SPRINT SELZER BICYCLE CLUB
Diary of a RAGBRAI Rookie: a primer
I started this journal project about a year ago when I graduated from being a casual
mountain bike rider to a road biker. It took my good friend John Dunn to finally bring me
to my two-wheeled senses and awaken me to the new world of cycling. He gave me
books to read, put my ass on a bike, clipped me into a set of pedals and literally pushed
me down a hill. I later realized that my newly found world of road biking inadvertently
brought back a part of my forgotten youth that was spent on a bicycle; not just physically
but mentally as well.
Being from Iowa, it didnt take too much after that for me get talked into doing
RAGBRAI. I thought it might be fun to chronicle my progress as I prepared for my first
ride and then write about the actual event and the people surrounding it.
Part one of Diary of RAGBRAI Rookie is my introduction to a road bike and my
preparation for the ride. It is a compilation of e-mails shared with Sprinters prior to the
2005 ride. Part 2 is my journal of the 2005 event.
Thanks to all the Sprinters who tolerated my naivety as a virgin participant and for
accepting me. I appreciate your interest in my writing.
Mike Wayne, Sarasota- July 06
Diary of a RAGBRAI Rookie
A long time ago when I was Iowan
Twenty something years ago on a boiling humid July afternoon, a friend and I peddled
our clunkers down to the riverbank of Davenport to watch another reason for folks in the
Quad-Cities to get together and drink: it was the end of RAGBRAI and the whole town
showed up to party. I had a beer or two with my friend and commented on these crazy
geeks who were dipping their bike wheels in the Big Muddy, then falling all over
themselves and their pedal-mates with hugs and tears. I dont get itneither do I, he said.
Why in the shit would somebody want to ride across Iowa-especially this time of year?
Wandering over to a 3rd street bar, we downed a few more brews and as we began a deep
analysis about the intelligence of Iowans, discussion ensued that maybe there was some
pertinence to the acronym that Iowa stood for: Idiots Out Wandering Around.
New Years Eve, 04
Near Tallahassee, FL
Thinking about it
For over 25 years Ive heard first hand reports from my friends John Dunn ( Doc) and
Barb McNeal who have rode nearly all the RAGBRAIs. Tales of drunkenness in small
town bars. Camaraderie among kindred spirits while rolling across the beautiful state I
grew up in. Countless pictures of sweaty, exhausted people, usually smiling. I have
received bizarre postcards of cows and pigs doing obscene things in corn fields. There
have been drunken phone calls in the middle of the night from tiny Iowa towns I never
heard of. Some collect. Strange gifts in the shape of corn and corn related materials have
arrived on my doorstep. Every time I go back to visit family in the Quad Cities I hear
distant tales of RAGBRAI adventures from various friends.
Throughout the years, usually over uncountable consumed bottles of wine, Doc and
Barbs stories came up of RAGBRAIs gone by and of how each one was better than the
last. Sprint this and Sprint that. I didnt know what the hell were they talking about. Such
conversation often led to another open bottle of wine.
Earlier in the year I mentioned, in passing that I might just give RAGBRAI a shot.
Perhaps sirens of the corn were mystically calling to me. After midnight on New Years
and after another consumed bottle of champagne that we didnt need, I committed to
doing the ride. No details, Just a promise between friends. Once I sobered up and they
asked me if I was for real, to which I cant recall the answer but I must have made the
promise because that day they put me on a road bike, fitted me with some shoes, a helmet
and funny clothes and I gasped my way through a 30 mile ride along the hills of north
About a month later I filled out a RAGBRAI registration form and sent in the check. The
fuse had been lit.
I have always loved a bicycle. Throughout high school I pedaled my 10 speed Kabuki all
around Iowa until I wore it out. The next thing I knew I was driving a car and didnt think
about a bike until about 23 years ago while living in Colorado. I was working at a ski
resort and guys at the local outdoor shops were modifying old cruisers with fat tires and
hand brakes to do an annual race over Pearl Pass from Crested Butte to Aspen, Pretty
soon it became a rage and everybody in town wanted one. South of us near Durango was
another area where real mountain bikes were being born. Events like Fat Tire Bike Week
sprung up all over the area. I became a mountain biker early on but have since resorted to
wearing out a couple of them around the streets and alleys of Sarasota, Florida.
On my fat tires I pretty much stick to the streets here, sometimes the bike lanes and on
what few straight-aways we do have. With a friend I ride probably 3-5 nights a week-
often a 6 mile shot over to one of the islands at an Irish pub; just for a bit of exercise.
About once a month we do a 20 to 30 mile ride usually to an island destination-bouncing
off and on the sidewalks. Always leery of the old half-blind bastards in their giant cars
who have had three martinis by noon and are out to make you another Florida statistic. So
far, despite the bar stops and an occasional mild crash, Ive done ok.
Often, in the afternoons, I see these guys whizzing by me in large groups-all road bikers
grouped together in a rainbow of outfits and helmets, hauling ass down the road together
in a protected pack. I would always try to keep up and usually could for a mile or two
until they revved up the pace and politely left me in the dust.
Doc has insisted that if I do RAGBRAI, I must have the proper bike. Mine is fine I say.
Ill clean it, tune it up and do RAGBRAI on a mountain bike. So what if it weighs 37 lbs;
He just laughs and asks me if I forgot that Iowa has hills and Sarasota has none. He
insists on having something custom made for me. I tell him hes nuts. Says he has a
bunch of spare parts and he trades work with the guys at his local bike shop. Anyway, he
says he is having a road bike custom built for his brother, and I can break it in on
RAGBRAI and then Ill hand it back over. Who am I to argue?
End of March 05
During a break from a weekend rainy outdoor music festival in north Florida, Doc and I
drag our hung-over asses to the bike shop in Tallahassee. Hours later I am fitted into a
new pair of shoes with cleats like small ski bindings. Ill never get use to these. I may as
well buy a large box of Band-Aids to get use to all the crashes I have forthcoming.
The shop guys bring out the road bike. I dont quite understand what all of the goodies
are on it, but it is sleek, sturdy and stunning. A silver anodized aluminum frame of an
older classic Schwinn fastback. The components are all Campagnolo, it has a carbon fork,
18 gears, a carbon seat post with a ergonomic saddle, and pedals that my ankles dont
Doc hoists it on a scale to see that it weighs 19 lbs and makes some kind of a groaning
comment that it should weigh less.
I take it outside and the girl in the shop adjusts my shoes and seat. I ride it down the road
for a whirl. From the perspective of being on a mountain bike for years it is truly like
learning how to ride all over again. As if all the previous riding I have ever done was just
for practice; and now I am to learn it all over again; sort of. Strange gear placement and
handlebars that feel foreign. My feet are locked in to pedals. A few strokes and I realize it
is solid and fast. Almost too fast.
Back in Sarasota I take this thing for a trial run. There are limited places of safe routes
here for this kind of machine. On regular streets you may as well wear a target on your
back that says hit me. The best bets are a couple of bridges with wide lanes that have
become workout routes and a long stretch of beach road with 30 + miles of bike lanes on
one of the barrier islands.
It is all new to me. My biggest fear is having to constantly watch over my shoulders to
make sure some cell phone-toting-yuppie-soccer-mom doesnt plow her SUV into me.
I buy a helmet; something I have never worn. I fit my ass into padded bike shorts for the
first time that makes me feel like I am riding in a diaper full of shit. I forget my water
bottle. I rig my hand held GPS to my handlebars to get a idea of my speed. It is a hot, dry
afternoon and with paranoid, but reserved tendencies I strike out alone the island road to
do a 10 mile stretch.
This thing sucks. My back is wrenched from the riding position and my ass hurts and the
wheels are so sensitive if I ran over a nickel I could tell you if it were heads or tails. The
steering is like a hair trigger. If I sneeze it turns. After about four serious days I finally
get a little used to it.
My little training route is an area of numerous road bikers up and down both sides of the
islands bike lanes. Most are in large groups riding a pace line. Some are solo folks or in
groups of 2-3 Most seem friendly and will wave back.
Nearly every Spring afternoon there is a 15+ knot headwind that blows off the Gulf and
today I struggle to keep my average speed about 13 mph.
Old guys on bikes that cost probably more than my house pass me like its a walk in the
park. Two women in their 60s holler out on your left and shoot past me with ease.
Had to be going close to 20 mph. I hide my head under my helmet thankful that nobody
knows me. I suck . These Sprint folks on RAGBRAI are going to eat me alive and leave
me in the dust.
Shit.. I pedal on.
North Florida- End of May 05
After too much wine and beer the previous night at Doc & Barbs place outside of
Tallahassee, we awake at 7:30 for an 8 am ride. I just got to sleep at 3 am. We all suit up
and pound several cups of strong caffeine. I scarf a bowl of fruit. Today I face a new
challenge on the road bike; hills. Something we dont have in South Florida-unless you
count a bridge or two.
There are 7 of us, and 6 are seasoned RAGBRAI riders. I now have a couple of months
experience with probably 700 miles under my ass. These guys are gonna kill me and Ill
be dragging behind and walking up hills. Surprisingly I keep up that day and find a strong
energy in riding with the group.
Some where in Georgia we do a stop at a convenience store to carb-up on junk food then
later take a break at a lily farm in full bloom. We all partake in an occasional game of
farm-dog-chase-the-bikers a few times. Pat complains that she lost her mojo for a while
and needed to stop and take a break. I rode behind her for quite a ways and her mojo
looked fine to me. A stop at the local deli in Havana for a Guinness and sandwich and we
single-file back to the homestead. A good 68 mile ride in hot, dry weather. A nice primer
for RAGBRI, I am told.
Early June 05
I try to do at least 100 miles a week now and condition myself for whatever.
Tropical Storm Arlene had been threatening Florida for last few days but its far out in
the Gulf heading to the panhandle. Feeder bands of intense lightning and thunderstorms
hit Sarasota about 4 in the morning. Fast, hard and gone by dawn. As I get ready to do the
Longboat Key ride the aftermath winds coming from up from the south east are pushing 6
ft breakers on the beach. With a tailwind I soon find myself screaming north up the island
at an average speed of 26 mph, solid for the next 12 miles. Since south is the only way
back, Im gonna pay later for my present jet propelled ride.
My southward return trek feels like I am climbing one continuous 12 mile hill. I trudge
along as fat cumulous low clouds brake open and drench me with hot tropical rain. My
shoes feel like a sponge full of grease. Like riding through gumbo. A few vehicles go by
and of course they are all big fat SUVs who rooster tail me with road water. What the
hell; after a point you cant get any wetter. Only I would be out here on a day like this
riding into 20 knot winds with rain coming down in blinding sheets. Some asshole honks
at me. I struggle to keep it up to about 12 mph but my average speed on the way back is
8. Surprisingly my glasses keep the vision fairly clear. Rain now needles the shit out of
me and its all I can do to keep on the road.
Then to my left I hear coming around. 2 older women dressed in yellow-smiling like
drowned rats as they pass me on a recumbent tandem. I suck.
I got to go find a bar
Mid June 05
I blow out of work on a Friday afternoon with some lame excuse that I have a late
afternoon appointment; (with my bike and a cold beer). Its roasting hot in the upper 90s
with a slight crosswind from the east. I get geared up and ride from my house over the
big bridge across Sarasota Bay and north up my standard straight away along Longboat
Key that will give me my 30 miles. Figure Ill get an early start on the other road bikers
who seem to appear at dusk.
All I can think about is RAGBRAI and the ten thousand details I still have to take case of
and the other five hundred that wake me up in the middle of the night. The closer I get to
D-Day, the more unglued I become because I seem to care about nothing but the Ride.
The bay waters from the east breeze kick up a stench of dead fish thats due to a tide
related fish kill. Its been going on for about 3 weeks. Today smells like Satans baitshop.
Halfway up the island I crank along at my meditative pace, properly in the bike lane
when some asshole in a green Jeep Cherokee slows behind me and 2 redneck punks
scream obscenities at me and with extended arms out the window attempt to grab at me.
Scared the shit out of me and I fire back a single finger salute. I hope they hit a tree. Im
steaming pissed but I get over it. Take a break at the end of the island for a few minutes
and head back south. Ill have time to hit my favorite pub for a pint and get home before
dark if I stay at my pace of about 17 mph.
Halfway down the island I hear a vehicle slow behind me. Its the assholes in the green
Cherokee and they toss a beer bottle at me. I swerve and it hits my tire and breaks on the
street. They laugh and haul ass southward. Every obscene phrase in my vocabulary
beckons them to come back and me meet me face to face. I whip out my cell phone and
911 the local cops who show up pretty quick. Cop tells me its a felony to throw a
deadly missile at someone. If I had a pistol with me Id reciprocate with a few deadly
missiles of my own.
Cops take a report. I got two of the license plate #s. They gather up some broken glass
and tell me to be careful. I head south and I finally cool of. With wary eyes in the back of
my helmet I make it to the pub.
It dawns on me the vulnerability against such assholes. Almost like someone shooting
you in the back. Totally exposed. Moral of the story: I guess it is best to not say or
gesture anything when one encounters a bicycle hater. The fact that they can come
around again from behind puts you at the disadvantage.
Two miles from home I hit the big bridge that is a 1/4 mile incline from 0 to 60 feet.
Closest thing we have here to a hill. Almost to the top I step hard on the crank set and
pump my way up the hill, then snap the chain. A fairly new chain at that.
I coast down hill and take a slow walk about 2 miles back to home.
Overall, sort of a shitty day of biking. But I guess we are all prone to those now and then.
Late July 05
I ride 27-30 miles every day now unless rain forces me not to. I talk almost daily
to my sponsor/friends about mindless details and what if situations. Sometimes I
call twice a day.
I remain wired and concentration on my job as a telephone engineer has gone
completely to shit in the past week- running on absentee autopilot. Some nights I
wake up and scribble some incoherent note on a pad by the nightstand about
something I still have to do. Only to wake up the next day to find it already written
on some other list.
I religiously read the RAGBRAI web page message board for hints and new
information. I constantly scan the Sprint e-mails for anything new, oblivious to
what most of them are chatting about. Im cautious, a bit scared, and have spent a
small fortune to fly up to Iowa, get on a bike then ride with thousands of people I
dont know. Other than half-assed stories usually relayed under alcoholic
influence, Im not sure what Im getting into.
I do know Iowa. The people, the countryside and I know that RAGBRAI is
probably the biggest event to ever make an impact on that state. Im a pretty
fearless guy and it would take a lot to stop me from going at this point. I have a
feeling that this thing is bigger than I expect.
Ive got too much invested now to think otherwise. I feel in good physical shape
even though Im sure to get my assed kicked. My retired parents are looking
forward to my visit and being part of my logistical team. What the hell have I got
to lose? If something happens and I dont make it, well its only Iowa where folks
DIARY OF A RAGBRAI ROOKIE- PART 2
Mid July, 05 Sarasota
Its been all about logistics lately. Gear and clothing has been sent to the folks in
Iowa to avoid any airport snafus. My bike has been shipped to an unknown, but
highly recommended bike shop to re-assemble. I buy all the last minute crap I
think I will need and check my numerous, ratty, folded lists of things to bring. It
seems like every other day I call my sponsor/teammate and talk about the
upcoming event. I dont ever recall being so excited about taking a vacation.
With the road bike in transit I practice nearly daily on my 27-mile flat route, now
on my mountain bike a 37 lb. beast of burden that, after a while, feels like Im
pedaling a forklift. Road bikers I sort of now know pass me by with ease as I grind
away down the familiar beach road in the swelter of Florida humidity and
occasional sun showers, sweat running off my face by the quart load and telling
myself this will all pay off. Fortunately Im wearing an old helmet and ugly
sunglasses, unrecognizable to anyone who remotely respected my riding abilities
to this point.
Two weeks prior to the ride, the receiving bike shop in Iowa calls to tell me my
bike is damaged, but fixable. A gear shift lever was broken off during shipping,
and the bike guy is busy but he might be able order one and have me fixed by the
date of the ride.
That night I have a bizarre dream that I went to pick up my bike and they had
welded a strange, tall pole-like apparatus onto the handlebars that had a head brace
to for me to strap into. The repair guy says this would allow me to shift the gears
by turning my head, and that this was the best they could do, because they
couldnt get the part and fix it any other way. I argue with the repair guy telling
him that my Chiropractor is on the ride and no way in hell will he let me ride this
two wheel torture trap. I continue arguing and pleading with this unknown bike
shop guy to please fix it the right way when suddenly I jump up in bed to find my
big-eared German Shepard giving me a what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you look.
Embarrassed, I crash back out for what seems like two minutes then wake to
inhale several cups of coffee. Pre-RAGBRAI anxiety, no doubt.
Picked up by happy parents at the Moline airport I head to my older brothers house
where we have a dinner of grilled fish, chicken, sweet corn and the traditional iceberg
lettuce salad w/ranch dressing.
Contrary to my nightmarish fears, the road bike, was picked up from the bike shop the
previous day and in perfect working condition.
Aside from my family not comprehending why I would want to do this ride, primary
topics of discussion are the dry weather, the lack of local quality sweet corn because of
the weather; my parents tomatoes in their garden and how the weather stunted their
normal abundant growth; my sister who lives in Grinnell with her dysfunctional family
and how the weather is affecting my brother-in-laws job at the Maytag plant; my other
brother who lives in Oskaloosa and how the weather concerns held up a recent trip to an
Iowa City hospital with a family member; and my distant brother living in Maine who is
considering a Vietnamese mail-order bride half his age and how my parents are
wondering if the weather up there had something to do with his decision. Meanwhile my
older brother, taking odds I wont make it past the first day of the ride, provides a
standing offer to come get me in the first town outside of Le Mars, when I burn out
somewhere along a cornfield. Its good to have family.
The rest of the night is spent sorting and loading my pre-shipped gear, bike and a supply
of Guinness brought along as special stock. After a couple of beers with my dad while
watching the end a Cubs-Cardinals game I crash out and drift off to sleep in a real bed.
THE RIDE 2005
Observations, Thoughts and Memories
7/23 - Day 0 - The ride to Le Mars
Meeting a couple new teammates as we leave the Quad Cities. Stopping for breakfast in
Walcott, then on to the Cedar Rapids where we find the staging area of the Union Station
bar. I see a couple familiar McNeals at the edges of the bar (not unusual news) and the
familiar faces of two Florida folks. After handshakes and hugs I unload my gear and bike
and jump into the fray of the unorganized but efficiently moving machine of about 100
people loading 2 rental trucks and a bus with bikes, gear, food, beer and countless parcels
of camping gear. Occasionally stopping to duck into the bar to watch the highlights of
Lance Armstrong win his final time trail on the last leg of the Tour. I am wonderfully
welcomed by the folks of Team Sprint who, unknowingly have adopted me as a rookie.
Giddy with excitement like a bunch of kids out of school, a tour bus load of old friends
and new welcomed strangers head out on a 4 hour trip to the starting point in Le Mars.
Passing around junk food munchies, excellent beer, and sodas the re-formed tribe
becomes more social as we head to northwest Iowa. I introduce my self to others and they
do the same as the morning wears into afternoon. We stop near Des Moines to pick up
some more team members and lunch at a truck stop buffet filled with cholesterol laden
delights such as fried chicken, beef, pork chops, several types of potatoes, something that
appeared to be pizza, a salad bar centered around giant bowls of iceberg lettuce and
dessert area that equaled the size of the rest of the spread. I had forgotten just how much
Iowa is geared to massive eaters.
DAY 0 - Le Mars
Gear and bikes unloaded from the trucks on the sprawling grounds of a quiet old folks
home that is turned into our camp. I pitched my tent then met up with my
sponsors/friends, Doc Dunn and Barb McNeal who had just arrived from a week long of
riding out from the starting point; the reverse route known as IARBGAR. Touring with
most of their gear in tow they looked ragged out but overjoyed to be with kindred spirits.
Doc gets rejuvenated when I surprise him with an ice cold Guinness; the first from the
adequate stash I had brought along. I hear rumors of a shower being available at our
hosting nursing home, but I forgo the routine. We venture out down the road to the tent
city area of vendors for some pizza and back to camp for a quiet night as we all seem to
turn in early to prime up for tomorrows start.
My tent is a small oven despite the battery fan forcing summer hot air on top of me. I lie
on a foam pad with a light sheet at my feet. As I start to nod off I hear the first explosion,
only to discover that we are at the end of town where some locals set up a fireworks
display in honor of the event. 10 or 20 of us ooh and ah at the colorful spectacle that
lasted about 15 minutes rising from the edge of the corn.
I lie in my tent, anxious about the forthcoming day and week and having no earthly idea
what I have gotten myself into. A million thoughts run through my head making my total
sleep time maybe 3 hours that first night. Suppose I cant do this, physically. The thought
of an accident. A broken bike. What if I cant keep up with these guys and I get lost. That
hot little babe in the tent next to me is now snoring like a drunk sailor.
Finally, just as I doze off under the tree that shades my tent, no less that 2 million finches
decide to land at sunrise and greet the dawn. Birds, coughing and the sound of tent
zippers break the morning silence as I start day one.
Day 1- Leaving Le Mars
We kick back and let all the others go first, I am instructed by my veteran friends. Let
the main herd head out and well bring up the rear. A wise move I later find out, due to
the adrenalin rush and numerous accidents on the first day. The old folks home provides a
sizable breakfast out on the lawn. Some kind of scrambled egg dish and pancakes, fruit
and beverages, for a donation of about 3-5 bucks.
Tents down, gear tossed in the truck, and soon I take my first baby steps and follow my
small group as we casually ride thru the quaint town of Le Mars which has rolled out the
RAGBRAI red carpet. Everyone who is not working on the local event is sitting out in
lawn chairs along the route, smiling, waving and thanking us as we snake through the
town. There are no cars to worry about, as the route is blocked off for the most part.
Perfect weather, about 70, and mild-no wind. The town worked diligently for months to
host the big event that by mid-day will be over. We honk our goofy samurai doll squeeze
horns and wave back thanking the folks as we ride off into a country morning.
The craziness of the riders and their costumes is as constant as the train of decorated
bikes. People are charged up yelling, singing; some drinking. Just wait, I am told, for it
gets better and more insane as we go east. I quickly realize the importance of staying with
my familiar group, watching all around me and constantly spouting on your left as I
Sign ahead 2 miles: Bloody Marys and Margaritas. In the middle of Iowa on Sunday
morning? I ask one of my riding partners who replies that I aint seen nothing yet. So at
9:30 we crest over a hill to find an oasis on the front lawn of farm yard with two barrel
and plank countertops selling just as advertised, along with a side table of healthy
objects like bottled water, juice, bananas, etc. Technically they were not selling the
liquor; you bought a set up drink and they donated a urine-cup sample size of booze to
add in. A friendly colorful atmosphere of local kids, dogs & puppies, old folks and about
70 early morning cycling partiers kicked back in the grass and listening to some unseen
speaker belting out Changes in Latitude. No shit, I thought.
A few miles past the oasis we slow as we come across the first accident. Several gathered
around a middle aged guy who did a nasty face plant. In the distance an ambulance
sounds. Reality check as we cautiously move onward.
Later highpoints of the day included stopping at the D&D sports bar in Granville where a
packed house of about 200 watched the live presentation of Lance winning his 7th Tour.
Scantly dressed alcohol fueled spandex wearing women, running up to kiss the image of
Lance on the big screen TV as the crowd went nuts. 3 beers and a Bloody Mary and it
wasnt even noon yet.
Outside of Orange City we stop where I kick back and devour a couple of Tender Toms
Turkey sandwiches chased with a fruit smoothie. Smooth rolling hills gradually take us
into the overnight town of Sheldon where our team is set up on the sprawling grounds of
an expansive rehabilitation center, along with about 100 other campers. Tents up, and a
few Guinnesss downed, we chase down rumors of hot showers, only to find out they are
rumors. Doc and I settle for an outdoor hose connected to a well pump which had to be
about 40 degrees. Clad in our bike shorts we took the ice water shower in front of several
laughing others. Invigorating but clean.
A wonderful dinner of veggie lasagna, rolls, iceberg lettuce salad for 5 bucks. Among a
few Sprint elders, some who doubled as weather gods, was talk of a possible storm front
moving through that night.
It had been a successful and exciting day and I retire to my tent, exhausted. I am almost
asleep when a light rain awakens me. An experienced camper, I was set up for rain with
my gear in dry boxes and my tent secure. Distant lightning flashes then I hear a few
zippers and some mumbling. Some folks yelling about heading into the nearby rehabcenter
host building. As the rain picks up I hear our driver/den-mother Joyce running thru
the camp hollering something about a storm coming our way. I think what she was really
saying was run for your lives!
I hunker down in my tent. Ive camped through hell and high water before and can ride
this one out - no sweat.
About three minutes after Joyces warning, my tent becomes pounded in a squall of wind
and rain followed by an onslaught of lightning, thunder then a downburst that snaps one
of my tent poles as it collapses on me. Grabbing a gear bag, I unzip to find a lightning
strobe lit sea of trashed tents, horizontal rain and half naked people all screaming amid
the thunder and running toward the main building. I think I beat them all to the door.
Storm refugees blasted through the automatic doors of the rehab center and poured in for
the next two hours while the fury pounded what was left of the camp area. Soaked and
adrenalin pumped campers with armloads of scavenged belongings and bed attire sought
shelter from the storm throughout the lobby and hallways.
I managed to grab a towel and a jacket and found a doorway of a dimly lit office where I
curled up on the carpet that had a strong odor of mothballs. The lobby was well lit and
noisy all thru the night and just when I would nod off somebody would come through the
automatic doors that sounded like the constant slamming of two boxcars. The rain
hammered us for several hours and I may have gotten a total of about an hours sleep.
Eventually I awoke, wet and cold, then wandered out to a dreary, soaked camp of
flattened tents and shell shocked campers. Whining cries of a womans voice I want to
go home was heard from inside a tent. (Im sure it was nobody from the Sprint team.)
DAY 2 - Sheldon to Estherville
Need Coffee - was the only thing on my mind. Mr. Bill saved the morning and soon the
previous nights horror stories were soothed with freshly ground java.
Sifting thru my wet tent stuff and getting on some dry clothes I contemplated taking the
day off and riding with the sag crew to dry my stuff out in town. Two nights with hardly
any sleep; what was I running on? I almost made the decision to give up the pedals that
day until I looked over to see one of my fellow Florida contingent rookies, fully dressed
sipping a fresh cup of Mr. Bills, smiling at me with one single statement that made me
change my mind: I came to ride.
For me thats all it took. Within a half hour I was packed up, wet tent and all, saddled up
and rolling with the group exiting the town of Sheldon as grey skies turned sunny.
I soon discover that first town away from the sleep-over/host town is usually the prime
breakfast spot for thousands of hungry, cash infused riders craving carbs and coffee. And
a good place to pass by, due to the crowds. The ride is an endless supply of food,
beverages and partying of all degrees. My group usually avoided the packed crowd
scenarios so we by-passed the first couple of towns and ended up stopping in the town of
Melvin where I consumed 2 chicken fillet sandwiches, a giant yeast infused butter roll, a
cup of coffee and for some reason 2 cokes, which I hardly ever drink. It was only about
9:30. A friendly, countrified town that was ready to provide to the needs of the ridersthey
had food everywhere. The VFW was open for drinks if you wanted, the churches
had KYBOs set up. Kids selling everything from crocheted pot holders embossed with
RB 2005, to the standard lemonade and banana stands sprawled out on card tables in
every other yard, boasting hand made signs to support their fundraising cause for
cheerleader uniforms, band instruments, 4-H clubs and other seemingly well intentioned
local causes. They seemed ready and able for all of the riders as we did the once in a
lifetime blow thru and filled their little community with cash.
We scarf chow, regroup and wave our way out of the tiny town dodging the old grandpa
in a lawn chair with a garden hose touting a sign that said free water as he purposely
tried to spray you down between laughs.
Long gradual hills, nothing too extreme, as we ride in our group of six in a constant roll
past the wind farms in the distance near Milford. Roads leave a bit to be desired as they
are snaked with tar-filled cracks some just big enough for a tire to wedge into. All
morning there is rumored talk that flows through the route about the previous nights
storm in Sheldon. Every place we stopped the stories expanded. Some say it was a
tornado. Stories about several tents in the main camp destroyed. Several people who were
killed when trees fell on tents. Some hit by lightning. Turns out it was one guy killed, in a
tent, from a tree, in a bizarre circumstance. For a while it was a strange vibe that seemed
to hang in the air whenever we stopped. But soon, the beer in the little towns flowed, the
music blared and the riders rolled on.
The day turned grey and the temperature dropped to the 60s. By late afternoon we
finished the 84 miles and wheeled into the grounds of Heartland Hills CC that was
reserved and open just for our team. Threats of rain loomed with unofficial forecasts of
more rain that night. Soon the team was commandeering an unused greenhouse to hang
out wet clothes and gear. Wine and beer began to trickle in and the atmosphere soon
turned festive as everyone shared stories from the previous nights deluge.
With unofficial permission to sleep inside the building that night there was a bit of
relaxation and mild partying throughout the evening. The dining room and bar remained
opened for our team. One of the Dunn brothers and I held court at the bar for a few hours
afterwards and attempted to solve the remaining problems of the world, at least for that
night. Floor space throughout the buildings filled up with crashed out campers and after
we closed down the bar I found a quiet spot in the kitchen on the floor under a sink,
unrolled my inflatable pad and zonked out.
Day 3 - Estherville to Algona
Mornings were special as legendary veteran Sprinter Mr. Bill started each day with nearlike
religious sacramental precision as he grinds coffee beans that had been freshly
roasted and brought for the event. Twin coffee makers were kept filled and in constant
motion as assistants would help set up cups, condiments, fill and re-fill the pots for dreary
eyed campers wandering to the coffee table for their morning jolt. Any coffee shop would
be hard pressed to top the flavors, aromas, and social atmosphere of an early morning at a
Misty, cool and grey with a mildly annoying wind that shifted as soon as you could
determine its direction. Coffee fueled morning discussion is primarily about who is
planning to do the century loop today. The farthest I had ridden was the previous days
84 miles. But between my group of inner friends, I am easily talked into doing my first
Stopping in the town of Wallingford we wait (again) for pancakes but nobody minds
because its a social thing you quickly get used to. I first meet the unicycle guy, a student
at Iowa State who, with another, is determined to do the entire route, no brakes, no
handlebars, no gears, big balls, and half a chance at getting a flat as the rest of us.
Watching him later ride down one of the big hills is a site that makes my knees hurt just
thinking about it.
The Danish town of Ringsted rolls out the welcome wagon for the riders as the colorful
costumed mayor and an entourage stand in main street welcoming and passing out flyers
A Velkomm banner of about 20 or so bikes suspended from a cable stretches across
main street about 100 feet. The local polka style band oompas something reminiscent of
Louie Louie as we roll through. A couple of guys dressed in 50s style suits. ties, and
wingtips peddle by on single speed vintage Schwinns, becoming instant celebrities and
Pee-Wee Herman look-alike photo ops.
On the road riding the corn ridges in my windbreaker when some guy passes me with no
shirt on, sunburned lobster red except for a streak of a preplanned message written on his
back with sunscreen which says: Eat Me. His teammates, appropriately attired blow by
too fast for me to read their apparent obscenities. One pulls a rickshaw rig with a cooler
of beer; another totes a large cooler modified with a solar panel powered stereo rig that
blares AC-DCs, Highway to Hell as they roll on.
The sun pokes through and warms us for a while as we stop in the town of Fenton which
had transformed their city park to an oasis and all the key players of food, beverage, and
specialty vendors, such as the Corn Woman, are set up and ready. On the adjacent
courthouse lawn some farmer displays his collection of about 15 antique gasoline 1 to 3
HP engines that sputter and consistently backfire throughout the afternoon. Bunch of old
geezers on stage pick out some pretty good bluegrass. People gorge on sweet corn and
watermelon, while others kick back and rest. The line for Mr. Pork Chop extends about a
block as cyclists wait for what appeared to be a pound-size hunk of swine smoked over
corn cobs you can only get in Iowa. It was not uncommon to see a resting rider on a park
bench in some small town unwrapping the remainder of one these delicacies, gnawing on
the bone, cave man style throughout the day.
The winds pick up as five of us approach the turnoff to the century loop. The temperature
now probably in the 60s. I grind along with a my teammates as we follow the arrowed
signs, stopping for more food in the town of Ottosen, a town I later was to discover has a
history of several Bigfoot encounters. Perhaps that explained the several official
ROADKILL signs along this loop of the route.
Cloud cover again and occasional fatiguing winds toward the end of the route with long
inclines. We took turns and pulled each other up as we paced along. Becky, a teacher
from Nebraska on a pannier-loaded bike, joins our pace line for several miles and we
battle the shifting winds. We trudge along. Becky gabs away for a few miles but none of
us are really in a talkative mood and we cant hear what she is babbling about. About
mile 80 I grab a sugar fueled goo-gel and squeeze it down my throat for some stamina.
Miles of endless corn - no traffic except for an occasional cyclist we pass.
The afternoon draws late as we toil away becoming somewhat hypnotized from watching
the spinning rear wheel ahead of us. No noise except for our random chatter, whirling
spokes, Beckys wind-garbled conversation and the occasional rustle of wind hitting the
corn tassels. Peter looks at his gauge and motions for me to come up along side. He
smiles and shakes my hand and congratulated me on hitting the 100-mile mark.
Nearly dark at the edge of Algona, we make our way up to the camp area to find the last
mile of route up a grueling hill. Im dead, and could easily eat my bike seat at any time.
We remaining stragglers set up tents and discover that our host actually does have a hot
shower available at the house.
In later discussions, I find out that showers are nearly always a premium and almost a
luxury event to be had along the route. You could buy them for 2-3 bucks at some
schools that opened specifically for the ride through. Supposedly in some small towns
people would hang a towel on their mail box post as an indication you could pull in and
buy a shower, but I never noticed this. Probably too busy looking for food. Then there
were the car washes that tarped off the bays, one for men and one for women, and rigged
up pvc-gizmo shower heads. I assume they changed the tire cleaner and wax to soap or
shampoo, but I wasnt hard up enough to experience this adventure.
Moments later, in the bathroom of hosts house, I am in ecstasy feeling my first hot, real
shower in three days. It will remain as one of the most memorable and well worth the
Doc and I decide to hitchhike the two or so miles to town to get some dinner, only to be
stopped by the first car who was the local Sheriff, who slows down, asks us who we are,
then says have a nice night as he drives off. Thumbs out a few hundred yards later, an
SUV load of folks slow down and ask if we are ax murderers. Yes, we reply, but were
too tired and hungry to kill. They lift us to the town.
Serious partying had been going on from the looks of a trashed city square. We found
some vendor selling what appeared to be a chicken filled pita that tasted remotely
reasonable so we woofed it down. We wandered into an obscenely packed tavern,
probably the only one open in town and inhaled more beer. Hitching back we were
picked up by some locals who knew the house we were staying at and drove us to the
door. I had a fast nightcap with some Sprinters who were sucking down Capt. Morgan
then crawled to my tent to a dead sleep.
DAY 4 - Algona to Northwood
I decided today to separate from my group and ride solo. I felt the week was going by too
fast and I wanted to take my time, talk with folks and take more photos. I was
comfortable now that I would not be abandoned. Even though there were 10,000 or so
riders throughout the day, I learned by shear routine I could stumble upon my group of
friends in the next town or the one after that. As in true RAGBRAI terminology, I would
find them at the first bar on the left, unless its on the right. And I had my map of the
overnight camp area, so I was set.
Sucking down coffee, I parted with my bike-mates after breakfast and pedaled along at
my own pace.
At the top of a hill, genuflecting in a cornfield, I perform that early morning
constitutional of marking my territory. I exit this field of dreams to observe the
sereneness of an Iowa country morning; bird chirps and occasional whizzing of cyclists
making their way up the hill on the route. Too early to be busy. Out of the corn I stroll
and readying my bike onto the pavement when I turn my head to the direction of the
bikers coming up from the base of the hill.
Blasting through the corn canyon I hear the music of Don Henley:
Theyre pickin up the prisoners and puttin
em in the pen
And all she wants to do is dance, dance
Rebels been rebels since I dont know when
And all she wants to do is dance
Looks like fun, so I join in behind a troupe of six led by a tall jock of a leader towing the
finest sound system I had yet to hear on the ride. A modified igloo cooler sprouting
numerous speakers and woofers, controlled by a tiny panel on the handlebars of his road
bike. A strong rider, he rocked as he rolled and bopped his head to the change of the
songs. From Hank Williams to Eric Clapton and everything in between. Occasionally
someone would holler and he would turn down the volume, bark out an answer, then
crank it back up. Cows turned their heads and pigs ran as we passed by. I trailed behind
this pied piper for a couple of miles and eventually they welcomed me a bit closer. For
the next 20 or so miles I rocked and rolled to countless great songs. Crowds part as we
passed through their pelotons. One good tune after another as we rolled through the
morning hills, waving at farm kids and overweight moms selling more Gatorade and
bananas from roadside card tables. I eventually lost them in the town of Thompson. They
were Team Cowbell from Ft. Worth. A day or so later I caught up with a solo riding
team member for a while and inquired about the rest of the troupe I cant remember
why they were not together that day. I sought them out during the next couple of days,
but never encountered them again. I was to discover later it was just one of those
RAGBRAI moments that happen.
I stopped for a break at a farm yard with a sign that invited you to Visit the Baby Pigs.
I watched obvious first time pig grabbers try to snatch one of the little squealing bastards
out of a wire pen to have their photo taken. Of course there were drinks, pie, bananas, etc.
available for sale. What better sales gimmick for the local entrepreneur kids to reel-in the
I wander in to the obvious happening spot in Titonka because cyclists were spilling out of
the tavern and dancing in the street to Clarence Carters Workin, that blared through
some outdoor speakers; one of numerous unofficial RAGBRAI party themes. The bar is
packed and dark and probably 30 of Team Whiners in their notable pink pig and yellow
jerseys, were dancing on every surface that could hold a body. Somebody near the back
door took a pitcher of beer, dumped it on the floor and yelled beer slide and two asses
slid out the back alley before the bartender broke it up. And it was only 10:30.
One of the things I enjoyed most about everyday on the ride was the sincere friendliness
of other riders as they pulled along side and struck up a conversation. Sometimes, you
would talk for a few causal moments about the terrain, your bike, where you were from,
or maybe something or someone that stood out along the route. Sometimes, you would
ride for miles then your new found friend would vanish in the next town. A woman
named Dorothy from Kansas rolled up alongside and we struck up a conversation about
similar interests, including all the ribbing that went along with the Wizard of Oz clichés.
Before long, it seemed I knew her life story. She was just downsized from a corporate
position in KC from a job she held for 9 years, her brother recently died, and she was still
recovering from some female surgery. She said that in a matter of two months she lost
her job, her brother, and her ovaries. It was a bit more info than I cared to hear; she
obviously needed to talk. We stopped in the next town of Crystal Lake where the only bar
was the local VFW. Those riders who were not passing through or having beer with the
Vets, were outside near the lake having their photo taken in front of a hokey 30 ft. statue
proclaiming to be the worlds largest bullhead. I bought her a beer at the VFW where I
also experienced my first, and last, culinary delight of a walking taco- a small bag of
crushed Doritos, with taco meat poured inside then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese
served ala plastic fork. I had heard people raving about these things, but I could barely
get down 3 bites. I ran into a couple of my teammates and had another beer with the Vets,
as we watched two drunk tit-flashing babes try to dance on top the plywood covered pool
table as Johnny Cougar Mellancamps Hurt so Good howled through blown speakers.
Dorothy hooked up with some friends and they parted down their own yellow brick road.
I ran into her a couple days later and she had a cast on her arm. Said she crashed while
riding and trying to fasten her helmet at the same time.
Sweat is pouring from my helmet into my eyes as I work my way up a sizable hill near
Lake Mills, only to be attacked by 3 kids with giant super-soakers fueled with backpack
sized tanks, hosing me down with a cool, refreshing blast. They loved having something
to shoot at and get away with it.
Free bottled water ahead the sign said. And the signs got more prevalent as I got closer
to the canopy set up by some politician running for a senate office. The water bottles
looked suspiciously like something from Sams Club with a new label pasted over it. One
of the high school cheerleaders handled me a bottle and a flyer touting the great
accomplishments of this politician whose name I cant recall - something like
Underpants. The water had that garden hose flavor and tasted like it had been in the bottle
for about 5 years. The route had no shortage of politicians or religious messengers
waiting to reel in and convert a passer by.
Northwood, with its manicured streets shaded by old elms and oaks, had the main street
transformed to party central. Bands played, food booths everywhere. I talked later to a
guy from New Jersey. He and his wife, also rookies, were shocked during their stay at a
private home here. Said they arrived at the house to find the door unlocked, and a note
from the hosts they had never met saying to make themselves at home, shower is upstairs,
food in the fridge - me and the wife are in town working one of the booths. They lived in
an area where you would be shot if you came into someones house. He was in awe of the
hospitality. I tried to explain it was an Iowa thing.
I peddled onward with map in hand finding the team campsite at the end of town. Across
the RR tracks was our camp at the barnyard area of someone who owned a trucking
company. A tent was placed on top the KYBO, I never did figure out what that was
about. I set up my tent, said hellos and got in the shower line. Although a bit Spartan, the
shower was hot and invigorating and worth the wait. With a couple of teammates I
peddled back into Northwood and enjoyed a few beers a BBQ turkey sandwich and sweet
corn while sitting on the curb listening to a surprisingly good rock band.
DAY 5 - Northwood to Cresco
At sunrise a morning freight train, with tracks directly next to us, shook awake the camp.
There were two more that followed shortly thereafter, just in case anyone had an idea of
sleeping past 6:30. I unzip my tent to stare at a half empty bottle of Guinness on a stack
of weed covered pallets; my nightcap I sort of forgot about was still cool and didnt taste
too bad. Why waste a good stout especially in the middle of Iowa I thought. Soon I found
myself sipping the previous nights leftovers while munching on a cereal bar and banana
waiting for the coffee gods to brew their magic. Dunn sees me, makes a couple
comments, then gets one for himself, using the base of somebodys bicycle pump as an
opener. A possible tradition is started and for breakfast the next two mornings, we start
off with a Guinness. After several cups of delightful coffee, about 8 of us saddle up to
pedal onward stopping in the town of St. Angstar for breakfast.
We stop at the VFW/American Legion/Elks Club (they all kind of run the same after a
while) and for 3 bucks get breakfast dished out by the womans auxiliary of coffee, OJ,
fried potatoes, a slice of excellent watermelon and scrambled eggs with some diced, pink,
meat thing mixed in that looks and tastes suspiciously like Spam. Its about 9 a.m. and
the bar in the adjacent room is open just in case you want a drink. A few local old Vets
are already hunkered down on their stools watching the big event as thousands of riders
pass through. On main street I buy a dollar cinnamon roll the size of my head, from a
table of fresh, homemade baked goods sold by an Amish mama. To this day it remains
the best I have ever eaten.
Food became a major issue with me. I found myself burning up the calories almost as fast
as I could eat. I wanted to experience as many culinary delights the ride had to offer but I
dont eat beef or pork, which is a mainstay. I did find enough poultry, sweet corn, veggie
dishes and mystery items to get by and eventually had to succumb to a burger or two for
fuel purposes. Except for iceberg lettuce, I do believe that in Iowa all food at some point
or in some form, is available on a stick. (I think it might be a law) I encountered a
couple restaurants offering that infamous Iceberg wedge, lathered in mayonnaise with
bleu cheese crumbles; a salad delight I had long forgotten about, until this trip. Probably
somewhere in the state, if not on a RAGBRAI route, this delicacy too, could be
purchased in its popsicle form. I think I actually saw one roadside stand offering children
on-a-stick. Or it might have been chicken.
Someone told me to allow about 20-30 bucks a day for food. I was spending about 50,
which included an occasional beer or three on the road. I quickly realized after that early
morning beer buzz watching the end of the Tour de France on day 1, that one had to
properly pace oneself. Beer seemed to taste better in the late afternoon towards the end of
Near Stacyville the roads became rough and poorly maintained-bumpy and full of tar
filed cracks. We were passing through another region of Amish country and my guess
was that they did not require nice roads because of the lack of motor vehicles. Passing
farms with no cars or tractors, in their yards-instead old and still operable harvesting
implements from the turn of the century. No electric or phone lines. Corrals with Belgian
horses and fields of stacked grain in symmetrical formation that rolled across a landscape
bordered by intense blue skies. We passed whole large families of Amish, dressed in dark
and pastels who stood at the lanes end and waved at the cyclists who peddled by.
I had to stop for the Amish family offering homemade ice cream. A father collects the 2
dollars for a paper bowl of homemade vanilla, as the two brothers take turns at the crank
of the wooden buckets, churning out the real McCoy. Running down the lane towards me
is a bonnet-clad daughter, about 6, in her long grey skirt with a large glass bowl of fresh
raspberries, to be added to the mixture. The ice cream could not have been finer, or more
A few miles eastward it is near lunch time and I work my way up a surprisingly steep hill
to the town of Riceville, I hear my tapeworm calling. A scenic town with open arms that
welcome you, except that they are almost completely out of food and it is just past noon.
Sold out at the sweet corn booth. The turkey leg booth, no pie, not even a walking taco.
There is, however, a massive line at the tent that hosts the Howard County beef producers
burger grilling fiasco. They cant fry em fast enough and bikers are scarfing up 2-3 at
time due to no other food source. I dont eat red meat and I contemplate on having a
burger, before breaking down and buying 2 of them. I inhale one before I get a half a
block to the bar where I meet my friends and I wash the other down with a few beers.
Sometimes you have to eat what you can. Beside I figure its nothing good colonic would
clean out when I get back home.
Late afternoon into the town of Lime Springs we stopped for beers, sweet corn and a
short nap in the town square. Main street is giant beer garden and an unseen DJ blasts out
music for a ever growing crowd of line dancers in the street. All the beer sold is in plastic
bottles and theres a John Deere corn hopper wagon with a mounted basketball hoop for
you throw your empties at.
Near dusk and through the town of Cresco I meet up with our teammates at a pristine
nature park on the outskirts of town which is our home for the night. Under covered
pavilions our team finds welcomed spots to hang our still wet clothes and gear. After
setting up camp I still have enough light left to ride into town that blocked off the streets
for the giant fiesta. Sitting on a bench listening to a blues band, I scarf down two chicken
sandwiches, sweet corn and a piece of apple pie and a beer before I head back to crash
hard and fast in the tent.
DAY 6 - Cresco to West Union
The now familiar sound of zippers, throat clearing coughs and incoherent mumbling
awaken me as I roll out of the tent and stroll towards Mr. Bills coffee line that has now
been formed under a pavilion. The plywood and sawhorse table set up behind the sag
truck contains our get-moving spread of fruit, cereal bars, juices, and assorted morning
munchies. Caffeine induces conversation about the previous days ride and what we can
look toward for today. Continual talk of the weather and the winds. Doc opens a couple
of Guinness on the truck bumper and I down a granola bar and a banana. Soon Im
packed and rolling off into woodland covered hills on a cool crisp morning. I set out on
my own again today.
I have wonderful moments of high energy that seem to propel me through the morning
countryside. Probably because of the cool air and smells of wildflowers.
Around 10 a.m. I look off to my left to see a few cyclists pulling off to a dirt road leading
to a pond. On a small dock, one couple peel off their clothes and bikers on the road yell
out approvals as the couple dive in. Passing through Protivin Im greeted by a giant
walking ear of corn who waves a shuck at me.
I stop for a Farm Boys Breakfast Burrito, one of the traveling vendors who has become
an institution on the route. For 5 bucks you get a giant tortilla then walk through a line as
workers dish out eggs, sausage, veggies, cheeses, veggie meat, salsas, diced potatoes, and
as much as you can cram into a burrito and still roll it up to eat. Mine ends up slightly
smaller that my helmet, but I waste no time woofing it down as I sit in communal lawn
chairs chatting with fellow travelers among bites.
Miles later I come across the Trumpet Man, an older gent with a trumpet slung on his
back. I chat with him and his female friend for a mile or two until we roll into the
charming village of Spillville. Round the corner and down the hill he whips out the
trumpet to blast a Calvary charge that echoes through the hills and gets the attention of
all. I wave adios to Trumpet man as I stop at the entry of the town for a few photos. A
Czech-Catholic farming community nestled in the Turkey River valley with a proud
heritage of the composer Dvorak. The elaborate church and cemetery high on a hill that
becomes a haven for the hundreds of resting cyclists. A cemetery was filled with
elaborate grave markers called Andera Crosses-cast iron grave markers adorned with
Christian religious icons made in the 1880s by local craftsman Charles Andera.
Remarkable works of art that are dotted throughout the Czech community cemeteries,
mostly in the Midwest.
My photo taking was interrupted as I stop to listen to an announcement by a bullhorn
toting town official who tells us to wait around for the Frozen T-shirt contest. Wondering
just what the hell this could be, I hang with the crowd. Two babes and beefy guy are
pulled out of the crowd and marched upon a flatbed trailer while the MC takes 3 large tshirts,
dips them in a mist-rising vat of liquid nitrogen and with tongs, pulls out each shirt
and drops them at the feet of the participants. The bullhorn hollers Go and the victims
pound and smack the shirts in attempt to loosen them up enough to get the shirt on, over
their head and their arms through. First one to succeed is the winner. As they slap the
frozen wrinkled shirts on the trailer, pieces break off and fly everywhere into the crowd.
Someone wins and everybody hollers and the crowds attention soon wanders off to other
diversions. Later as I saddle up, I turn to see three local kids hanging around the nitrogen
canister, poking sticks in the liquid and flinging frozen splashes at each other. And to
think when I was that age all we had to throw was mud and rocks.
Through town I stop at a central gathering in the town square to listen to a couple of
guitar strummers singing county and folk songs who had gathered a crowd of beer
drinkers. Out of the crowd the Trumpet man walks up and they all three mumble.
Trumpet Man aligns with the duo then together they blast out rendition of Ring of Fire, as
the audience goes wild. Trumpet Man blows out the final notes, bows to the applause,
waves and hops on his bike. A few minutes later a distant Calvary charge is heard off in
After filling up water bottles I spend about an hour visiting one the local historic hot
spots, the Bily Clock Museum to observe the intricate wood carvings of a couple of old
Czech farmers who apparently had a lot of time on their hands during the winters. True
craftsmanship and well worth the visit.
The hills get bigger as I meet up with a few teammates and we ride the crests and valleys
of the Turkey River into a midway beer and food stop at Waucoma. Normally a sleepy
town of probably 300 is now transformed into party central as slightly drunk cyclists peel
off all sort of outerwear and line up to dive off the town bridge into the Turkey River.
The town square/rectangle is transformed into a beer tent, a line dancing party and one
again I hear Clarence Caters Workin blast thru the hills.
Someone congers up a large truck inner tube and people begin diving off the bridge to hit
the target. Throughout the encouraging advancements and screams, most miss the tube
but come up laughing - Numerous belly flops, mostly by fat guys. Finally a State Trooper
arrives amid a greeting of boos. The fat cop slowly gets out and smiles and politely tells
the revilers that its too dangerous, blah, blah, blah. And the crowd disperses to the town
center. I meet up with my group, and scarf a BBQ chicken sandwich that tasted an awful
lot like pork, then went inside the local tavern where a magician was doing astonishing
card tricks and baffling the entire bar crowd. Another beer or two and it was time to
journey on to the infamous hill I had heard about in St. Lucas.
Through miles of farms into the hot afternoon and then a steep grade that spun you
quickly to the river valley and main street of St Lucas. I passed an open church with a
choir of singing nuns and listened for a short while to their melodic Latin chants but I
really had to find a KYBO. Riding the small town in search, the best I could find was the
rear of a building where several other bikers had the same idea. As I stood there peeing I
looked over to see a small house with without question the most magnificent flower
garden I had ever seen. Probably a full acre yard with groomed paths, yard ornaments,
and a small stream. It contained every conceivable colorful thing that would grow in the
region. As I wandered in awe, an old man probably in his 70s came out on the porch,
smiled and waved, then went back in the house.
The route took us around the steep tree-lined town and then up a nasty hill to continue on.
It probably wasnt really that steep but after a few beers in the late afternoon I found
myself with about 10 others trudging our way up a never ending incline when a voice
yelled out if any one knew any hill climbing songs. Someone began sing the theme to The
Beverly Hillbillies, then all joined in confirming my theory that all red-blooded
Americans know the words to that stupid ballad. Soon, I departed into the sea of corn and
tar-striped asphalt until I reached our camp site outside of West Union.
Home for the night was a section of cornfield that doubled as a GC driving range outside
the local country club. Rumors of an actual hot shower available at the clubhouse were
partly true, but all the hot water was gone by the time I arrived. Nonetheless, it was wet,
clean & enjoyable. Later I enjoyed a great sit down dinner at the dining room with old
and newfound friends. It became an early night and I enjoyed a final Guinness with
veteran Sprinters who sat around a campfire of bucket candles as we discussed the
weeks adventures, accomplishments, and the forthcoming final day. For a short while,
fireworks lit the sky from someplace on the edge of the corn as I fell asleep hard in my
DAY 7 - West Union to Guttenberg
On the final day, I awake just after sunrise unzipping my tent to stand and face a rising
mist rolling off the surrounding sea of corn. As usual there is no set schedule, other than
coffee, a morning piss, tents down, gear in the truck, bikes on the road, and where do we
stop for breakfast. A solo ultra-light flyer groans like a go-cart as he hovers and dips his
wings over our disassembling camp.
Cool, crisp sky beginning to heat up and air filled with a smell of corn pollen. There is a
sense of sadness in the group that today is the end of the ride. The weather had become
perfect in the last couple of days; tolerable heat, dry, blue skies with just enough cloud
cover. The wind remained noticeable but not a dominating factor of how your day went.
We leave the woodland hills and roll along the high ridges of vast fields of corn and grain
that crest and then descend to wooded valleys where we glide into small towns. Our first
stop in Elgin is in search of pancakes where we are greeted by polka band dressed in full
regalia. A fat kid dressed in lederhosen attire is welcoming cyclists and handing out
something. I reach out to grab what are small packets of tissue toilet seat covers with
some insurance company logo. Throughout the week I had been handed various useless
items by someone looking as if they are meaning well, maps, coupons, religious
pamphlets, stickers - but a packet of ass-gaskets?
We ask and search and find everything to eat - except pancakes. Some guy tries to
persuade our group with the local famous Bratwurst but it had no appeal at 8:30 a.m.
Outside of town we stop at the Chris Cakes trailer and woof down cakes and watch the
guys fling extras off the grill towards bikers holding out plates like catchers mitts. After
caking out. Doc and I see a beacon on this lowly stretch of road: a large sign proclaiming
Guinness served at the bar on the top of the hill at Gunder. At the base of the climb is
another promotional sign teasing us up to the top.
I believe, technically, there were more difficult hills throughout the week, but to me this
was longest and steepest; maybe an 8% grade of 1/4 mile straight up. My thighs burned
and my heart felt like it was going to explode. There appeared just as many walkers as
riders. Just when I thought I might not make this one, the summit appeared.
At the top was Gunder. Typical but not much of a town - a church, cemetery, a town hall,
a fire truck, 5-10 houses and the tavern. A handful of the regular traveling vendors were
set up on the road and the Corn Womans booth was full of folks belting out a rendition
of Casey Williss Were All Gonna Die Some Day. Doc and I dismount and went for the
holy grail of Guinness promised at the end of this rainbow. Only to find that the bar had
one keg and was empty. It was just after 10 a.m. Others joined in the frustration, and in
other scenarios, a near riot might have ensued, but this was RAGBRAI and all was
forgiven. Besides, we had our own stash and could wait till the days end.
More intense hills as we climb ridges and descend valleys that move us into the bluffs
towards the river. Near lunch Doc and I stop for Pastafari. Herb coated salmon served
with pasta and grilled veggies. Under the tents in the front yard of a century farm, with
reggae music blasting thru the corn. Worth waiting in line for-again. We rest a bit, then
mount up and peddle on some gradual hills at a pace of about 13-15. From behind us we
hear a strange wheel sound only to see some beefy jock with his shirt off sashay his way
past us on rollerblades. He had to be doing 18-20 and was in complete rhythmic control.
So much for any feelings of being inferior that day.
We catch up with our group as we roll down a fairly steep hill into the town of St. Olaf.
At the base of the hill someone plowed into one of our teammates who was trying to park
their tandem and the accident resulted in a fractured wrist. But a true RAGBRAI trooper,
she got treated and bandaged up by the ambulance and the tandem troopers finished the
ride. Having someone in our close circle of riders being hurt was an awakening sense of
reality to the dangers of the ride. We hang for while to consult and comfort then I depart
again on my own.
Along a bluff I ride for few miles alongside an old man dressed like a farmer (probably
was) riding an old 3-speed cruiser with a big basket where he had a cassette player rigged
up near the handle bars. Vintage country sounds of Hank Snow, Earnest Tubb, Kitty
Wells and Merle Haggard twanged out of his black box as we rode along the wooded
limestone bluffs until he pulled off near the a riverside honky tonk filled with afternoon
There is a casual hospitality on the ride that seems to foster friendships as the week
progresses. Newly formed acquaintances within Sprinters and also the folks you
encounter on the ride. People openly introduce themselves at food-stops, maybe a bar,
and many just along the ride itself. Some riders will come along side and start up a
conversation that sometimes lasts for miles, even days, off and on. Before you know it
you might be in a deep philosophical discussion about aspects of the ride, some event that
just happened, maybe mutually familiar places youve been. I met a woman about 60 and
her two daughters while sitting under a tree eating ice cream. They rode out to the start
from Colorado and in a matter of about 15 minutes I knew her whole life story. A guy
from Scotland rode alongside me for miles and asked me every conceivable question
about Florida when he found out I lived there. An openly gay guy from Oregon sat across
the pancake table from me in a barn during breakfast and went into too much detail about
a lovers spat that he and his partner had two nights earlier. Usually in the in the next town
you would say farewell. Maybe you saw them again - mostly not. But a genuineness of
the human spirit all the same. People of all walks of life, from all over the country, all
over the world seemed to wait all year for this one week to let loose and open up to
others. Were all different, but this week we all have something in common. I dont think
that could happen in any place but Iowa.
The ride is full of characters, many who are an annual site along the route. Today in a
park we met a woman from Chicago who travels with Joey, a miniature schnauzer
strapped in on a cushy little basket mounted on the back of her custom made bike. She
said Joey was 12 now and has done every RAGBRAI since he was a pup. Some of the
legendry icons I looked for but did not see were, the guy who does the complete ride
without a seat, the naked lady, who is not really naked but wears a T-back and little
else. Supposedly there is a guy who rides face-down, stretched out with his pedals behind
him, and another who rides an 1890s bike with wooden rims and a rod brake. I expected
to see some skateboarders but did not. But just about everything else conceivable with
wheels was represented.
And I saw no shortage of riders with stuff attached to the heads. Stuffed loons from a
Minnesota team, ears of corn wired on helmets, crabs, lobster, frogs and hair glued on.
Helmets with flashing red lights. And Team Ass Wipe; a group of guys with tied on toilet
For several days, I had heard about the final hill into Guttenberg. Some feelings of
caution and a bit of fear because I didnt know how fast my bike could go with me still in
control. Earlier that morning I switched my front brake pads which were not too worn
with my rear. For some reason I had this vision of me smoking the wheels as I flew down
into the Mississippi Valley at rocket speed.
A small crowd, stopped patrol cars and steep warning signs marked the final decent to
Guttenberg. A bunch of Sprinters stopped along the roadside for photos and good luck
It was then most of us heard about a team bus that crashed on the final hill. An older
modified school bus blew out its brakes, hit speeds up to 70 mph, jumped some railroad
tracks, crashed and caught fire, throwing out one of the 2 occupants. In what could only
be described as one of those true RAGBRAI moments, a later story in the Des Moines
Those involved - from Team Wheel's bus driver to bicyclists and locals who came to the
rescue - said they were impressed by the bravery they witnessed at the scene, including
several RAGBRAI folks who poured beer on the flames.
Just what I needed; something else to add to the thrill of the hill. As more Sprinters and
fellow riders appeared at the crest, any fear I had became shadowed by a euphoric sense
of this final leg of the ride and that we all could make it - which we did.
Off I went along side a few comrades. We all kept our distance and I tucked down tight
into the frame, accelerating past tree covered bluffs on a smooth dry road that for right
now, I owned. The bike held steady and strong and I kept both hands lightly on the
brakes and began to apply when my speedometer hit 42 about mid-way down the bluff. I
figured that was fast enough and for another half mile or so I held that speed and backed
off. At the base of the hill I met up with others and in our endorphin states, were heard
minor victory howls that marked our conquest.
Riding high in the saddle into the pictorial river town of Guttenberg past townsfolk in
lawn chairs welcoming me with congratulations like I had won some race - kids and old
guys at a VFW waving flags and clapping as we roll on to main street that faced the river.
Homemade signs were everywhere indicating, you did it!, welcome, etc. I had achieved a
victory of sorts; I made it through the whole route in one piece and feeling great at the
end. Through all the challenges I faced during the week, and the century loop, I did 535
miles in the past 7 days. For a 49-year-old rookie, I figure that was good start.
Along the river road, folks on porches continued the applause as the finishers went
through the road crossing banner marking the end. Outside a local tavern were a hand full
of familiar faces - pre-arrived Sprinters, hoisting a beer with screams and hurrahs as their
I had not planned to do the traditional front-tire dip into the Mississippi that
commemorated the end of the ride. Probably because I didnt do the traditional rear tire
dip in the Missouri to begin with. But a couple of Sprinters talked me into it saying it was
customary and I had to do it at least once.
Soon, past the tents of vendors and revelers I rode with teammates to a boat ramp area
filled with hundreds of bikers doing the dip. The moment was jubilant with an immense
feeling of satisfaction and self accomplishment. I hugged my good friend Barbara and
thanked her profusely for talking me into doing this.
Then it was off to the local meeting place for some victory beers and meet up with my
Dad and of course, some food.
Later that afternoon, Sprinters met up at the meeting place down the street from the local
tavern in an area filled with departing baggage, friends and families, kids and dogs. More
beers and a few tears and many hugs. Till next year.
Someone suggested to get a team photo and I soon corralled about 30 or so in team
picture formation and put my Dad to work taking basically the same shot with about 10
I loaded my gear, toasted a final Guinness with a few new and old friends then soon
sacked out in the passengers seat of my Dads truck as we headed home to Bettendorf.
A few days later I was back at my job in Florida and trying to reason with hurricane
season while tromping across the parking lot with a spring in my step from thighs that felt
unlike those of mortal men.
If I had to do things over, there would be very little to change. For the most part, it would
be some details of preparation and logistical gear maneuvering. Getting the bike and
camp gear from Florida to Iowa was a challenge, but I was fortunate enough to have
family living near the corn which helped out in countless ways.
Being accepted into Team Sprint was a benefit that only afterwards I came to truly
appreciate and respect. A great group of personalities; doctors, teachers, writers, world
travelers, factory workers - I could tell that many of them lived the entire year for this
single week in July. The camaraderie, logistical expertise, adaptability and overall laid
back friendliness of this veteran team put any newcomer at ease. There was always
someone willing to help or answer a question. I felt honored to have been adopted by
such a great team of people.
Living in Florida it seems I had been removed from the sincerity of Midwesterners, and it
was extraordinary to be around such people throughout that week. I need to get back
Taking the time to physically train for the ride paid off. There were days and times I felt
like Lance, almost running up some hills, until someone passed me and put me in my
rightful pecking order as a rookie.
To sum it up, my first RAGBRAI was an amazing event that far exceeded my
expectations. But then, Iowa has a way of doing things like that.
Mike Wayne, Aug 05
End of JULY 06
It is now 5 days before RAGBRAI and I have sent the last of my packages to my parents
in Iowa. It is in the hi 90s and in the late afternoon and nearly every day since February, I
can be found riding the 27 mile route along the beach road of Longboat Key. Heavy
headwinds, always a crosswind somewhere; often a short, tropical sun shower. 3-4 days a
week I ride with a pace line group, but many days Im out alone. Some days I catch an
adrenalin buzz and can outride anyone; for a while. Other days I plug along consistent but
strong. My bike has been added to, modified and tuned. Im ready for Iowa, and I often
talk about it to folks down here. The general response with my cyclist buddies is that they
have heard of it and know its big- but most dont even know where Iowa is.
Since I was a kid I have always loved my bike- whatever my bike has been. I often ask
myself why I havent done this years before. Guess I forgot what I was missing. Now I
cant imagine life without constantly riding; looks like I got some catching up to do.
In a few days Ill be on a plane, meeting friends and family then head out the following
morning to the starting point, at Union Station Bar in Cedar Rapids. Buses and trucks will
be loaded, friendships renewed and the caravan will depart with a busload of over-aged
kids heading out to a special summer camp they been excited about all year. And again
Ill be along- for the camaraderie, the adventure, and the special moments that can only
happen on RAGBRAI.
See ya near the corn or in some town in between-
© Mike Wayne, Sarasota FL. July 2006
Last updated on January 19, 2010