We used RAGBRAI this year to test, and adjust our tour prowess for our 2012 TransAm trip.
23 July Trip to Glenwood.
In the morning we loaded the van with two tour bikes and all of our panniers
(saddle bags, front and back). Charlie (my better half) was our driver. We
Got on the rode around 8 am and arrive in Glenwood, IA by 2 or 3 pm. IT WAS HOT and
We pulled the van over to the side of the road and positioned it so Charlie
could get a good chance for a quick escape away from the growing RAGBRAI
traffic and crowds just outside of Glenwood. Daniel (my ride partner for the
next week, and upcoming TRANSAM beginning in May 2012) and I jumped out of the
van and downloaded our bikes and gear. After reloading all four panniers, tents,
sleeping bags, and rain gear onto our tour bicycles, and using my floor
(tire) pump one last time, (and me saying my goodbyes to Charlie for the next week
to ten days) we rolled.
I had some idea concerning where we were, and where we had to go to find our
campsite. We got close when one of our club members gave me a call. Good
thing because our campsite area was tucked way behind the crowds (who we had to
weave through) to get to our small piece of grassy tent spots.
Daniel and I quickly set up camp. We needed to rustle up some food for our
evening meal, so a grocery store had to be searched for and found. Just as
we finished setting camp up, and all gear safe inside our tents, the skies
opened up with a hard thunderstorm...complete with tornado warning sirens! Nothing
came of the warnings, just a hard rain for a few minutes. A rain which
failed to squash the hot, sticky weather.
24 July Glenwood to Atlantic, IA. 60 miles.
Sleeping was difficult, it never cooled down! For much of the night I had slept outside of my tent for much of the night. Eventually I crawled in and napped for a couple of hours. My alarm woke me up sll too soon, and I got up and began getting my camp broke down and loaded on the bike. It was still very dark out so I was using my flashlight to gather stuff from inside the tent. I swept the beam around the now empty tent. Something was shining in one of the very back corners. I crawled back in there to see what it was. Turns out it was one very big SOB of a spider! I never knew that a spider's eyes were reflective!!! WOW! I scooped his arse out of there and thanked him for sharing my quarters with me!
My stomach gets very queasy when I am sleep deprived. Eating anything is difficult, and food doesn't remain where it should without some difficulty. But, to ride, one must eat. After
breaking camp and loading the bikes we rolled toward our planned
breakfast stop in Silver City...only 9 miles away.
We got started at 6am, this was our start time every morning except for one
(I over slept). The morning began cool with a hint of wet humidity. The
Hills (climbs) also began, and remained with us all day long.
Just over an hour later we ride into our first RAGBRAI on route town. Following the roadside banners for the Pancake Man we pay $6 for a plate. All the pancakes we can eat, two
sausage links, coffee, water and orange juice. The food was good, but the
syrup was awesome! And unique. As good as the breakfast was, there was no way I
could go back for seconds. My stomach was rolling too much. Those that did go back
had the pleasure of catching their next helping of pancakes from the air as
the cooks literally threw pancakes at them...really....from 10. 20, 30 feet and
further! it was fun to watch!
The riding day got hotter and muggy as the day progressed. The hills and
subsequent climbs were relentless, almost 4300 ft of climb for the day. My
bike and gear combined comes to 76.5 pounds, and that's before I fill my two
water bottles! I am here to confirm what Isaac Newton has told us...gravity works,
and it can be quite the B*tch!
After a little over 60 miles we arrived in our first overnight
town...Atlantic. Since I have experienced heat exhaustion on three previous
occasions (all three while playing golf!) I don't do well in high heat and
humid conditions. I have to be careful with the heat since I am supposed to
be more susceptible to exhaustion from the heat. There was no let up in the hot
We found a store and bought what we needed to cook. Throughout the week our
evening meals were great! We cooked right beside our tents, and they were
always filling. Sleeping, however was very difficult again.
25 July, Atlantic to Carroll, IA. 66 miles
Waking up at 5 am was very early for me. I may have gotten three hours
sleep. Not good. My stomach told me I was in trouble. We rolled after the
morning ritual of breaking camp and loading bikes.
Breakfast was 15 miles away in Elkhorn. I tried to eat a breakfast burrito, but had no good luck with that...unfortunately it cost too much...$7. The day was hilly and hot again.
The climbs were one right after the other (4700 feet of climbing!... and the hot humid conditions were much worse.
After 40 miles we arrived in Manning. I was struggling. With 26 hilly miles
in front of me, I knew I couldn't make it. With shame and humility I tell
Daniel I have to catch a SAG ride in. To go on would most certainly land me in the hospital with an IV in my arm. He agrees and makes me promise not to continue on my bike and do catch the first available SAG ride back...I agree.
I have ridden many RAGBRAIs. I have never had to stoop to a SAG ride. But I
was glad to catch it on this day. As it turned out the last 26 miles were much
hotter, and the climbs even tougher. I had made the right decision.
With me being SAGed in and Daniel riding the last 26 miles we manage to
arrive at our overnight town at the same time. I get my bike and gear off the
SAG wagon, and we ride to our campground. It is absolutely sweltering! I know I
won't be able to deal with it. After setting up camp I tell Daniel that we have
to pull a few RAGBRAI tricks to get out of the heat. We jump on our empty bikes
and go look for a College, high school. or community center. We find a high
school with an open lunch room! Yes! AC and cool tiled floors! I don't care how
hard the floors are, I lay down and use my helmet as a pillow!
Six hours later I move...just a little. After two bottles of cold water and a 32 oz Gatorade,
I'm feeling damn good! I'm cooled down, and rehydrated. Dinner time!
We find a store, purchase our dinner makings and cook up a meal. It's still
hot, but I sleep a little bit better.
26 July, Carroll to Boone, IA, 71 miles
We're up early, I'm feeling a bit better. Because the day was a long one we
were trying to beat the heat, so breakfast was 35 miles later at Churdan. We
got there in pretty good time. There was some good climbs, I had to use my
granny gear up most of them...I just didn't have any good levels of power in my
legs. I didn't really struggle getting up any of them, I just couldn't attack
After breakfast it started heating up again but the climbing wasn't too
awful...until Twister Hill. This hill was long, steep, and dead air hot! WOW! I
didn't even know it was on route. Approaching it, most of it was around a
corner, so as we got closer we could see a climb ahead...okay no biggie, we
climb all the time, so what! But rounding that corner left me surprised! THAT'S
A HILL!! Some say it was a mile and a half...as hard as it was, I think it was
closer to just under a mile. I granny gear all the way up it with no unbearable
effort. But, I was also only climbing at 2-3 mph. Many riders walked this
hill...most of them were walking it faster than I was climbing it! Really!
Riding my 76 pound dump truck is much easier than pushing it. I got to the top
and found Daniel sitting on the side of the road. He had made it to the top
too, but he had massive effort to do so. He climbed the whole thing without
getting into his lowest gears. He said he overlooked it...and suffered the
consequences. Luckily he recovered quickly and we were on our way again.
After arriving in Boone, we found and set up camp, went looking for food
preps, showered, cooked, ate dinner, and located a cool place to roost for a
few hours. I felt I was recovering from the previous day's riding and getting
over whatever funk I had. Now it's gotten cooler...actually the best night of
the whole week. I'm in bed and asleep by 10pm looking forward to a very easy
day in the morning.
July 27, Boone to Altoona. 56 miles.
It turns out to be the most pleasant night of the trip, I'm asleep by 10 pm
and sawing some serious logs! That is until 12pm when my cell phone wakes me up
with trouble at home. I may have to cut my trip short and return! Bummer!
Worried about the situation I don't sleep the rest of the night. Five am
arrives, and I pack up. Now I'm sick again, probably from lack of sleep and stress! I
actually throw up while riding! That's a first! It sets my ride up for as a tough
one. And it was...not quite like a death march, but bad.
Breakfast was 23 miles later. I ordered some plain scrambled eggs ($6) and
ate half of them. My cell phone barks at me. It's my better half with
some good news...things are calming down on the home front...finish your ride.
It was a weight lifted...I started feeling better, but I really need to take
the edge off the feeling of lack of rest from my body. I find a cool shady
place under a tree and unroll my air mattress.
An hour and a half later I wake up, get some water and Gatorade in me...let it all settle, and jump on my dump truck. Although I feel weak, I manage to get into Altoona and find camp. Same
routine, set up, then go find food makings, and a cool shelter with shower facilities.
Success is achieved and I rest for several hours. I can actually feel my body
recovering and get stronger as the hours tick by.
In bed by 830 pm or so I doze to the sound of the Grand Funk concert just
across the railroad tracks. Oh they were GOOD!! At 11pm I'm startled from my slumber by a train whistle literally just outside my tent! Holy Sh*t!!!! Two hours
later I'm back asleep.
28 July, Altoona to Grinnell, IA. 56 miles.
My easiest day so far. I oversleep. Daniel shakes my tent at 540am. My alarm failed me. I get up, do two of the three "S's" pack and we're on the road only twenty minutes late.
Breakfast is fifteen miles down the road at Colfax. Today's ride for me is a recovery ride...I take my time and try not to overextend. Colfax did not assist in that effort....it surprised me with a huge climb out of its city limits. Granny gear all the way up with not too much distress but getting tired is a cumulative thing. So climbs, headwinds, and heat all add together during the day of riding.
After Colfax we turn north for ten miles. I was looking forward to this ten mile section because we had had SE winds all week...not today! The winds were coming directly from the north! Damn! And it was hilly! Double damn! The silver lining was it was fixing to rain on us so we had cloud cover...Good Deal! Hill after hill for the next ten miles...they weren't super bad...in fact if I had been on my road bike vs. my tourer I would call them steep rollers...easily conquered with the help of any momentum gained from the previous down hill. But on a loaded tour bike momentum is quickly crushed by gravity...so climbing each one from half way up is required.
With four miles left to our planned lunch stop at the little town of Baxter I came upon a paved bike trail between hills. Hmmmm, where does this go? It appears to be a trail along an old railroad bed. Hey, anyone know where this goes? I ask. Yeah...Baxter. Perfect! I jump on it. It's going up, but at a very gentle climb. Nice! It spits me out in Baxter. I find Daniel and we go for lunch.
As I'm walking along the main street the clouds open up and rain on me. I put my rain jacket on just in time for the rain to stop! Yeah, that's how it usually works.
As I walk down the street I look study all the food vendors for something to eat that is both good and cheap. Good Luck, right?! This is RAGBRAI! But I actually find a vendor BBQing the largest and best looking pork ribs I have ever seen! I ask, "How much?"... "$1 a rib or $2 for three" Heck yes! What a deal! They were huge! I get three, slather extra BBQ sauce on them and proceed to unabashedly wolf them down...you know...with BBQ sauce all over one's face when finished? That was me! They were great!! I wash it all down with another good deal...a 32oz Gatorade for only $2.
I sit back for twenty minutes and let my meal settle. Then, it's back on the bike. Time to slog out the rest of the miles. It got hot again, and the hills remained steep rollers. Just short of Grinnell, our next over night town, I was climbing a particularly long and steep hill when Daniel calls me on my cell phone...I answer right away because I don't want to miss him..."Daniel, I'll call you back in a minute", and I disconnect the call and continue the grind up this hot dead air climb. My phone rings again...it's Daniel..." Daniel, can you hear me? I'll call you back in a minute" He understands this time...I make it up the hill, but that hill about got me!
In Grinnell we set up camp, cook, eat, rehydrate, shower and go look for a shelter with AC.
29 July, Grinnell to Coralville, 75 miles.
My easiest and most fun day of riding for the trip. I'm fully recovered and feel strong, 100% ready to ride! Yes! This day was a mix of medium to easy climbs, lots of flat areas to ride through...but remained hot and head windy. Daniel and I cruised at our fastest speeds for the week. We covered the 75 miles by 2pm or so with very little trouble. It was good day!
Breakfast was 36 miles from our start at Marengo. Then we were off and rolling. There was at least twenty miles of nice flat terrain to ride through. Although I have four bags sticking way out catching all the wind, I still tuck into a time trial position and pump through the wind. When I tuck in like that I really do gain a couple of miles per hour as odd as it sounds. For a tour bike I rocket down the road at a good pace! It is wonderful!
With 17 miles left to go we hit the rollers again. Now these rollers work pretty good for us. We attack the down hills and find we CAN make the tops of the next climbs, sometimes while remaining in our big rings! We ride for ten mile then take a break. We discuss the possibilities if we had had our road bikes! Our fun would be double the pleasure! Back on the bikes we finish strong in Coralville.
Same routine...set up, food, shower, and AC shelter.
30 July, Coralville to Davenport, IA. 65 miles.
The last day of RAGBRAI is always different from the other days. Everyone is up earlier. Everyone seems to have one mission in mind... "Get 'er done!" Most riders are tired, some of the courtesy is absent...there is less to no warnings on the road. Very little "On your Left. Off right. Bike on....etc. Probably the most dangerous day of RAGBRAI. We ride the 65 miles, but do have some close calls...but arrive unscathed.
The day was still hot and head windy, but seemed to be a little less humid. So a good day to ride. It got a little hills once we arrived in Davenport...not a bad thing. The bad thing was that on some of the back roads we were routed on the oil was bubbling up to the surface. We would roll over those spots and it felt like rolling over gum. Our bike immediately slowed. Slowing of any sort is never a welcome thing when I ride my bike. Especially when we're trying to finish a trip. We got through it and arrived at the Mississippi River.
Daniel and I crossed over the river from Davenport into Rock Island. We managed to find a brew pub and sat down for a celebratory beer! YES! It was a good ride! Even the days I had to get through sick.
After a cell phone call to Charlie, we were packed up in the van and on the road toward home.
RAGBRAI was the perfect ride for us to test our upcoming TRANSAM preparedness. The daily long distance forced point to point riding is not really conducive to tour riding, but a good test of it. While on tour, if conditions are bad we have the option to quit for the day after so many miles...not so on RAGBRAI...we have to slog it out...a forced march of sorts.
During the week Daniel and I both made many adjustments to our bikes. The long miles day after day bring out and identify the slight maladjustments that cannot be found on our short training rides. I made three critical seat, and a shoe cleat adjustment during the week. Long rides bring out the pain, and where there is pain many times an adjustment can be made to alleviate the problem. It just takes long mile to find it.
The trip also helped us to work on day to day routines. Packing and unpacking, cooking, shopping, water gathering...what works, what doesn't...where money is being spent needlessly. etc We learned a lot. We're far better prepared for our trip to come starting in early May of 2012 when we embark from Yorktown, VA to Florence, OR, and then south along the Pacific coast to San Francisco.
It was pretty cool when many RAGBRAIers supported us with statements like "Self contained is amazing!", "Self Contained is the Best!" , and many yells of similar support.