Thursday, August 7, 2008

RAGBRAI 2008, Part 2

After a much-needed 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep in comfortable beds, Denny and I were ready to bid Ames farewell in the morning. We took our time leaving, dropping our bags back on the NAD bus and rolling out of town at about 10:00. By that time, most everybody was gone and the cops were clearing out the barricades. Other late riders were asking us where the route was. We weren’t too sure about where the actual route through town, but we knew that it was Lincoln Highway to Nevada, so we just told everyone to follow us.

It turns out that starting late was a good thing, because early that morning somebody thought it would be funny to throw down a bunch of thumbtacks on the road in between Nevada and Colo. By the time we reached that area, the Highway patrol had brought in a street sweeper to clear them out.

Most of the day we biked into a headwind and it was quite slow going. Colo to State Center to Green Mountain, we just kept our heads down and hammered into the wind. After Green Mountain we hopped into a paceline with Los Bastardos, and then another big paceline after that. This gave us a much-needed speed and morale boost, as we were really dragging. By this time we had caught up to the bulk of the Ragbrai riders. We stopped in LeGrand to reapply sunblock and get some munchies.

We slipped into another big paceline on the way into Montour, where we stopped again. Denny had a burger and a brat while I decided to wait until the end to eat a meal. I tried this stuff they were selling in a miniature tube, the end of which you crack off to open. It was some sort of energy gel/fluid that had glucosamine sulphate (“like WD-40 for your joints!” it advertised). It was quite bitter, and had been sitting in the sun all day, so it was really hot as well. I suppose I should’ve just passed, because I don’t have bad joints in the first place, but I figured what the hell, I’ll try it for the energy boost. Meh.

We caught up with the other fast riders in our group and I started another paceline, pulling us most of the way into Tama/Toledo. By this time we were ready for the day to be over. We got to the house, and the owner was there with deer sausage and crackers on his deck. Man, that was some good stuff. His 8-year old daughter was driving a golf cart around his big yard, offering rides. She was a little firecracker.

We showered and changed, then went off to find a place to eat. Denny, Matt and I hit this Mexican restaurant, where Denny and I had the biggest goddamn margaritas you’d ever want to drink in your life. My arm actually got tired while holding this thing as we waited for a table. After a huge enchilada dinner we went back to the campsite and collapsed.

On day 5 we woke to a steady rain, and I had left my rain shell in Ames. Everyone had left, but Denny and I watched the radar from in the house and decided to wait it out for a while. After thanking our hosts we left after the rain had stopped, but the pavement was still wet. We also had a headwind and rough road, so the first half of the day was an absolute chore that I’m not too fond of re-telling. After a long stop in Blairstown we started to make some good time because it was mostly downhill to the Amanas. We stopped for a smoothie in Homestead, listened to another cover band play “Sweet Home Alabama” and hit the road. We made a short turn north, getting a much-needed tailwind and downhill stretch. It was here that I set a new personal top speed record of 44.5 mph. From here we just hammered into it, ready for the day to be over.

We rolled into North Liberty and found the house, and with it a huge spread of goodies. I swear the accommodations just kept getting better and better with each house we stayed at. Nachos, taco casserole, pasta salad, cookies, and a nice big yard to pitch the tents. These people were fantastic. The husband used to DJ, so he had a big sound system set up, blaring tunes into the night. We could’ve just stayed there, but Denny had made plans to meet up with his old college friend Nikki. She took us to her friend’s house in North Liberty, and we had burgers on his grill. Everything always seems to taste better after you’ve just ridden 76 miles on a bicycle.

They dropped us back at the host house and we sat around with the team for a while, having cocktails from the drink machine and talking about the day. We collapsed in the tent, and I actually got good night’s sleep this time.

Day 6 was much better. Low 80’s and low humidity, and a slight tailwind. We had breakfast burritos in Solon (go Spartans) while listening to a high school cover band. Afterwards Denny, Matt and I blazed through the route. None of us really felt like stopping much, because it was a welcome change of pace compared to the previous day’s slog. We stopped briefly in Mount Vernon to use the kybos, and the next thing we knew we were in Mechanicsville with only about 12 miles left in the day.

Mechanicsville was too funny. The whole town was one gigantic beer garden. Nobody, as far as we could tell, was checking IDs. Folks were partying on the roof of one of the buildings, Mardi-Gras style. I was anticipating exposed breasts, but alas none. Perhaps we got there too early. We had lunch (hamburger and a slice of apple pie from the American Legion Hall – fuck, it was delicious), stretched and hit the road.

To my concern I noticed I started getting a bit of a tickle in my throat. Ignoring it, I started another paceline and traded off taking the front with a guy from Team Road Show. A line of about 15 of us flew into Tipton, averaging about 22 mph. Day 6 was in the can. We destroyed it.

The owners of the house weren’t home, but they left a note telling us where everything was, and to feel free to throw our sleeping bags on the floor if we were tired of tents, which we most certainly were. After a shower and a nap we had some Tender Tom’s Turkey for dinner and checked out the block-long beer garden. Team Road Show was putting on an impressive juggling and hula-hooping display. The headlining act in the last, and therefore biggest party town was a stand-up musical comedian who was supposed to be really good, appeared on Comedy Central, etc. He sucked big-time. People were leaving the crowd in droves. We all ended up standing around and talking, met a couple young ladies (too young for Denny and I, plus we’re taken). Actually it was more like yelling, since the band and crowd were so loud. This was doing wonders for my throat tickle, which by morning had developed into a full-scale sore throat/chest cold. I think the damp, cool weather on Day 5 did it.

At any rate, Day 7 was by far the easiest. Mostly tailwind and only 53 miles. And the weather was gorgeous. As we crossed Highway 61 it was weird seeing the sign “Davenport: 3 Miles”, knowing we were just kissing the north edge of the Quad-Cities. We blasted into LeClaire, barely stopping at all that day. As we hit the outskirts I had stopped to shoot some video, and Denny had gotten way ahead of me. This was another situation in which we tried to find each other, but ended up missing. I coasted into town with Matt, Joe and Nick and we hit the riverfront with a warm welcome and congratulations from the locals. We got into the huge line to dip our front tires. I managed to contact Denny’s phone, and he came to join us in line. We dipped our front tires into the Mississippi and breathed a sigh of accomplishment.

In all, Denny and I had ridden exactly 500 miles that week. The extra 35 miles trying to find the Missouri River put us over the half-grand mark. We had a couple of hours before the bus would arrive, so we stepped into Sneaky Pete’s for a celebratory late lunch. I had a salmon entrĂ©e with a Corona that never tasted so good. Denny had a steak. Afterwards we went to find the bus, which hadn’t arrived yet. The rest of the team was in a roadhouse tavern, so we joined them, having some cocktails and playing pool.

The bus finally arrived, and we threw our bikes and bags on top, some of us using the camp showers we brought with us. Knowing I’d just get sweaty again, I instead wiped off with a Klenz towel (those things are great; they’re like gigantic baby wipes for when you’re camping without shower access). The bus ride home was loooonnnng. Just outside of LeClaire we had passed a team bus that was stuck perpendicularly in the median ditch, digging themselves out. It looked like they had tried making a U-turn; who knows what the hell they were doing, poor bastards. We honked and waved, but they understandably didn’t seem to be in a very friendly mood.

After over 4 hours of jostling down the interstate we finally rolled into Napier at 11:00 pm. Denny and I transferred our stuff to my pickup truck, bid everyone farewell, and drove back to Ames, stopping at the grocery store for breakfast stuff because I was damned if I was about to step outside the next morning. We were both looking forward to a lazy day of sitting on our asses and playing Rock Band.

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