Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Which RAGBRAI Teaches About Limits

Can I get a discount? Sign at community college campus in Emmetsburg, where I had a dorm room and a shower, thank you Cate.

Well, it was an odd day Tuesday on RAGBRAI. There was a north wind, which made for a headwind on maybe 25 percent of the ride—a very strong headwind, too. But, it was a side or back wind on the rest of the ride—so, overall, I would say the wind helped.

And it was humid and warm. But not hot—just warm.

Still, in biking parlance, I was bonking, or I bonked (not sure how to conjugate “to bonk.”). When afternoon came, it wasn't freezing rain, but was just slow Joe, running out of gas.

Which was a bit of a surprise to me. I've biked around 1,700 miles this year—far more training miles then I have ever done before RAGBRAI. And Francis was recently tuned, has a new chain, and I've finally learned the importance of keeping my tires well inflated. So the body and the bike should be working better then ever.

They are not.

The bike is fine. The bicycle is willing, but the flesh is weak. In my defense, I had a minor issue Tuesday, in that my cute monster lunch box, which I'm using for my daily supply of snacks, got accidentally left in the support vehicle.

RAGBRAI lesson from Tuesday: All we are is dust in the wind. But at least we can make electricity.

Starvation was not a danger—Cate was with me when I rode and shared snacks and there is food galore along the RAGBRAI route—but I did not have my usual snacks nor my electrolyte drinks. The lack of the drink, I think, may have helped run me down more than expected.

So near the end of Tuesday's approximately 80-some miles, I was beat, whipped, worn out. I did not sag, but did have to rest for some time in the shade before the final town, and take it very easy for the last 15 or so miles—as the afternoon wore into evening, I had to take care not to hurry. I did not finish the ride until close to 7 p.m., way too late.

And to think that before RAGBRAI I toyed with the idea of riding 100 miles in a day this year.

I don't think I would do that, now. At the moment, it's beyond my capacity, and while working myself and getting good exercise are all good things, I also think paying attention to limits makes some sense.

So I drove Wednesday instead of riding. I gave myself an extra day of rest, and the driving schedule has been reconfigured so I only have one full day of RAGBRAI to conquer.

Corn. Heck, yes.

It's not exactly the way I wanted to do RAGBRAI, but I think doing RAGBRAI requires an ability to reshape plans to fit reality. For the first two years, I rode every mile and was proud of it. But now RAGBRAI is teaching me about limits.

And when I get back home, I plan to schedule a medical checkup. I'm a 55-year-old biker. I've had medical exams before, but never on a regular basis and never when not prompted by some external requirement or event.

RAGBRAI is teaching me to pay a bit more attention to my corporal shell. A willing spirit requires some strength in the body.

Sister and mermaid. Which is which?

Monday, July 21, 2014

In Which RAGBRAI Tries To Try My Patience

Team Joe, ready to ride July 20 in Rock Valley.
Riding RAGBRAI is a fun way to see some small towns up close.

It's also, let's be honest, a bit of an ordeal. There might be a reason why a bicycle is not the chosen vehicle for most people wanting to travel trans Iowa. Aspects of a bike ride, like unexpected distances, traffic, bugs and the heat, can be problematic.

Eldon Rocca has a RABRAI fashion sense.
So the first day of RAGBRAI proved. We started off from Rock Valley, and getting out of town proved a bit less efficient then expected. Don't get me wrong, Rock Valley, in general, you rocked. The RAGBRAI stop was 99 percent perfect. What wasn't perfect was finding the way out in the morning. In most RAGBRAI day or week start towns, local constables will direct traffic at busy street corners, so it's easy to get information on where you are going. I'm not sure if Rock Valley has any local constables, if so, I did not see them nor see anybody else directing traffic at a corner. Of course, Rock Valley may lack any corner busy enough to require human traffic control, I will concede.

But RAGBRAI bike traffic was huge. Intense. Tight. Two-wheeled rush hour, like nothing I've ever seen before on day one of RAGBRAI. I don't know what karma you had, Rock Valley, but you drew us bikers in by the thousands.

Heavy traffic for day 1. A hill climb early in the ride.

Well, that just delayed our departure a bit. That did not try my patience very much. The day was delightful—the wind from the south perhaps a bit strong, but a cross breeze beats a headwind any day. The small towns greeted us in typical RAGBRAI fashion, and we enjoyed pie and other RAGBRAI fare. Breakfast at a Reformed Dutch Christian Church, or something like that, in Hull was wonderful.

When we got to Sheldon, we had to walk through a gauntlet of slapping flags to get to food, but it was worth it. The meet up was super easy.

The afternoon wore on a bit. The meet up was less than halfway through the route, and the miles seemed to pile up.  Finally, around 7, we pulled into Milford and thought “80 miles, job well done!”

Then Cate checked her GPS. “Ha, ha,” it said (it's programmed to say that, or it should be), “you suckers have 13 more miles to go on top of the 80 or so you've already ridden. And it will be getting dark and I'll, just for fun, direct you down some gravel roads just to show what we GPS computers think of your silly bikes and trikes!”

Really, GPS? Gravel? And hill? At sunset? Riding hilly gravel at sunset is your idea of fun?

OK, those final miles did indeed try my patience a bit. Besides the gravel and the scary highways, parts of those miles were excellent—under different conditions, I'd like to come back to the Okiboji area and ride its trails. And spray better with bug repellent first.

Well, we finally found our host. And it was a nice couple who have part of a triplex on the lake. The bugs were hungry (and well sated by the time they got done with us), but the scenery and hospitality were excellent.

Sun rises at Spirit Lake. Beautiful start to Monday.

Today, Monday, was my driving (and blogging) day.

Tuesday is the century loop. I'm honestly leaning against it. I always said it would depend on conditions, and it has gotten very hot and humid—the 80 plus miles of the regular ride may be challenge enough. The loop may have to wait for a cooler year.

Besides, I don't have as much to prove. I rode almost 100 miles on the first day, even though I had not planned on it.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Which We Get Ready To Ride

Sign that welcomed our team to its camp site.

We all gathered in Rock Valley today. Susan put some devices on her bike, I lubed my chain and we all painted the shirts that Eldon brought. Amanda, thank you, the shirts are awsome.

Before Eldon and Brigid arrived, Cate, Susan and I dined nicely in a Mexican restaurant downtown. It was a pretty authentic place. Later, all of us visted the bike expo and got our route maps. Susan picked up passed for the two guest riders who will be with us for part of the week.

Our hosts, Tammy and Mark,  have been very  nice, provided us with drinks and snacks. So far, camping in someone's yard seems to beat the main campground by far.

The town of Rock Valley is recovering from a devastating flood that almost canceled their RAGBRAI plans. I'm glad that it didn't. It's a small town, and seems to have gone all out to welcome RAGBRAI. They are doing this stop very well.

I'm official. And I have a flood recovery bracelet, too.
And our camp yard is being shared by a cool team from Muscatine that is raising funds for a homeless shelter there—shout out to Team MCSA.

Let the biking begin!

Painted shirts.

Friday, July 18, 2014

In Which We Bring Bike Beauty To Storm Lake

Back of our van. Virtual bike art, don't you think?

We made it to Storm Lake, Iowa on our RAGBRAI journey. My wife, my sister Cate and I first stopped in Ankeny to picked up Susan.

She had brought a bike from her home in Florida, but discovered some damage when she got it to Iowa, something to do with a broken crank and an old screw in the handlebars that would be hard to replace. Luckily, her sister's husband works at a bike shop, and she picked up a pretty swanky new road bike for RAGBRAI.

We had some trouble fitting the bikes on the new bike rack on our minivan—but Cate recalled a trick Eldon used last year, and put her bike sideways.

As you can see, that solved the issue. And the back of the van now looks like one of those bike sculptures such as decorated Guttenberg. We're bringing the art with us as we head west and north.

Tomorrow: Rock Valley, the RAGBRAI bike expo and camping the night before, but comfortable motel beds tonight. Watch this space for more RAGBRAI updates!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Which Final RAGBRAI Prep Is Underway

I am ready to give a granddaughter a ride. Later, I took her cousin, a boy of the same age as her,on a ride. Final kid rides before the seat will come off the bike for RAGBRAI.

Well, I will try to update this blog during RAGBRAI, but you understand I’ll be borrowing the technology, and internet connections and networks in tiny towns across Iowa are often strained by the army of bikers that will start riding across the state Sunday.

I’m in the packing stage. Today, I took two grandchildren on bike rides on the toddler seat on Francis, which will be removed in the morning to lighten the load. Besides the new back bag, which I think will come in really handy, there are some other new technologies I’ll be using this year:

1) I replaced the hickeys. Eldon, one of the Team Joe members, gave us all rubber shoe ties last year, called “hickeys.” They are a great idea because the shoes fit snugly and there are no laces to get caught in a bike—but several of them also broke. So this year, I’m trying “no tie” elastic bands for shoe laces.

New elastic, no-tie laces on RAGBRAI shoes--shabby, but comfortable, sneakers.

2) I replaced my bike computer. There was nothing wrong with the old one, until the bike fell over during a training ride (Cate and I were lifting it over a tree, I wasn’t riding it when it fell). The fall seemed to knock a wire loose that killed the computer. Well a bike computer is not essential, but when we were shopping for item number 3, my wife pointed out several computer models, and I bought one when I picked up number 3. It is nice to be able to see the miles go by on an odometer and trip meter, and to know your speed as the other RAGBRAI riders zoom by.

New computer after 10 miles of use.

3) I, along with my wife, installed a bike rack on the van. It’s not quite as nice as Cate’s, it’s a rack the bikes do hang from, but it is a 4-bike rack, which we hope will make it handy.

Anyway, I seem to have all the stuff I need. I’ll put it all in bags in the morning, and then it’s off to an overnight stay in Storm Lake, followed by Rock Valley and RAGBRAI!

Flowers I saw this week--hibiscus or Rose of Sharon in bloom at MMU (above) and new hollyhock in my back garden at home. I had biked to MMU, and I was hanging out my RAGBRAI sleeping bag when I saw the hollyhock, so these are biking pictures, right?

As I hung out and when I took down my sleeping bag off of the clothesline, two tiny but very loud birds quite violently protested by presence. I suspect they nest in the lilac bushes or the trumpet vine near the clothesline. I tried to tell them I had no interest in their nest, but they were having none of it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Which I Meet A Town of Sellers and Ride 80+ Miles

Curb sign in Guttenberg. Just wait a week and a half!

Well, blog pals, the pace of my biking-RAGBRAI prep, plus getting stuff done before I’m gone from home for a week, has put me behind in blogging.

It’s been an eventful few days—including an epic final practice ride that hints the century loop may be possible, and a scouting expedition to the Land Where Everyone Sells.

First, the scouting expedition: My wife, my sister, my sister-in-law and I all went to the pretty Mississippi River village of Guttenberg Saturday. Our main point was to make ourselves a bit more familiar with the village where RAGBRAI ends this year.

It was an interesting trip. For RAGBRAI, Guttenberg is one of many tiny towns on this year’s route—it is an especially small place for the bike ride to end. Like many Mississippi River towns, the village is both a bit aged and shabby, and also very pretty. Even if the glory days of the 19th century are long gone, the buildings and beautiful river front, and, especially, the river, are still there.

Where we didn't eat lunch, but saw the "lunch" sign. A week at the River Park Place doesn't sound like a bad idea.

We walked around and admired the old bikes used as decorative flourishes, obviously in prep for RAGBRAI. It was getting close to 1 p.m., and one storefront was labeled “lunch.” We were just thinking about that, when the lady of the house snagged us and almost forced us inside. They weren't serving lunch anymore, she just wanted to visit and show off her business and give us advice on what to do in tiny G. She runs a restaurant, bed-and-breakfast, party place spread through three gorgeous old buildings. An apartment can be rented there for $500 a week—and I think it would be a tempting get away.

Not sure it’s a great town for biking, however—I didn't see any trails and, like most Mississippi River towns, it’s located in the hilliest area of Iowa. Note to any East Coast or West Coast readers—Iowa is not Kansas, it’s generally not flat, but it’s topography is like a slightly wrinkly bed sheet—no mountains, but lots of rolling hills and river valleys that you slide down into and then have to climb out of if by chance you cross the state on two wheels. And the hilliest of those hills are associated with the mightiest of those rivers on Iowa’s East Coast (granted, there are hills in the west, too, but western Iowa is a bit flatter than eastern Iowa).

Anyway, we really enjoyed our somewhat commercial tour. She and her partner were friendly folk. We had a pleasant tour, but wanted to find a place were “lunch” was available after 1 p.m.

So, we strolled down the main drag, across the street from the main river of the United States, and ended up at Joe’s Pizza. One member of our party ordered a small pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza, while the other three of us split a larger “Joe” pizza. Joe approved. And a fellow diner was full of suggestions for Guttenberg attractions. It felt a little like we were trapped in a town of car sales people, except they were more pleasant, less pushy and more supportive of each other than your typical car lot steel pusher.

An Amish baker at a farmer's market along the river gave us a sample doughnut to share. He was nice, but a bit pushy in trying to sell his wares--just like the rest of Guttenberg. The place clearly lives on tourists. The doughnut was very good.

The town of Guttenberg is a bit isolated by high hills and the river. I didn’t see any bridge, so there is, as far as I can tell, no way in from Illinois. One U.S. highway enters town, and on the final day of RAGBRAI, when 12,000 cars try to enter town, the traffic jam will be a bit more intense than the mall during the best Christmas shopping season ever.

The lady at “lunch” noted that more than 400 vehicles had registered to park in town. If I had been eating, I might have sputtered at that point. Trust me, Little G, 400 is a tiny, tiny minority of the vehicles you will see—although I bet you already know that.

During our walking and scouting, we picked a church with tall twin spires located south of the bike route (which cleaves the town mostly in two and eliminates most potential parking) to try to meet up at.

A picture of the "other" pizza joint, that we din't eat at. It wasn't Joe's. But it did have a beer bike.
It was a good trip. And we did indulge in ice cream after the pizza, and it was good, too.

The next day, to work off the pizza and ice cream, Cate and I went on our last big training ride. I’m still riding bikes this week, but only short hops—resting the body for the many miles ahead next week.

Kayak boater with dog on Cedar Lake. The clouds that are gathering will lead to a quick downpour, but most of the ride was dry.

Anyway, we went south to Ely and then headed north. We paused for lunch at Parlor City, a trendy restaurant in the New Bo neighborhood. As we headed north post lunch, the sky grew cloudy and rain began to fall.

We were right by a Dairy Queen. The sane course of action was obvious. 15 minutes and a Mocha MooLatté later, the rain ended and we continued our transit north.

We were fading a bit by the time we got to Center Point, but we had always planned to go to Urbana and it just wasn’t that much farther, so after a break, on we went. I had saved a peanut butter sandwich to eat in Urbana, and we shared it. In return, Cate gave me one of her Salted Nut Rolls. Not sure who came out ahead—maybe it was win-win.

Getting ready to head back, at the north end of the long ride. Cate and bikes at park in Urbana.

Then we headed south again. I don’t know if it’s just the psychology of the trail, but the ride home felt much faster than the ride away from home. We noticed we were going uphill as we headed south to Lafayette, and we know from experience that it’s more uphill then downhill going north from Hiawatha to Lafayette, so we decided Lafayette must be on some sort of mountain top or plateau. Of course, “uphill” meant a 2 percent grade—this is an old rail line—and “mountain” is totally sarcasm. If the swell of land is too subtle so see with the naked eye and you must be riding a bicycle to even detect it, it’s probably not a mountain.

Anyway, the downhill run to Hiawatha passed quickly. The joint ride totaled 77 miles. Taking into account the riding I did before and after, that gives me at least 82 miles for the day. Cate and I agreed that the test ride proves that, under ideal conditions, we could survive the Karras Loop. (And we also agree that conditions have to be ideal, so we’re not promising, just saying it’s possible).

Today, I purchased a 4-bike carrier for the van, as well as a new bike computer. More planning and packing, but RAGBRAI feels very close! So far, almost 1,700 miles for the year.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Which I See Goosestock In CR

Cate. And Geese.
I didn’t go to Woodstock. It happened in 1969, and I turned 11 that year.

But I’ve been to Goosestock.

My sister Cate and I went on a 14-mile bike ride today. Since there wasn’t really any other option—due to closed trails caused by flood damage—we rode on the Cedar River Trail down to Cedar Lake. At the southwest end of the lake, around a bend heading towards Quaker Oats, we ran into a huge crowd of geese.

Now, geese at Cedar Lake are not an unusual sight. What was odd was there were no geese anywhere except this one spot—and it was packed with geese.

We weren’t sure what was going on, but it looked suspicious. I snapped some photos as we passed through. And, after we discovered the trail is still closed at the federal courthouse and turned back, I videotaped the transit through Goosestock.

At least I hope it was Goosestock. I hope they were hanging around, making the water fowl equivalent of hippie music. Or, was it something more sinister? Are they planning something?