Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tour de Kota 2012 Overview

Tour de Kota or TdK was started 7 years ago as a multi day bicycle ride in South Dakota.  Its creator is Argus Leader Media, a Gannett company which also owns the Des Moines Register (Ragbrai).  According to the Rider Guide, the raison d'etre for TdK is for the celebration of "the best South Dakota has to offer--hospitality, breathtaking landscapes and never-stale weather."

Unlike Ragbrai, Tdk is not a border to border ride.  That would require the logistics to move an army and cyclists of elite endurance level.  Maybe not, but the eastern part of the state is much more bicycle friendly.  South Dakota's population resides mostly on the east, hence more towns.

The route varies from year to year.  Sometimes in a line or a loop.  Last year the overnights were at colleges and universities.  This year it was a loop.  I really like the loop idea because of the logistics.  We did not have to travel far into the state for the ride nor need to shuttle back to retrieve our truck and trailer.

6 days, 470 miles for 2012.  Nearly the same mileage of 'Brai with one less day to complete it.  Wheels spun through 3 states, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. 1 overnight in Minnesota as well.

The Riders.  For some reason we thought that there would be up to 900 riders.  550 was another number that floated around.  But this year only 350 week long riders showed up for the adventure.  Rumor had it that the numbers dropped this year because many of the overnights lacked sufficient motel accommodations.  Judging by the overnights near Sioux Falls, many people opted to stay there in motels and their homes.  We skirted around SF quite a bit.  The average age of the participants must be 55.  Quite a few retired folk.  I do not recall seeing children riding all week.

The Ride.  The route was primarily on state and county highways.  Often these roads possessed WIDE shoulders.  Rest stops and towns were scattered throughout the day.  The Rider Guide listed each stop and reported the mileage to the next stop.  Local groups would provide food and beverages for purchase at these stops.  A lunch stop was part of each day.  Usually they offered sandwiches, walking tacos and sweets.  Not all the pass through tows had convenience stores or restaurants so it was very important to always top off water and feed.

Most of the overnights were in small towns.  Camping was at parks.  Larger towns such as Watertown had motels available.  Dinner and breakfast was usually available at the campsite.  These were sponsored by local groups, Boy Scouts, churches, school groups ect.  Entertainment was available including bands and local singers.  Shuttle services for showers and dinner was provided as well.  We were able to shower every day.  We were able to have a shuttle (gator) give us a ride to a Casey's.  One local gave us a ride to Dollar General in his personal truck.  We met many kind and generous people in South Dakota. 

Support.  Billion Auto provided 2 Suburbans that pulled SAG trailers (8 to 10 bikes each) plus 2 Tahoes with bikes that could hold 3 bikes a piece.  These vehicles patrolled the route every day.  The Event Coordinator, Emily, drove her personal Honda CRV everyday.  Many riders had their personal support vehicles on route.  The SD Air National Guard pulled their government issued truck and trailer on the route every day.  Official TdK vehicles carried water for riders.  These vehicles would be stationed at predetereminred rest stops and sometimes at other locations if necessary.  The Rider Guide that each participant was given had the final sweep times of the official TdK SAG and support vehicles.  These and their drivers plus the private support vehicles did a phenomenal job of the disastrous rain day in which the majority of the riders were caught miles from nowhere in heavy rain and hail without shelter.  Majority of the riders were rescued from the highway and sagged to safety. 

Comparison to Ragbrai.  The obvious comparison is the numbers.  Tdk was up to 15,000 to 25,000 less riders and people.  Unlike 'Bria when you could meet someone and never see them again, on TdK we saw the same people every day and were able to make friends with them.  Ragbrai has much more of a festival atmosphere.  Only once or twice did we ever see Burma shave signs.  Pass through towns did not have music playing for us as we entered.  The mayor's wife was not pointing us toward the beer garden.  The early overnights seemed to keep us together away from the locals, one had to make the effort to leave camp.  As the week went on we wandered away quite a bit.

Regarding the ride, TdK is more challenging that Ragbrai.  Back to back centuries, less pass through towns and fewer people selling food and drink in between stops.  And the wind.  It is relentless.  Most of the state is flat with few trees or buildings to stop it.  One could ride 10 miles without seeing another human including other riders.

Bikes.  Most people brought road bikes.  There were a few touring bikes but none were bagged out.  I saw only 1 520 and it lacked bags.  Even the touring beasts that had front and rear racks did not have panniers on.  TdK carries up to 2 bags per rider.  Mary and I used 3 bags.  We also saw 2 tandems which seemed low as it was good tandem country.  Maybe 10 recumbents were there including one of our teammates.  So why not bring your fastest bike and haul ass??

The people seem more conservative here than in Iowa, both riders and locals.  No one cross dressed.  No big drinking ragers.  Our team from Iowa seemed to be the only ones that enjoyed a beer on the route and we did that maybe two or three times.  Most bars did not open until after we rolled through.  Although, as the week rolled on we would see other riders in the bar at the overnight and empties in the campsite the next morning.  The majority of the riders woke up and sprang to life at 430am and were asleep by 9pm.  A tire shop had a large cross inside with the words "To God Be the Glory" above it.  I spotted a yellow warning sign that said "Church".  Culture shock for us.  No naked day, no future state legislatures running across kybos, no one shoving politics or PETA down our throats.  Pleasant in a way.  If we could get them to sleep in.

Would I do TdK again??  In a heart beat.  I had a great time pushing myself to new limits on my road bike.  I did not miss the chaos of the 20K extra people of Ragbrai.

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