500 miles in 7 days of riding. North this year. Although there were many towns and roads that we traveled to for the first time there were a lot of familiar areas and old ghosts on this ride. Is this where we wanted to ride? Hell yes! Northern Iowa is flat, full of towns and places to visit. This adventure would not be the hot hilly hell, Satan's Anvil, as last years trip to southern Iowa.
Essentially, we rode from home to the Okoboji lake area and back.
Day 1 Des Moines to Jefferson
Day 2 Jefferson to Laurens
Day 3 Laurens to Milford
Day 4 Explore Okoboji area
Day 5 Okoboji to Algona
Day 6 Algona to Brushy Creek State Park
Day 7 Brushy Creek State Park to home
We all are all our veterans of riding out to the Ragbrai unsupported. We all have done this together a few times as well.
|Dave Humes and Sally Spencer with Dave's flat tire.|
Tuesday was a long day at work despite leaving early. On my way home from work I came across two familiar figures pulling over on the trail. Sally Spenser and David Humes. Humes just had a flat. I tried to help him as he was struggling. No joy. He had filled his tires with Stams to prevent flats and now the tire, tube and wheel were coated with the greasy substance. Dave strapped the wheel on Sally's bike and sent her off to Rasmussen's Bike Shop for them to fix it while we drank beer. Rassy's said it was a pinch flat.
Day 1 Jefferson 66 miles Break Out
Pass through towns:
Wednesday morning we met at Colby Park at 8 am. Everyone was on time. It would be an easy ride to Jefferson. Our destination was the the Super 8 motel. Climbing the sidepath along Hickman we noticed that the sky was black so we sought shelter in Saint's beer patio. They were not open so we redistributed our loads. The rain was hard but it was a quick hitter and we soon were rolling north west toward Dallas Center. Once again we ran into Dave and Sally who were just leaving their overnight in Dallas Center. We would see them again at Cooper and in Jefferson. The funny thing is that they beat us to Jefferson because Dave ran out of beer and did not stop at the bridge like we did. Dinner was at the Mexican restaurant down the road from the Super 8.
|At Saints in Waukee watching the sky turn black.|
|Joe in yellow and Donnie in red.|
High light of the day was when Stacy Bellcock and his son spotted us at in Jamaica and bought us a round of beer. "I thought I'd catch you along the way somewhere." Stacy and his fellow Team Stray riders were skipping the Ragbrai and focusing on Des Moines metro trails instead.
|Stacy and Ryan Bellcock in white shirts. Bartender decided to get in the photo. Tojo's. We hit both bars in Jamaica, Iowa.|
|Dave Humes in Cooper, Iowa.|
|Some Road Pirates in Cooper, Iowa.|
Day 2 Laurens 86 miles Work Day
Pass through towns:
|Three Trek 520s and their pilots (me, Craig and Donnie) at 520th Street|
|Craig, Kentucky Jim and Nick at the Silver Dollar Saloon, Laurens, Iowa.|
|The Busch Light Trifecta--All three forms can, draft and bottle. Must be purchased and drank in one sitting. Silver Dollar Saloon, Laurens, Iowa.|
This was what we call a "working day." That means that it is a long day of riding with fewer beer stops. It was also a hot day. The sweating started as soon as we stepped out of the motel. An hour into riding we were soaked in sweat. A few hours later sweat would be rolling down our heads and into our mouths. Because of the heat it because the race to whatever convenience store was around in the pass through towns. Our timing was poor because we were too early for the bars to be open. One convenience store allowed us to sit inside and drink the beer that we had purchased there. I was riding particularly strong and really hit my game during the last 10 miles of the day.
Laurens was a great overnight. We stayed at the wonderful Lodge Inn located in downtown. it was on the same block as 2 pubs and a Pizza Ranch. In the morning we walked down the block to a bakery/cafe and had breakfast. The Pizza Ranch was gracious enough to allow us to eat there when they were closing. They even gave us a pizza to go! At the bars we met a group of bikers from Iowa City who were also riding to Ragbrai. Some were from out of state such as Kentucky Jim who our friends knew.
It was in Laurens that I really came to appreciate what my bicycle does. Since our room was on the second floor I had to remove the bags and make two trips. My Trek 520 felt like a road bike without the panniers. Carrying all four bags in one trip was tough. For that matter, it was the most physically demanding thing I did that week. I carry too much stuff!
|Joe and nick felt the need to wear their helmets at the lake. Safety First!!|
Highlight of the day was our lunch stop in Twin Lakes at the grocery store/grill. this was Craig's idea. He discovered this place on Google Maps. Although we were there at the gold course for the off route party in 2015 we missed the grill. I had the tenderloin. Warning, do not use the restroom after Craig and Donnie.
Day 3 Milford 57 miles Rain, Lakes and Mistakes
Pass through towns:
|The view outside our hotel window, Lodge Inn, Laurens, Iowa. Rain delay 1.|
Rain, lakes and mistakes. Our normal early start was delayed a few hours because of rain. And when we finally rolled out of town we merely caught back up with the rain in Ayrshire and thus spent another hour or two in the park shelter. My brand new Schwabe Marathon Supreme suddenly exploded during this stop. Something in the grass cut through the tire's sidewall causing the tube to expand through the hole. A ride ending catastrophe. Wasted a patch trying to fix it but the tube pushed the patch out the gash too! Fortunately, Craig had a spare tire that fit and I was able to complete my journey. My friends told me to go on Twitter and post a photo and bitch and maybe they'd replace it.
We stopped at the gas station near the park for beer and ice since our two our session lowered our cooler levels. The person running the place was at least 85 years old and was having trouble with the cash register since the lightning cut power for a bit. Then I confused him more for asking for ice. They had an ice cooler but it was completely empty. He then produced a large bowl of ice and I gave him a dollar and returned the bowl. The next day the Ragbrai would invade Ayrshire with its 20,000+ horde. This gas station would be over ran. I hoped they would lock the doors and board the windows because they were not prepared.
Once resumed on the ride we rode by Silver Lake, Mud Lake and Trumball Lake. Our group got disconnected. Craig fell behind because he dared to stop for photos, Mary's bike was having mechanical issues and I turned the wrong way on county road B17 and Joe, Donnie and Nick were in a hurry to get to the overnight as we were staying at Tim and Julie Fairchild's home in Milford. We met Tim during our South Dakota and have wanted to ride to his place ever since we met him in 2012. We should have been there by 3 pm but 5 hours of rain delay placed us there just before 8 pm. Tim and Julie were gracious hosts and grilled burgers for us. Unfortunately I failed to get a photo of them and their beautiful grandchildren.
|Our oasis in Ruthven, Iowa|
|Scored a double GeoCouch in Ruthven!|
The highlight of the day was Ruthven. Here we found Bully's Bar & Grill. though we were late for lunch they baked two large pizzas for us. Beer was cheap and the atmosphere was great. I also scored a double GeoCouch in this town.
Day 4 Okoboji 43 miles Heaven and Hell
|Last photo of Craig before we parted.|
Although I was disappointed that we did not go out on the town when we got to Milford the next day I was glad we stayed in. Despite having maps of Okoboji and access to Google Maps Okoboji is a confusing place to ride. First we went toward Arnolds Park to visit the bicycle shop. The bike route is a sidepath along highway 71 and often crosses the highway and is poorly marked. Every car we did not encounter on our journey to this area was here now. Busy road because we hit it during peak tourist season. If you are an affluent white, like the lake scene and own a car, mostly SUVs, this is the place for you. If you meet the above criteria and have excessive cash flow then you build a dacha along the many lakes the area has. If you don't have enough money for the lake house the you drive an RV or pull a camper.
Despite this, we made it to the bike shop and looked around. Craig called it a Ragbrai here and was meeting Kim somewhere where she'd pick him up for the trip back to Des Moines. I really wish he could have hung on until the next day.
After parting the 5 of us set off to ride around the West Okoboji Lake. We hit a dead end immediately and someone that looked like Cousin Eddy in a black Chevy pick up showed us the way. I stopped to put my sunglasses on and the others disappear. Mary sensed this and turned around. We regrouped at a marina area and drank a beer before setting off and loosing each other again. Mary and I somehow made it to the other side of the lake and drank another beer at Pikes Point. Mary and I discovered that the recent triathlon had kindly spray painted the roads with direction. We found this very, very useful. We still had to rely on paper maps and Google Maps. Somehow we discovered the trail to Spirit Lake, which also was the trail to Tim's house. Thus, if we set out for West-O Beer, less than a mile and half from Tim and Julie's, we would have to call him for a ride home not even making it to the brewery.
|Raisin pie part of the All American--burger, pie and Coke.|
The town of Spirit Lake was our laundry destination. When we got there we found it right away and waved at our three friends but rolled on to find a restaurant. We stopped at a bar that had a sign that said bicycle friendly but they had no food. The bartender said that we should go across the street to the Family Diner although they would close in 10 minutes. Notice a theme? Places close early or open late. We made it in time and Mary had a huge bacon cheese burger and I the All American--burger, pie and Coke. Very, very good. Pie came first, a sour cream raisin pie. Now to do laundry.
Decision time. Our lake house plan fell through. The owners stayed in DSM due to a sick child. Tim's house would be flooded with Ragbrai riders from his team. We needed to find a campground for a night in tents. I suggested we just cut our losses and head out of town toward Algona. All of us had seen enough, got the clue and were a little pissed at the traffic and lack of spelled out bike route markers/signs. Guess what? No motel rooms available in places that we could have ridden to. Also Fort Defiance Park lacked showers. Yeah, we like showering, Joe's prerequisite. We would have to find a campsite in Okoboji. There are many. Its seems a bit weird that camping is available in such an urban setting but we found one.
|So I give the barkeep four of these and got charged ZERO per pint. Then I paid for two more since we were out of these. We also purchased a pint glass and managed to bring it home safely. Three days in my bags without breaking. Skills!|
And we laughed our asses off when we found it. First we had to ride to it but I was more concerned about finding West-O Beer. But we found one. It was where we rode by and turned around earlier in the day thinking we were no longer on the bike route. Full circle in Arnolds Park. Seems like we've been here before. We claimed a spot by people who had a huge truck or two, Harley's and a huge trailer and a few dogs a C H I L D. I had to warn my friends not say "fuck" around a C H I L D lest you end up on a list. Our neighbors were fine. A young couple came up to our spot and said they were amazed that we carried so much stuff on our bikes that could not believe we hauled it all there. But we did. Normal activity. "Can you give us a ride to West-O? I've beer tokens?" I asked them. They said they would if someone would be sober enough to drive back. This fell through and Mary and rode the 6 mile round trip to West-O Beer by ourselves passing the place where we had to pull out paper maps and Google to figure where the hell we were and where we were going. Our 3 amigos decided to walk to concert in Arnolds Park with the young couple instead. Apparently, that couple was busy consummating their relationship and did not go.
|Best tree house ever. Named "shipwrecked" by the builder. He did not allow us to sleep in it due to insurance...|
|The captain's wheel is actually a stain glass window.|
|Donnie, in red, Nick and Joe made shelters out of tarps. Worked well against dew but not against mosquitoes. Of note, the Buick in the background and the tent belong to the young woman and her Manc boyfriend.|
Heaven or Hell Okoboji can give you. Suddenly it all made sense. This was party town. Just need to have a reason to be here. Riding a bicycle for the sake of riding a bicycle is not the reason unless you had the time and patience to learn the trail system. We did not. we wanted to see everything in one fell swoop. Tim gave us 4 tokens for $3 pints at the brewery and it turned out to be free beer for us. We did purchase two more and a pint glass to take home. A gentleman from Perry was at the brewery and we talked to him for quite a bit comparing the breweries of Iowa. About closing time, 10 pm, we left for our tent.
Food first. Back on the highway 71 sidepath. The concert was still going and fireworks were exploding. Ate at the Jimmy Johns located with the Boondocks gas station. JJ's closes at 3 am! A text arrived, "meet at the Pair-A-Dice tavern. Joe, Nick and Donnie were there and the place was packed with drunken karaoke people. Some of us were in prime form. The 5 of us were happy with the decision to stay in Okoboji. It felt like Ragbrai proper.
"I WOULD NOT DO THAT I AM PACKIN'!" Or armed, I don't remember but my empty threat of lead poisoning was enough to deter whatever mischief was intended.
"It's just a piece of paper!"
No one messed with us again but I slept like crap anyway.
Day 5 Algona 75 miles Favorable Winds and the Food Desert
Pass though towns:
|Bridge in Algona.|
Sunday morning traffic was light. The only people driving were on their way for golfing. Everyone else was sleeping off Saturday night's drinking. Breakfast was served at a small cafe on 71. I had the 'boji omelet in my habit of ordering items named after the city or establishment. It was huge and had everything. Little did I know every morsel of it would be needed. Final beer, water, Gatorade and ice at the Boondocks, our 3rd visit now a running joke. Consult the Google to figure out how to get out of town.
A lot of this ride was the same as the ride Mary and I did from Primghar to Ringsted back in 2005. The bus broke down in Le Mars and Mary and spent two days of riding in the same clothes on the fast tandem. Rode through rain on the way to Ringsted. Now we saw it dry, literally. I recall seeing the cemetery that we ducked out the rain in, and the signs along the trees at the park. this time no heated rain water splashing against our legs.
|The pub in Wallingford.|
|This is what Joe looked like after the evening at the Pair-A-Dice Tavern! Found this in Wallingford.|
Nothing in Wallingford but the pub that had cookies and beer, a dank small and poor lighting. Ringsted was worse. Now it was getting hot and the building that was labeled "cafe" was antique shop. Everything was closed. Our Mystery Machine teammate Mikey lives there but I forgot where exactly and did not have his phone number. Locals kept telling us to go to Armstrong but that would have been a 14 mile off route for food. Bancroft was the next chance. Nothing open there but the gas station. Well stocked gas station thankfully. In a shell, 55 miles without purchasing food or drink. Those 28 PowerBars I packed came in handy. Glad I packed two quarts of Gatorade at the BoonDocks.
While this made us a bit worried it was a nice day. Favorable winds a few lakes to look at. We stopped at High Lake and watched two men harvest the legs off bullfrogs. Disgusting but animal protein just does not hop on your plate by itself! My joke after realizing that we would not be able to purchase food up here is that people were so damn disparate for food that they resorted to eating frogs.
|Abandoned farm structure.|
|Donnie and Mary|
Highlight of the day was the wind. Out of the northwest we were pushed all the way to Algona. We managed to ride together as a group. Had a beer break in the town of Burt and then flew to Algona at 20 mph on the shoulder of highway 169. Found two other baggers who were separated, one at the bar and the other lost downtown and on the phone bitching at the one at the bar. "YOU ALWAYS TAKE OFF WITHOUT ME!!!"
Day 6 Brush Creek State Park On Our Own
Pass through towns:
|The final gathering. We said our good byes here. I felt like crying.|
|Outside of Algona on "The Route." This was the only section of the route we rode albeit backwards.|
Last night in a motel, the Super 8. Very hot shower. Said our goodbyes at the McDonald's Monday morning. Made the mistake of asking a local how to get to P30 which was really 'here hold my map while I pack the bike and ramble on about something to entertain me during my final prepare and sunscreen application.' But he did say McGregor Rd would get us there. I just was hoping to to avoid the hill to downtown.
Algona would be the overnight that night and we did see things set up and actually rode on the route albeit backwards. A support person rode up and talked to us while we headed west. He was off to meet his riders.
|Action shot on the way to Bode or Rutland. Mary's knee must have bothered her.|
|Apparently I was making decent speed while taking photos.|
|Bike warrior face!|
|A photo of something only bicyclist know. We stared at this elevator for over 10 miles.|
P30 took us to Rutland which is on the Three Rivers Trail. We found a soda machine and indulged before heading east on the trail. Barely a mile into it we came across a group of baggers on the bridge. No bridge party left behind is my motto and we stayed there for an hour. Diehards and others on their way to Whittemore. Rumors that friends of ours, Amy and Don and Davis, were ahead and on their way turned to nothing.
|Love these trail signs!|
|Baggers. A great stop!|
|The owner of this chair wished not to be mentioned on social media.|
|Some people take their Old Crow too seriously. Warm gut rot!|
This was our third trip on the Three Rivers Trail and the second time we got lost going to or fro the Hy Vee in Dakota City. The first time we got lost after the food stop, finding ourselves on a dead end and attacked by a billion mosquitoes. It was a clever trap. This time we missed the turn off the bridge and headed to the mosquito lair but we stopped in time and retraced our tracks and found the store and found our way back on the proper trail. For a similar experience without the mosquitoes ride the Jordan Creek Trail or ride a bike along the lakes at Okoboji if you have not done either before.
|Great Lean To!|
|6 people can sleep on the picnic tables here!|
|Hard to see with my crappy photo taker but the weather vane on top says "THOR" instead of north.|
Two bars in Thor and a nice shelter house with electricity and water. We did not visit the establishments choosing just to get to the overnight. It was windy and we were wearing out. Likewise, Vincent had two bars. Duncombe was our last stop. They have two bars and a store. We purchased food to take to the campsite.
Brushy Creek State Park is one of Iowa's newest parks. This is a great place for mountain biking, horse back riding, fishing and beach activities. I've gone mountain biking here before and this would be our second time camping here, 2006 with our sons Quin and Timmy. Showers and electricity and quiet people is what I like about this place. I also like hitting 40 mph on my way out. The next day would be hilly.
|Last town up. Decent convenience store.|
|Showered and all our crap on the bikes to dry at Brushy Creek State Park.|
One incident to note. Mary used the large shower stall since the shower house was empty. Half way through her shower a camper pulling 3 kids in a wagon complained that this stall was for the handicapped and those with children. Really? Not marked as such. Not on the list of rules either. I used the large shower on the mens side since like Mary I too need to spread my stuff out after a long day of riding. But a positive interaction with other campers occurred as well. An elderly couple gave us a can opener and a bag of cookies. Mary grabbed the wrong can of Spaghettio's at the store, the one without the pull tab lid, and had to ask to borrow one. While she was showering they pulled up in a truck and gave them to me. "Don't worry about returning the opener, we have 17 at home." Very nice, Mary was able to have dinner.
Day 7 Fighting the Wind All the Way Home 100 miles
Pass through towns:
|The view of the long climb from the bottom.|
|The view from the top.|
|We did follow the arrows but then we saw a steep downhill and decided that we have had enough climbs.|
I slept like crap again. No need to issue empty gun threats. Just a bad dream about someone telling me they have a brain tumor. Maybe the need for a real pillow. At Okoboji Donnie ditched his bottle of cucumber vodka but there was enough to fill my flask. I mixed it with 7 Up and then finished off the peach tea corn whiskey for round two that night. The wind was howling from the wrong direction, south and east, and that had me worried. Leaves hitting the tent like rain. Sure enough the wind was there in the morning right in our faces and stayed there until we got to Ankeny.
Hills too, they were there. Too windy to hit 40 mph but steep enough to shift to the 28T granny. What would have been wonderful rollers were time sucks. I then remember my saying, "Whenever Ragbrai goes North or South it will be a headwind." West is not the predominate wind in July. R21 south would take us all the way to Boone.
Refueled with food and drink in Boone and then took the Lincoln Way out of town. This road was so long I thought we missed out turn onto L Ave. And there it was and I was glad to see it. Not L Ave but the hill we would climb on L Ave to Moingona, Iowa. This is a steep bastard. One of the longest climbs one can find in central Iowa. And was looking forward to it. Climbed it before. It is painful but rewarding. if you can climb this hill without stopping or falling over on a touring bike loaded down with too much shit you can climb anything. And if the bike does not bust while doing it you got a good bike. Shift into granny immediately for a running start is not going to help you here. be sure to take a big hit on your bottle first. And so with stent and managed blood pressure and my obesity I climbed that fucker. Mary did it too without issue.
The town of Moingona is on the top to the east. We explored it. Named after the people who lived in the region before white people from France found them in the 1600s it is also who my fair city of Des Moines is named after. Now nothing of them is there now, just nice affluent houses. Maybe at the bottom of the next hill but we had our fill of hills and knew we'd be facing a few more although not as long as steep as the bastard we just climbed. Save it for another day on road bikes.
It was very hot and still very windy on L Ave. Also very disheartening to see not just 1 but 2 ghost bikes on this road to Woodward. Would Mary and I be # 3 and #4? They were run down on flat sections without blind spots on an empty road.
|Trailhead in Woodward. Water stop. Yellow/green sign says that the AED was stolen between May 1st and June 1st.|
But we had more pressing issues at this point. Stupid us forgot to fill our water bottles in Boone. Now we each had two empty bottles and nothing but corn whiskey in the cooler. It was perhaps 2 pm and whatever employer out here had a shift change. Not a bad rush hour but even one car is annoying AF in our condition. Woodward would not appear fast enough. Soon an elevator and two water towers appeared in the distance and, of course, according to Murphy's Law the closest water tower was not the one we needed. Eventually we got to Woodward, took the residential tour before stopping at Casey's. Mary did not understand my gibberish, "I'm getting two Gatorades for myself," which in proper mental state meant "I'm purchasing two for me grab what you need I'm paying for yours too." This explains why she spent 1/2 hour (1 minute really) messing about her bike while I enjoyed the wonders of the walk in beer cooler. I had to go outside and drag her upsetness inside and take her to the cooler so I could properly explain myself. Beer coolers solve all problems. We stowed the liquid hydration away and rode to the trailhead. Yes, I drank both of mine in one sitting and then I refilled both of my bottles and drank 1 and refilled it again.
|Selfie at the High Trestle.|
|In the heat of July it looks more menacing,|
The High Trestle trail was a savior. We were now relatively safe from cars, had an easy rail grade to ride and on familiar turf. Our last 40 miles would be easy and all trail except for the never ending detour in Des Moines (Grand Ave bridge replacement closing the Principal Riverwalk and the last half mile from Mullets to our home. One obligatory photo shoot on the High Trestle itself and bicycles eastward. The bridge was not busy but I prefer it at night under the blue lights.
Of note on the HTT were the Light House kiosks. We passed several before stopping at the Flat Tire. These light houses have cheap lights in them for people who walk or ride to the bridge at night. Always a big issue for us the invisible people at night. So now they can grab a light and return it when they are done. We never noticed these before.
As usual, we got off the trail at Irvingdale Ave and then stopped at the Git n Go for the final purchase of Gatorade and some beef jerky. Hydration and sodium. It was here Mary calculated that we needed to take the long way home (Neal Smith Trail) in order to get our 500 miles for the week. By this time I was back to top form and my only thought was that I loved her especially for saying that the short cut would not be taken. Now at this time I think we had ridden 480 miles on county roads, limestone trails and paved trails. The Neal Smith Trail was the worst surface we traveled on. Serious need of resurfacing. Also, lots of bikes without lights. though it was not night yet the trees blocked the sun's rays and thus lights were needed. I'm sure we burnt a few retinas out from our bright lights but at least they saw us.
Dora had already called expressing her need for dinner so to embellish our mileage we rode to Mary's bank and then to Dominoes and then a bit toward Gray's Lake to get enough miles in to reach the 100 miles for the day and 500 for the week. Yep, two pizzas on my rear rack while we padded our mileage.
* cooler should be on the rack instead of taking up space in a pannier
* carry a folding spare tire
* stop to take more photos
* pack more Tanka Bars instead of PowerBars as I was getting sick of the sweetness of PowerBars
* don't forget to pack a chair
People often ask why I carry a bucket on the bike. It serves many purposes.
|Holds my beer when doing something requiring two hands.|
|Holds empties for miles until proper waste unit can be found.|
|Good for mixed drinks.|