On Day 4 I felt like a rock star.
Except for my feet. They were so raw as the knuckles of my smaller toes were being chafed bloody by the cycling shoe. Most valuable member of a Ragbrai team? A doctor. Leave it to Dr. Nuts to fix me up. He pulls out a jar of something that he explains will seal my toes for the next 3 days. I don’t know what it was but when Red Bear walked by asking what it was I told him that Dr. Nuts was shellacking my toes to protect them.
Red Bear then asked if Dr. Nuts could shellac his liver for protection.
Before we rolled out, Chris and I headed to the town square to the cutest coffee shop. Imagine that – real coffee on Ragbrai. I’ll pay 4 bucks for that. I fueled up with a bagel, yogurt, coffee, even peanut butter. Chris had a cinnamon bun. His diet had been so Ragbraied I told him that for a week after he was going on green foods only detox and for the first time ever he agreed.
Today would be easy. 44.4 miles with 2,182 feet of climbing. It almost seems silly to get on to the bike for less than 50 miles. 44.4 miles is a little over 2 hours. 2 hours is…not even worth using up a pair of clean shorts. Plus, what would we do with the rest of the day…?
A few miles ahead we found the rest of the team at a breakfast stop alongside the road. They opted for breakfast burritos that were turning out to be not such a good idea. Not only that but the team looked ragged. Some were up really late last night having a fun in true Ragbrai proportions and there were a lot of mumbles and grumbles going around.
We rolled out as a group on to Milo. I did some pulling, the pace was fast at times but it was mostly flat. We pulled into Milo realizing that we had half the route done in about an hour. This ride was going by too fast and the day was too early. M took a nap in a makeshift tent. The rest of us listened to the worst karaoke possible. Dr. Nuts bought a case of Coors Light that the guys enjoyed while we sat on the ground surrounded by bikes. We were killing time, Ragbrai-style.
And we had time to kill. You see, we had an appointment today. An appointment for filming. After National Geographic rated Ragbrai as number 7 on the world’s top 100 outdoor adventures, it sparked some interest. A camera crew had been rolling around all week. All week we had passed this crew being hauled up hills by a tandem with a rack on the back, some guy sitting on it with a camera filming the ride go by. Somehow the crew knew a guy that we knew and that guy told the filmers, if you want to film fast riders in a paceline, you find Trousermouse.
The first round of filming was somewhere between Milo and Lacona. They wanted us to ride in a rotating double paceline with 30 second pulls. Most of our team was there plus the Metz boys. The Metz boys are a father and son duo – both former pro cyclists. To give you a sense of how strong they are, Sean’s quads are the size of both my legs together and Todd did all of Ragbrai on a steel cyclocross bike.
The paceline assembled and we took turns pulling. It was both exhilarating and nervewracking. The meat of Ragbrai was on the right of us as we whizzed down the left side of the road. Plus the pressure of the camera there to capture our every move, every word and by the way hold your freakin’ line. At one point it was Jen and I leading both lines. We were pulling at least 10 men ridiculously fast down the road, coming up on Ragbrai shouting ON YOUR LEFT! In a word it was – powerful. Power is power. And it feels so good. We kept trying to decide where to roll off, “now?” she’d asked, “up over the next hill” I’d say. This stretch of road was hill after hill after hill so we pulled a good 5 minutes strong up and over the hills before we finally rolled off.
Once in Lacona, the filming stopped and we waited for our second appointment where they wanted us to do some other work down a road off the route. Under a giant sycamore, most of us sat in the grass passing time and catching our breath. Breathe. I looked up through the sycamore to see the most beautiful Ragbrai sky scattered with cumulus clouds.
After awhile, Atlas arrived and set up a heckle hill to watch the riders roll out of town. Since we were still waiting, we joined them. From someone’s lawn, M. borrowed a small yellow plastic turtle statue with a flag on it that said something like “slow down, children at play” and put it in the middle of the road along with a dollar. The goal of this game is to get riders to stop to pick up the dollar. I’ll spare you the details but will add that if you ever see a dollar on the ground on Ragbrai do not pick it up. Next up someone tipped the plastic turtle which then led B. to spread POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape across the road to warn riders of the “accident”. That led to a game of Ragbrai Limbo to see if any riders would get low enough on their bikes to go under the tape.
Finally the filming crew arrived. A few of the Atlas team joined us and in a split second they shouted “it’s time!”. My wattage and HR went from zero to 239498 in matter of seconds and once again I realized the importance of having a strong jump in cycling. I was able to jump on to the line and we rode. This was more nervewracking than the first filming. The group was bigger but this time they wanted a single paceline rotating down the road at high speeds. Hold your line, keep pace, accelerate, up the hill, hold it, breathe, watch the wheel. After about 20 minutes, the filming was done and we had to state our names and release the footage to be used on tape.
As a giant group, Atlas, Bastardos and Trousermouse rolled out of Lacona to finish up what was now feeling like an neverending 44 mile day. We were in a large paceline and I remember getting to the front and pulling with Chris. Pushing down a very steep hill, Sean told me that I had several more gears to go so I geared down and tried my best to downhill pull. My downhill pull is useless to the guys behind me, with a good 60+ pounds on me, so I watched the entire group pull around me, outdescend me and start up to the next hill.
The downhill outdescend. So frustrating. Rather than sit up and accept that yet again I was outdescended, I made a move. Jumped out of my saddle putting out a new all time high power output to not only bridge the gap but hammer my way up a really long, steep hill to get around them. I have no idea how I did it. The gap was so big and this hill was so steep. As I came up on their left someone shouted no fucking way. Well, fuck you guys because here I come up and over the hill now, huzzah. I caught up to Wally and Steve – both great climbers – and got on their wheels and we pulled away.
We had about 12 miles to go when I realized the rest of the group stopped for free beer alongside the road. It’s team rule that you always stop for free beer but…not today for me. I'm willing to break the rule. Instead, I hung on for dear life to Steve’s wheel who was hanging on for dear life to Wally’s wheel who pulled us into a crosswind at 26 mph into town. It was a pace so awesome in the conditions that when we finally arrived, Steve said to Wally, “If I was gay I would totally want to make out with you tonight.” I will never forget those 12 miles. Holding on felt so fast, so fluid. If it caused me any pain, it was worth every second of it.
During those 12 miles, in addition to concentrating on Steve’s wheel so hard that my head hurt, I thought about the why. You see, for the past 4 days I had been chided over and over again for “not having fun”, for not drinking beer, for not getting silly drunk during the day. I brush it all off because my actions need not be owned by anyone but me. If other people want to put me down because of what I do – whatever, that is their waste of time. But still it made me think. Really – why don’t I just drink myself silly and have what everyone is telling me is such a good time….
It hit me today. It’s because I love to ride. I have no interest in stopping in a town to throw up hungover in the grass when I can throw up in my mouth as I put out explosive power to bridge a gap up a hill. I want to throw up pancakes while outclimbing the men. I want to leave pieces of my quads in the grass when I finally lay down to rest. THAT is what I’m here for. THOSE are my good times.
I rolled into camp in Chariton. If the trains in Council Bluffs were bad, it only got worse here as we were camped at the corner of Frequent Train and Barking Dog (or dog who barked in response to frequent train). Waiting for everyone to get back from what ended up being a classic stop of free beer and naked beer slides…I went for a run and my legs felt amazing. Red Bear rolled in to town and rode alongside me. Someone rollerbladed up to me and asked if I was running Ragbrai. I think I slapped them but more likely said “dear god no are you out of your mind?” Run Ragbrai. Why on earth would you waste a good Ragbrai like that?
Later that evening, I walked around Chariton by myself. I spend a lot of time on Ragbrai alone. It’s one of the few places in life where you can disconnect , disappear into the darkness of night and have quiet in your thoughts. Today was a good day. Moments were hard but I felt free and powerful. I’m here to ride. I don’t know why anyone else is here and honestly I don’t care. This is my ride, my time. In fact, these are my good times.
Which are only going to get better because tomorrow is 100 miles.