|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 invitation.
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 conversation:
"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 gear transport.
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 other options.
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
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.