Thursday, August 4, 2011

Iowa, less hellish today than yesterday



My alarm goes off, and I promptly shut it off. What the hell, it’s still pitch black out!


Luckily, we have a backup – Ann’s alarm goes off, and we spring into action. Okay, we get up, slowly, but we do get up. The sun will not foil us today, by golly! We get our stuff packed up and loaded onto the truck like the efficient camping machines we are, and are on the road as the sun is just peeking out. Aah, so cool, in spite of the usual 99% humidity….


Well, that didn’t last long. I do my usual vampire screech as the blazing sun comes out and starts burning my skin, thanks to the nasty sunburn. One thing I do have to say about being burnt to a crisp – it gives me faith in my fellow man, people, cyclists, whatever. Because there I’ll be cycling along, and hear “Hey, do you know you’re getting a nasty sunburn? Do you need some lotion?” over and over. Total strangers, trying to save me from my own stupidity. I think I’ve found the heartbeat of America, here among these blistering hot cornfields.


If there’s any one real tragedy about this week so far, it is this: the fact that it’s too damn hot to eat. All these awesome foods everywhere, and I manage to get in one decent meal first thing, and then…….nada. Just slushies. Sno-kones. Gatorade. Yes, I’ve basically transitioned to an all-liquid diet for the rest of the day. That truly sucks.

This is why in the town of Lanesboro I make a beeline for a table that says “Gatorade and water” on it. There are two adorable little girls sitting there, who are, unbeknownst to me, ready to hit me with the hard sell. Because I ask about the Gatorade, and their response?

Adorable Girl #1: That’s over there, but here look at these bracelets we have for sale! There are sparkly beads and these light up in the dark…

Me: Umm, but…..

Adorable Girl #2: And see these you can put on your bike spoke, and they’ll be all sparkly…

Me: I just wanted Gat…..

AG1: And did I tell you that these glow in the dark?


Me: You girls must have spent a long time making these, huh?

AG2: Oh yes, hours and hours.


Then I spy (of course) a bracelet that says “I (heart) boobies” on it. And I start chuckling, because we all know how I hate not just that word but that phrase, because really, what does any of that have to do with breast cancer, which is the supposed point? AG1 notices me looking at it.

AG1: Those are to support cancer.

Well. And who wouldn’t want to support cancer? I wind up buying a bunch of things from them, at some bargain price, and realize that this is why I’ll never be rich. Because so far this week I’ve spent my money on food and beverages, yes, but also donations to fire stations, buttons that churches are selling, pie I was too tired to eat, and so on. I might as well have Sucker written on my forehead. Ah well.

Today is still as insanely hot and humid as ever, and it’s a longer day, but somewhat less hilly, so I guess that all evens out in the wash. And heck, I guess by now I’m somewhat used to the feeling of biking in a sauna or furnace, plus there are certainly enough things to distract a person. Like the wonderful people – not just the cyclists, but the local people themselves.

Take the pig farmer, for instance. There’s a big sign – “newborn piglets up ahead!” – so of course I have to stop at this farm where yes indeed, there are a bunch of piglets in a little pen out front. People are swarming around them, taking pictures and such, and I get one in as well, but then I think of Kim, and WWKD. So I start grilling the poor farmer.

Me: Isn’t it too hot out for the piglets?

Nice Farmer: Oh, I only keep them out here for about a half hour, then swap them out.

Me: Oh, that makes sense.

NF: Plus pigs actually like it when it’s about 85 degrees – they like the heat.

Me: Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s good to know. So then I assume the piglets are well taken care of? Because you know, I saw that video……

“That video” is the one made undercover by the group Mercy for Animals, which shows the barbaric treatment of pigs and piglets at a massive pig farm. It’s horrible and disgusting, and after watching, I decided I wouldn’t eat pork unless I knew where it came from. Meaning, I’d rather pay a lot more for the occasional pork I eat, than eat mass-produced pork from those kinds of slaughterhouses.

The farmer knows exactly what I’m talking about, too.

NF: Oh yeah, that was terrible, there’s no reason for anything like that.

Me: It was horrible.

NF: We’re just a small family farm here, we don’t treat any of our animals like that.

Me: That’s good to know!

We chat for a while longer, and then what do I see? Yes, it’s Spoke Bracelet Guy! Omg, it’s like spotting the Yeti!! I bid farewell to my new farmer friend and go bounding over to SBG.

Me: Omg, it’s you! I’ve found you! You’re like the Yeti!

SBG: Umm…..

Me: My friends told me all about you – you’re a legend in your own time!

SBG: Well, that’s good! Of course I’m not quite as famous as the Pork Chop Guy…

Me: Oh, you just wait, my friend. I’ll write about you in my blog, and the ensuing fame and fortune, well….all I can say is, be prepared.

He seems suitably impressed – or scared, hard to tell which. But I do get my wrist measured, and then poof, a spoke bracelet magically is on my wrist, for a mere $6! This could very well be the bargain of the century. My life is now complete.

Well, except that I still have many miles to bike in the blazing sun. By my estimates, the last 15 miles of each day’s ride are actually around 118 miles, based on some warp in the time-space continuum and how long it takes me to complete them. So it appears that this week I’ve already ridden about 400 miles. I am such a stud.

Plus I’ve now come to the realization that not only am I really badly sunburned, but my lower lip? Yep, fried to a crisp as well. Which leads me to yet another stellar example of how wonderful the people of Iowa are – because there I am, going through the town of Paton, which is yet another small Iowa town of probably around 200 people, that has pulled it all together in spectacular fashion for RAGBRAI. Seriously, every single town we go through has put a ton of effort into greeting us all. It’s truly remarkable. It’s sad too, in a way, because with most of these historic towns many of these gorgeous old buildings are boarded up and there’s not much going on in terms of commerce. But the people? Salt of the earth. To wit:

Paton – I’m walking through an intersection and there’s a woman there, a volunteer, directing people as to where they can find food, drinks, etc. She seems like a good person to ask about my lip problem.

Me: Excuse me, can I ask you something? There wouldn’t happen to be a pharmacy or drugstore in town, would there? Because (and here I stick out my lower lip), mah wip is aww buhnt.

Nice Iowa woman: Oh no!

Me: Yes, it’s vewy painfuw…..

NIW: Unfortunately there’s no pharmacy here – there’s only about 2 stores in town, the closest big town is Boone.

Me: That’s what I figured, I just thought I’d ask.

NIW: But I think I have some Carmex in my car! Do you want me to go take a look?

So this woman is willing to go schlepping off to her car to see if she has lip balm for an idiot cyclist who managed to get horribly sunburnt on Day One of a week-long bike ride across the state.

Now THAT is Iowa.

* * * * * * * *

I ride my usual 240 miles that day, and that evening we head into town, with our first stop being a

Walgreens. Where it’s basically Idiot Cyclist Central, because everyone there? Yep, buying the exact same stuff. Sunscreen, aloe vera gel, lip balm. They have extra staff on hand to direct us (me) to the Blistex section. We stand in line telling our fellow cyclists where to find this or that lotion or gel. It’s a beautiful thing.

That night, I take my newly-purchased Tylenol PM and prepare for a night of, well, not quite blissful sleep, but something resembling sleep nevertheless. I mumble good night to Ann. Then…


“What the hell!” I say as I sit upright. “Who’s the damn fool blowing an air horn in our ears??”

Nope, no air horn, but apparently our camping site is pretty much right next to the freight train line going through town. And it sounds like the conductor is having fun honking greetings to all of us RAGBRAIers.

My Cousin Vinny comes to mind.

I start laughing, a bit hysterically, but still, laughing.

I love Iowa.

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