Wake-up calls on RAGBRAI come early, as most of us rise with the sun and are eager to hit the road to beat the mid-day heat. Why they do this monstrous ride during the hottest week of the entire year is beyond me. Nevertheless, we enjoy and revel in it.
After taking down the tent and storing it in the RV we then gather our bikes, shoes, helmets, gloves, padded shorts, jersey, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, electrolytes, chapstick, bike computer, day’s map, money, phone, ID and butt butter. Lots of butt butter. Eat a quick breakfast (not too much – don’t want to ralf it all up down the road), do a few stretches, check the weather forecast (fingers crossed there’s no tornado or storm), suit-up and say goodbye to the support team. After all of that (which is usually crammed into 45 minutes) we then mount the bikes and hit the open road, and by “open” I mean 35,000 cyclists and the occasional frustrated trucker who got caught in the chaos.
The first morning was full of anxious excitement. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and with 365 days between us and our last RAGBRAI the painful blisters and sores that come with riding for seven consecutive days had faded into the dark corners of our minds.
Thankfully, riding a bike is like… well… riding a bike. As we rode across the start line and waved at the residents of Orange City who – bless their golden Iowa hearts – had come out before dawn to wave and wish us well on our voyage, the muscles in my legs all the way up through my core and into my fingers all fell into that well-worn rhythm of years spent behind handlebars. Though they were a little rusty, I had somehow managed to keep up my strength (some credit goes to the 60 mile Peruvian mountain hike I did earlier in May).
Known for their tulips and Dutch heritage, this year’s starting line took place in Orange City, Iowa. Hundreds of poster-board tulips lined the road as we left town making our way to the first stop – a mere 3 miles away. It was a lovely 3 miles. Enough to warm-up the muscles before stopping for a cup of coffee and mingling with tens of thousands of fellow maniacs. Lunch was another 26 miles down the road, so these early stops were short-lived, more or less a passing through. Though, with towns whose populations are well under 3,000 and can get by without any traffic lights, a 35,000 person bike ride is more than enough to utterly congest and overburden them. So, whether or not you want to stop in each individual town, you are forced to not only stop, but get off of your bike and walk it through the crowd until you emerge on the other side.
Even if I had to carry my bike overhead and hop on one foot through these towns I would do it without hesitation. Why? Because of the glorious food of the gods, known on RAGBRAI as Church-Lady-Pie. Iowa’s climate allows for warm/hot summer days and cool summer nights, perfect for growing rhubarb – the king of all pie flavors. I am a big eater on average days, but on RAGBRAI I morph into an endless pit. The amount and variety of food that I guzzle on these rides is enough to devote an entire post to. (Coming soon: Pie, Pickle juice and Potatoes)
Back to the ride. Like I mentioned, the muscle-memory had kicked-in and biking was a breeze. The part of the body that unfortunately does not carry any memory is the skin, which is – I believe – the main reason that they suggest you log 1,000 miles prior to each and every RAGBRAI. No matter how gator-like your skin became the year before, if you don’t keep up those callouses then you’re in for a rough ride. I did not maintain my callouses. In fact, I was so eager to let them fade into oblivion that I hurried them along with plenty of moisturizer and TLC.
So, there I was, chugging along with my baby-smooth skin and although I was lubed-up on butt butter, I was simply not ready to be chaffed and rubbed raw. As the first day’s ride came to a close with a distance of around 65 miles, my inner thighs and the backs of my ankles began to throb as if to say, “Why?! Why do you do this to me?!”
Each day it became a bit more painful to pull on those skin-tight spandex shorts, and even more painful to get back on the bike, but ride I must! By the 4th day, after covering about 250 miles, callouses began to form and my mind shifted from the ‘seat-pain’ to muscle-pain as we entered the river-valley and began battling monster climbs. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the 45th time, thousands of bike-minded nuts with a week to spare took-off from the Western side of Iowa, destined for the mighty Mississippi on the East. This year’s route hugged the Northern side of the state, but similar to last year’s Southern route, we primarily rode past field after field of corn and soy beans with the occasional pig farm. Ahhh, nothing like taking a big whiff of pig-shit as you pedal your way across the state in 100 degree heat with thousands of your friends. Good times.