I spent a week on the 'Rag and survived.
Over 400 miles, countless bars, assorted gels, buckets of sunscreen, salt tabs, sports drink, water, chammy butter, body glide, hose showers, and other things you need to make it through a week of camping and biking across the Iowa state.
I am not sure where I last left off. I'm not sure I provided any sort of a portal into the Ragbrai world. Internet access in Iowa was spotty at best. And even if it was there, I didn't go out looking. There is something to be said for completely disconnecting for a week. To turn off the phone, the e-mail and to strip life down to the basics - eat, ride, sleep. Wake up the next day and do it again.
I believe I last left off on Wednesday. That night around 11:30 pm it started pouring rain. It continued through the morning. Since the van was filled with our belongings it would be impossible for everyone to sag. Most of the boys biked while Dit, Baron, Billy Boy, Trixie, Jen and I decided a big ass breakfast was in order. When you spend a week living on bars for breakfast and then arrive at a Perkins - you know exactly what you want. Eggs, pancakes, syrup, butter, coffee and lots and lots of cream. Even if that's not what you usually take.
In a pancake coma, we arrived in North Liberty. The girls were starting to feel guilty about not riding. The pouring rain had turned simply overcast skies. Perfect for a ride. So we suited up in our pink jerseys and headed out to meet the boys. Riding the course backwards is never easy. You find yourself coming up fast against the meat of Ragbrai - mountain bikes, squirrely pace lines, men wearing skirts and people with all sorts of things in addition to helmets on their heads. Add to that the fact that you are a paceline of 4 fast chicks and you get a lot of looks, hoots and hollers. After about 30 minutes, Jen and Trixie were lured by the siren sound of 'free beer stop'. Jen tried to convince me that it was Team Rule #38 - when you are faced with free beer, you stop. I threw back Team Rule #39 - Liz is exempt from all team rules and will continue to ride. Pulled Dit to the half way town and waited.
The boys never showed up quickly enough so we turned around and rode back. I told Dit to hang on and I would pull into the headwind as fast as possible. At one point I looked behind me and noticed I was pulling nearly half of the men on Ragbrai. It is fun to be a strong woman. You get a lot of comments - hey, that's a chick, holy crap she's fast, look at her go. As we pulled into the end town some guy came up to me and said I've never seen a woman ride like that. I felt like saying mister, you've never met my HTFU friends.
That night was uneventful. We stayed at someone's condo which actually meant an indoor sleeping space and a warm shower. Things like that on Ragbrai are so uncommon you treasure every minute of them. Trixie pointed out it was the first time we had been indoors in over 5 days. She was right. The little things you lose sight of when you live outside.
Friday was perhaps my favorite day. I spent a good amount of time pulling the line with Chris. We did a double line down the road and it felt strong to be in front. Another free beer stop that deterred the team but kept Chris and I going. These are my favorite times and remind me of early days with Chris. It was 2001 that I went on my first Ragbrai after he convinced me I just had to go. I remember the flexion of his calves as I sat behind him in the paceline. These days he goes so fast all I can do is stare at his wheel and the road ahead, praying for my safety, hanging on for dear life. If he has calves that flex anymore I wouldn't know. But I loved every minute of riding with him. At times we would pick up some pack meat and I would tell him pick it up to shake them off. Someone would get brave and pull out my favorite move - the downhill pull and then we would snap them back up like a rubberband.
We decided to stop in Mount Vernon and eat some little loaves of bread from a Russian Tea Room. We learned the French spelling of KYBO was CAIBO as indicated on a bunch of signs in the town. I've seen some crazy spellings of words this week. We walked into a wine shop to see their menu and ended up buying one dollar cans of Schlitz because - seriously - who sells Schlitz anymore? I almost lost it when a guy poured his can into a decanter before pouring it into a glass. Our purpose with the beer purchase was to also bring sustenance to Tim who was meeting us in Mechanicsville. As Chris and I rode towards the town, a man came up alongside me huffing and puffing he asked "is that a Schlitz in your rear bottle cage?" Why yes, sir, it is. He said he "just had to ask" and then peeled off the back. I guess you work for what you really need to know in life. We headed out to meet Timmers and found him with Trixie eating shrimp on the side of the road. Something I would never eat in a state that is more than 150 miles away from an ocean (a rule I learned from Giff) - shrimp.
The rest of the team arrived along with two other teams we seem to hang out with all week long - Atlas and Bastardos. They are strong riders but stronger beer drinkers. As you can tell, Ragbrai is more about the festivities than riding with many. I was reminded of my disobedience to this almost every day. The fact that I would not touch 20 cans of Coors Light each day made me the outlander but honestly - I could care less. I just love to ride.
Jen came walking across the street with a tray full of Bloody Mary's around 2pm. When I thought about having one she said "I'll make that decision for you" and put the cup in front of me. I sipped it - it was ok. And for the record I needed the salt. But could barely finish it. And didn't want to anyways. I wanted to ride again! So I took off with Dit and pulled - again - a line of many men back towards the end town of Tipton.
That night I woke up 1:47 am to the sound of a bear snoring. It had to be. I was surrounded by tents and had no idea where the sound came from. Stormed out of my tent and located the offender. And then I looked around. Something had to be done. I'm a light sleeper and can't stand the sound of anything. So I decided to throw something at the man's tent. I found a few empty beer cans and pop bottles and took my best shots. Then I shouted at him. Next year, I'm bringing ear plugs or some bigger things to throw.
The next morning was the last day. We set out and after 20 minutes I took my turn at the front of the line. This week I have learned I am strong enough to pull the line and need to take risks like that more often. It felt strong, steady and powerful to be in the lead. It hurt my head more than my legs but most endurance sports are like that. Fatigue is really all a head game. As long as you keep the fluids and fuel coming in, you can go and go and go....just talk yourself into it and be ready to fight your head. Giff pulled up next to me in the line. I wanted to keep pulling faster and faster - a move Chris calls the slow boil. We were moving along wickedly fast and Giff was getting the mukes and announcing to me that a muffin and donut were no breakfast for biking champions. That's why I settled for my 100th bar of the week.
The rest of the ride I took more turns pulling then we caught up with another team that was trying to create the longest paceline on Ragbrai. After about 10 miles of that I got bored, slow and itchy to move my own line so I took off with the Red Bear and Dit towards LeClaire. LeClaire was the end town. I passed under the banner and realized that Ragbrai was done.
Back at the van, everyone packed up. The van taketh, the van giveth and items lost throughout the week were spit back out from the van's innermost parts. A water bottle, my swimsuit, a towel. One last hose shower to rinse off and cold water never felt so good. Said our goodbyes and drove back towards home.
I will write more about the lessons I learned along the way. There were many. And I will put them into words at another time. But now I am back at home with about 20 piles of laundry waiting for me and I cannot wait to see my dog. He is at my mom's house and I do believe when I see him I will be doing the crazy laps. If my legs can take it.
Cheers to the Rag - it's good to be done.