Monday, July 31, 2017

In Which Fate Decides to Lend a Hand

RAGBRAI Milkweed balls. My son found it too iffy to toss these on the final day and brought them home for me, which was nice of him. I'll distribute them to help spread Milkweed.

I hope you recognize the reference to “Casablanca.”

Anyway, I won’t hide the fact that I am a bit disappointed in RAGBRAI 2017. I remember seeing a colleague from Mount Mercy University early in the week during the ride. He was in his first RAGBRAI, and at the time was questioning his stamina and was unsure if he would finish.

Oh, I thought smugly to myself, recalling my first ride, you will finish and you will love it—it’s just that early week lull once the first-day euphoria is over. We all suffer from it and get over it and finish RAGBRAI.

Except when we do not.

My sisters noticed this year that I was lagging a bit, riding more slowly than usual. I was having some trouble keeping up with them. One of my sisters rides a trike that her husband had installed new tubeless tires on ,and both she and he were faster as a result—but I was having trouble keeping up with another sister who rode many training rides with me this summer on her bicycle.

We did not have the same problem on training rides.

Also, early in the week, my ears clogged up. I was riding practically deaf. The ears felt stuffy and uncomfortable, although not painful.

And late on Tuesday, my left eye started to itch. By Wednesday morning, it was sore. When we got to Cresco, other team members noticed. My brother-in-law kindly gave me some moisturizing eye drops he uses, and that helped relieve the discomfort. As I went to bed Thursday night, the plan was to use those drops and to soldier on. There were only two days left.

But I did not sleep well that night. When I woke up to use the facilities, my eye was matted shut. It was easy to force open, but I could not deny it was getting more gunk in it. And my ears were really bugging me—popping, squishy, just unpleasant.

To add one more injury to the list, I had suffered a minor cut on my left hand when assembling tents in Charles City, and an area around the small nick was getting red and sore. What had been a red area the size of a mosquito bite was becoming a pink, sensitive area the size of a half dollar.

Thursday morning, I called a Team Joe meeting. Option one was to soldier on. The team glanced at my eye and supported my decision to declare that option not viable.

Option two was to seek local medical help. I had been to the first aid tent at the RAGBRAI camp, and they had given me solution to wash out my eye in case I had gotten something in it (I had, but it was microbes, and they don’t just wash out). They (the first aid people) said my next option was an ER visit. I was in minor trouble, but didn’t feel ER ready. We talked about me going to the meet town with the driver that day to seed aid, but I was reluctant because I don’t know the medical system in Decorah.

And Cedar Rapids was down the Cedar River, just over two hours away. Option three was for me to quit riding and seek medical help at home.

That’s what I opted for. It was a painful decision, no pun intended, because I was really looking forward to the final two days of the ride this year, which would pass through the spectacular northeastern corner of Iowa, the one part of the state not leveled by a glacier in the last ice age.

Of course, that also meant killer hills. And I was flagging some.

So I called my wife and she came and got me, and I’m on both oral antibiotics and antibiotic eye drops. The hand recovered quickest, the eye feels better and the ears, even if not 100 percent, are far more comfortable than they were.

I think I made the right choice. And I had planned to ride six days (I was a driver one day), so getting four days in while slightly sick was something.

I did enjoy the “big sky” scenery of flat northern Iowa, which seems so different than much of the state. I ate some good pie, supported some local causes, and earned some biking karma. I am no Air Force rider (the Air Force team members are the angels of RAGBRAI), but I did lend a hand where I could.

At Clear Lake, when I was riding with my sister who uses a bicycle, we stopped to confer at town's edge when a lady fell off of her bike right in front of us. It looked like a clipping error—in that she didn’t get her foot unclipped from her pedals in time. The town volunteer extracted her from her bike. She was injured, but determined to ride on—and I stopped her because she didn’t realize that, in the fall, her chain had popped off the front gears.

My sister gave me gloves and I re-seated her chain.

I had a similar experience entering Cresco, although I was riding alone at the time (I had been delayed by Amish pie). A lady was riding with two of her children, and she and her daughter caught up to a son who was waiting near the top of a hill that led into town.

He looked to be about 12 or so, and was downcast. “My chain came off,” he said.

Because we were on a hill, I was moving very slowly and heard the conversation. I pulled over right in front of them. The lady looked a little startled, and was trying without success to correct the problem. I asked if they would please turn the bike over, which they did, and then I pushed in the rear derailleur to make the chain loose, and seated the chain on the front gears.

The fix took only a few seconds, but it felt good to be of assistance.

Team Joe, minus Joe, finished RAGBRAI 2017 in high spirits. My son, who persuaded me to go along with him on our first RAGBRAI, was back this year. His wife was riding her first RAGBRAI.

They report that the final day was indeed a challenge—the four killer hills lived up to their reputation. I am sorry I missed it, although I’m not sure how well I would have done.

My daughter-in-law finished, and she had ridden the full ride.

In RAGBRAI 2017, as in RAGBRAI 2016, Team Joe was down a member at the end. Last year it was more serious and more dramatic—a sister of mine had fallen in a shower and been knocked out. Once again, a head betrayed us, but a gooey eye and plugged ears, while they justified getting medical help, are a far cry from a sharp blow to the skull.

I did have four wonderful days of bike rides. I’m sorry if you tried to speak with me during the ride—I probably only heard 30 percent of whatever you said, so if my responses seemed a bit odd, I was clearly guessing wrong and doing bad lip reading.

And the MMU colleague? Based on his Facebook posts, he finished the ride! Maybe I’ll see him again on RAGBRAI 2018.

The 2017 riders, me, my son, my brother in law, two sisters and a daughter in law. Below--riders with drivers who picked us up or delivered us to the ride.

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