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.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tour de Kota 2012 Little Bike Ride on the Prarie

A pattern emerged: one bad day and two great days in a row.  The previous day sucked so the next two days had to be good.  I do not believe in such superstitions but the that is the way this week worked. 

Refreshed, fed and recharged we rolled out of Watertown, SD, on fresh black top.  Today I was prepared.  I wore Underarmor underneath my jersey and a jacket.  No chances today even if the jack would come off after 10 miles.  Today's destination was De Smet, SD, home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We would roll past the tracks leading to "The Little House on the Prairie."

I may or may not have relieved my bladder near this historical marker
The terrain was flat and marked by lakes, remnants of the glaciers.  Trees were scarce again.  The wind was at our back or at least out of our way.  The route would be a shade over 60 miles.  We rode strong and together and kicked ass.

Nothing to report of the pass through towns.  There was a "gas" incident in Hayti.  Not naming names but if you are sitting next to me and let one loose be prepared to get a face full.

Lunch was in Lake Norden.  Ribeye sandwiches, delicious and filling.  The bar across the street was closed although some riders managed to get mixed drinks.  The owner lost out on a lot of money that day.

South of lake Norden and the Sargento factory.  This business does metal scuptures

We found a service station that sold beer in badger, SD.  Although they had new Belgian's Dig in bottles, our riders thought that a 12 pack was too much so we had a 6 pack of Busch Light tallboys at the city park.

Erwin was the last town out.  Only gonna say that these residents need to trim their bushes and plant life, thin out the garbage trees and leave the water on at the church.  Donnie discovered this to his shock and horror.  It was good for a laugh and later that night some others related this incident.

One can almost see the horse drawn wagon in the distance. @Laura Ingalls Wilder historical Marker

The remaining ride into De Smet was fast and smooth.  We stopped at the historical marker for Laura Ingalls Wilder and then rocketed in to the first open bar we could find, Wheaties.

Wheatie and Mrs. Wheatie.  He went home to get this jersey.  Later he wore it when he rode his motorcycle around the campground.

Wheaties is named after the owner Pete.  It is a classic dive with a HD fetish.  All of us were able to belly up at the bar and I bought the first round.  later we had cheese burgers and fries and Joe got Wheatie to buy us the 6th round.  Many bikers appeared.  Took them almost the entire week to show up for beer but now they came out of the closet.

just a small town girl....My camera must have got wet or settings changed.  There is a huge quality issue since the ride into Watertown
Entertainment was in the form of vocal talents at the campground.  A family from upstate New York, near Albany, moved here 9 moths prior because the father enjoyed the hunting and fishing opportunities.  One of their daughters and her brother sang.  Their music teach also sang for us with the best of Whitney Houston.  I almost requested I Feel Love by Donna Summers but that was a request beyond my control.

Bicycles make good drying racks.  The bikes stayed dry underneath this tree when the rain hit early the next morning.

Despite my lack of cellphone service De Smet had an espresso machine.  This was at Wards where we dined on lasagna and salad before hitting Wheaties for round two.  While there we met up with Beau and Michelle Anderson of Dell Rapids.  When they told us what they saw in Erwin we all laughed.  Yep, check the water before using the toilet.


Back at camp I busted out the Fireball.  Mrs. Wheatie gave us a bag of ice to chill this bottle.  Julie and Sandy and Mike from Team Duster helped us kill the bottle.  They never have had this whisky before.  Julie thanked me the next day.

The day was now complete.  I slept well.  About 4 am there was a light shower but that did not slow anyone down.  I was hoping to sleep in but did not need it.  One last ride and I was in good shape.

Tour de Kota 2012 The Final Ride

The final sunrise.  I did not see this because I stayed in my tent.
The soft rain hitting the tent woke me up.  Still early enough to continue to sleep.  I wondered if the rain picked up if people would delay their 430 am wake up.  The rain seemed harmless and I drifted back to sleep with the hope of an extra hour of shut eye.
Instead of sleeping the bikers dressed inside their tents as usual and prepared for the last day.  The rain ended and people packed up on schedule.  Mary and I were among the last to pack and leave.  The tree we locked our bicycles to protected them from rain. Our bikes were dry.  Always a nice way to begin an 84 mile bike ride.  Our team was in a hurry.  Joe had a wedding to participate in the next day and we wanted to be back in Des Moines before nightfall.  No sleeping in. 

Time to feed.  Powerbars are the breakfast of last resort.  I recall a sign that said breakfast would start at 6 am.  I hoped for their sake that they were planning to serve it on down the road because this campsite would be empty long before 6 am.  Two other options were available.  Wards was having a $7 breakfast feast, later described as too much food by Joe.  A place called the Boondocks, 8 miles into the day, would be serving breakfast.  I found a third option, the Shell station had big sausage biscuit sandwiches on the cheap and Mountain Dew to wash it down.  The rest of the team ate at Wards.  Sacrifice quality of breakfast for sleep seems to be my SOP.  I looked forward to the Boondocks just in case.

The sky was overcast and rain seemed to be in the realm of possibilities.  I wore my rain jacket for a warmth layer to begin the day.  8 miles out and I was ready to strip it off and put it in my jersey pocket.  Too cloudy to have Tom carry it.  The jacket may be needed later.  The Boondocks nightclub was just ahead and we used this location to strip layers.  Funny thing happened at the Boondocks bar.  The owners decided that they'd do only one event for TdK.  That event was a tiki party and band the night before.  No breakfast today.  That was ok with me since I did feed but I was glad that I did not count on this stop.  Not the first time they pissed people off.  From what I heard, and this could be local rumor, they borrowed money to build their stage and have yet to pay the city back.  Lacking kybos or open restrooms, many riders found a spot to "rest" here.  Jackets off, bladders empty, time to ride.

3 TallDogs and 2 Mystery Machiners riding to De Smet.  Not the tight draft we normally kept but a nice photo taken by a professional for the Argus Leader

You stare at the wheel in front and hope that the person behind is keeping an eye on your rear wheel.  Pay attention to the rider in front.  Watch the cadence.  Look for shifts in saddle position, hand position ect.  Any movement could signal a change in speed and one must be ready to react.  Quick glance at the computer for speed.  Is your leg speed appropriate for the bike's speed?  High speed spins to save legs.  Do not mash big gears yet.  70 miles left for the day.  No time to look around.  Not much to see anyway, farmland and small lakes.  Few trees or buildings.  Watch the road for cracks.

This is how it went.  Somehow I got behind Donnie who lead.  The highway had a wide shoulder but the left side had rumbles on it.  We had about a section almost a foot wide.  The extreme right of the road was rougher than the shoulder.  Bike in front require precision teamwork to pass.  Donnie would call out, "Is it clear back there?"  Someone would reply "yes."  Donnie closed in on the slow bike and then waited for the break in the rumbles before passing with losing speed.  Then my turn.  Get out on the road and pass that bike or bikes.  Wait for Donnie to jump back onto the shoulder and then follow in the break between rumbles.  Everyone followed.  This went on for 20 miles until we got to Howard.  One only stop when Donnie had to pee.

Back on the road and same formation.  Total reliance on the bike in front.  I hear Donnie yell, "PIECE OF SHIT!"  Appearing before me is a flat piece of metal about the size and shape of an 8.5"x11" piece of paper.  I nail it dead center because there is no time to react.  It makes a sound and becomes airborne narrowly missing Joe but Mary runs it over next sending it Jeff's way.

"Sorry, I thought it was a piece of paper," Donnie expresses his regret.  The trouble with drafting.  No forward visibility.  Later, going into Howard, I would run over a bag of electrical brackets that fell off the pre-fab houses we saw moving on trucks at the intersection.  Somehow, I manage not to flat.

Fire station in Howard.  Joe in foreground taking a photo.  Photo from Argus Leader.

I stop at the gas station in Howard and purchase a breakfast burrito and a Mnt Dew.  Others went to the fire station.  We are nearly 30 miles into the day.  54 left.  Good pace.  I stopped at the SAG wagon and pumped my tires up.  They were down to 80 psi.  With all the road debris  my tires were rolling over I needed an extra 25 psi per tire.  The others pulled away without me but I quickly caught up on a rough road with a black sky.  Damn, will it rain again?

Pie in Canova

Pie ala mode.  Not mine but I like this person's style!
Just a quick 10 miler mostly south to Canova the lunch town.  The skies cleared somewhat and the chance of rain diminished.  But it was only 9 am and lunch was not on our minds.  I think they offered rib eye sandwiches but everyone opted for the pie.  I had a slice of blueberry ala mode.  Tracy offered to split a sandwich with me as if it was a dare, I'd try some if you try some.  Perhaps she was hungry but not a glutton like me.  After the pie my mood was on the 30 mile stretch that awaited for us.  30 miles in between towns.  Sounds like a Ragbrai southern route.  But TdK arranged a stop 16 miles into the 30.

Melisa and Beau Anderson of Dell Rapids in Dell Rapids at the end of TdK

It should be that Melissa said she was listening to "angry" music.  We saw her and Beau loading up after lunch.  She rattled off a bunch of for the lack of a better term "alternative" bands and when I asked about Skinny Puppy Beau smiled.  We connected on the weird scary music level.  Damn, I'd like to hang out with them again.

Feed Zone.

The next hour went quickly and soon we found ourselves at the 16 mile rest area which I think was a rural water facility.  The American Cancer Society Relay for Life team from Madison was serving snacks.  Among the snacks, mostly baked goods such as brownies, were $2 ground beef and BBQ sandwiches and $1 cans of mountain Dew.  Yes, I had 2 of each.  the only thing missing was potato chips.  I require sodium on hot days.  Julie was there.  She sagged in.  Apparently, she crashed in Howard.  A friend of hers made contact and locked bikes while turning into the fire station.  Although not injured she was forced to sag because her Cannondale no longer shifted gears.  We flagged down the rolling bike repair shop who said he'd work on it in Chester, the next town 14 miles further.

Resting between towns.  Emily, Event Coordinator,  is in blue and Julie is in the orange.

Time to roll.  I got in line for the kybo but gave up after a my friends left and waiting for an eternity.  Some people can hold it.  Some others take an hour to unload.  I do not have patience.  The person behind me I recognized from day 2.  Then she had a Tour de Rookies or Colorado jersey.  When someone asked her about Ragbrai she replied that she does serious rides only.  I can show you a serious 'Brai.  She gave up waiting as well.

Time to play catch up.  Aim for the ass in front and work my way to it.  Say "howdy" and pass them and look for a new ass to catch up with until I find my friendlies.  Move like a shark, victim to victim.  Eventually I saw Joe who just finished answering Nature's call at one of the few shady areas of South Dakota.  He said he slowed down to wait for me and used this opportunity for what it presented itself to be.  I had been looking for such a place since leaving the rest stop.   Joe was kind enough to hold my bicycle as I walking into a field behind some trees.

The last two bikers I passed noticed what I was doing although I had me naughty bits hidden from view.  'Hey, that's not fair!" one woman shouted.

"Honey, I was built this way!  There's plenty of room for you and your friend," I retorted.  Bicycle 101: the world is your urinal.

It was a lot larger than this photo shows.

I knew we were closing in on Chester because the lawns were beginning to be groomed.  We were entering an area where people painstakingly care for grass and worry about appearances.  Civilization at last.  A large green-grey mass was in the middle of the road.  The beads identified it.  A large snapping turtle.  It was about the size of a car wheel.  Team Duster was here.  Nobody else on TdK sick enough to place beads on road kill.  The rest stop was on top of the hill in front of a cemetery.  Chairs were provided.  Purchases were helping fund prom.  I asked about a gas station.

Sure enough there was one at the bottom of the hill.  It had a restroom and cold beer!  I took advantage of both.  That tallboy of Busch Light would be my last beer before completing the ride.  I drank it outside just to show others that it it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy a beer responsibly while on an 84 mile bicycle ride.

The final push I rode with Mary.  17 miles.  We skipped the last stop.  Bottles were full and we were not hungry.  Donnie slipped ahead to fetch the truck.  Time schedule on the last day.  No time for screwing around.  Had to be back in Des Moines before dark.  4 hours of driving would kill me so I was grateful that Donnie was up to the task.

Obligatory milestone photo.  If on Ragbrai this would be I-35.  This is I-29 near Dell Rapids, SD

We stopped once before reaching Dell Rapids.  During ragbrai it is customary to take a photo of I-35, usually on Wednesday.  On this ride I snapped a photo of I-29.  It looks the same as I-35.

The remaining miles were uneventful.  Flashes of memory as we pedalled past buildings and landmarks we only seen once as we drove into town a week earlier.  Norby's was still there and it had a few bikes in front.  The Monkey Bar was open and the Watertown girls were stopping in.  At last our park and TdK headquarters.  Donnie's truck and trailer were parked in the shade.  Jeff's wife was there waiting for him.  Melissa and Beau made it too.  Time for photos and a shower.  After loading we went and had burgers provided by the BSA.  I then bought a beer from the Quarry Day's tent.  Probably was a hell of a party that night.  But we were heading to home.  Our families were waiting.  Our beds were waiting too.  I did not wake up at 430 am on Saturday.

Jeff napping.  Not on last day.

Final shot.  Our team.  Jeff, Tom, Joe, Mary, Chris and Don Juan.
From an email I received from Tdk this week....

We've compiled a few statistics about this years' riders that we'd like to share with you:

  • The 2012 Tour de Kota had 727 registered riders between the one-day ride and the six-day ride.

  • Riders came from 23 different U.S. states plus Austria, Manitoba, New Zealand and Saskatchewan.

  • 74% were from South Dakota.

  • All ages were represented - 1% were under 13; 2% were 13-17; 13% were 18-34; 26% were 35-49; 45% were 50-64; 7% were 65+; and 6% thought that their age was none of our business!

    I met the Austrian, he was born in Des Moines.  Technically, he is Italian.  We met a woman from Saskatchewan on the first night.  She was riding with a woman she met on BRAN, Nebraska's tour.  Tracy, Mary and I were part of the 26% while the rest of the team belonged to the 45% except for Jeff.  I think he may have been in the 26% but he looked like a 13%er to me.

  • I hope to return to this ride again.  Its long miles is its strength.  Its small numbers, its virtue.

    Wednesday, July 4, 2012

    40 on the 4th

    If put to the test, I'd die for my country.  This is the land of the free and of the weird.  Sure, I would rather spend my summers in Europe to attend music festivals since America is very conservative musically. But wtf, it's a big country with lots to see and do.  but the 4th of July really does not mean much to me in the middle of the week when it is 100+F outside.  My best operating temperatures are between 55 and 77F.  I can always put on a long sleeve shirt or a jacket and blue jeans and boots.  Sweating when all I am doing is pumping blood and breathing at rest is not my favorite thing to do.

    I had plans for this day.  I planned to get up early and ride to Martinsdale.  Justin no longer puts on 40 on the 4th so I got to do it myself.  But I slept in.  then everyone wanted breakfast.  So I got up, put two trays of bacon in the oven and Mary scrambled eggs.  After feasting on this and 3 slices of toast I swallowed 3 Claratin and went back to bed.  Dreamt of seeing New Order live and Gillian smiled at me.  But I had to get up.  Hot now.

    After much thought I realised that I was behind on my caffeine intake.  So I grabbed the Raleigh and purchased a 2 lt of Coke and another of Diet Dew.  I drank half the Coke and then visited my mother for an hour.  A stop at Hy Vee for cat food, the cats were hungry, and its 4 pm.

    I thought about driving to Bonderant for the Chicaqua Trail but my family would want to eat soon.  Called Joe Bridgeman but he was sticking near home.  Fuck.  Too hot anyway.

    Back to bed listening to Teen Mom on Netflicks.  At some people are more fucked than me. 

    Mary's dinner selection of the ingredients we have at home was grim.  I hit the red button.  "Get a couple of Pepsi 2lts and 4 pizzas from Lil Ceasars.  It's the 4th of July, as Americans we are supposed to eat shit!"  So it was.  Family fed.  Gave me time to catch New Order and Orbital webstream live from Poland, and everyone came home and ate.

    As evening hit us it was time for the traditional viewing of fireworks.  In Little Italy, we have the best view.  Travel half a mile to the river and stake a claim on the pedestrian bridge.  Mary and Dora walked there.  I waited and grabbed the Raleigh.  It was the bike I rode to get caffeine earlier.

    The Raleigh is becoming my holiday bicycle.  It was my choice on New Years Day.  Seemed fitting that on the birthday of our nation that I plant my ass on a British bicycle with a genuine Brooks saddle.  I paid $40 for it.  And I stopped at Best Trip and purchased a 40oz of Busch Light from a cashier from India.

    I spotted my family on the bridge and joined them.  We had a blanket to sit on.  The fireworks were to begin after the Iowa Cubs baseball game.  Many people brought their own fireworks to this bridge and to the adjacent Scott Avenue bridge, home of the fishing people.  In fact, amature fireworks could be seen in every direction.  And professional ones too.  This is the one American holiday that cops turn their backs and people create explosions.  It is also perfectly acceptable to have children toss spent sparklers into the river.

    Dora during camera test

    We were on the northern border of Little Italy.  The people on this pedestrian bridge were a mix of Asian, Africans and whites.  The longer we waited the more I expected to see cameras for MTV's Teen Mom The Follow Up Years.  But it was if everyone smoked.  Now many of my friends smoke.  I understand that they have an addiction, a disease that is difficult to cure.  And if it gets to smokey I leave.  Tonight we gave up and went home.  Fuck it.  If I get cancer it will be from something I enjoy.  Breathing other people's unnecessary exhaust is not something I enjoy.  Man up and put a Skoal Bandit between your toes instead of killing those around you.

    Tour de Kota 2012 ..and down came the rain...

    The remains of the map.

    Marshall, Minnesota.  430 am.  Mary and I are sleeping underneath a big tent such as one they use for funerals or events.  It was sturdy but a bit noisy and thus depriving of an easy drift-off to sleep.  I may have had 3 hours of sleep.  TdK is roaring back to life.  I over hear officials stating that the storm moved much slower than expected.  They were handing out Ziploc baggies for cellphones.  I did not need one but took one anyway.

    Breakfast was inside the school.  I purchased a bagel, a sausage patty and an omelet ala cart and made a sandwich.  Tasty.  Then it was time to get rolling.

    We hit the road as a team.  But no sooner than we started the first drop out occurred.  Tom Riggs lost his sunglasses AGAIN.  This was becoming a reoccurring joke.  Joe said he left a pair in every county and got a pair in every county on Ragbrai.  TdK was no exception.  Tom stopped at a store while we rolled on.

    Automatic formation of the draftline found me staring at a the wheel in front of me.  I was not comfortable.  The sky was grey and I felt like crap.  Too early for the ram-jam of high speed precision bicycling.  There was a black cloud in the sky and we were heading into it like Pickett's division at Gettysburg.  I could feel it already.  I could see it.  rain.  There had to be an out.  Why could we not wait an hour or two until this system blew through?  We had 25 miles to go until the first town.  Most of this on a highway.  There's an answer to this I wish I had.

    About 4 miles into it the sky only got worse.  My mood was sour.  I let a gap build in front of me and one behind and then I pulled off onto the shoulder.  I did not want to cause anyone to go down today.  I did not want to go down myself.  I had no desire to see my friends and my wife crash on this journey into a rain storm.  I forgot what I told them.  I merely told them to go on, don't wait and I will see you when I get there.  Mary stayed behind with me.

    At 5 miles there were bicycles under the only tree close to the road.  People were getting their rain gear on.  I left mine at camp because I did not want to carry it.  Sure, my torso would remain dry until I sweat but the rest of me would get wet anyway.  It was starting to sprinkle.  20 miles to go to the first town, 80 more to the overnight after that milestone.  Grim was my mood.

    Sprinkles gave way to full fledged rain.  I noticed my front tire moving around a bit on a downhill.  Need to control speed, the road is slick.  Shelter.  There had to be a place to wait this out.  But none was to be found.  Trees were set back quite a ways from the road.  Homes and buildings were scarce.  Just wide ditches and cropland and rain.  Trees do Ever not make money here, crops do.  Ditches need to be wide to accept the snow plowed or blown of the roads.  Trees would fall down and block the highway.  Ever intensifying rain.  This will be bad.

    Soon I was unable to see.  I thought about taking my glasses off but needed to keep both hands on the bars.  The wind was picking up too and the sky was black.  In the distance lightning appeared.  No where to stop.

    After 13 miles I called out to Mary, "Stop at this driveway!"  I had enough.  Wet is one thing but wet and blind and in traffic was another.  We pulled onto a driveway that was only a slab of 15x30'.  Then it turned into a level B road that ended at a building nearly 1/2 mile away.  We could only see its lights.  Too muddy to attempt.  "Turn your back to the rain and hail and let's wait this out and pray for rescue!"  Lightning was getting closer.  Big trucks going the opposite way were throwing large amount of water up.  We may have been wet and cold but we were safe from vehicles and bicycles.

    Soon Tracy and another woman pulled in to join us.  And another person.  "I'm calling the ride officials," Tracy stated, "we need to be picked up," as she pulled her phone from a baggie.  No answer, straight to voicemail. 

    "Should I call 911?" she queried. 

    "No.  Don't do that," I replied.

    But she did.  I had to look at my rain soaked laminated map to tell her what road we were on.  A few minutes of conversation only drained her battery.  We were on our own.

    Soon the support vehicle for the people riding with the SD National Guard pulled up.  They said they had room for people but not for bikes.  They'd run us to Ivanhoe and return for our bicycles.  Nope, I do not abandon my bike unless I am seriously in jeopardy.  But the second woman gladly accepted the offer.  She had assumed the position anyway, crouched low, on the balls of her feet in case the lightning got too close.  Later when I read the Rider's Guide I discovered that this was the correct thing to do although the lightning would have to be much closer to me before I'd do it.  She left with them right when a RV pulled up.

    This RV was driven by the other woman's husband.  Apparently, he travels ahead 10 miles and waits for her.  Today he was behind.  there was space for us and our bicycles and an older gentleman with a Campy equipped Trek 2300, the original Trek carbon series.  Rescued!!

    I asked the driver if he drop us off in Canby, MN,  so we could avoid the  strong north headwind.  It would be about a 20 mile stretch due north into the wind and rain.  He just smiled and I sat down, glad to be out of the rain and enjoying the new prospects of the day.  We were all greatly relieved.  Mary and I have never been caught in such rain and hail without a place to seek shelter.

    And then we stopped in Ivanhoe 25 miles out from the start.  We were dropped off at a Lutheran church.  It was still raining but not as hard.  I was in shock that we did not go further.  I was not ready to resume.  The church was converted into a disaster center.  We were given towels when we entered.  The place was packed with riders.  Mary spotted Tom in the kitchen being treated by EMTs.  Apparently he crashed and his elbow was bleeding.  When I saw him he was standing and appeared to be in shock.  But he voiced concern that Mary was cold and immediately two EMTs rushed over to her with more towels.  We tried to get Tom's story.

    When the rain got really bad he pulled off the road onto a driveway but his front wheel slipped off the pavement and he went down.  Not sure how long he was there before he was spotted.  He said that he stayed in the ditch as it sheltered him from the rain.  I think the ANG truck picked him up before they stopped for us.  But he was now needing to go across the street to be seen in the clinic.  Stitches were needed to stop the bleeding.  When they took his temperature it was at 93.8F!  They retook it and it improved to 93.9!!  Yet Tom was concerned about my wife being cold.  Hypothermia does that to selfless individuals like Tom.

    The parishioners of this church planned to sell coffee and cinnamon rolls and other items to the riders.  They moved sales inside.  TdK officials were busy getting bikers off the road between here and Marshall.  No SAGs going to past Ivanhoe until all bikers were off the road.  If we wanted to SAG to Watertown, ironic name, we'd be waiting for a few hours in this bicycle refugee center.  Time to dry off and plan.

    Emily, TdK Event Planner drove in.  She allowed me to see the radar on her phone.  My phone did not get a good charge overnight.  The storm was hitting Canby, our next destination.  Emily then made an announcement to everyone explaining the SAG situation.  I think she and her staff handled it well.  I purchased some coffee and resigned to my fate.  Wait forever or ride on.  I did not want to do either.  Mary was barely warming up.

    After our rescue.  Official Argus Leader photo.  Tracy's expression says it all. 

    Tracy got settled in.  She was disappointed that we only got this far.  The Argus Leader snapped photos of us here.  Tracy's image is above.  Her expression summed up how we all felt.

    Joe, Donnie and Jeff finally reached this place having ridden the entire 25 miles.  New stories.  They got to the rest stop just a few miles ahead of where we gave up.  Boy Scouts were selling goods underneath a tent when they got there.  Because the wind was so strong everyone had to hold onto the tent to prevent it from flying away.  Jeff got really cold and was one of the few people that got to sit in Emily's vehicle to warm up during this episode.  Maybe 25 people had stopped there.  We told them about Tom and they went across the street to check on him.  Tom was guaranteed a SAG.  A hard earned spot but at least he was out of the storm.

    There was nothing left for us to do except leave.  The sky appeared to be clearing and the long ride to Canby would give the storm ample time to continue traveling where ever it was heading.  I was concerned about how cold I was but I knew that only riding would warm me up.  The wind appeared to die so I was less apprehensive about heading north.  Sit and rot or ride and greet my fate.  I missed my jacket for the warmth it would provided.

    19 miles due north.  There was a scheduled rest stop after 11 miles.  We found the road was drying and my wonderful synthetic bicycle regalia was drying out too with every pedal stroke.  The wind disappeared and we found ourselves on the best segment of the day's journey.  The sun was out by the time we reached the now abandoned rest stop.  But a kybo was there, one of the few at rest stops.  Joe, Donnie and Jeff met us there.  Riggs was getting a SAG to Canby despite having one stitch in his elbow.  The next 8 miles were good.

    Jeff, Mary, Tom and Donnie at lunch in Canby, MN.  Joe and I were getting seconds.

    Canby was the designated lunch stop.  The Cattleman's Association served us beef sandwiches and free water.  Some of us had 2 sandwiches.  Then the long climb to Clear Lake, SD.  The joy of riding ended after lunch.

    I don't think it was so much the hill.  The climb was shallow.  But it was long and our speed was low and I did not feel like playing bikes anymore.  This was a 21 mile stretch with one break after 8 miles.  Two breaks if you stopped at the fireworks shop just inside South Dakota.  Supposedly, a free fountain drink for just walking through the door.  I thought about it.

    It would have been fun to have some fireworks along that route.  I'd pull over and wait for someone to get close and then light a firecracker and toss it AWAY from them.  BOOM it would report and I'd tell the passing biker to "PEDAL FASTER!!"  Such thoughts in my oxygen deprived mind kept me going.  13 more miles of this shallow long climb in the most desolate landscape I'd seen all week.  Do people live here?  Does the US have an overpopulation problem when there are wide expanses of emptiness?

    At the fire station in Clear Lake

    Eventually we descended into Clear Lake, SD, and found the fire station where the BSA was selling treats.  SAG service was hooking up here too.  A BSA leader and mother let me borrow her phone charger while we rested.  Craig Lein would have been so proud.  Eventually all the gang made it, Riggs too!  Dennis, our Serotta friend was here and Tracy.  Discussion was on whether or not we wanted to do the remaining 36 miles.

    We chased another black cloud to get to Clear Lake.  Mary was not feeling well.  I was getting cold again.  Although Tracy offered me her jacket since she was accepting the SAG I declined.  Donnie was through with riding.  Dennis had enough and Tom was finished.  Only Joe and Jeff continued on among our friends.  When they took names for the SAG I stood up and signed us up.  Dennis found a bar but failed to tell us.  I napped and Mary's health seemed to deteriorate.  Later we think her health issue was 1 part the cold damp ride and 1 part strawberries served at the fire station.  Mary is highly allergic to them and the mere proximity of them to her  makes her ill.  I cannot get this fact through to my mother or my sister let alone the BSA in South Dakota.  After an hour and a half we were sitting in back of a Suburban with Dennis on our way to Watertown.  54 miles ridden.  A strategic withdraw.  Tomorrow will be a new day.  Maybe tonight we can sleep.  Les was the driver of the SAG.  He told us that put in over 500 miles so far that day.  It was almost 4 pm.

    Redlin Art Center

    Camp was at the Redlin Art Museum.  This is a guy who made a fortune selling paintings of wildlife.  I picked a place by the pond away from everyone.  Nobody would wake us up at 430 am.  It promised to be a cool night.  Maybe we'd actually get inside the sleeping bags.  Our teammates sprung for a motel room across the street.  They invited us and said there would be room.  But I could tell that this would be a good night to sleep in a tent.  the ground was soft from the rain and the air was cooling down.

    We skipped showers and took the shuttle to Godfathers.  I was craving pizza and the Hot Stuff's jalapenos would warm us up.  Found a table near an electrical outlet, plugged my phone in and pigged out.  The rest of the team joined us as we finished.  Shuttled home and hit Mc Donald's for ice cream.  Time for bed.

    The day ended well.  We were dry and fed.  The weather was better and tomorrow promised to be a better day.  No one talked of rumors of rain.  For camping among friends and strangers we actually had privacy.  This was probably the best night of sleep we had all week.