Charles City to Waterloo - 82.2 miles
For full-week RAGBRAI'ers, Thurday's route changed course from
east-west to north-south, heading down to Clarksville. The road to
Dubuque had earlier drifted north across the upper part of Iowa, but
was now meandering back to the general area of U.S. Highway 20.
Michelle's initial reaction to her first RAGBRAI seemed similar to
mine, which means pedaling the first hour or so in awe of the sheer
number of riders. We had participated in Chicago's "Bike the Drive" in
May, which actually attracts more riders than RAGBRAI, but the route
is on Lake Shore Drive and is closed to automobiles. Whereas Bike the
Drive is run on an car-less expressway with 4 or more lanes in each
direction, RAGBRAI is mostly two-lane county roads where autos are
part of the experience.
Later in the day we stopped by the famous Mr. Pork Chop, where
Michelle enjoyed her first true taste of Iowa. I've traveled to many
places across the Midwest, dined at the finest chop houses and tasted
many versions of pork, but Mr. Pork Chop is second to none. I suppose
it helps when you're burning 2000 calories a day riding a bike and
you're hungry enough to eat the corn cobs that fire the grill, but
still...there is no substitute. When in RAGBRAI, Mr. Pork Chop is
mandatory.
Larry and Chris pulled out of sight shortly after we began our ride,
leaving me and Michelle to enjoy the sunny skies together. We stopped
in Clarksville for food and drink, then continued on to Parkersburg.
We sat along a sidewalk, enjoying the sights and sounds of RAGBRAI,
which included a group of locals selling puppies in their front yard. We
wondered how a young pup would enjoy a bike ride across Iowa. A local
lady stopped to chat and told us of the events of May 28, 2008, when
an EF-5 tornado devastated the south half of the town. None of the
tornado's effects were evident in the downtown area where we sat,
but as we continued through Parkersburg, the path of the funnel cloud
became crystal clear. In about 100 feet, the town changed from old
to new. Everything south of a certain block had been destroyed. Trees
taller than 10 feet were nonexistent. All the houses were new; the
high school was new; the bank was new. Large photo signs along the
route illustrated the tornado's aftermath.
Video footage from inside a
bank showed why you don't want to be above ground when an EF-5 is
bearing down on your town.

The town's rebirth was impressive, as Parkersburg appeared to have
recovered. But it is, in many ways, two towns now.  
Above: This is what happens when you haven't yet mastered the functions of your new smart
phone. Photos turn out black and white for no apparent reason. Bike sculptures were a highlight
of Parkersburg, along with puppy sales along main street.

Below right: photo of Parkersburg following the EF-5 tornado which struck on May 28, 2008.
The path of destruction was on the south end of the town. When we passed through here, most
of the south side was filled with new homes and a new high school (click on photo for larger
view).
In Hudson, the final town before Waterloo, we rejoined with Larry and
Chris. We had ridden about 70 miles already, with another 12 to go.
Michelle and I had done a couple of training rides of 60 miles or so,
but we were now on our longest ride together. Her pace was still
strong and she showed no signs of fatigue. We hung with "the boys"
most of the way to Waterloo, where we found our gear near the South
Hills golf course on the south edge of town. Larry had made a
connection with someone who knew someone with a lead on gear
transportation, so we found the guy who'd transported our gear to
Waterloo and he offered us a ride in a van to meet up with this other
group who'd offered to help us.

Our new transport vehicle was a school bus named "Old Blue". Its
group of bikers were made up of some of the nicest, most helpful
people I've ever met. Anything we needed, they were happy to
provide. The spirit of RAGBRAI lived on.

We set up our tents in the main campground near the Isle of Capri
Casino, beside the carnival-like setting of the Lost Island water park.
There we found mobile shower trucks, which after 87 miles of riding
were similar to finding cool water in the middle of Death Valley. For
$5 apiece, we bought the privilege of a hot shower inside a converted
semi-trailer, with shower stalls just large enough to turn yourself
around in. Larry and Chris and I stepped in line for the guy's trailer,
while Michelle endured a longer women's line which was moving
considerably slower. By the time I was done with my shower, she was
still waiting her turn.

Now clean and freshly clothed, we strolled over to the food vendor
area, ate dinner and called it a night. The radar map showed rain
headed our way.

Onward to Manchester....
Above: Michelle enjoying her first taste of Mr. Pork Chop.

Below: This is what happens when white people with fanny packs begin dancing. As with every
"last town" at RAGBRAI, Hudson was party central on Thursday. We were about 70 miles into
an 82-mile route (per the map, which seemed to be on the low side). This was the longest I'd
ever ridden in a single day.
July 29, 2010