The journal of my adventures bicycling across Iowa with over 10,000 other bicyclists in the 35th Annual RAGBRAI. For pictures I took of the event, please visit hankettrips.shutterfly.com

Sat 21 July 07 - On the Bus ...

Here I am, on the cusp of this year's second grand adventure, worrying about #3 and badly in need of recharging my psychic batteries. And where did I get the notion that taking my first cross-country bus trip in 25 years was the perfect way to start this jaunt?
Life since the Great Lakes Tour has passed in a blur. Beyond haggling over and finalizing details for next month's climb and safari (and getting the dreaded shots for it), it's hard to recall any of my activities. I haven't touched the dulcimer since recording the Camping Song. I barely find time to read the newspaper, much less dig into the growing stack of books on my end table. Numerous computer projects sit in limbo. Even honey-do projects are a challenge to fit in. How have I gotten to this sorry state? And how can I bring my life back into focus?
Now the bus heads north on this state highway in Iowa, rolling over hills and through no-stoplight towns with HyVee store adn Casey min-marts, past amber waves of - is corn considered a grain? - whatever. A few more hours will put me into Rock Rapids, where between ten and fifteen thousand bicyclists eagerly await the 35th edition of the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa - none widely as the RAGBRAI.
THAT EVENING: It's quite the mob scene here - tents and people everywhere - I've heard estimates of 14,000-20,000 bikers and their support teams. A lot of people must still be establishing camp, or turned in early - it didn't seem as crowded as it should have been. Of course, my only point of reference dates from the Walk - the Pendleton Roundup that we stumbled into gets 30,000 or more people.
I Assembled my tent and bike, and helped a few other do so before taking a spin through town. Talked to one local who's lived there over forty years, and grew up nearby. The decorations caught my eye - bicycles cabled onto the lampposts, ten feet above ground. The town also sports many murals on the sides of buildings. One of a street scene gained another dimension with bikes leaned against it. Were those bikes real or painted? For dinner, we visited an all-you-can-eat taco bar - or as my friend Ron quipped, all-you-can-stomach.

Sun 22 July 2007 - One Day Down

Rock Rapids to Spencer: 80.0 mi

'Twas a great sea of humanity, an unending river of lycra, aluminum, and rubber rolling down the road. On rare occasion I may have 30 yards separating me from the next cyclist; through towns the crush was too heavy to even dream of not dismounting.
On such a ride, you see every kind of bike out there: recumbents, tandems, handcycles, even one tandem recumbent with the rear seat a handcycle. One family tooled along on a bicycle built for four; four others passed wearing jerseys resembling Holsteins and their tandems painted in matching cow colors.
I didn't have any fears of not being in shape to handle roughly up to 80 miles daily - I'd averaged that for a week only two months earlier. My vulnerability, though, may be the heat and humidity. (I know why I prefer touring in the spring!) Luckily the morning was cool with a light overcast. By noon it had climbed to 85 degrees, and the breeze strengthened into our faces as the day grew long.

Mon 23 July 2007 - RAGBRAI Moments

Spencer to Humboldt: 79.2 mi

So that's what it must feel like to be in a peloton - riders inches from you in every direction - left, right, front, back - worrying that an ill-timed move by anyone could spark a pileup.
The morning featured several peloton moments, especially when a hill bunched the riders together. Today's ride featured the first rises that I would call hills, whereas yesterday featured only gradual rises that fell short of qualifying. Luckily, they mostly occurred in the morning, when cloudy skies held off the heat.
I though I'd seen it all on the road yesterday - not so. A guy in a banana suit rode by on a recumbent early. A short time later, I passed a bike with a huge sail attached. Since he was heading uphill into a headwind, it didn't seem to be aiding his progress. Late in the day, I cruised with a guy pedaling a tandem by himself - his wife bailed and took a ride forward in the support vehicle for the day.
Today's towns were quite the eclectic bunch. Laurens had a smokig volcano erupting on the main street, attended to by a bicycle god and goddess. Rolfe citizens greeted us wearing grass skirts. Bradgate had a slip-n-slide laid out for riders to cool off on (along with homemade ice cream nearby!).
I know these old bones will never win any races, but occasionally I can impress myself and others. As I approached Havelock, the road flattened. At one point a gaggle of seven or eight bikers - including a couple members of Lance's Livestrong team - zipped by me. As I looked up to see them powering down the road, I noticed a small hill maybe a quarter mile ahead of us. Considering that I HATE shifting gears, a hill like that means one thing to me - speed up on the approach and let the momentum carry me up.
It wasn't even a concious reaction. Without thinking, I tromped on the pedals. WHOOMP! I breezed by the Livestrong bikers and the Air Force Cycling Team like they were riding through molasses, and zipped by others inching up the hill. When I crested, I backed off a tad, and half a minute later another cyclist caught me. "MAN, I'm impressed how you blew by those people on that hill," he exclaimed. "And you loaded with panniers, no less!"
I downplayed it - after all, the panniers held little besides my camera, rain poncho, and spare tubes - but it did surprise even me. We chatted for a few minutes, until he dropped back because my pace was tiring him.

Tues 24 July 2007: The Rhythm of the Ride

Humboldt to Hampton: 73.5 mi

It's always fun to watch for the fun signs. A sampling:
  • "Cinnamon roll relief ahead."
  • "You've pedaled strong / You've pedaled far / You've come a ways / Without your car"
  • "Are you sweating more than a Wyoming hooker on cowboy payday? Cool off at ..."
After a few days on the ride, you get into a groove. You'll identify the food vendors you enjoy and seek them out. (I still need to sample Mr. Pork Chop, Pastafari, and Tender Tom's Turkeys.) You'll establish an eating routine. I hope on the bike at 6 a.m., and ride seven or eight miles To K&K, where I can get a muffin and yogurt, then ride another hour before stopping for a more filling breakfast - maybe a breakfast buffet at the volunteer fire department, or visit the spread laid out every day by Mama Raphael. In the next town I'll get fruit or a smoothie. around 11:00 I'll buy lunch, them homemade ice cream or pie (or both!) on the following stop.
One thing you grow used to is waiting in lines. Everywhere you go is a line. Some of the longest are for the kybos. (I kept seeing and hearing that term, and finally figured out it mean port-a-potty. After I asked around, someone explained where it came from. Not surprisingly, many people taking a bike tour for the first time, after spending so much time on a hard bicycle seat and eating strange foods at stranger times, can get severely backed up. Thus, KYBO is an acronym for 'keep your bowels operating'.) Many people - male and female alike - get tired of waiting to relieve themselves, so they'll roll just outside of town and check out the nearest cornfield.
The time riding between towns passes much faster if you pair up with a rider going at a pace you like. Many bikes sport a tag giving the name and hometown of the biker, giving you a good conversation starter. I talked to a guy from Alaska for a few miles. Later I hooked up with a grandfather from Knoxville whose daughter lives in Colorado. I also got to talk with the riders from Uganda who'd been written about in the papers.
Once again, the towns entertained us, with Eagle Grove ranking as the most entertaining. From the kid in the eagle costume sitting in the tree, to the classic cars lining the road; from the townspeople dressed up as Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, and Otis (with Andy Griffith theme music playing in the background) to the Elvis impersonator, it kept me smiling.
Late in the day I had an extremely rare RAGBRAI experience: I was leading, not following! I was ready for my last sprint of the day when the railroad crossing gates came down in front of me. By the time the train passed, the road in front of me had no bicyclists left on it! For the next 3/4 of a mile I led, until a pace line overtook me.

Wed 25 July 2007: Giving in to the RAGBRAI Experience

Hampton to Cedar Falls: 68.4 mi

Interesting sights:
Two girls riding together, with one pulling a trailer that hosted her dachshund, who stood up and looked around at the sea of bikers passing it. I told them they needed to teach the dog to pedal.
An older recumbent rider solved the problem of no power going uphill. He attached a hockey stick to his bike and wrote 'Push-me Paddle' on it. When I rolled by on a hill, he had a biker helping push him up the incline.
As teh wekk rolls on, the riders tend to spread out further. Even some of the teams lose their precision. Take the Fork More Pork team: on the first or second day, they kept passing me in a tight formation, two abreast, three deep. Today they barely formed a ragged pace line as they sped by.
Today also featured a signature RAGBRAI moment that will surely survive in RAGBRAI lore. In Applington, where the organizers had arranged local talent to provide entertainment on stage, they welcomed up a rider with plastic roses stuck in his bike helmet. In front of the raucous crowd, he belted out an offkey version of The RAGBRAI Theme, sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad:
I've been riding in the RAGBRAI, all the live-long day
I've been rolling past the cornfields, just to pass the time away
Can't you hear the firemen calling, "Try our breakfast buffet!"
Can't you smell old Mr. Pork Chop, and the Fair Trade coffee
Kybo won't you stand, kybo won't you stand, kybo won't you stand in line
Kybo won't you stand, kybo won't you stand, kybo won't you stand in line
Someone's on the tandem with Johnny, someone's on the tandem we know
Someone's on the tandem with Johnny, and she's just pretending to stroke
Singing, fee, fi, fruit smoothie, oh
Homemade pie, breakfast burrito
Mama Raphael, Pastafari, ooooh
Then it's back on that hard seat and go!
I left the stage to thunderous applause (okay, a bit of clapping and lots of laughing) - everyone loves it when someone else makes a fool of themselves. One girl rushed up to me and asked me to sign her helmet. Later, while cycling to the next town, a couple of riders thanked me for the entertainment.

Thurs 26 July 2007: Winding Down the Miles

Cedar Falls to INdependence: 65.7 mi

As I continue my quest to lock down official RAGBRAI-nut status...
In Dunkertown I found the Des Moines Register vehicle, so I knocked on the door and got the reporter to interview me - of course, I gave her the lyrics to my theme song. I also (breathelessly, usually) serenaded several riders that I passed on the road. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your viewpoint) I found no stages en route that looked ripe for an official encore.
For a while, I thought my day would end in a disaster. No, I'm not talking about gettin my wheel stuck in a crack in the center of the road, when only luck kept me from losing control and crashing. I'm talking about how in two towns in a row, they'd run out of rhubarb pie! Thankfully Dunkertown had plenty left, saving me from rhubarb withdrawal (it oculd have gotten ugly!).
Our first town for the day was Denver - quite a bit smaller than the one I'm used to. (They say it's the 7th largest Denver in the country!). I loved the logo on the shirts all their volunteers wore: "Ride the Mile-Wide Denver (not the Mile-High one)".
After five days, I'm getting settled into (and slightly bored with?) a routine. The key is to ignore time - forget the torrid pace we run ourselves ragged trying to maintain. SAvor tehmoments in every town - sit and relax whenever you stop.

Fri 27 July 2007: Too Pooped to Pop?

Independence to Dyersville: 67.0 mi

Some days, the zip leaves your sip-a-dee-doo-dah, and you amble along as best you can. I told Ron and Tim that my high-performance engine was knocking due to the low-octane fuel I've been getting. (Too much ethanol, not enough rhubarbol.) For the first time, both of them beat me to camp. I did stop for some good pictures along the way, if that makes a difference. Now we have one final day, with twice the climbing that we've had for much of the week.
To celebrate our imminent finish, we partook of the spaghetti dinner in the town's basilica, followed by listening to the US Army Brass Quintet in concert. Tim and I then went to see the Bicycling Comedian at the high school. This guy is crazier than me - he's bicycled 141,000 miles in the last twenty years. He showed slides of crazy signs he's sign throughout his travels. As he concluded, he emphasized the same point I try to drive home in my talks: the world is nothing like what you see on the 6:00 news.

Sat 28 July 2007: Closing Theme

Dyersville to Bellevue: 57.4 mi

They saved the biggest hills for the end - along with the most awesome scenery. It was a fantastic finish - started earlier and ended earlier, by 11:15 9because the pass-through towns had little to distract us).
I rode with Tim most of the day, and got him to sing along with me on my second RAGBRAI theme song, an adaptation of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain:
She'll be riding in the RAGBRAI when she comes, (repeat)
She'll be riding in the RAGBRAI, It's her favorite way to get high
She'll be riding in the RAGBRAI when she comes
The middle line of the other choruses:
The cornfields will be calling, 'cause the kybo lines are stalling
She'll be riding a recumbent, 'cause that nice seat is heaven-sent
They'll be riding on a tandem, 'cause the solo riders canned 'em
He'll be getting a fruit smoothie, where he hopes to meet a cutie
She'll be grinding on the uphills, Dreaming of the downhill thrills

As I rolled the last mile through Bellevue, I got twice the cheers from the locals lining the streets. I coasted along, belting out the first verus of the new theme paired with a ride-completing verse:
We've biked across Eye-Oh-Way as we've come, Yes, (repeat)
We've biked across Eye-Oh-Way, Yes, we've come a long, hot, hard way
Oh, We've biked across Eye-Oh-Way as we've come

And then I dipped my front tire in the Mighty Mississippi...

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