Pedal Another Mile

Bicycling, death, life after death.

Day 7, the last day: Iowa City to Davenport

Well, here we are.  Day 7.  70 miles to get to the Mississippi River.  Time to get home, time to see loved ones, to sleep in a bed, to not wait in line to go to the bathroom, and for that bathroom to actually have plumbing.   

The riding weather all week has been so much better than I ever could have hoped for, and today looks to be no different. 

The last day of RAGBRAI is a strange one... it seems there is a rush to finish.  Hell, I was done before 10 am last time I did it in 2013.  At least with this year- the reason it may feel rushed is that there's almost nothing notable to talk about, at least regarding pass-through towns.  Many had very little to nothing going on.  

I decided to skip my now usual breakfast today, since I wanted one more piece of Amish pie with that wonderful ice cream.  I found them near Lone Tree, Iowa.  Today I decided on cherry pie.  Sooo good. I am really going to miss eating pie and ice cream every day :(

I continued on, only stopping for an extended period of time about an hour and a half later, it the town of Wilton.  In what was a common occurrence this week, that amount of time meant it was time to eat a full meal.  Since the salad bar wasn't an option on day 7, I opted for Dang Bros, that "wood-fired pizza in a retrofitted fire truck" vendor I posted a picture of.  I ate a delicious 10" pizza and continued on.  

Honestly, the ride was fairly uneventful.  There were some pretty big hills, but nothing I hadn't dealt with all week.  I made it through the first crazy steep and long descent of the day just fine.  According to the elevation map, I only had one more to do, and it was right at the very end.  I caught my first glimpse of the Mississippi River with about 12 or so miles to go.  The last pass-through town, Blue Grass, ignored their downtown completely and instead routed everyone through their drive-in movie grounds.  I wasn't thirsty, hungry, or anything, so I didn't stay long.  It was a long walk through the gravel lot before the pavement and the ride resumed.  10 miles to go.

At one point the route turned onto a major highway, where the right lane was reserved for cyclists.  At this point there was a bit of a tailwind and a very slight descent.  A couple of cyclists from the Air Force team passed by me at a very high rate of speed.  I decided that since my day and week were almost over, I'd try to catch them.  It took a couple of miles at 20-24 mph to catch them, and then I drafted them for a couple more miles.  It was a good 30 minutes or more of hauling ass- wayyy faster than I normally ride.  

The next thing I know, there's a resident on the side of the road clapping as everyone rides by, informing us that "it's all downhill from here!" While this was welcome news for many, it wasn't for me for two reasons - I'm really not kidding- I enjoyed going up all these hills in Iowa. The other reason was that last terrifying downhill I was expecting.  I pictured myself just losing it at the end of this epic journey, only to crash right into the river... some finish that will be!  

Turns out the descent, while over 200 feet, was at most a 4% grade in parts. Piece of cake.  I turned right off the street and into the large parking lot.  I saw Carrie waiting for me and taking pics.  It was so good to see her!!  

And then, just like that, it was over.  For the third time in eight years I had pedaled across Iowa on this thing called RAGBRAI.  The line to wait for the tire dip site was long, but moved fairly quickly.  Besides, what was one last line? It almost seemed fitting that there was a line at the end :) 

30 minutes later I dipped my front tire in the Mississippi River.  My ride was now complete.  Carrie and I grabbed a beer and a bite to eat, and then it was time to head home.  

Did I say my ride was complete?  It was almost complete :)  I didn't want to wait for the shuttle service to get me back to where my car was parked, so I decided to just bike there.  It was a couple miles away - no big deal.  Ohshit.  That's a 10-12% grade hill in front of me that goes on for blocks!!  Thankfully the signs for the parking lot had me go north a block and the west up a 8% grade instead.  

As I write this post on August 8th, this round of fundraising generated $2,596 for Stand Up to Cancer.  I am beyond thankful for all those that donated.   Since I started the Pedal Another Mile team on Stand Up to Cancer in the fall of 2010, a total of $18,558.  Simply amazing.

If you were waiting for me to finish the ride, or would like to donate, the SU2C team page is and always will be open for further donations.  I'd really love to get past that $20,000 mark at some point in the future.  Even if it means another RAGBRAI :)  Yes, for the first time after finishing one of these, I'm not saying it's my last one.  I can guarantee you it won't be next year or the year after, but don't rule out four years from now, the 50th anniversary ride. Hey, maybe I'll be over my fear of downhills by then ;)





Day 6: Sigourney to Iowa City

I finally slept through the night. No trains, no storms.  Apparently sleeping on a lumpy, non-level alfalfa field is exactly what I needed.  I woke up quite groggy this morning from sleeping so hard and when at home I usually need a shower to wake me up. Morning showers are non-existent.  As I result, I took off before sunrise, forgetting to eat anything.  Not even a banana or Clif bar. It was  51 degrees when I left, and that will wake one up quite quickly.  The sunrise over the farmland was stunning.  It's one of those memories that will be burned into my brain.  

It was quite hilly at the beginning, but hey - this is day 6, and between my preparation in the months leading up to this week, plus the 300+ miles I've already ridden in the last 5 days, they weren't bad at all.  I still can't over the fact I like going up big steep hills now :)  

In not so good news, I’m starting to get a saddle sore where my left ass cheek and thigh meet. Saddle sores are caused by friction and can be very very painful if they get out of hand.  Every time I pedal there is a tiny bit of friction, and I have pedaled tens if not hundreds of thousands of revolutions just this month.  I’ll likely be stopping in every single town to apply more chamois butt’r - a cream to reduce that friction.  I stop in the small town of Harper to do just this, and while to get a banana to hold me over until I get to my regular breakfast joint in a town down the road.

After those hills at the beginning, it is flattening out some now.  Despite the banana, I'm starving at this point, and my goto breakfast place has had signs informing me I'd be getting to them in ___ miles, in the town of Keota. When I arrived in Keota, I was surprised to be rewarded with.... a professional wrestling match. At 7:30 in the morning.  French toast and body slams.

I watched some wrestling, stuffed my face, and got back on the road.  More flatland - hey I'll take it.  There was some headwinds at this point, so I decided to jump on a pace line for several miles, not something I did much of to this point, likely because I would have screwed everyone up on downhills.  Pace lines are quite a challenge on a ride as crowded as RAGBRAI, but it was still fun.

The next town was Wellman where I was greeted with a free sample of rib on a stick. The past few days I had been eyeballing a food vendor making really good looking grilled cheese sandwiches.  They were in Wellman.  So was the salad bar, and I still hadn't satiated my veggie craving, so I got both.  90 minutes after that giant breakfast.  I can't believe how much I'm eating.  More on that in a future post.  Leaving Wellman required going up a hill that was an 8% grade out of town.  It was SO crowded that this had to be done on foot - everyone else was walking - no lanes to pedal up at all.  I am not counting this as having to walk up a hill - I had no choice.

This day was great so far - I was stopping for extended periods of time in these towns, really taking it all in.  It was 71 degrees and just a gorgeous day.  It wasn't forecast to get much warmer. What a great day for biking, and I had no time restraints, nowhere to be.  I just needed to be in Iowa City before dark- that's it.

The next town was Kalona, where I stopped again, and in this town I actually had a beer at the local brewery, Kalona Brewing Company.  Kalona is in Iowa's Amish country, as roadside signs pointed out to be alert for horse and buggies.  I did see one, but couldn't get a pic as I was trying yet again to not shit myself while barreling down a hill at high speed.

After Kalona came the town of Riverside, Iowa.  Star Trek fans know this town. Apparently, Captain Kirk will be born here in a couple hundred years.  I ventured off-route to get a pic of the birthplace for my friends who are fans, and moved on.

The next town on the route map was named Hills. Oh great, this is going to be fun.  So many you name the town after them!  There were tons of them, but as a local told me when I stopped at a gas station for a soda, that wasn't the town of Hills.  Hills is flat- not one hill in town. It was actually named after the family who founded the town, not the grueling rollers just outside of town. 

After hills it was on to the overnight town, or more accurately, city.  Iowa City was about 10 miles away.  It was headwinds the whole way, but I didn't care at all.  This will go down as quite likely my favorite day ever on a bicycle.  I now see how people will literally take 10 hours every day to get to the next overnight town.  I don't understand the drinking all the way part, or doing this if it was 98 degrees out like in 2011, but on a day like this I totally see the attraction.

Throughout today I had heard from local cyclists that I needed to make a point of stopping at Big Grove Brewery once in Iowa City.  Arriving in Iowa City, car traffic picked up considerably, and I approached an intersection where the right lane was packed with bikes waiting for a red light. I stopped, and the guy in front of me pointed to a building across the street and told everyone within listening distance that we needed to stop at the brewery just past that building.  I figured it had to be Big Grove.  It was.  What an AWESOME place this was.  Huge inside, HUGE outside, great food, great beer.  I spent hours here.  I still had no idea how far camp was, so my ride for the day wasn't officially over.  No matter - it was not somewhere I wanted to leave too soon.  I could have stayed there all night, but then I'd have to figure out where camp was in the dark, drunk, and on a bicycle with no headlight.  After a few hours I decided it was time to finish my ride and get out of my cycling clothes and get a shower.

Of course I missed a turn leaving the brewery, and added 3-4 extra miles to my day before finding camp.  I showered and decided to go downtown and check out everything.  I was waiting for a shuttle when a couple of guys informed me they were waiting for an Uber and had an empty seat to which I was welcome.  They simply wanted me to do the same for someone if I happened to take an Uber back to camp.  I walked around for a bit, took some pics, and sought out a local beer.  I was getting hungry and I knew dinner was soon so I decided to head back to camp.  There wasn't a shuttle in sight, so I opted for an Uber.  I found a couple of people headed to the same camp and invited them along.

The final dinner in camp was pretty good.  I ate it while watching the band.  At one point the charter owners got on stage and led a group sing-a-long of a RAGBRAI version of the song Hallelujah, with lyrics that are actually quite accurate.

After dinner I decided to head back downtown.  I took a shuttle this time, watched soe bands, and wandered the streets and bars of Iowa City for several hours.  It was now close to 10pm and I was tired. The last day was 70 miles, so I decided it was time to get back to camp and get some sleep.  What a great day overall :) 

Day 5: Newton to Sigourney

Note: Since I had very spotty internet access for much of the ride I took notes as I took breaks in town, using the iPhone's 'Notes' app, which doesn't require a data connection.  I'll copy and paste it here, and actually add some pics:

I was hoping the extra mileage at the end yesterday would cut off the mileage tag the beginning of today. Nope. 

I stopped in the first town, Reasoner, population 190, for breakfast. If what I’ve gotten 3 out of the first 4 days is working, why change now? While in Reasoner eating that breakfast I finally caught a glimpse of the elusive penny-farthing guy. If you're not familiar, those are the 1900s bicycles with the giant front wheel and tiny rear wheel.  He wasn't riding it, as he was in town as well, but at least I saw him.

Highs are only supposed to be in the 70s. Supposed to be windy but I think most of the day it’s supposed to be tailwind. 

Took several miles for my handlebars to dry out. Man it poured last night. I’m sleepy despite two coffees and a caffeine water additive, but started feeling good on the bike at mile 10. 

I didn’t stop in the town of Sully - bathroom lines were too long and the next town was only 3 miles away. Just outside Sully I rode behind a guy towing a dog in a buggy. He kept switching from one side of the rear wheel to the other, looking like he was having a great time.  His human was promoting a pet rescue, and I learned that Storm the dog has his own Facebook page!

That next town, Lynnville, didn’t have anything going on, except for a small tent at the beginning of town. It was 14 miles to the next town. I pushed on to there. What a beautiful area. Hilly, but also a recreational lake with boats, jet skis, shoreside homes, and a campground. It’s called Lake Ponderosa, just outside Montezuma. 

I stopped in Montezuma and got a salad from the only salad bar vendor on the trip. I was craving and sorely lacking veggies. I eat like a pound of them a day and have had barely any since last Friday. I ate in the town square.  It seems every small town has a courthouse or city hall surrounded by green space and then businesses on all sides, branching out to residential from there. I was in the shade of the courthouse and the 20mph north wind literally had me freezing my ass off. Unheard of in my experience on this late July ride across Iowa. 

After Montezuma came the shittiest road so far.  Not sure of the road name, it was a two lane hilly road that lead to the town of Keswick. Blame could be squarely placed on the county, because once we got into the next county everything was smooth. Shitty roads are one thing. Shitty roads down 6-8% hills when I’m a neurotic ass are a whole different thing. So many potholes and cracks, and of course this worst stretch of road yet was roller coaster land. 6-8% grade up, 6-8% grade down.  Not good for my confidence, which I’ve been doing okay with. I tense up, and despite all the hill climbing, it’s not my legs that hurt, it’s my left shoulder, the one I landed on in my crash last month. I know it’s because I’m not relaxed when in the handlebar drops going down steep hills. I tense up and as a result feel every crack and bump, all the way down.  I know I can get through the last two days. I’ve already gotten through five of them.  I stop at the top of the last shittiest hill, where Mr Medicine Man and his pickle juice shots are waiting for me. I also need to pee, so I followed RAGBRAI tradition and used the biggest bathroom in the world... Iowa’s cornfields. 

I got into the overnight town of Sigourney, found camp, showered, and walked the six blocks to town square. Way better than having to do the 3+ miles yesterday. All these town squares have a courthouse with shaded grounds around them.  I grabbed a beer and took a short nap under a tree. 

I’m getting some very impressive tan lines, and so far the only sunburn I have is my nose and my lips. 

Camp is in an alfalfa field. Lumpy as shit and very unlevel. This is likely another night with no sleep.  It was a lousy site selection, but it must be hard for number of people they have. They serve like 10-15% of the registered riders on RAGBRAI... well over 1,000. It’s a ridiculously huge organization. Sigourney literally makes my phone say no service.  It’s not even teasing me with a promise of LTE, 3g, or even 1x only to not work - it just says 'No Service'. Despite these less than ideal conditions, the weather is absolutely perfect. 

Church food for dinner tonight. We were on church grounds.  Beef and noodles and canned green beans. I chucked that evil green bean bullshit immediately. The beef and noodles weren’t much better but after 75 miles and 3000 feet of hills I would have eaten anything. 

The band in camp was good. They’ve been great all week. Most seem to be out of Omaha, which makes sense since the charter is from Council Bluffs, right across the river.  The band finished, the kegs ran dry, and the sun set below the horizon.  Time for bed. Please let me sleep tonight. Please!


Wednesday Day 4: Ames to Newton

I met Shawn and Joe a mile or so into the ride, and we took off for Newton.

We got to the town of Colo, which is named after a dog. When I overheard another cyclist pressing the local historian for more information about the dog, the response was “we know he was a black dog...” Classic!

I got a church-lady-made cinnamon roll, only to discover my go-to for breakfast was also in Colo. So I ate them about 8 minutes apart. Jesus.

Colo was likely a skinny dog, because the streets sure were. The bottleneck of RAGBRAI riders was unreal. It was clogged.

We stopped in Baxter for lunch, where I had probably the best pulled pork sandwich yet this week. The cole slaw was just as good.

The last 12 miles into Baxter were just rolling hills, one after the other after the other. For the first time in this ride there was a lot of vehicular traffic. Roads are open to vehicles during RAGBRAI, but they are an extreme rarity. There’s an occasional oncoming vehicle, but almost never one dumb enough to go the same direction as all of these bicycles, especially up 8% grades half a mile long. Until today. Despite the grueling hills, the surrounding landscape was jaw-dropping gorgeous. Hills, valleys, fields, trees... it was hard to keep my eyes off of it. That’s easier to do going up the hills than down :)

While the hills were dealing us an ass-kicking, the weather was merciful. It was about 80 and overcast. 95 and sun would have killed me.

Today I did much better on descents. I also did really well on climbs. I can’t believe I look forward to the next hill now!!!

We finished in Newton, said our goodbyes, and I set off in search of camp. I followed the signs. And followed the signs. And more of the same. Camp ended up being three miles outside of town.

I was really exhausted and fell asleep by 9:45. At about 10:30 a nasty thunderstorm woke me up from a deep sleep. By the tent ceiling I have snacking me in the face because the wind caved the whole side and roof of the tent downward.

I got back to sleep near midnight once it was evident I wasn’t going to be sucked up in a tornado or struck by lightning.

Tuesday Day 3: Jefferson to Ames

After the train bullshit it was time to say farewell to Jefferson, Iowa forever. I didn’t wait for coffee, I didn’t wait for a banana... I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. So badly that I didn’t even eat a clif bar, of which I have plenty. I literally left on an empty stomach.

The first town we passed through, Grand Junction, didn’t get the memo - there was NOTHING.  Okay, I guess breakfast could wait for the next town, Dana. Dana is a town that appears to be so small that it’s population could very well be... Dana. Didn’t matter- my go-to RAGBRAI breakfast place was in Dana. I discovered that instead of just trying getting the breakfast bowl as I did on Sunday, for $2 more I could get that AND apple cinnamon nut French toast with strawberries and whipped cream. Hell yeah.

Finally having some fuel, I took off for the next town of Ogden. Between Dana and Ogden exists the largest windpower farm I’ve ever seen. It went on for miles and miles. There’s something so damn cool about those things. Ogden was pretty crowded. I stopped for a bathroom break and to refill my water bottles and went on.

I stopped briefly in the town of Boone. It had been almost four days since I had a Coke Zero and there was a gas station right there. Man, that tasted good.

I left Boone and then spent about five miles in bicycle heaven. Slight downward grade to the road, a strong tailwind, and perfect road- not a crack or pothole the whole way. It was awesome. Of course it wouldn’t last and the tailwind was gone for the day.

After some more miles of headwind I saw the same roadside tent as yesterday and stopped again for another banana and shot of pickle juice.

Before I knew it I was in Ames and approaching Iowa State’s football stadium. This was where the ride ended for the day, but not in the parking lot. They directed us to take a right and then we went through a tunnel and were actually on the field, doing a loop around. Pretty cool way to end a day’s ride.

I got back into camp, showered/changed, and then rode back to the stadium to meet Billy Jo’s cousin Shawn and her husband Joe, who live near Ames and did the ride for the day as well. We rode into the downtown area together and grabbed drinks at a local brewery with maybe the worst service I’d ever experienced. We then went to there house where I got to pet their goats and we had a great dinner and some drinks. Shawn drove me back to camp and I  almost immediately passed out - exhausted. I woke up freezing so I got into the sleeping bag. Hours later I was drenched with sweat. I decided to just open it up as a blanket if needed for the rest of the trip. The things I’m learning about tent life :)

Day 2 full post

Monday Day 2 - Denison to Jefferson

(I typed this over several sessions)

As I sit waiting for either the band to start or dinner to be served, I figured I’d type out a proper post on the notes app, which thankfully doesn’t require internet access, because Jefferson Iowa has none of it. Everyone here has 0.000000001% share of the available bandwidth, which means no one is getting shit in terms of access. I’m not sure it was this bad in any town in 2011! It’s remarkable. Even the library WiFi was useless. The staff was super friendly and they gave out free popcorn and water, so it’s hard to complain. They did have desktop computers with a strict 15 minute time limit, which is why there was an abbreviated post in the first place. And it was air conditioned. I haven’t been in A/C since I got out of my car Saturday morning (the bus A/C was on the fritz - it kinda worked up front by me but mostly it didn’t).

So let’s get to the day. Last night I didn’t sleep well at all. My sleeping pad sucks. I was hot, then cold, then hot. I was up pretty much every hour, and at 2:00 I even contemplated just saying screw it and throwing a headlight on my bike and going. I contemplated it for half a second. I’m having mental issues with downhills above 25 mph. Can you imagine how bad it would be in the dark? Holy shit.

So I got on the road a little after 6am. There was an immediate 200 ft drop in elevation as soon as we left the camp. Right through the residential neighborhood. Lovely! How the hell do these people go anywhere in the winter?!? Brakes are useless during an ice or sleet storm.

A metric shit ton of climbing followed. This ride was listed as 71.7 miles with 2527 feet of climb. Half the climb was in the first third of mileage. Most of it was done by mile 50. The first pass-through town wasn’t even until mile 19. The Iowa state trooper told us it was a mile to the left or go straight for the town of Manning, 4 miles away. I had 4 miles left in the tank, so I opted to skip that first town. It was called Aspinburg, I think. I stopped in Manning for breakfast. Three giant pancakes with scrambled eggs and sausage. It was a free will offering,and it appeared $5 was the going rate. Not bad. The weather coming into Manning looked pretty bleak. I could see rain shafts in the distance. How far away that was, I have no idea. It seems like in hilly Iowa you can see forever.

I figured if I booked it I could make it to the next town and at least if was raining it was a bigger town with things to do, mainly a distillery offering tours. By the time I made it to Templeton, any threat of rain was gone.

With about 20-25 miles to go, 95% of the hills were done. I looked forward to a ride more like the ones at home. Flat. Then the route turned north into a 10-15 mph headwind for 14 miles. Couldn’t catch a break!

About 10 miles into that headwind my legs were toast. I approached a roadside tent selling bananas and Gatorade. It also had shade, so I decided to rest for a few minutes. They also had free pickle juice shots. Between that and the banana and a 10 minute break all the cramping was gone and I continued on. Pickle juice works- it’s not a fad!!  A theme for today seemed to be crazy steep climbs into towns. One of them was at least a 10% grade. I wouldn’t want to leave that town in an ice storm, that’s for sure.

I got into Jefferson and discovered that there was no cell service to speak of. I thought maybe it was just by the campground, so I showered and got ready to take the free shuttle downtown. Surely the service had to be better there.

For the first time in my experience, a RAGBRAI overnight town charged $2 for the shuttle. They also stamped your hand with ink that disappears when in contact with sweat.

I got downtown and there was no cell service there either. (You know this because I bitched about it in the first paragraph :) ) what I didn’t mention is that the chamber of commerce put flyers in the porta potties with 10 reasons to move to Jefferson. One of them was that every home and business had fiber optic cable right up to the building. Oh really? And such a “connected town” couldn’t utilize that in any way possible for 30 hours, max?

Enough bitching about lack of internet and shuttle fees... let’s get to the trains. Holy shit, the trains. There had to be multiple tracks within 500 feet of the campground. Especially after 10pm, those trains ran by every 8-12 minutes.  They started blowing their horn a half mile before town, all the way through town, and a half mile after. Sleep was impossible.

That’s enough day two. I’m on day four in a town that doesn’t have very good cell service either. It’s a common theme in rural Iowa :)

Day 2 pics are up on my Facebook and marked for public viewing (search for Dave Brink)- no way can I post them from here. I’ll do that when I’m back home.