with a bike tattoo, so you’ll be easy to pick out.
I’m in south western Ontario and there are quite a few Canadians on the ride. Feel free to PM (private message) me if you want to. I LOVE chatting about RAGBRAI!

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Bentongoing, June 3, 2016 at 10:35 am

Ken – Not true! I was chased by a corn bear once! Scariest moment of my life!

Gotta keep the legends alive!

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jwsknk, June 3, 2016 at 10:51 am

CORN BEAR!!! or this guy might still be out there. http://www.villiscaiowa.com/ of The Children of the Corn.

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Julie Peden, June 3, 2016 at 11:35 am

OMG hilarious KenH, jwsknk and Bentongoing. This is ALL good informative stuff! I will try to only pee in corn fields and steer clear of the soybean fields. This is definately the info I’m looking for 🙂 🙂 🙂

So I’m looking to fly from toronto to Omaha Airport or Des Monies? Omaha is much closer to Glenwood than Des Monies, but only Des Monies has direct flights. If I fly into Omaha I will have to come in on the Friday as all flights arrive too late. I’m looking to have PORK BELLY VENTURES pick me up and take me back to the aiport. I’m looking to ship my bike using sendmybike.com and have them assemble. I’ll attend the “first timers” session on the Saturday and then pick up my package then head to pick up my bike at the Expo. Haven’t booked everything yet. I’m not much of a tenting person so this will be an experience for sure. I’m planning on bringing my tent, sleeping bag and a small folding chair. Do I need anything else to camp? Sounds like cash is the best to bring? Any comments on the above so far? How does everyone charge their cell phones?? thanks so much fellas for the feedback.

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Nico ZZZ, June 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Julie,
This is not in any way a definitive list, but it is based on what I learned from riding my first RAGBRAI in 2014. Was out last year due to injury, but happily returning for 2016!

GEAR: There are about a half dozen bike repair tents in each pass through town as well as end towns – honestly – so you don’t have to sweat. The cyclists of the U.S. Air Force riding team (I think there were about 120 riders in 2014) are the good Samaritans on the ride, stopping to help any and all. And everyone else stops as well. My teammate Panama had two flats in one day, and he said he had five people repairing his tire while he watched!
Bring two tubes.
All supplies can be bought in pass through towns: butter, bike parts, clothing, etc, so don’t over-pack with “spare” items. And I never saw any outrageous pricing, on bike parts, supplies, food or beverages.
I had a small mishap and my derailleur was bent – $20 in the next pass through town – repair done.
We had one evil day of cold morning rain. I really was coveting full finger gloves that morning, and a jacket. I live in Miami, so a ride in the rain is a soothing, cooling experience. A seven a.m., 60-degree rain in Iowa is not refreshing, it is awful, and so have the gear.
Bring a cap or headband to cover your head from sunburn when you take your helmet off to eat, drink and lounge in the pass through towns.
Individual Prep H wipe packs are magical on the road in those lovely KYBOs. You want to keep that undercarriage clean and lubed at all times.
Bring an extra butt butter pack and one energy booster on each day’s ride.
Don’t load up on power bars, etc as there is so much great food in each town. I packed two bars for each day, and ended up eating maybe two of them for the week. The heck with those granola bars, Iowa offers up PORK in every town – eat it!

THE RIDE: Relax! Each day is about five or six individual hour-long 10-15 mile rides with breaks in-between. And it is the in-between that makes RAGBRAI magical. Yes, riding across a state does indeed make you feel like a bada$$ when you are done that Saturday along the Mississippi, but it is the time you spend in those pass-through towns that will make the week magical. For my first RAGBRAI I was concerned about “pacing myself,” with that annoying bit of fear of burning out and not completing the ride. I had ridden about 1000 miles in the flatlands of the Florida Everglades among the alligators and snakes, so even the hills of Iowa were a question mark in my mind. All my worry was wasted. This year I will stop in every pass through town without just passing through, and savor the food, beverages, entertainment, and the people. Remember, these towns are giving you everything they have, so appreciate what they are doing to make our one week in their state so (gotta say it again) Magical. Eat pork like mad, try all those great Iowa craft beers, and buy the canned Busch or Bud from the fire departments so they can buy new gear. Stop and have a Bloody Mary or mimosa at the first stop you can. Have a vodka lemonade in the afternoon. You’re burning five thousand calories everyday, so no guilt! Grab a beer, a pulled pork sammich or a burger, and lie in the grass of the town square and listen to a polka, rock, or country band serenade you. Take a nap. Man, THIS is RAGBRAI. Don’t rush to get to the end town. Say “Hello” to all the townspeople that sit out on their front porch or driveway. Thank them for their hospitality. Buy lemonade or water from the kids. Yes, water is available for free in every town, but spend a few bucks and have a chat with the kids. Every day I said “thank you” and “hello” and “love your town!” at least 100 times. If you come from a place like Miami (as I do) it is a joy to once again experience the hospitality of the Midwest.

ODDS & ENDS: One of my teammates, The Colonel, found a couple of hints from past riders helpful. Bring a cheap shower cap to keep your saddle dry on those extremely wet Iowa summer nights while you sleep. Also, bring some of those pine tree car air fresheners for your bag and your tent. Man, we smelled like wet skunky dogs, especially after that brutal rain day. The Colonel was April fresh!
It may sound a bit off, but I found two helpful hints from past riders to be saviors for my week. As mentioned earlier, Prep H individual pack wipes were my friends on the road in those splendid KYBOs. BTW, almost all the KYBOs are quite clean, and have disinfectant hand goo dispensers, but…just in case also bring your own handy wipes on each day’s rides with your Prep H wipes. Another great hint: bring diaper rash medication for the after ride clean up to protect your undercarriage. After that hellish day of rain (oh, that again?!), riding all day sitting on a wet sponge, the oh so tender flesh was torn in the unmentionable zone, and with the final day of the Iowa Alps ahead! I tenderly applied the diaper rash gel to the tender spot while (of course) in the privacy of my tent after the ride, and by morning I was good to go (I was truly shocked at the magic of this stuff!), and I destroyed the Alps, laughing all the way!
Also, being middle-aged my knees are a bit creaky. I used to run to keep fit, but my creaky knees took me to riding the bike again, and then RAGBRAI, so perhaps “thank you olda$$ knees”? Anyway, I brought knee sleeves, and they were great on the rain day and another cool morning to keep my joints warmer in the morning. I also wear arm sleeves so I don’t need so much sunscreen, plus they actually keep your arms cooler. Try them; they are about $10/pair.
My body maintenance routine also included Aspercreme in the morning, and Icy Hot after the ride on the legs/knees, and arms and upper back and neck. On the last morning of the ride I woke and realized I had no aches. The Colonel claimed he ached everywhere! Hahaha. But he is a strong, bada$$ rider, doing Century rides in the New Mexico mountains.
My teammate Panama had a tough ride, his bike had mechanical issues, and he had two flats on the rain day, yet he loved RAGBRAI because of the towns and the people of Iowa. Yes, again, ride at whatever speed rocks your world, but stop and relax in those pass-through towns!

WHAT TO PACK: This depends on how you are traveling across the state. Team Diablos Rojos went with Pork Belly Ventures. They have an impressive operation, and they are not the cheapest as so many remind you. I had some jerkyboy riding next to me tell me “Pork Belly is not RAGBRAI.” Sorry there Cheezwhiz, but some of us don’t ride with a local team (because we have flown a couple of thousand miles to ride RAGBRAI), or are past the backpack/youth hostel lifestyle they are still desperately embracing as a mid-40 year old grunge-wannabe. RAGBRAI is whatever you want it to be, no one “owns” the identity of RAGBRAI. Make RAGBRAI your own.
So, air mattress or foam pad or whatever, as well as a sleeping bag. Bring a sheet for the warmer nights. Battery powered fan or two, as well as a tent light. Headlight for the walk to the KYBO in late night, or getting ready for the ride in the early morn. Collapsible campstool or chair, earplugs and perhaps an eye mask to help sleep.
This RAGBRAI I plan to bring more riding shorts so I don’t have to worry about washing and drying, maybe five. I thought back in 2014 I’d be able to use just a few pair, but the nighttime condensation hits around 9pm, so drying time outside the tent is short, especially if you enjoy those pass through towns and get into camp later in the afternoon. The last thing I want to do is rush to camp so I can do laundry. Nope, I wanna enjoy the towns, not be bogged down by “camp duties.” Pork Belly has a nice set up, they do, but the pass through towns are more interesting and enjoyable than a tent village. You will spend enough time in tent village, so avoid rushing there.
Bring a flag or glow sticks to attach to your tent to help you find it if you are going to live in a tent village.
Pack quick-dry clothing and bring less clothing than you think – I think everyone overpacks the first year.

I was stunned by the massive number of riders who seemed hellbent to break some world record on RAGBRAI. Panama and I laughed at these wannabes, especially those teams in formation screaming out “On your left!!!” like I’m supposed to be impressed. Sorry there Gordo, the Tour de France is not in Iowa, so what are you trying to prove by blazing by on the left? We would “toast” to these “world class athletes” when we would stop and enjoy an Iowa craft beer or two while they were smokin’ into the end town tent village at 11am. OK, Swifty, now whatcha gonna do? Walk around the tents for the next six hours? Congrats on your “personal best” time, but not even your wife will be impressed when you get back home and give her the week’s spreadsheets and charts. RAGBRAI is whatever you want it to be, but these ding-dongs I think really miss the mark. At least they provide comic relief for the rest of us relaxing in the shade of the maple trees of the town square. The best example of this in 2014 was these riders ripping by the Turf Ballroom in Clear Lake. For goodness sake, stop and check it out. Or stop and have a grilled burger and a beer in the shade at the big turn. Nope, they’ve got “records” to set on this 40 mile day ride.
However you approach and experience the ride in the corn, Ragbrai is how you define it. Enjoy!
Ride On!

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T. Gap Woo, June 3, 2016 at 12:36 pm

Great tips,everyone! Let me add a few more.

1. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, you’ll burn.

2. If you take medications on a daily basis, pack them in a waterproof container and put that into a Ziploc baggie.

Have a great ride. Look for my license plate and listen for my ooga horn.

See you along the I-O-Way next month.

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George A, June 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Gringonick,

While I can agree that some people do not get what RAGBRAI is all about and seem to make it a race please do not generalize about all of those that ride fast. How can you be so sure that all those fast riders are getting to the end town at 11:00am? Maybe a few are but I know many are actually spending more time in the pass through towns than the slower riders. In our group there is a very fit 30 something that is as fast as just about anybody and he tends to be one of the last into camp. Some fast riders would actually prefer to spend more time in the pass through towns than out on the road looking at corn all day. Less time in the saddle means more time for fun and games.

By the way I did spend at least 2 hours in the Surf Ballroom with my 14 year old in 2014, and we probably passed you on the left at some point along the way. Additionally I am always polite when I say “On Your Left”.

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