Monday, July 20, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Fort Dodge

Chautauqua Park in Storm Lake
I made it to Fort Dodge and the mobile networks seem to be coping with traffic so far, so I'll add more to this post. Last night in Storm Lake I awoke to rain at about 2 am. I knew it was raining because I had purposely left my rain fly half-on and it didn't take much to secure it to keep me dry. I woke up around 5:30 to the sound of other people breaking down their tents, and I (slowly) followed suit, eventually rolling out of town at 7:15. Bathrooms, bottle filling, bag loading, etc. can all take a while with so many people doing it at once.

Storm Lake
I've quickly learned that while I might not be fast to get up, I'm decently fast on my bike. With about 3000 training miles in Colorado, I can keep a pretty fast pace without getting winded. I rode the first two hours today in the rain, which finally let up around the time I got to Manson.

Brunch in Manson
Some people come to RAGBRAI for the ride, some come for the party. Most balance the two, but I'm one of those who's here for the ride. I stop now and then to fill up with water or get something to eat, but I try to get back on the road quickly. Today I got water in Fonda (my 6th/7th grade math teacher's hometown), a sandwich from the Scouts in Manson, and my first slice of rhubarb pie at this great stand in Clare, the last big stop before Ft. Dodge.

Clare was a great last stop before Ft. Dodge
I got to Ft. Dodge just before noon, just in time to snag one of the camping spots with afternoon shade. If there's any reason to ride early, ride fast, or both, it's camping in the shade. I'm just south of Fort Dodge Senior High, the school where I did my 2-month high school student teaching placement. The middle school I worked at for 2 more months is just down the street.

A beautiful day in a shady spot in Fort Dodge.
A guy I talked to after arriving said that by the looks of downtown, Fort Dodge felt like a town with it's best years behind it. Maybe hes right. To me this is a mining town, where gypsum mining operations have fed the local economy for years. Like a lot of mining towns, there's something about this place that just feels a little tougher, a little harder, even if it's not prettier.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Storm Lake

What a beautiful day to ride a bike! The air was cool and (relatively) dry for July in Iowa and I couldn't help but push the pace today. Some riders surely got out before 6 am, but I didn't dip my rear tire in the Missouri River in Sioux City until 6:45. I left town slowly in a crowd, but as I passed people and skipped most of the many stops along the road, the number of riders around me shrunk considerably. I saw very few riders in the last 10 miles into Storm Lake, and I felt a little like a guest who showed up to an event well before it was scheduled to start. I couldn't find a place to fill with water, the food vendors hadn't finished setting up, and the volunteers at the bag pick-up were still getting the hang of things. Getting here early did have some advantages, though: I had my pick of tent sites, plenty of time to shower and rest, and for an hour or two, Verizon's network was still mostly functional. That last bit is certainly not the case now, so I'm leaving this post as a one-paragraph, no-picture update (which hopefully uploads), and I'll try again tomorrow from Ft. Dodge.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

RAGBRAI 2015: Sioux City

Sunset on the Missouri River

As a kid in Iowa whose childhood freedom was viewed over bicycle handlebars, I always wanted to ride RAGBRAI, the [Des Moines] Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It might have taken me a while to get here, but I'm writing this from my tent just feet away from the banks of the Missouri River in Sioux City. Tomorrow I pedal.

I bought a new bicycle in January of 2013. I don't remember why I thought I needed a new one, exactly. My 1990 Bianchi Osprey mountain bike was (and still is) serving me pretty well as a commuter bike back and forth from campus. But Boulder is a bike-crazy town, and a trip to one of Boulder's many bike shops (which outnumber coffee shops, to give you an idea of their number) turned into a shiny new Fuji cyclocross bike. I'd never ridden cyclocross, but I liked the bike's versatility and robustness over a regular road bike.

Since then, I've put many a mile on my new bike, much of it on the roads north of Boulder. It's a spectacular place to ride. I also put in a lot of miles on a cheap Schwinn indoor stationary bike, which gets put to good use on bad-weather days or when I work late and want to squeeze in an hour of pedaling before bedtime. All that biking has added up, so when I looked at this year's RAGBRAI route and the couple thousand miles I had on my legs this year by April, I figured now's the time to head to Iowa and bike across the state.

Sioux City is a great starting town for me. I visited here often in the mid-1990s after my sister moved here. My nephew was born here now almost 21 years ago, and I still remember my sister's house in South Sioux City, Nebraska where we once celebrated our family Christmas. (My sister gave me a Sony Discman!) Later my sister moved to Moville, a small town to the east, but still worked in Sioux City, and I remember passing through in June of 2000 as my sister, nephew, and I headed to Oregon to visit family (and for me to climb Mt. Hood).

Tomorrow's ride is the toughest day of RAGBRAI this year, probably by a good margin barring strong headwinds later this week. It's a little over 70 miles with over 4000 feet of elevation gain. I've done comparable vertical, most recently on a ride from Boulder to Ward up Lefthand Canyon. But that kind of climb in Colorado is mostly one big effort up, followed by one long descent back home. Tomorrow will be up, down, up, down, and with considerably warmer and more humid weather than my long cycling days in Colorado.