Riding RAGBRAI
Day Four - Ames to Tama/Toledo
Wednesday, July 23rd
78 miles; 2,869 feet of climbing
The legendary Mr. Pork Chop and his
roadside stand has been part of RAGBRAI
for more than 25 years. For $6 you get a
huge Iowa chop wrapped in a paper towel.
That's it - eat with your hands.
Massive
grills are fired with corn cobs which are
stored in the pink bus. Every day Mr. Pork
Chop always sets up at the top of a long
hill, and the smoke from the grills can be
seen a mile away.
The morning we left Ames, Larry and
Matt decided we should ride very
quickly to State Center, which was
designated as that day's Meeting
Town. Every day's route had a
meeting town, which was a nice place
to get off your bike for awhile and
meet up with whoever you felt like
meeting with that day.  On
Wednesday, the meeting town of
State Center was a 27-mile ride
from Ames, into a moderate
headwind. We made it there in about
an hour and 20 minutes, and that
included slow rides through Nevada
and Colo. How did we do it? Simple.
We formed a pace line.

The essence of a pace line is a
handful of bikers riding in a tight
single file formation. Riders draft
off the leader and take turns
breaking the wind for the others, like
geese flying south for the winter.
After 3 days on the road, I'd
developed enough comfort in group
riding that I could put my front wheel
a few inches from the rear wheel of
the guy ahead of me and keep it
there for extended periods. I'd also
found my sprinter's legs, which made
it possible to keep up with Matt and
Larry, at least when they were
drafting for me.

Matt led the charge to State Center.
When I worked at US Bank in St.
Louis, Matt was an analyst in the
Capital Markets group. He later
transferred to US Bank's San Diego
branch and spent a couple years
there honing his roadie skills. This
year Matt moved back to St. Louis to
work for a different company and
reconnected with former US Bank
colleague Larry Baerveldt, who by way
of Darren Van't Hof (a current US
Bank guy who works with Larry), was
introduced to RAGBRAI. Matt has
sprinter legs and is the perfect guy
for establishing a blistering pace.
Larry and I would relieve him for
short periods, then fall back in line
when Matt's legs were rested.

During those 27 miles, I guessed we
were passing 200 riders every mile,
and nobody was passing us. We rarely
strayed far from the outer edge of
the left lane, shouting "On your left!"
about every 10 seconds. The flatter
terrain of the eastern half of Iowa
was working to our advantage as we
closed in on State Center, but I
cannot recall a single significant sight
during our fast ride, other than the
rear tire in front of me. If you want
to ride fast, a pace line is the way to
go. But if you want to take in the
scenery, it won't happen in a pace
line.

State Center was a nice little town
where we parked our bikes, strolled
up and down main street, and then
proceeded toward Albion. As we left
town, I could sense trouble in my
right knee. The pain that came during
my final training ride the week
before was now slowing me
considerably. Larry and Matt pulled
away while I rode at a snail's pace. I
couldn't use my knee for anything -
pedaling, standing, or walking -
without pain. Ibuprofen was
ineffective, as was using only my left
leg to pedal. The pedaling motion
itself was too much. I'd pedal a
couple revolutions with my left leg,
coast for 30 feet, and do it again.
The only riders I passed were parked
on the side of the road, and this
continued for a couple hours.

As I approached Le Grand, the
next-to-last town before
Downtown State Center
Yeah, it's really called State Center.
The bag works pretty good...when the
drawstring is pulled tight.
If you're ever in Le Grand, go slow over
the railroad tracks.
Team More Cowbell, parked next to a set
of video monitors for a Guitar Hero contest
later that night in Toledo. Our efficiency
apartment was right next to all the action.
Tama/Toledo, the pain finally subsided a bit. I could at least tolerate
the pedaling motion in my right knee, even if my left leg was doing all
the work. I cut off the route where it detoured into Le Grand and
headed straight down a hill to cross the Union Pacific railroad tracks
that we'd been loosely following most of the week. The crossing was
rough at 15 mph, enough to loudly jostle my camera and cell phone inside
a small bike-mounted bag I'd bought in Missouri Valley. Shortly after
the railroad crossing, a guy came up from behind and asked if I'd
dropped my cell phone. Uh-oh. No cell phone in the bag, whose
drawstring closure wasn't drawn. I turned around and navigated my way
through about 100 riders cruising down the hill at speed and asked a
Union Pacific safety officer, on hand to make sure we crossed the tracks
without incident, if he saw a cell phone. He had, in fact, seen a cell
phone, which he produced from his vehicle parked on the side of the
road. It looked exactly like my company-issued cell phone, except it was
now in two pieces and completely useless. I quickly assessed the impact
of this unfortunate incident:

Downside #1: I had no cell phone for the rest of the week.
Downside #2: It was Verizon service, about the only cell provider with
reliable coverage across Iowa.
Downside #3: My backup personal cell phone was the one item I'd
forgotten to pack for the trip.

Upside #1: I still had voice mail.
Upside #2: The company that issued the phone had fired me the month
before. So I didn't really give a shit. I was just happy I got a month's
worth of free cell phone service.

The final 15 miles were much easier with partial use of my right knee.
As I neared Tama, the effects of major flooding in May and June were
still evident along the Iowa River. Most low lying areas were still swamps.

In Tama, I had a general idea of where we would be staying that night.
The day before, Marlene had secured our use of a vacant efficiency
apartment in Tama's "twin city" of Toledo. I headed for the RAGBRAI
information center to check on the address, when Larry and Matt
happened by on their way out of the info center. I probably could have
found the place on my own, but Larry and Matt had it already figured
out. We located Marlene and the RV parked two blocks from the main
square in Toledo, where the entertainment events of the evening were to
take place.

Toledo and Tama were the most working class of the overnight towns on
the RAGBRAI route, or at least they gave off that vibe. Our efficiency
apartment was part of an old house that had been divided into rental
units. When we arrived, the upstairs unit was serving as party
headquarters for a group of young dudes ready to hit the town. As Art
Lindo aptly conjectured, RAGBRAI provided a target-rich environment
for those guys, and this was their town. If they couldn't score tonight,
they weren't trying. I sensed that Art would know these things. He had
a smooth demeanor that surely served him very well in his youth. Even
now, in his 40's, Art made friends in every beer garden. His connection
to Greg Sierra via the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington D.C. was his
link to Team Joyride, and he made the most of it. Every day a new and
interesting jersey appeared on Art's torso, often reflecting the flags of
nations he had visited at least twice and planned to visit again.

The rest of the team found our location just in time to witness the
upstairs apartment guys driving large pickup trucks around street
barricades by way of front lawns, and parking them in the grass. We
didn't care, though. We would be sleeping on the floor inside the air
conditioned apartment, with no need for pitching tents.

Greg Sierra, on his way through the information center to get directions
to our location, had discovered an interesting fact about the Tama and
Toledo communities: they don't get along well. When Greg asked a local
lady in Tama how to get to Church Street in Toledo, she scoffed, "I
don't know, I don't go there." She indicated something to the effect of
"they don't like us and we don't like them." She went on to explain, in
animated fashion, that during initial discussions of a proposed new high
school location in Tama, the Toledo residents had complained that their
kids shouldn't have to cross the busy U.S. 30 highway to get to school
every day. She listened to these complaints for some time during a
public meeting before standing up and declaring that if kids couldn't
cross a highway, maybe they shouldn't be in high school.

That night we slept on the apartment's wood floor, where Kevin Boyne
produced the largest inflatable mattress I have ever seen. It was
approximately 2 feet tall and could have saved the Titanic. Kevin's link
to Team Joyride was through a gal named Vivien, who was either his
sister or Greg Sierra's sister, and one of them had been married to
her, which makes them former brothers-in-law. He's a longtime
attorney in Belleville, Illinois and was recruited to the team several
years ago by Greg.

The upstairs apartment guys either stayed out all night or successfully
ended their evenings, as we heard nothing from them after we went to
bed. The second-longest ride of the week was complete, and we all slept
well.

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