Monday, August 15, 2011

The Year of the.....what??

I knew that after the glorious conclusion of the exalted RAGBRAI, it would be too hard to go back to cold harsh reality in one fell swoop. So, forward-thinking person that I am, I made plans to go to the Indiana State Fair with some of the Cancerchicks, namely Cori and The Rack, Melindy, and Angela, who actually lives in Indy and on whose doorstep we’d be showing up.

Now, I knew that this year’s State Fair would have a tough time living up to the Glory Year, that is the Year of the Tomato, in 2009. Ah, I remember it as if it were yesterday – the world seemed a shinier, happier place, bright with optimism and hope. Yes, we can!

But then, tomatoes have that effect on people, being the fun, whimsical, even jaunty little fellows they are. Who doesn’t love a tomato, really? Other than Communists, that is. So clearly that year they had a lot to work with, the State Fair Decorating Committee. And decorate they did! Everywhere you looked, tomatoes! Tomato plants tucked into planters, tomato sculptures, tomato needlepoint, tomato souvenirs – I still cherish my tomato coin bank and tomato coaster.

Thus, you can imagine that I was a bit skeptical when I read that this year was going to be the Year of the Drab Soybean. What the heck can you do with a soybean?? But I thought, those Indianans are a crafty, wily bunch, and they’ve had years of experience with this. I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

So off Cori and I went in her Taylor-Swiftmobile, still cheekily decorated after she took her daughter to the concert the night before (aka “Honk if you love T-Swift!”), into the warp in the time-space continuum that is I-65 that goes from Chicago to Indianapolis. Consider yourselves warned when you too travel this route, that the actual miles driven twist and expand somehow so that 3 hours seems like 9, and every 50 miles seems like an eternity. If I’m ever told I have just a week to live, I’m going to spend that week driving back and forth on I-65….because it will seem like I’m living forever.

We do finally make it, lo after some 5 days of driving, and hie ourselves off to the fair, where my first mission is to find some kind of food-on-a-stick, the staple of all fair food. But first, pictures! There to greet us in all his soybean glory is Bennie the Bean, so of course we seize upon this photo opportunity, and Melinda posts the pic of the 2 of us on Facebook.

The reaction is immediate.

Kim: Umm, why are you guys posing with a boob?

Jan: I’m with Kim – that really does look like a boobie!

Me and Melinda, in unison: We know.

Things continue along in this vein, with us taking pictures and our worldwide fans exclaiming at how this year’s theme seems to be designed just for us! The only thing better than the beans are the beaver shots we’re taking for Angie. Apparently Montreal is the beaver capital of the world or something. Who knew?

It’s pretty obvious though that the poor State Fair Decorators became a little disheartened and discouraged by the task at hand. Again, tomatoes = jaunty and fun. Soybeans = staid and bean-like. Drab, even! The little rotunda in the middle of the fair that was so cheerfully festooned 2 years ago with tomato memorabilia is a mere shadow of its former self. We go into one of the buildings and the crowd is clustered around the – what else – Red Gold tomato booth, clamoring for a bit of cheer and extravaganza. I discuss the situation with the Red Gold guy behind their counter.

Me: Ah, tomatoes. No wonder you guys are being mobbed – not much competition there with the soybean, eh?

Red Gold Guy: Everyone does love a tomato.

Me: Yes, I fondly remember the glory days from 2 years ago, the Year of the Tomato at the fair.

RGG: Sigh, I was here for that. It was magnificent.

Me: It was, wasn’t it? I feel bad for the poor folks tasked with the soybean decorations. There’s not much there to work with, is there….

RGG, diplomatically: Soybeans are…..challenging.

The day continues in typical fashion. We make fun of Cori for buying salad on a stick, which consists of basically lettuce. I break a child’s heart by winning the squirt gun game, even after he has his mother whispering tips into his ear. “Aim high!” Alrighty then, lady. There are no whimsical soybean coin banks. No coasters. No tomato plants growing the Nipsy Russell. The best we can find are buttons that proclaim this the year of the soybean, and when I pin it to my shirt I look like I have a third boob. You can tell that even the can sculpture people were gripped by malaise, nay despair. For Tomato Year, the Canstruction exhibit had the most amazing things made out of cans: ferris wheels! The Starship Enterprise!

This year? A truck. A box. No really, a box. Not that I blame them.

Still, we do what we can, and head over to the Pioneer Farm area to see what kind of a ruckus we can stir up. This is the kind of place where I always get myself into trouble – and today is no exception.

Because of course the first thing I make a beeline to is a stand where two adorable urchins in gingham dresses are selling…..something. Turns out it’s sorghum. What the hell is sorghum, you ask? Even now, I have no idea.

Me, to genuine farmer standing there at the booth too: What do you use sorghum for?

Farmer, who starts channeling Forrest Gump: Oh, lots of things! You can put it on pancakes, or on cornbread, or on toast. Goes with apples, or bananas, or even pears. Peaches! Bananas, melon…, we’ve got a sheet that tells you all the things you can do with sorghum.

Me: Do you make all of it yourself?

Farmer: Ayup.

Me: Well, I...

Farmer: Got lot of vitamins and minerals too, nothing better for your health....

Sigh. How can I look at these jars with the little homemade labels on them proudly pronouncing that this is sorghum from Pumphrey’s Farm, and not buy some? I can’t, of course, so off goes a jar of sorghum into my bag, to add to the whipped honey and all the other homemade stuff I’ve bought. Which is one of the reasons I love the IN State Fair so much – they have actual vendors like this, rather than the WI State Fair which just seems to have a lot of people selling sham-wows and the like.

(Though it’s perhaps a bit telling that later, back in Huntley, when I try to pawn the sorghum off on my mom by acting as if I was all generous and such in buying it for her, she’s having none of it: “Sorghum? What the heck is that?” Again, sigh.)

We manage to leave the fair having partaken of an inadequate amount of fried food, though all were in agreement that the fried green tomatoes (of course!) were the best. That evening at Angela’s, we have tomato sandwiches (of course!), which are delicious, and then sadly, Cori and start heading back to IL the next day.

Where we see for ourselves just how cursed I-65 is. Because I glance over at one point, and see what appears to be a burned out truck, over on the far

shoulder. Then we see two police cars blocking off the road. Then we see a backup of cars. Which turns out to be…….Twelve. Miles. Long. And there’s an exit right before the accident where cars are being funneled off, but the next exit isn’t until 10 miles away, and there’s no one there telling these poor people that they should get off NOW before they get stuck for hours.

Because I look this up on Cori’s iPad…….and that road has been closed since 3:45AM. And it’s now 1PM. Nine. Fucking. Hours.

Oh my god.

And it’s still closed.

And I’m getting confused trying to find THIS story because there’s a story about another accident on

I-65 that happened on Wednedsay, aka the day we were headed down to Indianapolis – and that one shut down I-65 for about 11 hours.

And we missed that by about 15 minutes.

Oh. My. God.

Both of those accidents happened at a point where traffic was slowing down due to construction, or where traffic was moving down to one lane, and a

truck plowed into those who had slowed down so heed these words – if you’re ever traveling on I-65 and

traffic slows, be looking into your rearview mirror and be prepared to bolt off the road, just in case. Apparently there’s something about the stupor of driving on I-65 that makes people forget that oh yeah, I might have to slow down or stop at some point. Then of course Saturday night was the horrible and tragic stage collapse at the IN State Fair – so I’m kind of feeling like Cori and I somehow left a trail of calamity in our wake.

We did manage to bring joy and happiness to one small corner of Indiana, however – this was when we stopped at the Fair Oaks Dairy, to break up our 10-hour car ride back home. This place is known for its homemade ice cream and cheese, though I’ve never seen the actual making of the cheese. This time though there was an actual convict-looking person behind the glass in the dairy-making section, so I guess that’s a start.

Anyway! We’re perusing the cheeses, and a chipper young man is peddling cheese samples: “Try some cheese! Gouda! Gouda is known to help fight cancer, so get some cheese and prevent cancer!”

Cori and I look at each other, grinning.

Me: Sorry, it’s too late.

Cori: We both have had cancer. What can cheese do for us?

He looks stumped for a moment. But then:

“Get your cheese here! Help prevent a second round of cancer!”

We then suggest that they should wrap the cheese up in pink and pink ribbons and really push the cancer-fighting thing, and the girl behind the cheese counter loves this idea.

“Hey, that’s a great idea! Especially in October or whatever month it is, we can do a whole display of pink! Really push the cheese and the cancer thing! Omg, that’s brilliant! I should SO get a raise for thinking of this! Where’s our manager? Hey, I should get a raise for this great idea I came up with!”

Thankfully the deliciousness of the cheese and subsequent ice cream makes Cori and I forget the fact that our idea has been stolen and we’ve been shuttled off to the side, like chopped liver. But if you stop at the Fair Oaks Dairy in October and it’s a vision in pink, well, you’ll know why….

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We load up the car, and Ann and I set off for home, with her having changed out of her cycling clothes, and me, not.

Ann: Aren’t you dying to get out of your bike shorts?

Me: No, I think at this point I’ve become one with my shorts. It’s all very zen. Plus, I’m too damn tired to bother. And I’m just so glad to be not on a bike, that what I’m wearing doesn’t even matter. Ah, bliss.

That night, I unpack my stuff at my mom’s, as I contemplate calling in a hazmat team for my dirty clothes, which have been added to a plastic garbage bag all week. In the heat and sun. To the point that now, I think they’re composting.

I then pick up The Kone, for a joyous reunion, and head to bed. Round about 7PM. Hey, what’s wrong with that??

The next morning


The Kone has clearly become unaccustomed to our usual routine, which dictates that HRH sleeps in as long as Momma sleeps, so I get up early to take him out. Amazingly enough, I step outside and yes, my immediate thought is this: hey, it’s a perfect day for a bike ride! Really. Not hot yet, not at all windy, some cloud cover. Of course, I can only muster up the energy for Kona’s walkie, so I tuck this thought away and go back to bed.

I don't think I could bike another mile if my life depended on it.


I deliberately cut up my bagel with cream cheese and lox into small pieces so that I can eat it with a fork, careful to not have it touch my puffy and burnt lower lip, and then after finishing this exhausting feat, I slump my head over to rest it wearily on my arms. So. Tired. And. Exhausted.

Mom: So would you ever do this ride again?

My head pops up in surprise. “Well of course, why wouldn’t I?”

My head goes thunking back down to the table, as I mumble “of course next time I’ll train by putting my bike in a sauna, and camping out in the backyard in a sweltering tent with someone blowing an airhorn into my ear at regular intervals. Oh, and nothing but slushies as fuel. Yep, I’ll be so ready. And pie. Lots of pie……”

* * * * * * * * * *

To speak of RAGBRAI as if we were hot on the trail of world peace out there, well, maybe that’s not quite so. And yet. There was something heartwarming and amazing to see, about this incredible sea of tens of thousands of people doing what they love, riding their bikes, through these small Iowa towns that went all out to greet us, putting an incredible amount of effort into this. Everyone got involved, from the church ladies baking their pies and cinnamon rolls, to the fire stations cooking up pancakes and burgers, to the American Legion and other groups, being so sweet and tolerant about all these sweaty, stinky cyclists in their midst.

Then there were all the people who sat out there with their sprinklers going for us to ride through, the kids handing out Freezer-pops as we rode by, the massive flags put up in every town to soar above us, and even the Iowa State Patrol manning the intersections, who all had music blasting from their cars. Rock on, Iowa State Police!

I filled out my survey form for RAGBRAI, and when they asked if there was anything I’d improve or anything I thought wasn’t great, I couldn’t think of a thing. I know, me! The mind reels. The only annoyance was in the cyclists who refused to ride right and created dangerous situations at times – but I’m not sure what else the ride organizers could do about that other than reminding people oh, say, constantly, as they did. You just can’t fix stupid.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll remember most about the week, because it was such a blur of insane heat and humidity and yet total awesomeness. But one memory that does stand out is this – after I had stopped in one of our pass-through towns and was pressing on, I was doing my usual routine, of looking at the houses to see if there was anyone sitting out front that I could wave to, as there often was. Then I saw an elderly woman looking through the curtains at the spectacle outside her house, and so I waved to her. As soon as she saw me, she waved back, as excitedly as if the Pope himself were riding past. That is, if the Pope were a complete idiot, which apparently he’s not because I didn’t see him riding across Iowa the last week of July.

I’ll also think about how amazing it is that something like this can bring in much-needed cash to these small towns, as so many of these groups were raising money for things like a new roof for the church, equipment for the firefighters, a trip for the band. All great things that I was happy to support, just as I always tried to buy things from local sellers rather than some of the places that set up at every festival or country fair. This led me to trying smoked grilled peaches in Colfax, and a most excellent sno-kone in Elkhart, and buying more water and popsicles than a person should be allowed in a lifetime.

And yes, it was insanely hot and humid. Crazily so. This was in fact the 2nd hottest RAGBRAI week in the 39 years that this ride has been going on. But really, that just made it more epic - plus, I'd rather have insane heat any day over rain. Not only is rain sucky and dangerous for the cyclists, but it would have been horrible for all the townspeople to have all their efforts rained out. So heat? Yeah, bring it.

Something like this can’t really compare to the majesty of cycling in the Alps, or in the lush countryside of Mallorca – but then, it isn’t a fair comparison. RAGBRAI is indeed unique, and it stands on its own merits. If you love cycling and country roads and, well, all kinds of Americana in the unlikeliest of places, then this is the ride for you. And if it restores your faith in humanity a little tiny bit along the way, so be it.

And in the end, what’s the only way I can sum it all up? Yep, you guessed it.

Best. Week. Ever.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Davenport or bust!


Whee, here we are, Saturday, and it’s time to pack up the tent one last time. Anyone who doesn’t understand the pure joy of that has never been camping for a week – in a different spot every night.

I tell Ann I’ll meet up with her in the town of West Branch, Land of Superlative French Toast, and off I go.

For the rest of my life, I’ll have a love-hate relationships with this small town in Iowa. Because it’s here that my superstar camera, which survived the calamitous fall from my bike at 40 mph, decides to stop working after I take a picture of a house and some flowers. Damn.

And yet, it is here, in this same small bucolic town that I meet a fine couple, the Petersens, who finally are able to show me what Iowa is all about.

That is, lying.

Okay, okay, maybe not. But this is how things unfold. I find the French toast church, and am gratified to see a long line, especially since this place is a block off the main street, and let’s face it, us cyclists, we’re a lazy bunch. Bike 500 miles across Iowa? Sure, but don’t expect us to walk a few feet to the other water fountain or porta-potty.

So I’m standing in line, and start chatting with this lovely couple in line ahead of me, who are in town to pick up their brilliant daughter. Why brilliant? Well, because she started the ride the day before, and after the long hot brutishness of that day, decided to have her parents pick her up in West Branch instead of slogging the rest of the way to Davenport. Hell, if I could get someone to do that for me, I probably would as well.

We’re talking, and then their daughter shows up, and she’s lovely as well, and after we get our food they invite me to join them at a table, which I do. Where the Petersen daughter (I don’t think I ever got her name – if I did I don’t remember it!) tells us that this heat in Iowa is worse than any time during the 2 years she was in the Peace Corps…… Kenya. Yes, that’s how hot it is.

These are instantly my favorite people in the world, because really, what’s better than someone who validates your notion that you’ve been suffering more than anyone in the entire history of the world has suffered, that very week as you’ve sweated your way across an entire state in the grips of a massive and unrelenting heat wave? Nope, nothing better. I’m just sayin’.

And then Mr. Petersen makes the inevitable comment, as we start talking about the rest of that day’s route into Davenport.

“Oh, it’s not hilly from here on out.”

I look at him skeptically. Any and everyone who’s told us this during the week has been a) wrong, or b) delusional.

“I’m skeptical,” I tell him.

“No really! I promise! Oh sure, there are a few rollers, but that’s it, at least until you get into Davenport.”

Hmm. I want to believe them, I really do, but I’ve been burned sooo many times before. Still, they do invite me to stop on by if RAGBRAI ever goes through their own town of West Liberty – “we’re in the phone book!” they tell me. So at least if they’re lying I can track them down and have words.

Of course, they can track me down as well, since I tell them about my blog, but I assure them that any reference to "Iowa" and "hell" in the same sentence relates ONLY to the heat.

Which is true.

But I look at their nice, genuine, open faces and am lulled into a false sense of security. Plus, these wonderful people have watched me as I cut up my orange slices into small pieces and carefully ate them without having anything touch my lower lip - as I explain to them “Ah buhnt ma wower wip” – and are too polite to tell me that I’m completely retarded. So that’s a big plus in my book.

That is, until I set out again, and not 5 minutes later? Yes, a big hill. I shake my head sadly. “Et tu, Mr. Petersen, et tu??” I ponder what it is about the Iowa heartland that causes this kind of rampant fibbing – is it learned as children, when they’re describing how tall the corn is? The Margaret Mead in me wants to study this further, to get at the root cause of this proflig……oh. Oh, never mind. It’s flat all of a sudden. Thanks Mr. Petersen!

Iowa has one last kick in the teeth for us, however, in the form of a fierce headwind, the entire way back. Thank god there are still fun stops along the way, like the lovely town of Walcott, where I sit down next to the hand-carved glockenspiel to listen to some festive German music and rest my feet. I get into a discussion with a woman from the providers of said glockenspiel, the American Schleswig-Holstein Heritage Society, as she’s surprised that so many cyclists are so fascinated by this.

Me: Well, not only is it cool-looking and has fun music…but you’re also set up nicely in the shade here! That’s in great demand these days.

Woman: Oh, then I guess it’s a good thing we moved it from where they originally put it, out there by the ball field in the blazing sun.

Me: Trust me, that was an excellent idea.

Then I notice that I have a message from Adrienne, who wants me to call Melindy to make sure everything is okay, since our Cancerchicks haven’t heard from her since the night before. Which leads to probably the only time I’ll ever have a chance to say this in a conversation:

Me, to Melindy (who’s fine): Hey, it’s Tasha! I’m still in Iowa! Sorry it’s kind of hard to hear, but I’m sitting right next to the glockenspiel!

Eventually, after sitting there for a while and bobbing my head in time to the music along with everyone else, I set off again for Davenport. Where yes, it does get hilly again, but we’re almost at the end! Whee! But, boo. But, whee! But……wait. Shit, is that something wrong with my bike? It’s suddenly shifting like molasses, slow and clunky. Do NOT tell me there’s something wrong with my bike just 2 miles from the finish? I keep looking down, puzzled, trying to figure out what’s going on. Then I realize.

It’s so hot the tar is melting.

On that oh-so-appropriate note, I toodle on into Davenport, where our route takes us right to the riverbank, to dunk our tire in the Mississippi. Which I figure I might as well do, since I’m here and all. I do, and it’s pretty cool, and then more thanks to Mr. Petersen reminding me that St. Ambrose University is at the top of a big hill that’s around 12 blocks long. Because that’s where the charter company is dropping off our stuff, and so instead I get directions directly to the parking garage where I left my car a week ago.

Which takes me along the bike path that meanders along the river, and is a lovely way to end the week…..until another RAGBRAI cyclist heads into the path right in front of me. I do what’s usually considered the helpful thing in such circumstances – I scream – and she lurches out of the way.

Her, weakly: Heh heh, sorry about that….

Me: It’s okay. It’s been a really loooong week…..

Her: Yeah, and can you imagine if it would have ended like this, an accident at the very end

Me:………on the bike path no less!

We both laugh, a little maniacally. Ah, the camaraderie of RAGBRAI lives on.

Ann did not have the benefit of the Petersens, and so after I get the car and happily drive up the hill to St. Ambrose, I meet up with her there some time later, cursing the route that ended on a big uphill. There’s clearly something to be said for chatting with the locals….

Next up: the aftermath….



Clearly Ann and I peaked at around Day 2 or 3, because now, Day 6, we’re lucky if we hit the road by 6:30AM. Slackers. Generally I’ll set out, then Ann catches up with me as I stop to take pictures of yet more sunset-over-cornfields, or big cows, or other points of interest. This works out well, as we meet up in the first town and divide tasks, as we do when we hit the town of Brooklyn. She sets off for the biscuits and gravy line, while I go in search of kringla, yet another Scandinavian treat that’s popular in Iowa.

Or so they say. My befuddled mind doesn’t question this at the time, but I wonder if that’s part of the RAGBRAI planning?

RAGBRAI planning meeting in Brooklyn, Iowa

Mayor: Ayup then folks, we all know how dem der cyclists like the kitschy odd things, like windmills and such. Too late to put up a windmill, eh – so hows ‘bout some kind of weird Danish food? A cookie or


Bill the Town Event Planner: I procured this dusty cookbook tome from the library: “101 obscure Danish Delights for Every Iowan Kountry Kitchen”!

Mayor: Let’s have a look see. Hmm. You betcha. Oked-dokey den, write out a bunch of these on the “who’ll be mayor next” dartboard, and we’ll pick one out that way. Ayup, the old-fashioned way.

Hence, kringla. Of course, I have no idea why the good people of Iowa are suddenly speaking in some kind of pidgin-Canadian patois, but as I’ve said many a time before, I am here merely as a scribe, recording things exactly as they happen. Mine is not to question why.

And besides, who am I to argue with buttery homemade cookies?

* * * * * * * *

When we regroup, Ann also posits the theory that there are some kind of RAGBRAI clinics for kids and other volunteers, where they’re taught the fine art of salesmanship. Because the biscuits-and-gravy girl did a damn fine job of shepherding hungry cyclists to her people’s booth, with a “Get your biscuits and gravy, over HERE, not THERE! Right THIS way!” As Ann and others obediently complied.

I try to get to the bottom of this later, but am only told that there are some kind of “workshops” where the RAGBRAI people talk about food safety and such. Hmm. Who knew that all those 4H activities could turn farm kids into such excellent and convincing salespeople?

* * * * * * * *

In pretty much every town I wind up having a conversation with some of the local folks – I’m just chatty that way. Plus my research-driven mind wants an answer to the burning question: what exactly do Iowans think of RAGBRAI? Pain-in-the-ass or strange-but-cool spectacle? Or both? Generally, the people I speak to seem to think that the ride is a positive thing, the cyclists are nice and well-behaved, etc. Then of course they ask me the unanswerable question, especially when they find out this is my first RAGBRAI:

Nice Iowan folk: Oh, your first one! So how do you like it?

Me, as I’m collapsed in a sweaty heap next to them: It’s both miserable and hellish – I’ve never been so hot in my entire life….

….then adding:

“….but it’s also the most amazing, cool thing EVER! I love it! I’ll definitely be back next year!”

I think I leave quite a few people (including myself) questioning my sanity.

This is also the day I FINALLY enjoy the wonder that is the walking taco. It’s so excellent that I decide I’m going to steal the idea and make it my own. No one from Illinois has ever heard of it, so why not? Soon, at a festival near you: Miss Tasha’s Glorious Traipsing Taco! You heard it here first, kids….

* * * * * * * *

Strangest question I hear today: “Is that a mole?”

This throws me for a few seconds. Do I have a mole on the back of my neck or something? And if I do, whose business is it of anyone? WTH! What an odd question! Then I remember….the sloth! Ah! Poor little Slowpoke gets no respect. A mole indeed. Hmph.

* * * * * * * *

I have to say, this concept of sticking the longest day on the Friday of the week – well, not the most brilliant, if I do say so myself. Oh sure, it’s only something like 78 miles, a pittance, but at this point? Yeah, everything hurts. I’m tired. Dehydrated. And my feet are KILLING me! I’ve had this hot foot problem as long as I’ve been cycling longer distances, whereby my feet burn and feel like they’re going to burst into flames, then get so hot and painful that I have to get off my bike and massage my feet.

On RAGBRAI, it’s so bad that the feet start hurting pretty much when I start out for the day. I start taking off my shoes and walking in socks through the towns, to stretch my feet out a bit. Nothing helps. It’s a tough call as to what hurts most on this ride – my hands, my feet, my butt? WHO again thought this was a good idea? Other cyclists are getting a bit punchy too. At one farm where a bunch of us are camped out in the shade, the question "I wonder if there's a shorter route?" brings the response "Yeah - by car." Which has us all in paroxysms of laughter. We're an easily amused bunch these days.

That night while at the campsite in Coralville, someone is walking around handing out flyers with a map of West Branch, our first pass-through town for the next day. In addition to the map, there’s a flyer for French toast being sold by some church – “the best French toast in the world!” Or maybe it said in Iowa. Iowa County. Okay, maybe in West Branch. At that church. Whatever. I admire the marketing push, so I make sure to put the French toast church on my mental agenda.

That night after my cold-water shower in a communal shower room with no lighting, I’m almost gleeful. One last night of camping! This whole pack-up-your-stuff-every-morning routine is getting a bit old. Note to self: next time, bring along Camping Sherpa to do all that stuff for me, or cultivate cycling friends with an RV…..

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Heat, sweat......and pie


Mind over matter. It’s all a matter of attitude, and yes, even though this is day 5 of little sleep on a sticky air mattress and biking in heat indices of 125 or so – why, what’s wrong with that? Whee! I bound around the tent, getting ready, putting my various supplies in my back jersey pocket……or trying to……what the….oh. I have my jersey on inside out.

It’s going to be another long day.

* * * * * * * *

So this obsession with pie – not that that’s a bad thing mind you – is something to behold. I’ve learned, much to my amazement, that rhubarb pie is the big seller – unless you get to a town early on, it’ll all be sold out. Really, rhubarb? Where I come from, we treat that stuff like a weed, or like something you leave on neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night. Here in RAGBRAI-land it’s a delicacy, which just goes to show you that you can get people to buy pretty much about anything.

And never let it be said that the townspeople don’t take this dedication to pie seriously, oh no. I quote from the Des Moines Register, which has a daily page dedicated to RAGBRAI:

Nine Churdan community organizations united to make the pie-tasting experience a reality for riders coming through. “They told us we needed pie, so we made pie,” Churdan Library Director Shari Minnehan said. “We were told it was an important part of the experience.”

Well. ‘Nuff said.

Today is another day with a lot of climbing, and as usual, it’s insanely hot and brutish. People are really starting to piss me off with their complete lack of understanding of the whole concept of “ride right.” It’s bad enough on straightaways, but on those screaming downhills where I blaze past most people, it’s unacceptable. Next time I’m going to attach a sign to my bike that says “I’m fat and I’m surly and I’m faster than you, so get the hell out of my way!” Plus I have a whole year to design the patented Leftiminator, which will be a Speed Racer-like device that will attach to the front of my bike somehow, whereby any left-riding miscreants will be summarily shoved out of the way by a large cudgel that will shoot out, clearing a path.

Oh sure, some cyclists might wind up in a ditch, say, or in traction, but my new motto is “if you’re not right, you’re not my problem.” Case closed.

But then as I’m thinking evil thoughts, I wind up in a bizarre conversation that has me shaking my head in befuddlement the rest of the day. There I am blitzing along (as opposed to toodling, because hey, it’s early in the day yet), when I hear a question seemingly directed at me:

Guy cyclist: Hey, did that wheelset come with that bike?

Me, puzzled: Who, mine? Why yes.

GC: Because that’s a really nice wheelset – really great. And you’re a really strong cyclist!

I have no idea what to say to any of this.

Me: Umm, thanks?

GC: Awesome wheelset! Those will last you a lifetime!

Me: God willing and the crick don’t rise!

Okay, I don’t really say that, but it’s what comes to mind for some reason. Is that what pickup lines sound like on RAGBRAI? “Hey, nice wheelset, baby!” Still shaking my head…..

Later that day is a visit to the Templeton Rye distillery, a listen to a great marching band in Mitchellville, a couple of pictures of Annabelle the Traveling Cow, a chat with a local lady about how beautiful her phlox are, and a purchase of popsicles from a couple of nuns, right in front of a gazebo where all the towns mailboxes are. In other words, a typical RAGBRAI kind of day.

Of course, my life would not be complete without at least one major mishap each day, so today’s is this: there I am blazing down a hill at around 40 mph, when we go over a bridge that has seams that aren’t quite as fitted as they should be. I see the people in front of me yell as they go over this bump, but it’s too late to slow so over I go too, and shit, there goes my camera! Damn damn damn.

I pull over, and am aided in my search by another cyclist who’s also pulled over because he lost his phone. We’re picking up various things – I’ve picked up a handful of AA batteries before I realize that hey, my camera doesn’t even take AA batteries. My compatriot, he comes up to me with his findings.

Other guy: Here, I grabbed your camera out of the way, and here, you also lost this.

He hands me a brand new bicycle tube, still in a box. I start laughing.

Me: Thanks, but…..that’s not mine.

Him: Are you sure?

Me: Positive – mine is in a little bag under my seat. But here, do you want some AA batteries?

So my camera is rather crushed, but I’m more upset by the possibility that I might have lost my RAGBRAI photos than about the camera itself. I’ve found a camera card, but who knows if it’s mine or if it’ll still work? I cobble the camera back together, and damn, it doesn’t work.

Until it does. Yep, after several more tries, it decides to start working. Yay! This pretty much counts as a miracle in my book.

* * * * * * * *

One of the best roadside signs I see is the one that echoes our thoughts exactly as we’re nearing Grinnell, our next overnight town. Because as soon as you start getting close to any overnight town, you also wonder WHERE the heck is this damn place?? So the sign that says “Where the hell is Grinnell?” (2 miles ahead!) – that says it all right there.

That night, I find my bicycle cookies at Yumi’s Bakery, and then we head to the concert on Main Street, where I see the most awesome sign, which no one else finds unusual: “No firearms allowed in beverage garden!” I gently nudge a police officer aside so that I can get a good picture of it, and find out that if they hadn’t put that sign there, then people could carry their firearms around willy nilly. Who knew?

Friday is going to be our longest day, mileage-wise. Longest. Day. Whee?