Pedal Another Mile

Bicycling, death, life after death.

Filtering by Category: RAGBRAI

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 :)

Monday Day 2 - Denison to Jefferson

I need to make this quick.  I'll do a better post tomorrow.  Jefferson, Iowa is interent hell.  They are so overloaded even library wifi won't work.  I have 13 minutes and counting left on one of the library desktop computers :D

Cliffs notes for today: I didn't sleep too great last night.  Never got comfortable.  As for the ride... 75 miles.  Most of the 2800+ feet of hills were in the first 50 miles, with over half in the first 20.  There was a threat of rain at mile 20 but it never materialized.  Once the majority of the hills were done at mile 50 I was happy I could take it easy for a bit... until the next 14 miles were into a 10-15mph headwind.  What a cruel joke.  I made it up the hills just fine, and as the day progressed I guess a got a little better on the descents.  They're still irrationally freaking me out.  While not sleeping last night, I think something that may be contributing to this is the major crash I witnessed directly in front of me a year ago this week.  When I have access again (which should be tomorrow- Ames is a college town after all) I'll copy my FB post about what happened.  At any rate, I made it through the day.  Most of the day was overcast with temps 60-75, but the last hour was 88 degrees.  Still nothing compared to what I've dealt with in the past.


Okay, I am likely a minute or two away from getting the boot, so until tomorrow... 

Day 0 - home to Onawa


I left the house a little before 5am after what seemed like an hour of sleep (it was probably closer to four).

The drive was uneventful and thankfully only a little over two hours. I parked, and then discovered the truck that will take the bikes across the state was about a half mile away. I had already wrapped the bike in pipe insulation so it wasn’t rideable. That’s right... I started my weeklong bicycle ride carrying my bike :D

The bus driver was hilarious (as I typed this I hoped it was hilarity and not honesty ;) )- he welcomed me on the bus while explaining to someone already on the bus that he was at the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, and was on ten hours of sleep. Since Wednesday.


just crossed the halfway point across the state and stopped at Jimmy John’s, who despite a busload of customers at once, were still freaky fast. Bus driver is still awake.


Closing in on Onawa, about 10 miles away heading north on I-29. I’m looking to the east and there’s basically a miniature mountain range running parallel to us for the past 15 minutes. It doesn’t look like there’s a break in these, so without a doubt it’ll be up and over tomorrow. Hey, at least tomorrow is a short mileage day :)

gonna have to pedal up that

gonna have to pedal up that

Rest of the day

After checking in, I dragged my two giant bags to my assigned tent in tent city:


I’m like 30 rows back. After that it was time to find my bike. I apparently walked by it twice, because I spent 20 minutes watching them unload a truck only to discover it wasn’t still in there. So after 30 minutes total I finally found it. 

After that it was time for a beer. This charter company is awesome. They give you one mug at the beginning. It’s your responsibility to keep track of it. If you do, they’ll fill it with coffee before the ride and beer after, until they run out. They went through 16 kegs today. 

After that it was time to explore the town of Onawa, population 3000.  I took a shuttle to where the action was, and found myself on the widest Main Street in America. there was live music, tons of food and drink (I had a pulled pork and coleslaw wrap). And probably a hundred vendors. And thousands of cyclists. 

the widest Main Street in America 

the widest Main Street in America 

after that I shuttled back to camp, ate a second dinner :) pulled pork sandwich, Mac and cheese, baked beans, and corn on the cob, and enjoyed a blues band that consisted of four high schoolers. They were quite talented!

The weather is SO much better than the first time I did the tent thing on RAGBRAI - low 89s and more importantly low humidity  

That will wrap up today’s post. When I get home and can sort pics better and have reliable internet, I’ll post a bunch more pics.  

Alarm is set for 5am tomorrow. I’ll pack up and then start pedalng to the Mississippi!