7/30/14

RAGBRAI 2014 Recap...

We thoroughly enjoyed riding RAGBRAI last week with Team Simpson from Rock Valley to Guttenberg.  The week seemed to flow well, and actually was a very enjoyable journey for us.  It was nice to be away from our normal daily routine, and replace it with a daily routine solely focused on cycling, eating, setting up camp, packing up camp, and living in the moment.

As I mentioned in last year's RAGBRAI report, even though there are 20,000+ of us on the ride - each, and every rider comes away from it all with their own unique experience.  Sure, we share many similarities of pitching our tents, riding the same roads, standing in lines, dealing with the weather, etc... .  However, no two riders experience the exact same experience throughout the week.  Even if riding 10 minutes earlier or later than another rider - the experience is different.  We came away from the week with our own unique versions.  My version.  My wife's version.  And our son's version.

Our first host camping yard in Rock Valley was a bit crowded with all of Team Simpson gaming for level yard space...

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Day one of RAGBRAI riding began the reality of standing in line all week.  It also began our Quixotic Quest of looking where we could for short lines - even no lines - and searching for what looked good, was local, and interested us.  Here is Tara's first - and just about last time - she stood in line for the KYBO before resorting to the Iowa corn for those duties...

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Tara got her fill of baby pigs beginning on the 1st day riding from Rock Valley to Lake Okoboji...

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As we rode through Sheldon, I stopped by my birth mother's former H&R Block tax office for a selfie...

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Our host was one of the owners of the famous University of Okoboji clothing line which we could purchase at their 10,000 square foot store 2 blocks down the street from our camping spot...

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The Milford camping spot (just 2 blocks down from The Three Sons) was much "sweeter and neater" than the previous night as the yard was huge and we all had plenty of space to snag a good tenting spot...

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We had plans to hook up with my birth mother, sibling, and step sibling.  After the 70 miles, setting up camp, and showering was all said and done - we hopped on the Simpson Shuttle and headed to The Hutt to meet everyone for dinner and a visit.  After dinner, we went over to Lori and Terry's boat for some refrehsments and to visit in Arnold's Park...

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Bruce, Darcy, Nedra, Lori

The Outside Scoop Ice Cream Truck from Indianola was working a couple of RAGBRAI stops, and my daughter was hired to help out in the truck at Arnold's Park.  Here's Alexa serving in the pink truck...

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Of course, we all enjoyed some ice cream!!!!

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Our friend Corey from Wisconsin, Lori, Darcy, Tara, and Nedra

We chatted with the guys from Primal (designed the BikeIowa.com kits as well as the Simpson jerseys).  Zack with the Primal crew...

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Tara met a friend outside of the Hairball concert...

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The Hairball concert was well attendrf and filled up Arnold's Park...

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Day 2 was a shortie in terms of mileage.  However, the 40.8 miles demanded more than everyone desired due to the howling head winds making it no rest day by any means.  I had a flat tire (my first flat on RAGBRAI - ever).  No debris, no signs of what caused it, but I swapped out tubes and was good for the rest of the week.  Combined with the humidity, we were spent by the end of the day.  Lots of fun along the route, though.  We sought out free things, short lines and scored pretty well all day long.  Free corn, free water, free cookies, free energy bars, and had sort of a low budget day - if there is such a thing possible on RAGBRAI!!!

Free sweet corn...

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The ubiquitous farm implement shot which the city girl always enjoys...

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And, of course, the cornfields as public restrooms became our no standing in line mantra for the week in terms of certain daily bodily functions...

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We stopped to split an Iowa Craft Beer from the tent set up in the yard of a farm...

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And we split a Smoothie to help cool ourselves in the heat and humidity...

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It's great to see 20,000+ out there riding bikes, and we were not even one bit frustrated this year with the walk throughs required in the pass through towns.  One has to be in the right mindset from the get go to just enjoy the experience and take what it gives you.  We met people, visited with them, and talked plenty ourselves during those times of walking through the small towns...

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We were staying right on the edge of 5 Island Lake in Emmetsburg for the night.  Being on the lake allowed us to jump in the lake and cool off a bit.  It was a bit chilly, but felt so good!!!!  The humidity was at its peak for the week on this day and night.  The evening was a tough one for sleep with that humidity, and the trains running all night long tooting their whistles kept one tossing and turning.

We had our one and only church meal for the week at the United Methodist Church.  The wait was long and at one point in line after we had been there for a good 20 minutes or more, a lady came out and announced it would be another 45 minutes due to the dining hall in the basement being full.  We were given a ticket with a number on it and told to sit in the air conditioned sanctuary to wait it out.  They had tons of tables set up outside under tents, but nobody was sitting there.  Finally, the man at the pulpit announced all those who didn't mind sitting outside to go to the basement and get served.  The entire sanctuary stood up (as none of us cared if we ate inside or outside) and descended into the basement for what turned out to be a really great meal.  Lasagna, cole slaw, two sweet treats, garlic bread, and a drink.

After dinner, and walking along the usual row of bike shop expo tents, we ran into some former Simpson students (Nella Thomas, Alicia Suschena, and Lucas Murga) before heading back to our host yard for a hot, and humid evening of sleep.  Yes, I pulled out my camping fan and turned it on full blast to help cool me off a smidge.

Day 3 was all about Zack and I doing our first ever Century.  The mileage for everyone was 80 miles, but they always offer a "loop" on one day for any crazy nut who wants to turn the pedals over for 100 miles.  The "loop" on this hot day was to be a total of 108 miles which Zack and I were anxious to do.  Tara would ride on her own, so Zack and I set out early to take it on before the heat got miserable.  There was quite a wind blowing any time we were headed north, so Zack and I made our own pace line all day and took turns pulling.  We stopped to fuel, and hydrate early and often as we were riding this thing at the edge of and in steady state tempo just to say we could power through that distance.

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During the "loop" portion of the ride, the Register hands out a patch to each rider as our reward for being crazy enough to throw in a 100+ mile ride in the middle of RAGBRAI.  Here's Zack getting his patch...

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Our host family was a bit out in the country from Forest City, so just when we thought we had made it there, we had about 3 more big climbs to get to our camping spot.  The humidity had vanished, and the wind blowing from the north had brought cooler, and dry weather for us.  Since we had burned about 5000 calories on the ride, Zack and I celebrated our 108 mile tempo ride with lots of snacks and a beer before setting up the tents and showering...

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We had a great spot for our tent right next to a cornfield.  We left the vestibule door open for a nice breeze through the tent and needless to say, I slept soundly after the day's effort.  Tara enjoyed her coffee in the morning sitting next to the field before we packed up...

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Wednesday was the shortest day of the week with a mere 38.x miles to pedal into Mason City via Clear Lake.  We felt no need to rush off at the crack of dawn and took our time piddling around in the morning and eventually leaving about 8:30 or so.  We started as a trio of Mom, Dad, and son.  However, son separated from us after about 10 miles as we were riding too slow for him.  No problem, as Tara and I really enjoyed rolling along casually after the previous day's grind.  Tara found herself in pig heaven...

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It was a clear, beautiful day with low humidity and a very easy ride...

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We enjoyed rolling through and around Clear Lake.  So much so, we would like to go back and spend a weekend there to take in what it has to offer.  We stopped for an awesome hot and spicy Bloody Mary and ended up dancing on the street with a bunch of people to the live band that was playing.  Clear Lake was our favorite pass through town this year.

Tara on the shore of the lake...

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We stopped in downtown Mason City before going to our hosts to grab some lunch (yes, we were in the next overnight town by lunch time since the day was so short!!!).  We talked to some locals about the best restaurants in town to make a reservation for a good evening meal.  One grows tired of the food fare and by this time of the week, we were craving greens.  We were told 2 great choices, and I made a reservation for 7 PM at one called Chop 11.  On our way to the host family, and Mason City being the home of The Music Man, we stopped by the footbridge that inspired Meredith Wilson to use in his quintessential American Musical The Music Man for a smooch...

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We set up in our host camping yard in Mason City and managed to do a load of laundry so we would have fresh kits for the rest of the week.   After we did that, showered, and took a nap - we headed downtown to check out the museums for local boys made good Meredith Wilson and Bil Baird (puppeteer did the puppets for Sound of Music and many other projects). 

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Zack played the roll of Harold Hill in The Music Man his senior year in high school, so he was really interested to see it as well.  Here he is in his pose of Trouble, right here in River City outside the Billiard Parlor...

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Tara standing in the recreation of the movie set for The Music Man...

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Then we mosied on over to Chop 11 for a table of 7 to enjoy ribeye steak, fondue, green salads, wine, Saganaki, and a great visit with Corey, John, Jeff, and Peg as dinner parnters.  After that, we wandered downtown for some ice cream from The Outside Scoop Pink Truck and caught a bit of the Bret Michaels concert.  Then it was back to the tents for another nice cool night's sleep.

Day 5 of riding began with everyone getting up really early for whatever reason.  I ride better sleeping in, but for some reason our group - even though the rule was we had to pack our stuff on the trucks by 9 AM - liked to get up starting at 5:30 to take down their tents and ready themselves for the day.  Even though I wanted to sleep in, Tara was on my case to get up and get going.  I knew we had 5 hours of riding to do for the day, but was in no hurry to hop to it so early.  Regardless, we were the last tent in the backyard to come down and one of the last to leave for the day even though it was 7:30 AM.  Our hostess had baked fresh cinnamon rolls for us, and a nice breakfast was had by all to help fuel the first leg of the 66 mile ride to Waverly.

Suffice it to say, it was a day of riding with Tara and dealing with gear shifting issues on her bike.  The chain fell off the front outer ring and got all tangled up, so I had to take the rear wheel off and untangle the chain to get things back to normal.  I didn't have any tools with me, but her derailleurs needed some adjustment.  That night, setting up our tent in Waverly in the wind, we sat down to visit about the day's events when a gust of wind flipped our tent over before we had a chance to stake it in the ground (my bad!!!).  We heard a snap and the tent footing pole had broken one of the sleeves.  Duct tape to the rescue, but that didn't work.  So it was time for problem solving.

We took the tent down and I rode down to a True Value store and bought an 8" piece of 1/2" PVC pipe to use as a temporary sleeve for 37 cents.   It fit perfectly and with some duct tape - we were back in business.  Special thanks to the man from the Mormon Church that was across the street.  He greeted all of us with a plate of cookies as we arrived and invited us to use the restrooms in his church.  In the morning, he did the same with cinnamon rolls.  Although it seemed odd at the time, it was nice and using his restrooms was a nice change of pace from our KYBO that we had set up every night next to our camping spot.

Tara showed off her unique tan from the Keen cycling sandals...

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We got the tent set up, showered and decided to eat locally rather than head downtown to the main flux.  There was an Applebee's across the street and up the hill, so Zack, Tara and I walked over and grabbed a nice table before literally about 150 other people showed up.  Sweet!  We had a great meal and downed the sampler appetizer, salads, salmon, wine, and all 3 split the ice cream cookie dessert.  Yum and yay for Applebee's being so close and our choice of eating early before the real crowds developed.

As predicted, storms hit at 4 AM with heavy rain, thunder and lightening.  One crack of thunder was so loud at 4:20 AM - we all sat straight up in our tents as it sounded like something got hit in our camping spot.  The wind was howling and the tent was bending and shaking in the wind.  I stayed awake worried that my temporary PVC pipe would not hold.  Luckily it did, but the rain continued for several hours.  Some took refuge in the team van, others in the garage of our hosts.  We stayed in our tent hoping the tent wouldn't snap.  I checked my radar on the iPhone and noted that it looked like Mason City was clearing up and blue sky was headed our way around 10 - 11 AM.  I told Tara there was no way I was going to ride in the howling wind, rain, lightening, and cold temperatures as waiting a couple of hours for blue sky and dry conditions would be worth the wait and we would still arrive in Independence before dinner.  After multiple attempts, I finally convinced her.  I wasn't able to convince too many others in the garage of our host family as I talked to other team members who were bundled up and headed out in spite of the storm.  I managed to convince Tara, John, and Jeff to wait it out in the garage.

We got our stuff packed up in the truck by 9 AM (most everything was soaking wet of course as we were packing in a torrential downpour), and I headed down to Hy-Vee for breakfast.  An employee had experienced what looked to be a heart attack and did not look good as they took him out on the stretcher to the ambulance administering CPR.  His color looked really bad (as in grey) and word was it was a back office manager.  I never heard the outcome, but it didn't look good that they were still pounding on his chest an hour after he took ill.  What a day for Hy-Vee to have hundreds of RAGBRAI riders sitting out the rain in their store, and for the manager to have to handle the tragic situation of possibly losing one of his employees!!!  All the best to employees, family and friends of the man who was stricken.  It certainly sombered all of us chowing down on bacon, sausage, fried eggs, etc.... at the Hy-Vee kitchen!!!

I walked back to our host family under my umbrella in the pouring rain and continued to sit it out with Tara, John, and Jeff.  Finally, around 10 AM the rain stopped and the skies turned blue.  Just as the radar had indicated!!!  We thanked our hosts and headed out for a dry day, and blue sky for us.  The 10,000 that took off in the rain didn't have a very good day being so wet and cold, but the 10,000 of us that hung back certainly did.  In fact, riding later in the day meant short lines.  No waiting.  Warm.  Dry.  And Iowa road cycling at its best.  ;-)

Who could pass up a meal on Day 6 of RAGBRAI after seeing this sign?

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And the pork was as good as it sounded.  Not to mention, the proceeds went to the fire and rescue squad at Sumner.

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We were also in Amish country.  I have to say, they certainly chose the most beautiful part of the state to settle in here in Iowa.  The northeast has nice hills, views, woods, river valley, fertile land, etc... .  Their gardens were immaculate.  It seemed rather strange that all of the children were lined up in formation as if they were at church or in school watching us go by.  I didn't take any pictures out of respect, but saw a lot of riders stopping to chat and pose for photographs.

I did manage to snap this without falling off my bike as one buggy passed us coming the opposite direction...

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We stopped for some Amish pie (I had blueberry, Tara had peach) and a stop.  Wow!  It was from scratch and very, very tasty!!!

Once we arrived at our host family's house in Independence, we found everything just as we had left it in the morning - soaking wet!!!  So we got busy hanging up things to dry out and use what amount of sunshine was left in the day to dry out the tent fly, tarp, and our gear that had gotten wet.  We had stuffed everything in whatever we could as fast as we could that morning in the torrential rain.  Luckily there was enough of a breeze to help with the drying out process.  Zack's tent was so wet that those who had arrived before us tried to help out by setting up as many tents as possible to help them dry out.  Unfortunately, they snapped two of his fiberglass poles in doing so, which meant it was time to problem solve and fix his tent.  I managed to get it duct taped together for the last night (and have subsequently ordered the replacement parts from Eureka for only $15).  We went for a swim in their swimming pool, got cleaned up and headed downtown in quest of a restaurant.

We found Bill's Smokehouse and ended up on the side of the restaurant that was featuring a buffet pizza, salad, and pasta bar.  There was a 2 hour wait for a table and a spot at the bar (come to find out), but somehow the hostess said we could sit at the bar and order a drink while we waited.  There were about 6 empty spots (or so we thought) and we took 3 of them.  Next thing you know, the bar tender said we could go to the buffet.  So our 2 hour wait was only 2 minutes.   Not fair to the others, but hey - we were happy.  I ate back more calories than I had burned and then some, but such is the lure of an all you can eat buffet.  After a hearty tip to the bar tender for "sneaking us" ahead of everyone else in the 2 hour wait line, we headed back for our final night's sleep on RAGBRAI.  Everything had dried out perfectly and we slept soundly.

Day 7 of RAGBRAI riding was the most beautiful and enjoyable ride as we finally had some hills!  You don't realize how much you miss them until you have been riding on nothing but flat for 6 days prior. 

Me pausing for some goofing off in Strawberry Point (and of course some very nice strawberry shortcake and a custom made sandwich at Casey's)!

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Great climbs, and bomber descents were had on this day.  I hit my highest heart rate of the week (176) as Tara let me go on my own so I could fire up the climbs and bomb the descents to get a challenge.  We met up at a fresh peach and blueberry stand about an hour later and enjoyed the peaches.

I managed to wrestle the iPhone off of my handlebars and snapped one more buggy that rode past...

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The tradition is for Team Simpson to meet just outside of the final town, take a group picture, and then ride in formation with our Team jerseys to the dipping site.  We were to meet at the Guttenberg Country Club at 2 PM for the photo and to get in formation.  Tara and I got there about 1:30 (not last this year!!!) and had some pork on a stick, and relaxed on the side of the ditch watching the mass of humanity head into Guttenberg proper on their bikes...

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Tara, Bruce, and Zack made it to Guttenberg!!!

Arriving at the dipping site for the Mighty Mississippi...

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Zack dipped and then raised his bike 1/2 way in triumph!

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Tara and I dipped, but didn't hoist our bikes in triumph as there was too much stuff in our bike packs to lift them at this point in the week...

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We packed up on the bus, headed out of Guttenberg with 20,000 other people which made for a massive traffic jam.  We stopped in Marshalltown for dinner (where I inhaled a salad and large order of fries, and a Frosty at Wendy's) and were back in Indianola about 9 PM to wrap up our version of RAGBRAI 2014.  We said our goodbyes to other team members and headed home for our own bed to sleep soundly.  All in all, it was another great year on RAGBRAI for us.  Team Simpson does it right and we felt no stress all week long (outside of the tents breaking).  RAGBRAI remains a unique experience no matter how you crack it.  A big thanks to all of the overnight towns, and pass through towns for knocking themselves out with all of the planning, set up, and clean up.  You were all great!  Thanks to each and everyone of our hosts who opened their yards and homes to us for camping and showering along the way.  You all rocked!

And finally - HUGE Kudos to Andy English, Bob Lane, Chris Goodale, and Kelley Bradder for organizing Team Simpson and managing the team so well throughout the week.  You all deserve a vacation!!!

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