Confusion and frustration – RAGBRAI Day 0

We are very glad we did not tent last night – Dubuque got another 3 inches of rain – add that to the 5 inches they got on Thursday night and the ground is soaked. It would suck to start the week with a wet tent.

We arrive at the Dubuque Bowling and Beyond to a flurry of bus traffic – buses are still arriving, and others are moving about to find the right location. Some buses have nice clear signs, but others are not so well labelled. We find bus 3, 4, and 5 with Pork Bellies charter, but aren’t immediately able to find bus 1 – the bus we were assigned to take. As Becky sits in a corner with all our bags, Scott walks around all the buses in search of bus 1 – eventually a Pork Bellies staffer comes and puts a ‘bus 1’ sign on one of the unlabelled buses and we quickly load up. Our bus appears to be the least nice of the Pork Bellies buses – and definitely not the fancy coach that they promised us. As we enter the bus, we are immediately hit by the smell of old smoke – yuck.

We find ourselves a seat and immediately start talking to the people around us. We are inspired and encouraged by the friendliness of other RAGBRAI riders – the friendliness of riders turns out to be one of the best reasons to participate in RAGBRAI.

The bus stops at 10 am for the designated “lunch stop” at a truck stop just off the Interstate. This seems a bit early, but we are happy for the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. The lack of decent food at the stop makes us glad that we picked up lunch at the grocery store yesterday – no need to eat processed “instant” fast food.

We pull into Sioux City and the bus driver takes us to the Pork Bellies camp site. Unfortunately, this is not where we need to go. It is not where the RAGBRAI campsite is, or many of the other charters. It is also not where our bikes are expected nor where we were told we would be dropped off. Scott goes of in search of someone from Pork Bellies while most of us remain on the bus – refusing to unload at what we think is the wrong location. Eventually, Scott returns to inform us that we are indeed in the wrong place and someone from Pork Bellies will inform the driver of where we are supposed to be – but before we can leave, we have to wait for bus 6 to arrive because we are carrying some luggage from bus 6. We definitely felt like second class citizens on the Pork Bellies charter.

The bus takes us to the very busy dip site parking lot and drops us off. We have no news of when or where the truck with our bikes will appear. We only hope that Pork Bellies has told the bus driver and the truck driver the SAME location! People that are staying with RAGBRAI (that is, not on a charter) are setting up their tents in a nearby field – people who are in larger groups are sending some people off to their camping locations while others wait for the bikes. The kind folks in Sioux City have arranged golf carts towing trailers to ferry people and gear from the parking lot to the various camp site locations. After sitting in the sun for half an hour, Scott recognizes the transport carrying our bikes. It drive past us so Scott chases after it while Becky sits guarding over our gear. Unfortunately, the truck doesn’t stop and Scott chases after it for 3 km before it gets back on the highway for a second loop. Scott is stuck walking back to the dip site – after spending 30 minutes chasing after the truck – with no hat and no sunscreen. By the time he gets back to the dip site, the truck has returned, and has almost finished unloading bikes.  He is very hot and grumpy. Becky has been waiting for over half an hour and has no clue where Scott has gotten too – she too is grumpy and concerned that the truck will leave without us getting our bikes, as she is stuck watching our huge pile of gear and can’t go get bikes. Fortunately, Scott is able to find the bikes and a family takes pity on him. One of the kids helps him push Becky’s bike over to where she is sitting. So far, things aren’t going quite as smoothly as we hoped.

We are carrying almost as much gear for RAGBRAI as we did for our trip around the world.  With the prospect of bad weather and the lack of opportunities to dry laundry RAGBRAI veterans recommend carrying enough clothing for the entire week.  Another little difference from self-supported touring, where we travelled for 16 months with two pairs of bike shorts, and two other pairs of pants!

We stop a baggage cart and ask if they know where Ron Oman Charters is located.  These are folks that we have chartered with for the week – they will be carrying our luggage from city to city and claiming campsite space for us. When we first arrived at the Pork Bellies site, Becky borrowed a phone and asks where Ron was located. The person told her “in the main campground” (so not the Pork Bellies campground) and “upriver of the Casino”. At the time she thought the description was adequate, but now we discover that the entire campground (some 5000 + tents over 4+ km of riverfront) is upriver of the Casino! We load up our bikes and ride the strip of campsites from end-to-end. First a cursory glance looking for Ron’s logo, then a more detailed search, asking each group we find. Finally, a third sweep and still we are not able to find Ron Oman Charters. With each lap we stop by the Info Desk to ask if they know. They say we are not the only ones asking and that if we do find them, to please let the info desk people know! After the third pass, we give up.

We go to the dip site for the ceremonial dip of our rear tires in the Missouri river – bikes fully loaded!

Dipping our loaded bikes into the Missouri River. Can you see the frustration in our smiles?

With 5 pm approaching – (3 hours after arriving on Sioux City) – we need to head up to the Bike Expo to pick up our registration packets – the folks at the Register decided that they did not want to risk our packages not arriving in Canada, so they didn’t mail them. Instead we were to pick them up. The ride up to the Expo (about 4 km away from the campsite) involves wading through many cyclists and pedestrians – this turned out to be only a small taste of what was to come. We walk our bikes through packed crowds to find a quiet spot in the shade against the building. There we rest our bikes and Becky goes into the conference centre in search of our registration packets. Becky is greeted with a long, almost unmoving line. Anyone wishing to change their registration is also in the same line. Anyone looking for parking passes and day passes are able to go to a different line and be served almost immediately. After half an hour, the line moves enough that Becky can see in the room. There are 4 people providing crowd control and only one person serving the people who need registration changes – it appears that only one person can operate the computer. Becky tries very hard not to grit her teeth in frustration. All she needs to do is pick up a packet. Someone behind the desk says “Can I help anyone?”, the person behind Becky says “I need a parking pass”, and the gentleman behind the desk calls him out of the line and serves him. When he says “Can I help anyone?” again, Becky blurts out “I just need to pick up a packet”. He motions her forward, and digs out the registration package. With a quick flash of her ID, Becky now has the package in hand, with our essential wristbands and bike bands.
In the interim, Scott has found the telephone number for our Charter again. The person we speak to is back in Omaha, but tells us to look for the giant American Flag upriver of the bridge. This is more like it!

The next order of business is dinner – we haven’t found our charter yet but we are both hungry. Becky asks the information desk about where to find food and is told there is a church serving a spaghetti dinner up the street two blocks (literally up – Sioux City isn’t flat!). We make our way with our loaded bikes to the church and are happy to discover they still have food. Not long after we arrive, they run out of food – so we got there just on time. We savour the air-conditioned sit-down dinner after being out in the hot sun. A church gymnasium never felt so nice! Dinner is so good that we don’t have room left for the wonderful baked goods served for dessert – luckily we have a container in our bags… a snack for tomorrow. We also take advantage of the church washrooms to rinse the sweat from our faces – perhaps our last flush toilets for a while. We feel much better and at 7 pm, we head out again in search of Ron Oman Charters.

We find the giant American Flag, and it’s right beside the information desk. Unfortunately, no-one near it knows anything about Ron Oman! We go back to the information desk – which now has a note on the board with a brief description of where to go – pretty much around the corner from the information booth. We follow the directions but are still unable to find our Charter. We ask around, and the super friendly folks from Bubbas suggest that we join them. If we had not already paid Ron, we certainly would have joined Bubba then and there! We kept asking people around the Kybos until we found someone that knew where Ron Oman Charters was. Someone kindly leads us to the marked off area in the middle of a stand of trees – a lovely site, but certainly not obvious. No big surprise that we couldn’t find it.

It is 8 pm and getting dark, so we swallow our frustration and set up our tent. We share some of our story with our neighbours and someone lets us know that we should be looking for the pink flag, which we could now see flying from the rented gear truck. Unfortunately, even if we had known to look for a pink flag, they had just set it up about an hour before. We discover that several other people suffered the same fate, wasting hours in search. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come…

Now that we have found everything, we decide to put all the frustrations behind us and get back into a good mindset to enjoy RAGBRAI. We visit with a few people camped around us and discover that the folks in the tent beside us are also from Ottawa – Ottawa, Kansas that is! We were soon to discover just how many other Ottawa’s there are (Kansas, Illinois, and even Iowa!). We also meet Nancy who is very friendly and helpful, even though she is missing the registration packages and wristbands for her group. Ron is frantically searching for them, which may explain some of the other disorganization.

Sioux City did do a great job of providing water and Kybos (porta potties). There were enough Kybos around that you didn’t need to wait in line if you were willing to walk a bit. There were many water stands set up throughout the campsite, providing safe drinking water. Most were an assembly of hoses plastic pipes and faucets. They worked great for toothbrushing, water bottle filling and rudimentary showers.

We were in bed before 9:30 pm, tired after a long day, and trying to get rested up for an early morning.

We slept well for several hours, then at midnight, Sioux City welcomed RAGBRAI with fireworks, launched from the river beside us. We are sure many people enjoyed them, but not us, and probably not many of the other riders. We aren’t exactly sure what the planners were thinking! Many riders awake before the crack of dawn (around 5:15 am) to pack up their tents and get on the road. We talked to several others who were quite annoyed with their disrupted sleep.

RAGBRAI TIP 1 – If you’re a RAGBRAI newbie, choose someone other than Ron Oman Charters. Many long-time RAGBRAIers are very happy with him, but we recommend choosing a charter who does a better job communicating their location and their services.

RAGBRAI TIP 2 – Bring good earplugs. Becky’s earplugs did not block out tent zippers and fireworks. (Bring Eyeshades too, ours were invaluable)

RAGBRAI TIP 3 – Bring copies of every piece of paperwork and email you receive, and everything you might think useful from the RAGBRAI site. You never know what bit of information you’ll need in the chaos of 10,000+ cyclists and their entourages.

RAGBRAI TIP 4 – Don’t rely on AT&T for cellphone service in Iowa.  From Canada (Rogers/Fido) our U.S. roaming partner is AT&T, but AT&T service outside the big cities in Iowa is minimal.

2 thoughts on “Confusion and frustration – RAGBRAI Day 0”

  1. Amusing – I have the same earplugs… great minds think alike! Haven’t used them yet – concert-going implies money…

    Unfortunately they stick out a bit far if you like to lie on your side to sleep 🙁

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