Today is the last day (Day 7) of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Thousands of people do this ever year, making it Iowa’s biggest event.
After work on Thursday I rode up to nearby North Liberty, where Day 6 was to begin, to meet a friend who had been riding all week. I actually packed my camping gear onto the back of my bicycle so I could pitch a tent and be ready to leave early yesterday morning. Iowa soil is great for planting corn and other crop, but it’s ideal for tent stakes.
So yesterday, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to pack up my tent again and put it on a truck where it would meet me in Tipton, the next overnight stop. I was underway by 5:30 a.m. for a 65 mile bicycle ride.
Pretty cool right? A mile out of North Liberty I busted a spoke. If it were on “Prairie Home Companion”, it would sound like: pedal, pedal, pedal, ka-chunk, “What the…”. Thinking erroneously that this was not a big deal, I tucked it in between another spoke and the hub and, since I couldn’t hear it flailing around as I cycled, forgot about it.
Turns out it didn’t cause me any problems, but after hearing some horror stories about broken spokes, I got it fixed in Tipton.
I rode 12 miles before I ate breakfast in Solon, the first stop. When RAGBRAI passes through a town it’s a pretty big deal, and probably a bigger deal as the towns get smaller. Local organizations raise money by selling food and other cyclists, plus there are all sorts of vendors (including repair tents) along the route.
The small communities route the cyclists right through their main streets, making it congested enough so you have to walk through. They make sure you get a good look at their town. Iowans’ political savvy and humor carried over from the caucuses in Lisbon, where we were invited to “Vote with Your Bottle” by tossing our recyclables into a bin marked either Obama or McCain. Lisbon advertised a sauerkraut festival (“Show us your cabbages!” read one sign) for next month.
All of the towns I visited yesterday are within a half-hour drive of where I live, but I’ve rarely if ever visted them. Mount Vernon, for example, where I took a long break about a third of the way along the route is a cute little college town. I’ve driven through it before but never really visited.
Two of the towns in Linn County I had never even heard of: Martelle and Morley. In Martelle, a farm auctioneer in a booth greeted us over a loudspeaker and announced directions to parking and toilets.
While Martelle and Morley are both small, Morley is by far the smallest. The streets are gravel. There wasn’t much sign of commercial activity except for the grain elevator. However, it had a massive public edifice the size of an airplane hangar, the Morley Community Building, where we could use the toilets and buy snacks. I didn’t go in but I heard there was a gym in there. A man out in front filled our water bottles for free. Now that I think about it I should have asked him more about the building.
I was a little surprised by the amount of complaining I heard from the riders. As we were leaving Morley I heard someone say–in the presence of one of the young locals directing traffic– that “this town sucks”. I wonder what the hell kind of town they were expecting to find every ten miles in Iowa. I give Morley a thumbs up.
This was all before lunch. I got to Mechanicsville–fifty miles into the day–by about one o’clock. I took another long break and had a good lunch at North Cedar Elementary School, where they were serving baked potatoes and watermelons in the cafeteria. The lunch tables were so small that I laughed when I sat down.
By now I was getting a little tired and sore. The weather really helped me out though, it was cool and cloudy with almost no wind. Had it been either hotter or with strong headwinds I would have had a rougher time. My butt was pretty swollen though in tolerable condition, but my knee was hurting. I have bad knees and they act up at the worst times.
I had to pee a lot. This goes with drinking a lot of water like you are supposed to, but it’s not comfortable to feel like peeing half the day. Corn grows really tall in Iowa, as I’m sure you know, and cornfields make perfect pit stops because you can literally disappear into them. But they are also on private property and they are our food supply, so I have some misgivings about people peeing in them. Despite my best efforts, I did stop to pee in a cornfield between Mechanicsville and Tipton, at fifteen miles the longest leg of the route. Sorry. Wash your corn before you eat it.
I rolled into Tipton at four o’clock. I treated myself to some ice cream as a reward for completing 65 miles, my new personal high. Bill pointed out that I can claim a “metric century”, a century being the term cyclists use for 100-mile rides. We pitched tents and ate food, then I got my spoke fixed at a repair tent. The showers closed before I could get to them, so I felt like a disgusting oily mess this morning when I woke up.
I had the option of riding another 50 or so miles to LeClere on the Mississippi River today but I decided to ride the 26 miles back home instead to give my knee an earlier rest. Otherwise I feel pretty good. In fact I was really jazzed after I got home this morning. I had ridden 100 miles since 6:00 p.m. on Thursday. My knee feels better now (this may be the ibuprofen talking) and though I’m tired and sore I’m not debilitated. I could have done the rest of the ride to LeClere. Next year I’ll do some more.