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……..in 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….