Ragbrai - I'm Solo

A Doug's Life

Heading further from the crowds, I am pointed south to one of the bridges that crosses the Mississippi.

On the far side of the river lies Moline, Illinois where a hotel room awaits, and while only dwelling on this for a moment, I’m getting a touch of regular-bed-and-hot-shower fever.

So, I picked up the pace. Instead of a 60ft wide bikes-only road, it felt tight to be hemmed in by a normal bike path being shared with joggers and dog walkers.

It had been a long day so far and somewhat emotional, having reached the end of the official ride. We had managed through all miles and having it end so disordered with no celebration at the river was disappointing. Ah well. Onward I rolled.

Continuing along the Iowa side of the river, the bike path entered a sort of industrial zone. An old and rusted freight loading infrustructure from another era.

But wait, what's this? I spoted an abandoned ramp that headed down to the water and was nearly empty of people, save for a few tourists puttering around.

Well, I’m doing a tire dip right here then, I thought to myself. No crowds, no waiting. At least I can wrap up Ragbrai knowing I completed this one tradition.

A kind woman offered to take my photo with Mi Sombra. We had a short chat. She didn’t know anything about the Ragbrai ride and was somewhat confused. “You did what?"

A Doug's Life

Anyway, I continued on not wanting to delay further. There were miles to go and things to do. Navigate the route, hotel check-in, then a (hopefully) short trip to a local market for groceries. A hotel laundry room would be a nice bonus.

So far this bike path was working well, taking me where I needed to go. I could see my bridge coming up and the bike lane tucked to the very outer edge.

Up a ramp, then over I went, Mi Sombra's wheels humming on the see-through grating that spans the entire way across.

A Doug's Life

Now in Illinois, I connected with another bike path along the river that took me most of the way to the hotel’s neighborhood.

Frustratingly, I found the going quite slow. The bike lane’s twists and turns were not made for high-speed cruisers trying to make 100 miles a day. Jeez!

But it was pleasant enough and soon I found my destination. I settle into my room, then exploded Mi Sombra’s contents everywhere.

Nothing left except empty bike panniers that'll soon be full of groceries.

A Doug's Life

Routine chores filled my early evening. Grocery run with lots to eat for dinner and snacks for the next day. Laundry at the hotel laundry room. Reorganized gear. The charging of all electronics since everything had a low battery. A very long hot shower. And most importantly a nice leisurely call with Virginia to get her all up to speed on everything.

... ... ...

By 8am the next day, I had finished stuffing and lashing the last bits to the bike. I felt great and pushed off into yet more unfamiliar Midwest farm country.

Galesburg Illinois is roughly a 60+ mile ride and hoped the route I'd chosen would be ok. I picked out a mix of paved and dirt sections about 3 months ago while at my desk using Ride With GPS mapping software.

Once in Galesburg, I'll head to the Amtrak station and will be sitting on a train for 2 days while the Southwest Chief rumbles westward to Los Angeles.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I soon found out that Galesburg is a train town, its history heavily intertwined to the railroad industry. It has one of the largest freight yards in the Midwest, the BNSF Hump yard. There are several railroad museums and it will be the future home of the National Railroad Hall of Fame.

The rest of the guys will already be on The Southwest Chief when I board. (They opted to get on at the start of the line – in Chicago – which required a multi hour bus ride and other logistics I wasn’t interested in.)

It was such a nice cool morning leaving the hotel. The route started along a very calm section of the river before turning southward. Far from the craze, this was going to be a nice ride.

A Doug's Life

Luckily as I entered deeper into Illinois farm country, the car traffic was minimal. But I had to get used to sharing the road again. The horror!

Soon the familiar sights of corn and soy were becoming the standard backdrop for the morning.

A Doug's Life

But the real nicety was the quiet and simplicity of going solo. I can’t explain it totally, but there is something very appealing about having the stretch ahead, the open expanse as far as is visible - to myself. Then again with the next stretch. And the next after that.

Nearing the halfway point, I was in the most remote part of the ride. The pavement ended and I started on a series of gravel connector roads.

It felt really remote. I imagined myself from above, a small spec of a cyclist on a dirt road that stretches to infinity.

A Doug's Life

It was good riding since these dirt roads are engineered with multiple packed materials that are consistently smooth without too many potholes.

Unlike the fire roads at home where the exposed dirt is left to its own - degrading during storms, lots of flooding then overgrowth in the spring. They get graded each summer, but beyond that you’re on rough terrain.

Tires crunching and dust fluffing, I passed some genuine old time farmhouses where someone on bike passing by probably looked a little out of the ordinary, but still got a lot of waves and friendly greetings.

A guy fixing a fence. A large-hatted woman riding her mower across a large swath of yard.

A Doug's Life

I ended the final dirt segment. Once back on the tarmac it wasn’t long before I was nearing the outskirts of Galesburg.

With time to spare, I decided to detour into a large rural park. I discovered a covered grid of picnic tables, each row ending with an outdoor outlet.

Well, this was too good. Nary anyone around, I stretched out on one of the tables to take a snooze in the shade while all things needing a charge got topped up.

In the last 8 days of blasting across Iowa, not once did I get to stop for a nap. Resting horizontally, shade, power outlet: pure luxury.

A Doug's Life

When it was time to move on, I followed a meandering bike path through the rest of the park, crossed a small river a few times, then re-routed to a grocery store - then back on route to the train station.

The Southwest Chief was slated to arrive at the station by 5pm. I arrived at 3:45.

While waiting, I reconfigured Mi Sombra for train mode, stripped down to bare frame and fenders.

The bags were all carry-on items, and the bike would be handed over to the luggage car attendant.

Once settled and waiting, a realization found me while allowing a big exhale during a blank stare at the empty platform.

I knew it was coming, but only as an inkling, a hunch that had been stalking me for the last few days.

Or maybe it was here at the station all along, waiting to remind me that the moment to moment living by bike was now done. Another trip ending in the logistics of getting back home.

It was now official: Ragbrai was over and so was my final day crossing the Illinois countryside. Mi Sombra and I were decommissioned from bike touring and awaiting our reassignment to the train.

A Doug's Life

At this point the only way to hold on to the experience is with retrospect and reflection. I pried back a flap pocket on one of my bags to see my small notebook. Weathered and crinkled, I looked forward to re-reading and reliving some of my adventures during the next 2 days.

As a consolation, I started to look forward to the final miles up to the foothills from LA Union station, which I have done many times, but when it’s attached to the tail end of something epic, it seems like a different ride. The context is shifted away from the mondain to the exausted but victorious.

Even when turning onto my street, the hundreds of miles under your belt carry you into the most well-worn places with an intensity and gratitude having returned safely to terra-familia.

The Amtrak on-boarding was a routine affair. While settling in, I got a text from the guys to meet them in the observation car later.

The train was a fun diversion for a while, but it wasn't long before I was looking forward to those final miles back to my neighborhood, my street, my house. Back to my smiling wife. Home again.

... ... ...

If you've made it this far, thanks so much for reading to the bitter end.

If you've got questions, comments or your own stories to share, use the comment form below. The comment password is: life is good

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