|Three days in God's Country
In 2008, I spent a week in the great state of Iowa, pedaling my
bicycle from once side to the other, 471 miles from Missouri Valley to
LeClaire. The event, RAGBRAI, exceeded my expectations in every way
imaginable. Most incredible to me was how any organization could
arrange and assemble the nearly infinite, necessary provisions for a
week-long, 10,000-strong bike ride. I had a feeling the 2008 version
of RAGBRAI would not be my last.
Indeed, I visited RAGBRAI again in 2010, joining this rolling party for
the last three days of the ride. My former Team Joyride member
Larry Baerveldt had called again, inviting me to hook up with him
somewhere in the middle of the state. He planned to tag along with
our old team from Thursday through Saturday. With the ride ending in
Dubuque, about 60 miles due west of my home, I eagerly accepted his
The full RAGBRAI route would begin in Sioux City and make its way to
Charles City on Wednesday night, where we planned to meet up with
the Joyriders. Larry was bringing a St. Louis friend, Chris Roetheli,
and I was taking along my girlfriend Michelle. The plan was to meet in
Dubuque and leave our vehicles there, then have fellow dirt biker Paul
McMillan give us a ride to Charles City.
This went according to plan for all of one hour after leaving Dubuque.
We experienced, as any veteran RAGBRAI'er eventually does, some
unplanned changes. When Larry phoned our old teammate, Darren
Van't Hof, to give him an update on our progress, he said their host
family had "overbooked" and had no room for us. "No problem,"
replied Larry. "We'll just camp in town and we can hook up with your
RV in the morning."
Ten minutes later, Larry was on the phone again with Darren, this
time with a different tone. An excerpt from Larry's side of the
"So what are you saying?"
"You mean you can't transport our gear in the RV?"
"Darren, this puts us in a really bad spot."
"Backup plan? You are our backup plan!"
Somehow, for reasons not entirely clear, Darren's team had voted us
out of their RV. Since we hadn't signed up as "official" RAGBRAI
participants, we didn't have the complimentary gear transport provided
to those who paid their entry fee. In a word, we were screwed. An
uncomfortable tension permeated the cramped air inside the Blazer.
Should we call off the whole trip and turn around? Should we take our
chances and hope to find someone to help us out? What kind of idiots
did Paul McMillan think us to be, coming to Iowa with no backup plan?
We chose to continue on to Charles City, but not before I missed a
turn and took us about 30 miles out of our way. This did give us some
time to put our heads together and formulate a plan, which in the end
went something along the lines of standing on street corners begging
for help. Larry called anyone and everyone he knew who could possibly
be of any help, but when we arrived in Charles City, we still had no
In Charles City, we located Team Numb Nutz, a St. Louis-based group
who generally takes an extreme approach to RAGBRAI'ing. Larry's
adventures with them in 2009 mostly consisted of being kicked out of
bars by the Iowa State Police when it was determined by the troopers
that all riders must leave, in order to arrive at the overnight towns
before dark. The Numb Nutz RV was vacant when we arrived in
darkness, so obviously the state police had let them linger a little too
long at the last town.
We unloaded our gear and sent Paul back to Dubuque a couple hours
later than he probably expected. Most of Team Numb Nutz was calling
it a week and heading back to St. Louis on Thursday morning with the
RV, so they couldn't help us with our gear. After setting up our tents,
we mapped out our plan for the night: tell our sob story to anyone who
would listen. About 50 yards into our walk towards downtown, our first
opportunity came in the form of a local resident walking her dog.
There is no better way to establish a bond with a stranger than to
shower her dog with attention, and we took full advantage, casually
mentioning our bad fortunes. As we began to walk away, she stopped
us and suggested that we come to her house in the morning if we
couldn't find anyone else to help us. Her husband had to be in
Waterloo the next morning, which just happened to be the next
overnight town. She would have him haul our gear there if we had no
So there you have it. Our friends bailed on us, and within 30 minutes
upon arrival a stranger had offered to help. If ever the full spirit of
RAGBRAI could be captured, this was it.
After grabbing some food downtown and meeting up with Team Numb
Nutz, we headed back to our tents with no luck in locating any
potential gear haulers. We drowned our sorrows in beer with the 'Nutz
and happened upon good fortune later that night. Actually, the good
fortune came to us, in the form of a highly intoxicated young man
whose sole purpose for being at RAGBRAI was to haul gear for a large
team, setting up their camp at overnight towns, packing up everything
into an old school bus each morning, and driving to the next overnight
town. His team provided the full-service RAGBRAI experience, and he
was one of several men paid to make it happen.
In his drunken haze, we offered this man a folding chair, overwhelmed
him with free beer and asked if we could throw our gear into his bus in
the morning and pick it up Thursday night. "No problem," he
stuttered. "We're parked over there across the street. Come on over,
I'll take care of you." Score one for free beer...we had at least one
night taken care of.
The next morning, Larry suggested that we might need to rise in time
to find this guy and hold him to his promise - if he still remembered
it. We felt a crisp twenty dollar bill might help jog his memory, which
it did, although with less enthusiasm than the night before. We threw
our gear into the back of the bus and began our ride to Waterloo.
Onward to Waterloo....
|The Blazer, ready for its trip. We had Paul drive my pickup truck to Dubuque and then ride with
us to Charles City. He drove the Blazer back to our rendezvous point with Larry and Chris at the
Dubuque Walmart, left it there and drove my pickup truck back home. Paul (above right; middle)
thought he'd earn some easy money...little did he know what was in store. The backseat of the
Blazer, by the way, has two bucket seats for a reason: three is a crowd. Larry, Chris and Paul
shared these cramped quarters for longer than three grown men should.
|Charles City on Wednesday night. Nothing like chicken kabobs to start off RAGBRAI.