Sunday, July 29, 2007

RAGBRAI XXXV - Camping at Rock Rapids - Pre Day 1

It's been quiet here, and that's because I've spent the last seven days biking with my Dad across Iowa. Eight days if you include our initial night of camping so Pooteewheet didn't haven't to get up at 2:00 a.m. and haul our asses from the Twin Cities to the NW corner of Iowa. I had announced to family and friends around November that I was going on RAGBRAI, even if I had to do it alone, and my Dad decided it sounded like something he could train for by July, even if it sounded like an awful lot of biking. So I bought a new bike, a big heavy Trek 7300 hybrid, to slow me down while I was biking with him, and he bought a Trek 7300 hybrid because he tried mine and it was more comfortable than his 15-year old mountain bike, and we both prepped ourselves for this last week of riding.

I'm hoping to cover a lot of information in half a dozen posts here, not just to tell you what I did and how it went, but to really cover what worked and didn't work as a RAGBRAI virgin (although I did not get "virgin" scribbled all over my leg like many did). I had a difficult time finding posts I liked that showed a bag and what was in it, and how big it was, and whether it was sufficient, and what was strapped to the outside - so I'll try to spin off a few side posts about those sorts of things as well. If you have questions, make sure to ask and I'll try to add as much information as I can in case you ever want to attend yourself.

I'm not posting all the pictures - if you feel like perusing through them at length (other than the ones I offer commentary on) they're all out at my Flickr account with semi-appropriate titles.

Saturday, eight days ago, we drove down to Rock Rapids in the northwest corner of Iowa and drove around in nasty traffic for an hour trying to find a place to park within visible distance of the school where we were supposed to register. What we didn't know is that you don't "register" for RAGBRAI. Once you've done your work by mail, you're done. There's no check in desk - you just haul your luggage to the starting point and find yourself a place to camp. They assume that if you didn't cancel, you're there somewhere. Very informal. Extremely informal. There were supposed to be cops directing traffic, but the only one we saw directed traffic just long enough to give her cop car a way to get through the traffic, then she was gone. People and RVs and buses are everywhere, in a state close to organized chaos. You're better off parking a few blocks away and just walking your luggage to the camping area.

We set up camp in the high school yard, locked up our bikes, and then went to explore the town and find some dinner. This is Eryn reserving our camping spot. We didn't know this at the time, but reserving your spot can be important. When you pull into the camping area - just drop your bikes where you intend to set up your tents, otherwise, by the time you get back, someone else will have claimed the spot.

Many RAGBRAI "teams" come on buses. Here's one such bus. Look at the bikes on top! When the bikes aren't up there because people are out riding them on the route, they'll be replaced with dancers, lawn chairs, and kegs. Teams with buses sag their own luggage instead of using the communal semi trailer because that way they can drop their luggage off in shaded parks overlooking wind-kissed river shores, instead of in the middle of a 93-degree football field. And they can haul along showers (some have water tanks on top to garner solar energy for warm showers), water, snack bars, alcohol, etc.

Here's another team bus. Team Shagbrai is a little racier than Team Wind. Although you could have guessed that given the sheep strapped to the front. That little thing poking up near the steering wheel is a big, inflatable penis. Don't know what it has to do with biking, but some riders swear you don't attend RAGBRAI without a healthy supply of beads (ala Mardi Gras). Didn't see much in the way of T&A myself, but I also wasn't attending the midnight parties. I'm also perplexed about how you manage shagging given it's hot, everyone is extremely sweaty from bicycling, and most people sleep in tents - but it wasn't a priority of mine, so maybe where there's a will, there's a way.

Some riders have sag support via a company that supplies identical tents and moving vans. You can see one such group in this picture. I believe their tents are actually set up for them by the time they pull into camp. Not quite hotel accommodations - but pretty nice. Many of these tents had great big queen-sized blow up mattresses in them.

These are our tents - Target 3-4 person specials. A perfect size - possible for one person to set up. If you really want to get your bike in there with you, you can (if there's hail - whatever). Word of advice I'll cover in a later post - set it up and waterproof it. It says it's waterproof, but it out and out lies. Nevertheless - roomy and comfortable enough if you're 6'2" and sleep point to point.

Family photo as we're being left for a week. I'll look a little different by the end of the week.

Rock Rapids is known for its murals. Here's one such mural showing hookers hanging over the street. Classy. You learn that little towns are sort of kitschy in what they think constitutes art and culture. It's not bad... Actually, yes, in some cases it is. I'll provide examples. ...but it is a little different from what you get living near two major cities. Definitely not the Walker.

Many towns, and Rock Rapids was no exception, put up some sort of decorations for the ride. Usually it's American flags on PVC tubing - straight if you're in a hurry, bendy if you have some time - but in the case of Rock Rapids, it was old bikes strapped to the light poles.

Here's another sagged team that chose moving trucks and a trailer instead of a bus. Some teams, like the Air Force, could be sizable (100+ people). You can see at least 20 bikes on the trailer in this picture. It's bigger than the sag vehicles + trailers used by the official ride.

Drinking starts immediately. Before the ride was even underway, this enormous bike was tooling around Rock Rapids taking riders from bar to bar. There was an operator in a short orange skirt who was in charge of directing them appropriately. No one rode anything this large on the ride, although there were some bikes that looked damn heavy given they had just one or two pedalers. And there were at least two families that did the full ride, one on a quad tandem (whatever you'd call that) and one on a quad with a tagalong, for five seats. The family of four even had headphones so they could chat over the noise of all that pedaling.

Dinner in Rock Rapids was not very good. A hamburger like a hockey puck and a cold potato. We had more luck with grocery store food. The food was better during the ride when you could get to church feeds and firefighter company breakfasts, but we frequently supplemented with a little bit of food from the store to flush ourselves out nutritionally. The ride feeds were good for carbs (spaghetti, pancakes, waffles), but not so great for green beans, milk or fruit variety (unless you bought a smoothie and ate a banana every day).

I bought a book to read on the trip while we were in Rock Rapids as well - which is a good idea. Many of the riders were actually toting along a copy of Harry Potter in hardcover by the end of the week and getting through quite a bit of it if they weren't the partying kind. I had to settle for Stephen King's "Everything's Eventual" which sucked, because I had already read most of the stories in other anthologies and magazines. Having an inappropriate book along on a major event is a downer, because you know you're going to remember what you were reading during that time for the rest of your life. When I was a Boy Scout counselor and living in the woods in a canvas tent as a sixteen year old, I remember owning a copy of the Sword of Shannara that had been left in the rain and swelled to the size of a football. I had to cut some of the pages out of the book with a pocket knife so I could read to the edges around the water swelling.

By the end of the day, it's obvious Rock Rapids doesn't have a camping site - it IS a camping site. There are tents everywhere - in the high school field, on church grounds, on almost every private residence, in the city parks...literally everywhere. And many people aren't showing up until things start in the morning and the luggage semi begins loading at 5:45 a.m.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! You didn't actually say in your post if you enjoyed the experience?? Do your thighs look like you've been taking steroids - like we all did after our biketrips?? :-) Did you ever run into a Dr. Barry Bershow from Minnesota??

boringsahm said...

When I first started reading I was thinking this sounds unreal but towards the end it sounds a little scary. How many km or miles did you do? A ride from one state to another here would be about 1600 km. Hope you had fun anyway.

klund said...

See, it's posts like this that make me glad to be an "A Nod to Nothing" reader. Where else can I read about somebody's bike trip and get a "Sword of Shannara" reference? I loved the Shannara books.