Monday, August 13, 2012


Yes, I know I've not posted in nearly a month.  Of course, I was on the road with the bikers for the first week, and since it ended 2 weeks ago I've been caught up in the return to Tucson, and I've also been under the weather a bit from Olympic fever...  Nothing serious, was over it yesterday when it ended!

Also, it is difficult to write about "RAGBRAI immediately afterwards.  You need to stew in the memories a bit and let the pain and sweat and heat fade a bit and let the friendship and good times percolate to the front of your conscienceness.  After 15+ times at the event (this was the 40th edition), I can remember some truly miserable times, but I keep going back for more!  What does that say about me???

While I've been with "Team Toad" for nearly 20 years after my accidentally joining them (subject for another post) in 1993, the only other member of that first trip is our fearless-leader Carl and morale-officer Curt.  New faces come and go over the years, some permanently, unfortunately...  But every year Carl manages to find a few new riders to join in and it is a blast every time, experiencing the week with new personnel.  This year we had RAGBRAI veteran Katy join us, Lynn rode most of the week, 2 days with his great-niece Elizabeth, Romy and son Nick joined the whole week, with S.O. Julie jumping in for 2 days.  Newbies Bryan and Carole joined us from Tucson - I've known Bryan for a couple decades, and they finally pulled the trigger in joining us.  The trip across Iowa to the start in Sioux Center was uneventful this year (unlike the flat tire 2 years ago), but we knew we were headed into the "hot zone" with some pretty excessive temperatures and drought conditions in the western part of the state.  We stopped frequently for food, bathroom and fuel breaks to help break up the trip, and we got into town late in the afternoon.  The pictures here show new college grad Anne at left, who is moving to Tacoma as I write this to start her new job (cool shades!).  And at right are Lynn, Maggie, Dean, Romy and Nick enjoying the cross-state bus ride.

Our hosts in Sioux Center provided us with a spectacular shaded back yard, which felt a lot cooler than the upper 90 temps would indicate.  This is our standard "tent village" that we lived out of - a normal back yard being plenty of room for the dozen or so souls that were part of the group.  Carl at front center gave up the tent this year and mostly slept out in his cot - here getting a pre-emptive nap in after doing the bulk of the driving across the state.  The strategy worked pretty well - the normal need for a tent, other than keeping out rain of which there was little this year, is to separate you from the mosquitoes.  The one good thing about the drought conditions is that there were absolutely no bugs the entire week, so Carl's strategy worked out well!

About the time we turned in shortly after sunset (our group doesn't do much late-night partying!), we were treated to a fireworks show through the trees in the not-too-far distance (in these small towns, nothing is too far away!).  The next morning, after everyone had left and I was alone to scout out breakfast and restock coolers, I saw and interesting-looking pair of flatbed trailers.  A new type of calliope?  No - one of the labels reveals it to be the firework platforms.  The company is located just a ways over the Missouri river in Yankton, SD, so it is easy enough to set up the display at the warehouse, tow it to the location and back afterwards for cleanup - no muss, no fuss.  Uninteresting to some, but cool to me!

And speaking of interesting - I grew up in small-town Iowa, and while mostly you have to make your own fun, there are a few jewels out in the prairie!  Mentioned significantly in the RAGBRAI literature for our first overnight town of Cherokee was the Sanford Museum and Planetarium.  How could I not stop by and pay it a visit?  It was really a  nice little museum - they had a permanent display of some of the local geology mixed with what regional fossils tell us of the early flora and fauna.  There were also displays of early people (Native Americans) that lived in the area.  A temporary exhibit consisted of very nice images taken by a professional photographer on a summer sabbatical tour of the National Parks.  Of course, the main interest to me was the planetarium - the first one in Iowa, dedicated in 1951.  It was a small dome and projector, but the director of the facility gave a nice sky tour as part of an almost continuous tour for the RAGBRAI crowd that cycled through the facility.  It was a nice respite from the normal sorts of overnight town attractions.

Later that night, as all the team members wander in, find a church or civic group that serves dinner and we take advantage of our host's shower,  we sat around and reviewed the high points of the day.  I had joined Carl, Curt and Anne at the Community Center, just down the hill from where we were staying.  As we waited in line, we ran into Dean and Maggie coming out - turns out that instead of the long wait for the upstairs dinner, we should go downstairs where another group was serving.  We had pork sandwiches, cheesy potatoes, macaroni salad and home-made cookies for dessert for $8.  While they seemed a little chintzy on portions as we came through (they were trying to get to their listed 8pm closing time), by the time we finished eating, they reached closing and we all got free seconds.  It was a breast cancer benefit, and many threw in a couple bucks more for the second trip.  Cherokee was the first of several days where the hosts put us up not out in the yards, but in the air-conditioned interior.  It is a godsend sometimes (don't forget the highs were near or over 100F for much of the first half of the ride) to get out of the heat, at least for a good night's sleep.  Of course, the close proximity of snoring teammates affected the latter, but I'm not complaining!  To close out the evening, Carl and Katy formed a duet for our entertainment, singing some folk and popular tunes.  They are good!

While I have fun on RAGBRAI, realize that as a support driver, I don't often get on the bike route.  My duties involve keeping the cooler stocked and cold, keeping the requested snacks on hand and getting fuel as needed.  Occasionally riders have mechanical issues or breakdowns and I can come into play, but most of the towns have bike mechanics to keep them rolling  Often some riders want to be picked up or dropped off on the route - there is a "mid-town" where the support drivers are allowed access to the route.  On that next day Katy wanted a pickup, so we set up an appointment in Schaller, Iowa, the popcorn capital of Iowa!  While waiting I got to enjoy some of the amenities of the route, never seen on the support route.  Shown at left here are ladies from the Lutheran church serving the infamous "porkchop on a stick".  Back when I rode the route I'd had a "Pork Chop Man" chop, but these were pretty good for $5.  That is me on the right enjoying it.  Of course free popcorn was supplied to anyone who wanted any!  And while only Katy wanted the pickup, 3 other riders joined in for a "sag" to Lake City.

The next couple days were a blur of heat and more heat!  We enjoyed a couple days of temperatures more like those of Arizona, with the added humidity of the Midwest.  It peaked out at 105F as I recall.  Fortunately our hosts invited us inside for sleeping on the miserable nights.  Lynn was our studly biker - camping and sleeping outside through the worst of the heat.  Speaking of hosts - they were uniformly great this year!  We've had hosts that I've met at the door as they were leaving saying "fridge is full of beer - make yourselves at home!" as they head out to serve meals to riders.  Others you rarely see after pointing out the shower and bathroom, some hang out with you - sit and talk into the night, cooking you dinner and running a couple loads of laundry for you! This year's crop were all friendly, most offered drinks and snacks.  Nancy in Marshalltown had some killer chocolate chip cookies, and in Lake City we had a feast of burgers, brats, beans and watermelon.  The hosts that were the most fun were Roland and Joanne in Webster City, shown here at left flanked by Maggie and Dean(who supplied the picture).  They were just delightful - Roland is retired, but working as a substitute teacher, looking forward to the upcoming school year.   Joanne was a live wire - she was the only one from the household (including our team) who went to the Three Dog Night concert that night, telling us about it the next morning.  She proudly showed us her "HOT" sticker she was awarded by a 20-something fellow, and the pictures of her smooching with him are likely posted on Facebook somewhere!

While I specialize in the mundane tasks of driving and shopping, I try to keep an eye out for interesting items - in the case of Marshalltown, the HyVee grocery store had an interesting Coke display shown at left.  I've seen more elaborate displays over the years, but it was kind of cool.  Marshalltown signaled a change in the ride.  It was still a hot day, but that was about to change and a band of severe weather came through.  Fortunately it was about 10pm, so all the riders were in and mostly under shelter when it hit.  My tent was trying to take the shortcut to Cedar Rapids, left hanging from a single puny stake, but was rescued after the worst had passed.  The storm dropped the temperatures dramatically, and yes, all of us camped outside and even though my feet and lower part of my sleeping bag were in a puddle of water on the low side of the tent, it was about the best I slept all week!  Similarly, temps stayed a good 10-15 degrees lower the rest of the ride making it a little more pleasant.

Marshalltown also marked the addition of some young blood to Team Toad!  Dean and Maggie's grand kids joined the group!  I suspect that it was their first time camping out, and I'm not sure how much sleep the Grandparents got, but it was fun to have them along!  Here Linus and Becca are being put to work to break soggy camp in our Marshalltown back yard. At right Becca looks a little sleepy yet at  7am.

Our stay in Cedar Rapids seemed a slice of paradise!  Our host (a workmate of one of our team, I believe) had a pool in the back yard for us to enjoy and gather 'round!  It was great!  Maggie dropped Dean off at the midpoint town and brought the kids to enjoy the pool - they really enjoyed it, and I got to supervise for a bit when Maggie went to pick Dean up across town.  What a bunch of fun kids! Linus, by the way, is not named after the Peanuts' character, but rather was named after Linus Torvalds, who developed Linux (Linus' dad is a software engineer!).  Interestingly, Linus Torvalds was named after the famous scientist Linus Pauling, one of only 2 people to receive 2 Nobel prizes for different fields, and the only recipient to receive 2 unshared Nobels!  Fascinating what you learn on Wikipedia! 

The riders slowly accumulated to our grand back yard, and all agreed it was so nice that instead of going out for dinner, we'd call out for pizza!  And as pizza arrived, so did the visitors as we were close to the home base of Team Toad (Toddville, about 6 miles north of downtown Cedar Rapids). First Carl's wife Terri and lil' Billy came by (that is Bill at left with his Dad).  While not little in any sense, he first came with the Toads when he was about 5, so I'm still allowed to call him Little Billy, which we all did in those days.  I remember well riding with them and Carl would extend a helping hand to push him up the hills - not needed any more!  And besides those two, Sue Ellen, whose scrooge-of-a-boss wouldn't give her time off this week, stopped by to visit too.  She has promised to be with us next year.  Sue Ellen is at far left in the pizza panorama, followed by Anne, Carl, Romy, Julie, Nick, Billy, Terri and Curt.  What a nice evening!

Dean and Maggie had gone out with the grand kids for dinner, Becca showing me her lavender tongue.  Seems I had been shooting the growing crescent moon every night as it shown down on us, but this shot, taken about the right moment during the twilight best showed it against the darkening sky and canopy of trees.  But this day, just about the longest of the week, even after twilight we still had riders out.  Both Katy (who is known to get caught up in some of the celebrations along the way, shall we say), and the Bryan/Carole team were still out, both arriving about the time full darkness arrived.  Katy had eaten, but Bryan and Carole were grateful for the last pieces of pizza, now long cold.  They also took full advantage of the pool, soaking and swimming laps after I had turned into my sleeping bag.

Friday arrived - headed to the last overnight town Anamosa and the home base for Kurt and Anne.  At left Carl, Curt and Anne are shown leaving our poolside digs.  And the picture at right is Bryan and Carole on their Hase German tandem.  No, they are not on their way to rob a bank, but rather, Carole is avoiding sun exposure w/out liberal amounts of sunscreen...

Of course, we stayed at Curt and Val's house, so Kurt and Anne could sleep in their own beds...  This, at 42 miles the shortest ride of the day for the bikes, was only about 20 miles by car!  So I got in pretty early.  I got to spend a little time with Val, who rode a time or two back in the day, but retired from the biking long ago.  She is a mover and shaker in Anamosa, so on her way to church to serve meals, she gave me the 5 minute tour of town, while putting out fires with the issues at the grade school (about 500 people camping on their grounds) and dropping me off at what is just about the highlight of this little town.  A picture appears at left - can you figure it out?  Built of native limestone from a local quarry, it has been called "The White Palace of the West"  A spectacular structure, it is quite imposing and impressive.  One hint is the little hut on the right side - a guard tower!  Yes, it is the Anamosa State Penitentiary!  A maximum-security prison, it holds about 1200 inmates and employs nearly 400, our buddy Curt among them.  He supervises a kitchen staff drawn from the inmates.  I'll try to do a separate post, it really is an interesting place!

The rest of RAGBRAI is a blur - the last day always seems to be a rush to finish and get on towards home.  Curt and Anne stayed in Anamosa after seeing their own beds, as did Lynn.  Dean and Maggie also retired in Anamosa after bringing Linus along on a "tag along" attachment behind Grandpa.  I camped in Kurt's yard, even after being offered a couch - only my 4th night in the tent for the week!  I dropped off Carl in Charlotte at my step-mom's house, only 20 miles or so from the end, then headed to my Uncle John's house to meet up with a cousin who was there briefly.  Melinda joined me to drop off the bus in Clinton just as Carl rode up.  He waited for Bryan and Carol, then they headed back to Cedar Rapids in a nearly-empty bus.  Melinda and I were off to a great niece's birthday party, then we headed back to St Charles, home by 11pm.  It was a long week, but as usual, full of fun memories - the discomfort from the heat is already fading...  Can't wait to do it again!

No comments: