RAGBRAI Recap: Day One

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[ continued from yesterday ]

We woke up on the morning of Sunday, July 22, not nearly as rested as we had hoped to be. But at least the heat of the morning meant that our tent was already nearly dry after the night's thundershower.

Our hosts provided coffee and delicious pastries, not to mention bathrooms where we could suit up and apply our No-Ad 85 SPF, our Body Glide, our Chamois Cream, our Monkey Butt. We struck our tents, and Laura and I helped pack Team Nasty's gear into the support van that would meet us in that evening's destination town, Cherokee. Two members of our subgroup, Barbara Lynn and Jenny, hopped into the two SUVs to drive back east across Iowa to the yoga retreat where they would spend the next week. Team Nasty jersey, as worn by @chavoen #RAGBRAI #jimnasty Laura, at more than one point during our months of training, had nearly made the decision to join the yoga party and leave me to bike alone. Part of her may have regretted the decision as we mounted up on our bikes and hit the road.

Colin, veteran of two previous RAGBRAIs, had explained in advance how to expect the days on the road with Team Nasty to proceed. They were a sleep-late, stay-up-late kind of team, getting on the road after the morning rush was over, and lingering for food and beer in each of the towns along the route. "You never do eighty miles in a day," he said with authority. "You do a series of eight ten-mile rides with plenty of recovery time in between."

Still, having seen the weather report, Laura and I weren't convinced that was a strategy that was going to work for us. The rest of the team was faster cyclists than we were, and neither of us particularly relished the idea of slogging through a full afternoon of triple-digit temperatures. We had resolved to leave as early as possible each day, although between everything going on at the campsite that morning and our unfamiliarity with the routine we didn't actually get underway until 8:30 am. We did get on the road before the rest of the team, but our start time was still more than two hours later than what we'd been shooting for.

That was fine at first. It was exciting to be on the road with dozens of other cyclists around us. On our way through town, little kids would rush to the curbs and hold out their hands for a slap as we passed. Out in the countryside, farm families had set up umbrellas and chairs to cheer as they watched the riders pass. Hand-lettered signs posted along the route promised cheap breakfasts in the upcoming town, or $1 water, or Gatorade or ice cream, or roadside Slip 'N Slide stops. No hill was insurmountable. Every downslope was exhilarating.

Only in America. Or Holland. Our first town, about ten miles along the route, was Orange City, one of those Dutch towns that celebrates it's Dutch-ness with copious tulips and windmills and wooden shoes. We grabbed a quick coffee and a water refill there on the crowded streets and continued another four miles to Alton. That's where signs had promised us a $5 breakfast of all-you-can-eat pancakes and bratwursts and scrambled-egg croissants cooked by firemen. Delicious.

It was another seven miles to Granville, and I believe it was early on that stretch of road that we saw what we presumed to be our first victim of heat stroke. A whole pace line of cyclists in identical jerseys who had passed us earlier were pulled off at the side of the road. One of them was kneeling, red-face and gasping, while others poured water over his head. (It was either heat stroke or a baptism.) A few minutes farther down the road, we all moved over into the right lane as an ambulance passed us heading back in that direction. It was the first of many ambulances that day and the next.

After Granville, we hit the slow 14-mile stretch to Marcus. Most days on RAGBRAI are laid out so the route runs about ten miles between towns, but not Day 1. I started making it a practice to buy water from roadside stands every chance I got, one to go straight into my insulated bottle, one to stash in my pannier for later just in case.

Something we would see in many towns It was not quite noon when, with relief, we spotted the water tower in the distance. (We had learned that a water tower in the distance indicated we were nearing a town. That or an American flag hanging from the extended ladder of a fire engine.) We were entering the broiling portion of the day, and a couple of miles later we were rolling into Marcus, a town singularly devoid of shade. We ate corn on the cob and watermelon and rested a while. Several times already through out the day we'd been passed by the young teenaged members of Team Nasty (Laura dubbed them the Nasty Boys), who seemed to have boundless energy, but it was in Marcus that we saw our first fellow adult Nasty. We didn't stick around long to chat.

The final segment of Day 1 was the brutal 17-mile stretch to Cherokee. Shade was rare, and the temperature was now over 100 degrees—and even higher on the road surface, as some folks with bike thermometers assured us. About a mile past the last good water stop, with about nine miles left to go, I stopped at the top of a long hill to wait for Laura. Often I would get moving faster than she would on downhills, and I'd wait for her to catch up so we didn't get separated. But this time, she didn't catch up.

Growing more nervous and agitated, I waited at that turn in the route for about ten minutes. I checked my phone for text messages, but the AT&T service in rural western Iowa is ridiculously bad. One of the Nasty Boys rode past and I flagged him down. "Have you seen Laura?" I asked. He hadn't.

Finally, unsure whether she was hurt or having mechanical problems or had somehow gotten past me without my noticing, I began the dicey proposition of backtracking along our route. I went all the way back to the water stop without finding Laura, which made clear to me that she'd gotten past me without my noticing. I had no choice but to set out again.

It was maybe twenty minutes later that I found her. She was waiting for me well ahead of where I'd stopped, frantically flagging me down. "My fault, my fault!" she assured me. When I stopped at the top of the hill, she had passed me and yelled that she wasn't going to stop there, but hadn't paused to confirm that I'd seen or heard her. When I didn't catch up, she assumed I was either looking for her or was hurt. The Nasty Boys passed her at one point and let her know that, yes, I was back there hunting for her. So she waited.

All this put us quite a ways behind schedule, and the final seven miles were horribly difficult. Two miles short of Cherokee, I was so worn out from the heat that I endured the ribbing of spectators to pull over and take a ten-minute break under a clump of trees. For much of the day I'd been in the lead, but this was where Laura began to pull further ahead of me. Hell, everyone was pulling ahead of me. It was like riding through hell.

Finally I dragged myself up the last hill before town, where a long, long downhill between leafy trees awaited. As I picked up speed and raced through that final mile, my bike picked up so much speed that my pedaling couldn't keep up. It occurred to me that if I turfed at that speed, I would break something, if not everything. But with the wind in my face, it was the grandest moment of the day.

Laura and I had completed the second shortest day of the ride, grand total of 54.4 miles. And it was already 3:00 pm.

Camp We were the first ones to reach the camp site that our support drivers had found for the team. All we wanted was to get our tent pitched (which we did), to get a shower at the adjacent city pool (which we did, though it was crowded and uncomfortable), and then get some food. But that last goal proved elusive, as the rest of Team Nasty rolled in over the course of the next two or three hours. It was evening before Laura and I managed to overcome the group's inertia and assemble to posse to head into the busy town center for food.

As we sacked out in our tent later that evening, well before the rest of the group turned in, tired and sunburnt, we resolved two plans of action. First, with a 62-mile day ahead of us, we would leave before sunrise the next morning without fail. Second, we would find food and beer on our own when we arrived in the next sleep town and not wait to make it a group outing. That had turned out to be like trying to steer an oil tanker.

[ to be continued ]

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[ continued from yesterday ] A clap of thunder dislodged me partially from sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Because it was such a warm night and there was no rain in the forecast, Laura and I had... [Read More]

1 Comment

I'm in pain just reading this, Bill. Alas, I was born without a butt and much prefer reading about it than attempting it. Looking forward to your next instalment.

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About This Entry

This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on August 9, 2012 9:02 AM.

RAGBRAI Recap: The Road to Iowa was the previous entry in this blog.

RAGBRAI Recap: Day Two is the next entry in this blog.

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