July 31, 2009

RAGBRAI - Cycling Across Iowa

No bike computer.

No heart rate monitor.

No defined workout or schedule.

Just riding bikes for the pure and simple love of pushing pedals.

A true critical mass, riding 10,000 strong, the 2009 RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) rolled out of Council Bluffs on Sunday morning.  Like nothing I had ever before witnessed, riders of all shapes and sizes on steeds of every kind dominated the landscape spreading out before me.  Framed only by blue sky and fields of corn and soy beans, the 500 mile ride, 7 day ride had begun.

 Day 1: Council Bluffs to Red Oak - 52.6 miles, 3,684ft of climbing

 Day 2: Red Oak to Greenfield - 72.6 miles, 5,096ft of climbing

 Day 3: Greenfield to Indianola - 77.1 miles, 4,470ft of climbing

 Day 4: Indianola to Chariton - 44.4 miles, 2,182ft of climbing

 Day 5: Chariton to Ottumwa (Karras Loop at Rathburn Lake) - 106.9 miles, 3,388ft of climbing

 Day 6: Ottumwa to Mount Pleasant - 75.5 miles, 2,841ft of climbing

 Day 7: Mount Pleasant to Burlington - 43.2 miles, 1,145ft of climbing

The days seem to run together as I attempt to recall the specifics of each sunrise; by mid-ride I had actually lost track of the days of the week.  When I made this realization, I celebrated; I was embracing vacation.

I often laugh when I say, "When I grow up I just want to write and ride my bike".  For one week in July, this became my reality. 

Waking up each morning, our trusty Hubba Hubba covered in a think layer of dew, knowing riding was the only thing on the agenda bought me back to our mornings on the PCT when walking was our only responsibility.  Only on RAGBRAI, there was food a plenty and showers available just about every night.

Our team, the Sigourney Weavers, was compromised of 15 riders, 4 tandems, 1 chariot trailer and the kind of positive energy that can do nothing but lift your spirits.

Traveling with people with a great affinity to good java, each morning started with freshly brewed coffee and foamed milk; the makings of the perfect latte and a great day.

After loading up the Big Pink School Bus that moved our tent city from town to town each day, we saddled up and rolled out, leaving one town and heading toward another. 

Along the way, the Farm Boys Breakfast Burrito Stand might call to our growling stomachs or perhaps we would push on toward the next Church Basement Fundraiser to enjoy a homemade slice of strawberry rhubarb or berry pie.  Roadside Pork chops, Turkey Legs and Meat-on-a-Stick popped up every few miles along with the occasional ice cream or watermelon stand.

Bikes filled both sides of the two-lane back roads and the lone car just had to wait.  If sitting on a corner in a small town on the RAGBRAI itinerary, you could watch bikes for hours, a steady steam of squeaky chains.

The left side of the road was unofficially reserved for the faster riders and Ben and I most often found ourselves there.  If was only on rare occasion that we were not the passers as we flying by people riding cruisers, mountain bikes and recumbents.  Pace lines, including strong tandem pairs, formed along the far left reaches of the asphalt, making the miles tick by in quick succession and forcing me to push the limits on the downhills as I desperately tried to hold on to the wheel of a 47 pound tandem.  Unknown to most, Iowa is not flat and the short, steep uphills forced me to stand and sprint, watching as the flat-landers virtually moved backward. Unending fun was had cresting roller after roller and flying down the other side.

Afternoons were filled with long breaks under  shade trees or meeting the High Country Kombucha van, with ice cold Kombucha on tap.  Leaving the route and rolling into town where we would set up camp for the night, smiles would not leave our faces.  Snacks, brews and slack lining occupied our evenings, along with a stroll into town to witness the nightly RAGBRAI party and find the local HyVee Grocery Store to load up on staples for the following day.

Day 7 marked the end of the West-to-East journey across the great state of Iowa and our arrival at the Mississippi River.  The finish to this year’s ride included the Rattle Snake Challenge, a steep cobblestone street with 6 or 7 switchbacks.  Cheers came from the crowd that lined the way as we completed the last stretch of our inaugural RAGBRAI ride.

Huge thanks go out to Team Sigourney Weave, Rosie (the bus driver), all our host families, the great citizens of Iowa and to Toby from Mammut for providing hours of evening entertainment complements of the Slack Line.