Every year when the Ragbrai route is announced I write the the overnight towns and circle them on a map and start planning my route. 2016 was no different. So many options this year, not enough time. Literally, not enough time. I wanted to ride out to the Missouri River and ride the Wabash Trace Trail and then ride back to Des Moines. But not enough time. I could not get the time off because the one person at work who cannot be gone when I was gone requested the Thursday and Friday before Ragbrai off before I did.
Plan II was to join a team and ride Ragbrai officially with bus support. We we going to go with the Road Pirates. Road bikes and fast tandem, do the entire route with wristbands and jerseys. New bus with a/c. Very tempting but Joe Hildreth talked us out of it. "You will hate to do that. You belong on empty roads bagging all your needs with us." Sorry Pirates, we always say we want to do the whole thing officially but the truth is that we enjoy the empty roads too much. So Plan III was set in effect.
Took us forever to get together to set the map. Everyone had their own needs and desire. Mary wanted to overnight at her parent's farm outside of Ottumwa. Donnie wanted to spend an overnight at the official Ragbrai stop at least once. Joe wanted to get the hell out of dodge ASAP. My only desire was to visit the Pyramids of Avery Iowa, a place I only visited once way back in 1984. It would be within striking distance of my in laws and after making that stop we'd ride to Chillicothe, Iowa, and enter the Barnyard and drink our fill of beer before calling Mary's parents to SAG us in as to avoid some treacherous hills and gravel. I told them that I could not leave until Friday after work. They agreed to wait until Friday.
My plan was to dive deep into southern Iowa and then ride back. Take some familiar roads and work ourselves to Ottumwa. But I could not figure how to intercept The Ragbrai (tm). I showed Joe my map and he said let's do this backwards and stretch Tuesday from the Lake Rathbun area to Leon where we could overnight with Ragbrai proper. Joe suggested that Eddyville be an overnight because we could get a motel and watch the drag races on Saturday. If we were ambitious we could dip into Missouri. Brilliant! Plan III approved and in motion. Now the countdown.
THE ROUTE AS PLANNED
Sunday Ottumwa (Mary's parents)
Monday Lake Rathbun area
Friday--Pleasantville 34.5 miles
The launch was almost stopped. The one person that cannot be gone when I am gone broke her kneecap in two places on the Tuesday before we were to leave. Things have been tight at work. We were down a person as it was and now two key people at the same time. Somehow my boss and his boss made it happen. They probably hate me now.
I took my trusty Trek 520 which had been sitting since October of 2014. New cassette, middle chainring, chain and rear derailleur installed plus the Vaude panniers I purchased last year for the touring tandem. Mary took her 90s vintage Specialized Crossroads hybrid with two large bags on back. My son Joe rode his Mercier Galaxy roadie with a rack and bags I installed that Wednesday. Joe H took an Specialized Diverge with front and rear panniers and his friend Nick took a Cannondale cyclocross with front and rear bags. Donnie Hildreth completed our team, The Violators, with a proper touring bike, Trek 520. I was happy to have an empty bag to use as the dedicated cooler bag.
Donnie, Joe H and Nick left Friday morning from Norwalk and Cumming while I was at work. Joe said he had to leave or he would be roped into working late Friday. Mary, Joe G and left after I got home from work and packed the 520. I had worked all week on bikes that I never got around to loading my bike. My son listened to me and was able to pack his gear in the two panniers with room to spare and purchased a cooler for his bike. Unfortunately, it was a very large cooler with a high center of gravity. Yet we made it work without incident. With the temperature closing in on 100 F we'd need it. But it looked dangerous. The corner store was our first stop for beer, ice and Gatorade. Little did we realize that Gatorade would be more valuable than beer.
|Joe and his giant cooler at the corner store loading up.|
Did I mention it was hot? Did I mention it was going to be hilly? Did I mention that I did ride my bike fully loaded before departing on our adventure? No, I did not even take it around the block for a test ride. Instead I took it to the store to add more weight, ice, beer and Gatorade. Joe, although he had been riding his bike, lacked the training miles let alone with a loaded bike. So where do we ride first? Vandalia Rd to Runnels, Iowa. Steep hills with the hot sun at our backs. I was proud that my wife and son were faster than me. I was slow, overheated and probably experiencing angina. But I made it. We all made it. The others in our group made it to Pleasantville by 4 pm or about 2 hours before we started.
At Runnels we hit the Casey's. Needed water and food. We left on highway 316. The hills were tamer now and the rail bridge that paralleled 316 was begging to become a bike bridge. It's that cool. We explored the town of Swan, not much there. Decision time, gravel or highway 5? Since it was getting dark we took the gravel.
Just as the gravel ended north of Pleasantville Joe flatted. He was with me on the final downhill and upon seeing the pavement I had renewed energy and caught up with Mary. I suggested we stop at the top of the hill and wait for Joe. We waited a long time. What I thought was his light was a mere reflection of my light off of a reflector. I sent Mary down to see if he needed help.
Joe came back on her bike. He had a blow out. I told him to wait here and rest and I went down to fix the tire. What I discovered was sickening. Tube everywhere, in the derailleur and wrapped around behind the cassette. Mary said he walked the bike until the rear wheel stopped turning then he carried the back end. I had to cut out the tube to free it from the cassette. I told her to call him so he could enjoy a beer with us while I performed surgery but her phone was on her bike up the hill. I had no service. I was also dizzy and possibly dehydrated and extremely worried that this was a Ragbrai ending incident for my son. And the insects, they swarmed us because of the lights. It was after 10 pm.
The tire was in good shape although I never found the trouble maker.I brought four tubes for just such occasion. We all had 700x32s or 35s. Compatibility rules! The first tube would not hold air. It leaked out. I thought my pump was broken. Mary's pump was on her bike up the hill with Joe. She walked up the hill to fetch it along with Joe. While she was away I tried another tube hoping that the valve was bad on the first. It was and I soon had the tire on and ready. Joe merely had to repack the giant cooler and pick up his debris field--sunglasses, helmet, water bottle ect that was strewn around the scene.
The tire held. We got to town and read the text about the location of the others. They were in the park near the high school. Apparently they got to town by 4 pm, were able to enjoy a few adult bevies, went to the swimming pool, met the mayor and set up camp under a shelter. The reflective spots on their panniers betrayed their location and we joined them, a picnic table for everyone. No shower for us.
SATURDAY--Eddyville 54 miles
|Resting in Knoxville|
The Brai routine. Stop at Casey's General Store first thing and load up on ice, Gatorade, beer and have a slice of pizza and coffee. We rode to Knoxville and took break and hit up another Casey's. Old 92 found me looking at a familiar house. It belonged to a certain Stretch Wilson. He was not home but I relieved my bladder on his weeds and rode to the corner and joined the rest of my group under a tree. The owner let us use his hose for water.
Then the hills began. We took county road T17 to highway 5 and then turned on G71 to Bussey. Long hills, hot sun. This was familiar turf, having taken the tandem on it on a long lost Ragbrai and several trips to Ottumwa on road bikes before. But road bikes eat hills and spit them out, loaded touring bikes are a bit slower and harder to climb up hills. We had to stop at another house along the road for rest, shade and water. Former coal mine. This was about the third coal mine we passed. Once in Bussey we went immediately to Wilson's Corner and ate and rehydrated. I drank an entire 1 lt bottle of water. Then the 12 or so miles of hills to highway 163. I was never so glad to see that four lane. It provided a decent shoulder to ride on and a few "bike" signs to alert drivers that bicycles use this highway as well. We stayed at the Eddyville Inn and ate at Dave's. Good food and beer. I had a Philly and others opted for the rib-eye sandwich. Joe, my son had enough and called his brother to pick him up and haul him home. We let him take the cooler. 54 miles of hills and temperatures in the 90s. He did not realize how close the rest of us were to the breaking point. No shame, we were more experienced to this abuse.
|Great food, good beer selection and jukebox|
SUNDAY--Ottumwa 26.7 miles
|Joe and I in the crypt.|
|Walk like an Egyptian|
|The weeds overrunneth|
|Our first pyramid was our best effort|
Within two miles I realized that Joe made the right decision. County Line Rd went straight up to the sky about three times. I was glad the new cassette came with a 34T. But we had to take this road to get to the turn off for Avery, Iowa. Despite my ability to climb I was not fast enough to keep up with the others. Too heavy, too weak. They waited at the turn. It was a gravel road and their was some concern about flat tires. Some of us had narrow tires, 28s, which are pretty much at their limits on paved roads under the loads we were hauling. But it was good gravel. We regrouped in the town of Avery and had our first Deliverance moment. Two local kids on bicycles road up to talk to us strangers from the big city. We asked fro directions to Hickory Grove Cemetery, the location of the pyramids, and they had no clue. One never spoke. A 400+ lb person drove by on an electric mobility chair holding a garden hoe and returned on a lawn tractor. Then the Amtrak came by at 90 mph banking the curve like it was competing in a time trial. We might get killed if we stayed too long. Don't drink the water. The kids left and returned with some sort of directions. ride out of town and take the first gravel and cross the wooded bridge. "That's all I got." It was like watched brain starved children. They need stimulus to develop. We'd see other kids out in the middle of nowhere just the same. Which is worse, video games and hunting Pokemon in the city or being outside in the country hoping strangers would stop by bring some excitement.
The pyramids are actually a mausoleum and two monuments built in 1939 by one Axel Peterson. He planned to be buried their with his best friend, Anton Heymooler. The largest of the three was where their remains were to be laid to rest. An upside down bed of a dump truck was used as the ceiling for the tomb. The final resting plans were never fulfilled but it is cool place to stop and by the amount of beer cans inside, a place to party. Peterson was said to been a great fan of ancient Egypt.
For further read click on these links or for other interesting places to visit
The Pyramids of Avery
So to prove we were no better than anyone else here, dead or alive, we sat underneath the shade of some trees and drank ourselves silly, built our own pyramid out of beer cans and Fireball shots. We did, however, clean up after ourselves. Afterwards we rolled out to Albia, dined on Mexican cuisine at a local restaurant and called for the airstrike to pick us up somewhere on old highway 34.
|The shiny parts are where the welds broke on this rack|
Before reaching the pick up site disaster struck. Still in Albia we crossed some rail tracks and passed an electrical substation. I heard a crash and Nick was lying on his back on the street. His front rack broke off and rolled underneath his front wheel bringing him to a painful quick halt. His leg and arm were bleeding but the rack was toast, totally busted at the bottom welds. Mary was able to secure his two panniers on the back of her bike, I placed his broken rack and Thermorest pad on my back rack and Donnie carried his tent. Lucky, I guess, his front fork, carbon, was not damaged albeit the metal inserts were ripped out. Joe and Donnie removed the remaining hardware. His bike was still very rideable but we worried bout the fork. A few miles later two Chevy pick ups were waiting for the extraction and we had a wonder meal at the home of Mary's parents. They live on a farm outside of Ottumwa. Showers and a/c. Her parents must have really trusted me since a rifle was next to our bed and a loaded clip on the night stand. Coyote issues Dick said. I never touched the gun or ammo.
|Our heroes, Dick and Bob McCright, SAG drivers extraordinaire!|
MONDAY--Corydon 35.5 miles
|Betty's Family Cafe. We ate here for lunch then breakfast the next day. I had a Ruben. For breakfast we had giant omelets, hash browns and toast, more than we could handle.|
|Nick's strawberry rhubarb pie|
|Cherry pie, helps with my uric acid levels which were probably rising due to beer consumption and water deprivation.|
We opted to be dropped off somewhere to save time. We wanted to get to Leon early on Tuesday. Mary's father and brother dropped us off in Moravia, Iowa, which allowed us to skip many steep hills. The weather seemed to break as it was not as hot as the previous days had been. We rolled through Iconium where the bait shop was out of business but I had to stop to fix a chain issue, Confidence where we enjoyed a bike beer, New York and Bethlehem. J18 and 22 were very nice roads with little traffic. Millerton was a disappointment but here we turned south with the tail wind and flew to Corydon, Iowa.
Donnie suggested we stay at the Nodyroc Motel which was perfect for our needs. We ate at Betty's Family Cafe for lunch and breakfast the next day. Had dinner at The Lodge, a bar on the corner of the square and ended up in front of a fire pit at the motel with the inn keeper owner. Two nights in a row with showers, a/c and beds!
Corydon was much like a recovery day for us. easy ride on smooth roads and tailwind, we ate quite a lot, visited two bars and raided a Hy Vee. A treasonable day that set us up for another easy day. After riding through God's Anvil Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning we needed this.
|Fire pit at the Nodyroc|
TUESDAY--Leon 25 miles
|Made from two pieces of steel cut and welded together back in 2014. He never said why he did this.|
25 miles of highway 2 to Leon, Iowa. Stopped to take a photo at a giant steel gorilla that a farmer built in 2014. He took the group photo and told the story of building it. Never said why he did it. But enjoys people stopping by even buses.
We got in the official overnight at 1030 am. Hy Vee was our first and really only stop. It was located between where team Kum and Go was camping and the Tall Dogs. Donnie and Joe met the former during Kandango and got along famously. They invited us to camp with them. As for the latter, the Hildreth brothers belong to that team and wanted to say hello. As for me, I parked the bike underneath the shade trees in front of Hy Vee, purchased a bag of ice, 6 of Stella, 12 of Blue Moon, planted my ass on a chair underneath said trees and heckled the incoming riders. Team Kum and Go riders drifted in and sat with us. Eventually we went to the campsite and sat around in a circle enjoying adult bevies and swapping war stories while waiting for showers. An easy day and a good day.
WEDNESDAY--Lacona 58.2 miles
|Joe Hildreth and I in Banana Man outfits. I should have wore a full size one.|
|The whole bunch!|
I awoke and found myself in a Banana Man outfit was told to wear it for 20 miles and return it to the bus. Why not? After all, Banana Man rides with Team Kum and Go. I was game and a grateful guest. Why not? I was #6. Joe also wore the costume. One gets a lot of compliments and hellos when wearing it on the route. Conversation started. Of course I got separated from my bunch. They peeled away. At Garden Grove we took them off, too hot.
Garden Grove was fun. Ran into Kathy from TdK and RASDak. Also posed vulgarly upon some old artillery at the park. Someone from the des Moines register took my photo, asked me my name and posted it on the official website. yep me, acting bad, no wristband and wearing a Tour de Kota jersey. Gotta love the Ragbrai. I was until the flat tire a few miles later but it was an easy fix and 6 people asked me if I needed help. Nope, I've tubes, a pump and a lever, now if they had a floor pump, I would have asked them to stop.
Humeston was the next stop, our last town on the official route and the place where the bus was to drop off the Banana Man outfit. The flat delayed my be perhaps a half hour. I parked my bike on the road leading out of town and walked to a bar. craft beer on one side, the side I went in. Standing there making a decision on which to purchase I heard a familiar voice. Dave, one the attorneys at work intervened to buy me a beer! How nice! Dave was the second person from Farm Bureau I saw. I bumped into another one at the Mexican restaurant in Albia who was their with her family and husband who is an agent. Small world. Beer in hand I wandered the streets looking for the Violators.
|The M-60A3 main battle tank in Humeston. Built until 1979., fast, well armed with a 105 mm cannon and great front armor. Still in service today for some nations.|
Mary was now parked near my bike. Apparently some idiot bumped into her bike while she was stopping and she and the bike fell over, her shoe still clipped in. It ruined the sole of her Keen sandal. She would not be able to clip in for the remainder of our adventure. We then went to the bus and met the rest of our group and said our farewell to Team Kum and Go.
|A few minutes later we would not be smiling|
|The Cinder Path, Humeston trailhead. There is a rail bed and ties underneath the grass. Wide tires with low pressure only.|
The Cinder Path is Iowa's first rail to trail path. I think they dumped rock over the rail ties and called it good. As for riding loaded touring bikes on it, it was a no go. rough. We needed fatter tires. The surface was a bumpy grassy path with the occasional hole created by a rotting rail tie. the vegetation surrounding the trail increased the heat and humidity. After 5 miles we opted for highway 65 which was smooth, flat and fast. We took this to highway 14 for the third time this Brai and had a nice shoulder once again for the jaunt into Chariton, Iowa. Ate at the Market Cafe and enjoined their wifi and then reloaded on beer and rum at Hy Vee for the 15 miles to Lacona, Iowa, our final stop for the day. 58 miles for our longest day.
|Water crossing. Mary almost took this road which would have been a hillish mistake.|
Some climbs and then a wonderful flat and then big hills for White Breast Creek. One could not see the town until the final curve. We stayed at the city park. Had elecricity but no water. Donnie made a few phone calls and we were able to use a hose across the street from the park. Good enough to remove road grime and clean up. Frosty's was our dining spot. It is in the former Rudi's Tacos which sat dormant forever. Tenderloin special and cold beer. Blonde Fatale mugs for $4.25! Gas station down the road for ice and tonic. In the morning we found out that if we would have made a phone call we could have used the community center for restrooms and showers. DOH!!! Next time.
THURSDAY--HOME 45.5 miles
We took turns running down to the gas station to answer Nature's call. Iced up and purchased water. S23, this was familiar ground. Basically a stop and store every 10 miles.. Milo, Indianola, Carlisle and home. The hills would not be as bad. Mary and gave Nick his bags, pad and rack back since we would be separating along the way. Nick, Joe and Donnie would turn toward Norwalk and Cumming at Indianola, we would go north on the Summerset Trail to Carlisile. We would stop for a final beer at Nick's house in Indianola. He would strip his bike of baggage and ride with the others to Cumming where his truck was. Most of us would quit at home and have someone drive us to pick up the vehicle.
The only thing to note is that some 80 year old man that they knew stopped his truck at our stop at the intersection of S23 and highway 92 to tell us that we need to be careful (bitch about bikes). He saw a motorcycle get plowed by a truck back in the day. I kept my mouth shut knowing that his time on this blue marble was very short. Then he bitched about the county and politics dropping names any chance he could.
I guess 92 was noteworthy, it was the busiest I'd ever ridden on it but we need that highway for 3 miles to reach the trail and turn to Nick's house.
Last year it was the RRVT that took us home. This year the Summerset Trail. Felt safe. Felt fantastic to be away from cars and Ragbrai riders. The miles clicked by and we decided to eat at La Villa Mexican Restaurant on School St in Carlisle. Rode there once before. It was about 11 miles from home. Those 11 miles went fast.
It was not an easy trip. Heat and hills, God'd Anvil. Strange how I had ridden these roads before yet they felt so different. Age? Wisdom? dehydration? Worrying about others? I really doubt The Ragbrai will be down here again in the next few years. But I have no regrets. I knew it would be bad but fortunately the weather changed and the hills improved.
Tried all week to meet Craig. His plans were much different let similar to ours. He made it to Leon the night we did but by that time I was resigned to the campsite and had put my phone away. Friday we contacted each other and met at AJ's on East Court. He was with Team Stray who instead of Ragbrai just drove around Iowa hitting different bike trails. Today was their easy day. We rode to Confluence together before they departed for a music fest in Guthrie Center.