RAGBRAI XL – Part Three (Day 2 On The Road)


Day Two – Cherokee to Lake View (62 miles):
Day 2

We planned to start Day 2, a manageable distance of 62 miles, a 100k metric century, around 7:30 again. After a hot night with a surprise rain shower we were treated by our host to a fantastic breakfast in the morning. She even had Tang. Tang! Narissa wasn’t ready to get up with us, so we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to our new friend. We took our time getting ready and it was closer to 8 before we were finally ready to leave Cherokee for Lake City.

The route out of Cherokee took us up the same steep hill I’d been happy to avoid the day before. George had made a pre-dawn ride out of town and said that the hill went up for a long time, steep at first and then flattening out to a more manageable grade for a while. With a good breakfast in me I was rearing to go, so I attacked the hill pretty hard. Eric and I both were ready to hit the ground running and as we climbed up away from Cherokee we fairly quickly left the rest of our team behind. Together, Eric and I put the pedal to the metal and made pretty short work of the route.

With one exception, nothing really stands out from the road on this day. I didn’t even take any pictures, as it turns out. Eric and I worked really well together and were averaging over 20 miles per hour for the morning. I thought Eric was the stronger rider and felt like he was taking more and longer pulls on the front than I was. Eric said that he thought I was the stronger one and that if he was taking extra pulls on the front it was only because he felt like he was having to work harder sitting on my wheel than he was when he was on the front. We were a pretty popular duo though, especially at the pace we were setting, and throughout the day we’d pick up other riders who were happy to ride in our slipstream. Eric said at one point we had a train of ten bikes following us.

Riding hard in a paceline like that, concentrating on staying safe when in the group, trying to keep a predictable speed and line when in front, is a lot of work and I found it hard to get enough to drink. I was reluctant to take a hand off the handlebar to reach down and grab a bottle, so we would make brief stops in the pass-through towns to drink and refill bottles. Eric wore his college racing kit, and there were lots of Michigan alums and fans on the route, so he’d hear “Go Blue” frequently and have folks coming up to talk to him when we’d stop. After a couple of days of this I started calling out “Go Blue” at random around Eric just to see if I could get him to respond.

As it got closer to noon it got hotter and windier. Neither was overwhelming but it pulled the moisture right out of you and without drinking constantly I was falling behind on my hydration, even with the stops we were making. I also wasn’t eating much and eventually we decided to stop for a quick bite. I got a smoked turkey leg from a vendor called Tom’s. It was soooo good! I had to toss it in the trash after a while because otherwise I was going to eat the whole thing and then throw it back up on the road. After our lunch stop Eric and I agreed that we’d take it a little bit easier for the remainder of the ride. But then I took off at the same pace we’d been doing all morning. It was so much fun riding fast with Eric that I just couldn’t help it. We were going so fast we didn’t even stop to see the world’s largest popcorn ball in Sac City as we passed through. They’ve got the best t-shirts!

At one of our stops I observed to Eric that, at the pace we were setting, I hadn’t really noticed that we’d been passed by very many people. Or maybe anyone.
“Not that that matters…”, I said.
“No,” Eric said, “that totally doesn’t matter. Except that it also totally does.”
“Right,” I said. “Totally doesn’t matter, except that it does.”
We clearly had not settled into the true spirit of RAGBRAI on this day.

Leaving Sac City, with just ten more miles until we were done, Eric and I agreed – again – to take it easy. And we did for a few minutes, until we were passed by a pair of women laid out on aero bars and flying down the road at 24mph. Eric was in the lead and as they passed us I said to him, “Eric, do NOT chase on to their wheel!” Eric stood up and chased on to their wheel so I had to follow suit. He shot me a grin as we got settled into their slipstream. The women we were following were older, deeply tanned, and obviously strong riders. The one in the front was pushing a huge gear, her pedals turning over very slowly despite the quick pace. We followed them for a few miles, happy to be going so fast without having to work very hard at all.

Eventually the woman in front dropped back to second wheel and her partner took the lead. Shortly afterwards we heard riders calling out “riders up” and saw two bikes down the road coming back up the route against traffic. This wasn’t terribly uncommon but I never really understood why someone would be doing it. Our paceline was on the left side of the road, the same as the oncoming cyclists, so we started to swing to the right to make room for the them.

Then there was an accident.

I’m not really sure what happened. The paceline was moving right smoothly when, suddenly, the woman riding second wheel lurched to the right. Maybe she touched wheels with the woman in front of her, or hit some tar, or just lost concentration. But then she immediately overcorrected and shot to her left, right at the oncoming cyclists. She managed to avoid them, but she was already falling and we were still going over 20mph. She fell off her bike just as she reached the edge of the pavement, falling forward over her handlebars and landing on her face in the gravel lining the side of the road. I can vividly recall her sliding along the side of the road, face first, with her helmet sliding up on her head and doing nothing to protect her.

We all hit the brakes and got stopped as fast as we could. I came to a stop on the right side of the road so quickly that I caused a minor accident myself as I caught somebody up short who fell behind me. The woman’s partner was already calling for someone to call 911 as I crossed the road to try to help. Other riders quickly stopped and began to try to help, but the woman who crashed stayed face-down and still, either unconscious or worse. They carefully turned her over and began to survey the damage. Her face was covered in blood and dust, and she was bleeding from other injuries as well.

There was a crossroad and a person selling water a less than 100 yards away so I ran up the road to see where we were and to get some water. By the time I got back there were more riders there to help, including two surgeons who happened to have been riding by. I gave them the waters I’d gotten as they talked to 911 on the phone. I gave them the cross street we were near and an ambulance was dispatched to us. The woman who crashed had regained consciousness and was weakly calling for water. Her face was starting to swell and it seemed likely that she’d broken some bones around her eye and maybe elsewhere. It was a tough scene to take in.

With two doctors attending her and 911 on the way Eric and I backed off and talked about what had just happened. After a few minutes we decided that there wasn’t anything we’d be able to contribute and we decided to press on for the remaining few miles. This time we absolutely took it easy. We rode without talking, shaken by the accident we’d been a part of.

A few miles later we rode into Lake City, which was made up as best we could tell of houses and a lake with no real “city” to speak of. We had an address on the far side of the lake we were trying to find, a house that was going to be hosting a few teams on their large lot, and with the help of some local ride volunteers we eventually found our way. Part of the way included a half-mile of shaded bike path, the longest stretch of shaded riding we’d do for the entire week. I said to Eric, “I wouldn’t mind riding 450 miles of this!” but after a few hundred yards the regular bump, bump, bump, of the concrete path changed my mind. We found the right address and had to negotiate a long gravel drive to get to the house where we were greeted by the owner and shown which part of the yard our team would be camping in. We had a nice spot under a some trees, and even though the temperatures were getting close to 100 there was a good breeze blowing and if we stayed still it was kind of nice. I was so spent after riding hard all morning that staying still was no problem at all. Getting fluids back in me, on the other hand, was.

We had a sink and toilet we could use in the garage of the house, and the water from the sink was cool and sweet. The owner had rigged up a two-stall outdoor shower with some plywood and a tarp, with a hose feeding two shower heads. The hose was sitting in the sun so when you got into the shower you had a minute or two of water that was uncomfortably warm, followed by 30 seconds of ideal shower temperature, followed immediately by “extremely refreshing” water that lasted as long as you could stand it. As hot as it was outside in the sun I think I hopped into the showers three or four times to cool off over the rest of the afternoon.

Even with the showers and the shade, riding that hard for that long in the wind and heat really took a toll on me. I found it really hard to recover and it wasn’t until after the sun went down that I started to feel kind of good again. Eric and I were the first ones to arrive at camp from our team, the only time all week that I’d get done before George. The rest of the team had stuck together, more or less, and rolled into town a few hours later. The yard filled up with three other teams, but we all more or less kept to ourselves. The host family came out a few times and chatted with us. They were nice, but I could only bite my tongue and nod as the father explained to us how Mitt Romney was going to win the election in a landslide, “only you don’t know it because the mainstream media is covering it up.” For dinner we pulled out a travel grill and cooked up burgers and brats. My brat was delicious, although my first bite set free a torrent of hot juices that burned the skin off the roof of my mouth. That didn’t stop me from having a second though.

One of our team members had to very carefully avoid gluten, which meant no beers and lots of other foods along the route had to be avoided. For our little cookout she’d brought some gluten-free hamburger buns, but when we got them out we discovered they were pretty thoroughly covered in mold. This led to a highly amusing/frustrating conversation with George, who was several beers down the road, about whether or not moldy bread posed any danger to people.

George, stubbornly insistent that moldy bread was perfectly safe, set out to prove his point by eating all the gluten-free buns. He didn’t die on the spot, but between bites he did find plenty to complain about the taste, texture, and consistency of the buns. “These taste like sawdust!” he said, as he opened the package to pick out another bun. Even topping a bun with a hamburger patty and a slice of cheese didn’t do much to improve them, apparently, but he felt he’d made his point about the mold. I’ll report back if he dies.

Laurie had printed up all the details about the route and where we’d be staying, including a summary from the RAGBRAI organizers on highlights to be found along the way. She was reading us the details of the next day’s ride, a long day (81 miles) that included an extra loop to make the total distance 104 miles (the Karras Loop, which you get a special patch for completing), when she came to this gem:

The residents of the retirement home will wave goodbye as riders exit the town of Dayton.  Be sure to stop and visit with them during your stay in town.”

I made her read that several times, each time thinking of a line of senior citizens on the outskirts of a small Iowa town, waving farewell to passing cyclists before shuffling off this mortal coil. I don’t think I can convey just how funny that was in that moment. But trust me, it was really, really funny and it made Laurie laugh so hard that beer came out of her.

So, with visions of a century day ahead in 100 degree heat, to say nothing of Dayton’s receiving line of the soon-to-be-departed, I crawled into my tent for another sweaty, but rain-free, night on the road.

To be continued…

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