Homer's Travels: RAGBRAI 2015 ... Done ... Check

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015 ... Done ... Check

The end of my RAGBRAI ... dipping my front tire in the Mississippi River.
Just over a week ago, as  most of you know, I participated in the week long cycling regatta across Iowa known as RAGBRAI.  It was a long week and it ended with many mixed feeling on my part about cycling, Iowa, and large groups of people.

Note:  I was going to include cool graphs and GPS based numbers in my post but operator error caused some problems during the first day's ride and an accidental reset wiped out numbers for the last day so I will not have any cool graphs and numbers.

When I started drafting this post, I was doing my usual day by day narrative.  Then, while I was trying to fall asleep, I decided a narrative wouldn't express all that I felt about my experience.  I will instead do a list of the GOOD and the BAD of my RAGBRAI experience:

  • The Brother-in-Law (BiL) joined me on my RAGBRAI.  His four time RAGBRAI rider experience helped me get my bearings (GOOD).
  • The Niece (the BiL's eldest daughter) joined us for the first day.  She was using it as training for a triathlon she will be doing in September.  It was her longest bike ride and she did it with flying colors (GOOD).
  • While the temperature and humidity were not as bad as the week before RAGBRAI (GOOD) it was still hot and humid enough to make things miserable when there wasn't shade (BAD).  The wind was also cooperative either not blowing hard or blowing in a good direction (GOOD).
  • The first stage was the longest and had the most elevation climb (BAD).  It was the longest ride that I have ever done (and is still my personal best) and I think I tackled it well (GOOD).
  • There are lots of opportunities to eat and drink along the way (GOOD) with a good variety of crappy food (GOOD  and  BAD) to eat to keep your body going.
  • Unfortunately I ate too much crappy food selections along the way which, in turn, made me all bloated and crappy feeling on several of the stages (BAD).  I ended up gaining a few pounds over the week despite the five thousand plus calories I burned each day (BAD).
  • My energy level reflected my inconsistency in eating I think.  Some days I felt good, others I had to dig deep to find the energy to pedal.  The shortest day was probably my worst day (BAD).
  • On the bright side I kept myself well hydrated (GOOD).  On the dull side I drank enough Gatorade to float the Titanic and I'm not that fond of Gatorade ... especially now that I'm done (BAD).
  • The campsites we stayed at offered only limited shade so, in the afternoon after ending the ride for the day, tents were put up in the sun and instantly turned into roaster ovens (BAD).
  • Roaster oven tents meant no afternoon naps to help recover from the six to nine hours of bike riding (BAD).
  • The crowd of bikes enter town.
  • Each host town (the towns at the end of each stage) and many towns along the route offered entertainment.  There were concerts and food/drink/biking gear expos at all of the host cities.  Sioux City offered Huey Lewis and the News.  Coralville offered Cheap Trick.  Most of the others were good local indie bands. (GOOD)
  • Since I was unable to nap during the afternoon, or find any comfortable and cool place to power down, I rarely partook of the evening entertainment.  I experienced only thirty minutes of Huey Lewis and only twenty minutes of Cheap Trick.  The other bands ... no minutes at all really (BAD).
  • I probably should have done what other riders did in the afternoon and take naps along the route.  Every farmyard with trees and every cemetery lined in trees looked like a bomb had gone off - there were riders laying down in every piece of shade.  I did nap once in one town in the shade of a tree in a park (GOOD).  The thirty minute nap didn't do much to revive me but the caffeine I drank afterwards did.  Unfortunately I did not stop for naps more often (BAD).
  • There were a few exceptions though.  Fort Dodge and Eldora offered food in an air conditioned cafeteria (GOOD).  Coralville offered movies in an air conditioned high school auditorium with real auditorium seating (GOOD),  The most popular part of the high school building experience for many were the plug ins for charging their phones(GOOD but I also find this kind of BAD for some reason).
  • Each day we were provided with shower service.  Twice I used the services of shower trucks which were semi-private (GOOD).  The other days where we showered in high schools or college facilities you showered while surround by a dozen naked old men (BAD).
  • Each day I was exhausted, which was to be expected, but it was always hard to fall asleep since, after crawling in your tent, you sweat buckets for the first hour or so before it finally started to cool off.  You would invariable wake up in the middle of the night cold requiring you to pull out the sleeping bag at 3:00AM (BAD).
  • Talking drunk people or, as I noted in my notebook "Noisy God damned ... inconsiderate Asses" were a problem in Eldora including one drunk guy putting his tent up next to mine at 2:15AM.  Fortunately for him he had his super powerful headlamp to light up the place (BAD).
  • The riding experience was not quite what I expected.  You were constantly amongst other riders.  You had to be constantly aware of everyone around you to ensure your and other's safety.  This meant the ride was not a relaxing coast across Iowa but an hours long exercise in concentration. This can be stressful (BAD).  Fortunately I handled the bike traffic better than I expected having never experienced it before (GOOD).
  • Crowded roads meant even more crowded towns.  We had to dismount when going through towns, not because we wanted to, but because it was impossible to ride through the congestion of hundreds of bikers in search of food and drink (BAD).
  • A jokester farmer leaving toilet paper next to his corn field ... at PP Avenue. 
  • Crowds also meant lines at the porta potties (BAD) resulting in many to use the convenience of the local corn fields (BAD).
  • A considerable variety of bikes participated in RAGBRAI.  You had your regular street bikes, various recumbents in various configurations, and more tandems (i.e. bicycles built for two) then I ever expected to see.  Then there were the oddballs like the guy rollerblading, the unicycle, the homemade bamboo bike, and the elliptical bike.  The variety gave you something to look at while you rode (GOOD).  The variety of people also was staggering with the number of amputees being very inspirational including the one woman pedalling her bike with only one leg (GOOD).
  • On the first day I saw so many flat tires that I knew it would be inevitable to have some type of breakdown along the way.  On day two my chain got jammed and had to be replaced (BAD).  Fortunately it failed in town where there were bike repair tents (GOOD).
  • On day five my luck really ran out.  First I woke up to a flat tire with a sheared off valve stem (BAD).  It was the rear tire and I really wasn't sure how to do it with all the gears shifting stuff back there.  There usually was a bike repair tent near the start of the stage so I started to walk.  After an hour or so I gave up and turned my bike over to see if I could change the tube myself.  Fortunately a member of the Air Force cycling team showed up (GOOD) and helped me replace the tire (they were doing it all along the route - really nice people).  I ride a hybrid bike with larger tires.  When the Air Force guy pumped up the tire he didn't take that into account.  See, my tires should be around 75 psi.  Road bikes, like he was used to, are usually in the 100 to 130 psi range.  I thanked him, he left, and I got on my fixed bike.  A few feet into the ride I heard a rubbing noise.  I figured it would wait until I found the bike repair people.  Well, about 200 to 500 feet later there was a big BANG!  A hole blew in the tube.  This resulted in a hole being blown in the tire (BAD).  I sighed, laughed a little, and continued to walk my bike.  I found the bike repair tent about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) from the starting point for the day.
  • Later in the day as I approached a slower bike I squeezed on the brake and heard a "TING!" and there was no brake (BAD).  I pulled off to the side of the road without any major issues.  Fortunately the brake cable had not broken and had simply slipped out of the mechanism.  I was able to repair it in a few minutes.  This would also be my last major issue with my bike (GOOD).
  • I didn't suffer any accidents, coming close only once that I recall when I took a turn to sharp and dropped my tire off the pavement.  I recovered but it woke me up (GOOD).  I saw either accidents or the aftermath of accidents along the entire way.  Ambulance sirens were heard at least once a day (BAD).
  • The scenery along the way was fields of corn and soybeans as far as the eye could see.  It was both beautiful (GOOD) and monotonous (BAD) at the same time.  The fields were broken up by farm houses which often had a food or drink stand close by.
  • The entire route, but especially days one and six, reminded everyone that Iowa is not a flat state.  The hills, especially those right before Coralville, were killers (BAD).  I ended up walking two hills on the way into Coralville and I can blame only one of those on extenuating circumstances (I was behind a truck and a bike ahead of the truck threw a chain forcing the truck to stop and me to lose all my momentum.).  Fortunately those were the only hills I had to walk (GOOD).
  • Some fun along the route - Hay Bale Minions.
  • Along the RAGBRAI route there is always an optional loop that would allow you to ride a century (i.e. 100 miles).  I chose not to take the optional loop (GOOD).
  • Besides the heat and humidity, we had rain.  There were only two days of rain.  The first on day two was minor and didn't last long (GOOD).  The second on day six going into Coralville was a deluge.  I was totally soaked through and, due to hazardous road conditions, we had to take the downhills slow which made going up the other side of the hill that much more difficult (BAD).
  • My bike headlamp flew off on a hill going into Coralville.  I did not stop in the rain to retrieve it (BAD).
  • Speaking of lost things, I left my good sunglasses on the grass in Eldora.  I'm sure some high school kid who volunteered to clean up after us is enjoying my $180.00 sunglasses - I wasn't going to use them on the ride but forgot to take them off after the Wife dropped us off at the starting point.  My bad (BAD).  My cheap sunglasses that I'd meant to wear on the ride ended up getting scratched to the point of being useless.  I wasn't easy on my sunglasses (BAD).
So, what is my overall opinion of my RAGBRAI experience?  After my first Camino I felt my adventure was incomplete and I needed to do it again.  After my first RAGBRAI I can say with certainty that I am not fond of cycling.  The bike will soon be moving to the basement where it will most likely become a permanent trainer.  Training for RAGBRAI has improved my annual blood test numbers so I will try to keep it up ... in the basement ... with Netflix.  

Will I ever ride RAGBRAI again?  No.  I have no need for another RAGBRAI.  I have never felt that exhausted for so long.  Each day I was weary.  Before I started I expected to feel a sense of satisfaction each day upon arriving at the end town.  In fact I didn't feel satisfaction, I felt relief.  Relief of it finally being over.  The relief didn't last long as the lack of even basic comfort at the end of the day sucked the fun right out of it for me.  I didn't like the crowds.  It was hard to make friends when they would be lost in the crowd the next day.  I rarely ran into the same people twice.  Having said this, a lot of people seemed to be having fun.  Maybe it was all the beer vendors along the route.  Or, maybe, it was just me.  I'm not happy when everyone around me is having fun while I'm not.

There is one situation that would make me reconsider riding RAGBRAI again.  My Camino friend KSam has said that RAGBRAI was on her bucket list.  If she chose to do it I would consider doing it with her but ... I suspect my reconsideration would still be no.  I would support her and take her and her bike to the start and pick her and bike up at the end.  But riding with her ... we'll have to see if it's true that time heals all wounds.

I took few pictures ... too dang tired to take out the camera ... but I have posted a few in my 2015-07 RAGBRAI Google Photos album.


  1. I enjoyed the trip with you. Terry

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