10 Aug Ragbrai 2011
This ride is out of my area of expertise, not to mention putting me way out of my comfort zone. I was once told by a teacher that being out of one’s comfort zone is a positive experience since it does not happen often. I have to agree, that most of the time these experiences lead to a broader perspective.
Heidi and I had talked about working the Ragbrai Expo earlier in the year, that the effort would be good exposure for Enzo’s & ButtonHole Chamois Cream. The Ragbrai Expo is a mini trade show in the parking lot of a small town high school, somewhere close to the Nebraska/Iowa border, also the starting point of Ragbrai.
Saturday is Expo day, the promoters expect a crowd of 15 to 25,000 people walking through the many rows of vendor tents. Set up time for vendors is between 9:00a.m.and noon, and we arrive somewhere around 10:00. We set up in a half hour and I ask Heidi if I can go for a quick ride, she laughs and says, “Like I can stop you? Have fun. Please do not take too long.”
I walk over to the specialized booth and ask if I can use a set of wheels, forgetting mine at the hotel, they allow me use some cool aero clinchers. The guy working the booth asks how long I will be riding and asks if I want company. You know it, and within 5 minutes he is in his Mesa Cycling kit, way cool. I start wondering if this kid is going to be kind or rip me apart, knowing the Mesa team has some talented riders, oh well, I have been dropped before. As he is putting air in his tires it starts to rain, not light rain but golf ball size drops, we look at each other, laugh and say, “let’s go”. Not many people would start a ride in this kind of rain, but the temps were low 90’s and super humid so it was like we were in the rain already.
Rolling out, a guy from the Trek tent barks a quick route that sound nice, thanking him we head in that direction. Little did I know this would be the start of stage 1. We climb about a 300′ over one half mile into beautiful rolling terrain. 5 to 6 foot stalks of corn 3rd week of July, awesome. The rain stops and we decide the ride will be 30 minutes out then flip, remembering we are here to work, not play. This was a nice start to the craziness I was about to be subjected to. Returning to the expo, we both acknowledge our gratitude for the company, tell each other to have a great day, and that was that.
Heidi is happy to see me return before noon since the people have already been asking about ButtonHole, I start talking while still in my Enzo’s kit. Heidi says while pointing at me, this is the guy that made the formula, great, now people are flocking like we are giving away lotto tickets. Finally the crowd moves on and I have a few minutes to change. I set up the bottle toss game that was Heidi’s idea, freaking genius idea too. 10 water bottles set up like bowling pins without the lids, and three ping pong balls. The game, you get three attempts to bounce 1 ball into a bottle, do this and Enzo will give you that bottle. While people are waiting in line, they are stuck listening to both of us talk about how great ButtonHole is, how to use it and why. I said genius and I was not kidding, the Enzo’s tent had a line that lasted about 5 hours, with only a few 1-2 minute breaks, that is correct. It was like we were giving away cash. Heidi said at one point she looked at me working the bottle toss game and just had to laugh. Knowing I am way out of my comfort zone in this large crowd of seemingly mindless humans, lemmings following the others, all for a free sample and the chance to win a water bottle. We had at least 40 people come back and try 2-3 times not winning on their first attempt. Some people would bitch, this thing is rigged, have you given any bottle away? After an hour of this I transformed into Mr. Carney, telling the scammers to get lost, busting them for their multiple attempts. Only the people that were polite or nice would I allow several attempts. The meek shall inherit the water bottles; the rude shall get nothing, and like it, laughter.
5:30, both of us having stiff body parts from standing most of the day in 98f temps and hungry for some real food, the sky is looking black as a tornado siren start going off. I drop the tent into the lowest position hoping the sudden high winds did not make a kite out of our Enzo’s canopy. I start loading product boxes into the back of the wagon quickly and good thing, because within 3 minutes, crap is flying everywhere and vendors are trying to keep their displays intact. I have the car packed in 5 minutes and we are ready for the tent, in she goes and we are out of there. Time to go find some dinner after giving away close to 150 Enzo’s bottles and 3000 ButtonHole Chamois packets.
Heidi would have liked to drive home but Druber threw a wrench into the work weekend. Correct, Druber was going to ride the Ragbrai, laughter. The plan was, we would meet and ride stage one together, yea right. This is clearly a plan made by Ragbrai virgins. Veterans of this event know it is nearly impossible to find people in a moving crowd this size, with some luck you will find them on or after the ride. You would think with cell phones it would be no problem, oh no this is rural Iowa, no cell service out here, only a sea of humanity riding bikes.
Heidi drops me off about a mile from the Expo and will drive to the end of the stage, which is 60 miles closer to home. I figure it will take me 3 hours and we will be driving home by noon. Did I mention Ragbrai virgin, this was another pipe dream. What my eyes see next I do not believe. I am riding the exact section of road as yesterday, though looking very different. Picture two lanes of awesome rolling farm roads full of riders, white line to white line as far as the eye can see, that is correct, as far as I could see solid people riding bicycles, cool. I quickly figure out the system, ride the left side of the road, on the white line saying left please, while passing the slower riders. Rolling about 16-18 mph on the climbs and 28-30 on the down hills, I will shoot for 3 hour pace, 18 miles later I come to town #1, the first stop for the Ragbrai, HOLY SHIT, huge traffic jam. This is not really a town, more like a grain silo, general store and a gas station, with the normal 8000 people walking, standing, and drinking, not many riding blocking the road. It takes me 7-10 minutes to go 300 meters. I am out of my comfort zone while trying to gain a little perspective. No dice, all I can think is how fast can I escape this crowd. Finally rolling again and I see a jersey I recognize from superweek, it is Brendan (Atlas Racing) laughing that we are riding this event, he tells me this is his 17th year doing it. Then he says I should stop at Mr. Pork Chop and buy a pork chop sandwich. Dude, no way, we have 40 miles to ride in high 90 F temps. No freaking way am I eating a BBQ pork chop samy while riding. He says this is Ragbrai dude, a common response I will hear many times before the day is over. This is nothing more that justification to act crazy while riding cross country on a bicycle.
Brendan introduces me to his group, three guys and gals from Colorado, I ride with them for the next 10 miles and they teach me a few of the Ragbrai terms. Cannon ball is any rider going against the grain, or riding the opposite way of the Ragbrai route, completely insane. Left is the word that means I am passing so get out of my way. We reach the half way point where there is a mini carnival going on, with most people stopping to regroup or refuel. We stopped to refill bottles while a few buy sandwiches, which I found weird. This is only a 60 mile ride, I am carrying 1 bar, two gels, two bottles. I refill my bottles with Gatorade and water, my standard on the bike fluid, get back to my bike thinking OK lets go. No way, the group has started drinking beers, that is correct, 10:45 Sunday a.m. while riding in 95+ heat into a 12 mph steady headwind and they are cracking beers. They ask if I would like one, I politely decline, come on dude, this is Ragbrai. I laugh and say, nice to meet you all, I am out of here.
Back to a road of solid riders I get to it, setting into a steady pace. I am passing people on the long climbs like they are standing still, laughing because I feel like I am going very fast. The reality, this is Ragbrai, people are here to party while riding across Iowa. Reaching the end of the route in roughly 3:20, finding Heidi takes me about 20 minutes. My core body temp is high and I take a water bottle shower in the gutter, dumping 4-5 full bottles over my head, no one walking by seems to think anything of this, it is Ragbrai.
Here are the stats, 61.6 miles in 3:18 ride time, 3143 calories, and 4300′ of climbing. I can only guess how many people needed medical attention by the end of the day, remember this is only stage one, with difficult conditions being windy, hilly, and hot. Monday is the hardest stage with 4800 ft. of climbing, at 67 miles, with a forecast for similar temperatures, Good luck.
The cool thing about Ragbrai is the massive amount of positive energy; most people seem to be having the time of their lives, which is very cool. I for one ride my bike for a different reason; my ego juice comes from racing. To all Ragbrai addicts, thank you for the show, you can have my part of this Ragbrai thing. Enzo is happy that these events exist; clearly many people love this rolling MardiGras.
Next up, the Elk Grove race report.