It’s taken a bit, but it’s time to recount our annual trip through Iowa. Here we go.
Let’s Meet the Team!
We had the largest team we’ve ever had this year. Full Week Riders: Robert Knapp, Tara Norwood, Steve Rogers, Neal Fox, Nancy Fisch, Derek Rowland, Michael Lesko, Treadwell Jones, and myself. Partail Week Riders: Lynne Chiu, Jeff Wirken, Amy Davis, Nick Farsace, Scott and Bryn Timme. I called myself a full week rider, but honestly, I wasn’t there at the beginning of day 1 due to a family wedding the night before. I met the team mid way through the day and finished it out with them.
Lynne and Jeff Road with us the First 3 days or the ride. In Indianola, they departed to start another adventure in Alaska, while Nick and Amy joined us that evening and finished out the week with us. Scott and Bryn Joined us Thursday Night in Fiarfield and finished out the week.
Let us not forget our fantastic driver too. Amanda Sutton, from Wyoming, but who is moving to Colorado and has been seeing Michael Lesko, agreed to be our driver. She was absolutely amazing on the trip, and went well above and beyond to help get us through the week. Thanks again Amanda!
We had one other addition to the team, mid week. Emily Johnston is a new friend we met along the way. Well, actually, Neal met her on Day 1, turned on the Neal charm, and by about midway through the week, Emily had pretty much joined our group full time. Emily’s an Indianapolis native, who lives and teaches English in Spain and is/was back in the States for the summer.
Ugh The Heat! Oh.. wait?
Saturday, for the trip up to Council Bluffs Iowa, and the first night of the Expo, it was brutally hot. Back here in KC, I saw 105. Not sure what it got up to in CB, but I’m certain it wasn’t comfortable. There are some major health concerns about trying to pull a major long distance ride in that kind of heat, and then do it repeatedly for a week. Luckily… That was the last night of the heat. Storms and rain came in that night and the next morning. Luckily, it broke the heat wave. Sadly, it meant the group had to wake up to a wet camp, get prepped, get on the road, and ride through the rain most of the morning. I didn’t exactly hear reports of it being a “warm” rain. By the time I finally got up to Iowa, and met up with them near Avoca Iowa (the daily meetup town) several members were quite drenched and cold. Me… I was fine. Got drizzled on some, but finished out the rest of the ride comfortably. It was cloudy and drizzly, but otherwise comfortable from mid day on. Several members of the team even went as far as to ride the Gravel Loop on the first day. Adding a mud filled 18.2 extra miles. Apparently the route was pretty well pack gravel and wasn’t too difficult to navigate. It did gum up some derailleurs, but otherwise fine. Michael hit the road like a bat out of hell in the morning, and I’m pretty sure he was done with the ride before I even started. When we got into town, we met up with Michael and Amanda at a small hole-in-the-wall burger joint called “Oinker’s grill and pub.” Had some fantastic burgers, and then rode out to our Host Family’s farm which was just a couple miles out of town. We had a beautiful front lawn to setup camp in. They got us access to a couple showers in their home, along with getting us power and water to setup our own camp shower (more on this later).
And then there was light!
I don’t know if we could have woken up to a nicer morning the next morning. The air was cool and crisp, the sun was shining, and our host provided us a nice spread for breakfast. The road was calling out, “Now… This is what a RAGBRAI day is supposed to be like,” and the road was right. It was a gorgeous day to ride. Well, there was a slight headwind for the majority of the day, but, everything else about the day was gorgeous. We ate Bacon on a Stick. We found our first water slide of the week. We drank fine Craft Beers. We drained a couple flasks of Fireball and Bourbon. We took our time. Got pushed out of Earlham by the Sheriff’s Department, but generally had a great day’s ride into Winterset, where we had another fantastic host in town. Jim Pottlebaum hooked us up with showers, had drinks and snacks (Peanut M&Ms) available to us, and was just an incredibly nice guy. That night we sat around in Jim’s backyard, eating Sandwiches, doing bike repairs, and having a nice relaxing evening.
Bring on the Horde!
So people who’ve done a lot of RAGBRAIs know that on average, you see about 17,000-22,000 riders a day. It fluctuates day to day. Usually more closer to the weekends, but a lot of Iowa residents enjoy just riding for a day or 2, and that can cause the numbers to bounce. Well, our Tuesday ride was a small 40 mile day, and ended in Indianola, which is a suburb of Des Moines. Short ride, coupled with close to a major city had an effect. I’m not sure what the official numbers were, but it was A LOT. If I had a guess, I’d say it was 30,000-35,000 on the day. Having that many people join for the day, made for an interesting ride. Getting out of town was difficult. As we were leaving there was a lot of traffic coming into town (and of coarse they were all carrying bikes) and it slowed us down a lot. 10-12 mph max and all tightly packed. Once we got off the main highway into town, though, it opened up and got much better. Then we got to the first Beer Stop. Wow! I had to get off the bike and walk about a 1/4 mile just to get to the beer tent. The road was PACKED. Needless to say, the beer tent ran out of beer (after we got ours thankfully). Crazy numbers of people. We later stopped at a stop that was a pumpkin patch/Christmas tree farm(?), and that place was amazing. They had a pumpkin Cannon. A crazy tractor that could be powered by 10 people pedaling, and some crazy contraption that looked like 2 tri-cycles welded together side by side, with no steering capability except for one side to pedal faster than the other, and casters for rear wheels which caused you to spin out of control once your turn got too intense. Later on in the day, Lynne, Jeff, Robert, Steve, and others found a free beer party towards the end that gave out the finest of Natural Light products and a wonderful video of Steve with a Megaphone. If you’ve not seen it. Ask someone. Give a man several free beers and a megaphone and just wait and see what happens.
The Long Grind
Day 4 was the longest day of RAGBRAI. Emotionally, you’re into the grind of RAGBRAI at this point as well. Rolling from Indianola all the way down south to Centerville was 84.3 original miles, with an option to take the Karras loop and gain 32.3 miles for a total of 116-118 miles. It was also the hilliest day of the ride, and a lot of those hills were front loaded towards the start of the ride. We road together pretty much for the first 16 miles to the breakfast town, but at that point the group self divided up. Michael Lesko, Steve Rogers, and I had a desire to make an attempt at the optional Karras Loop. Knowing we also wanted full support for the full ride, we kept a decent pace going and we progressed through the day. We rolled through several of the stop towns, only stopping when we needed to refill water, re-apply sunblock, or grab a bite to eat. On the flats, we were averaging 19-22 mph most of the day. By the time we got to the first Back pocket Beer stop of the day at around mile 50, I figured we were an hour to an hour and a half ahead of the next person in our group. Then my jaw hit the dirt. I was about 1/2 way through my beer, when I turn and see Nancy Fisch walking up with the biggest smile on her face. “I’m killing it today guys,” she said. Yeah… I should say so. Steve, Michael, and I had be working as a group, pace lining and sharing the workload of pulling into the wind. Nancy was doing this solo. Wow! Nancy said she had been training hard to get ready for RAGBRAI. Well, here’s your proof. Way to go Nancy!
Steve, Michael and I hit the road again and were off for the Loop, however, the heat was also on the way up. Michael was demoing a Bianchi bike that day, and didn’t realize that the cranks were shorter than his bike’s cranks, this started leading to knee pain. As we got closer to the turn off for the optional loop, the options made their case. Karras Loop: You can claim a marginal amount of glory, by suffering for another 50 miles, but may not have full support unless you maintain a 16 mph pace. Main Route: You can be done in 14 miles, still claim a rough 84 mile day, relax and have a beer on the way home too… plus some ice cream. I’m not ashamed to say, we took the path to beer and ice cream. Robert though… He was a champ! Later in the day Robert jumped onto the Optional Loop (even sneaking around sheriff’s department officers who were trying to stop people from taking the optional loop at that point). He did the full 118 on the day, without support, and didn’t get in until around 8:30 in the evening. Sadly no patch was available for him, but we’ll given him a mental patch.
Marvelous Outdoor showers!
So, this night in Centerville was a night that I had put some prep into. I knew that our host was going to be hosting around 150 cyclist, and wasn’t giving access inside to her bathrooms for showers (or even toilets). Still, we were thankful that she did give us access to a hose, and electricity for us to recharge our stuff with. I took this into account while planning. Prior to RAGBRAI, I purchased a propane fueled, on demand water heater/shower. Attach a hose, a propane tank, install a couple D cell batteries, and you’ve got instant hot water. Robert owns a really nice camping shower tent. Combining these two things together, and we set ourselves up pretty nicely. Sure, it’s a little weird showering in a tent, less than 10ft away from the road, but we’re all in this together, and it actually felt fantastic. Of all the showers that I took that week, ( 2 indoors, 1 in an RV, and 3 in an outdoor shower) by the end of the week, I had grown to prefer to outdoor shower. It’s nice and refreshing. Specially when a cool breeze comes through the tent. I’m sold on the outdoor popup shower setup. It’ll make its return for other cycling events to be sure.
You drained what?..
Our 5th day on the ride was…. memorable. 1st, it was pretty humid out, which wasn’t the most enjoyable, but still fun was out there to be had. My day started with a broken shifter. Damn thing just stopped working. I had to stand in line for about 45 minutes to get it worked on. There we discovered a screw jammed into the mechanics. We’re not sure where the screw came from, but after removing it, the shifter started working again. I’m sure it’ll explode at some point. So my morning was spent hustling it to catch back up with the group, which thankfully I was able to do by the second stop town of the day. There were more water slides, (VIP parties for Neal and Emily) more Back Pocket Brewery Beer tents, and an invitation to some free beer at an impromptu stop setup by Team Good Beer!
After having several discussions with local Sheriffs departments over the years, Good Beer decided not to provide their typical daily beer stops as they had in years past, but… they were still sitting on tons of beer that they needed to get rid of before the end of the week. We graciously agreed to help them out. Right before their stop, though, there were signs setup for another impromptu party hosted by team Lizard. Several of us pulled over, saw the signs, but didn’t see any free beer and decided to roll on. Others.. they went down the gravel road further and found what could only be described as… an EPIC party. Those of us that met up at the Good Beer stop, had tons of fun, drank some fantastic beer, and went on to our host families place which was actually only about a mile down the road after the beer was gone. Those that found the Lizard party… well they arrived much later, and in quite a good mood. “Guys… Treadwell and I drained a cock!” Wait?! What was that, Nancy? Turns out they had a beer bong shaped like a rooster, or something to that effect. The party had a pool connected to a lake, lots of people swimming in various states of dress, and was apparently more of an “old school” RAGBRAI party. Living up to some of the craziness that was used to describe RAGBRAI in years past before they took on a more family friendly approach.
That evening, our host had setup a fire pit, and we spent the evening hanging out with members of Team Alma out of Milwaukee. What a great bunch of people they were. Apparently we also camped with them the 1st night in Council Bluffs. The Alma Center is a group that helps teach the men in abusive relationships how to deal with their anger, and help give them an understanding of why they got into the state they were in when they turned to violence, in hopes that by seeing that path, they can learn how to get off of that path towards violence and resolve their problems in more constructive ways. They’re fantastic cooks, great conversationalist, and generally very pleasant people. Scott and Bryn finally arrived later in the evening, and we stayed up around the fire talking, until a little rain showed up and we scrambled to get dry stuff in tents and get ourselves to bed.
“I love drunk people… specially when I’m one of them”
Friday’s ride. Fairfield to Burlington. Yeah.. It was continuing to get hotter throughout the week, but still, a good day. Midway through the day we found what was being advertised as, “A Farm Party!” They had a nice shade tent setup, food, pie, and beer to sell, and a TERRIFIC water slide that helped cool everyone off. The day was originally only supposed to be 65 miles. Well, for us, our host the night before were on the west side of Fairfield, and it added a couple of miles. Our host in Burlington, were 8 miles to the south of Burlington, so by the time we were done, we were up in the 80s in terms of total mileage. At first some were pretty upset about this distance when we finally arrived at our hosts’ place (Nancy… have a cookie…). But then we got to meet our hosts, Ann March and Mike Crowner. These two were absolutely fantastic and completely turned the evening around. 1st, their property was beautiful. Had a great Gazebo made out of an old grain bin, and an awesome fire pit. They had their own outdoor shower setup for us, a Kybo, as well as giving us access to their bathroom inside for showers and whatever. Ann, cooked us up a fantastic dinner of Made Right Sandwiches, cheesy potatoes, pasta salad, and other things I’m sure I’m forgetting. Mike, well he found out we’d been drinking a lot of Fireball on the trip, so he made sure we had a handle of Fireball ready to go for the evening, along with 2 bottles of Blanton’s Bourbon, and some Bullet Rye/Bourbon blend. Mike and Ann are the type of people that love hosting parties and having a fun time. The title of this chapter?.. Yeah… That was a quote from Mike, giggling as he said it. They even invited a couple of their friends over to come and party it up with us. One was a massage therapist. Yeah… I got a free massage out of the deal. We all agreed, they were the best hosts of the week.
Farewell RAGBRAI, until we meet again.
So the next morning was a slow start. Still, our host Ann cooked us a fantastic breakfast, and we didn’t mind the slow start. Because our host were aware of how far they were out of town, they offered to help out. They had just purchased an airport shuttle that Ann intended to use for her new pet care business she was starting. They offered to load us up in the shuttle and drive us into town. Well, because of our late start, they actually drove us to the 1st stop town on the route for the day. We were back on the route and in good order by 9:00 am.
This days route was a little odd. Usually we ride west to east. However, because Keokuk is west and South of Burlington, we ended up having to backtrack most of the day. This was met with a pretty stiff headwind out of the south west. Pretty much in our face all day. This could have sucked, accept, we all decided to work as a team and spent most of the day in a team pace line. We also were all wearing our team Jerseys for the day, so it looked pretty awesome. Several of the team got to experience what it’s like to work with a team and get the relief from the wind. We also worked on the proper way to rotate and take turns leading the pace line. We had a pretty good thing going. We weren’t going fast (12-14 mph) but we were steady. This lead to several people jumping on to our line. I pulled away for a bit to talk to the corn for a minute (take a leak) and was able to get a good look at the size of our line. We had a good 30 people in it, chugging along. Nicely done team!
Before we left that morning, we talked to Amanda (our driver) and convinced her that she really needed to come see one of the meeting towns and get a full RAGBRAI experience. We’re glad she did! We got to Donnellson (the meeting town). They had setup the majorities of their festivities at a Dirt Track race track, but to get to it, we had to weave through the town a bit. That was awesome, because they had people out on the streets cheering us in, hitting us with water guns, hoses, and buckets full of cold water. When we got to the race track, we found Amanda waiting for us in the shade with some Cuties oranges. We then set out to see what Donnellson had setup for us. That’s when we found… THE REDNECK POOL! They had used a backhoe to dig out a hole that was probably 4.5 feet deep, 30-40 feet long, and 15-20 feet wide. They then covered that hole with a tarp and filled it with water. The dirt from the dig, they’d piled up next to the pool, covered that with a tarp, and set it up as a water slide down into the pool. Dear lord did that pool feel great. It was a warm day, we were sore and tired, and the water was cool and refreshing. It was there, that several said, “I’m not going anywhere.” The sheriffs started showing up to shutdown the stop town and force riders along the route, but we agreed as a group that our driver was there, we were feeling great, we’d crossed Iowa already getting to Burlington, so why not just chill out here, celebrate our week, and call it a day. It was agreed upon. Once we got done in the pool, we found showers in one of the Race Tracks bathrooms. We washed up, loaded up the RV, and then finished our ride to Keokuk in our RV.
In Keokuk, we found a cool Sports Pub that had some decent pizza. We drank some beer, had some pizza, maybe a shot of fireball or two, and relived our week. Karin Jones (Treadwell’s wife) met us there and joined in the retelling. Finally, Scott, Bryn, Amy, and Nick went off to their vehicles, Treadwell and Karin, loaded up to enjoy the rest of their weekend on the East side of Missouri, and the rest of us loaded back into the RV and began our drive home. A fantastic week to be sure.
Well lots of stuff to be honest, but there’s only so much typing I can do. Have a memory from the week that I left out? Leave a comment and share with everyone.
Just a couple from the week.