What the hell?
It’s still dark out, yet people seem to be up and about already, taking down their tents, packing up…..even hitting the road already. This seems a bit extreme, to say the least.
Me, to Mary Beth: Why the heck are people getting up and leaving so early? This is vacation! It’s not like it’s a race or anything.
MB: Yeah, I don’t get it either – we never wind up leaving before 7:30 or 8.
Me: That makes a lot more sense.
We start out, just us and a sea of thousands of other cyclists. So cool! So awesome! So…..SHIT! AAAHHH!
Yes, 300 feet into the ride, some asshole on a recumbent bike decides to meander across the street from the right - right in front of me. 300 feet. He’s very blase about it, even as I watch my heart go jumping out of my chest and skip off to dunk its toes in the kiddie pool of Missouri River water – apparently one RAGBRAI tradition is that of dunking one’s back wheel in the Missouri on day one, and the front wheel in the Mississippi when you arrive at the end – but because the Missouri is so flooded they just transferred some water into kiddie pools for dunking. Which just doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi, so I decide to skip it.
Anyway, there I was just starting out on this grand adventure, and as I have to swerve sharply to the right to not plow right into Mr. Idiot Recumbent Guy and go flying, I’m tempted to get off my bike and beat him to a pulp right then and there. Somehow, I refrain. It’s difficult.
Okay, whew, back on track, me and thousands of cyclists! Many of whom seem a little unclear on the “ride right” concept, but hey, it’s early, maybe they’re just a bit excited too. No big deal.
Eventually we make it to our first town, and I’m practically jumping up in down with glee. In fact, I am jumping up and down.
Me, poking Ann: Look at this! This tiny town of 200 people, inundated with cyclists as far as the eye can see! This is SO COOL! Who gets credit for convincing me to do this, you or Mary Beth? This is the BEST. I must take pictures of everything! Must. Take. Pictures. NOW!
Ann is a little bashful about taking credit for roping me into this most amazing awesome experience, but clearly that’s just her natural modesty coming out. Eventually we make our way through the town, after I’ve chronicled every moment on film, including taking a picture for Cori of a cyclist wearing a naughty nurse outfit, and then get going again. Damn, it’s humid today. And what the hell’s with all these hills?? Isn’t Iowa supposed to be flat?
It’s on one of those hills that I drop a chain – again – and am standing there by the side of the road trying to get it back on, which normally isn’t a problem. But it won’t go on – it’s somehow wedged into the chain ring. Damn. I keep working at it and am starting to despair, when someone pulls over on their bike. I look up, to see Mr. Tall and Handsome, framed in a halo of light, like an angel sent from on high. Okay, maybe that was the blazing sun talking, but still.
“US Air Force at your service!”
And it’s still early, so I’m not even hallucinating yet. Mr. Tall and Dapper looks at my chain for a second, tells me to shift the big chain ring, which I do….and voila! The chain goes back on easily!
Me, to US Air Force guy: Thank you! Omg, you’re my favorite person EVER!
USAFG: Happy to help. Here, let me give you a tissue to wipe your hands off..
Me: Oh, don’t worry about it, they’re so grubby from the chain grease…
USAFG: Aha, here you go, a tissue!
Me, in love: I’ll write about how wonderful you are in my blog, and then the world will know. My hero, sigh……..
He seems happy with this, so I set off again after this little love fest, where instead of the nice flat state I was expecting, it’s hill after unrelenting hill after hill. WTH?
The best town in Iowa, nay perhaps the entire world, is clearly Griswold, which is one of our pass-through towns. Why? Well, #1, the few miles that head into town are all downhill. This is a beautiful thing. Reason #2……you know, there doesn’t have to be a reason #2. That’s enough. Griswold, I love you.
The sun has been blazing in the sky for hours now. Hours. The humidity is insane. The hills, oppressive. And of course, as we bike on, the wind keeps picking up. Of course! What fresh hell is this? And this is only Day One.
It gets to the point where people are starting to look like refugees, camped out under any bit of shade under any tree anywhere. Me, I find myself getting to the top of yet another hill, then stopping to suck down water. At one point, there are a few other women standing under a little shade umbrella, and one of them sees me standing there nearby.
Her: There’s room under the umbrella if you want some shade.
They start discussing what the temperature might be.
Woman 1: The temperature gauge on my bike says 112.
Woman 2: Mine says 104.
Woman 3: Someone else said theirs read 106.
When I see Ann again, I’m going to beat the crap out of her. Whose stupid idea was this anyway?? Riding our bikes through Iowa in the last week of July. WTH?
We go through more towns, which are adorable, but in spite of my determination to try all the wacky food that RAGBRAI is known for, I’m too hot and tired to eat. That’s pretty damn hot. Eventually I see Ann again in the town of Lewis, which has at its claim to fame the world’s biggest bike sculpture.
Me, to Ann, as we’re lying in the shade along with thousands of other dehydrated, exhausted cyclists: Ann. Picture. Over there somewhere. (I wave my hand vaguely in the air.) Supposed to be a bike. Can you take?
Ann: Where’s your camera?
Me: Left it with my bike. Too……heavy………
Me: We need to start earlier, to try to beat some of this heat. This is unbearable. 5AM…no, 4:30. Yes, we’re getting up at 4:30. So it has been spoken, so it shall be done.
We finally set off again, and I find myself asking the unanswerable questions, of no one in particular:
“I was told Iowa was flat! THIS ISN”T FLAT!”
“I was promised a tailwind the whole way! West to east, people! What’s with the 30 mph headwind? WHO DO I TALK TO ABOUT THIS?”
I finally make it back to our campground in the town of Atlantic, and see Mary Beth all chipper at the pool.
Mary Beth: Hey, how’s it going? Isn’t this great? Are you having fun?
I have my face pressed against the fence, as I look at her.
Mary Beth: Why don’t you go for a swim in the pool? It’s great!
Mary Beth: It’ll be totally refreshing!
You see the pattern here. I manage to stand in line for a shower, after which I’m just as hot as I was before. I can feel the heat still radiating from my skin – though, oh, that could be the massive sunburn I have, especially on my legs. Apparently one should reapply sunscreen all day when it’s so humid that one is sweating everything off. Who knew? Ouch. Apparently I should have prepared for this ride by doing all of my riding in an oven. Again, who knew?
Dinner: 2 pretzels. That’s all I have the energy to forage up. As I attempt to go to sleep, my brilliant marketing mind comes up with a new slogan for RAGBRAI, which I believe is infinitely more accurate than anything they have now.
Welcome to Hell.