i decided in february to spend my summer vacation riding my bike across iowa. back after a week, 600 photos from my camera alone; where to start?
the first thing you should know, i think, is that it is nothing like it sounds. ragbrai is far more party than competition; there's 20,000+ bikers and stereos, 16+ hours of daylight, and carney food and crap beer every few miles.
i blame all of this on lindsey; sitting around the ski cabin, lindsey (a native iowan) brought it up as (what we all thought was) a joke. soon she had her sister kyla, colleen, myself, and donal on board. thus team "sit and spin" was born.
more on team names later; first, the basics.
the general daily formula is this: you wake up in the morning in a tent (6am is considered average, 7am late). the tent and all gear needs to be thrown on a truck by 8am. you now have the rest of the day to get 50-80 miles east across iowa.
the route changes every year; towns compete to be along the route, with the crown jewels being the final 'overnight' town for a particular day. something like the olympic selection committee for ragbrai must draw a ton of water in iowa.
without further ado, a brief chronology of the trip, in snapshots.
donal, lindsey, colleen and i, working our way through denver airport, next stop omaha. (lindsey's sister, kyla, would join us in iowa.)
everyone here was curious about how we got our bikes there. we paid some dude $150/cash per bike to drive 'em over in a trailer of 50. until we actually got our bikes in missouri valley, we thought he had the best scam ever: steal 50 bikes, and make the suckers pay you.
ahh, the big montana, our spacious tent home for the next week. it survived a tornado warning, rain storm, and mikey-shake-test, among other things.
most of the "campsites" were the local high school's football field. this one had the gym open for spaghetti and bathrooms. here donal (an irishman) contemplates the american high school life he never lived.
sunday, day one of riding, begins! i am immediately fascinated by very normal iowa sights.
if you ask me, breakfast pizza is, by definition, the meal that immediately follows dinner pizza. it turned out that this variant actually had eggs or some shit on it -- trying way too hard.
this is 9 miles from the end of the first day, a rather leisurely 55 mile day if memory serves. the was probably the hardest day by far, getting used to riding and little sleep.
that's where we were at the end of the first day.
here we are (er, just me), chilling in "the rocking chair". note the oven and dysfunctional pool table in back. this is a place where a $3 tip for 5 beers gets the awestruck staff calling you the server's "boyfriend" all night; love it.
here we are enjoying a $6 plate of really half-assed ragu and sorta-cooked spaghetti. considering we were just drinking clamato and bud light, i guess we had some very particular tastes..
more of harlan, the first overnight town. almost every town's layout was straight out of back to the future: central square, maybe a clock tower, party, beergarden, and carney food laid out around it.
day two, the biggest climbing day of the trip. the cornfields really were nonstop, so it was interesting to see hay.
cruising down your standard iowan highway.
see? that is hard core. those of us with two wheels were just lazy asses.
farmers serving up "genuine iowa well water", which i guess has a lot of fertilizer in it.
dude can't take the heat.
so, here we are in the last town on day 2, filling up our water. (every town had one of these contraptions: a PVC pipe with holes drilled into it, attached to a fire hydrant). we spent too much time laying around here, and we're about to pay for it.
that dark shit on the left? thunderstorm about 5 miles ahead. with a ~15mph pace and 20 miles to go, we headed straight into the beast. we ended up taking cover in barn in just the nick of time; 15 minutes of hail and lightning and we are on our way.
naturally, after our brush with death, we needed chips and a case of beer to celebrate.
a super creative team name.
(a bit about teams. there were many of them. to form a team, you need some clever/smug/racy name, jerseys to match, and a converted school bus. not all teams are created equal, and not all team busses are either. some of the busses were decked out with couches, roof decks, big speakers, and other good shit. sadly or not, my mission to be invited onto a team bus to party was not successful; teams, like most of ragbrai, are a predominantly "dude" affair.)
kyla, lindsey, and colleen, enjoying the cover band that the town trotted out.
donal attempting to unite with people in irish jersey that he believed could be irish. this happened many times; none were irish. typically these people were patrons of an irish bar elsewhere in iowa.
a "free will donation" oatmeal breakfast taking place in a garage in grand junction, iowa. dig the old man just hanging out.
it wasn't hot enough to fully enjoy this refreshing oasis, reminiscent of my days growing up on the mean streets of inner city chicago.
though it was said each town would have its own take on decorations and festivities, tractors were a common theme.
once there was a critical mass of riders in grand junction, the townspeople directed the union pacific to cut the exit route.
this guy was handing out free otter pops. more than i can say i've received from my mayor..
ames, iowa -- and finally a shop that speaks my language.
drinking shitty frozen margaritas at an outdoor patio in ames.
oh! i forgot to mention what was the highlight of the trip for some....
styx! yes, for $5 admission, you too could have seen that band that plays mister roboto play... a bunch of other shit. "come sail away" was the big finale, featuring 10-15 shells of fireworks fired after the band had left the stage. yeah, it was totally awesome.
setting up ... or tearing down? ... our campsite in ames.
it was sure nice for these towns to set up such a big fan to cool us off.
one happy dude slipping his way down an improvised roadside slip-n-slide.
state center iowa -- about halfway through the ride, and i assume the geographic and cultural center of iowa.
so on this particular day colleen spent the entire 65 mile ride with a foggy left eye that could not see anything. i know, total baby right? here she is crying about it already.
thank you colleen and lindsey, for documenting my finest hour. this picture from them is 5am one morning. we decided the previous night to try for an early start. for many sick freaks in tent city, 5am seemed like the perfect time to wake up. for me it was absolutely unacceptable, and i did my best to whine and whinge and generally be a pest until awake.
oh, this was cool -- some massive piece of farm equipment that had many slots in it, i presume for briskly converting a standing stalk of corn to a handful of cobbs. anyway, it doubled as a pretty hard core bike rack.
here's the city hall of vining, iowa, population 65. what is great about this town is they can get all of their buildings from disneyland's 5/8th scale "toon town".
i tried very hard to dress as a member of the feared street gang los locos
donal and i find "the google" for sale in one town.
oh shiiit. this is a food dominic or dave would have prepared every day in college, had he known about it: the walking taco. it sounds like a yo-yo trick. it tastes like heaven.
i haven't checked for a recipe or theory of use online, but the basic operation is this: gather up standard taco ingredients, plugs fun-sized bags of nacho cheez doritos. now, look at your taco ingredients and throw out the tortillas -- you don't need that shit! next, take a bag of doritos, crush everything inside, and carefully slice the bag lengthwise. dump in the lettuce, meat, cheese, sour cream, and any other ingredients. add disposable fork. enjoy.
the main thing about this is that i have no idea how to make this face.
some mid-day tallboys and sun. when i said "shit beer" earlier, this is what i meant; bud light, michelob, and some kind of miller were staples. drinking a microbrew (which you must have packed from the city) might get you run out of town to the sound of banjo music.
many bikes were towing coolers rigged with car batteries, amps, and huge speakers. the effect was awesome: roll in to a town of 100 just blasting some loud metal, rap, or (as was often the case) journey.
but this contraption above was unique: a portable automatic drink mixer, complete with cups, several cocktail choices, and a "bonus shot" button i assume got pressed every time.
an auctioneering dude directing bike traffic. i asked him to do his auctioneer voice.
colleen and lindsey, kissing a pig.
as the week wound down, the pass-through town street parties tended to get wilder. this guy, shouting and blasting his way through the crowd, had priorities.
another children-of-the-corn shot.
the end of the road: the great mississippi river (or, as donal tended to call it, the "missisiouri").
done with the ride, we repack our bikes...
...and hop aboard the long train home. the end.