Sunday, July 26, 2015

In Which CR Biker Rolls 400 Miles

My sister Cate and I doing an ussie near big flag at edge of Wilton on final day of RAGBRAI 2015.

An average RAGBRAI is about 460 miles. My RAGBRAI team, Team Joe, has 4 members and one support vehicle that we take turns driving. So I usually ride about two-thirds of RAGBRAI.

So I’m pretty pleased to be able to say that I rode 400 miles last week, traveling most of the way across Iowa from Sioux City to Davenport, which means I rode most of a RAGBRAI.

It was quite a week. A highlight was Friday, when Team Joe swelled in numbers as two daughters, two sons and a girlfriend of one of those sons all wore team colors. I also rode much of that day with my sister Cate. Somewhere up there in the last third of the route, Brigid and Eldon were also on the ride—nine Team Joe members in the pretty yellow shirts, printing coordinated by Eldon, art by Amanda.

The core of Team Joe on the first morning of RAGBRAI outside homeless shelter in Sioux City--Brgid, Cate, Eldon and I.

Friday ridng crew included Cate, Katy, Kate, Theresa, CR Biker, Ben and Jon.

The parts of RAGBRAI I rode were unremarkable in terms of scenery—I don’t know if I’m just getting too used to Iowa’s rolling landscape, or if the route this year just happened to avoid the best-looking vistas—but Friday included the Coralville Dam, and that was something to see.

I guess Friday was the week in microcosm, in a way. It had the best and worst parts of RAGBRAI. So for CR Biker, what were the highs and lows of RAGBRAI?

Lows (there are more highs, and I want to finish with the highs):

Rain on Friday. We had rain Monday, too, when riding from Storm Lake to Fort Dodge. Friday’s rain was different—colder, harder, driven by a 40 mph or so wind that made raindrops sting like hail. My teammates said they were rain bullets or rain shrapnel. Riding in the rain is tough at best, and this was a tough rain.

The one good attribute was that it was mostly a headwind. Bikers don’t usually like headwinds—but in this case, they at least slowed the descent down hills. A steep drop that normally might cause Argent to top 30 mph led to speeds like 15 mph in the stiff headwind.

A tailwind would have been terrifying. A side wind might have been fatal. Hooray for that headwind.

Well, the day turned sunny and hot later, and the miles piled up and the hills got steep and headwinds were no longer our friend, but any wind is less of a factor if it’s not raining.

Coralville on Friday. I’ve never seen an overnight town that took bikers through a vendor scrum before they finished their nightly ride—and that gesture by Coralville was definitely not appreciated. You arrive in town hot and tired, looking for your end point and a shower before you consider the evening plans. The last thing you want is a scrum to walk through and vendors trying to sell their wares. No, Coralville, that was not cool.

The arch and carpet? Cute, that was a good idea. The vendor hell riders had to endure? Very poor form.

That’s it. I could complain about chafing, heat rash, bugs, etc., but not only are those not such a big deal, they are just normal RAGBRAI conditions and probably not as bad this year as in past year.


Heroes named “Joe.” No, I do not mean CR Biker, but rather Sioux City Joe. Marco, our support vehicle, arrived in Sioux City with a serious problem that developed on the way from Des Moines to the ride start—the driver side window would not close. This was taking place late on a Saturday afternoon—after most garages were closed.

I hope Brigid or Eldon will write their story and share it at some point, but in the end, a friendly car salesman got them in contact with his mother’s husband (the salesman’s father had died a few years ago, so it was not his dad, but clearly in generosity the two are kindred spirits). Sioux City Joe restores cars as a hobby, and although he was not able to fix the window, he was able to hotwire the motor and get the window to roll up and then remove the switch so nobody would put the window down. Way to go, Sioux City Car Seller and Sioux City Joe, you two rescued Team Joe.

Bicycle on display in museum at La Porte City on Thursday.

Our generous hosts. Jean, Amy, Amy’s husband, Big Dog, curse-like-a-soldier Ryan, the fine folks at the Sioux City homeless shelter—thank you. Thank you, too, to Eldora, the tiniest overnight town and the one where Team Joe could not find a home—but it turned out the tiny town had its act together and did just about everything right. Coralville, if you ever need to host RAGBRAI again, shut up and listen to whoever planned the Eldora stop. And, again, a huge Team Joe thanks to Jean, Amy (and her husband), Big Dog, curse-like-a-soldier Ryan, homeless shelter guys—your hospitality was appreciated.

The Microsoft banditos: Chris, Brian, Nigel and Jon on Sunday. Chris was new to RAGBRAI, but the rest rode with me on my first RAGBRAI, was it 2011?

The reunion of the Microsoft banditos. It was a blast to run into Jon now and then, share a meal and a brew, and it was fun to host the former Microsoft boys for their stay near the city of five smells. RAGBRAI 2015 was a reunion of sorts of the group from my first RAGBRAI years ago.

Again, I don´t know the details first hand, but the epic tale of Brian and the tinfoil will live on among RAGBRAI legends. Ask my eldest son or one of the other Microsoft banditos for details.

View from a RAGBRAI bathroom.

Mother Nature’s cooperation. True, there was that quick Friday storm with its bullets of rain. True, Monday morning was soggy. True, the temperature topped 100 on Saturday. But, for most of the week, the sun smiled, the temperature was mild, the nights were cool and good for sleeping—the weather left little to be desired. For late July in Iowa, it was gorgeous.

The new bike. Long-time readers may recall that I had some scary health issues during RAGBRAI last year—general exhaustion and ominous chest pains. I trained harder this year, and it paid off, I think. I got a bit worn at times, but nothing like last year. Besides better training, the difference was having a road bike. Argent proved to be perfect for its purpose. I was able to power up hills. On Francis, I never tried to slingshot from hill to hill, but it was almost not avoidable on Argent.

On Tuedsay, I faced a decision. Go for 100 miles or not? In my four previous RAGBRAIs, I was clearly not ready to ride the Karras Loop and go 100 miles in a day. This year, I decided not to decide in advance, because I knew it would require a day of near perfect weather, plus keeping on time in early communities. Well, the weather was gorgeous. Brigid rode with me in the morning, and kept a brisk pace. Cate rode with me in the afternoon, and for a while we rode with Jon. Although Jon slowed way down to ride with us, for Cate and I, it was very fast moving at the pace of Jon.

And my body held together. No serious aches. No cramps. And when I got to Buckeye by 3 and the choice was either 15 more miles or go for about 40 miles—well, when would there be a better day? With Cate as my companion, I went for it.

Late afternoon Tuesday. Cate and I have finished the Karras Loop and are riding the final 15 miles.

The upshot was I finished that evening rather late and pulled into Eldora quite tired. But I did it, I earned my Karras Loop patch, I rode Argent more than 100 miles in a day (I think my bike computer recorded about 103 miles for the day).

Last, and not least, the newly expanded Team Joe. I enjoyed the whole RAGBRAI week, especially with Jon able to ride, too. But as I already wrote, the Friday ride with extended Team Joe was—despite a broken spoke on Katy’s bike ,a morning flat tire for Cate, the rain, and the fact that Ben and Kate flew so fast that I did not see them after the start until after the end—wonderful.

Taking photos and joking at lunch spot Friday--a Mount Vernon store that is a combination of diner, ice cream shop, video store, tanning salon and antique shop. And it's all one store. Motto: For all your sandwhich, desert, tan, video and antique needs.

Way to go, Team Joe. I hope many of you in the extended team are inspired to ride more RAGBRAIs. As for the core four, despite our ups and downs, we have already begun talking about next year.

RAGBRAI is like nicotine—it is very addictive. But, at least it’s an addiction that is good for you. See more of my RAGBRAI photos here. And see you all on the ride next year!

My bike computer as I pull into the final town I rode to, Wilton. The ride Saturday ended in Davenport, but I was on driving duty that afternoon. I had gone 400 miles in seven days, 100 on just one day.


  1. You didn't mention the highest highlight, the watermelon. But then again, that was only "for the ladies."

    1. I know! I am thinking of a second post just for RAGBRAI quotes. Did you lube this morning? And are you trying to Ernst me?