Riding RAGBRAI
Day Seven - Tipton to Le Claire
Saturday, July 26th
53 miles; 1,835 feet of climbing
My parents drove to Le Claire to see me
finish.
The traditional dipping of tires in the
Mississippi.
For those on the "regular" RAGBRAI
program, this was the end of the line. Find
your bags, find your car, and head for
home.
Team Joyride '08: (standing l-r) Larry
Baerveldt, Matt Kavan, me, Ted Frank,
Greg Sierra, Ron Schechter, Art Lindo;
front row is Darren Van't Hof and Kevin
Boyle. Not pictured is our driver, Marlene
Bowers, who was everyone's mom during
the week.
It's something everyone should do at least
once.
After six consecutive days riding my
bicycle, the garage floor of Dr. Mark
and Sharon Nile's country home made
for some pretty good sleepy time.
We had planned to rise early and be
on the road in time to arrive in Le
Claire early enough to get the rented
RV back to St. Louis by 5:00 p.m.
This would require a
wheels-on-the-road time of no later
than 6:30 a.m., and I wasn't sure we
could pull it off. Each of the past six
mornings I'd spent a lot of time
pretending to have something to do
while others in the group readied
themselves to ride. On Saturday
morning, it was more of the same.
Matt Kavan was usually right beside
me, politely waiting.

There had been talk of loading the
bikes into the RV and having Marlene
drive us down the gravel hill to Route
130, where we'd join the RAGBRAI
route to Le Claire. I nixed that idea
and led Matt and Darren down the
half-mile of gravel. We joined in
another long, steady line of riders
with the same idea - start early,
finish early, and go home.

Saturday's route was the shortest of
the week, and the flattest. Finally,
after many days of fighting
headwinds, a gentle breeze from the
northwest pushed us toward the
Mississippi. The first two towns
passed quickly as we pedaled to our
first planned stop at Maysville, about
halfway into the day's ride. Matt and
Darren picked up the pace while I
hung back with Ron Schechter for
several miles. During the week I
hadn't had a chance to ride much
with Ron, an attorney at the same
Washington D.C. law firm as Ted
Frank. Ron has a classic radio voice,
deep and articulate, the type you'd
expect from NPR on the drive to
work. After completing his law degree
at Georgetown University in the early
1970's, Ron stuck around Washington
D.C. and has called it home ever
since. Art Lindo recruited Ron to
Team Joyride a few years ago, and
on this day he was about to finish his
3rd ride across Iowa.

The Joyriders were making fast
progress as we approached
Maysville,
where we stopped for some baked
goods at the fire station. Darren was
served the beer garden's first
beverage of the day, a
Blue Moon at
8:10 a.m. And why not? It was
RAGBRAI, a week of making
exceptions.

Just after Maysville, we turned off
Route 130 and discovered just how
much of a tailwind had been helping
our progress. A short stretch of
county road took us back to the
northwest, straight into the wind,
before we headed east on Le Claire
Road. This mile of so of headwind
was an unwelcome guest on our road
to the Mississippi, but the route
planners didn't make us suffer very
long.

By this time, our climbing legs were
tired, but Matt and I wanted to make
a push to Le Claire with enough time
to dip our tires in the Mississippi.
This is one of the oldest traditions
of RAGBRAI, and it's usually
preceded by dipping tires in the
Missouri River at the start of the
ride. Missouri Valley was several
miles east of the Missouri River, so
we didn't get a chance to wet our
tires in the Big Muddy, but we wanted
to at least get to touch the water in
Le Claire.

Hills increased in frequency as we
approached Le Claire. My one and
only mechanical issue, a minor one,
In Summary.....
471 miles
21,291 feet of climbing
More food than any grown man should consume in 7 days
came as I flew down a steep grade at about 35 mph. My chain hopped
off the front chain wheel as I shifted into lower gears for the climb
following our fast descent. Half a minute later, I was back on the road.
From there, we breezed into Le Claire and took a break at the Pebble
Creek golf course. My parents were meeting me at the finish and I
wanted to let them know I was close, but Matt's iPhone was struggling
to find AT&T service, as it had everywhere across the state. Cell
service had been spotty across Iowa, most likely because of the 15,000
or so RABGRAI'ers and their entourages overloading just about every
rural wireless system we came across.

Wisconsin Street took us straight to the Mississippi, where I found my
parents sitting along the street near a huge U.S. flag hung from a fire
engine ladder truck. We walked down to the picturesque, historical
riverfront under clear skies, where crowds were gathering as riders
formed a line to dip their bicycle tires in the river. Matt and I had
arrived early enough to get ourselves in and out of the river quickly. As
we headed for Marlene's location up the road at the Comfort Inn, the
rest of Team Joyride - minus Ted Frank - joined us for one last climb.
Our RV was parked at the hotel parking lot on top of a bluff overlooking
the Mississippi, where Marlene and Larry Baerveldt were waiting. Ted
arrived a few minutes later, and the RV pulled out at 11:00 a.m., right
on schedule. I gave Marlene a hug, shook hands with the team, and
watched the RV pull away. My RAGBRAI was over.

In the weeks leading up to RAGBRAI, my parents had been almost as
excited as I was about this latest of my adventures. I didn't have to
explain Mr. Porkchop, tire dipping, the big hill climb up to Boone, or
even the weather we'd encountered. During the week they had logged on
to the Des Moines Register website regularly, viewed the online photos,
tracked Doppler radar across Iowa and read all the news articles.

On our way out of Le Claire, a massive number of support vehicles was
lined up along U.S. 67, in all shapes and sizes, waiting to pick up their
riders. Our early arrival gave us a head start in navigating our way
across the river into Illinois, as well as a full view of just how RAGBRAI
takes over the towns it passes through. In most of the overnight towns,
the motor homes, cargo vans and buses were spread throughout the
communities, but in Le Claire they were all concentrated along the river.
For riders having their gear hauled from town to town by RAGBRAI
trucks, their stuff was left in huge piles next to the long term parking
lots. I got lucky - I had a personal ride. Once you get your first taste
of RAGBRAI, it's easy to understand why so many people participate,
and why so many keep coming back for more. Seven days of riding
across an entire state appeals to anyone who's serious about riding
bicycles. Seven days of food, beverages and entertainment appeals to
anyone who likes to eat and drink. This works so well in Iowa for a
variety of reasons, starting with the towns that welcomed us into their
communities. There's no better example of Midwest hospitality than
RAGBRAI, but it wouldn't happen if the riders were disrespectful or
unappreciative. The bikers are just good folks getting together to relax
and have fun. We're generally harmless to the locals, which helps us get
camping spots in front yards. Plus, we open our wallets. For many of the
small towns the route passed through this year, RAGBRAI will be their
largest single-day revenue opportunity until the next time 10,000 bikers
roll through their communities.

To sum it up, RAGBRAI is something everyone should try once...at
least. Whether you rough it with the general population of campers or
organize a team with a support vehicle, it will be an experience like no
other. Riding 470 miles in a week was one of the hardest things I've
ever done, but it was also one of the most enjoyable weeks I've had in a
long time.
The Mississippi was in sight....