Wednesday, August 1, 2012


"...for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly; nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or at the desk." Henry David Thoreau

        RAGBRAI must be experienced to be believed.  8500 registered riders, anywhere from 2000 to 8000 unregistered riders.  No mass start, the route technically opens at 6 AM each day but people were on the road as early as 4 AM.  Each days route was carefully planned, the towns we'd pass through along the way were all turned out, selling water, Gatorade, pulled pork, pizza, t-shirts, bicycle parts, etc.  Between towns, vendors would be set up here and there, selling more of the same.  The distance between the starting point and the end of each days ride varied from 45 miles to 110.  At night we'd camp, along with 400-500 strangers.  Each campground was wall-to-wall tents every night.

         The first four days were notable for the intense heat.  Temps approached 100, heat index was well beyond that with the humidity.  Get up early to ride and beat the heat only lead to a different problem: ever sit around a campsite in 100 degree heat? I'd almost rather be riding.  Fortunately, every town we spent the night in was the site of a one-day street party.  More vendors, concerts, beer tent.... Additionally, local merchants usually had AC. More than once, Paul, Jake, and I took a long leisurely tour of a grocery store before waiting in a long line to buy a small bag of salty snacks.  

          If RAGBRAI had a motto, it would be "$5 and wait in line."  What ever you want is there and will cost you. Not everything was $5, but that did seem to be a popular number.  Sandwich, ice cream, a shower... Yes, $5 for a shower.  You'd think they would encourage showering by making it cheaper but they don't really care how you smell, or even how sweat-soaked your paper money is.   And your going to wait in line to pay.  One very good dinner we had was at a local church.  A little more than $5 got a hot meal of which I can remember no details.  I remember waiting in a long line to get to door of the church, just inside they sold you a ticket.  Then we were seated in the church pews, and the ushers were careful which pew you went to.  We sat on the right side, about five rows from the back. In front of us was full.  As more people came in, the pews behind us filled, then the left side filled.  Meanwhile, one row at a time was released to head for the basement dinning area.  When we got to head for the basement, the gap between just seated and just about to go eat was a full church.  There was no pressure to hurry eating, but when we left the line was out the door went down the block. 

         That was the price for eating at 5PM.  Another night we went later, and had to visit 3 restaurants to find one that wasn't sold out of food.  Then we were told the wait would be 50 minutes.  I put our name on the list and said we'd be waiting right outside the door.  After 30 minutes I checked and was told "20 minutes."  Thirty minutes later we found the door locked.  

        Riding was another experience.  That many people on bicycles takes some space.  The roads were generally closed to traffic in both directions.  Riders were instructed that slower riders should keep right, faster riders on the left.  Unfortunately,  everyone thinks they are fast. 

         On July 21st, I reached Clinton, Iowa.  My gps told me since June 2nd, I'd pedaled 2,388.5 miles and burned 161,698 calories.  Time well spent. 

         Saturday, Paul dropped me off at Union Station in chicago.  I was 22 hours early for my train.  "No problem" I thought.  I'd been camping for a week, many hot days, and I was carrying with me a bag of dirty clothing.  A hotel was in order and there were several within walking distance.  I called five: all sold out.  

         "No problem" I thought.  There's a USO on Navy Pier, and a water taxi to get me there.  Funny, I've been in quite a few USOs and never seen one that closed at 9 PM.  Back to the train station and look for a comfy bench.  Who would have guessed, the train station closed at 1 AM?  A friendly enough police officer kicked me out and pointed me toward an all night restaurant.  No sleep there though, it was a pretty busy all night restaurant in downtown Chicago on a saturday night.  

          Back to the train station at 5 AM and find a comfortable place to sit.  The food court opened around 6.  Two cups of coffee and a nap... "HEAD UP!!" like a drill instructor, a police officer advised me that there is no sleeping in the train station.  Arse. I've been awake for about 25 hours at this point, standing or sitting the whole time.   

           I don't know what I did exactly during the time I waited for my train.  I know there was no sleeping though.  Not allowed. Finally, 1:45 PM, I was able to board my train.  The excitement of riding through Chicago soon gave way to the excitement of taking a nap.  No sleeper car for me though, I was in a coach seat.  To be fair, coach on a train does not compare to coach on an airplane.  For example: if my seat is not reclined, and the seat in front of me is not reclined, I can't reach the seat in front of me without leaning forward.  Try that on delta. 

            I fell asleep for the night around ten, after dinner in the dinning car, and after crossing into Minnesota.  They must slow way down at night, because I woke at 5:30 AM in Fargo, North Dakota.  I felt refreshed and was sporting a pair of size 15 feet but missing my ankles.  The feet were a side effect of being in a seated or standing position for 48 hours.  By dinner I could almost see tendons on the top of my feet.  My flip-flops still fit snug. 

But a short 48 hours after boarding I was getting off the train in Seattle.  Carl was waiting for me, gave me a ride back to the compound for laundry and repacking.  It’s Tuesday.  I leave on Friday for the next adventure.  And there will be pictures in the future.

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