Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 7: Wilton to Davenport


I took the shuttle to the town of Wilton so that I could ensure my arrival in to Davenport at noon. That still left 35 miles of biking to accomplish in under 3 hours. That meant my stops had to be short.

The passthrough towns were not as busy today as they have been the rest of the week. Like me, most riders are in a hurry to finish so they can catch their charter buses home. I did stop briefly for water and for pie, but otherwise kept the pace up. The route was pretty flat, but the headwinds were back, which slowed me a bit.

We were greeted in Davenport by residents lining the streets and applauding us as we went past. It seemed like everyone was out cheering us on and yelling congratulations. We felt like we were finishing the Tour de France.

Much of the route from the border of the town to the river was downhill. This made for a fast and fun ride. But there was still one more big hill in our way: Fairmount Street. When the final route was announced earlier this year there was some grumbling on the RAGBRAI forums about the inclusion of Fairmount Street on the route. Those who live in Davenport said there were better ways to get 10,000 bicyclists to the riverfront that didn't involve such a steep hill. But the city insisted that this route would be the safest and would minimize the impact on automobile traffic. So up the hill we went. And yeah, it was a doozy. Not the worst one we have done all week, but still pretty challenging to throw at us in the last 5 miles of a week long ride.

After the hill we soon turned on to River Drive and got our first glimpse of the mighty Mississippi. Just a few more miles and we were at the riverfront park and the end of the ride. I took a moment to stand along the railing and get my picture. But my day still wasn't done. I had to ride 4 more miles along the riverfront to get to the parking lot where my bags and my family were waiting. Then, finally, I was finished.

This has been a fantastic experience and I am glad that I was able to share it here. I did a total of 362 miles in 7 days, and saw America's heartland along the way. It was short of my goal, but I still feel good about what I have accomplished.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 6; Grinnell to Coralville

Today we rode through all sorts of towns. After leaving Grinnell we had about an hour's riding before entering Brooklyn (the one in Iowa, that is). After that it was a succesion of rural Iowa towns: Victor, Ladora, Marengo, South Amana, Homestead, and Oxford. Each one welcomed us with lots of hospitality, food, and entertainment. It is impossible to ride through any of these towns as there are so many riders and other people packed on to the roads. And really, the whole point of RAGBRAI is that you don't ride through: you stop and enjoy the town, see the sights, talk to the locals, and enjoy the food. I did more of that today than any other day. The weather stayed cool enough that I didn't feel like I had to rush to beat the heat. This helped me to enjoy more of the stops along the way. It is amazing how many local residents come out for this ride. There are people parked along the roadside just to watch and wave at the riders. Many of the passthough towns were holding festivals in the town square, which the local residents were enjoying right along with the riders.

If you have been watching me on the tracker then you may have seen that from time to time I appear to stop in the middle of nowhere and stay there for awhile, sometimes more than 30 minutes. I'm not napping under a tree. Farmhouses along the route set up booths to sell food and drink. Some vendors are well known to RAGBRAI regulars and set up a new trailer every day of the ride in a different farmhouse yard. The longer stops I make are to eat food and take a rest. The shorter stops are to refill on water and gatorade (or to grab a muffin for breakfast). Today I stopped at a trailer that I have been wanting to try since Sunday. It is called "Pastafari" and it sells some very good pasta. Customers then relax in the shade and listen to reggae music. I spent quite some time there today and was so relaxed that I didn't want to leave.

I rode almost 78 miles today. The first 58 were very enjoyable. The last 20 not so much. The weather was excellent this morning with some cloud cover. Even once the clouds broke the day didn't heat up too badly. We stayed in the 80s with a bit of a wind. The roads were mostly flat, which added to the enjoyment. But in the last 20 miles the rollers started again and the hills turned steep. I couldn't make the stretch without stopping once, catching my breath, and drinking an entire gatorade.

The final ride in to Coralville was wonderful. We were on a smooth divided highway with only one hill. Since this is "college spirit day" the road was lined with college logos from all the riders. As I went flying down the hills I anxiously looked for mine. Yes, it was there!

Tomorrow is the last day of RAGBRAI. There were times when I never thought I would make it to the end. Now I nearly have. However, family obligations are putting some time pressure on our return to Atlanta. So I have decided to start the last day in the town of Wilton, which is the middle of the day's ride. This will ensure that I get to Davenport in a timely fashion and we will be able to return home to Atlanta by late Saturday. It will reduce the day's 65 mile ride to about 30 miles.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 5: Altoona to Grinnell

I got out early again this morning to beat the heat. I was on the road by 6:15. As I was leaving camp so were two other riders, so we rode out of town together, and one of them (Mike from chicago) wanted to do about the same pace as me. We rode the entire route together. It was great to have company and the conversation made the miles go by faster. We had a good pace and got the first half of the ride done quickly. As we departed Colfax we had to climb a monster hill. Some folks walked it but I still had enough energy in the legs to make it. At the top, unfortunately, someone fell over which caused quite a bit of confusion. On the plus side a group was giving out free water as a reward for making it up the hill. Then the ride got tough. The road was a never ending procession of rolling hills, some of them steep.

We stopped for "lunch" just outside Baxter at about 10 am. While we were resting a few rain showers came through, but by the time we were ready to leave the rain was gone.  The weather was otherwise improved today, as cloud cover kept the heat down.

To make it more interesting we started hitting headwinds after we left Baxter. I even had to peddle on the downhills to keep from slowing down. This road also had some vehicle traffic, including a few tractor-trailers. The wind and the hills were so bad that one cyclist sought relief by hanging on to the side of a tractor-trailer as it slowly made it's way through the traffic.

It was a relief to climb the last hill and ride in to Grinnell. Tomorrow we hope for less wind (or at least wind on our backs), fewer hills, and no rain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 4: Boone to Altoona

It is hot in Iowa this week. Really hot. Very very hot. Almost as hot as Atlanta. Maybe even hotter. Did I mention it is hot?

At the beginning of the week I would get up and get moving at my leisure, usually getting on the road between 7 and 7:30. But this kept putting me out on the road in the heat of the day, struggling to finish. So last night I set everything out, woke up this morning at 5:15 and got out on the road by 6. This made a huge difference, and my ride was very enjoyable.

Today was flat and short, making it easy to get to Altoona before noon and the worst of the heat. We also had good cloud cover until about 10:30 and by then I was close to the end. It's a shame that I have to rush through the route to beat the heat, as there are plenty of interesting things to see in the towns along the way. But I minimized my stopping time to be done early.

Still, I saw an alpaca, a lady playing an electric piano outside (with a large fan keeping her cool), a Cessna airplane for sale, children throwing buckets of water on the riders, and a large model airplane flying over the route.

One thing that fascinates me as a bicyclist is the variety of cycles I have seen on the road. There are many recumbents, quite a few tandems, some recumbent tandems, some recumbent tricycles (usually called trikes to distinguish them from the child's toy), a triple tandem (3 seats), and even a 2-seater surrey. There was also a rider with two prosthetic legs on a recumbent that is powered with hands.

I even saw a bike that was a tandem with a recumbent seat up front and a regular seat in the back. I talked with the riders of this last bike for awhile. They tried a regular tandem and the wife hated it. The heavier rider has to be up front to improve stability, and life can get pretty boring for the woman stuck in back. But this tandem puts the lighter rider up front in a reclined position with the head in front of and below the other rider. This couple love the arrangement because she has a great view and they can easily talk to each other. I understand this is only made in one place in the world, and it takes a year to build one.

Tomorrow will be a bit longer and a bit hillier, and probably just as hot.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Evening 2: Carroll

I wanted to make a special mention of last night's experience. I had to leave my tent briefly to adjust a flap. When I stepped outside I was awestruck by the beautiful night sky. The night was crystal clear and there wasn't much ambient light so the stars were out in full force. I went over to the lounge area that our outfitters provide and sat in one of the recliners to gaze at the sky, and was rewarded with several shooting stars. It was a very peaceful end to the day.

Day 3: Carroll to Boone

First, let me apologize for the tracker not working today. There were technical issues which should now be resolved.

I have talked with several RAGBRAI veterans and they all agree that this is the hottest ride in memory. Temperatures have been in the 90s with heat indices over 100. There have been very few clouds to shade the sun. Lots of riders have been getting dehydrated. If temperatures were 10 degrees cooler this ride would be much more enjoyable. Tomorrow wont be any better, except there is a possibility of rain and storms. I am planning to get on the road by 6 to beat the heat.

So let me tell you about three things: hills, music, and watertowers.

When the details of the route came out I was concerned about the hills. Everything I read claimed that this was a very hilly route. But I had no idea how they compared to what I am used to. Now that I have ridden the hilliest days I can say that, with a very few exceptions, the hills are gentler than what I ride in the Atlanta area. But, there are a lot of them. Getting up the first 10 hills was not difficult, but towards the end of the ride the sheer number of climbs takes its toll. The last few hills are always the hardest.

You can't go long on this ride without hearing music. I regularly come across riders with loudspeakers playing music, some were large enough that they were pulled in a trailer behind the bike and powered with a large battery. I have heard a wide variety of music, rock (everything from Elvis to Evanescence), pop, country, jazz, and even some classical. Some are quite loud, others I didn't hear until I was right behind the rider. It adds some interest to the ride and keeps me moving.

The watertower is the most welcome sight on the RAGBRAI route. After cresting hill after hill when we finally see a watertower in the distance we know we are almost at the next town and about to have a break. It is a very encouraging sight.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 2: Atlantic to Carroll

What a day. We started out with overcast skies, which was a good thing. Temperatures this morning were actually reasonable. Then around noon the clouds broke up and the mean sun came out and temperatures rose back in to the 90's. Some of the RAGBRAI veterans that I have talked to have told me that this is one if the hottest rides they can remember. It has certainly been pretty wicked so far.

In the early part of the day we heard something that we all dread: someone yelling "rider down". We all moved to the left side of the road and slowed to a stop to make room for the ambulance. Still not sure what happened but at least two riders were involved. I heard a rumor later that one was taken to the hospital with a broken leg.

With the accident behind us we rolled on to Elk Horn, where I had a breakfast pizza: scrambled egg, sausage, and cheese. It was surprisingly good. I also saw a rather unusual RAGBRAI rider: a schnauzer that was rescued from a shelter in Chicago. On the way through Elk Horn we passed by a nursing home, and the large windows were completely lined with its residents, watching and waving at us. The next town, Kimbalton, has a replica of The Little Mermaid statue in its central park. There was also a real live mermaid and merman posing for pictures along the main road.

In Wikey, the final passthrough town, as I was resting in the shade two nuns walked up to me carrying a cooler and selling freezy pops for $2. I bought one and it was delicious. It is fun to roll through these small towns and see all the effort that the local community puts in to welcoming us.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 1: Glenwood to Atlantic

63 miles and it was supposed to be 60. It was also hot and humid. Very sunny with few clouds. Lots of folks I talked to had difficulty dealing with the heat. And we get to do it all over again tomorrow.

It is impossible to comprehend 10,000 bicycle riders on the road until you actually see it. It is a non-stop stream of bikes covering both sides of the road. I would stop at a food stand for an hour and the stream of bikes didn't change. Then when it was time to get back on the road I had to wait for a break in bike traffic, sometimes several minutes. Every town we passed through was throwing a festival for the riders. A beer garden and a dj and lots of food and drink. Things got so packed in the towns that it was impossible to ride through. I had to get off the bike and walk it.

The biggest problem I am having is eating. There are so many good things to eat that I find I am trying to eat even when I am not hungry. Then I can't finish the food.

I stopped at the Pancake Man, got three large pancakes, and could barely manage a few bites. I saw the Pork Chop Man but wasn't hungry and saw that the line was crazy long anyway. I saw the Banana Bike, but couldn't get a picture. It is a recmbent tandem with a cloth cover that looks like a huge banana. I saw a couple riding a tandem with a sign on the back that said "just married". I saw a guy on a unicycle and a guy on a pennyfarthing. If I see them again I must try to get a picture. I stopped in a town that boasts the largest bicycle in the world. And yes it looks huge.

I have met so many interesting people on this ride, its hard to remember them all. I have seen quite a few children, probably 10 and up. One girl looked particularly unhappy about the ride. I hope she has a better day tomorrow.

The last 5 miles was flat with a headwind, so no coasting. Then I arrived in Atlantic, very ready to be done for the day. But getting to Atlantic wasn't the end. I had to ride another 3 miles up more hills to find the campsite. Fortunately the high school where we are camped held a spaghetti dinner tonight. It was close, convenient, delicious, in the air conditioning, and (the best part) we sat down and they served us. Awesome way to end the day. Now I am relaxing in the shade with a nice breeze. I should sleep well tonight.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 0: Update

We have arrived in Glenwood after a bit of a delay on I-80 near a town called Menlo. Seems that a few tractor trailers ended up on their sides this morning, blown over by high winds. Even at 2 pm one lane was still closed in each direction as they were working to clear away the carnage.

When we arrived at the campsite we stepped off the bus to the feel of ..... opressive humidity. I felt like I was walking in a sauna. When the weather gets this bad in Atlanta we all go hide indoors. But there was no hiding from it here. Tent located, luggage moved, a quick change in to shorts, bike fetched off the truck, and I was ready to explore the RAGBRAI Expo. It was only a mile walk away from the campsite. But believe me after being cooped up in a car and a bus for two days, the walk felt good.

Five minutes down the road as I was talking to my wife on the phone, the tornado sirens started sounding. Really? Now in some parts of the country they use those for severe weather too. And a look to the southwest showed that there indeed was some unpleasant weather headed our way. But the closest shelter was actually the high school where I was headed, so I kept walking. And I got there before the downpour. I haven't even started riding yet and this is already an unforgettable adventure.

I have also discovered that my phone has no data service in Glenwood. No data service mean I can't update the blog from my phone. So I am sending this update from the Windstream Internet trailer. This also means that my live tracker will probably not be working tomorrow morning. I believe that once I reach Atlantic I will have data service and the updates will start working. Sorry about that.

The storm seems to have passed so now I must go in search of some food.

Day 0: Niles to Glenwood

I spent the night in a hotel near O'Hare airport. The organizers were adamant that the bus would leave Niles at 6 am and not wait for latecomers. I set two alarms just to make sure I woke up on time, and went to bed at a reasonable hour.

At 12:30 I awoke to the sound of thunder and stayed that way as the entire region was pummeled with storms for over 2 hours. I finally got back to sleep but the alarm still woke me before 5. I got ready and called the front desk for a cab. But when I got to the front they told me the cab was not there yet due to flooding. I waited 20 minutes before one was finally able to get through. My cabbie was an interesting fellow with some very colorful language, but he got me to the bus with 5 minutes to spare. As it turned out, the organizers did wait for latecomers as some folks were having difficulty getting there. Some roads were completely flooded out.

We are on our way now, somewhere in western Illinois. I see another thunderstorm in front of us and I sincerely hope they all stay away from Iowa. I am sitting next to a sheet metal worker who retired in May and has ridden 2000 miles since. He is ready for RAGBRAI. With my 600 miles I feel inadequate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Live Tracking for RAGBRAI

I will be leaving home soon to head to Iowa for the Great Ride. The bike is ready and most everything is packed. I've spent the last few weeks putting together a website that will track my progress. I have an app on my phone that uploads my position at regular intervals, and the website updates its map from that. It will show my route each day during the ride. The success of this tracking will depend on the availability of cell data service along the route, so there may be stretches where the updates won't succeed. I've used this before for rides and had great success, but never in the midst of 10,000 other riders and never in the middle of Iowa. According to my service provider's maps, Sunday may have spotty coverage but the other days look pretty good. Keeping my fingers crossed.

The website is

Monday, July 18, 2011

6 Days and Counting

In less than 6 days I will begin my big adventure. I will join 10,000 other bicyclists in a 1-week ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI. Right now I am making a list and checking it twice, writing down all the things I think I will need for a week in the cornfields, and getting everything ready to pack in my duffel bag.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Beautiful Ride in the Country

I have three weeks left to get ready for RAGBRAI, and I feel woefully unprepared. I am far away from my goal and don't feel as if I have built up the strength and stamina that I wanted. Nonetheless, I am moving ahead with plans and am prepared to tackle whatever I may face.