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.

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