RAGBRAI XL – Part Eight (The End of the Road)

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Day 7 – Anamosa to Clinton (70 Miles)
The last day of RAGBRAI kind of stinks. We’d ridden a lot of miles without a rest day and were only getting 5-6 hours of frequently interrupted sleep. We’ve only had one day of decent weather, preceded by 5 days of draining heat and constant sweat. I wake up for the last day, and I’m tired. My legs feel fine, but I could really use another four hours of sleep. It was pretty cool overnight and my throat is scratchy as I get up, like maybe I’m getting a cold. My bladder woke me up before my alarm, but when I get to the kybos there’s a line and for several minutes it isn’t moving. I go back to camp and take a bottle into my tent to solve that problem. I get dressed, donning my  Oscar the Grouch jersey for the last time. Everyone is slow getting started. Tired, but also sad that this adventure is coming to a close. We may not be rearing to ride, but that doesn’t mean we want to go back to the real world.

The last day of RAGBRAI kind of stinks for another reason – riders who are part of a charter group, which is a substantial number, are on a pretty strict timeline to get to the finish city so that they can get transportation from the finishing city to wherever they need to go. For some, that means getting done with the 70-mile route by noon. Lots of riders start early and get through the route quickly, so there are fewer people out on the road by the time we get rolling. Vendors have given up, so there are fewer options to choose from along the route. The mood on the road is kind of subdued in general. But it is the last day and we want to finish in style, and also as a team, so we’re going to stick together today. Well, George went on ahead, but that was expected at this point.

Pat and Dan had been having trouble keeping up with the rest of us on the rolling hills of the previous day, so they opted to ride into the van to the meetup city and then finish with the group. We rolled out around 6:30 and pointed ourselves East for the last time, the cool morning a nice contrast to most of our days on the road. We climbed our way out of Anamosa and into the sun. A few miles out of town we could see that we had climbed up along a ridge and from time to time we’d get some really nice views of the valleys on either side of the road. The terrain was getting a little more varied as we got closer to the Mississippi river valley, and we got some nice views like this during the ride into Clinton.

Again, the RAGBRAI Route Report catalogs all the thing that you could have seen on the route if you were so inclined. The first town was a huge bust – they had pork chops and pie, but nothing like breakfast and there weren’t really any other vendors there to fill in the gap. We stopped briefly looking for coffee but decided it wasn’t worth waiting in line for. It was disappointing to have ridden 16 miles for so little. We had better luck in Oxford where we waited in a long line to get some pancakes and sausage. The townsfolk were having a bit of trouble keeping up with demand, but we eventually got enough fuel to get to the next town.

In the meetup town we picked up Dan and Pat, then headed off to find lunch down the road. We stuck together as best we could but whoever was in the lead would stop when they got to the next town and gather everyone up as they came by. Calling out “High 5” also got a lot of other people to at least swing close and slap your hand. We had a nice lunch together and then pressed on to the end of the road. Part of the route included some road that was really bad, rough enough that the highway department had put up signs from Delmar to Charlotte. It got old, quickly, and I was glad when we got onto smooth pavement later on.

Eric and I ended up riding together through Goose Lake. From there it was a long descent down into Clinton. I was kind of thinking of taking it easy and enjoying the last few miles of the ride, but we ended up hooking up with a paceline that was flying down the hill at 27-30 mph. It was some work to keep up that pace, but it was so much fun to be going that fast. A few miles out of Clinton the paceline fell apart, but Eric and I kept up the pace all the way into town. As we got into Clinton we saw lots of teams pulled over onto the side of the road to make sure they all finished together. Eric and I rode all the way to the end and then found a strategic vantage point to gather up everyone else so we could dip our wheels in the Mississippi as a team. We didn’t have very long to wait before everyone was done and we were all together again. There were hundreds of people waiting in line at the official spot the organizers had setup for people to dip their wheel in the river, so we went up the levee a bit to find a quiet spot for our team to finish the ride in the traditional fashion.

We found a spot a few blocks away and got on the phone to get George to meet us. Together we rode down the levee and lowered our bikes down to the water’s edge. A few other folks had a similar idea and we got one of them to take some pictures as we dipped our front tires in the Mississippi and then held our bikes aloft. Afterwards we went back to the Candlelight Inn and celebrated our accomplishment with some drinks and fried foods. We were happy to be done, proud of ourselves for getting through a tough week, and had become pretty darn good friends since meeting at this spot the previous week.

After a drink and some food we went back up to the same place we’d spent the night at the start of our ride to unpack the van and transfer all the gear to the the cars that’d carry various team members home. Eric was driving back to Denver. Dan and Laura were taking Laurie back to Chicago before continuing on to Virginia. Bill, Ross, Ben, and Kiersten shared a Suburban back to Ann Arbor. George, Pat, and I jumped in the van to get it and the trailer back to Nashville. Fortunately we still had a few beers left in the cooler so George and I took advantage while Pat got us on the road through Illinois. We left Clinton around 5:30 and made it near the Kentucky border by 11:30, by that time Pat had had enough and we got a hotel room. It was really nice to sleep in a bed again, even if it was just for a few hours. We woke up early, grabbed breakfast at the hotel, and rode the interstates back to Nashville. We were back just before lunch.

I transferred my stuff to my car, said goodbye and thanks to Pat and his wife, Donna, and then hit the road for home. I made it as far as Fort Worth before deciding to give it up and spend the night at my Dad’s house there. I gave him the first recap of the ride then had another short night to get home to my family on Monday morning. I ended up spending more time in the car on this trip, covering nearly 3000 miles, but it was certainly worth it. When I finally made it home I was greeted by three very excited people and two extremely happy dogs. I got unpacked, cleaned up, and then I took a long nap. There’d be time to go for a ride tomorrow.

Deep Thoughts:

I am so glad that Pat asked me to join him on the ride this year. I didn’t know what to expect really, but my expectations were exceeded at just about every point along the way. There are as many ways to experience RAGBARAI as there are people who ride it. I went up to Iowa wanting to ride my bike, to get a lot of miles in, and to ride as hard as I wanted to. And that’s exactly what I got. Seeing all the people, and all the diversity of riders, bikes, styles, and approaches to the ride was a revelation. RAGBRAI is a little like Burning Man – a truly unique event that appeals to a particular subculture and contains a variety of subcultures. There’s nothing else like it.

I was shocked at all the different bikes, and other things, people were riding. High-end road bikes, mountain bikes (one dude was keeping up with two roadies, who blew past me, on his race-prepped 29’er), antique bikes, tandems, recumbents, streamliners, rusty 10-speeds, touring bikes, at least one penny farthing, unicycles, even some people on skateboards, and at least two who were running. The same was true for the people. Young, old, fat, thin, fit, flabby, anyone could go out and get some miles in with the group and a lot of people got a lot of miles in. The kids were amazing, the ones riding their own bikes especially, but also the ones on the backs of tandems, on trail-a-bikes, and in trailers. Teenagers, including lots of young women of indeterminate age riding in shorts and sports bras (and sporting some spectacular sunburns throughout the week), grandparents, and young parents were all there and all having a good time.

I put a few months of mileage onto my road bike in a week, and enjoyed almost every single one of them. Before the ride I admired and enjoyed my titanium Alchemy, but after seven days and 500 miles across Iowa it is safe to say I love it. Maybe not as much as some people I know love theirs, but certainly more than I did before I left, when I was always nervous that it might fall or get scratched. It fell over enough this week that was no longer a concern. I was always happy to get on it in the morning and felt perfectly comfortable there mile after mile.

It was also great to travel like this, which I’d never done before. No matter how tired I was, once I got on my bike my legs knew what to do and they’d carry me as far as I needed to go. Even if that meant 6 more miles uphill at the end of an 84 mile ride. Hills were just a thing you got over, eventually if necessary. By the end of the week there wasn’t a grade that phased me. I have never felt that strong on a bike. Sadly, that fitness was fleeting and just over a week later I’m not as fit as I was when we pulled into Clinton. But I know that I can be.

I also didn’t expect to become as close to my teammates as I did. I really enjoyed each and every one of them and would be thrilled to hang out with them again, either on the bike or off. We’ve already started talking about other rides we could do together. It was a real, and rare, treat for me to be able to get to know them and share this experience with them. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this any other way.

Can’t wait to hit the road again…

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1 comment
  1. Laurie said:

    HIGH 5!

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