That’s all you need to know.
But since you’re here I might as well fill you in on some of the details.
What is Ragbrai.
What isn’t Ragbrai? I’ve been on it 6 times now and each time seen something new. A man on a unicycle. A man hauling an entire kitchen sink. A man wearing a loin cloth. Grown adults paying good money for something called a walking taco.
It involves Doritos which cancels me completely out of that equation.
Back to Ragbrai. Some call it “The” Ragbrai. It is Ragbrai. One word, said as quickly as possible.
What does it stand for?
If you have to ask you don’t know and it doesn’t matter any way. You go on (the) Ragbrai and you just ride. That’s all it stands for. Just ride.
It’s not a race. It’s not timed. There are wristbands but…whatever. Who wants to spend an entire week with a wristband. It’s not a hospital stay, it’s Ragbrai. And the only thing a wristband gets you is a buck off a walking taco.
You start at the Nebraska border. Everyone converges from all points of the country in Council Bluffs on Saturday night. You pitch your tent and pile off your belongings for the week into a rented van. If you are my husband, you pack like a woman and show up with 3 bags, enough clothes to outfit the entire team in something new each day, a tool box, two bikes and a torque wrench. When he said this year he might bring a box of Izze I told him stop. Stop right there. Do not make yourself any more of a fancy pants woman than you already are. This ship has a 1 bag limit Waterstraat which you shall not exceed this year. He tells me that the van will have extra room since Meredith (his sister) is not going which means that there will be an entire row of the van that is NOT consumed by her cowboy boots.
It’s a van seat, not real estate.
You wake up Sunday and you ride. From town to town until you reach the end town. Actually you ride from water tower to water tower until you reach the one that says the end town’s name. When you get to the end town you find a shower, find some food, pitch your tent, engage in festivities of your choice, get up and ride again.
Festivities which in years past have included….
I am not at liberty to say. But let me say that I am still wounded by the memory of a naked man covered in baby oil sliding across the floor of a small town Iowa bar.
You don’t sleep much on Ragbrai. Some years the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer is so thick it wraps around you like a blanket you cannot shake off all night. Add to that the noisy rumblings of riff raff walking down the street, a snoring guy in a tent adjacent to yours or – in the case of Missouri Valley – a train that cuts through the center of town and blows it horn every 30 minutes all night long.
Sleep is rare. Miles are many. Food is scarce if you are looking for something outside of the white food group – that would be anything other than meat. It’s a rough week if you like things that are green. A HyVee is like heaven – an entire place that has food that doesn’t cost 10 bucks per serving. You eat what you can when you can. You don’t have a nutrition plan. It’s Ragbrai. You just ride. Sometimes you stop in the middle of the ride and eat pie. Chocolate donuts at mile 45, skipping breakfast until mile 30 and taking shots of Pucker at mile 92 – not some of your best "nutrition plans" but still produced some pretty good times.
Yes, we ride. Everyone rides. No matter the age, size or bike they ride. You ride as hard as you want to. As fast or as slow as you want to. Sometimes we ride fast. Like the day we had a southern tailwind. Spun out at 40+ mph on the flats. I was dropped at 32. Sometimes we ride slow. Like the day The Timmers and I tried to hold a 4.4 mph paceline. Some woman rode by and shouted “what the hell are they on?”
Most of the time we ride fast – or at least try. That’s what it’s all about. You ride hard, you hang in a paceline, you pull when you can, and you get that sweaty neck nervous sweat while telling yourself only 12 more miles I only have to hold this 12 more miles until the next town. You get scared but become fearless. You become fearless and grow strong.
You live outside for an entire week. It’s like camping but more work. Because you camp and then you ride. You ride about 70 to 100 miles a day. You ride in wind, rain, shine. You get shiny. You get sunburned. You get chafed. You get a funny rash. You think your shorts are clean each morning. You hope. You learn that morning dew is the enemy. You realize that peeing on your tent in the middle of the night is not one of your finest ideas. You find that cold cream soda at mile 85 of the century – which turns out to be 114 miles – just saved your life. You get dropped. You drop the hammer. You get so desperate in the heat that you are willing to pay 2 bucks for 12 ounces of Gatorade. You smell things. Funny things. You fear they might be yourself. You realize the only thing hotter than Kona is going into a Kybo in the middle of a cornfield in Iown at the end of July. You make friends. You see a lot of stickers. You experience one storm that scares the shit out of you. You tell someone to get off your wheel. You beg someone to let you sit on their wheel. You see corn. You see soybeans. You eat pancakes for breakfast. And you like it.
All of it. You - like - it.
We leave very early Saturday, drop a car off in Burlington and drive to Des Moines. From there we meet the van and drive on to Council Bluffs. By the time the Twin Cities boys meet us there are a few things guaranteed – Marsh will have read the rules and someone will already be keeping any eye on Tim. Once you crawl into the van and find yourself sitting on the hump of the wheel or a man’s knee because you are the smallest one – you realize I’m on Ragbrai.
It doesn’t sound like a vacation but you have to go to know. And once you go something draws you back to it year after year. No matter how many times you got rained on, no matter how hard the wind blew, no matter how many times you told yourself I am never doing this again – something draws you back. Something about escaping to the heart of the country to the middle of nowhere that sounds better than any beach getaway or European tour.
It's a heck of a lot cheaper to boot.
You learn to treasure the little things when you arrive back home – taking a shower without having to go on a hike to find one in a local school or a stranger’s garden hose, being able to finally sit on your own toilet seat, sleeping in air conditioner. It makes you a little more grateful, a little more patient, a lot more relaxed.
That’s why I’m going. I said I wanted to have fun and I promised Jen I would pack my fun eyes. These past few weeks I have had more fun than I have had in years. I've done whatever, whenever with whomever. When I finally took the pressure off of what I had to do, I started to enjoy what I wanted to do. In a word it has been...glorious. So I’m leaving the serious eyes, the structured eyes, the gotta follow a schedule eyes, the I need to eat green things eyes, the angry eyes – I’m leaving all of those behind.
Besides, this ship has a 1 bag limit. And I’m gonna need room in my bag for my hammer.
The big one.