Tara and I had planned to do a day or two of RAGBRAI when it hit central Iowa. It was either going to be Wednesday from Boone to Altoona, or Thursday Altoona to Grinnell. Considering the weather was scorching/muggy hot on Wednesday and the forecast called for overcast and rain on Thursday - Thursday it was. Then Tara pulled the plug as she had to work. That suited me fine as day 5 on RAGBRAI called for 66 hills over the course of a 57.5 mile route. I figured I would use it as a training ride and hammer all 66 of the hills and shoot for a 4-5 hour ride.
So Zack dropped me off in Altoona yesterday morning at 9:35 a.m. as I waited until it finished raining before loading my bike in the Element. The lion's share of riders were already gone being that time of the morning, but I knew I would catch up with the crowd in the first 10 miles. The roads confirmed that I had just missed the rain and many must have gotten wet as the morning showers had moved through sometime between 7-9 a.m. . I was riding the Specialized Allez road bike that I bought for Zack a few years ago. It's a size XL 58cm frame, but I have major toe overlap with the front wheel due to my preference of wearing the cleats all the way back on my shoes. Not a problem on my 29"ers, and not really a problem on a road bike since turns are more of a lean and the only time my shoes really rub the tire is stopped at stop lights/signs with one foot unclipped and waiting for my turn to go with the front wheel turned.
The bike traffic flow was nice all the way to Colfax. And the cloud cover made for perfect July riding temperatures. It was still muggy causing me to be dripping wet, but there was no chance of overheating for me in the low 80's temps. We were riding into a pretty good wind that had everyone hunting for a slipstream. I wanted to go solo and use the wind as a big Texas Hill and spent most of the day doing that. Colfax was filled with the "crowd", so I indeed caught up to the masses after the first 7 miles. The usual crowds were already in the beer gardens and it was only 10 a.m. !!! I filled the water bottle at one of the stations and pushed on to the next town - Baxter. We crossed I-80 right at that bridge next to the Adult Book Superstore that one always sees driving east or west on I-80. I think it was one of those old Stuckey's highway gas station/restaurant stops. Anyway, they had a beverage and food stand which was attracting a lot of riders. ;-)
I buzzed on by and pushed myself for the 7 miles north to Baxter. My legs were warmed up now and I was flying. I stuck to my goal of killing the climbs. If I was riding the entire week, or more than one day, this would not have been possible. However, I was enjoying the ride on the pavement as I am always too chicken to go out on the highways of Iowa that don't have shoulders by myself for a training ride. It was really crowded at this point. In addition to the week long riders, there seemed to be a lot of us one day riders which is typical in central Iowa as a lot of folks from the Des Moines metro area hop on for a day. I think RAGBRAI has grown so much they should just block off the entire road. There are too many riders to fit in the right lane. If you want to pass and stay on the right side of the yellow line, you piss off a bunch of folks as you pass in narrow quarters. So you pretty much have to cross the yellow line and pass. But with the road being open, you encounter a lot of oncoming traffic which is not the safest option. I don't even like being in the right lane near the center line when an oncoming car or truck approaches. Here's what the crowds looked like...
About 3 miles outside of Baxter, I noticed my rear tire was going flat. Rats!! I had a patch kit, but no spare tube as I couldn't find them when loading up my bike. Turns out, Tara had them in her pack and she was no where to be found - obviously. So I put as much of my weight on the front wheel as possible in an odd looking position on the bike and limped into Baxter. I headed for the Rassy tent and Squirrel chastised me for not having a spare tube. $13 later and about a 10 minute wait in line to get my bike "fixed", I was on my way. I filled the water bottle and even though all the food looked great in Baxter, it was still too early to eat lunch. I shot the one GU I had brought along, took a swig of water and headed off.
The sun was poking out and the hills were calling for me. I had not been out of the big ring yet and vowed to stay there even if it meant standing on some of the climbs. People would fly by me on the flats and the descents, only to have me fly back by them on the climbs. Again, since they were riding more than one day, I can understand - I wouldn't have been able to attack the climbs if this would have been day 5 for me either. A lot were even walking the climbs. I started to see bikes turned upside down on the side of the road and people laying in the shade of trees on various farms. The upside down bike is a call for the SAG Wagon to pick them up. The heat and hills were taking out a lot of folks. I was flying and the view was pretty much like this the rest of the day...
Down and up. Down and up. Down and up.
I finally pulled off the road at 12:30 for a chicken sandwich and a bottle of "Perfect Water". It didn't take long to polish off the sandwich since the chicken cut inside of the bun was a bit larger than a McNugget (I knew I should have packed a bagel and snack). Oh well, $7 to remind myself of the typical RAGBRAI fare. I saw a few signs for free pie, but wasn't in the mood to load up on sugar and go into a food coma. I kept pushing on and when I was 12 miles outside of Grinnell, I stopped for a strawberry/banana smoothie and called Zack to come pick me up.
Passing the entrance of Rock Creek State Park, I noticed hundreds of riders on both the left and right sides of the road were dismounted and enjoying the stop and beautiful scenery or Rock Creek and the lake. About 50 yards in front of me I heard this scream and shouting as one gal entered the flow of traffic without looking or checking or announcing she was coming on and another gal ran right into her. They sideswiped all the way over to the left side of the road with both bikes getting tangled up and both women shouting at each other. Everyone just stared on in disbelief, but they were both okay. I heard apologies as I went by the two getting up off the pavement. It's a fun ride, but care must be taken at all times with that many people on the road.
Hills 58 - 66 were eating my lunch. The legs were fatigued as I was pushing a fast pace all day and I was now approaching hour 4 which is beyond my training for this season riding at the pace I was riding. One sign said "Grinnell 7 miles, only 3 hills to go". So I hammered those 3 hills as hard as I could to finish the day off, only to find that the sign was a mirage (or the work of a practical joker - or sadist). There were indeed more hills ahead. Finally, a sign said "one more hill" and I hit it feeling better than the previous 10-12 hills and sure enough - it was the last hill.
I made the turn south to ride down to I-80 where I was to meet Zack. I pulled into the lawn of a Comfort Inn, called Zack and told him where I was. 4 1/2 hours on the bike which was smack in the middle of my 4-5 hour training ride plan. He pulled in about 5 minutes later, so our timing was pretty ideal. I loaded up the bike, hopped in and back we drove to Indianola. My RAGBRAI 2011 came and went in 1 nice, slightly overcast day on a beautiful stretch of central Iowa roads. That's 11 hours on the bike so far this week - so I will take today off outside of a short recovery ride, and do a little pre-race prep on Saturday for Sunday's XC race.