RAGBRAI Recap: The Road Home

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[ continued from last week ]

In retrospect, we probably could have come up with a solution that didn't involve throwing in the towel completely. We could have ridden each of the next two days until noon, then called for the support wagon and sat out the triple-digit afternoon heat. We could have just sat out those days entirely and picked up again on Thursday morning in Marshalltown.

But none of those compromises were within comprehension in our ragged states that afternoon as I laid out to Laura the math I'd run in my head, the risks of heat stroke or something worse, the exit strategy I'd worked out for getting us home, and most of all the fact that I just didn't think I could do another day under those extreme circumstances. And she agreed with me.

Bike arch, Lake View, Iowa Once we'd decided we were leaving, there was no looking back. We quaffed more beer and stuffed ourselves with tasteless, wonderful carbs from the Glacier Bay buffet, then pedaled another five miles or so through Lake View in search of Team Nasty's campsite for the night. As we set up our tent, turkey buzzards were circling overhead. No doubt they were hoping to scavenge garbage from the influx of campers, but at the time it struck us as ominous confirmation that we were making the right decision.

It was impossible to get a decent cellular connection from almost anywhere, so I took my iPad and hiked over to the public library in search of wi-fi. We wanted to get rental cars and hotels nailed down quickly. The tiny library was like a refugee camp, with maybe forty people taking advantage of the air-conditioning, some even sleeping on the floor between the stacks. Mobile speakeasy The line for the computers was long, but the wi-fi was abundant. I managed to secure us a Chevy Malibu rental for the next day from Fort Dodge to Cedar Rapids, and a Jeep Liberty the next day from Cedar Rapids to Chicago. I found us a couple of hotels, too, and prepaid for our stays.

By way of salvaging our vacation week, I shot an email to Templeton Rye to see if I could make arrangements for a tour the next afternoon, as long as we were going to be in the general vicinity of Templeton. (We are both big fans, and in fact later that evening we ran across Templeton's Mobile Speakeasy in town. It was just closing up for the night.) After that, I planned for us to stay in Cedar Rapids through Thursday night, when the RAGBRAI riders arrived there for a free Counting Crows concert.

I would describe our evening as lame-duck Nastys as muted and mournful. A large percentage of our team wandered out together and found a nine-dollar potluck dinner at a local church. We were issued group numbers and asked to wait in the crowded chapel until we were called. It took about forty-five minutes to get seated, Waiting for supper during which time a few members of our group picked up hymnals and started a quiet, impromptu choir recital which a few other folks joined. Dinner was worth the wait, though—far tastier and more generous than the offerings at the Glacier Bay buffet.

While we were eating, a copy of that day's Des Moines Register made the rounds. The first six pages were mostly devoted to stories about the heat wave, and about how dangerous it was for people to undertake any kind of strenuous activity outdoors. The sole exception was an article about what fun all those cyclists were having on their way across Iowa!

For better or worse, it didn't rain that night. Laura and I were awakened around 6:00 am by the sounds of people breaking camp. It seems the rest of Team Nasty, who had awakened the previous morning to find Laura and me mysteriously vanished, were now taking a page from our playbook and hitting the road early. It felt weird to not be joining them. The siren call of the morning road was seductive and tempting, but we had already lashed ourselves to the mast of a departing ship.

Our bikes are done I'm not sure how much there is to tell. Our support van very kindly drove us, crammed in with the luggage, and our bikes to the Fort Dodge airport, which was not very far off their route to Webster City. At one point on the trip there we crossed an overpass below which an endless river of cyclists flowed to the south. It was hard to watch them dwindle behind us and disappear from sight.

We picked up our Malibu at the tiny Fort Dodge airport, which contained little else besides an X-ray machine and a Hertz counter. Our bikes barely fit in the back with the front wheels taken off. Templeton Rye had emailed me to say that they couldn't run any tours that week because all their people were at RAGBRAI, so we did our best to amuse ourselves in Fort Dodge throughout the afternoon and evening. (Ted, by the way, is a horrible, unfunny abortion of a movie, but I gave it four stars for the air-conditioning alone. And it's more fun to watch when you're the only two people in the theater and can talk as loudly as you want.) We found a place for dinner with good local beer, then drank rye in our hotel room and watched bad TV.

The next morning, Wednesday, we drove to the Cedar Rapids airport, packed our bikes into a far more roomy Jeep, and headed into the city to find brunch and see The Amazing Spider-Man. Post-#RAGBRAI euphoria with @chavoen @colinpoe @bodysoulrest #jimnasty We were bored out of our skulls by that point and had abandoned the idea of staying through Thursday night for the Counting Crows show. We cut short our hotel stay and made it back home to Chicago on Thursday morning—which incidentally was Laura's birthday. We went out for sushi that night in our very own neighborhood. It was good.

And that's the story of how RAGBRAI kicked our punk asses. But, as Colin told us, there aren't a lot of people in the country who could have accomplished as much as we did in those two days of riding, especially in that heat. And boy, when our New York crew came back through Chicago that Saturday night, did they look beat up and badly handled.

I still hope to ride the full route one of these years. But next time I try, I think Laura will be the smarter one and will opt for the yoga retreat from the start.

[ to be concluded ]

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William Shunn

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on August 13, 2012 9:12 AM.

RAGBRAI Recap: Day Two was the previous entry in this blog.

RAGBRAI Recap: The Legacy is the next entry in this blog.

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