7 RAGBRAI Lessons: Wisdom Revealed

1. Be part of a team.

A team is not required to participate in RAGBRAI, but why do it alone? I appreciated Team Larry in the morning when they got me going by 7 a.m. I appreciated them when I rode with a member along the way. I really appreciated them when I got done at the end of the day and we swapped stories. I learned so much from the hundreds of years of experience of the collective team.

RAGBRAI Team Larry 2015

Team Larry 2015

2. Be thankful you have your arms and legs.

Whenever I felt sorry for myself when the lactic acid was building in my legs going uphill, I only needed to look over at the person with no legs pedaling up the hill with their arms, or the tandem bike where one of the people could not use their arms or could not see. If they can overcome those challenges I can deal with a little discomfort.

3. Drink lots of water.

It is so easy to get behind in drinking water. I love Nuun and I drank at least one bottle of water with these magic electrolyte tabs, sometimes two a day. When I substituted diet Coke or beer or chocolate milk I fell behind and got dehydrated. This is the fastest route to getting a headache or “hitting the wall.” If it is humid drink even more. Similar wisdom: use sunscreen (and keep slathering it on) and use chapstick with UV protection. Get plenty of rest.

Biker catching some z's on floor of fire station.

Biker catching some z’s on floor of fire station.

4. Brake for pie.

There is a National Public Radio team (NPR) that gets lots of attention each year because their team name is No Pie Refused. This is a great philosophy for RAGBRAI. There is so much good pie available and it supports good causes. Tony from Chicago substituted rootbeer floats for pie. I normally brake for pie so RAGBRAI was awesome.

Rhubarb pie a la mode from United Church of Christ in Alden, IA.

Rhubarb pie a la mode from United Church of Christ in Alden, IA.

5. Ask for help.

I found myself wanting to appear tough and self-sufficient to Team Larry, so first I would only text my questions to my daughter. Ultimately I had to ask Cousin Sandy for help finding a dentist, then ask the dentist to come in from the Rotary booth to fix my tooth. And the list goes on. The great thing about RAGBRAI is that people were helping people all around  me: I saw a dad help his younger daughter up hills by putting his hand gently on her back to help her uphill; I witnessed members of the Air Force Cycling Team helping women change their flat tires; and lots of local town volunteers were ready to help with directions or other assistance. Ask for help and graciously accept it when it is offered.

6. Be open to new experiences.

Try new foods like chocolate dipped bacon. Or stop for the slip n slide or the car museum. Talk to the person next to you on the road. Eat with the person you just met in line. Good stuff happens when you remain open and present to what is happening in this moment.

Chocolate dipped bacon is amazing!

Chocolate dipped bacon is amazing!

7. Unplug, but not the coffee.

There is very little cell coverage in rural Iowa, so I enjoyed this excuse and disconnected from the news and thinking about work.

These volunteers had the best intentions of providing free coffee--except they blew a fuse and so no coffee.

These volunteers had the best intentions of providing free coffee–except they blew a fuse and so no coffee.

Bonus wisdom: Enjoy the view. It may not be changing much but you are outdoors, it is green, and you are on your bike. And as the great Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish says, Any day on your bike beats a day working in a bank.

Corn fields and more corn fields make up the dominant view.

Corn fields and more corn fields make up the dominant view.

RAGBRAI Finale, Day 7 Woohoo!

American Julie with Hawkeye at University of Iowa.

American Julie with Hawkeye at University of Iowa.

Who turned on the sauna? I thought it was humid before today, but oh my! I was wrong. Today was like hot yoga on my bike. I still enjoyed the 26 miles I rode before meeting up with Team Larry.

We left at 7 a.m. and I wrote the first 10 or more miles with Steve from Team Larry and got to hear his many life stories. I appreciate that he can talk while going uphill. I especially liked seeing the Iowa University campus in Iowa City. I was moaning about how hard the hills felt and then I met a young man who is cycling whilst towing a canoe. He is doing it to raise awareness and money for ALS research. He said he likes towing his canoe around on his bike and when he gets tired of traffic he lloads his bike and trailer onto his canoe and pedals awhile. He added that he gets tired of people staring at him with his canoe and he lost a friend to ALS in 2014 so he painted the ALS web address to basically make him seem less odd. Anyway he reminded me that it is easier to go uphill when you can use both your arms and legs. Good perspective.

Humidity and bike shorts do not get along.

Humidity and bike shorts do not get along.

Steve stopped to pee in a cornrow and I decided to keep riding to the Farmboys pop up restaurant and use the porta-potties. You know it is humid when you cannot pull your cycling shorts back on. Awkward. Even with all of the adjusting I was not able to get my chamois aligned. Fortunately I only had 6 to 8 miles left to ride.

Team Larry SAG support Lane from Atlanta met me in West Liberty and drove me to the Team Larry meet-up. In Wilton we shifted my bike and our van set off for Des Moines. A third of Team Larry did not ride at all, a third rode to the end at Davenport, and a third of us rode part of the way. People have a variety of schedules to meet.

On the way home we stopped in Grinnell and ate great food at Montgomery’s Sandwich Shop (one of the original Made-Rite restaurants). It was fun and tasty. Good thing one of these restaurants is not in my home town or I would weigh a ton.

Loved Montgomery's in Grinnell, IA

Loved Montgomery’s in Grinnell, IA

We arrived at Steve and Barb’s in Des Moines and unloaded the gear. We all said good-bye and Cousin John brought me to the Hampton Inn. Blame it on RAGBRAI brain but I thought my key was not working and when I got back to the front desk I realized it was room 208 not 206.

I am now showered and relaxing and listening to the Satellite Sisters podcast. I am so exhausted and I have such a good feeling of accomplishment.

Rock N Roll RAGBRAI Day 6

American Julie with part of Team LarryThis morning was cool and cloudy—perfect for riding! I decided to ride the first half only to stay on track with my recovery. I was confident that I could get to the meeting town in Mt. Vernon between 10 and 11 before it got hot.

There was a crazy number of people and we could not spread out across the street because the traffic control was not as thorough and the drivers much more impatient. It made for some challenges.

Drum and Pipe band in Mt. VernonThe towns between Hiawatha and Mt. Vernon were really small and unprepared to cope with so many people, so I made short stops, ate my almonds and raisins and kept pedaling.

Thousands and thousands of cyclists converge in Mt. Vernon for rest and recreation.

Thousands and thousands of cyclists converge in Mt. Vernon for rest and recreation.

I felt good and I kept telling myself that 32 miles is like a typical training ride. I also ran into some Team Larry folks and enjoyed getting to know Mike and Carol better. I also played leapfrog with Theresa from Iowa.

We were welcomed lots of enthusiastic residents and even a pipe and drum band as we pedaled into the beautiful little town of Mt. Vernon. It is a college town—home of Cornell College. I learned it was one of two colleges in the nation that students enroll in one course at t time.

I met up with Phyllis and Lane and ate breakfast at a real café! We explored the former intermediate school that was turned into antique shops and art galleries and a community library. The sky broke open while we were browsing and slowed to a drizzle by the time we headed to the truck.

We are staying with Marlene in Coralville. She has a beautiful home but no yard so we are sleeping on her floor instead of pitching our tents. No one is sorry. We arrived, took showers and proceeded to watch a marathon of HGTV Love It or List It. Afterall, we are on vacation. As other team members arrived we were smug in the knowledge that we missed the 20-30 worst miles of the week’s route: long, steep hills with twists and turns in rain.

Some people already had to leave for other commitments, so we were just 16 for dinner at the Iowa River Power restaurant fine dining establishment. It is on a river and next to a dam and a great atmosphere. After dinner we walked out on the dam and listened to Cheap Trick perform at the RAGBRAI concert. We went to Dairy Queen afterward and the poor beleaguered teenager who was working the register watched as her visions of leaving early evaporated upon our arrival.

Tomorrow almost everyone wants to stop at the meeting town—about 41 miles in—so we can pack up and get back to Des Moines by evening. Two team members have to keep driving another 4 hours to return the van in Minneapolis.

I can hardly believe that this adventure is coming to a close. Ted said at dinner that RAGBRAI is like summer camp for adults–camp on steroids. We laughed a lot together tonight. We have celebrated 3 birthdays multiple times. We have inside jokes. We have suffered together and this makes a tight bond. I will miss these characters on Sunday.

Enjoying Team Larry RAGBRAI Day 5

Vinton, IAI was planning to ride from Vinton (the meeting town) to Hiawatha. This allowed a group of us to relax in the morning and enjoy the town before the hoards of cyclists invade.

Corn in VintonWe walked around town while the vendors set up. All of the pie choices were available. Usually by the time I get to a rest stop there is only one or two choices left.

Pie menuWe went to the 5th Street Koffee Haus and ordered espresso drinks. First latte this week and it was delicious. We met a cyclist who left Cedar Falls at 5:30 a.m. so he could avoid the crowds and ride on his own. After he left we laughed at the idea of signing up for RAGBRAI but not enjoying people.

About 10:45 I mounted my bike and set off. I did not feel right and after two hills and facing another long, long one, I pulled up under the only shade tree for a few miles to weigh my options. While I was standing there another cyclists pulled up alongside and began telling me about his sponsor. I finally tuned in and realized that his sponsor was Absolut vodka. I laughed and asked what it entailed. He handed me a little bottle of vodka and an Absolut sticker and explained that they provide him a case of little bottles and a case of big bottles and his main job is to share. I thought of Team Larry and wondered if Bombay Sapphire gin already has a team.Vinton, IA RAGBRAI

I rode back to Vinton and got to appreciate how much work the town did to make the RAGBRAI experience fun for townsfolk and riders. Then I found Lane, one of the Team Larry SAG drivers and hitched a ride with the support vehicle to our host family. This host family is really rolling out the red carpet: homemade ham balls, potato salad, two kinds of pie, and scotcharoos.

The Park District set up a series of games including giant beer pong, jenga, and bean bag toss.

The Park District set up a series of games including giant beer pong, jenga, and bean bag toss.

I am really still dehydrated from yesterday and it is frustrating not to have the energy to ride today. The upside is the chance to get to know some of my teammates better.

Slip-n-Slide

Slip-n-Slide

Hump Day RAGBRAI Day 4

Nancy and me at fire stationLast night we slept little because of the concert in town and then people coming home from the concert. We took off about 7:15 a.m. and worked our way through the bike congestion in Eldora.

I chatted briefly with an Australian cyclist from Perth. Then I caught up with team member Nancy. We rode the first 20 miles together at a smart clip. We stopped briefly at the first town and the 6 coffee pots had blown a fuse so no coffee. We were on our way to collect our bikes and I ran into Tony from Chicago. So you never know on RAGBRAI.

Nancy and I did stop at Chris Cakes for pancakes in Ackley. It was in the Volunteer Fire Department main bays and it was a fun atmosphere. The cooks tossed pancakes into the line every once in a while! I met Steve from Chicago and he joined our group from Team Larry for breakfast. Bacon on the roadThe towns were closer together today and this hump day is also the shortest–just 62 miles to my host family in Cedar Rapids. Nancy moved on at a faster pace after a few more miles. We had more long rolling hills. It feels like the uphill to downhill ratio is 2:1.

I stopped in Aplington and indulged in the chocolate dipped bacon. It is delicious and the creator Karen is going to send me the recipe.

At this point I decided to go all in and get the walking taco or taco in a bag. I had fun talking to a group of the US Air Force Cycling Team. They have impressed other riders with how much they have been there for other riders–helping to change tires and offering encouragement to people struggling with the hills.

I stopped again in Parkersburg and enjoyed a piece of pie. Maybe I should have eaten some more protein and less sugar because at mile 53 I hit the wall. There were people collapsing from dehydration and falling over. The ambulances were busy. and it was sobering. On one of the steepest hills in the last 7 miles I shifted to the lowest gear and I was still teetering, so I pulled over to the side with a “biker off”. Moments later a woman passed me and then fell over. Her chain broke and may have caused her fall. Suddenly my decision to walk up seemed smart. I struggled all the way home, but I didn’t have to walk again.

I took some time to myself to recover and then enjoyed the convivial Team Larry circle and a delicious homemade dinner from our hosts. And they very kindly let me watch the Tour de France Stage 17 coverage on NBC Sports.

Take a bag of nacho doritos and add seasoned hamburger, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Take a bag of nacho doritos and add seasoned hamburger, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Louise from Bimiji shared with me her experience riding near a woman cycling with her trumpet. At one point she stopped at the top of a long hard hill and played the theme from Rocky for all of the other riders. The impact was tremendous for those struggling up the hill. That is RAGBRAI. Fingers crossed for better sleep and a better day of riding.

Riding Like its a Rest Day RAGBRAI Day Three

Meeting towns are designated so support vehicles can meet teams.

Alden pulled out all of the stops and has been the best meeting town so far.

Today is a rest day on the Tour de France, so I decided to adopt the idea for Day Three. We had another 73 miles (turned into new a new personal best of 76 for me) and I rode it like it was a rest day.

I was tired and little sore but once I got rolling I felt good and I was able to ride with team Lizard Kings at 16 miles an hour for over 5 miles! I stopped at the first town stop and dropped my bike and messed up my gears. So I waited at one of the bike mechanic tents to get it fixed. Just like the pros, my bike got a quickie tune-up.

I had a couple of leads on dentists to glue the crown back on my molar. It came off on Sunday when I was eating some Power Beans by Jelly Belly. I have been chasing after dentists since then. I kept getting answering machines saying they were closed for RAGBRAI or turn downs. My cousin Sandy found a dentist in Webster City. He was working the Rotary breakfast burrito booth but he was willing to meet in Webster City. Dr. Leo Moriarty did a great job and he did not charge me for it.

I gave myself permission to stop as often as I wanted and to eat all of the good things in my path, including rhubarb pie and ice cream, Beekman’s ice cream, and corn on the cob. I also got a massage at the Alden stop.

I had my first RAGBRAI heartbreak. I rode with Tony from Chicago and we had a great conversation. And stopped at Beekman’s for ice cream. We met Terese from Cresco, IA and if we all lived in one place we could be friends. Instead we all climbed on our bikes said so long and rolled on at different speeds. I may never see them again.

It was a long day… 6 hours of riding over 11 hours. Cousin Sandy met John and I and we went to the beautiful Eldora town square for dinner and people watching. We are staying at another friend of a team member and sitting in our circle of chaire there are both fireflies and bats overhead. We can hear the country band downtown and it is a nice atmosphere.

When you see the Verizon service map and it is almost solid red, well rural Iowa is one of the white spots. And when you add 15,000 people trying to make calls and upload data, the internet connection is rubbish. I have tried to upload my photos and I am having technical difficulties. Since it is a rest day I will publish without photos and call it a day.

(photo loaded next day)

Rock and Roll RAGBRAI Day Two

American Julie Day Two quickly became a day of many first time experiences. Storm Lake is aptly named. I woke up at 2 a.m. to the sound of rain falling on my tent. It made packing up a little more challenging, so most of us did not get on the road until 7:30 a.m. A larger than usual group decided to spend the day cruising thrift stores and record stores. The rain was wet but not cold and there was not much wind.

I have only been seriously riding a road bike for about 18 months and all of that time California has been in a drought. I rode 20 miles in the rain today and that is the longest I have ridden in the rain. Again my coach Sarah Harriet gave good advice: watch the road because sometimes holes and other hazards are hard to see. There are these long divots in Iowa roads called rumbles. If you save rumble while you go over them it sounds like “ru-u-um-bl-ble” and does not hurt so much as wake you up. They are in the road to slow people down before a stop and they were invisible in the rain. There were accidents all over and a particularly bad one that required 5 ambulances at the railroad crossing. RAGBRAI first responders asked us to walk our bikes across.

As I rolled into Fonda I was going slow and noticed that a local resident was kindly handing out bottles of water. The guy in front of me rode past her and then decided to stop all of the sudden without warning. I had my hands up on my handlebars and off my brakes and then it felt like slow motion. I went to the left to avoid him and saw the curb and a driveway full of people. I was saying whoa, whoa, whoa and this may have stopped the guy in front of him and I ran into him. We both began falling and thankfully I parted from my bike and kind of rolled. The people on the driveway gave me a 10 for grace. I was not hurt (just a couple of scratches) and my bike was okay. So was the other rider. The rider who started the commotion was extremely apologetic.  This was my first RAGBRAI fall and the first on a road bike.

American JulieI bought a piece of consolation strawberry-rhubarb pie in Fonda and tepid cup of coffee. The next 10 miles was a challenge because I was soaked from the rain and there was a hearty breeze chilling me. My legs felt leaden. When the sun came out I stopped to apply sunscreen. I met Paul and Liam, originally from Galway and now from Iowa. We had a lovely wee chat. I climbed back on my bike and set off and then had my first lengthy conversation with another rider–Lisa from Iowa who is riding her first RAGBRAI since claiming victory over breast cancer.

Team member Andrea Rooney from Horton, Iowa has a thing for Amish men. There were several roadside stands run by Amish people. I was curious and trying not to stare. On the second booth a woman with “Princess” on her bike and a crown on her helmet started shouting to the folks on the side of the road. “Do you have donuts? Do you have donuts?” Then she and her riding buddy started to wax eloquent about how good Amish donuts taste. I caught up with them and asked why they are special. They are like Krispy Kreme only better. They melt in your mouth.

I also met a fellow USC alumni who graduated in 1984 in Manson. He was an aeronautical engineering major and in ROTC for the Air Force so our paths did not cross. He lives in Massachusetts now and we had a great conversation. Then it was time to move on. I did not try the ham balls also known as meat candy. I thought about it, but I am hoping to avoid my first potty stop in a corn field.

The cruel course designers threw in 4 hills that were real doozies as we climbed into Fort Dodge. We are staying at a gorgeous big home of another friend of Team Larry along with another team. I am writing this post from the most romantic screened porch. The back yard is full of tents and friends and family talking. People in Iowa take politics seriously. Better go join in the fun.