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For those not in the know, the Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), is a yearly ride across Iowa. Now in its 43rd years, it is sort of like mid-west burning man on wheels. A rolling party of 15-20,000 people having fun in the corn. If you have never tried it, I highly recommend it.
The route changes every year, and this year was widely hyped as “the shortest, and flattest.” For the last three years I have ridden a fixed gear, and figured this would be an even better year to do so again. So I began the ritual dance that has become a familiar part of RAGBRAI for me.
Figure out what airport is closest to the start, buy one ticket from Boston to that airport, find a shuttle bus that will take me from the airport to the start. Find another airport close to the finish, figure out how to get to that. But a separate ticket for a different airline. Deconstruct the bike, pack the bike, ship the bike. Take a train to the airport, take a large plane to a small plane, to a shuttle bus, to a bicycle, ride for a week, repeat in reverse. On the face of it its a logistical nightmare, but in reality it always goes smooth as butter, and every single person you meet along the way is very nice and makes you happy. It’s hard to return to Boston with its cranky drivers and dirty air. You miss the corn when you leave.
That’s not to say that this year was without its challenges. Here is a day by day break down.
Day one: Rock Valley To Okoboji
After a pleasant night spend in a tent on soft grass I awoke to a glorious Iowa sunrise, and it just felt good to be on a bike. The winds were calm, the temp was decent, the corn was growing (in the places that had not been killed by the recent floods). The Town was decked out in bike finery and everyone waved at us as we left.
The 70 miles flew by in a flash, town after town flying by in a blur. That isn’t to say we didn’t see some awesome stuff.
Check out this 36er!
These guys rode these things the entire time…
Some people over did it on their first day…this man is asleep in the center of the beer garden, when I went to make sure he wasn’t dead, his wife (!!) told me to leave him be because it was funny…he wasn’t dead. Our camp ground was in an awesome super soft field, I slept like a baby.
Day 2: Okoboji to Emmetsburg.
I awoke to this outside my tent.
Bike udder in the morning, cyclists warning. But the portent proved not to be true as today was another PERFECT riding day. As you rode out of town you got to see every single state flag flapping in the glorious Iowa sunrise.
The day was short, only 40 miles, but I still managed to see some cool stuff.
Checking out old barns while eating ice cream.
A lot of people do this ride…from horizon to horizon nothing but cyclists. This little traffic jam was caused by the ice cream man. Ice cream is serious business on RAGBRAI.
You might not know this but Iowa is a leader in wind power…hmm all those wind turbines I wonder if it ever gets windy around here…I probably should have seen this for the ominous sign that it was.
I was not going to be eating nasty fried food all week. 1 box of salad, one apple, one package of goat cheese, some dressing, and some blue berries, everyone was jealous. I went to bed happy.
Day 3: Emmetsburg to Forest City
The century day! I always like this day, it feels like a proper day of riding, and you get to see a lot of beautiful country. I awoke to a nice calm beautifully blue Iowa sky. There was a slight breeze, as we pedaled to the pancake man for breakfast.
Pancake man is not fucking around, he can make 200 pancakes every 3 minutes, and you are allowed to eat as many as you want…so good. While we ate the wind slowly increased, so gently we didn’t even notice until we got back on our bikes.
They call it the Iowa mountains, head winds so steady and strong that it feels like you are always going up hill. The wind turbines were spinning merrily creating loads of energy but all I could feel was a steady never ending push against me that started off refreshing, but slowly, ever so slowly, began to steal my strength. What started off as a 20 mph wind, grew to 25, then 30.
We were headed east, and the wind was blowing west. But it was gorgeous, and the temps were not too high. So we pushed against the pedals, and the wind pushed against us. If you look at the map you can see we had some brief lovely breaks from the constant wind, just enough to allow us to rest, and the day went by as days like this do. Slowly but steadily.
Want to ride a tandem, don’t have a partner? Build one!
Not only did this town have a bitching Camero, but they also have a tradition of tossing toilets for distance. Not a plastic toilet, but a real deal porcelain throne. It seemed unlikely a bunch of tired cyclists was going to beat the town record, so we didn’t even try. If we had though we would have gotten a free t-shirt. Oh Iowa.
There was also this dapper gentleman, a bold fashion choice indeed. He rode the entire day in the sun like this. I am guessing it had something to do with the fact that his entire crew were drinking “special” water bottles that looked to my untrained eye an awful lot like rot gut.
100 miles later the wind no longer had anything to push against, because my ass was done pedaling. Tired and HUNGRY I rolled into camp, set up the tents, and found myself something made out of vegetables to eat. After double helpings of some sort of noodle thing, some more ice cream, a cookie, a couple power bars, and some sort of smoothie I passed out feeling good.
Day 4: Forest City To Mason City.
It wasn’t even 40 miles…we laughed, we dawdled, we spent a lot of time lounging, it was a good time.
There were big ass wind turbines!
And Kittens! I named the grey one smokey, and the black one Beelzebub.
Pikachu made an appearance.
And of course ice cream!
Even though the millage was the shortest of the week, we spent the most time on the road. Mostly having fun and goofing around.
Day 5: Mason City to Waverly.
Its a funny thing about Iowa, it will go from Flat as a pancake to hilly as hell in a moment. We went up, we went down, we went up again, and down again. The same 300 feet of climbing and decent over and over again. It was nice, the landscape was gorgeous, rolling hills, verdant greens everywhere.
The day went by in a blur of lovely vistas and big ass hills. That night we camped in yet another soft and lovely field, we went to bed feeling lucky for yet another awesome day. While we slept, clouds gathered, and winds increased.
Day 6: Waverly to Independence.
We woke up and it was cold, just barely 70. We had been enjoying temps well into the 90′s even 100+ so 70 felt cold. The sky was black and ugly, like it had gotten into a fight the night before and was bruising. The wind tugged at our jerseys, and made taking our tent down hard. We were going to catch a whoopin.
The maelstrom held off until about a mile outside the first town, and then it let fly with both barrels. First the wind kicked up, and then the temp dropped. It went from 75 to 59 in half an hour. The rain started off fierce and only got worse. Driven by 35 mph wind it hit you in the face with a significant force. It felt like ice, even though it wasn’t frozen. It stung and made you turn red. The wind was blowing north, so we either got it full in the ear, or dead on in the face. This was not pleasant, in fact, it was the opposite.
I had nothing on but a jersey and some shorts. The moment I stopped for any reason my entire body started to shake with the shivers. I actually took refuge in a Kybo (Iowa for porta-potty) just to warm up. As the storm worked up its rage the winds got stronger, 35 mph with the rain, with gusts into the 40′s. It would grab you and toss you around, like a bit of fluff. Luckily at that point all the riders had spread so far out that you could get blown all over the road without hitting anyone else.
The corn was bent nearly sideways, and we had no choice but to move forward against the wind. No one moved fast, and many didn’t move at all. There were a lot of people waiting in each town for the SAG bus. Each mile was a triumph of the will over nature. Hands and fingers went numb, you could see your breath, it was cold and extremely windy, and the whole day was a grind.
I put my head on my handlebars, got as small as possible, and pushed for all I was worth. The rain fell, the wind blew, and I creaked slowly across Iowa. By the end I just wanted to go to sleep, but in an irony lost on no one, just as we pulled into camp the damn sun came out and the wind died down. Nature had a good belly laugh at our expense, but at least we didn’t have to set up our tents in the rain.
The end town that day had a cool dam, bursting with all the rain we had gotten that day. We had Chinese food for dinner, it was cheap…and surprisingly tasty. Which might have been because we were dying of hunger, or because for some strange reason we had found good Asian food in the middle of Iowa. I fell asleep in a heap, I don’t really remember much more than being tired to the bone.
Day 7: Independence to Guttenberg (Pronounce Gut-n-burg):
I awoke and found my bike to be strangely heavy. When I titled it upright about 4 cups of water ran out of the frame. It had been driven into it yesterday. Once drained I started on the last day of riding.
The winds had blown, the rain had fallen, but Iowa had saved the best for last. This part of the state is mind blowing-ly pretty. There are actually trees, and the Amish have made many homes here. We saw old fashion barns, and old fashion farming methods, and a whole crop of little Amish kids let out to watch us crazy folks in spandex ride by. Each of them had the same exact hair cut, and each of them smiled and waved at us as we went by.
The first order of business for the day was WAFFLES! All you could eat, 20 different kinds of syrup, fresh made whipped cream, and butter in a dispenser!
Nectar of the gods! This man was making waffles so fast that even the line of hundreds was only taking up one row of his waffle empire. It wasn’t until another hundred or so people got in line the he fired up that back row. But each waffle was so big that you could really only eat two before giving up, so he kept the line moving at a rapid pace.
I saw a giant strawberry, in Strawberry Point.
An Iowa farm bicycle.
Some local political flavor.
And a whole heap of gorgeous rolling hills…oh right Iowa has hills.
To the untrained eye that might not look very hilly…but glance over to the right there. See those ominous dips. Those are some big ass hills. There was 3k feet of climbing on this day, almost all of it in the last 5 miles. The climbs were not so bad…it was the downhills that nearly killed me. A fixed gear bicycle is great for riding in Boston, its relatively flat, not too much in the way of screaming madness inducing downhills…which is exactly what this part of Iowa comes standard with.
While screaming down the first of a series of three massive downhills a rather suicidal police officer informed me (while walking out into the middle of the street in front of hundreds of careening cyclists) that we could “slow down and take in the view.” So we did,with the help of the top layer of my brake pads, and some judicious swearing, we were not disappointed.
My aunt and uncle rode down the second hill with me and said that they were “afraid my legs would fly off and kill them both.” We hit 50 mph for about 20 seconds, which is about 19 seconds longer than I ever want to move my legs that fast ever again. I actually had to pull over and rest after that downhill, it crushed all the life out of me, but in a good way.
We made it to the mighty Mississippi, and dunked our front wheels into it, symbolically and figuratively completing our trek from river to river (Missouri to Mississippi) that marks the start and end of every RAGBRAI.
I stayed with some Iowa friends that night and was treated to the best in vegetarian Midwestern culinary tradition.
Then it was asleep in a tent for one more night, up with the dawn to fly out of the tiniest airport I have ever seen (gates 1,2, and 3 all shared the same door), to a larger plane, to a bus, to a train to my own bed again. My poor bike only showed up a week later, having to suffer the indignity of traveling by UPS.
My fourth year in the corn was a memorable one, I am already planning for my 5th.
Tags: 2014, awesome, corn, iowa, RAGBRAI, rain, wind
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Just a quick site update last night…shouldn’t be noticeable other than a bit of performance tweeks, but if anything is up let me know.
Tags: site update
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I spent last week riding my bike across the fair state we call Iowa, or as the natives of Iowa call it, Iowa.
I had a really good time, and am in the process of catching up on things, expect a post with pictures soon!
Tags: Oh Iowa, RAGBRAI
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Its that time again, July will be here soon, and I will be off to the corn to pedal my humble bicycle several hundred miles through some very nice corn fields. Anyone else going?
Here are some gems from last year, Click below for all the pictures:
Tags: beautiful, corn, iowa, miles and miles of nothing but open road, RAGBRAI
Posted in bostonbiker | 1 Comment »
This morning riding through Cambridge was like a bike parade. There were times when the number of people on bikes outnumbered the people on cars 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1. It felt…revolutionary.
We are entering into a new territory, where more people are riding than driving. Maybe just on the nice days now, but soon perhaps on the not so nice days, and then all year round. We have a long long way to go, but seeing the hundreds of cyclists ride made my morning and put a big smile on my face.
Did you ride today? Did you see the masses?!
Tags: amazing, so many bikes!
Posted in bostonbiker, Commuting | 1 Comment »
Lets all build these and see how things go. I am going to guess people might get a bit peeved, but the point will come home. One person doesn’t need that much road space. RIDE A BIKE!
Tags: better traffic, we are traffic
Posted in bostonbiker, crafts | No Comments »
While it’s true that our transportation system, and how it works, involve engineering data, and traffic flows, there are less obvious aspects of human behavior that are often not as talked about, that feature prominently in how our road system work. I have written a lot about these more esoteric natures of our road system, it is very much about shared trust, behavior, and attitudes.
So lets shine a light on these less often explored aspects of human behavior. I think about this a lot when I am riding around. Someone walks out in front of you after looking you right in the eye, someone pulls out of a parking spot when they know you are next to them, they cut you off, they do things that just seem wrong and you ask yourself…Are these people stupid, do they not know any better, or are they simply jerks? I see the options breaking down like this:
1. They are ignorant. They really just don’t have the information they need to make a good choice, so when they run a red light, or walk out in front of you, its because they didn’t know they were not supposed to do that. In many ways this is both the least offensive option, and the most terrifying.
2. They are stupid. They have the information they need, but choose not to use it. This may be because of lack of attention, or lapse in judgement, or because they are on their phone. They are not doing these things maliciously, but if asked, they do know better.
3. They are jerks. They know better, they have thought about it, and after all that they still chose to do some horrible thing. Because fuck you, that’s why!
I have lived in a lot of different parts of this country, have visited even more places, and have found that by and large the difference is not the first two. There is about the same number of people in all locations that are both ignorant, or stupid.
The real issue, especially in places like Boston, and other east coast locations, is that we have a LOT more jerks.
Boston has a culture of rude road sharing. They walk the way they bike the way they drive. I am sure if the trains were not on rails they would be cutting each other off. I don’t know how it got like this, but I am confident that it is our culture of road use that is the problem.
I think the problem is that people in this town have cognitive dissonance, that is they hold two contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time. They hate it when a cyclist runs through a red light, but then do the same thing when they ride their bike. They hate it when pedestrians crowd out into the street and then do the same when they are walking around. They hate when there is traffic, but they drive big cars around that take up lots of road space.
Everyone is guilty of this at least some of the time, I have done it, I am sorry. This even happens in other less toxic road cultures, the problem is we Bostonian’s seem to do it ALL THE DAMN TIME!
I think this misses an important point, folks around here are generally good. You are are basically a good person! We all need to remind each other that we are good people. Good people wait for the walk signal. Good people don’t run through a red light nearly hitting pedestrians on their bike. Good people don’t speed up at yellow lights, and use turn signals, and look in their mirrors. Good people are patient, and good people are not so quick to get violent, or retaliatory.
Next time you are out and about using our limited road resources, remind yourself you are a good person, and act like it. The only way to change the culture of how our roads are used is to change the way each of us individually use our roads.
Tags: don't be a jerk, rant, you are a good person
Posted in bostonbiker | 1 Comment »
Some of you may know that I occasionally dabble in metal working (see here and here and here, as well as on the right hand side of the page). Well I am going to actually go out into the real world, put my shingle out and see if folks like my stuff up close. I will be attending a bike craft fair at Brooklyn Boulders Saturday May 3rd from 11am-2pm, 12A Tyler Street Somerville. Stop by and buy my stuff! It is my understanding you will have to buy a day pass to see the bike craft fair, but for 19$ you also get a day of rock climbing including gear rental!
Here are some of the things I will have on sale.
More info below
Tags: bike craft fair, bike month, brooklyn boulders, shameless self promotion
Posted in Bike Business, bostonbiker | 1 Comment »