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RAGBRAI 2014

Written by Boston Biker on Aug 17

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Four years, and this ride still brings so much joy into my life.  (See 2013, 2012, and 2011).

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.

Day1Sunday2014

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.

 

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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.

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Check out this 36er!

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These guys rode these things the entire time…

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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.

Day2Monday2014-e1403868464891

 

Day 2: Okoboji to Emmetsburg.

I awoke to this outside my tent.

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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.

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The day was short, only 40 miles, but I still managed to see some cool stuff.

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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.

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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.
20140720_192622I 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.

Day3Tuesday2014-e1403868506639

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.

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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.

 

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Want to ride a tandem, don’t have a partner?  Build one!

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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.

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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.

 

Day4Wednesday2014-e1403868544393

 

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.

 

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There were big ass wind turbines!

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And Kittens!  I named the grey one smokey, and the black one Beelzebub.

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Pikachu made an appearance.

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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.

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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.

 

Day6Friday2014

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.20140725_201307(0)

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.

Day7Saturday2014

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.

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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!

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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.

 

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I saw a giant strawberry, in Strawberry Point.

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An Iowa farm bicycle.

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Some local political flavor.

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And a whole heap of gorgeous rolling hills…oh right Iowa has hills.

Elevations-2014

 

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.

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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.

20140726_192456Ramen noodles with coleslaw, au gratin potatoes with corn flakes, and ketchup, honestly it was all pretty damn good, but its still hard to be a veggy in meat land.

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.

 


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That Rain Was Real Pointy Today…

Written by Boston Biker on Dec 09

48-GEAR_Rain-EssPeaPhotography

 

And there was a fair amount of wind as well.  But you know what, I rode my bike, and so did hundreds of other people.  Because there is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing choices.

I had my rain pants on, my rain jacket, some water proof gloves, and I was happy, warm and dry.  And as an added bonus everyone at work got to say (for the 1000th time), “You rode your bike to work today!?!”

When I went outside and the rain bounced off my arm and hits me in the face with a little sting I briefly questioned my “year round biking lifestyle,”  but when I got to the Longfellow and saw the poor poor people packed like fish into the red line, I knew I had made the right choice.

99 out of 100 days riding your bike to work is like enjoying a fine piece of chocolate, or a spring day, or a kiss from a loved one, but once in a while its total shit.  Today was that day, as will be roughly 3.65 days this year (if it really is 99 out of 100) when riding your bike to work is not that fun.  You can make it more fun with proper clothing, but sometimes it just a little bit of an uphill struggle.  I see the very few bad days as my payment for the hundreds of amazing ones.  A small price to pay.


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Creative Fenders

Written by Boston Biker on Jun 11

From Epic:

How are you staying dry out there?


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The Commute Home

Written by Bikeyface on Oct 19

Commute Home

It was a very wet commute home today. So I stole borrowed a poncho and headed out. I saw many amazing sights including a wreck of a pirate ship on Mass Ave (double parked) and hit some crazy traffic caused by a passing school of fish.

 

Originally posted August 3, 2011. For more cartoons visit www.bikeyface.com


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The Aftermath

Written by Boston Biker on Aug 29

You might have noticed we had a spot of weather this weekend. Hope everyone is in one piece and your roof held strong.

I was out in some of the downpours, and got pretty soaked, but other than that had a pretty uneventful weekend. Anyone have any good Hurricane related bike stories?

Hopefully you were all sensibly hunkered down having a party with someone you can make out with!


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The Word On The Street

  • RSS Here is what people are saying

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