Today was my first and final day of RAGBRAI 2008 (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). At 7 am I was picked up by a friend who placed my bike on his rack and drove me to Abe's parents. From there, we made our way to Tipton, Iowa, not too far from Iowa City. We parked at the Pizza Hut and made our way through town and into the cornfields on small country roads.
It was exciting to see thousands of bikers, some wearing interesting shirts or hats. Some interesting participants included a guy who was rollerblading across Iowa and a guy without a seat (not sure why you would choose to do that!). There were "Bead whores" who left mardi gras beads along the trail and even a woman dressed as Waldo from the "Where's Waldo?" books with a striped red and white bikini top, goofy black round glasses, and a funny hat, and a group including a large man in pink jerseys and feathers.
Along the way we were greeted by our friendly Iowa neighbors and farmers who waved from their porches or yards or corners. Mostly, we rode through miles of corn fields, occasionally greeted by a familiar Iowa scent...pigs.
After our first 15 miles we stopped in New Liberty, one of the "bigger" towns. My friend Tim told me that all of the "Liberty" towns in Iowa were once refuges for slaves. Interesting. We bought some gatorade which I promptly dropped on the ground and continued on. After another 20 miles, we made it to Eldridge. We stopped with thousands of other bikers for a pork chop sandwich (delicious, actually, even after 35 miles of biking) and a banana. We met a couple actually from the town who seemed to think we were very weird for only doing one day of the trip (sorry we don't own a golf course and can take a week off whenever we want). Each town puts on a bit of a party for the bikers. This town had loud music, food stands, volunteers everywhere. They had rigged up special pvc pipe water stations and even fire hydrant water stations for bikers. By this time I was feeling great except for some chaffing.
Again, continued on. After about mile 40 I was beginning to feel it in my knees and my neck. We passed a small girl on a bike seemingly by herself and many Italians and some French riders. Some of the riders wore women's thong underwear OVER their spandex shorts...??? We stopped for "The world's largest horse...almost" which was a pretty horse but disappointing in size.
About 48 miles in we started hitting the hills. Good timing! (Nothing like some good hills right at the end to give you the encouragement you need to finish!) I was getting pretty tired. We passed over the freeway on I-80 which was extremely congested due to some construction ahead. I guess A group of friendly bikers decided to share the bruises on their bums to the drivers below, perhaps helping them feel grateful they were in their cars, even if they weren't going anywhere.
Finally, at mile 53.5 we made it to Le Clair, Iowa, where the residents cheered us on and met us with balloons and fireworks. The tradition is to dip your front tire in the Mississippi (after dipping the back 400+ miles ago in the Missouri River). I felt a bit like a fraud having only done a mere 53 miles so we found the car my father in law had left the night before and unloaded our bikes. By this time, my knees and neck were pretty sore and I was grateful to remove my helmet and gloves. We walked around a bit, ate some hot dogs and cake, and finally made our way home.
All in all, it was a great time. It was really cool to see so many people coming together, opening their towns and waving us on. It was also nice to see thousands of people exercising and enjoying a slower pace among the open air, silos, and pigs. I was proud of myself for doubling my daily mileage. It was a challenge but the weather was great and the company good. I am hoping one day I will be able to do the whole ride. I figure if the many old, overweight, young, etc people could do it, that I can probably make it too. We'll just have to get a team together and a bus, as well as a place to store our bus all year for this one week event.
An interesting piece of the heartland! I hope you get the chance to experience it sometime.