Monday, June 16, 2014

In Which The Beast Is Not RAGBRAI Ready

Our group, Sunday morning, with Eldon's custom-made back storage trunk. The design greatly improves both his carrying capacity and aerodynamics, although he did note the weight was a drag on uphill climbs.

The 2014 Tour the Raccoon Ride, sponsored by the Des Moines Cycle Club, proves several things.

For one, the Des Moines club’s annual event is one you should attend, if you’re an Iowa bicycle rider. It’s not exactly the same as two days of RAGBRAI, although in mileage it’s comparable, but it’s a good shakedown cruise for that event. And, someone in Des Moines knows how to make fantastic pasta salad, how to bake cookies and how to smoke pork. If you missed it, you missed it. Don’t miss it next year. See some images here.

For another, I’m ready for RAGBRAI. And I’m not ready for RAGBRAI.

Monarch caterpillar. Not ready to be butterfly.
I’m in decent physical shape. Because Francis is in the shop (although the bike is ready to be sprung, got the call, of course, today, now that the Raccoon ride is over), I rode The Beast. And I rode 101 miles in two days. That’s Beast miles, mind you. I’m sure it’s like riding 150 or more on Francis.

It was, despite an overnight storm and some threatening clouds, a grand ride. I’m very glad I went. It was fun to tease Eldon about his alien seed pod—he built a back storage box for his trike that, of course, we made much fun of—but give the man credit. He conceived of and built that thing, and I completely believe him that it vastly improved the aerodynamics of his trike, along with giving him a ridiculous amount of storage.

Kudos, Eldon. I’m sure the finished product will look even cooler than the prototype you were sporting on this ride, and the concept is brilliant.
Eldon explains his back storage bin.
Anyway, as noted, I’m ready for RAGBRAI in the sense that riding a day of it would not kill me. I’m not ready because I need many more training miles, even though I’m well above 1,000 for the year—especially if I want to do the Karras Loop. I rode 101 miles in two days on The Beast. If I do the loop this year, it would mean something like 105 miles in one day. That would be on Francis, which would help, but I’m not really ready for that one-day marathon yet. My heart isn’t set on doing the loop—it depends partly on nearly ideal weather or I’ll just say “forget it,” but I do want to be ready in case the weather is ideal.

In the category of “we’re not ready for RAGBRAI,” there are lessons that I personally, and my RAGBRAI group in general, learned from the Raccoon ride. Those include:

  • Don’t ride the wrong bike. OK, I won’t trash The Beast. It carried me 101 miles, and Cate reports that, from data on her bike computer, we were not traveling particularly slowly. “I didn’t have to hold back,” she reports. Which is nice of her to say, but it nonetheless is a lesson from the Raccoon ride—The Beast is not built for distance. If you’re doing RAGBRAI, use either a road bike or a hybrid bike or a cool trike—leave The Beast at home. Still, thank you, The Beast. You performed well.
  • Don’t leave important stuff behind. Take a helmet with you. I left mine at Brigid’s and Eldon’s house, and we had a subsequent wait as a result. It was lucky that they had seen it and brought it with them. Another team member, who is a brilliant designer, by the way, abandoned a water bottle. I and other team members will need to be more careful with our stuff on RAGBRAI.
  • Don’t forget stuff you need. Like snacks, for instance. This is not the same as “don’t leave stuff behind,” because I did bring my helmet even if I left it somewhere. I have snacks in my house, such as nut packets, that would have been great to have on the Raccoon ride, if I had them on the ride. Which I did not, because I forgot them. Memory is a theme of this list, right? Middle aged problems.
  • Don’t try to pack in two hours. OK, this is a related point. I may have been overconfident because I’ve done this stuff before. Getting all of the things together that you need to ride across Iowa in seven days needs a bit more preparation, organization and staging. Those are not strong personality traits of mine anyway, but I have to overcome my spontaneous nature and be more prepared.
  • Don’t leave a Boy Scout breakfast behind. This was not only a lesson learned, thankfully it was a lesson applied. There was a rumor circulating in the campsite that Boy Scouts would be serving pancakes in Panora, which was just short of halfway through the longest of the two days of the ride. All the way to Panora, I was mentally savoring those pancakes. Then we rode through Panora and didn’t see any signs. We were so desperate, however, that at the end of town we turned off the trail and doubled back, asking random strangers at the town square where the Scout breakfast was. Of course they knew: small Iowa town. It turns out the “pancakes in Panora” rumor was false. Instead, it was biscuits and gravy, sausage, and scrambled eggs. I don’t mind me a platter of pancakes, but I hasten to add that seldom has disappointment been so rewarding. It turned out to be the perfect biking fuel Second Breakfast—and I guess that’s really the overall rule for RAGBRAI. Eat like a Hobbit, you’ll need to. Don’t act like you’ve never heard of Second Breakfast.
  • Don’t neglect to pay attention to traffic and the road. OK, we were on a trail with light traffic, but when I was in the lead (only briefly and only late on day 2), I blew through several intersections where I should have paused more. In my defense, both streets and random, totally ignorable tractor field crossings were both marked with the same “yield” signs, and sometimes you could not tell the difference until you were right there—but that would be a poor reason to end up as a hood ornament. Be a watchful biker, especially on RAGBRAI. You’ll have much more room to move on RAGBRAI, but you’ll also be surrounded by 10,000 other bikes.
Crossing Raccoon River near end of Saturday ride.
 Well, those are the immediate lessons that come to mind. I guess it’s important to have a good time, which is just not hard to do on a bicycle. Cate wore a shirt in camp Saturday night that I think accurately sums up the message: “Riding a bike is like …. Riding a bike.” Indeed.

Finally, how ‘bout those 17-year cicadas? We don’t have many in Linn County, but there were places that some bikers called “the evil cicada forest.” Honestly, those freaky red-eyed monsters didn’t really bother us that much, but man can they wail. See video below. The sound was actually louder and higher pitched than my camera microphone recorded, but you get the idea:

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