RAGBRAI, DAY 4: Hump Day Reflection
What to make of RAGBRAI so far, half way to its end? Well, 15,000 registered riders, bolstered by another 2000 officially untallied on teams, makes an amazing impression. The vista from the tops of Iowa’s beautiful rolling hills shows the breath of this cyclist invasion, with riders filling both lanes, stretching to the next hilltop. Fifty-six miles we rode today. Past days have averaged higher – 70 one day, and 106 a couple days ago.
The RAGBRAI ride has been an annual event crossing Iowa for 45 years. Preparation and pageantry abound. The variety of team jerseys never ends. Private support vehicles follow in a miles-long procession. Dozens of concierge support groups provide custom camp services. This is an annual destination for many people. Families with little kids, some in two-wheel trailers or single-wheel cycling trailers interspersed with bikers fit, average and wide, riding the best and fastest bikes and bikes that spend most of the time hanging in garages. There was a turn-of-the-century high-wheelers, a garage-welded two-story bike and a number of vehicles best described as pedal-driven parade floats. Bikes get decorated and people costume up, too.
RAGBRAI riders come from all over the country. Some come for the whole week; others for a day or two. Our group was made up of several of us who rode across the country in 2013. We wanted to do a reunion ride together. I first heard of this ride when we rode through Iowa and people mistook our Mercyrider.org group for RAGBRAI riders. Brother and sister Barb and Greg Duffner are here, Jimmy “The Greek” Andricopolous and I represent our transcontinental team. Barb’s friend Bill Jenkins is with us, too. Mercy Rider Bill Goldsmith and would-be rider Jim Gott were supposed to be here with us – Bill had to drop out because of blood clots in his legs. Jim baled at the last minute because of business issues. I was supposed to sleep in Jim’s tent; on impulse I threw my two-man tent in my gear bag. Good thing! We are sadly missing Emil and Michelle McCauley and Claire Reingold.
Cities and towns vie for the opportunity to play route host for RAGBRAI, either as part of the ride or as a destination. This night Wednesday night we stayed in Charles City, all 17,000 of us. I wonder at the economic boost this ride must give to host cities. And to the small towns. Yesterday, we passed through the Town of Wesley, population 427. It was quite the breakfast stop, with all you could eat pancake and sausage served at the county volunteer fire department buildings. Food and gear vendors follow the course and set up in this and of the route’s towns to service the immense hoard as it flows through. Today I ate a delicious and huge Tom’s Smoked Turkey leg and drank a mango protein shake. Tomorrow I’m on the lookout for what was described as an other-worldly pies prepared and baked at roadside by Amish women. Other tables and tents dot the route, in fields and front yards, selling drinks and snacks, making money or supporting causes, large, for ALS prevention or small, building a college fund.
It rained this day. Those who closely watch the weather left earlier than usual, 5 a.m. instead of the usual 5:30 – 6:30 a.m. slot. We left after breakfasting about 8:30. I lost contact with our team when I stopped for a banana and postcards at a roadside Iowa Conservation Association tent. I dashed off messages to kids and they promised to mail them. I saw the storm cloud closing in; a light sprinkle began and soon became a torrent, running through my helmet and downspouting into my right eye, making it hard to see. Thankfully the 75 degree temperature kept the chill from my soaked body, though 10 minutes of light hail kept things interesting. The downpour lessoned and lighter rain fell off and on from cloud bands for the last two hours until we arrived at camp.
Tom and Lynn have been running OOS concierge camping service for 15 years. “Out Of State” camping has a full team of people who carry our tents and equipment to each destination city every day. Theirs is one of several services which offer extra amenities that the RAGBRAI basic campgrounds lack. Tom immediately begins scouting the route, just after it is announced in January, to find and reserve the best tent sites. His kids help out with the services.
We found a Chinese buffet to eat in the evening, and did some laundry. We have not fully imbibed of the party atmosphere each overnight city hosts, with bands playing all over the city, and craft beer overflowing everywhere. I had my first mid-ride beer yesterday. You can find an alcoholic beverage every few miles if you want, and many, many do.
As I prepare to go to sleep tonight, the sounds of a live band can be heard wafting into our small neighborhood park which is our campsite. Tomorrow morning the sound of tent flaps unzipping and departure preparations will push through my earplugs gain about 5:30 a.m. The 55-mile ride day is predicted partly cloudy and, thankfully, unseasonably cooler than the normal 90-100 degree heat that normally broils Iowa in July. Each day I have enjoyed more than the last. I think I may need to do this again.