Ginormous Des Moines Farmers Market

Des Moines Farmers MArketI thought I have seen some really big Farmers’ Markets, but nothing in my experience rivals the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market in downtown Des Moines. Wow. It stretches from the riverwalk to the Courthouse. and goes down at least a block in each direction on every cross street. My cousins and I spent a Saturday morning taking it all in.

There is a fairly large Amish community in Iowa. They had baking stalls at the Farmers' Market and along the RAGBRAI route.
There are a fair number of Amish communities in Iowa. These women had baking stalls at the Farmers’ Market and others set up along the RAGBRAI route.

We ate breakfast, stopped at Java Joe’s for a cup of coffee and checked out the entertainment as we slowly strolled the grounds.

Steel drum band next to the Amish basket and craft booth.
Steel drum band next to the Amish basket and craft booth.

The diversity in Iowa is “white diversity” with different religious sects and nationalities. Bluegrass entertainment

Amish craftsDowntown Des Moines appears to be in full renaissance and features a beautifully redeveloped riverwalk. At the end of my visit I enjoyed dining at Centro (also downtown) and could envision spending more time in Des Moines.

Des Moine Riverwalk

I only saw corn and soybeans on my ride through Iowa. They grow these beauties somewhere (besides Cousin Kathy’s huge garden). The Farmers’ Market is a fun outing.

vegetables at Des Moines farmers' marketonions, onions, onions


Even before I finished the seven day bike ride across Iowa known as RAGBRAI, people asked me if I was going to do it again next year. I demurred and said I would not decide until I got home and recovered. As soon as I returned home I began to hear from friends and work colleagues who were so inspired by my adventure they declared their intention to be on my team next year. Oh! Okay.

BBF: Best Bike Friends
BBF: Best Bike Friends. Christi and Kathy met cycling across the US with Adventure Cycling and reunited for RAGBRAI.

Not that their enthusiasm locks me in to riding RAGBRAI 2016 from July 24-30. Since I believe I should be intentional about the adventures I choose and with whom I do them I am taking this space to think through “to RAGBRAI or not to RAGBRAI?” Maybe it will help you decide if this adventure is next for you.

  1. Do you have a team?

I am so thankful to Team Larry for inviting me to be part of their experience for my Virgin RAGBRAI. You can ride solo, but you make it much harder on yourself. If you do not have a Cousin John to invite you to be part of his team, then you can form your own. It makes it easier to compete for registration and it gives you company along the way. We were able to stay at friends of friends houses by camping with tents in their yard and using their bathroom. Some made us dinner, some did not. Your team may choose to use one of the support tour companies that provide various levels of support. Some teams were all about getting their drink on–all day and all night. Others were more about getting their sleep on at night.

The other key team member is your support driver (or SAG). I could not have completed my RAGBRAI experience without Lane from Atlanta and her nurturing and logistical support.

2.  Do you have time to train?

I spent 10-12 hours a week riding my bike in the months leading up to RAGBRAI to get my recommended 1000 miles of training. I fell a little short, especially of hilly rides. I will travel to Sonoma and Marin to log some more Iowa like miles if I ride again next year. The fitness benefits made it a great investment of my time. And I enjoyed it.

Team Larry members head out to the RAGBRAI route  at 7:00 a.m.
Team Larry members head out to the RAGBRAI route at 7:00 a.m. 

3. Is it in your budget?

RAGBRAI fees are low–just $160 in 2015. Jerseys and other stuff is optional. I paid $225 into the Team Larry kitty for the van/gas, alcohol, snacks and the occasional pizza. The real expense was for equipment and transportation for me and my bike from Sacramento to Des Moines. As a consultant I have to factor in lost earning opportunity. It would have been impossible to work remotely because of the crap wifi in rural Iowa and the mushy brain after 8+ hours on the bike. Maybe you have to decide if it is worth using your precious paid vacation leave. If you already own a decent road bike (some people even used hybrids), then this is an affordable adventure.

The Intangibles

I totally understand how RAGBRAI becomes a yearly event for A LOT of people. It motivates you to get back in shape. You spend quantity time on your bike. My bike skills and speed improved dramatically this year because of RAGBRAI. You meet great people and have a ton of fun.

I am leaning heavily toward forming a team and going back for 2016.

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.

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.

#RAGBRAI or Bust

Today I started in Des Moines, participating in #PieperFamilyPalooza. We went to the Des Moines Farmers Market. I have many pictures so I will post at a later date. (I am determined to post daily during RAGBRAI and if today is any indication I will have to make it short and sweet.) My cousin John Wagner picked me up about 11:00 a.m. and we headed to Barb and Steve’s aka Team Larry Headquarters. After several hours of gathering, loading and eating we hit the road for Sioux City.

Christi was the first team member to collect her wristband and bikeband.
Christi was the first team member to collect her wristband and bikeband.

Sometime I’ll have to come back and see the Lewis and Clark Expedition museum and enjoy the downtown. Tonight was about getting acquainted with Team Larry and learning to set up my tent. We did not walk to dinner until around 8 p.m.  Our group is about 23 people and on the 20th anniversary ride for Team Larry, the tag-line “herding cats since 1996” is well deserved. Great bunch of people.

Everyone keeps saying tomorrow is the hardest day:  the most hills, a long ride and lots of nervous riders. I better try to get some sleep. Wish me luck.


RAGBRAI starts in 64 days. I am spending at least 8 hours a week in the saddle putting in the miles to prepare for riding 462.2 miles. My biggest effort to date has been 4 consecutive days in Otago, New Zealand. This will be 7 consecutive days and longer time/miles each day.

My odometer turned over to 700 miles on one year anniversary. Good reminder that I am still learning.
My odometer turned over to 700 miles on one year anniversary. Good reminder that I am still learning.

I have to remind myself that I only began riding a road bike last year. In fact I just recently celebrated my first year anniversary on my Trek bike. Before I bought my Trek Lexa, I rode my daughter’s road bike. I did not have clipless pedals though until I was properly fitted on my own road bike. Last weekend my odometer turned over to 700 lifetime miles. I will more than double this training for RAGBRAI.

I read an article in the Sacramento Bee about the trend among the pros for wider tires. Apparently the science has proven what seems counter-intuitive: wider tires are faster, especially on rougher pavement. The thought of trimming time off each day with just an equipment change was worth exploring. The Trek rep at the AMGEN Tour of California thought I could go up to 25 cm. I rode my bike to Patrick at Mike’s Bikes and asked him to outfit my bike. The 25 cm tires fit!

Fat tires are the bomb!
Fat tires are the bomb!

Today I took them out on the American River Parkway and boom! I gained a couple of miles per hour. Last weekend I consistently rode 20 miles in 2 hours (with some interruptions for phone calls). Today I rode 20 miles in an hour and a half. It is also more comfortable and the gears feel easier.

In other preparations, I made my flight and hotel reservations. I am registered with team Larry. I still have some shopping to do and a tent to learn how to set up. Really though, it is all about getting miles in my legs.

#Pieperfest14: RAGBRAI

RAGBRAII first reconnected with the Pieper cousins in June in California, and when I shared that I was a cyclist and going to the Tour de France, they told me about the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). I was intrigued. Then on my Trek Tour, Sandy from Ohio told me more about it and several other people in our group had done it too. They all recommended I give it a go.

I went to Iowa with the resolution of learning as much as I could about RAGBRAI so I could ride it July 2015. If you are not familiar with RAGBRAI (rag- bri), it is the oldest multi-day ride in America. About 10,000 riders cycle from the Missouri River on one side of Iowa, clear across the state to the Mississippi River in 7 days. Everyone describes it as a moving party.

The route changes every year and it is announced on January 24. The registration is only $160 for the week, and competitive to get a slot. I will increase my chances of getting in if I ride with a team.

When I was in Decorah, Darrel and Betty shared their stories from 13 years of riding RAGBRAI. They have learned over the years to take a motor home. They ride with the Decorah Trolls. They encouraged me to form a team and rent a motor home and ride. I want my kids to come with me and I have a couple of friends who might be interested so that is a possibility.

Then I met my cousin John and he invited me to join Team Larry. They rent a trailer for their gear and bikes and stay at people’s houses and in tents along the way. This is very appealing to get the full experience. (Although my kids are probably snickering at the idea of me sleeping in a tent.) An air mattress will be a must.

Apparently there are also trucks that you can rent for showers and others with bunks. It sounds like the entrepreneurial spirit is inspired during RAGBRAI.

I am already training for my 4 day December ride in New Zealand. I will just keep pedaling so I can ride across Iowa in July.

Have any of you gone on RAGBRAI? Any advice?

#Pieperfest14: Riding the Combine

Cousin Leo's combine
Riding the big red machine was very exciting.

One of the highlights of my time in Stuart was riding a giant combine with Cousin Leo. Everywhere we drove in Iowa we saw corn stalks drying in the field or soybeans dropping their leaves both awaiting harvest. The rain had delayed the schedule a bit.

IMG_3834Leo was anxious to get the combine out and try it out a bit on his own place. I jumped at the offer to go for a ride. The tires are bigger than me and you have to climb up a steep ladder to the cab. The machine is very complex and powerful. The cab is designed with a floating lumbar seat for the driver and relatively quiet.harvesting corn

Leo and Geri make a great team and they were getting the cutter heads onto the front and checking the machine to make sure it was ready for its maiden voyage for 2014. Both of them drive it at different times and they are both knowledgeable about its operation and maintenance. The big red Case International Harvester tractor costs half a million dollars, so it is important to keep the thing running as many years as possible.

Leo and Geri make a great team.

We clampered into the cab and began driving down to the bottom of the first field. Alas one of the chains broke on harvesting part of the machine, so we had to abort our mission. I was impressed that this machine uses a chain much like my the chain on my bike, albeit much bigger. Unfortunately, the parts store sent the wrong size connector so in spite of everyone’s best efforts, we did not get to harvest. Another visit because I am not waiting so long to return to Iowa.

Notice how big the tires! Leo, Jeanette and dog Onyx
Notice how big the tires! Leo, Jeanette and dog Onyx

When they send me the video of them harvesting, I will post it here.

#Pieperfest14: Bridges of Madison County

The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.
The Roseman Bridge starred in the movie Bridges of Madison County.

Truth be told, I never read the book or saw the movie, Bridges of Madison County. Auntie J saw the movie and she was keen to see the covered bridge featured in the film. The Roseman bridge outside Winterset was only about 30 minutes from Stuart.

Photo not by Robert.
One of three bridges we visited in Madison County.

After breakfast we drove over to Winterset and with some difficulty, we found the Roseman covered bridge. It looks like a covered bridge. The gift shop opened while we were there and we had another lovely, warm conversation with the Iowa man running the shop.

He told us we could find an authentic Mexican place in town on the square, and Northside Café (featured in the film). He also gave us good advice on getting to Waukee and getting around the washed out part of the Highway 169.

This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)
This kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime. –Robert (Clint Eastwood)

We finished our walk around the square. There was an intriguing textile store that sold yarn but everything was closed up tight on Sunday.

We drove into Winterset and parked on the square to walk around. We decided since we were going to eat a big dinner and we ate a late breakfast we would just try a piece of pie at the Northside Café. The town boasts a pie festival so we thought the café might offer pie. We both tried the peach pie and it was the worst pie we have eaten, ever. Mushy crust and canned peaches. It did not have any flavor. Not sure if the peanut butter or cherry pie might have been better. My bad for ordering peach pie when the leaves are turning on the trees.

Cafe featured in Bridges of Madison County
Don’t order the pie at Northside Cafe.

On the way out of town we drove across the Cedar bridge and looked at the Hogback bridge. I am glad they have kept them in good repair, although they are more the focal point for local parks than for transportation.

We drove on to Waukee for our last big feast with the cousins. Cousin Annette’s house is a very cool old Victorian style house in “town”. The men watched football, the women fixed food and visited, and the children tried to catch wild kittens.

Cousin Annette's home
Cousin Annette’s home

At the end of the evening we all gathered around the dining room table telling stories and the din of multiple stories and laughter was quite intense. Jeanette and I laughed when we compared it to our quiet gatherings in Petaluma, California. We loved it.

Cousin David graciously drove us back to our Hampton Inn in West Des Moines as our adventure was drawing to a close.

Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins
Oldest to youngest Pieper Cousins (of those present)

#Pieperfest14: Stuart, Iowa

This was formerly a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde.
This was formerly a bank robbed by Bonnie and Clyde.

In my mind Stuart, Iowa is mecca for #Pieperfest14. Our cousins live in West Des Moines, Pella, Waukee and Decorah; however, Great-Grandma Pieper lived in Stuart (technically Dexter) so it is where all roads lead. Just off of Interstate 80, it is easy to reach.

Cousins Leo and Geri bought Grandma’s place and remodeled it. We can still find many traces of Grandma’s simple life in the pitch of a roof, or the lilac bushes in the yard. It is not hard to find, yet our gracious cousins met us at the Americinn where we dropped our bags and had us follow them out there. We enjoyed a big steak feed, toured the old home place and looked at Geri’s homemade quilts.

I love the bumblebee fabric!
I love the bumblebee fabric!

The next day we had our first relaxed morning and went into Stuart to take pictures of the former bank where Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank. Later at Marty and Sandy’s lunch, Cousin Bob told me how late Uncle Marvin unknowingly pulled Bonnie and Clyde’s car out of a ditch, and where in Dexter many of the gang were killed in a shootout. Jesse James’ gang also raised a ruckus in these parts.

We had a great time catching up with various cousins including Mary who always was so sweet to me when I was little. Jeanette and some others went to the cemetery in Anita.

The Catholic church burned and was restored and made into a community center.
The Catholic church burned and was restored and made into a community center. Isn’t it pretty?

We all ended the day around the fire in the fireplace at Marty and Sandy’s. Everyone was just enjoying one another’s company and no one was in a hurry to go home.

Our hosts Cousins Sandy and Marty
Our hosts Cousins Sandy and Marty