Monday, July 30, 2007
184 Miles in Three Days
I took some time off last week to make my annual pilgrimage to Iowa to take part in RAGBRAI -- the annual bicycle trek that begins in on the shore of the Missouri River and ends on the banks of the mighty Mississippi five days later. Last year was my first trip to the annual event that has been going on since 1972. Like last year, this ride attracted approximately 25,000 riders. Towns and cities along the route throw open their doors of welcome as the party on wheels made its way across the state. I had anticipated another ride similar to last year's event. Hot weather in the mid-nineties and very little breeze to cool off the riders. But this year the weather gods were on the riders side. Clear blue skies with temperatures ranging from the mid-seventies to low eighties were common. Brochures touting the ride speak of towns that will never see a Walmart. The route that zigzagged across the state showed that statement to be true. Thursday's ride went through 67 miles of Amish country. Locals shut down their regular activity to sell refreshments along the old highways that made for a gentle ride along rolling hills. As you ride into town homeowners are sitting in lawn chairs watching the steady stream of bicyclists , children spray riders with water from hoses as they coast down the streets void of any traffic but bicycles. Entire downtown areas literally over-flowing with bicycles and riders milling about, enjoying even more refreshments, snacks and new friends. Friday proved to be quite different. The rolling hills became steeper as the route made its way into the sparsely inhabited areas of northwestern Iowa. Saturday continued the climb to a combined elevation of over 7,200 feet in three days. Towns with names like Garry Owen, Bernard, and Lamont either slowly went by as you churned up hills that never ceased to end or waited as a welcome oasis as you coasted in from the down side of the same hill. This year was a different experience as my fellow riders and I camped out in the overnight tent cities that were erected in public parks of the host towns. Evenings filled with concerts, good food and preparation for another day of an early start as the sun rose. Another interesting footnote is the proliferation of cornfields. Though Iowa is known for growing corn -- the coming of ethanol and high gasoline prices has made the corn market a farmers dream. It seems that nearly every open field is crowded with the dark green stalks nearly ready for market. After three days my riders I wondered if next year we should take on all five days of the ride. The sore muscles and bruises at our ages (the youngest being 47 years old) at the end of the trip gives us pause to ponder. One thing is for certain. Whether five days or less, we will be back next year.