Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Which I Share My RAGBRAI Wisdom

The ride is almost over and Eldon and I check out the Father of Waters.

Each year, RAGBRAI asks for feedback. Well, I will share some. And each year, other riders don’t ask for feedback, but they’ll get it anyway.

I didn't know about the two deaths on RAGBRAI this year right away—when you don’t camp in the campgrounds, you don’t get the free Registers handed out there, and I was cut off from news. Sad tidings.

Anyway, advice to myself, my team, my fellow bikers and RAGBRAI:

RAGBRAI, mark the darn route more clearly. I don’t mean the bike route—the support vehicle route. It’s marked as it if were being used by bicycles—tiny signs right at the exit you are supposed to use on a 4-lane highway, for instance. If you were riding a bike at 15 mph, you could see and react to that sign. In an SUV at 65? If you’re not watching the map like a hawk (and who wants drivers to do that?) it’s often a case of, “damn, I missed that exit.” And the code is confusing—Pink? Green?

Team Joe, go to the driver’s meeting, or send a representative. Maybe it’s partly our fault the vehicle signs did not make sense. On the other hand, we did scout the destination town and anticipated that traffic would be terrible. The scouting trip was a good idea.

RAGBRAI, add more information to the web site. Easy to find links to planning committee web sites in overnight and meeting towns, for instance. Detailed maps of said towns that show the bike and vehicle routes. I went to the Iowa DOT web site and downloaded maps for our team, which Eldon had printed. Those maps were very useful--but not as easy to get as RAGBRAI could make them.

Our meeting spot after the ride.
RAGBRAI, fill those rumbles. I don’t mean all of them—rumble strips on a flat are amusing, not consequential. But on the final day, in the infamous “W,” which I named that because there is a distinct W shape on the elevation profile due to two consecutive valleys with steep ascents and descents, one rapid downhill run ended in rumble strips. And several RAGBRAI riders ended their rides with broken bones there. I remember whizzing along at something close to 40 mph and seeing the little sign that said “rumbles ahead” and thinking, “really?” Most riders missed that sign because they were moving at car speed. And, as noted, some shattered bones resulted—I didn't see the fall, but I saw one aftermath, and during our break in Garber, several ambulances sped by, from, I’m assuming, deathtrap rumble strips hill.

Riders, "car back” means move over, jerk. Fast bikers often cross the center line. Well, if they have a clear view, OK. But when someone yells “car back,” quickly find a gap and move right, fast peddlers. The “car” is often an ambulance, and it could be a friend or, someday, you in there. For safety’s sake and as a courtesy, make a hole.

RAGBRAI, clone those Edgewood farmers. In the final meet town, the tiny village of Edgewood, farmers on ATVs actually escorted vehicles to specific parking places. It was a slick, nice system. Getting to the town was not so easy—the route markings were confusing and led Eldon and I to drive too far towards Guttenberg (I’m looking at you, RAGBRAI!)—but once you got there, you were briefly detained at city limits until a tan farm man on an ATV took you to a parking place. Our escort said there had been some complaints. We could not figure out why. There was no other town so easy on support vehicles along this year’s route as Edgewood was. Kudos, Edgewood. RAGBRAI, can you find out who planned that stop and hire her or him as “meeting town czar?”

My "Hello Kitty" system worked well--vital supplies, such as this, my bathroom bag, were easy to find. In my bike bag, I had the "on the road" kit in case Mother Nature called, and she did. As I was walking to a kybo holding a small lunch box with vital supplies inside, one lady I passed noted "I love your purse." It was very functional.
CR Joe, train more. I promise on a stack of Participant Guides that I will call my doctor tomorrow (Monday) and make an appointment. I had some symptoms that I described after the ride. My sister said, “I didn't know about the left arm pain.” Her spouse, a nurse, said: “If you feel those symptoms again, go to the ER.”

I’m happy to say I didn't end up the third fatality on this year’s ride. My vital organs are still functioning, although I don’t guarantee at what capacity. No Joe bones were broken, either. Here is my Facebook album of this year's ride. And RAGBRAI was so much fun that I will surely participate again.

After a medical checkup.

Friday morning in Waverly. It was wet. This is Brigid's trike, and she and I drove that morning. I don't think we regret it.


In Which I Hear The Sounds of RAGBRAI

Photo taken July 26 on hill on final day. Bikes make slight noises as they whiz by, the final day was sometimes characterized by lots of panting.

Some sounds are very familiar because I hear them every year,  some are more unusual, related to this year's bike ride.

But there is a unique set of sounds that I associate with RAGBRAI:

  • The jets: That jet-engine like “whoosh” that you hear as a large pace line of fast road bikes zooms by going 30 mph on a flat. That's an annual sound.
  • The low rumble: This year, there were many more of those “fat tire” bikes—those ones with tires that are three times as wide as the usual mountain bike. The bikers who are riding those bikes must be in fantastic shape, because they usually zoom by in the fast lane. They don't “whoosh.” They rumble like an approaching panzer.

We hear the sound of windmills.

  • The wump-wump-wump: One new sound is the sound of a windmill. If you see an electric generating windmill at a distance, you might assume it's silent. But if one is close enough to a windmill, there is a low, dull “wump-wump” sound as air is compressed between the blades and support posts. Some of those windmills are massive and so, close up, is there distinct sound.
  • The human-bike sounds: Bicycles and bikers make their own noises. The chains clank in their mechanisms; tires, when there are thousands of them, hum. You hear vocal signals, such as “bike on” or “rider off,” and, of course, the boom boxes.
  • The human horses: In a town, there is a clipity-clop noise that bike shoes, with their metal clips to hook pedals, make on pavement.

You overhear things, too. An interesting bike passed me today (I wrote this Thursday), which caused me to violate my “don't shoot while biking” RAGBRAI rule—it was a 5-seater, with a family, mother, father, and three rather young kids, with the youngest on one of those pedal-bike attachments at the end looking maybe 6 or 7. They seemed a happy bunch as they zoomed by, but, kids will be kids.

Because mom was saying: “No bickering on the bus” as they passed.

Note bike at left--5 on one. The bus.

Well, I don’t know how many days the bus was on the road, but I hoped they enjoyed their ride.

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.