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Pedaling to RAGBRAI

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On the Road With RAGBRAI I

By Tom Sperling


July 24:  Saturday
    I could refer to this day as “heading to the gathering of RAGBRAI” or simply boil it down to one word: “headwind.”
When I left the house at 6:30, the wind was completely calm.  Stopped by Mike Schmidt’s place and off we pedaled.  Out Sharp Street, down US 34, and along L-31.  By the time we reached the Bunge plant, the north wind had already picked up to 10+ mph, which is the level where it remained in our faces for the entire day.

    Reached Lewis Central by 8:00, through Council Bluffs, then north on Old Lincoln Hwy.  Stopped to take a break at Crescent at 8:55.  Rode past some coon carnage: a family of four were all road kill within 20 yards.  Proceeded through the beautiful Loess Hills.  Reached Missouri Valley by 10:15.  Crossed through the route for the Harrison County Fair Parade.   To Mondamin by 12:15 – exactly the halfway point for the day.  Ate lunch at the King Crossing Café and talked with some Mondamin folks.
    To Little Sioux by 1:40 and Blencoe by 2:25.  Mike’s knee was experiencing some discomfort and he iced it for awhile.  To Onawa by 3:20, then through Whiting.  The grain elevators all along K-45 did not seem to get closer for us very fast today.  Reached the 100-mile mark for the day at 4:40.  Stopped in at Sloan at 5:00 for some pizza.  Through Salix, then Sergeant Bluff, finally reaching the edge of Sioux City by 7:10.  A bank sign indicated that it was 78 degrees in town.  We pulled in at the home of John and Kim Wilson at 7:45, after being in the saddle for 9 hours, 58 minutes today.  Total mileage: 128 miles.
    Kim and Sophie greeted us from down the street, as they were out for a stroller ride.  John and Kim were great hosts.  Toddler Sophie showed me her room, including her stuffed elephant Dumbo.  John read her a story before tucking her in for bedtime.  John, a key player on the Glenwood Rams baseball team from 1996 to 1998, was thrilled to hear that the 2010 version of the team had earned a trip to State and was seeded 2nd in the tournament.  He asked, “How can I get a team T-shirt?”  Kim, a producer for the local NBC affiliate in Sioux City, told of her station’s RAGBRAI coverage this weekend.  Kim did up our laundry for us.  Mike and I each ate half of a large pizza before we hit the sack at 9:50.

July 25:  Sunday
    Up at 5:55 to get ready for the first day of RAGBRAI XXXVIII.  Kim made us pancakes before we left the house at 6:45.  It was a beautiful, cool morning!  John and Kim’s house was just a block off the route heading out of Sioux City.  What a sight as the peloton in front of us disappeared into the fog as we rode out of town!  A rider from Baton Rouge, La. was thrilled with the cool temps this morning.
    Visited with Paul from Des Moines.  He was pulling a Bob trailer, and his 14-year-old son Caleb was riding his bike fully loaded.  They planned to camp along the way, so they were carrying all their own gear.  This is Caleb’s first ever experience on RAGBRAI.  He likes to run and plans to run cross-country for Des Moines Roosevelt.   He has not ridden his bike at all before this trek across the state… but his 14 year old legs will do him well.
    Heard a rider behind me in the first hour of the ride: “I’ve ridden more hills this morning than I have all year.” Jim, a first-time rider from Sturgeon Bay, WI, described the riding conditions up there in the farm country near Green Bay.  He works for the State Department in Washington.
    An adolescent stoker on the back of a tandem was from Switzerland.  The captain’s wife has relatives from Switzerland.
Rode together for awhile with Bob from Cook, Minn.  I asked where that was close to, and he said it is about 30 miles from the Canadian border near International Falls.  He had worked in Omaha along with Jim Rodenburg from Glenwood.  Bob is just retired, moved up there and built a house.  He still needs to stain his deck… but that project is on hold for this week.  He said he had been recruited to do RAGBRAI for the first time this year by his brother-in-law.
    To Kingsley by 8:30.  Stopped in to visit with our friends, Jeff and Susie.  Susie offered me a CapriSun to drink, then they invited me into their century-old house, and she cooked up some eggs and toast for me.  This weekend was Kingsley Days in town, complete with a parade yesterday.  The mayor proclaimed that the town is prepared to serve 25,000 riders today.  The town has grieved over the death of a local son who was killed in Iraq.  Left town at 9:35.
    Kim, age 64 from Evergreen, Col., is retired after serving for 30 years as a judge.  He just completed the Ride The Rockies for the 24th time.  He has been the route director (a volunteer position since 1991) for the Ride The Rockies event, a register-by-lottery ride which is capped at 2,400 riders.  He had also just completed the Triple Bypass, a one-day event spanning 120 miles and 3 mountain passes.
    The huge downhill coming into the entrance to Washta was good for 43 mph.
Under a shade tree in Washta, visited with three gents.  The one, an alumnus from my own alma mater of Shippensburg (Pa) University, had recruited two of his buddies to do the ride for the first time.  One was from Potomac, MD.  The other was from Philly and was wearing a Penn State cap; he is a big Nittany Lion fan.  We discussed the entrance of Nebraska into the Big Ten Conference, including the great rivalries in store with Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State.
There are 60 guys this year that are part of Team Army.
    A rider from Fairfax, VA, as we were walking our bikes through the congestion on Main Street in Washta: “I got out of Fairfax to avoid this kind of traffic.”  There was a tank of ice water at the town square for riders to dunk their heads.
Ken, a real estate developer from Dallas, was wearing an SMU Mustangs jersey.  His wife is a faculty member providing instruction in advertising research.  She is an accomplished tennis player, having won several college championships.  She tries to help him with his tennis game; that does not go so well.  Ken rides 6,000-7,000 miles per year and often in 100-degree temps.  He said riding helps keep him balanced these days since the real estate market has been slow.  We discussed his accounts at TD Ameritrade.
    Rode through Quimby at 11:40.  Rode for awhile with Lita, a wedding planner from Sioux City.  She said she tells prospective brides that she is “booked” the last two weekends of July so she can ride RAGBRAI.  We discussed various antics she has observed in wedding ceremonies.
    Stopped at a place in the country that had a sprinkler spraying out to the road for riders.  The residents were having neighbors over for a barbecue.  Another place had a slip-n-slide for riders to cool off.
    Bud, who lives in West Virginia, was wearing a Virginia Tech jersey.  I started the conversation this way: “We (Nebraska) would like those last two minutes back of the NU-Virginia Tech game last fall.”  It was fun to discuss the game with him… except for those gruesome last two minutes of the game.  Bud had numerous friends who were on the faculty and staff of the university at the time of the massacre on campus several years ago; what anguish to the entire Virginia Tech family!  We also discuss his options investing strategies in his TD Ameritrade account.
    I commended a rider who was wearing a Nebraska jersey all across the state.  He responded, “I’m trying to break them (Iowa fans) in easy (to having Nebraska in the Big Ten).”
    All day long, I did not come across any of the other Glenwood folks on the ride, including Craig Williams and his team, Dick Larue and Mark Wanning, Sarah Bienlien, and Doug and Deb Pfeiffer.
    Arrived in Storm Lake at 1:25.  Met back up with Mike on the Buena Vista College campus.  Over pizza in Storm Lake, talked with John who lives in the Washington DC area.  He has been retired for years after having worked for the government for 37 years.  He has ridden all across the United States four times.  Now he drives people on various cross-state rides.
    Rode out of the subculture of RAGBRAI at 2:40.  Mike and I headed off for Ida Grove.  Total mileage for the day: 100 miles.   Connie drove us back to Glenwood, arriving back home by 9:00.
    What a great day!  What a great weekend experience!