RAGBRAI XL – Part Seven (The Short Shirt Day)

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Day 6 – Cedar Rapids to Anamosa (44 Miles)
The second to last day was the shortest all week and we were looking forward to having much nicer weather. We’d decided beforehand that today would be “Hawaiian shirt day” so we traded our cycling jerseys for flowered shirts. Eric won the early judging by forgoing the Hawaiian shirt and opting instead for a flowered tankini that he wore over his University of Michigan team kit. Since we were staying with a construction company their day started pretty early, so despite the late night ours did too. Our hosts brought us a very nice breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausage, and other treats, which we all appreciated and enjoyed. We took our time getting ready to roll out and left close to 8, I think. We also picked up another rider, a fellow also named David, who was friends with some of our Michigan contingent.

Everyone wanted to ride along the river, the same route my wrong turn the previous afternoon had followed, so we took the long way out of town. It ended up being a little bit longer than planned because it took a while to figure out how to get on the right road from the campground without thousands of other people to follow. In the end we found the right route and enjoyed having the road to ourselves for a while. We eventually caught up with the rest of the ride on the official route out of town and then came to our first stop in the Czech Village section of Cedar Rapids. We slowly made our way through the first stop, spending some time chatting with a dad who was riding with his 19-month old son. The toddler was doing his best to help his dad get properly coated with sunscreen, working with the kind of diligence and enthusiasm only a kid that age can muster. Dad said that riding with his son in a trailer was easier than expected, as long as they stopped every couple of miles to play and didn’t try to make the full mileage each day. One of the things that surprised me was how family-friendly RAGBARI can be, and it gave me ideas for the years ahead to try it with mine.

The RAGBRAI route report nicely sums up the sights along the way. While we enjoyed the cooler temps, the winds were pretty strong and for most of the day we’d be riding right into them. There was also some pretty steep rollers on the route and it made it hard for all of us to stay together. We elected to gather at each town, with whomever was in the lead pulling over to wait when getting to each town. And the first one after getting clear of Cedar Rapids was Mount Vernon, home of Cornell College (not to be confused with Cornell University in New York).

Mount Vernon was packed, but despite the crowd it was obvious that this was a lovely little college town worthy of the name Cornell. We split up to find food and some beer-based hangover remedy, then gathered back together under the gazebo pictured in the RAGBRAI Route Report above. While were chatting, Dan started to catalog his complaints about the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing, a modest red-and-white flowered number he’d scored at Goodwill.

“I don’t know who this thing was built for,” he said. “It is way too big across the chest, but even though it says it is a large, it is way too short in the back.”

Indeed, the hem of his shirt exposed the small of his back when he was bent over the handlebars and he was having to be sure to apply sunscreen to his “tramp stamp” area.

“And, for some reason, the buttons are all on the wrong side…”

Several beats of silence.

“But…it was in the Men’s section at the Goodwill!”

Several minutes of laughter as we more closely examined the shirt and noticed all the little details that had escaped our attention before. The darts on the front, creating room for an ample bosum. The decorative holes stiched into the front and back. Suddenly we had a new contender in the team’s “Best Hawaiian Shirt” competition, and it was on the back of the man we were now calling “Rosedan”.

We were enjoying our second breakfast, and Dan’s lady shirt, when a woman walking around the gazebo area announced that there was going to be a wedding held there shortly and we were all welcomed to be in it. Sure enough, a minute later we spied the bride and groom, dressed in slightly modified riding kits, their family, and band of fellow RAGBRAI riders who’d been recruited as an impromptu wedding party headed toward the gazebo. Most of the wedding party consisted of men wearing dresses (it was the shortest riding day after all, costumery was part of the deal), which was a nice touch. The couple had a brief, touching little ceremony and a huge cheer went up when the couple was introduced to the crowd. It was awesome. Afterwards the newlyweds posed for pictures with the mascot for Cornell college, a muscular ram in a basketball uniform.

I caught the wedding on video. https://vimeo.com/47098881

We eventually hit the road again, and while the temps were in the 80’s the wind was kind of brisk and almost always out of the wrong direction. The hills weren’t very tall, but there were plenty of them and they were pretty steep. With the wind in your face you had to pedal downhill, pedal hard across the valley to keep your momentum up, then hope for the best on the next uphill. Still a little slow from the night before, and with a scratchy throat starting from the cigar and a night in the chill, I didn’t enjoy the riding much. But it was nice to be out on the road with our full team and we stopped at a city down the route for a nice lunch together in a park by a stream. Before we got to the overnight town of Anamosa we had one more stop we were going to make.

Team Good Beer, a RAGBRAI institution who produce a helpful guide to finding microbrews and good beers along the route, was hosting a party just off the route at the Stone City General Store that we were not going to miss. Although miss it we almost did as the turn off the route ended up being about a mile sooner than we thought it was going to be. We followed directions Laurie had gotten from Google, which ended up taking us down a few miles of dirt and gravel roads to Stone City and the General Store where the part was. Riding off road was a nice change of pace, despite a few sketchy downhill sections. At one point we were passed by a pickup truck with two riders and their bikes in the bed. Just before we got to the party we saw the riders getting out of the truck to ride the last few hundred yards.

“Aww, come on,” I said to the husband and wife as they mounted their bikes, “you can’t SAG your way to the party then ride the last little bit.”

“No!” said the wife, “We totally got the directions wrong. We got onto a DIRT ROAD!” Her tone made it clear that her world did not have accommodations for a bike route that did not have pavement in it.

“No,” I said, “that was the right route. That’s how we got here.”

Her reply, “You…you rode down…THAT?” made it clear that she thought we were nuts.

Her husband stepped in – “We’re not riding the last bit to show off…” then under his breath to me, “Dude, I’m trying to save my marriage here. This bike has never, ever been inside a car and I wouldn’t have even thought of SAG’ing, but there was no way I could get her to ride over the dirt!”

I whispered back, “Truly you are wise, and I am learning much from you today on the art of manliness. Namaste.” And we exchanged knowing, meaningful winks, husband to husband.

The party was nice, with several local brews and regional micro brews to choose from, a band, good good and a pretty energetic crowd. I had a beer, sat on the grass with my teammates, but fatigue crept over me and after a while I was ready to finish off the last few miles and just get to town. Anamosa also had what looked like a pretty cool motorcycle and bike museum and I wanted to check that out before it closed. Ross had taken the van into town and was told that due to the size of the van and the trailer we were going to have to camp in the RV parking area and not the general campground. He’d parked then gotten on his bike to join us at Stone City, so he was able to tell us firsthand where we had to ride to (a mile or so out of town) and what the route was like into town.

Turns out the ride out of Stone City started with a leg-busting climb for a few hundred yards before settling into a long descent into town. After sitting for a while nursing a beer, having to immediately go into a hard climb wasn’t exactly welcome. But it eventually ended and I enjoyed a long, fast coast into town. I eventually picked up the main route and found my way through Anamosa, which is home to a large penitentiary as it happens. The theme for the night in Anamosa was “Ride it like you Stole it” and they were handing out plastic handcuffs. Pure class.

I followed the route out of town and then over a long, bumpy path through the grass that had been improvised to keep bikes from having to ride on a major highway to the RV park. The park itself was a big field of absolutely indeterminate purpose, filled with weeds and the sound of generators. I found our van and George, sound asleep in a chair with a beer and newspaper in his lap. There was a shower concession setup in the corner of the lot, a slick converted semi trailer with 20 shower stalls, huge water tanks, and a 400,000 BTU industrial boiler to provide hot water. It was clean and for $6 I enjoyed a nice hot shower and a chat with the other dudes in the stalls. We talked about riding bikes and the novelty of showering in a trailer. I setup my tent and a short while later the rest of the team arrived at camp as well. We setup a canopy and tarp for some shade, hung out for bit while everyone got cleaned up, then caught some shuttle busses into town to check out the local scene and get some food. I never did make it to the motorcycle museum.

In town we shuffled along with the crowd, found something to eat from the vendors stretched out along the main drag, then sat in someone’s front yard to eat.The sun went down and we made our way back to the busses, then the campground. I sat with a teenager who was experiencing RAGBRAI with his family and some friends, and we chatted a bit as we rode back to the RV park. We talked about tomorrow being our last day on the road, and as we pulled to a stop I said, “Only one more day of porta-potties!”

“You’re RV doesn’t have a shitter?” the lad asked, obviously concerned.

“We don’t have an RV,” I replied, “we’ve been in tents.”

“YOU’VE BEEN CAMPING?!? This whole week?” Another mind blown by Team High 5.

Since we didn’t have anymore camping to do after this last night on the road, Ross did his best to make sure we consumed as much of our food and drink as we could before calling it a night. George and Pat sat up talking with the couple parked next to us, a really interesting and friendly couple and their dog. He was a polish immigrant and she was second generation greek, and they shared their homemade pita bread and other delectables with us. We drank and talked, the end of the road looming large in our thoughts. After a hard week on the road we were tired and ready to finish up. After a fun and exciting week, one in which we all really bonded together and truly enjoyed each getting to hang out together away from the workaday world, we didn’t want it to end.

I eventually slid into my tent and fell asleep to the drone of a half-dozen generators. Tomorrow would be the end of our trip, the last day of the ride. One more early wake up. 70 more miles on the road.

To be continued…

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