Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Ottuma to Mt. Pleasant (75.5 miles, 2841 feet of climb)

The second to the last day. The end is in sight. It was the only day I had allergy issues, and it was because I was sleeping inside a church with air conditioning. The outside air agrees with me more. My sister questions why we had three tents in a single room, but the tent is there to cut out just a bit of the snoring from the others (and protect them from my snoring). It has little to do with space issues. And my tent takes less than 5 minutes to set up and tear down, so it's not a major inconvenience.
To begin the day we had to climb out of Ottumwa, or O-Town as the locals were calling it in their papers - a nice place that's a little east coast, a little south, a little midwest, and reminded me of where I started in Maryland on the Cumberland. However, it's easiest to compare Ottumwa to sort of a mini-Duluth. The first 45 minutes were some big climbs, but at least everyone was rested and strong. Some more so than others as a guy shot up the largest hill past me, one hand on the bars, the other holding on to his cellphone while he had a spirited conversation that didn't involve any panting or grunting whatsoever. Other riders started showing up after the hills, conveniently climbing out of the backs of pickups. That's what happens when there's more drinking than riding.

In addition to being the only day I had a short problem with allergies, it was also the only day I had problems with food. In Hedrick I ate a few pancakes, which was fine. But I also ate two burnt sausage patties. So grease. No problem. Charcoal...something to avoid on future rides.

Couple of friendly riders before a big hill.

Lamby, Eryn's stuffed animal, who accompanied me completely across Iowa strapped to my handlebars. I had a concern that no one would really talk to me, assuming I was some sort of Lamb of Jesus nut who'd start preaching from my bicycle, but plenty of people said "hello" without a following "brother", or offering up a "blessed day". My sister didn't help as she yelled loudly as she passed me, "Hey! Is that a lamb for Jesus?!" Lamby came through fairly clean, despite getting wet a number of times, but a bit sun bleached for his/her journey.

All the way until the middle of the day I was assaulted with signs that read:

Got Milk?
Got Dutch Letters?

It seemed like something you'd see on the cover of a porn movie. I don't know what getting Dutch Lettered would entail, but I'm pretty sure it's outside my permissible list.

The first 63 miles or so were pretty easy. I was flying along as my Dad was no longer with us (he wasn't really slowing me down - I just took the opportunity to open up a bit when I was alone). He'd looked like crap the night before, and by Ottumwa he was sporting hideously puffed cheeks from a gum infection, not to mention a fever. That was the end of his riding time and he spent the rest of the trip in the RV until they got him back to the cities to check into the hospital and get three holes drilled into his teeth/gums. I believe there were possibly 2-3 root canals impending as well, but I don't know if that was a certainty. He picked the right day to get taken out, as the last 20 or so miles of the ride were hard. I don't think I've biked that hard in a very long time. I geared down into 2x6 to 2x4 (I don't usually use my third gear on the hybrid, it's a killer) to tackle the first few hills, until I got to the top of the third after dealing with a headwind that negated almost all the accretion of hill momentum, looked ahead of me, and saw three more hills marching up, up, up into the distance. I geared down into 1x# range, and began a long mostly-uphill slog, putting one foot in front of the other until I hit Lockridge, which felt like it was at the top of a mountain and visibly closer to the clouds. It's the only day in two RAGBRAIs where people were so visibly slowing down that I was out enough in front that the bicyclists were sparser than usual.

You'd never know you'd been traveling up for so long in this picture.

But at least there was free water and good food after all that climbing. Lockridge is where I had the Gooseberry pie.

On the way through the hills, I passed a young brunette who loudly announced, "RUMBLES!" It was too late for me, and I thumped across the rumble strip, jarring my helmet and my back. "Way to demonstrate!" she yelled at me.

Having seen her nameplate, I yelled back, "At least in Iowa they're on the flat parts of the road and not at the bottom of the hills, like in Winona!"

"Hey! You're from Minnesota!"

That's how to bond in 15 seconds while on RAGBRAI.

Also Lockridge. A couple of chaps worn out from the up.

Mount Pleasant. The only train I had to wait for in all of Iowa. The guys in the warehouse area next to the tracks crawled up on cars and boxes to peer over the fence and check out the cyclists.

There seemed to be fewer team buses than in the past, and fewer speedy pelotons on the road (seems related). I suspect maybe some of them cut back when Lance bailed on RAGBRAI for placing third in the Tour (a topic of much discussion on the ride - you could find someone to talk to about the Tour any time you wanted), or cut back because of the economy. But Homunculus was there and camped near our RV at the Threshing grounds. I didn't get to meet Thong Girl or Cherry Bomb, but the male members of Homunculus may have been the (drunk) guys who were discussing outside my tent as I was trying to get to sleep:

"Dude, I'm going to make you say dude tonight."
"No you're not."
"Dude. I'm so going to."
"No, you're..."
"Say it."
"Say 'dude'."
"No what?"
"No you won't say what, dude?"
"I won't say it."

Picture 30-60 more minutes of that as you drift in and out of consciousness.

There was a big storm rolling in that night, and someone from the campsite/town was going from area to area to tell people where they could take shelter if they didn't have an RV. We had an RV, and for a while we tried to all sleep in it, but between Eryn's 102 temp, John complaining he was cold because of his infection, the slope of the RV trying to roll me onto Ceri who was on the floor, the humidity/heat, and the potential for crying toddlers, I quickly moved back to my tent figuring I might not be safer, but everyone else would be.

This brings to mind a discussion at the information booth earlier in the evening, as I was getting directions to the Methodist Meat Loaf in town.

Man: "Where are the shelters?"
Info Lady: "The small school house over there. Or, if you walk down the street, the new school is a shelter."
Man: "I can park there?"
Info Lady: "You don't need to drive. It's just a block."
Man: "But I can park there?"
Info Lady: "Sure, but it's easier to walk."
Man: "But there's a ramp."
Info Lady: "Noooo..."
Man: "Where's the ramp?"
Info Lady: "There's no ramp."
Man: "Where do you park your car?"
Info Lady: "What?"
Man: "To protect it from hail."
Info Guy : "There's no ramp, you're in the middle of Iowa."
Man: "Well that just figures!"


Eryn had a more tiring day than I did, despite the hills. Here she is listening to country music near our RV. I bet she would have gotten up if she'd known there was a steam powered carousel, but my sister forgot to share that information.

The trolly, as night rolls in. It's hard to see in the background, but there are various terraces in the hillside and there are tents everywhere. It was one of the nights you could appreciate how many people were really there because they were (mostly) colocated.

Music at Mount Pleasant:

Riders. Hmm...this may be from the day before, near the free bananas. I had a lot of time to film while waiting for John to repair the kid's tire:

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