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.


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.

So Hard, So Fun: RAGBRAI Day One

he townspeople of Washta are crazy about Minions. There were hay bale minions and these cuties.
The townspeople of Washta are crazy about Minions. There were hay bale minions and these cuties.

Our team packed up by 7 a.m. and bicycled down the road. We were already 3 miles into the ride so we only had to ride 73 miles today–73 rolling miles. It was a personal best: most miles and most elevation. It only took me 10.5 hours with stops. I averaged 6-8 mph on the hills and between 25 and 35 miles on the downhill. It was so hard but people made it fun.

First there was the other riders. Many of them eternal optimists. We would be slogging up another hill and someone would cheerfully say, “At least it is not as hot as last week.” Or “This is the hardest day so the rest of the week will be great.” Everyone is so friendly. And there are a lot of characters:  guys in kilts, people with funny stuff on their helmets. My favorite helmet was Team Spam with their Spam cans strapped on their helmets and their SPAM jerseys saying “crazy tasty”.

The host towns then go the extra mile to make us welcome (and for their nonprofits to make money): Church ladies making pies, volunteer fire departments turning the fire station into a beer garden. Farmers along the way (especially at hilltops) offer everything from pork chops to breakfast burritos. Boy Scouts sell water and several high school students sold pickles or gatorade to raise money for their trip to Washington, DC.  Plus the towns decorate to make us feel welcome with flags and bicycles hanging from tractor buckets. Its like the Tour de France only the towns and farms are neat as pins in Iowa.

There were so many long hills that I found myself texting Sarah Harriet for coaching. What do you do when you start feeling the lactic acid build up in your legs? Rest every 5 or 6 miles. Keep drinking water. I followed her advice and I made it to Storm Lake! You know you are tired though when you stop at a cemetery because there is lawn and shade. Now my teammates are ready to party so I will sign off.

Louise from Bemidji says hi.

#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.