Monday, July 29, 2013

RAGBRAI XLI 2013 - Council Bluffs to Harlan, 56.8 miles and 2,476 feet of climb

I was supposed to go on RAGBRAI XL with Adam last year and was all signed up, prior to busting my hip, my shoulder, and my lung.  One of the first things I did after gaining consciousness was to cancel going on the ride.  Apparently that was a good thing because the ride was incredibly hot and incredibly windy.  An incredible challenge.  This year, in contrast, was the easiest RAGBRAI I've attended of the three I've been on, averaging 60 mile days, 2500-2800 feet of climb, and with temps that at one point fell to 58 degrees during morning riding.  Cold enough to need a jacket.  My goal was to make sure my hip stood up to the stress, and it did.  It did better with the bicycling than it did with the trip down to southern Iowa in the car and back.  We had a great time.  Met some great people.  Ate some great food.  Did some serious bicycling, getting me within 36 miles of my goal of 2500 miles within a year of being able to ride a bike again for the first time.

This is more accurately a mash up of Day 0 and Day 1 as we drove down to Council Bluffs on Saturday.  Bit of a haul - over 350 miles.  My wife and daughter were spending the night in Iowa and wanted to use the hotel swimming pool, so they almost pushed us out of the car in their hurry to get going again.  Well.  Not quite.  But they did bug out after a couple of hugs and goodbyes and left Adam and I to check out the evening 0 activities.

Which looked like this initially.  Not very exciting.  It seemed as though a lot of people might be showing up the next morning instead of that evening, despite all the tents.  Although there was a smattering of bicyclists getting their day 0 drink on, including a stumbling guy in a corn hat talking to the Council Bluffs cops that we saw several times over the course of the ride, and a group of guys dirty dancing with an inebriated woman, none of whom I recognized later in the ride.  They may have just been locals.

So we decided to go dip our tires in the Missouri River to appropriately start our ride.  Usually that's just a short walk from the campground.  On XLI it was 7.5 miles round trip.  This sign, "Caution: Trail Meanders Around Parking Garage" had me laughing.

Dipping!  Notice my total disdain for dame fortune, positioning my odometer over yet another body of water after already losing two in Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. The next day I lost it twice.  The first time I went all the way back to our campsite and found it near where I'd first balanced my luggage on top of my bike for transport to the baggage truck.  The second time Adam found a guy walking down the street talking to his friend about it.  When Adam put it back on my bike it gave an audible click.  Something it had never done before.  After that, it never just popped off again.

I'm not sure why so many people walked away from the Missouri covered in stinking mud.  They must have been willing to wade out further than we did.  I figure it's about dipping your tire in the water, not yourself.  Here's Adam, all smiles, unsuspecting of the hills and mileage that lay ahead.

Some other dippers.

This bike bridge spanned the Missouri nearby and there were a lot of cyclists crossing it, so we went to check it out.

It gives a different vantage of the RAGBRAI cyclists dipping their wheels.

We decided to go to the Better Than Ezra concert later.  Free.  And find some dinner.  Not free.  I liked my choices during the rest of RAGBRAI much better.  This was a pretty overwhelming dinner.  I add it here so if later you see me eating something and think, "That looks so unhealthy!" you can come back to this picture and appreciate that it could have been worse.  I also managed to hit up a grocery store on a number of evenings during the ride, allowing me to eat apples, grapes, lean turkey, cucumbers, and strawberries.  Compared to previous RAGBRAIs this one was uber healthy.

Adam, all thumbs up and eating a variation of what I'm eating, just wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Some of the Council Bluffs art.  The light washes me out.  At the moment, I look a bit like a darker species of nut.  I wouldn't wash out if we retook the photo.

Better Than Ezra.  I hadn't been to a RAGBRAI concert before, but during XLI I went to a few.  This was by far the best.  They were hilarious.  For their encore they did a cover of The Proclaimers 500 miles and made up their own verses and assured us that the song was inspired by them, the "da da daaa" lyrics really an homage to Better Than Ezra and easily swappable in the song.

Swiss Cheese dudes.  I peddled between their legs.  I think it had more significance than dipping my tire in a river.

Truly day 1.  Adam packing up his tent for the very first time.  This is the only time you will see him packing that his tent has both of the poles in appropriate condition and/or his tent stakes available.  It's not dark because it's overcast.  It's dark because we got up between 4:45 and 5:15 most days and were on the road by 5:30-5:45.  The tent poles clacking and the truck prepping to load are more efficient than any alarm clock.

Time to hit the road!

Here's the picture with movement...

Adam at our very first pancake breakfast. It didn't seem like there were as many pancake breakfasts as at my last two RAGBRAIs.  In the past, my dad and I would skip the first stop and head to the second, usually about 20 miles in, to have a Chris Cakes breakfast.  This year there was 0-1 in the first two stops, so you didn't necessarily have a choice about where to stop depending on what you wanted to eat.  I like the carb loading from pancakes, so that put some restrictions on me.  I'm not sure if hiring the Chris Cakes folks has gotten more expensive, or if Southern Iowa just isn't as close to a franchise, or if there just aren't as many interested fire departments wanting to raise bucks down there.

Bikes and breakfast.

Standing was the general rule for pancakes and waffles.  In the past, there was usually a place to sit.  Another subtle change.  Not bad - you usually weren't there for more than 15 minutes, even if you went back for seconds.  Something I only did once.

The Loons!  One of the Minnesota bicycling teams.  I signed up with Team Road Kill before Adam talked to me about going on RAGBRAI XL as I thought I might go by myself.  I watched the teams carefully this year.  There are advantages.  But there are disadvantages too, like being on someone else's schedule.  Not my favorite thing.  Going by RAGBRAI semi, while low support, is also low commitment (outside the actual bicycling).

This guy in Neola had a very weird truck.  Many of the things attached to his vehicle move or clank.

They also had tap dancing.  Or clogging.  They seem similar enough.  Either way they're busting a move.

Definitely RAGBRAI.  Lots of bicyclists and some porta potties.  One of the nice things about leaving  by 5:45 most days was that we tended to get to the porta pods while they were still relatively unused and unbaked by the afternoon sun.  You don't know how exciting that is until you've tried to deal with them for a solid week.

The towns weren't as wild as what I remember the last two times, but they did decorate their streets with bike themes, like Shelby's gateway.

My first piece of pie.  Appropriately, a piece of rhubarb pie in Shelby while waiting for Adam.  The rhubarb was even a bit green making it not overly sweet.  It was delicious.

Getting artsy with the parked bicycles in Shelby.

Some more bike decorating near where I bought my pie.

I like it when they get out the old cars and old fire equipment.  Old fire engine, new bicycle.

Smoothies.  I met the guy who opened the smoothie business at RAGBRAI.  He was bicycling the ride carrying his smoothie sign to the next town down the road.  Nice guy.  He said when he started it, no one knew what a smoothie was so he gave samplers away for free to get people to buy them.  It was his girlfriend that encouraged him to start the business and who encouraged him to get smaller cups for the samples as he was losing too much smoothie.  Smoothies always remind me of the last RAGBRAI, immediately after I saw the rider with his head bleeding all over the pavement on the spillway (it's on Wikipedia: Donald D. Myers at Geode Lake Dam).  Just up the road I sat down and had a smoothie and appreciated being alive.  Having a smoothie and appreciating being alive is something I fortunately get to do quite often.

At Harlan, we had the spaghetti dinner at the Methodist church, enjoying some air conditioning.

We dined at churches in a number of places.  The Methodists tend to do a very nice job, something familiar from both of my last rides.  There's usually spaghetti or a chicken and noodles main dish and some sort of bread or potatoes and dessert - pie or cookies.  You just have to worry they're going to run out of food if you're not there on time, which wasn't a worry for us with the early to rise early to finish rides.

Harlan, Iowa.  Our first stop of the evening after going from Council Bluffs to Weston to Underwood to Neola to Minden to Shelby to Tennant.  That's probably James Harlan on the pedestal, although I can't prove it.

All the tents in Harlan!  These are usually primarily the tents for the folks using the semi.  By the time you get to the edge of town in the morning, nearly six times as many people have joined you from other campsites and front yards and RVs.

Here's a moving tour of the tents

One of the many buses.  This one was particularly cool as they'd turned it into a convertible with a wood lounging deck on top.

And Adam's tent is already broke.  See the strange bump on the back.  He was sure someone had stepped on his tent.  And stolen his stakes.  Fortunately, I had lots of heavy duty extras from my tent (stakes, not poles).  For poles, he made due with the full role of duct tape his wife had encouraged him to bring at the last moment.  So he had duct tape, but no towel.  He spent most of RAGBRAI XLI air drying.

Different angle on the same broken pole.  That front one isn't long for this world.

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