I was sick all weekend. What a drag. It was a beautiful weekend. I would have loved to take Ira out for some fall miles. Instead of doing that, I ate dry toast, drank 7-Up and considered why life on my bike is so great. This is what I came up with.
- It’s hard to take myself so seriously when I’m on a bike. How can I take myself seriously when road rash and bug guts are at the top of the list when the conversations begin with, “An interesting thing happened on my ride today.”
- Freedom. I felt free like I was flying when I was on my yellow Schwinn with a banana seat in 1978 riding ramps in the parking lot of a church. In 1983 on my 12 speed I had the freedom of independence, never reliant on anyone else. Today, almost 30 years later, I feel free when I ride as fast as I can for as long as I can because during that ride, nothing matters but the ride.
- Playground rules. When I was a kid, a small posse would roll up and we would slowly circle the newcomers. We gave the rides a once over then asked questions about the bikes. Has that changed at all? Nope. As a matter of fact, when remembering people’s names, it’s easier to associate the person with the style or particulars of his bike. “You know Tony. He’s the one with the long-tail Surly.”
- Physical connection. When I ride my bike, the sounds and smells around me connect me to the place, good or bad, it’s connection that is important for perspective.
- Legs. Yes, this is a vanity reason. I’m not too proud. Have you seen Victoria Pendleton? Seriously.
- Camaraderie. Of course on any ride, there is camaraderie amongst the group. This camaraderie extends beyond my friends or my team but to the other people out there. Rarely do I meet a person on the trail or road that doesn’t say hello or give that nod of recognition.
- Chasing the elusive goal. Better, faster, stronger. During every ride, I think about this, particularly on hills. Today I will be better than yesterday.
- Continuity. Nothing has changed. I have changed bikes over the years, but it is really the same now as it was when I was flying over ramps on the yellow Schwinn. The only difference I can think of in my 37 years is the introduction of the bike helmet to my gear. A good move, considering my occasional riskier riding.
- Strength of body, strength of mind. It sounds a little corny when I read that, but it’s true. When I feel physically strong and able, my head is on board. I make better decisions and I am sharp.
- A good excuse to be outside. Fresh air and sunshine will always put me in a better mood. I prefer to ride my bike outside than hop on a stationary bike or trainer. The latter two are a means to an end, but they really only help me to be better, faster, stronger when I am riding outside.
- To feel something. It could be exhilaration, pain, exhaustion, fear or energized. It is something. It is always connected to the ride. It is never about other “stuff”. Just the ride.
Today I feel much better. Today, I’m going to ride my bike twice.
My friend and teammate, Jeremy, teaches a Spinning class at Aspen in Des Moines. To celebrate his 12 year anniversary, He scheduled a special session that consisted of two classes back to back with a ten minute break. I’ve never been in a Spinning class before and Jeremy has a reputation for pushing spinners harder than they think they can go. Riders on my team include a Spinning class during off-season training. I was a little nervous, but then again, I take Ira out for a tough 90 minute ride several times a week. I was all in.
A week before the class, I took a pretty nasty spill on the trails. I was able to get some slow and easy running in by the end of the week, but I was still on a rest week and not a training week. The night before the class, I still had deep muscle bruises on my hip, thigh and both calves as well as a swollen ankle. Not fun, but what is the big deal for a low-impact workout, right? I fueled up with raw almonds, an apple, two cups of coffee and a bunch of water during my pre-dawn, hour-long ride to Des Moines.
I met a couple of teammates in the parking lot of Aspen. We got into the class and they helped me adjust my first Spinning bike. The mood was light and we were passing back and forth comments and laughs about the previous week’s ride. I remarked that after my fall, they might feel more comfortable near me when I’m riding a stationary bike. In the movie that plays in my mind about this experience, this is the part that gets a freeze frame and a voice over about how I should have done more homework and if I had, I wouldn’t be making any jokes. Rather, I’d be conserving my energy and oxygen for what was to come. Ahhh, ignorance really is bliss.
Best I can tell, there are three basic moves: flats, climbs and jumps. These are done sitting and standing and the instructor calls for sprints and resistance modifications during the moves. I thought the play list was great. The bpm (beats per minute) was perfect for cadence and each song was ideal for the move we were doing. Fun factoid: Jeremy chose 2 songs from each of the 12 years he’s been teaching to compile the playlist for this particular class. Cool touch! This is where the happy ends, however. After 15 minutes, I was questioning my ability to finish the class. After 20 minutes, the jumps were making me dizzy. I thought I might fall off the bike. All the well intentions of pre-class hydration was soaking my hair and clothes. I think I was hallucinating a little bit. Seriously?! I’ve been training for a triathlon. How could I be struggling this hard?
The music kept me motivated as I tried to follow the leader. As we were coming up to the break 50 minutes into the class, I was sure my swollen ankle must actually be fractured and that it would certainly give out on me if I continued to the second half. The break came. I indulged in Clif Shot Bloks, hydrated and I was a new woman. The pain of the previous 50 minutes was already forgotten. I saddled back up on my stationary bike. The second song of the second set had us doing jumps again. All of the pain was back. Ahhh, I thought I had purged the memories of that pain, but I had only repressed them. I just kept going. I wasn’t always jumping in sync with the class, but I knew I’d make it. With seven minutes left of the class, the gym’s sound system failed. Clearly, God was patting me on the head and telling me I did good enough. Class was over early.
Bloody Marys and brunch followed this extraordinary experience. I recovered astonishingly fast after the class, but muscle stiffness set in several hours later. In hindsight, had I been injury-free going into the class, the only lasting sore spot would have been my quads. They were a two-day reminder that I have a long way to go to be the climber I’d like to be on hills. I have committed to working on my climbing skills all winter, so watch out boys, I really might be pushing one of you up the hill next summer.
I may have slept two hours in Manchester, probably less. We got in late the night before and most of the overnight guests were planning to leave before 6 AM. To avoid waking people, I decided to leave my air mattress on the bus and just sleep on the Dojo mat. Well, the floor felt like concrete and the room had a distinct echo when about 40 or so people got their individual snores on. There were noises coming out of people that just couldn’t be right. I didn’t sleep much.
My team was grouped in a far corner of the room and all appeared to be sleeping soundly when I got up to find coffee at 6:30. Ira was locked up outside the building all night. Unfortunately, it was bumped or something and there was a new scrape along the top bar of the frame. Bummer! I pushed it out of my mind and went to find coffee. The first opportunity for coffee was a little bar (?@!) where I sat and had coffee with a bar owner who told me stories about his own bike travels across the country. After two cups, I headed back to my team.
I had a couple of Clif Shot Bloks left, I took a few and passed them around. I couldn’t find my supply of Trace Minerals. Bummer. We saddled up and rode through Manchester. It was a gorgeous morning. Just as we were hitting a good pace (about 2 miles out of town) the all to familiar sound of a blown tire put us on the side of the road watching as thousands of people rolled by to finish up the remaining miles of RAGBRAI. Bummer.
We were about 17 miles from Dyersville and we expected a little over 600 feet of climbing to get there. Chief made a stop about halfway between Manchester and Dyersville. As usual, Chief and the Margaritaville bus were a welcomed sight. The short stop was short-lived and we pressed on to Dyersville. Never having seen a Farm Boys, I hadn’t eaten breakfast. I was out of fuel. With no more Shot Bloks left, I rode into Dyersville on empty. The first place we saw, a pizza place, advertised a breakfast buffet. This was the worst thing I ate all week. The food tasted like processed cheese flavored cardboard with a healthy scoop of salt. Bummer. It was desperate times, I knew the consequences would be unpleasant. At this point, my only remaining food rule was no pork. I would deal with the fallout later.
After a very unpleasant meal, I took a look around town and saw all kinds of good stuff, Garden of Eden, Smoothie Revolution and Hanni’s. Bummer. We had about 11 miles and over 600 feet of climbing to Bankston. It was as if I put lead in my belly in Dyersville. I was not riding fast. My legs were screaming about the hills and I knew Potter’s Hill, the mother of all hills on this ride, was coming closer and I wasn’t ready.
Just as we pulled up to the Margaritaville bus in Bankston, the Clif Bar SUV was about to pull away. I almost laid my bike down to stop them from leaving without giving me a few Shot Bloks for the final leg to Dubuque. Relief set in as I opened the package. I called my sister who was planning to pick me up in Dubuque. It was about noon and we had only about 20 miles left. I couldn’t imagine it would take longer than 2 hours to ride into Dubuque. It seemed the timing may work out, we agreed to meet at 4PM at the dipping site. This gave us a couple of hours of wiggle room to get to Dubuque. We were encouraged to leave as the bus was parked on the road and our chairs were also in the road on the right fork where the route took a left fork. Less than 3 minutes passed when the officer stopped encouraging and started threatening us. Bummer. We saddled up and left for Graf.
The descents were amazing. The views were amazing. The dreaded Potter’s Hill would be on the other side of Graf. I knew that climbing out of the valley I was riding into would be a difficult climb. There was a last chance party going on in Graf, but we continued on. The Graf to Dubuque leg was about 14 miles with over 1200 feet of climbing.
Potter’s Hill was everything that was promised/threatened. The official word on it is 75% of the riders walked up Potter’s Hill. There were 8 remaining riders on our team and not one of us walked. 3 of the guys didn’t even stop. I stopped more than once. The length coupled with the degree of incline on this hill was an assault on my already tired and abused body. People around me were tipping over from riding too slow. I tipped over when I caught my front wheel on my unclipped foot. One guy told me he wasn’t sure that he could even walk up this hill. I was certain this would be the end of the climbing for the day and it kept me going. Our team gathered at the top to congratulate each other on the very difficult ride up. Most of us took a rest at the farm at the top of the hill and enjoyed a beer under a tree before continuing.
I couldn’t believe it when the road still had rolling hills to climb. I felt like someone had lied to me or cheated me somehow. I know now that this was just delirium setting in. We started to get close to Dubuque, the long incline through the industrial park was enough to spin my brain. I was desperate to see a downhill to the river. I heard someone yell out “This is the last hill!” “Really?” I asked. The man paused and told me no. Why did I ask? Bummer. Just then, I spotted the Margaritaville Bus up on the left. Relief washed over me and I hoped there would be a snack.
I found some tortilla chips and a banana on the bus. Awesome. Two of our teammates only joined the ride for the last 2 days. One of them was initiated through a ritualistic shaving of the chest, only 5 miles away from the end of the ride. It was almost 4 at this point and we needed to get to the river. The Mississippi was calling me and I needed to get Ira dipped. More hills, but I had adrenaline now. This was it. The final push.
As we rode into the parking lot next to the dipping site, I saw my sister cheering me on. What a great way to end an amazing ride.
I had a great night’s sleep in Waterloo, but once again, I was awake early. Friday morning, I was listening to something new. This wasn’t snoring, this was a thunderstorm. Many RAGBRAI riders left that morning in the rain and lightning. Our team saw lightning as a threat and chose to wait.
We considered our options. Those of us compelled to ride considered alternative routes that could get us a little further down the road and perhaps some last-minute accommodations. We had no luck. We would be riding 66 miles with 2300 ft of climbing. Deflated from the rain and lightning, we waited.
I had a couple of cups of coffee and 2 bananas by noon before rain cleared. Trace Minerals and Clif Shot Bloks were passed around in the parking lot. Before leaving, one of us had a flat. The momentum continued on a rather downward turn as we searched for the route knowing there would be no Farm Boys today. Once we got to the other side of Waterloo we were met with hills and a headwind. Thankful it wasn’t raining, we continued. Chasing the pack is a little daunting particularly when you can’t see them. When you leave as late as we did, many services and the general atmosphere of the place wanes. We came to an intersection where a woman was giving out directions and suggestions. She suggested we continue the 3 miles to Gilbertville and take a pass on Washburn. With only one big hill between us and food, we geared up and rode in. There were still riders in Gilbertville, much to my surprise. I found a loose meat (ground beef) sandwich, a couple of apples and another banana to fuel the next leg. We sat inside a very crowded pub filled with riders and stuffed game. I tried not to think too much about the dead, stuffed deer watching me. We were down from 7 riders to 6 and continued onward.
The next leg was to Rowley and had 27 miles to ride with over 1000 ft of climbing. The wind was still kicking and the road was rough. In his usual style and brilliance, Chief made a stop at a farm at about halfway. I was so happy to see him and the Margaritaville Bus. I was thankful for the 6 hours of sleep in Waterloo, but it wasn’t enough. I was shot. I was glad to be one of the first ones to arrive at the bus so I could sit just a little longer. We continued to en route to Rowley. Just before arriving, we stumbled across 6 pickup trucks and an Arctic Cat backed into a party formation just 2 miles outside of Rowley. The 6 of us had spread out a little, so we stopped to regroup. We stayed a few minutes before heading on to Rowley where Chief and the team had made friends with the locals living in the houses facing the Margaritaville Bus. Pam had picked up some watermelon which was precisely what I needed. A couple of our riders saw a woman take a big fall while riding in a draft line. With less than 100 miles to the Mississippi, I couldn’t imagine getting on a bus. I had come too far. My skin was burned, my lips were cracked and swollen but I was going to the river. If it had been me who fell, I’d have cleaned up with a little wet nap and be on my way. It would take exposed bone to get me on that bus. Monty Python was playing in my head, “It’s just a flesh wound.”
Consistent with the day, we were very late riding into Quasqueton. Chief had parked in a gas station on the route. I went in to get a sandwich or something and was immediately informed the town had shut down. He was referring to beer sales, but looking around at the gas station/market, it looked like most of the resources were depleted. There was someone making deli sandwiches and I was delighted to have a turkey sandwich on whatever bread they had. Back at the bus, we talked about our plans. Mostly, we had no plans. We did not know where we were staying that night. There was an outside chance a team member had a lead. If that didn’t work out, we were going to camp out at the golf course. Rain was moving in and Manchester was a little over 20 miles away with close to 900 feet of climbing. 2 team ambassadors rode very fast to check on the overnight lead. I found my pace somewhere between our 2 small groups. When I pulled over across from the golf course, I still didn’t know where we were going. It was not yet dusk, but close. I waited to hear. The dilemma of course was that there was a hill leading down to Manchester from the golf course. I did not want to ride back up that hill after dark if the bus wasn’t going into town. The party across the street at the golf course was in full swing. Instead of getting myself lost in the crowd, I got to meet a family that kept alpacas. The three they had there were soft and sweet and they gave kisses.
About an hour had passed when the other two riders joined me and we heard that a martial arts studio would be putting us up for the night. We rode the last mile into Manchester in the dark. There was a little place behind the studio serving “Everything Burgers” and beers. I had one of each and some fries before bunking down on the mats of the studio with a few friends and 30-40 strangers.
After a morning stretch, I sat out by the bus studying the map. Including our ride back to the route it would be 86 miles mostly headed south to Waterloo with 2,600+ feet of climbing. Our host Bill returned from the store with all the supplies he needed to send us off with a beautiful breakfast. Once the eggs were cooking, the team emerged. A few more members of the team were headed home midday and the remaining members would ride to Waterloo. The usual rounds of Trace Minerals and Shot Bloks and we were back in our saddles headed toward our second breakfast at Farm Boys.
At Farm Boys, we decided we would skip Clarksville and head straight into Parkersburg. After 1,000 feet of climbing to arrive there, Parkersburg was a sight for sore tails. Hunkering down in Parkersburg, we pulled up a curb on a residential street adjacent to the route. A little boy who presumably lived in the house we were parked in front of hung around and observed. We were able to adorn him with a few parting gifts and take a picture before he scampered away.
I grazed on a banana and some raw almonds while we discussed our next leg. The guys who were leaving need to rendezvous with their transportation. Chief studied the map and it looked like the best option would be New Hartford. The team agreed we wanted to ride it together. For no clear reason, we spent a long time in Parkersburg by the bus. One brave soul tested out a rickety old 2-story bike that a local man had brought downtown. Another teammate was getting some much-needed attention to a gigantic saddle blister that would end his ride. Finally, we headed to New Hartford.
As we made our way along the county roads, we did manage to get a visit from the Butler Sheriff’s Department. If it was a test, we passed, and we continued off-route on a very hilly ride to New Harford.
The bus was parked just down from Beaver Creek Bar and Grill. Several other team busses were parked nearby. Beaver Creek was buzzing. I heard the party kept going, but there were 5 of us planning to ride the remaining 20-30 miles to Waterloo. We weren’t sure where we were going or how far it would be, but we knew it was getting pretty late to be goofing around off-route.
We stopped for supplemental directions every time we saw people. Eventually, encroaching on Waterloo, we picked up the bike trail. Unfortunately for us, we went the wrong way on the trail. After some circling, and more miles, we saw the Margaritaville Bus in a parking lot. We finally arrived at our overnight host. A founding team member for Team Got Beer. This was another warm welcome. Ken and Suzanne had everything prepared for us to be comfortable and have a great time. Bananas, vegetables and cheese were my treats before we headed out to Smitty’s for some pizza. I think I slept uninterrupted for 6 hours. It was beautiful.
I was wide awake at 6 AM. Buddy, the golden retriever, climbed on my air mattress and was looking for some belly rubs. It was a tight fit with all the air mattresses in the living room, so I planned my exit route carefully. Ken and Deb set up the team with a fantastic breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, muffins, fruit and coffee. Awesome. I sat outside with my breakfast which included the obligatory banana. The rain the night before cooled things down and the morning was fresh and crisp. Hot diggety, this was going to be a good day! Because we were west of Clear Lake, we had 7 additional miles to get to the route and an extra 3-4 miles at the end to get to our Charles City host. Still only 62 miles with just under 1,200 feet of climbing. Piece of cake!
The Margaritaville Bus had a top vent we hadn’t closed the night before, so loading up/drying out some things took a little while. The smell was…well… special. Tires pumped, Trace Minerals passed (still out of Shot Bloks) and bus loaded, we saddled up and rode out. All 15 of us rode out together that morning. Riding past Clear Lake was beautiful. As we rode through the center of town, a kid standing at the end of his driveway was holding out a can of beer. I rode up to him, grabbed it, popped it open and we passed it around. We were getting warmed up for our second breakfast, Farm Boys. We figured another 30-40 minutes somewhere between Clear Lake and Swaledale we’d see our breakfast stop.
Once again, I enjoyed eggs, onions and a sprinkle of cheese rolled up in a tortilla with a side of strawberries. Oh, yeah. Good stuff. We looked at the map and opted to skip Swaledale and head straight into Rockwell.
Chief had the Margaritaville bus parked across the street from the pool. Adjacent to the bus was a lively game of beerball. Still pounding the H2O, I watched the game from afar. Here’s how it works:
- The game host gives you a beer
- You slam the beer while being timed in seconds
- You spin around as many times as seconds it took you to drink the beer
- The game host pitches a full beer that you must hit with the bat or you start over
It was pretty funny to see people all staggery, trying to make bat to can contact.
One of the most interesting teams I ran into on RAGBRAI was Team Bad Boy. I’d seen them over the past few days but had the opportunity to talk to them in Rockwell. They ride to Iowa from Colorado self-contained then they ride back to Colorado after they complete RAGBRAI. One guy pulls a smoker (grill), one guy pulls the overnight gear, another has a bar and I think one of them had a sound system. These guys were a treat. I recognized the insignificance of my own trip across Iowa in comparison to the ride Team Bad Boy was on. Cooler still, Team Clif Bar rolled up to us and gave the team piles of Shot Bloks. It was like Christmas. I had been unsuccessful in my efforts to replenish the Clif Shot Blok supply the day before so I was feeling pretty good about seeing these boys.
There was a stand selling pizza down the street that had all fresh vegetables and a homemade crust. This was right up my alley, but unfortunate for me, I wasn’t hungry after second breakfast. Too bad for me, I heard that is was outstanding. I opted instead for my shot of electrolytes courtesy of Clif and got back in the saddle. Rockford was about 16 miles out so we rode past Cartersville straight to Rockford. We didn’t see the bus, so we parked our bikes and went on a little tour of the set up. The center of town had a beer garden with a DJ and a dance party was in full swing. Lou had his temporary tatoo and spoke bracelet tent set up just outside the beer garden. We spent a little while there so that one of our own could get a tatoo on his calf. Of course this endeavor took a little extra time because he needed to have his legs shaved. 20 minutes and several phone pictures later, I went on a beer run and we learned the bus was on the far side of town.
Across the street from the Margaritaville Bus, Team Draught had a couple getting married on the tailgate of their bus. May they always have wind to their backs.
The team was invited to a party in Charles City. Our overnight hosts were also hosting a party right on Main Street with all kinds of food and fun. Less than 15 miles stood between us and that party. By this late in the day, most of our team had splintered off into different rides. I rode this leg with only 2 other riders. The wind had come up and there were a couple of longer hills that were trying to beat me down. One of my teammates pulled some Shot Bloks out of his jersey pocket and handed them to me. Better. We rode into Charles City with the Iowa Fight Song playing and feeling great.
Charles City was buzzing. We pulled up to Feller and Associates where there was a cookout and reception for their clients. I had a hamburger and a beer. We settled in for a little rest before riding the last few miles to Bill and Peggy’s home. I was lucky enough to spend some time with their youngest, Maria. She showed me some stretching moves and artwork. It was a treat! Cleaned up and ready for more sights and sounds of Charles City, several of us loaded up the bus and headed back downtown. Pleased to find Hanni’s tent on Main, the steamed vegetables and grilled chicken kabob hit the spot. We got back to the house around midnight. I enjoyed a late night beer with Peggy by the bus before heading down to the room filled with 16 of my closest friends.
The other day. I joined a ride that my friends ride with some people I don’t know. The text I got regarding the ride was sent to me on Tuesday and it read, “We ride aggressively from Legacy in Waukee on Hickman to Redfield back to Rendezvous in Adel, then Waukee. 36 miles.” Hmmm. Aggressively. Because I’m curious and stubborn (2 important ingredients for stupid), I was definitely up for it.
I knew three of the guys on the ride and rode with them during RAGBRAI. All strong riders, all faster than me. One of the 3 rode a fixed gear bike on RAGBRAI. Since then, I had ridden with him once and he rode a tandem. I felt confident that this would be the ride where he would show up with a road bike sporting some gears. I arrived in Waukee and I was not disappointed. Another of the three is a spinning instructor and has been for more than a decade. The third rides strong and never appears to feel the burn I know so well.
Already feeling like I could top out my speed in mile 2, I slowed from 21 mph to 19 mph just as the other riders increased to 22-23 mph. When that happens, it feels like I’m standing still. It’s incredible to see a group take off like that. I’m not sure what held me back on that ride, but I was stuck in a 17-19 mph pace. The guys were at a 25 mph pace. Before the last 7-8 miles, we regrouped at Rendezvous in Adel for a steak and a beer. From Adel to Waukee there is a slight hill. It’s a very gentle grade incline. It was dark. I was not riding fast. For the first time another rider (my new best friend) pushed me up a hill. It is a crazy feeling to get that kind of help. The stubborn side of me was disgusted with myself, but the gracious side of me was warm and fuzzy all over. Next year I will push him up a hill.