Tuesday, August 9, 2011



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…..

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