Archive for the ‘RAGBRAI’ Category

Field of Dreams RAGBRAI – Day 7

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

We decided that we would carry our gear the last day, so we didn’t need to find our charter at the end of the day – we feared that if we didn’t arrive in Dubuque on-time our gear might end up on a bus to Omaha. Carrying our gear also meant that we could sleep in!

When we popped our heads out of the tent at 6:30 am, everyone around us was gone. The field of tents from last night was almost empty – only the last few slowpokes rushed about trying to get their gear loaded up before the trucks left.

For our lazy morning, we headed downtown to Burger King for breakfast before starting our ride. The Burger King was located in the lower part of downtown, which had been completely flooded when the levee broke earlier in the week. It was amazing how much of the cleanup they managed to do. We were sad to learn that the city had done a bunch of landscaping just for RAGBRAI, but it was all washed away in the floods.

When we finally got on the road, it was obvious that we were at the tail on the pack today. A lot of riders got up early and made a quick dash for the finish line. The passthrough towns were not nearly as busy and most of the “regular” vendors skipped the day.

The ride today was hillier than the previous day, but we enjoyed the change in terrain as well as the beautiful weather. We had been warned about Potter’s Hill – that is was a mile long and a 6 percent grade – which to us didn’t sound all that bad. We’d see when we got there.

Before Potter’s Hill was the necessary detour to see the Field of Dreams – from the movie. It was really neat to see the field. Many cyclists where waiting to have a swing of the bat and run around the bases. We did as many other cyclists were doing, and use the opportunity of corn fields for a pee break – unfortunately, the center field cornfields had a particular odour of too many cyclists and not enough rain!

The Field of Dreams.


Becky hiding in the corn fields at the edge of the Field of Dreams.

Rather than retrace our steps back to the main road, Scott suggested a detour – a slightly shorter route that involved a dirt road. We failed to realize the route also involved several rather steep hills! It was nice to get away from the crowds for a brief moment, even if the route was not exactly easier than the main road.  Becky spared no opportunity to remind Scott that he had dragged her up and down these “extra” hills.

A “short” detour on the way out of the Field of Dreams – we eventually reconnected with the main route – after  a few additional steep hills!

As we approached the infamous Potter’s Hill, it didn’t seem that bad. The first 1/2 mile was only about a 5% grade. However, as we approached a corner, the hill got really steep. A sign said 19% but we figure it was more like 17%. Scott put many people riding light racing bikes to shame when he rode up the entire hill fully loaded. The majority of cyclists walked up. Becky alternated pushing her bike and riding. At one point a nice gentleman came up beside Becky and helped her push for about 50 meters. The assistance was greatly appreciated.


The beginning of Potter’s Hill – doesn’t seem so bad yet!

People pushes their bikes up the hill.

Becky riding out in front of a group walking up Potter’s Hill!

We thought we were done with hills after Potter’s Hill, but coming in to Dubuque it seemed like a never ending procession of ups and downs. At one point a police officer stopped Becky just as she was screaming down a hill (ugg) to allow oncoming traffic to pass by. The unfortunate part was that she had to start the next steep hill with no momentum at all – not so much fun with a loaded bike.

We did finally make it to the dip site – it certainly felt like we were one of the last riders on the road. The site was rather sandy making it a challenge for us to get our bikes down and then back out again. Fortunately, there were many people around to lend a hand.

Yay, we made it!.

Dipping our tires in the Mississippi river in Dubuque. Can you see the exhaustion on our faces? We did it!

Becky getting some help with her bike from a passer-by. Getting the loaded bikes out of the sand and back onto the pathway was a challenge!

Yay! We did it!

A busy pass-through town.

Road kill – RAGBRAI cyclists commemorate any roadkill they find along the route – we never saw a dead animal without some form of memorial.

A typical picture of Eastern Iowa – note the hills!

Statistics

  • Manchester to Dubuque (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 47.5 miles (76 km).
  • We rode 88 km.
  • Ride time: 6 h.
  • Total Scott: 802 km, Total Becky: 752 km.
  • Costs: $30 food (not including dinner back in Galena)

A real soaker – RAGBRAI Day 6

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The weather was threatening when we woke up, so we quickly packed up our tent and got our gear loaded onto the baggage truck. Our first stop of the day was the cafeteria for breakfast. During breakfast, the first hints of rain fell. We were glad to have our rain gear with us.

Just as we left for breakfast, the rain started to fall, and gradually got heavier. Becky always hates riding in the rain – but this really wasn’t that bad. It was cool enough that we were happy to have rain jackets on. Even when our jackets were soaked through we stayed comfortably warm, and didn’t cool down too much when we stopped. We felt sorry for the folks without rain gear, seeing goosebumps on their bare skin, but fortunately it wasn’t like rain at RCLT. Warm enough that there was no risk of hypothermia here!

We stopped briefly for lunch (a hot dog) at a stand set up in at a farmhouse at a turn in our route. The barn was full of vehicles, but in every empty space there were cyclists crammed in trying to avoid the down-pouring rain.  We didn’t mind the rain on us so much (thanks raingear!), but we didn’t really want our hot dog buns to get soaked before we could gobble them down.

Becky went in search of a quiet corn field to pee, and encountered the wrath of a grumpy lady who complained that cyclists had spent “the entire morning peeing on her property”. Given that this lady had provided her property to serve (and sell food), we’re not sure what she expected. (Perhaps the food folks should have provided more than two porta-potties?) In any case, we’re confident that the heavy rain diluted any urine left behind by the cyclists before it could become a problem. We’re happy to report that she was the only grumpy local we met on our entire trip!

By early afternoon we were getting hungry again. We saw a sign advertising smoked chicken and baked beans – it was the beans that drew us in – we both agreed to pull over for a snack. It was a small vendor with a covered seating area and just as we sat down the rain stopped. We enjoyed one of our best meals of the trip – perfectly smoked BBQ chicken and a plate of beans – yum.

We hopped back on the bikes but didn’t ride for long before we heard the screams of pie and soft ice cream – it was the soft ice cream that had Becky hooked. We pulled over for a snack as the temperatures were heating up.

We moved quite quickly for the first 80 km of the day, but when the sun came out, it seemed that our last 20 km involved constant stops!

Manchester, the overnight town,  had experienced major flooding that week (the levy broke and a lot of the downtown was under water for several days, just 5 days before we arrived).  There were questions all week whether everything would dry out enough for us to camp there, but luckily it did. We talked to some people who stayed indoors in Waterloo until almost noon, and they didn’t feel a drop of rain all day.  We have memories of rain and garbage-bag-clad cyclists though, which they missed out on.

We were camped up on dry ground at the ball diamonds. The campsite was nice, but there were limited washrooms for the number of people. By 11 pm, the two flush toilets were experiencing sewer backup.  We guess that with all the flooding, the septic system couldn’t handle the volume. Becky had not figured out the location of the kybos (porta-potties) before going to bed, so at 1 am when she awoke, she found herself wandering around a parking lot full of RVs. She had clearly taken a wrong turn as there were no kybos in sight. She saw some people sitting under the awning of a giant RV enjoying a beer.

“Do you know where the kybos are? I’ve been wondering around and am clearly lost.” Said Becky.

“Just go in the door, take a left, and its the first door on the left.” Said the man.

“Are you sure that’s Ok?” Becky asked.

“Yes, no problem.”

So, Becky opens the door to the RV. As she enters the man adds “If you see a naked guy in there, just tell him I sent you.”

Of course, by then she REALLY needed to pee, so she stepped in, said hello the guy in his underwear that was crawling into bed, and used their facilities. Afterwards, she thought, “what an odd RAGBRAI experience!” …

When Becky awoke again needing the Kybos, Scott offered to come and direct her. Amazing how much easier they are to find when you know where they are!

RAGBRAI TIP – Learn where the Kybos are BEFORE it gets dark!

A really wet Scott and Becky!

Statistics

  • Waterloo to Manchester (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 61.6 miles (99 km).
  • Scott rode 111 km to campsite.
  • Ride time: 6 h.
  • Total Scott: 714 km, Total Becky: 664 km.
  • Costs: $52 food

The “longest” day – RAGBRAI Day 5

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Today was the longest day of RAGBRAI according to the route maps, but for us it was only second longest. Because of our campsite locations, day 2 was longer.

The day started out really well – We were riding fast and enjoying the company of many different cyclists as they passed us by (or we passed them). We are starting to recognize the faces of people who are moving at about the same speed as us – so we pass them and an hour later they pass us and the process repeats itself throughout the day. The calls of “Oh Canada” continue to amuse us – especially when the folks get the tune wrong and sing it to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree”.

Happy Becky early in the day – note the American flags lining the streets in town.

A pink tractor (painted in honour of one of the breast cancer charities) in one of the pass-through towns.  Tractors anchor each end of a long steel cable, and people hang their bike handlebars over the cable.  The world’s largest bike rack!

All was going well until about noon, when Becky started to overheat. The heat compounded by not enough sleep meant she was feeling rather yucky and in need of cooling down. We stopped in a farmer’s yard to enjoy some shade, home-made lemonade, and visit with some kids. After a brief break, she felt better, but once we got back on the bikes and started moving again, the yuckiness came back. As we pulled into Stout, Becky decided to take the SAG. With any luck, she would get into town early enough to get the tent setup and make dinner plans, while Scott continued with the ride.


Crowds of people and bikes in a pass-through town – this actually isn’t that busy.

Becky’s SAG journey started off well, as she was able to enjoy the air conditioning in the SAG van. The SAG continues along the route until it fills up. Once it is full, the driver re-routes to the highway and heads straight to the end town. Unfortunately, the SAG was moving slowly at that time. The driver had to stop and enquire about a VW Van that was for sale, and then he had to stop again for lunch. Since it was later in the day, there were not too many people getting on the SAG, such that we never did fill up. After a couple of hours the air conditioning became too much, and Becky was feeling chilled.  Becky noticed Scott’s bike as we passed through Hudson (more than 2.5 hours after she got on the SAG). It took more than 3 hours to get into Waterloo, and Becky got to the campsite only 10 minutes before Scott!

Meanwhile, Scott was having a lovely time riding the remaining 50 km.  Shortly after Stout, the route turned east, and the wind turned into a tailwind, and he got to visit with some other recumbent riders.  One had the clever idea to attach a retractable badge clip to the top of her seat, and use that to hold her Camelback hose.  Pull forward to drink, release and it retracts out of the way.  We’ll have to try that.


Team “spam” all had cans of spam on their helmets.



The National Guard uses RAGBRAI as a recruiting event – they have have fancy displays in the pass-through towns and provide cold water and Gatorade.

In Hudson, they had a great pirate theme happening, with rides, costumed locals and a pirate ship.  With a large beer garden and live music, many people were having a great time and staying a while.  Scott figured he couldn’t stay too long, since Becky would have arrived and be wondering where he was.  Untrue as it turned out, but probably a good thing.  We didn’t do any training which involved riding 140 km and stopping for beer in the middle, so he wouldn’t have been prepared.  Instead he found the other music venue, with a great jazz band in a shady park.  Very relaxing, but after a short break he pressed on.

The evenings campsite was on a college campus (designated the quiet campground, but we were able to hear the music from the mainstage  quite well given that it was 3 miles away!). We decided to head to the cafeteria for dinner. Just as we arrived, they ran out of lasagna, but luckily they replaced it with spaghetti. This made Becky very happy, since Spaghetti is a much better dinner for her (less cheese). The cafeteria was also scheduled to open early for the morning breakfast rush (at 5 am). Our charter is doing very well at finding good camping locations.


A bicycle built for six! (they have two kids in the trailer). Note the crutches in the back. The mother had stitches in her heel so she couldn’t walk, but she could still ride. It was neat watching the “train” get started!


Scott in a recumbent paceline!

The biking Elvis’


Becky’s bike loaded up on the SAG trailer.

Tent-city at the college in Waterloo.

A creative way to hang laundry.



Our campground in Waterloo.

Statistics

  • Charles City to Waterloo (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 82.2 miles (132 km).
  • Scott rode 136 km to campsite, Becky rode 86 km.
  • Total Scott: 603 km, Total Becky: 553 km.
  • Costs: $34 food, $5 batteries (because Scott forgot the charger for the rechargeables in Galena)

A fun time in Cartersville – RAGBRAI Day 4

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

We awoke at 2 am to the crash of thunder and flash of lightning, followed immediately by a deluge of rain. We had been warned about the storm and had secured our tent with extra guy wires, so checked for leaks and tried to go back to sleep.  This was difficult, since we had been warned by another rider that in 5 of the last 6 RAGBRAI’s they have  evacuated to the storm shelters due to severe weather – hail and tornadoes are not uncommon at this time of year.  (We’re not sure of the 5 of 6 statistic – that could have been a ‘scare the newbies’ exaggeration). Every night of RAGBRAI, storm shelters are designated for each camping area. In the event of a severe storm, the police and fire trucks come around with sirens and flashing lights to evacuate everyone.  Fortunately, the storm was not severe enough for us to evacuate, although it might have been nice to spend part of the night inside the designated shelter –  a Serta Mattress factory.

In the morning, we could see that many of the campers did not have good tents, as they dragged themselves out of soaked beds.  We were happy to be warm and dry.

Although our tent and gear didn’t get wet, we still had some wet laundry that didn’t get enough time to dry out yesterday. We packed it up and brought it with us, with the hopes of finding a laundromat in one of the pass-through towns so we could dry things out.  We asked in Swaledale and Rockwell to no avail. We were warned that there was “nothing” in Cartersville.

At one point, we noticed up ahead a guy riding a Penny-farthing! We rode along and said hello, and chatted with Blaise, the Bygone Bicyclist, about touring. He is hoping to do the tour from Alaska to Terra del Fuego on a Penny-farthing.

As we rode on, Becky’s shifter was acting up again – that is, it required superhero strength to turn the shifter. We decided to stop in the next town to grease it in hopes that it would start shifting better.

As we turned the corner towards Cartersville, we came upon a huge traffic jam. Cartersville may not exist as a town any more, but the local farmers put on a great party, and everyone was slowing down and pulling off.  The chosen location was a large farm, with an artificial lake and a swinging trapeze. A long line of cyclists were doing flips off the trapeze, and landing in the cool water, to the cheers of onlookers.  Behind one of the barns was a “slip-and-slide”, where teams of cyclists where clearly enjoying themselves. There was definitely a carnival atmosphere in Cartersville.

Scott worked on Becky’s bike, and discovered that water had gotten into both the shifter and external gear ‘mech – perhaps due to the driving rain last night.  He disassembled the shifter and ‘mech, cleaned everything and re-greased it, while  Becky took advantage of a bike stand and hung our wet laundry to dry. Our quick break in Cartersville turned into a 2.5 hour mid-day rest as we enjoyed the spectacle around us. Given the short distance today, we really enjoyed a relaxed pace for the day – if only all days could be this much fun!

By 2 pm, we were packed up and continued on our way.  We heard later that the party got rowdier after we left, and a bunch of cyclists started skinny-dipping in the lake.  This didn’t go over well, and eventually the police arrived, shut the party down and send the cyclists on their way.  When we hear these stories, we always wonder how much to believe though … (Here is the official report).

When we arrived in town, we headed directly to the Hy-Vee grocery store (and air conditioning). Becky was getting pretty warm, so we took 45-minutes walking through the store and sampling the various things they had on offer. We decided to pick up some pre-cooked ham steaks to make sandwiches for dinner and provide protein for breakfast. We were also glad to have brought along a small thermos, so we could buy milk for the morning. While at the grocery store, we ran into some folks from our Charter, who provided directions to our campsite – this turn out to be a good thing, as tonight’s  campsite was well away from the main campground.

We pulled into the campsite to discover it was right next to the swimming pool! The pool even had a waterslide, big enough to have a couple of corners. Since it was still early, we enjoyed a swim and a couple of tries at the slide before showering and relaxing for the evening. It was really nice to have a quiet evening at camp and to be in early enough that our laundry and swimsuits dried before bed.

Today was a turning point for Becky – she really enjoyed the day, and only wished that more days where like this one. The shorter distance meant there was more time for fun.

RAGBRAI TIP – If you are at all picky about food, consider bringing a camp stove. Getting food at the grocery store and eating at camp would save time and ensure you were eating right.

RAGBRAI TIP – Even without a camp stove, the grocery stores in the overnight towns provide a good option for a quick healthy dinner.

Pass-through town rolling out the beige carpet just for us!

One of the “Leisure Suit Larrys” – there were several, all in tacky coloured suits and riding vintage bikes. The shorter ride day meant that a lot more teams were out in costume today.

Long line for Farm Boys Breakfast Burritos!

The SAG stopping at Cartersville to pick up a few tired (or hungover) cyclists.

The Cartersville crowds.

Scott fixing Becky’s shifter.

Team slip-n-slide.

Statistics

  • Clear Lake to Charles City (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 51.8 miles (83 km).
  • We rode 92 km to campsite.
  • Route ride time 5h min.
  • Total: 467 km.
  • Costs: $48 food

Not so short, shorter day – RAGBRAI Day 3

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Although Day 3 was shorter than the previous two days, at a mere 109 km, it wasn’t as short as we had hoped and it got hot (over 40 Deg C at one point).

As we approached Clear Lake, we were both very warm. Scott suggested jumping off the route and following along the lakeshore (thank you GPS maps), so we took a detour. Less than 500 meters off the route we found a park with beach access to the Lake! Quickly, we removed helmets, shoes, and electronics and jumped in the lake to cool off.  Relief!  We were hot enough that the chill of the lake was a comfort, and Becky dove right in – almost unheard-of!  The cool-off gave Becky that boost she needed to make the final journey into town and our campsite (which turned out to be an additional 15 km away).

Our campsite was in the middle of an industrial park, several kilometers from downtown.  After setting up our tent and showering, we decided to head downtown for food.  Becky really didn’t want to get back on the bikes again – plus the bikes were being used as a laundry drying rack, so at first, we decided to hitch a ride. After 10 minutes of unsuccessfully sticking out our thumbs, we gave up and headed to the shuttle bus stop. The shuttle came by pretty quickly, and we were soon dropped off at the edge of downtown. Note: most towns provided shuttle service for a donation. All our experiences with shuttles were good – but we did not stay out too late. Those who were out later in the evening often ran into lines at the shuttle stops.

We didn’t do so well on the dinner front. We got to town too late for a church dinner, and there didn’t seem to be many other local options.  We found out later that there was only one church dinner and it ran out of food at 5 pm. Fortunately, the church was still open (and had Internet and A/C), so we hung around there for a few minutes before venturing out for food. We waited in line for 45 minutes to get a fajita dinner from one of the vendors, but it was worth it.  Filling, and quite a bit better than the ‘walking tacos’ we had yesterday.  Has anyone heard of a Walking Taco?  We hadn’t.  For the uninitiated, it is a (small) bag of Dorito chips, opened and filled with ground beef, grated cheese, lettuce and salsa.  Neither haute cuisine nor healthy, but it did fill the void in our stomachs.  The fajita dinner still wasn’t up to Texas standards, but was much better than a Walking Taco. In hindsight, we would have done better to go to the grocery store and picked up dinner there.

The Clear Lake RAGBRAI committee had set up a fenced area downtown to watch the entertainment. It was free to access if you had a wristband, and $5 for those without. We discovered that the beer was cheaper at the V.F.W. (Canadian Legion equivalent) outside the fenced area, so there wasn’t much benefit to being inside other than a clear view of the overly loud band on stage.  Perhaps we’re getting a bit old…

Scott discovered that his arms got rather sunburned today. We stopped by the first aid truck to see if they had any recommendations. They sprayed on some Solarcaine, which didn’t really do much, and they recommended Tylenol and gave him a few packets. We were surprised that the first aid folks were able to give out drug samples (they had Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve).

Laundry is proving to be a challenge for us. We usually wash out our cycling shorts and a few other clothes items every day. With the long riding days, we aren’t getting in early enough to have them dry before night sets in, and the overnight dews mean that things get wetter overnight. We are left with hanging our shorts and other laundry off the back of our bikes to dry. This is challenging since we are riding without panniers. We receive as many comments about the laundry hanging off on our bikes as our Canadian flags.

For Becky, today was definitely a low point in the RAGBRAI experience. She is struggling with finding food that agrees with her body, and the basic camp chores such as laundry are taking too much time and energy.

RAGBRAI TIP: Bring clothes pegs and a line for hanging laundry or 7 complete sets of cycling clothes.

RAGBRAI TIP: Bring a mesh bag for your tent. It is almost always wet in the morning when it needs to be packed up. If you store it in a mesh bag, it might be dry by the time you pick it up at the end of the day.  So far, this has worked well for us.

Can you find Becky in the sea of bikes?

There were a disproportionate number of ‘bents on RAGBRAI, but what was especially neat to see what the number of girls on ‘bents.

Soy bean fields and windmills – typical Iowa scenery.

Entering town at the end of the day usually involved going under an arch and today we even got a cheering section.

Statistics

  • Algona  to Clear Lake (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 59.9 miles (96 km).
  • We rode 109 km to campsite.
  • Route ride time 6h 15 min.
  • Total: 375 km.
  • Costs: $48 food

The Grotto of Redemption – RAGBRAI Day 2

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Today was a long day, but the route was mostly flat, making it feel similar to yesterday’s ride. At about mid-afternoon, the sky clouded over cooling things off a bit. We were concerned it might rain, but fortunately, the threatening clouds went the other way, leaving us with a beautiful day for a bike ride.

On our route today, we passed through Pocahontas, Iowa –  affectionately known as “Poky” to the locals. There we found a church that had opened up it’s basement restrooms and kitchen, so cyclists could use the facilities and fill their water bottles. We took advantage of the cool space to do some yoga before continuing with the ride.  We’re finding it’s the random acts of kindness which are making the trip special for us – people offering free water, church basements and random passers-by cheering on the stream of cyclists.

Becky got a new nickname today: “Rumble Girl”! In Iowa, there are rumble strips across the entire lane as your approach a stop sign (usually 3 sets of them). The riders generally go around the rumble strips and yell “RUMBLES”, so that the following riders know they are there. Becky on the other hand, rides over the rumble strips while yelling “RUMBL-L-L-L-L” with a fun vibrato caused by the bumps. This usually causes everyone around to smile and laugh. After the second or third time, a couple of kids on the back of tandems started to call Becky “Rumble Girl” whenever she passed them.

Later in the day we passed through West Bend, Iowa – the home of the Grotto of the Redemption. From a distance, the Grotto reminded us of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. On closer  inspection, they look nothing alike – the semi-precious stones decorating the Grotto creates busy textures reminiscent of Gaudi’s designs – perhaps his inspiration was a Grotto in Europe somewhere?

We tried a different food strategy today – that is, we tried to avoid waiting in long lines so we could spend more time biking – but it didn’t work out as well as we had hoped. We had a decent breakfast at the local coffee shop before leaving town (a breakfast burrito, but not nearly as good as Farm Boys though the shop had  great coffee). We stopped for some food in one of the later towns, but it turned out to be pretty awful fast food (processed turkey on processed white bread and a “walking taco” – a small bag of crushed Doritos with ground beef,processed lettuce, cheese, and sour cream on top – yuck!).

When we arrived in the overnight town, we decided to head directly to a church dinner, rather than the campsite.  Since we had a charter, we knew that there would not be any issues with finding a place to camp. Arriving into town late meant that church dinners would run out of food soon.  In addition to a good meal, the church dinners often  provide an air conditioned place to sit and relax and no lines for the flush toilets – definitely something that you want after a long hot day on the bike.

At the end of the day, Becky tried out one of the shower trailers since it was setup close to our campsite. Amusingly, the line for the women’s was much shorter than the line for the men’s – quite the contrast to any lines for  flush toilets!  Fortunately the kybos are unisex – there are many more men on RAGBRAI than women. The $5 shower was luxurious – pressurized hot water! It felt great to get clean after the long day’s ride.

Another day another traffic jam – riders walk their bikes as they enter a pass-through town.

Banana bike.

A farmer setup a corner “corn boil” stall. For $1 per cob, it was the best and cheapest corn we had the entire trip.

As we entered this pass-through town, they welcomed us with decorated hay bales.

Walking through another pass-through town. There were a disproportionate number of ‘bents on the ride.

Bikes strewn everywhere outside of the Grotto of Redemption in West Bend.

The grotto was decorated everywhere with semi-precious stones.

Tonnes of cyclists taking a break to check out the Grotto of Redemption.

A necessary self-portrait. We are looking a little warm!

Statistics

  • Storm Lake to Algona (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 79 miles (127 km).
  • We rode 142 km to campsite.
  • Route ride time 7h min.
  • Total: 266 km.
  • Costs: $60 food, $5 hot shower

Bikes everywhere! – RAGBRAI Day 1

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

We awoke at 5:30 am to the sound of tent zippers. A surprising number of people were already out and about, but for us this felt way too early. The midnight fireworks left us groggy and tired, but we quickly packed up and had a small bite to eat. (We brought some granola with us – and we were very happy to have it).  By 6:30 am we were on the road. Becky desperately needed coffee, so we stopped at a Burger King on the way out of town for a cup. Mornings will definitely be a challenge as we are used to eating a full breakfast before getting on the bikes and riding.

Once we left the campsite area, the police had placed cones to keep riders to one lane on the road. This very quickly became futile as the number of riders expanded to fill both outbound lanes. At first we were nervous about oncoming traffic and riding in the left lane, but soon we discovered that riders take over both lanes for most of the day.

We moved along quite well for 20 km or so, then crested as small hill and a sea of humanity and bikes appeared.  Shouts of “slowing!”, “slowing!”, “stopping!” filled the air.   We slowed to a stop, and walked our bikes forward for a few hundred metres before discovering the cause.  It was The Farm Boys – purveyors of quality breakfast burritos, and very popular.  We were ready for a real breakfast, so we  decided to join the line up to see what all the fuss was about. We had been warned about long food lines, and this was to be our first experience with them, waiting over an hour for our breakfast burritos (fortunately, the coffee didn’t require waiting so Becky enjoyed her second cup of the day while in line). The burritos were definitely worth the wait – fresh shells loaded with real scrambled eggs, hash browns, ham, bacon, cheese, and salsa – yum. Becky can also attest that they had excellent coffee too.

Our first traffic jam of the day – at the Farm Boys kiosk.

We soon discovered that bicycle congestion is common, but riders handle it well, with good communication.  Mostly it happens in the pass-through towns as riders stop to buy food, use a kybo, listen to the music or just rest for a bit.

Pulling into Kingsley – the first real pass-through town. Note the mass of riders on the road ahead.

Our second food stop of the day was for lunch at Pastafaria – where they had great pasta accompanied by great reggae music. This too was a RAGBRAI tradition, and the lines were long. We waited for about an hour for lunch, but the pasta was precisely what we needed.  Yum!

As we approached Storm Lake, we found our charter in a park along the lake on the outskirts of town. After yesterday’s experience, we were happy to have found the charter so easily. We quickly found a spot in the shade for our tent and jumped into the lake to cool down. Unfortunately, Storm Lake was really warm – so warm that it didn’t do much to cool us down. It did however remove the first layer of road grime and sweat.

We ran into Nancy at the campsite and was glad to see that her wristband had been found. We asked her about the showers, and she explained how they worked with the charter – we need only find a solar bag that was not in use and fill it. The longer it is left in the sun the warmer the water will be. The water directly from the truck was pretty cold, which on a hot day was nice but a bit of shock to the system. We quickly found shower bags and enjoyed a nice cool shower.

Next on our agenda was food. Unfortunately, there was nothing near the campsite. One of the other cyclists mentioned that he had a nice lasagna dinner at a local church, just up the road. Since there was a risk of them running out of food, we needed to get there quickly, so we hopped back on our bikes in search of food. It turned out that both that church and the school dinner had run out of food – it was almost 7 pm. We did find a loaded-baked potato dinner at the local historical society. Apparently, they didn’t get much traffic early on, so they reduced the price to $5 per person. Since they had food, we were happy to enjoy the baked potato with all the fixin’s (ham, bacon, beans, salsa, sour cream, fake butter, broccoli, and cheese). Dinner included a banana split dessert – but they ran out of bananas just as we got there (we managed to share the last 1/2 banana).

As we crawled into the tent at night, fireflies started to dance out of the grass. It looked like small sparks launching out of the ground. Becky has never seen fireflies behave like that – we usually see them fly around bushes. It was really cool to see them jumping up around all the tents!

RAGBRAI TIP – Cornfields make great outhouses with no lines and great privacy – bring a trowel!

The morning traffic, taking over both outbound lanes.

Bikes filling the roads – and this isn’t event a busy time!

There were several fellow Canadians proudly displaying the maple leaf – we didn’t actually meet these guys.

Can you pick out Becky in the crowd as we approach a pass-through town?


Bike parked/abandoned along the side of the road as their owners waited in line for food.


Bike littered everywhere as riders take a break.

A creative recumbent rider – he rode the entire week as a shark! The number one question asked of him: “Aren’t you hot in there?”

Throughout the ride, there were posters proclaim the various benefits of hog farming in Iowa.

There were also lots of clever roadside signs to keep us amused as we rode.

Ever wonder what happens when a windmill blade gets hit by lightening?

Note the Canada flag flying with Becky’s sign. Throughout the week, we were greeted with “hello Canada” and “Oh Canada”.

Team tutu were wearing tutus all week – not always wearing them where you would expect them too.

Statistics

  • Sioux City to Storm Lake (PDF route map).
  • Reported as 68.5 miles (110 km).
  • We rode 115 km to campsite, and an additional 9 km to and from dinner.
  • Route ride time 6h 38 min.
  • Route to day total: 124 km.

Confusion and frustration – RAGBRAI Day 0

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

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.

Iowa? Why Iowa? – RAGBRAI Day -1

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

When we told people we were planning to ride across Iowa this summer, the reaction was always “Why Iowa?” We must admit, that Iowa wasn’t exactly the first place that came to mind for a one week bike trip – but that was before we knew about about RAGBRAI – the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. According to RAGBRAI, it is the world’s largest and longest running bike tour. This year marks its 38th year and they expect more than 10,000 riders and an additional 6-7000 support people to participate.

In March, we filled in the application and waited with bated breath for the results of the lottery – 8,000 spots are available for week-long riders. The remaining spots are saved for “day” riders – those riding 1 to 3 days,  rather than the entire 7 days. The route varies each year. This year the route is in Northern Iowa and is one of the flattest and shortest routes. It is dubbed the third easiest RAGBRAI route – we’ll see about that!

Planning the drive from Ottawa, we discovered that Paula and Dave, whom we met on our first freighter cruise, were exactly half way between Ottawa and Dubuque, Iowa.  Dubuque is the final city on this year’s RAGBRAI. We had to stop by for a visit! When we contacted them, they were delighted that we wanted to stop by.  They also told us that Dave’s brother Ed and sister-in-law Karin live in Galena Illinois, only 15 miles from Dubuque. Perfect!  Karin and Ed graciously offered us to a place to stay and park our car for the week we were riding. We are so lucky to have met such great people on our journeys.

On Wednesday, July 21, we had a great visit with Paul, Owen, and Irene. Unfortunately, Dave was away on business, but we hope to see him on our return. We enjoyed a great walk through the park in Ypsilanti, Michagan and played a couple games of dominoes (Becky won at least one game). We also enjoyed some of Ypsilanti’s finest brews, although we were a day early for the Michigan Brewer’s Guild Festival. (Who knew Ypsilanti was a centre of microbrewery excellence? If you love small-batch beer, we recommend a visit to the area)

On Thursday, July 22, after the long drive to Galena, we were delighted to meet Ed and Karin. They have “retired” from the full-time jobs in Chicago, and are now working and farming in Galena. Between raising bees for honey and tending a large organic garden for market produce, we’re not sure they’re any less busy, and that’s not counting other part-time jobs. They sure seem to be having fun though!

We visited the farm to see the garden and bees, and also got a tour of the Prairie fields that Ed is restoring. They are members of the Prairie Enthusiasts, and have spent the last few years carefully seeding, weeding and burning their fields, working to restore the original prairie ecosystem.

Karin’s vegetable garden in Galena Illinois, carefully protected from deer.

Karin in the back of the pickup on our way to see Ed’s prairie.

Scott standing out in one of Ed’s prairie fields. Amazingly, it is all planted and weeded by hand!

Thursday night brought a thunder and lightening storm that lasted more than 3 hours and dropped more than 5 inches (125 mm) of rain on Galena and Dubuque. Things were looking rather soggy when we drove into Dubuque to drop off our bikes. With more rain in the forecast for Friday night, we happily accepted Karin’s offer of a ride into town in the morning. This meant we did not need to camp out in Dubuque on Friday night. Friday night, an additional three inches (75 mm) of rain fell, causing major flooding in Galena and parts of western Iowa. We were very happy to have stayed indoors!

Flooded Galena Main Street. Note the submerged minivan and closed flood gates. Saturday, July 24th.

Foggy but not-so-flooded Galena Main Street a week later. Sunday, Aug 1st.

Note: If you are subscribed to our email feed, you will be receiving these posts one to two weeks after the event. We did not bring a computer with us on RAGBRAI, so the blog posts are being written from the comfort of home as we recover from our adventure!