Ragbrai time officially begins at half past Chris o’clock when the Waterstraat chimes in with a frustrated aw f**k you guys.
It happens every Ragbrai like clockwork. This year it occurred Friday night around 10:17 pm.
We woke up early Saturday morning, loaded up the cars and drove out to LeClaire. Meredith, myself, Chris and monkey. Meredith always brings along some stuffed friend (nothing says psychocrazysisterinlaw like an obsession with stuffed dolls). We arrived two hours later in the Mississippi River valley to meet up the Red Bear and Jennifer.
We parked our LeClaire. We rented a car to drive to the Nebraska border. Somehow we need to get the car dropped off in Omaha and the driver back to Missouri Valley where the ride begins. The rest of the team is driving down from Minneapolis with the rented 15 passenger van. After some complex math, tactful packing and getting uncomfortably close to men I only see once a year, we somehow jam the van with 12 bikes, 12 lawn chairs, a cooler, helmets, shoes and luggage that most certainly exceeds the 50 lb airline limit. Plus the people.
Red Bear, Jennifer meet us. The car is packed with only one fit of anger from Chris. When he announced the box of booze would be left behind a collective groan came from others. And then the decision was made:
Grab the Jack Daniels, leave everything else behind.
Orders like that make Chris more appropriately Captain Chris. Meredith and I decide we will make him a cape. Finally the five of us, monkey and Jack are on the road. The first beer was cracked at 11:20 am. NOTE: I do not crack beer. There’s nothing wrong with a drink (unless it’s before noon but then again Rabgrai time is a different time zone altogether), there’s just a lot wrong with me drinking and riding. It doesn’t go well. Learned this lesson after doing a shot once at mile 92 of a century. Longest 8 miles of my life. In fact, I don’t drink much on Ragbrai at all which explains why I seem to have the magic ability to remember the memorable moments along the way.
What do five adults do to pass time driving west along I-80? They christen each other with code names. Since this blog will be your inside portal to world and lore of Ragbrai, I shall use code names to protect the guilty and corrupt the innocent. Therefore let me reintroduce you to the Red Bear, Dit Dit, the Waterboy, Chiclet and Rizzy. And we mustn’t forget Bojangles the Monkey.
The rest of the boys are heading down from the Twin Cities. Marsh, Regan, Bill and Baron. Unfortunately that mish mosh of names is actually real. JB – who shall be referred to as JB because he works for the government – is meeting us at the border. Giff will meet us midweek and Joe, JenJen and Trixie will also arrive.
I can feel Ragbrai in the air. I can see it all around. Driving along 80 west there are team buses, RV’s with bike racks, vans, legions of others driving towards the border. We pass signs with names of small towns scattered across Iowa and after enough Ragbrais you start to recognize them and associate them with some memory. Camping by the strip club in Ottumwa, the child sherpas in Glenwood, Operation Echo November in Maquoketa, Chris proposing to me in Marshalltown, the storm in Storm Lake, Bert showing up with the subway sandwich in Riceville. Tipton, Pocahontas, Montezuma, Sheldon, Decorah, north, south, middle of the state.
To make things more fun this year we’ve decided there should be a challenge set each day. Anyone that has played putt-putt with me knows I love a challenge. Red Bear suggested Most Inappropriate Use of Spandex. Should be plenty of opportunity to see that. Trust me. Chris had a good idea. Since there are 4 sets of siblings in our group, the family to put on member in jail one day wins. Chris confesses he has never been to jail but one day might enjoy that. For just a day. First rider to spot Team Tiny. He shows up everywhere and always has a beer - can he really ride?
There was some doubt from the Twin Cities crew that I actually made it to the ride. Is Favre with you? Marsh texts to us. Apparently like Favre I am retired, unretired, retired, unretired from Rabgrai. When we all pull into Missouri Valley at the same time it is confirmed - I am here.
The team celebrates the first night of Ragbrai. Some celebrate bigger than others. At one point Marsh pulls out popsicle sticks with jokes. It was a good try but didn't get too many laughs. They were really bad jokes.
Day 1 passes. I offer to drive the van for the first day. I've got a 90 minute run to do and want to find a pool. The team cleans up the campsite and I set off to run. River valleys have hills. Long long long steep hills. I find the most perfect rolling crushed gravel road instead. To my left are soybeans, to my right corn. It is so peaceful at one point I realized that I heard nothing - nothing - at all. The run was quiet, beautiful and once cloud cover settled over the valley it was cool.
Next up drive the van to Harlan. I decide to ride the course backwards to the first town to see if I can meet up with the team. Soon into it I decide riding the course backwards is one way to risk my life in less than 35 miles. I am nearly taken out by an antsy man making a left turn in front of me towards Tom's Turkey Stop. I stood around in Shelby watching Ragbrai roll by. The team doesn't seem to be around so I turn around and ride back. I make a new friend. I make an effort to walk to the pool but notice crowds of salty riders standing in the lap lanes so I ditch that idea.
And now the team is back. Some are going for a run. Some are scolding them for being overachievers. And for me - it's time for a hose shower. It's 95 degrees and standing under a cold water sounds better than coffee to me.
PS - it is 4 pm and I have not had coffee today. Ah, Ragbrai.