Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Vortex--Ragbrai 2012

Outside Breda, Iowa, on mile 70 mile solo journey toward home.

Word English Dictionary defines Vortex as any activity, situation, or way of life regarded as irresistibly engulfing.  Seems a fitting definition of The Ragbrai, for you that are not drawn into this bicycle maelstrom, Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  For those that have participated in it and love bicycling understand that during the last full week of July The Vortex tugs at the heart to draw you back into the fire one more time.

But some of feel the  pull but want to avoid the bullshit.  23010 riders were in Story City per ISP.  That is insane.  Lines 50 deep for kybos, food and water.  Imagine finding a campsite?  Good luck finding an air conditioned haven to wait out the 100F+ weather!

But how does one end the torment of the desire to Bicycle Ride Around Iowa, appease The Vortex, and avoid the bullshit?  Bagging off route.  I suppose vehicle supported off route but that brings in other bullshit that I do not want to write about now.

Having missed only 2 or 3 Ragbrais since 1991 I have seen the best and worse.  The last time I was on the route I ran over an idiot who crashed into the bike in front of him.  The time before I almost needed a Valium to deal with the herd on the route.  Extremely crowded conditions create broken bones and loss of blood even death.

Obligatory Day 1 photo .3 miles from my house.

7am Friday morning I packed the Trek 520.  Riding clothes, off bike clothes, tent, pad, sleeping bag, tools, tubes and cooler of Busch Light and ice.  Destination Jefferson, Iowa, an 80 mile ride normally.  Mary gave me a half hour head start then joined us later on her fast bike.  She escaped most of The Vortex because her job and other obligations that intervened.  We planned to meet on my return.  So the two of us met Craig and Chad in Waukee, weighed our bikes on the scale, Craig 320 lb, me 300 lb, Chad had ants in his pants and missed out,  and then we rolled on the newish trail to Dallas Center where The Vortex stopped us at The Harvest Moon.

The last 2 PBRs at The Harvest Moon.  never ever say that we have almost drank you dry of something because The Vortex will force us to complete the mission.
 Mary left before they ran out of PBR tallboys.  Afterwards 3 of us rode the county roads to Minburn and sought refuge in Mudder's.  The county road was nice and free of vehicular traffic.  We stopped for a 1 beer break in at a farm house.  I was the only one carrying because Craig suggested that if they did they'd never get out of DSM.  Mudder's was a typical small town dive.  We watched The Open.

At Mudder's
Leaving Mudder's we took the new trail section from Minburn to Perry.  So new we could see the tire marks from construction equipment.  In Perry we met up with about 50 baggers.  Some started the day before and stayed in Madrid, 35 miles from my home in Des Moines.  After hours we started drifting westward to Dawson where we watched the sun go down.  Someone took a bottle of Brut aftershave and broke it against the depot creating a stink bomb.  Then the night ride on Highway 141 to Jamaica, Iowa and the Do Drop In.  Here The Vortex was strong and many people slept in the field of this old closed high school.  A few people escaped and made it to Jefferson, a few to Cooper, a place with bad water.  Craig was too exhausted to go further so we stayed in Jamaica.  Chad lit his tiki torch and headed home until he realized how far away home was so he turned around and did not see him for almost 24 hours.  The Vortex works that way.

Dutch giving thumbs up for the night in Jamaica and the great breakfast at Tojo's
Because of the wonderful breakfast at Tojo's, everything omelet, hashbrowns and toast, we decided to head straight to Scranton and avoid Jefferson.  Short cut.  Jamie H joined us and Beaver joined us at Cooper where we saw Kramer and Walter as they were heading up the trail to Jefferson.  It rained on us for about 3 minutes and we caught up with the ambitious Jefferson riders 4 miles west of J-town.

Sam Auen leading the Jefferson ambitious riders.  My camera leading too much to the left
Normally Scranton is a quick stop.  There is only a Casey's General Store and a city park.  But today The Vortex was waiting in the form of a tavern.  Food and drinks and Metallica on the jukebox.  The Bar Fly bus pulled up, too.  It may have been suggested that this normal 1 beer stop became a 4 hour stop for some and a SAG point for others.  Jamie and I had cheeseburgers.  Craig hung out with the females of the Subtle Savages.  After acquiring a bottle of Fireball at Casey's we rolled up and out not stopping until we found the only shade tree on E57.  Here Shorty produced a big bottle of Lord Calvert.  "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad."  At least it was Canadian.

My tire was leaking air at this stop so when everyone left Craig pumped the tire since I lacked a presta adapter.  Once rolling we encountered a local who was riding 20 miles that day in preparation for an elk hunt expedition.  He led us to the Rush Inn bar renown for the busty blond woman of Russian origin.  I have heard about this place but never had a chance to stop here because usually I have underage children with me when we bike through here.

She was dressed in a low cut dress in preparation for a bachorlette party. Kramer was tempted to go with them as her husband said that we could leave our bikes here and take the bus to Breda where the party was headed.  Breda was also our destination.  She also chastised Craig for an open container outside.  "I don't see it," in a sexy Russian accent.  Craig put the can behind his back and smiled.

Next stop was less than a block away at the Downtown Tap.  But the 40 minute wait for frozen pizza had Craig and I leave Jamie in favor of Casey's pizza.  We ate it outside getting covered in grease.  While it cooked we iced up.  Two towns before Breda none of which had pubs or stores. 

Half way to Lidderdale aka Liquordale, Craig suffered a food coma.  He pulled over and fell asleep on the lawn of a farm house.  I let him sleep for 5 minutes or until the snoring started.  Revived, we rolled on.

Lidderdale has a park with tables under a metal shelter plus a gazebo.  This town also has a small convenience store or did when I rolled through here with my family.  But on this evening the park was all we had.  Craig and I took a break.  14 miles left until Breda as I would later discover on my way home.  We sat there and wondered where everyone else was when the bike lights appeared.  8 others caught up.  We stayed a bit longer and left en mass to Mount Carmel.

Mount Carmel is on the highest point of area it seems.  Not a steep hill but at night hills seem different.  We rested at the steps of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church before making the final push into Breda.  The vantage point of this town is the view to the west.   The horizon was dotted with red lights blinking in synchronization.  The wind turbine industry has grown greatly here.  Each one with its own red light to warn aircraft of its presence.  Quite a sight at night.  Off in the distance to the north were fireworks.  We had visual entertainment on the ride into Breda.

Red's was easy to find in Breda.  It was the place with all the bicycles parked inside.  Good to see everyone especially those that got a ride into town and missed the fun on the road.  Dutch shared a pizza with us and we all relaxed before heading to the park for sleep.

For my second night I did not use the tent.  I pulled the ground cloth out and put my pad and sleeping bag on it and slept in a dark area in the park.  But at dawn it sprinkled so I moved to a table in the shelter.  Not much rain.  Probably could have stayed outside.

The park is located next to a swimming pool so we had access to showers!  In the morning I took advantage of this and enjoyed an open air toilet.  Not very often one finds a shittar with a view of the sky.  Back in 2009 when I was at Philmont 99% of them were "shittars with a view" as my friend Sam called them.  But this one was a flusher.  Sam Hildreth would have been impressed.

My Brai.

The decision to flee came to me soon.  Last year Mary and rode 100 miles from Carrol to Madrid.  Breda is even further away.  I gained a day.  The text I received from Craig seemed to indicate that Perry was an overnight.  It was not.  Instead of spending a day in Breda with nothing to do why not chop that 100+ ride in 2?  Sometimes it is easy to escape The Vortex.  A day of doing nothing in Breda sounded dangerous.  I studied over the map at breakfast.

I left Breda at noon.  I had breakfast at the corner store which is hard to describe as it seemed to be part knick knack store part church rummage sale but the special was $6 and included ice cream.  Clean restroom, too.  Broasted chicken was available across the street at a BP where I iced up and purchased water.  I had a breast.  Said my good bye to Craig and headed east alone.

First stop was to apply sunscreen.  Second stop was to photograph the wind turbines.  Third stop was in Mount Carmel to call Mary.  I could not get service in Breda.  Told her the plan.  I'd try to get as close as I could.

I had a sandwich at Casey's in Gliddon.  While sitting on the curb I saw the sign.  101F at 240 pm.  At least the breeze was good.  The wind was from the southwest and fairly strong.  Going south was tough but a favorable crosswind helped on the east stretches.  Gliddon to the turn on E57 would be my last south run for quite awhile.

The road was lonely, even cars were few.  I did come across two baggers who stopped and talked.  A tandem pulling a trailer just rolled on.  But I really thought I'd see more bikers. 

Last year it was the White Pole Road.  This year the Lincoln Highway.

At Scranton I guzzled a Gatorade and reloaded my bottles and added fresh ice to the cooler.  I decided to go into Jefferson today to change up the route a bit,  Here I stopped a bar on the square where 4 touring bikes were parked.  Did not know them.  After a beer I went to Pizza Ranch.  This would be the last place to eat before tomorrow.

On the Raccoon River Valley Trail east of Jefferson
First photo of bike with newly acquired flag.  On RRVT.

Took the trail to Cooper and stopped to investigate the water situation.  It was as bad as it was last year.  Filled a cup with the hose faucet and saw chunks in the bottom of the cup.  The sink faucet did not have chunks but tasted metallic.  The garabage can was overflowing with beer cans.  Yep, baggers overnighter here.  Time to get off the trail and head to Jamaica.

What seemed like a 10 minute ride the day before was taking much too long.  I was tired when I rolled into Jamaica but was not going to stay.  Nothing open.  Dawson was my target.

141 was not as busy on a Sunday evening as it was on Friday night.  I rode on the shoulder and cars gave me a wide berth.  Kinda funny how while passing me they'd continue toward the centerline and hit the rumbles there before drifting back into their lane proper.   But no one tried to kill me.

Photo taken on our 123 mile Solid Century earlier this year.

Dawson was empty.  I stopped at the trailhead/depot and called it a day.  Assess the situation.  First, drink a bottle of fresh water from the refrigerated water fountain inside the depot.  Second, walk across the street to the pepsi machine and get a $1 Gatorade and drink that immediately.  Third, wash up.  Fourth, stare at map.  Fifth, open up 1 of the 3 remaining beers and relax.  Munch on a Powerbar and contemplate the next move.  70 miles covered.  It is dark.  Perry is 6 miles away but full of people.  Stay here.  Everything I need is here except for food.

It's a 520 thing.  I did miss taking a photo of 520 Ave outside Huxley

At 957 pm the Man With Keys arrived to lock up the place.  He asked if I needed anything.  I needed two things at this point.  The electrical outlets inside the building since my charger does not fit in the outside ones.  And I need the lights to shut off.  He was very kind and said he'd leave the place unlocked as he did for a group last night.  As for the lights, they are on a timer and go off about 230 am.  I thanked him.  Now I had permission to squat here.  I now merely needed to find a dark corner to sleep.

During my first visit here last year I thought to myself that this would be a great place to crash.  But on this visit it was still too hot to sleep inside.  Now I'd be outside more visible to people passing by.  I laid the ground cloth next to the building and a table and my bike.  Time for the last two beers.

Dawson is not quiet at night.  Many trucks traverse P46 on their way elsewhere.  Even at 11 pm on a Sunday.  Then I was startled out of my slumber by two bicyclists.  One said that there was "one here and there is one by the post office."  Don't know what they were referring to.  By the time I found my glasses they were gone.  Never did return.  It was 220 am, 10 more minutes til the lights go out.  I moved to the table and slept on top of it until almost 6 am.

It was pointless to sleep after 6 am as the town comes to life.  bikers were already using the trail wondering why this strange man had set up a homeless camp.  Mary said she was planning to leave around 630 am.  I guesstimated that we had the same distance to cover.  I wanted to meet her in Slater.  Time for a sponge bath, drink a bottle of water, final charge of the phone, pack and leave.

On the bridge over the Raccoon River.  In Iowa we name our rivers after animals, well, some rivers.

I stopped twice between Dawson and Woodward.  On the bridge over the Raccoon I applied sunscreen and took the "New York" photo.  That photo was another of a series that we started during the Solid Century.  Why someone painted "New York" on a bridge in Iowa is beyond me but it makes a cool backdrop for a photo.  Craig Lein uses it for his FB profile.  My idea.  Next stop was in Perry at Casey's for caffeine, beer, ice and a slice of breakfast pizza.  Then off to find the gravel road to Bouton, Iowa.

I was disappointed that federal grant money was not award to pave or create a trail linking Perry to the High Trestle Trail but merely paving the gravel road or making a trail beside this road to Bouton would be wonderful for those that do not relish chunky limestone roads.  I've ridden road bikes over it.  The gravel is not bad and once in Bouton there's a paved road to the trailhead in Woodward.

Not even 9 am and it is over 90F!!!!  Prospects for a dangerously hot day.

In Woodward I stopped at Casey's once again!  Noticed that they had Templeton Rye just like the one in Scranton.  Instead two of those Michelobe Ultra 19th Hole Tea&Lemonade malt beverages were added to the cooler.  I also got a bottle of cold spring water and then rolled to the trailhead for a rest and to text Mary.  I drank a beer and watched people.  Someone had a floor pump and was kind enough to let me use it.  It had been a few days and the rear tire was pumped with Craig's mini-pump.  Both tires were getting low. 

Mary was already in Polk City having a pop and chips.  12.7 miles to Slater.  She had about 7 to get there.   I rolled over the Trestle without stopping.  I rolled past the Flat Tire without thinking about beer.  And I did not stop until i saw Mary just west of Slater.  We kissed then rode to the Night Hawk's patio and discussed our options.  

Since it was 1030 and nothing was open we decided to explore the Heart of Iowa Trail which happens to begin a few blocks away.  Then we would eat somewhere.  After lunch we would head to swede Point, only 2 miles off trail, to set up camp and possibly take a shower before visiting the trestle at night.  That was my Ragbrai plan from the beginning.  Skip Webster City to see the Bridge in all its blue lighted glory at night.  But first one of those Mich Ultra teas we shared as a group of 4 road bikes with back packs rolled up.  They were on their way to Boone to intercept The Ragbrai and they brought their own vodka.  Respect.  One was from Texas and she started to bitch about the heat.  Yes, it is a hot one today.

I-35.  no trip on The Ragbrai is complete without a photo of it.  this is my first one from below.

We took the road to Huxley.  The trail is not paved.  Having been on it once I was not impressed with the surface but that may have had something to do that it was soft from the spring thaw.  The trail had to be bone dry but the road is faster and had a bike lane.  There was nothing in Huxley except for 6 childcare facilities.  Mary spotted a coffee shop but she said it looked closed.  We got on the trail now and road to Cambridge, the next town.  To make this trail safer planners made it inconvenient:  many interruption devices to prevent bikes from blowing through stop signs and getting hit by cars going to daycare facilities.  I'd rather be on the road.

Cambridge was closed, well the bar (food) was closed on Monday.  We went to the convenience store and purchased Gatorade and potato chips.  Mary was suffering from the heat.  Templeton available here, too, btw.  Asked about the next town, Maxwell, and we were told that the Kum&Go went out of business.  Time to turn around.  I was hungry.  One stop underneath I-35 and a beverage consumption.

Taking a breather underneath I-35.

Back in Slater we ate at the Night Hawk.  This is the new bar in town.  It was a nice menu.  Restrooms are clean.  Pie is on the menu.  Nice options.  Mary had the BLT special and I a southwestern burger and a $4 giant mug of Busch Light.  We tried to kill an hour here.  It was now over 100F outside. 

7 miles to Madrid.  I hate this stretch.  Boring and usually windy.  Today extremely hot.  A woman for team Butt Ice rode with us and talked enough to take my mind off the oven we were riding in.  She helped us pass the time until we reached the Flat Tire.  Time to charge phones and kill 4 hours.  Waiting for sunset.

kevin Lange.  Photo courtesy of Stretch.

Inside the Flat Tire we were introduced to 3 legends of The Ragbrai, Kevin Lange, Frank Brown and Sonny.  They entertained us for hours with their Brai and biking stories as we waited out the sun.  It was good to meet them.  frank had a stroke in may and is having speech issues.  He drives the van from bar to bar while the others ride.  Other people were here, too, on their way to The Ragbrai.  Most were aiming to Boone.  I brought my Gatorade bottle inside and filled it with water.  3 bottles of water for every beer.  I may have pissed 6 times.  But it is survival and it is too damn hot to be outside.

I think we rolled out by 6 pm.  3 more hours of sunlight.  The worst was over.  we rode to Swede Point.  I have often thought about staying here.  heard good things about it.  Found a campsite close to the showers.  I was going to take one now.  Another after getting back from the night ride to The Trestle and one in the morning.  But just like getting kicked in the nuts we were told that there was no water!  Water main broke.  Should be fixed tomorrow.  We were welcomed to stay for free.  Fuck it.  Fuck that.  Why would we stay a few miles off route without running water.  Sure there was a hydrant but SHOWERS and FLUSH toilets were the attraction.  We turned the offer down in the kindest possible way.  Besides, there was no breeze at the campsite.  Shattered we rolled back to the trestle to ponder the next move.

Sleep at the trailhead in Woodward.  Water, electricity, flush toilets.  A few meters from the trail.  Get some food in town.  Why not?  First we checked out the Whistlin' Donkey, the new bar/restaurant/campground that occupies the former trailer court across from the trailhead.  We met two of the owners.  They open in 3 weeks.  Waiting for kitchen to be finished.  No showers.  Going to build cabins.  Got a tour of "the lodge".  Nice enough.  The European hostel user in me rather see a shower house but I bet they are banking on cabin rentals and food and booze.  They said we could camp there for free.  But after setting up the tent we discovered that there was no breeze.  We left the tent up and went to Casey's.  All the other eating establishments were closed.

A large pizza and 4 Gatorades we took back to the trailhead.  Cheap, greasy, tasty and delicious.  It finally was getting dark but we were too tired to see the bridge.  Food coma maybe.  Heat exhaustion.  We spent another hour contemplating sleeping arrangements.  Too hot in the tent and the ground there is bad from trailer debris.  The trailhead has too much light and the dark areas are rocky.  Mary and I tried various tables before just putting the ground cloth down in front of the buildings and calling it a night.

One group of bikers without lights noted our presence, "there's people laying there!"  Then a woman and her son came around to collect cans and bottles.  i got up and gave her ours.  They had a Great Pyrenese like ours.  I should have told them to go to Dawson and Cooper.  Lots of cans there.  It was quiet after that.  The lights stayed on all night.

Around 6 we got up.  I was feeling quite ill, part of my sinus/ear infection that had been going on for over a week.  I moved slowly.  pack the bike then get the tent.  Drink water and visit the restroom for the 5th time.  A city employee came by and talked to us.  He was friendly and did not bitch that we squatted here last night.  He said that among their biggest expenses was toilet paper!  I think he said they spent $12K USD, 3K above budget for it.

Homeward bound.  Ride past trestle, do not stop.  Ride past Flat Tire, do not stop.  Stop at Night Hawk which happened to have the patio service running at 830 am.  Time for a Blue Moon!  The the ride to the Oasis.  We stopped at every stop sign at Sheldahl.  Mary is a teacher, not an English teacher, but we wanted to be safe.

Mary at The Oasis

From there we rode to Polk City and had Subway in the park.  Then the Neal Smith trail all the way home.  Familiar ground makes time go by quickly.  44 miles from Woodward to home.  I had 301 miles for The Ragbrai.  Great to spend time with my friends and Mary.  But good to be home.  I left that damn bike outside on the deck.  I was sick of it. 

I took Wednesday off.  Originally I planned to ride to Kellog on a rumor about an off route party.  Brad O and Clayton were to meet me.  But I had enough for a while.  Judging by the record heat, 106F and the thunderstorm that ripped through, I made the right decision.  It was a bad day on The Ragbrai.  I had broken away and was glad.

A blurry memory from Craig about meeting him Thursday and riding to The Lift to tear it up was in my head.  I had to text him to confirm.  So Thursday I rode to Slater and met him at the take Down in Slater.  then we took our time riding home.  Mission accomplished.  An extra 62 miles.  Mary joined us at the Lift.  We called it a Ragbrai and discussed next year.  Always next year, more riding, less bar time.  The Ragbrai will be here again when the earth completes it orbit.  And The Vortex will drawn us in again for another dance.

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