The traditional way to mark the end of the ride across Iowa is to dip your bike tire into the Mississippi River at the ending town.  Today I joined the crowd of bicyclists pushing their bikes towards the dip site in Clinton, Iowa, just so Lee could take a picture showing I was actually there.  All the hard work of the week pedaling from Sioux Center on the Missouri River to Clinton on the Mississippi River was finally done so it didn’t seem that important whether I actually got the bike tire in the water or not.

As always, I had a wonderful time on the ride.  This marks the tenth year I’ve done RAGBRAI and I think it was the best year ever.  I may have complained about the heat and headwinds and hills but that’s all part of the experience.  When you’ve made it to the end town you tend to forget how discouraged you felt during those long stretches of pedaling when it felt like you were never going to make it to the end of the day.

We are now back in Iowa City, staying at Mike’s house for the weekend.  We have to take the car to a mechanic Monday for some minor repairs.  By Tuesday or Wednesday we plan to be on our way to Ohio to begin another round of visiting friends and family and exploring new and old places.

Such an Easy Ride

It was such an easy ride today that I took some extra time in Vinton to try my hand at dairy production the old-fashioned way.  Sande would be proud of me.  For those of you who remember my June 8 post about the extraordinary job that my sister, Sande, does on her Wyoming ranch you would understand why I couldn’t pass up this photo op.

We had lots of wind again but 90% of the time it was either a tailwind or blowing sideways.  It was so wonderful that I didn’t mind the fact that there quite a few hills.  Most of the hills were the roller coaster kind that aren’t that long and that are fun to descend.  Also, that kind of terrain in Iowa means the ride is scenic with views of valleys and ridges blanketed with beautiful farmland.

I didn’t hear any statistics on amount of rainfall last night in Marshalltown, but it definitely wasn’t enough to break the drought.  It did thunder and lightning and a severe storm warning was issued.  We were already in our tent, but talked to some riders today who said people who had gone downtown on the shuttle were told the shuttles wouldn’t take them back to camp until the storm threat passed.  A group in our campground this afternoon was making repairs to their tent and drying out their clothes in the sun.  They said when the shuttle finally got them back to camp they discovered the wind had blown over their tent.

Even if the nights camping on RAGBRAI don’t have storms there are other hazards to watch out for.  Have you ever experienced the frustration of leaving your car in a parking lot while you shop and then when you come out of the store you can’t figure out where you left it?  That frustration can’t compare to what a fellow camper experienced last night.  At 3:30 in the morning Lee heard me getting out of the tent to go to the bathroom and asked if he could walk with me since he’d forgotten his flashlight.  When we exited the tent a panic-stricken woman saw our light and told us her sad story.  She had gone to the restroom but then had gotten disoriented in the dark and couldn’t find her tent.  We stumbled around with her awhile with no success and finally left her back at the restroom where she started so she could try to retrace her steps.  It’s awful what an unorganized, huge jumble of tents fills a RAGBRAI campground.  When the restrooms are far away like they were last night I always dread those middle of the night restroom visits.  I could end up wandering around until daylight lost and unable to find my tent.

Here in Cedar Rapids we have a much nicer camping spot.  The restrooms are close and the skies are clear.  It should be a hazard-free night.  I’ll need a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow is the day with the most hills on this year’s ride.

Into the Wind

Yesterday's east wind that someone said would bring in rain and cooler temmperatures appeared this morning to have brought only more wind.  The wind today was from the south and, of course, a lot of the route had us heading into the south.  So once again the afternoon part of the ride really stretched the lungs and leg muscles to push against the wind and some uphills, too, that greeted us on the way into Marshalltown.  The temperatures were triple digits, as well.

But now we can rest knowing another day has been conquered.  And what is that sound as darkness falls and we are here in our tent?  Wow, it's actually raining.  And what a wonderful cool breeze the rain has brought.  The forecast is that it won't be a significant amount of rain but it will bring much cooler air for tomorrow's ride.

Before this week had started I had been dreading tomorrow's ride.  It's the longest of the week and 84.8 sounded like an awful lot of miles.  But after strengthening my leg muscles battling the winds yesterday and today I feel more than ready for the challenge.

An East Wind Brings Rain?

About halfway through the morning, two bicyclists pedaled by and I overheard one of them say to the other: “Well, you know an east wind brings rain and rain brings cooler temperatures.”  I knew that the comment was meant as encouragement because I had looked at the days route map and it showed  virtually all of our 81-mile day's ride was headed directly east.  And at that point the temperatures  were starting to warm up and that old east wind was warming itself up, too, to get ready for a big blow.

And blow it did.  The terrain was fairly flat and the landscape virtually treeless.  There was nothing to break the wind's force and very few downhills to give a break.  Even if there was a downhill a lot of those stretches still required lower gears to compensate for the wind's force. 

We encountered one significant downhill into the Des Moines River valley at Lehigh, about 18 miles from the end.  Of course, that was immediately followed by a very long, steep uphill climb, the biggest hill we've seen so far on this year's RAGBRAI.  I was thankful for the shade and break from the headwinds, although I was gasping for air by the time I made it to the top.  A few miles after that there was another hill almost as big as we dipped into and out of the Brushy Creek valley.

And then it was just more of that grueling grind headed into the east wind.  The route map showed a turn about 5 miles from the end town onto a road that headed north.  I thought I would never see that turn but when it finally appeared up ahead I practically cried tears of joy.  I knew the hardest part of the day's work was done.

Just a note about the photo above.  HyVee grocery stores are an Iowa institution and in every town they are so supportive of RAGBRAI.  Thank you, HyVee and, yes, even after a tough day like today I

Black Hawk Lake

With this record-breaking heat what better place to spend the night than a campground on the shores of Black Hawk Lake?  This 957-acre lake that is Iowa's southernmost glacial lake was named after the Sac Indian Chief Black Hawk.  The statue in the photo is a historic landmark that was erected in 1934.

Our host town here is the small resort commmunity of Lake View.  It's surprising how many amenities even the smallest towns can provide.  And then there's an added advantage that everything is close and it's easy to get around.  Of course, as hot as it is, there wasn't much except showers, shade and cool drinks that I was interested in looking for.

I read in today's paper that the National Weather Service reported that the first three weeks in July were the second warmest on record in Des Moines, only being exceeded by July of 1936.  Based on total precipitation so far this summer, the area is in its fifth-driest summer on record to date.  This could be the driest spell since 1927, even surpassing the Dust Bowl years.

It wasn't until the last couple of hours of pedaling today that I began to feel the excessive heat.  That's a major selling point for getting up before daylight and getting started at first light.  Overall, today's ride was one of the easiest I can remember.  There was hardly any wind, the hills were gradual and provided nice breezes on the way down, and the pass-through towns were spaced out just about right for when I needed a break.

These triple digit temperatures are supposed to be around for two more days, but I'm more than ready to get out there and tackle another RAGBRAI day tomorrow.

Helpful Hints

While pedaling away the miles on a typical RAGBRAI day, one of the things that often brings a smile to your face and a humorous bit of encouragement is the handmade roadside signs local residents post along the route.  These are “Burma Shave” type commercials for those of you old enough to remember driving a highway and seeing a series of the signs with a partial message on each one leading to a final punch line.

Anyway, today I saw one of these sign series that I wanted to share:

1st sign: “Helpful Hints for your ride across Iowa”

2nd sign (with an arrow pointing to a cornfield on the righthand side of the road): “This is corn”

3rd sign (with an arrow pointing to a soybean field on the lefthand side of the road): “These are beans”

Punchline sign: “That’s all you need to know”

Yup, that’s the basics of what you’re going to see…lots of corn and soybean fields.  But it’s hard to describe why that can still be something so beautiful to behold.  You would think after having pedaled these many Iowa highways over the years that I would be tired of seeing the same thing.  But after finishing the first day of this year’s ride I can’t wait to get back on the bike to pedal some more tomorrow.

We had a lot of headwinds today but I was on the road early enough this morning that I was able to finish the day before the winds got too strong.  That also helped with the heat factor.  It’s starting off to be a very hot week, with temperatures up to 100 the next couple of days.  The most important thing is to drink lots of water and I’m careful to do that and am looking forward to another great ride tomorrow.

This morning’s first stop was in the Dutch town of Orange City.
This is the RAGBRAI baggage truck you look for at the end of the day so you can dig through the hundreds of bags laid out on the pavement to find the bag you loaded on the truck in the morning. They do a nice job of laying them out in areas labeled with the time in the morning that you loaded your bag.

Get Ready, Get Set…

Today we left Des Moines and drove 200 miles closer to Sioux Center, Iowa, where RAGBRAI starts the day after tomorrow.  We are resting up in a motel near Sioux City, Iowa.  Names of locations here are confusing.  The map above shows Sioux City and to the north is Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  But the start of RAGBRAI is Sioux Center, which is too small to show up on this map scale.  Sioux Center is about 50 miles north of here above Le Mars.  That means we are in a good position for getting into the RAGBRAI starting town early in the day tomorrow.  The day before the ride is such a madhouse that the sooner we can roll into town the more traffic we can avoid.

All indications are that this year’s RAGBRAI will be hot and sunny, like the days and weeks we’ve spent here in Iowa, so far, getting ourselves ready.  We didn’t let the heat stop us from doing lots of bike riding so now we should be acclimated for the week ahead.

We managed to find a bike trail to explore each of the days last week that we were in Des Moines.  I was surprised at how many of the trails allowed us to ride in places with lots of shade trees.

Along Four Mile Creek in Des Moines near Pleasant Hill.
Start of a bike trail near downtown Des Moines. Not shady here, but most of the trail itself was shaded.
Clive Greenbelt trail along Des Moines River near the city.
Iowa State Capitol Building.
Bike Path bridge across Gray’s Lake in Des Moines.
Gay Lea Wilson Trail near Pleasant Hill.
Get Ready, Get Set…RAGBRAI XL here we come.  But, remember, the GO! does not mean the start of a race.  It’s a ride, not a race.  It’s a rolling celebration of Iowa and I’m ready to get out there and enjoy every minute of it.