Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cycling Adventures, Begin Again

I've decided I would like to write about my cycling adventures. As if the whole world was just waiting for this moment, right? This blog where I am writing was where I wrote reflections about my first ever RAGBRAI, the ride across Iowa, in 2008. I was all set to do the same in 2014, as I was able to do my second RAGBRAI, but I discovered that things had changed in 6 years. There were no longer Iowa Telecomm trailers at every stop providing internet-connected laptops. That is so old-school! Now they depend on everyone having phones. So I only had a few entries.

But I am still riding! So I thought it would be fun to write about it, both from a practical here's-what-I'm-doing standpoint and sometimes with some spiritual insights that come to me while the wheels are spinning.

So here I am. This is week two of my outdoor season! It feels so good to be outside again, in nature and the elements. The time changed so that we have light until about 7pm. Plus, the temperature just flicked a switch and jumped up into the 40s and 50s. Monday even had a register of 75° on my bike computer (yes, I got temp! See the pic).

I will write more. I have ideas for my bike season that this will help me flesh out. Even if no one follows me, it will be fun to write.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


I realize now that 2 weeks has passed since I rode Ragbrai, you all have probably lost interest, if you had any in the first place. I was sorely disappointed that there weren't computers along the way to almost real-time report on what was happening. That took the wind out of my sales. And I couldn't exactly bring along a laptop. I barely could keep up with charging my cell phone.

I didn't get to tell you about Joe's Wet Shack, the semi-truck trailer converted into a very efficient shower system. Despite that, it always had a really long line. I can't go on about how I slept in a city park like a homeless person, albeit with a few hundred others, a large part of which were also sleeping.

I would be remiss if I did not report on the cherry pie situation. The first pie I had was bad. Not made well, and made my stomach upset for miles. But after the first one, I found a piece a day that were good. The churches generally had the best pie.

The overnight towns varied greatly in what was offered to you. You could just get an open field to put up your tent and hope the portapotties were fairly close by, or you could get a community college with multiple showers, outlets and computer labs, all in air conditioning. You never knew what you were going to pull into. I heard of another ride in South Dakota where your overnights were at colleges, and you got to stay in dorms. That would be fabulous. One town we set up in was right on the grounds of an elementary school, but they wouldn't open the school!

I was struck by the fact that although there around 20,000 riders, we kept seeing the same people over and over. We saw these two older guys, Jim and Roy, several different days, and camped close to them twice. Jim was amazing. He talked about how he does kayak triathalons, and he rode the optional century loop on the day we did 80 miles. His friend Roy almost dropped out at one point. They were very different. We saw several others multiple times. I felt like age was trying to catch up to me on this ride. But I'm seeing that as you age, sure you have more aches and you don't heal as quickly from muscle pulls and such, but if you make a few allowances here and there, you can still pretty much do whatever you want to do.

For me, after struggling for the first 4 days, by Thursday, I started to feel stronger. Friday's weather was epically horrible, with pelting rain, 25 mph winds mostly in your face, and temps down around 60. We were going about 8 mph for a stretch. The road conditions were bad that day as well. That made that day difficult, but after we set up camp that night, I felt fine.

Saturday was probably my best day. I actually felt the strongest that day of any. I found a few pace lines where I could draft along, and my average speed was high. That was fortunate because the hills in the last 10 miles were murderous. One hill went up very steep for quite some time. It looked like we were near the top, when we encountered a literal "cruel twist of fate." You looked to the right and realized that the hill turned right and kept going up! But it was made nicer by the fact that there was Beekman's homemade ice cream at the top.

I found the people to be quite nice on the whole. There were some people that were unbelievably obnoxious, but there always are those types. What I noticed a lot as well was incessant talkers. There was one guy we sat in a lounge with that talked nonstop. He regaled us with the story of how he lost like 400 pounds and started riding. Interesting story, but he wouldn't stop. I think he would have kept talking if we left the room. There are a lot of people that just want someone to talk to.

I would someday like to do this again. I know, however, that I need to save up a lot more money. I wouldn't take a cot, but I would like to have a nice camp chair with a back. I would also bring a separate charging stick that could fully charge my phone two times. I would bring a full-sized pillow and I would do a lot more road riding before the event, and a little less trail riding.

So there you go. I know you are disappointed to not have more detail, but times change. Laptop trailers go away, and elelctrical outlets become popular. Approaching the dip site in Guttenberg, I had tears and emotion. The week had some low points for me, and it was a relief to finish strong. The Mississippi was a welcome sight.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Day 3: The Long and Winding Road

We got up early for day 3 of riding and regretfully left Iowa Lakes Community College and Emmetsburg. In hindsight now, I realize that was the best overnight experience of the entire week. The cafeteria had great food, there were computers available, and we probably had the most fun going to the downtown area of any other town. Emmetsburg was where we got our bikes washed and lubed at the WD40 tent, saw marines hosting a pull-up bar challenge, ate good gyros, and watched a pretty good juggling show. We took off our shoes and waded into the lake to cool off. We rode on a tiny trailer pulled by a tractor, just hanging onto a sign with one hand (aka The Party Bus).

But it wasn't all fun and games there. The downtown area was very close to the college where we camped, so the live rock band sounded like it was right next door. They played energetically and loudly until midnight. At one point I even heard the lead singer say to the crowd, "So what time do you get up tomorrow? 5?" But he kept on going. Needlessly to say, I did not go to sleep until after they were done, and even then fitfully.

So all of that to start our longest mileage day. As we got going, Mark told me to look to our left across a field of corn. A large, dark weather front was looming and moving our direction. Sure enough, the winds picked up and the sun was blocked out. An angry looking storm was sweeping in from our left very quickly. I remember Mark saying, "there's no way we're going to miss this." Well, except for some wind gusts that nearly took our tires out from under us, that front did not rain on us. In fact, two more threatening waves of storm came up from our left. But all three never dropped any rain! It did put you in awe of the strength of the natural forces God has set in place.

The overnight town we were approaching slowly was Forest City. The day was tough, symbolized by the steep hill we had to climb into the town.On top of that, the way to the campsite was not clear, which would become a pattern for the next several overnight towns. They had said it would be at the base of a big wind turbine. Indeed it was, but even that was easy to miss.

We settled down between a building and a pine tree, right next to a football field. The sun was super intense, and we were spent. I threw my sleeping bag down between the tree and building in one of only patches of shade anywhere and napped hard. Mark went into his tent and crashed. He awoke later in a puddle of sweat, as our tents tended to become like microwave ovens when the sun hit them directly.

I think this may have been the hardest day. I had moments where I thought I wouldn't keep going, but somehow my legs kept pumping. A lesson in perseverance. However, the second hardest day, and a close second, was yet to come.

Monday, July 28, 2014

RAGBRAI in the Rear View Mirror

As I write this, RAGBRAI has been over for two days. Overall, I had a good experience. There were some things that made it more difficult on this, my second trip, but the feeling of riding down to the Mississippi river front with thousands of others to dip my front tire in the water is amazing.

I am posting this entry now, but my plan is to do retroactive entries for the different days. I was SORELY disappointed that there were not computers along the way so that I could update this blog everyday. Evidently the trusty Iowa Telecom laptop trailer stopped coming to ragbrai in 2011. It was only the Iowa Lakes Community College that had computers open for use, probably my favorite overnight experience on the route. So I resorted to old-fashioned note taking with paper and pencil.

So watch for more updates soon, if you care to read, starting with Day 2. I think I'll summarize each day with a BUST or BEST rating, because the days kind of either went really good, or really difficult.

I've shared a short clip shot by my friend Mark. Just proof that I was there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 1: Rough Start -- Rating: BUST

Here it is Monday and this is the first opportunity I have had to get onto a computer to make an entry! I am at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg, Iowa. They have opened up everything to use in this building.

Today's ride was about 42 miles, a short day. It was also a much better day for me. Sunday was not my best experience on a bike. I slept really poorly Saturday night. I think I woke up every hour on the hour. Just when I was settling down at about 10 or 10:30, they started a fireworks display that felt like it went on for an hour! Not easy to sleep when you have BOOM, BOOM, every 10 seconds.

Combine the lack of sleep with worries about my rear wheel, which proved to be warranted. Maybe 20-30 miles into the ride, I heard a sharp snap and knew something was up. I rolled into the overnight town with a wobble in the wheel and despairing. As soon as we could get settled, I went off on my bike to see about maybe getting a new wheel. I'd given up on replacing spokes, since I'd now had 4 break in a few months' time.

About a 1/4 mile from the tents, I came upon a shop set up on a corner all by itself. I have to tell you, the repairman, Dave, who was there with his son, was sent by God himself, I'm convinced. It was called Connecticut Yankee repairs. The guy was laid back, funny, and capable. I ended up getting a new wheel, albeit more than I wanted to spend. But now I have peace of mind and today the wheel was magnificent. I didn't realize how much that was bothering me.

Yesterday was also hard because food was not agreeing with me. I was getting fatigued and didn't know why. Even though I drank water, I think I may have been dehydrating.

There were times yesterday when I thought I wasn't going to be able to keep going. I couldn't imagine how much else could go wrong. However, I guess you keep going. I made some adjustments, got the new wheel, abandoned my cot, which was severely sagging, and slept on the ground on a sleeping bag. A shower and a good meal helped me feel a lot better. I slept really well in a very quiet campground, and today went much better.

At breakfast this morning, a guy came up to me and asked me if I lived in the Geneva area. Then he asked if I went to First Baptist and if I led worship on the stage. He had me nailed. We met Kurt and his brother Kevin and ate pancakes and sausage with them. By the way, pancakes will NOT be on my list for breakfast tomorrow. They expand!

Today was shorter mileage, but it was hot. I drank water like a fish. I think I went through my two bottles at least three times, counting on full bottle of gatorade.

I am a little encouraged, after thinking yesterday that I would never do Ragbrai ever again. Maybe there's still hope. However, it has become MUCH more expensive than when I did it 6 years ago! Every stop charges $5 or 6 for showers! The running joke between Mark and I is that everything costs $5. Do you want public water from a hose? $5 (actually that's not true, just for effect).

Well, I need to get some food into me, and it is right next door. I think the crowd is getting bigger. I'll probably have to stand in line. Again. Lines everywhere.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Faith and Spokes

If I count today, there are three days until we leave for the west coast of Iowa. With a wince on my face, I state that I am all ready to go. (???) At least I hope I'm all ready to go.

A friend we sometimes ride with had offered some energy bars, called RxBars, to us for our ride. That will be really nice to have along as a snack as we go. He had them donated to him from a charity ride he did recently. Justin and some others rode from Boston to Lake Michigan to raise funds for Wheels for Water, an organization that provides clean water for communities in Uganda. 

So that is one nice thing to have along. I have also sealed the seams of my new tent and made sure my cot fits inside. My bag is now quite distinctive with my CRAIGO logo spray painted on both sides and neon orange duct tape on the ends.

But one worry that I is related to the spokes in my rear wheel. And though it may seem silly, and if you are a person who prays to God, I would appreciate it if you would pray for my spokes. Just this year (2014), I have had 3 broken spokes. Granted, I carry a lot of weight on my bike wheel. I think there may be a dent in the frame from who knows what that is making the spokes lose their tension and either fly off or break.At this point, I don't have the time or money to replace my back wheel, so I am trying to exercise my feeble faith and trust that they will hold out. If they don't, I know there are a lot of repair resources available along the way, but you have to wait for a sag and lose miles and such, so I really don't want that to happen.

I've had more anxiety about this than is normal for me (the spoke issue, I mean). I'm trying to let go of it and just have fun, but I really don't want to break down.

Watch here for entries once we arrive in Rock Valley, Iowa!

Monday, July 7, 2014


I hope to write in this blog every day when I begin RAGBRAI, incidentally being less than 2 weeks away.

Today I feel good enough to report that I am ready for the ride. I went out with 3 other riders Saturday. We rode 67 miles.Yes, I was tired when we finished, but the soreness in my knees was more from the softball game three days before than the riding. Probably the best indicator of readiness for me is the next morning I felt like I could easily get back on the bike and go another 50, 60 or 70.

I've been frustrated with myself on the weekend rides. I have been having a hard time keeping up with the other guys. Then I realized they are averaging 16 to 17 mph over 60+ miles! There will be no need for me to do that on Ragbrai. I have always been more of a endurance athlete than anything shorter. We did our 67 mile ride in 4 hours. If I were to do that on Ragbrai, leaving at 6am, we'd be finished for the day at 10am! Ridiculous. I feel better now.