The first noise I heard on waking up Sunday morning for the start of Ragbrai was the rumble of thunder. Not good - but thankfully, the storm was a bit away and we were able to watch it harmless drift by as we slipped (okay - squished more then slipped. Biking shorts really don't get 'slipped' into) into riding clothes and loaded up our bikes.
Honestly, even after 7 days of riding in such a big pack of riders, I am still rather amazed at how well it all flowed and worked.
I think one of the key factors is the 'unofficial' starts. Riders get up and ride pretty much whenever they feel like it. That - and stops of varying lengths along the route - result in a stream of riders stretching out over about 7 hours. In our 7 days and 406 miles of riding we never saw the front or back of the stream. Amazing doesn't begin to describe it.
The 'pack' also communicated VERY well. The pretty standard, "on your left", "on your right", "in between" was supplemented with "rider up" (cyclist riding against the flow of traffic), "car up" (car coming against the flow of traffic), "car back" (car coming up from behind), "rider on" (biker coming into the flow of cyclists), "rider off" (rider pulling out of the pack"), "rumbles" (rumble strips on road).
Just a couple other 'logistic' notes - for the most part the roads were closed for the seven hours or so that the ride flowed over them, but obviously some traffic - including ambulances and police cars - need to get up and down them. A few of the busier roads had only the right lane closed.
Ragbrai has it's very own assignment of Iowa State Troopers
Pace lines are discouraged, but there were still many of them on the course - some made up of particular teams and some just opportunistic individuals falling in line with each other (I'll confess to getting up the courage to join in a couple on the latter days of the ride). By far the majority of them were no problem to travel with. You could usually hear their fast traveling wheels approaching - and the smart teams had one member with speakers on playing music to ride to that also announced their approach.
A whole whooping 4 miles in Historic Downtown Council Bluffs had rolled out the welcome mat for the riders. Helen and I had no coffee in our system that morning, so not stopping was NOT an option. We pulled in and had lattes and a touch to eat. I actually had a PayDay bar (LOVE PayDays and they are not available in Canada - so I like to indulge a bit when I'm in the US) - and that proved to be the only piece of food I packed on my bike and ate the entire week. It quickly became apparent that food and drink was almost always readily available on course.
Coming out of Council Bluffs we met our first Iowa hill. I know, some of you are laughing. "Hills in Iowa!!!" Yes, I saw "Field of Dreams" too and I was pretty sure you could see straight across the state if it weren't for the tall corn - or that, like Saskatchewan, it was a place you could watch your dog run away for 3 days. Let me tell you - NOT SO!! Make NO MISTAKE there are A LOT of hills in Iowa. We had 15,000 feet of altitude gain in the 406 miles of riding. That is more then similar type of events in even Colorado.
I panted up the hill and was a bit concerned that I wasn't stronger on the climb. Turns out that I found something out about myself on this ride (well A LOT actually. This was just one thing I found out). Like my dog team, I am a slow starter (no, I do not think that is a coincidence). I panted up the first hill every morning and after every long break, but once I found my rhythm I would get stronger as the miles went on. Who knew?
We arrived in Underwood wide eyed at all the commotion. Bike repair stations, strings of porta potties, food vendors, bike shop vendors, and people everywhere!!! Wow!!
We consulted our 'Shelly provided maps' and easily found our way to the home of Bev Shriver, who was making breakfast for us and the LC Titans. We gratefully munched away on fruit, muffins, eggs, and more. Happily washing it all down with coffee and lots of water.
Helen and I stopped to pose for a few pictures in the corn fields that surrounded the Shriver home before saddling up again.
|Tap dancing for the masses!|
And the food....oh the food!!!! Almost everything was 'farm to fork' - and delicious!!! Even though Helen and I had eaten just 5 miles ago, we still sampled some!
|Oh .... the pie!|
|Rolling out pizza dough. The dough was made on site and rising in 5 gallon buckets next to the ovens.|
We definitely got better at resisting food as the week went on, but we also wanted to make sure we sampled as much as we could over the course of the ride!
The remaining 30 miles rolled by very well. It was hot - especially by my standards. I was sweating buckets and could feel my skin burning in a few spots, but I was still pedaling well with no 'issues' to speak of!
|That's Helen in blue in the middle of the picture.|
|Town decorations in Shelby|
We stopped for some water and Gatorade, but passed up homemade ice cream and other delectables!!!
When we arrived in Harlan we managed to get a bit lost trying to find our host family and ended up touring town and a bit of the next day's route before sorting out our map.
Shelly was waiting in the back yard of Charlie and Jonell Conrad's house for us. They had graciously opened their yard and home to the 'Winter Chicks' and the riders of LC Titans.
We drank a bunch of stuff, showered, drank a bunch of stuff and eventually drifted downtown to find dinner and listen to a bit of music.
Shelly and I ended up in a bar for a bit, but it turned out to be too rowdy for us old, married women. About the time guys started dropping their bike shorts, we headed for the door.
Back at Conrad's we had a few beers and chatted with Lu (SAG driver for the Titans - and good friend of Shelly's) and her crew.
A very enjoyable evening. We all eventually drifted off to our sleeping bags and called it a good day!!!