Ragbrai - A Rough Start

A Doug's Life
[Above: Me, Russ, Alan and Conrad during our Expo shindig.]

The first day Ragbrai kicks off with no riding. It was Expo Day, a massive confluence of riders, bike vendors, food vendors, music stages, beer, beer and more beer, and so many bikes everywhere it was kind of a mess of handlebars and tangled pedals.

Even though we knew the next day was our first big ride, we ate, drank and caroused to our delight. Little did we know it would have been our only day to luxuriate in such downtime.

We had no idea what was in store for us the rest of the week.

As late afternoon started nudging early evening, I was eager to get some sleep. I was really feeling the effects of a long day.

We awoke in Kansas City, loaded the truck, did the 4-hour drive north, navigated through Sioux City among the Ragbrai closures and detours, found the charter company’s setup area to drop off Russ, Conrad and their gear, drove across the city to the rental car drop off, then biked back across the city to meet up with those guys to explore the Expo.

When it came time to set up camp it took a long time for me and Alan to find a site and get settled. There were tents pitched everywhere – and I’m not used to crowding in with others.

But I had to get used to that quickly since this tent-pitch-puzzle had the same solution each time.

On a few occasions Alan and I moved our spot after discovering some greener grass – all pun intended.

But I found the attitude among the campers was quite neighborly. Folks didn’t mind you moving onto that coveted grassy spot. Everyone had info about where to find the shower trucks or the water filling stations.

Happily, you just pass it forward to the next couple of people that show up.

But there was another issue brewing that I hadn’t been paying attention to and would turn out to be a big problem for me the next morning and for some days after that.

... ... ... ...

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[Above: The Missouri River, and the long line to drop off your bag to the semi-truck that hauls your stuff. Someone said it was about 1/2 mile. It took an hour was a miserable start to the first day of riding.]

The next day, the first ride day, I awoke at 4 AM feeling horrible. Burning throat. Lots of bronchial coughing attacks. Sinus running like a garden hose. I felt hot. Yes, I did feel something was off yesterday, but there were so many distractions that I never took any precautions.

Lying in my sleeping bag, I started simmering with disappointment – but it quicky turned to anger then some sort of revenge. I was not going to allow this...whatever it was to rob me at the very start of the week.

In all my years of riding, this isn’t new to me. There have been times out on a bike tour when your body says no, but your mind says go.

I decided to go into bike-tour-auto-pilot mode. I didn’t make any changes in the day’s plan.

My usual tactic is to move slowly in everything you do. From getting out of your bag, breaking down camp to each pedal rotation until you can get comfortable.

Since it was still dark-thirty, I had the time.

I waited in this stupid baggage line, got on the bike and started riding. I skipped this line on most other mornings and just carried my stuff. Chalk up a small win for the those that have their bikes outfitted with racks and panniers.

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[Above: Good morning from deep in corn and soybean country.]

It was a gorgeous morning and it felt good to be out on the road in brisk air. My sinus started clearing. But after a while it all came back. There is no option but to keep moving.

Muscle memory is an amazing thing. Once you start your machine, it just wants to go, go, go. I felt hot, so I kept drinking and remember sweating something fierce that day.

I began to study the landscape, the cornfields spreading to the horizon, the hint of a big barn and grain silo off in the distance.

Wow, it was a reality check. Totally gorgeous and was in awe thinking about how the corn belt covers several states, not just Iowa.

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[Above: Certain landscapes will make you feel small.]

But there was no denying that I felt like crap. It seemed like a long, long way to the Mississippi river.

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[Above: I found a needle in the haystack - in that I found Jeff.]

But it didn’t take long for Ragbrai magic to kick in. I saw a familiar rider just ahead. I was excited to find out that it was Jeff, a friend I met while riding in Hawaii.

He understood my situation and rode with me for the day. Our destination to Storm Lake was 77 miles and it was nice to have someone help stock up on water and salty snacks.

I knew the forecast called for increasing heat each day, but I was so hot already today. My fever was taking a toll. I needed this thing to be gone if I wanted to keep riding.

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[Above: Taking a pee break in the corn is an accepted thing this week.]

Eventually you need to pull off the pavement to use the corn field. Some farmers put sticks along the first row that hold toilet paper rolls. Everyone is really good about packing out their trash.

It was a long ride to Storm Lake. Jeff and I were exhausted from the heat and humidity and so hungry for dinner with maybe another dinner for dessert 😉. The craving to eat eclipsed my symptoms of being sick by the end of the ride.

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[Above: We found dinner!]

Just inside of town we started seeing some little lawn signs for a church dinner. We passed the main area of food vendors with its long lines and kept following the signs.

Eventually we found the church. (See photo above).

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[Above: A simple meal, but we ate like kings.]

We each paid 10 bucks for a huge plate of pasta (the nice church lady even went out of her way when I asked for meatless sauce), bread and salad. No long line. And an air-conditioned church basement. Heaven!

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[Above: All the pie is here. Wow!]

Also included was your choice of several home-made pies. This is epic church pie central! We made it to the campground some hours later feeling so much better.

But I had a very rough night dealing with my condition. I am not sure what I caught, but most likely Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

That evening, I would have loved to be able to talk to Virginia, but with the fragile cell network, we could only text.

She suggested saltwater gargle and that I probably rode the whole day with a fever. Wife wisdom strikes: Correct on both accounts.

When I finally slipped into my tent for the night, I can’t remember my old air pad and pillow feeling so extravagant.

It seemed like today tested everything I knew about getting through a tough day in the saddle. I was gratefull to have stepped up to make it through - and that I found a friend for support.

I felt fragile and wished my fried body all the deep sleep it needed for tomorrow's ride, the annual "I Ride 4" day.

It was Steve's day and I had something special in mind. I needed a lot of sleep and some luck!

... ... ... ...

If you made it this far, thanks for hanging in there. If you'd like to add to the story, have a comment or question to share, use the comment form below.

The comment password is: life is good


Comments (3) -

Anthony Mikkonen
Anthony Mikkonen 9/10/2023 10:24:30 AM



Jesus....that's definitely a tough start of your journey. You are really strong Doug, because I would have just curled up in that sleeping bag and called it a day! That one shot of the green field is just amazing. That's so cool you found Jeff too!


Thanks Tony & Lizzy. This migration across the corn is certainly an odyssey all to itself.  

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