Riding RAGBRAI
The team concept of RAGBRAI might suggest that it's a race, but it's
not. Signing up as a team is just a way to guaranty yourself a spot in
the big ride and gain access to all the benefits that come with
receiving an official RAGBRAI wrist band (discounted prices on pie,
primarily, and free entry into beer gardens). Each year entries are
limited to 10,000 riders, but applications always exceed that number.
A lottery system determines who gets in when there's too many
applications. However, by RAGBRAI tradition, priority is granted to
team applications. Almost every team that applies will win the lottery
and receive a set of wrist bands for its members - potentially at the
expense of the individual applications.

Team Joyride was made up of nine guys and one gal (our RV driver,
Marlene) who were all loosely connected in one way or another. The
common link was banking and law - we all had connections to one or
the other. I had worked with two of the team members at a bank in
St. Louis; one of them now works with another team member who's
originally from Rock Rapids, which has been a starting point for
RAGBRAI on a few occasions; his mother, Marlene, was our
"designated driver" of the RV. About half the team was from the St.
Louis area; three were from Washington D.C.; I was the lone Chicago
resident. Somewhere in the team's 6 degrees of separation was an
ex-wife of one team member who was a sibling of another team
member. All of us were over 30 years old; four of us were RAGBRAI
first timers.
Our host family, Bret and Adele
Hoss, had given Team Joyride and
several other riders access to their
yard for camping. After setting up
tents and eating dinner at a
restaurant up the street, we rode our
bikes into downtown Missouri Valley
to enjoy our first night of
entertainment at the beer garden. In
the category of Worst Idea Ever, a
local business handed out free
Frisbees inside the beer garden. Ever
wondered what happens when you give
drunk people Frisbees? That's
right...within minutes, about 100
Frisbees were flying through the beer
garden, whacking heads from all
angles.

While the Frisbees flew, another St.
Louis-based team stopped by to visit.
Team Numb Nutz had their own
matching green t-shirts and one of
the most literal team names in all of
RAGBRAI. As one would expect, they
were all dudes.

While a local band struggled with
power problems, another potential
electrical dilemma appeared. Strong
thunderstorms to the north produced
one heck of a light show as we
retreated back to our tents. Matt
Kavan brought out his iPhone to check
the radar, which suggested the worst
of the rain would stay to the north.
Even so, we prepared for storms and
settled in for a humid night's sleep.
The rain stayed away, but trains on
the Union Pacific main line rumbled
through town every 20 minutes. I
slept about 3 hours.
Ron Schechter, a Team Joyride
veteran, ready to ride in Missouri
Valley with a salute to the team's
former RV driver, who passed
away last year (the "JN" sticker on
his helmet).
We camped next to chickens near
Missouri Valley.
Larry (left) and Matt would draft for
me all day.
Creative entrance to Shelby.
Had my first piece of Iowa pie in Shelby. It
was glorious.
Day One - Missouri Valley to Harlan
Sunday, July 20th
59 miles; 3797 feet of climbing
RAGBRAI'ers, by nature, are early
risers. When I crawled out of my
tent on Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m.,
a steady stream of bike riders were
already on the road. The Hoss
property was just opposite the first
turn that took riders out into the
country, giving us full view of
hundreds of oncoming bicycles. Riders
were 5-wide across both lanes, one
row after another. An hour later, I
was packed up and ready to ride.

Matt and I took off together at a
slow pace, in an effort to acclimate
ourselves to riding in a tight
formation with such a large number
of bikers. The pack of riders used
both lanes of a rural county road as we headed into the sun. Bikes were
visible all the way
to the horizon, with no significant gaps between
riders anywhere on the road. Riding in such close proximity to so many
other bikes was completely new to me. My training rides had been solo,
and this was downright scary. At times, my front tire was inches from
bikes in front of me. I had seen Tour de France footage of one guy
crashing and causing 50 other guys to pile up behind him, and this had
the same potential.

The first few miles were relatively flat until we began a slow climb out
of the low area that gives Missouri Valley its name. Faster riders were
using the far left edge of pavement to cruise by slower riders, and soon
Matt and I decided to do the same. Once we climbed out of the valley,
we found the endless hills that make up Western Iowa. Half-mile climb;
half-mile descent, over and over again. Ten miles per hour on the way
up; 30 mph on the way down. I soon discovered Matt's hill climbing
prowess, developed in the couple years he'd lived in San Diego. He has
the strong legs of a sprinter.

Our first of many slowdowns came at a roadside vendor's coffee
establishment, then another at a pancake breakfast set up at a tiny
town called Beebeetown. Huge groups were lined up waiting for food and
drink, with their bikes scattered all over grass yards. The bottleneck of
riders pulling over was enough to slow our progress to a crawl, during
the minute or two it took us to pass through the crowd. I was hungry
for some pancakes, but those lines were way too long.

As we continued towards Underwood, the second town on the route,
roadie shout-outs were constant and repetitive. Some examples:

Car Up: a warning of an oncoming car, truck, or any vehicle that isn't a
bicycle.
Car Back: a warning of an automobile approaching from behind.
Slowing: a warning that a group of riders ahead is slowing down.
Stopping: a warning that a group of riders ahead is slowing to a
complete stop.
Rumble: a warning that rumble strips in the pavement are approaching.
Rider Up: a warning of an oncoming bicyclist.

As any of these situations became eminent, a rider would shout out the
warning, followed by about 100 identical shouts by riders behind the
person who issued the initial warning. I would later discover that these
warnings come earliest, most often, and at the highest decibel levels
when riders have the most energy. Later in the week, the shout-outs
would be fewer and with less volume, but our morning ride out of
Missouri Valleycame with a constant screaming of every possible
dangerous situation. Typical roadie chatter on the first day of a group
ride:

Rider #1, 100 yards ahead:
"CAR UP!!!"
Rider #2, 97 yards ahead: "CAR UP!!!"
Riders #3-18, 30-90 yards ahead, in unison: "CAR UP!!!"
Riders #19-54, 25 yards ahead of and behind me, in unison: "CAR UP!!!"
[riders move into right lane and car slowly passes by]
[fruit smoothie roadside stand approaches]
Rider #1, 25 yards ahead:
"SLOWING!!!"
Riders #2-15, within 15 feet of me: "Slooooooo-WING!!!"

At one point I felt like shouting "I GOT EYES, SO SHUT IT,
ALREADY!!!" But of course, that would have violated roadie etiquette in
the same way as driving a golf cart over a tee box, so I held my tongue.
But I sure was tempted.

Later in the morning, Larry Baerveldt caught up to us, and thus began
my lessons in riding in a pace line. As I mentioned, RAGBRAI is not a
race, at least when you're riding by yourself. Put two or more guys
together, though, and now you're racing. Matt and Larry wanted the
three of us to draft each other and run together with about 4 inches
separating our tires. That, after all, is how speed is maximized in a
pace line. The lead rider sprints as long as his legs will allow, then lets
another rider take over the lead so he can ride in the back of the pack
without a headwind. I hadn't yet mastered the art of placing my front
tire so close to a rider in front of me while traveling at 20 mph, and
thus was not receiving the full benefit of drafting. Larry politely
reminded me to "hold that wheel" until he couldn't take it anymore and
assumed my position behind Matt. I fell in behind the two and they
slowly gapped me when I couldn't maintain their pace.

At various points along the road, Larry and Matt were kind enough to
wait patiently for me to catch up. The hills made all the difference -
those two were simply flying up them, then coasting at 40 mph on the
downside. Eventually we all met up just ahead of Shelby and stopped in
the town for our first piece of pie. As expected, it was exceptional.

Sixteen miles later, we arrived at our first overnight stop in Harlan.
We'd secured
the front yard of Bob and Becky Mahoney, a couple in
their mid-thirties with 3 energetic sons and a large old house. Harlan's
wide streets and large old houses reminded me of Watseka, the county
seat of Iroquois County where I grew up in Illinois. Bob is a career Navy
guy working out of the joint Air Force/Navy command near Omaha;
Becky works for the local elementary school. Lunch was provided when
we arrived, as was ongoing entertainment from their boys. We showered
in their house, had spaghetti on the courthouse lawn, and pitched tents
in their front yard. The Mahoney's are good people.

In today's wireless age, a recurring issue for most RAGBRAI'ers is
recharging batteries for a nearly endless number of electronic gadgets.
The Mahoney's house was littered with chargers plugged into every
available electrical outlet. During the evening, one of these devices, a
cell phone, began ringing on the front porch. The phone belonged to a
hog farmer named Jay, who was tagging along with Team Joyride for
the first two days of riding and then heading back home to Northwest
Iowa on Tuesday. The call was from the local fire/rescue service, who
had sold Jay a raffle ticket for a new bicycle. When Jay learned his
ticket was a winner, he hung up the phone and sprinted - to where, we
didn't know. The only words we could make out were "I won a bike!"
Thirty minutes later, a sweat-soaked Jay returned with a new
Specialized road bike. Good night for Jay.

Around 2:30 the next morning, we awoke to police cruisers warning of
high winds approaching. We quickly took down the tents and moved
indoors. The Mahoney's dining room floor was my bed for the rest of
the night.

Read More....
Travel Day
Meeting Town - Missouri Valley
Saturday, July 19th
On Saturday morning I flew to Omaha and hitched a ride to Missouri
Valley from
Pork Belly Ventures, a charter service for the "in
between'ers" who usually aren't part of a team but want a little extra
support during the week. All I needed was a ride from the airport, but
the Pork Belly folks will provide tents, they'll pack up your stuff and
have it ready when you arrive in the next overnight town (complete with
a tent already set up and waiting), and they even provide showers,
laundry service, food, and their own evening entertainment. As the Pork
Belly bus approached Missouri Valley, I got my first glimpse of just how
huge RAGBRAI is. On the outskirts of town were hundreds of cars,
trucks, and motor homes, all slowly making their way down the main road
to the high school that served as RAGBRAI headquarters. The further
we progressed into town, the number of tents increased exponentially.
They were set up anywhere with grass and a relatively flat surface.
Campers, RV's, and old, colorfully painted school buses were parked on
every side street. When we arrived at the high school athletic field, I
could see nothing but tents.

My bike was waiting for me in its box at a FedEx collection area outside
the Missouri Valley middle school. Next to the middle school was the
RAGBRAI expo that would follow us to every overnight town. Anything
related to bikes - equipment, clothing, complete bicycles, on-site bike
mechanics - was all there. I collected my belongings and called Larry
Baerveldt, who brought over the RV to pick me up. Although I'd known
Larry and another team member, Matt Kavan, from my days at US Bank
in St. Louis, I was meeting most of Team Joyride in person for the
first time.