Hikers get hiker-hunger. Bikers get biker-hunger. It's a deep-down craving for real food, get outta my way, you can't stop me kind of hunger.
For me, it goes something like this:
Typically, there’ll be about 10 miles to go. Your food stash could be empty or you're just plain sick of eating more funky bananas or melted Power Bars. Real food starts overtaking all your thoughts.
Biker-hunger is starting. Even though you’ll be able to make the final miles, there will be much mental energy devoted to fuel your food-obsessed brain.
There are often moments where it disappears, a temporary distraction from the craving.
Some talk with fellow riders or a new and weird noise coming from your bike.
Gulping down the last of your water is a typical attempt to tamp the source for a few minutes. Fear not, it always returns and becomes all consuming.
As the road blurs past and you start to daydream, a plan starts to form. A premeditated spree at the first market in town.
Like a famished grizzly bear stalking the deli isle, there'll be swiping and grabbing of premade potato salad, chips, sandwiches, coleslaw and pickles. Pickles? Yes, pickles.
Then on to the beer isle. Look out!
You’ll be in and out of there in minutes – hitting the express check-out then you’ll be sitting on that shady strip of grass near where you stowed your bike.
A frenzy of calorie intake will commence before anything can stop you. It will be pure ecstasy.
Snapping out of your spell you check the milage. 6 miles to go. Gah! Damn this biker-hunger.
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Months before the event, I knew - being a vegetarian - I was entering the motherland of pork and beef, brats and jumbo dogs, rib-eye sandwiches and mega pork chop slabs.
I mention pork chops for a reason. Consider "Mr. Porkchop", a Ragbrai tradition for over 40 years.
Hundreds of huge chops are BBQed roadside with thick smoke perfectly aligned to cloud those riders as a penalty who don't stop to pay homage.
The entire operation works out of a piggy-pink colored school bus that moves up the route each day.
Yes, every day at some point, riders will spot a giant cloud of smoke up the road about a mile.
After waiting in a long line, and forking over $7, you get a giant pork slab wrapped in a paper towel. No plate. Or fork. It's a pure paleo caveman affair. Except for the paper-towel of course.
[Above photo courtesy of primalwear.com]
With all this I am fascinated and slightly disgusted at the same time and just ride on by to the next pass-through town jammed with food vendors. Sorry, Mr. Porkchop.
I would usually arrive alone allowing me to pick my way through vegetarian options without frustrating my non-picky beefy, porky and poultry friends.
Also, I learned it was easier to stop at the make-shift roadside stands set up by families, neighborhood kids and volunteer groups between those towns. They often have good home-made options, good prices and no lines.
Between the endless lines of meaty options, there were many times when the most simple food stands brought incredible joy:
On a long uphill – when the lack of speed brings stagnant heat and humidity – I was craving something that would bring some relief.
A small sign at the top of the hill read: “Frozen Watermelon”.
There was no thinking, just turning into a private driveway.
A small vendor-style tent was set up and some young girls and their parents were taking a dollar for each slice of frozen watermelon.
Each bite snapped off like a little chunk of ice in your mouth, the cooling sensation blasting through your body.
OMG I this is heaven on earth. I bought two more slices and was laughing while riding away.
Wow. Frozen watermelon!
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I was having a funky morning getting into the groove of the ride.
It was just past 10am and the sun was already getting to me. I had been trying snap out of it with coffee while riding, but a caffeine crash had started.
I saw a small handmade sign ahead that read: “Frozen Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches”.
Just beyond the sign was a Girl Scout Troop (not in uniform, but they told me about their fund-raiser) selling sandwiches from an ice filled cooler.
I had no idea what a frozen PB&J would be like, but I certainly liked the idea.
It was soooo goooood! It was hard, but still it was soft enough to chew. No runny messy sicky gloppy mess eating a PB&J in triple digit heat. It was a very clever idea!
Together with a final few sips of coffee while ticking off the miles, it changed everything, my morning funk was gone.
Thank you, Iowa Girl Scouts!
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On another day, I pulled into one of the crowded pass-through towns. I was hungry and – as usual – had to comb through the vendors for something that wasn’t meaty or deep fried or dipped in butter or greasy.
I noticed a local Amish family selling baked goods. Lots of pie but wanted something less sugary.
I grabbed a few blueberry muffins, paid a dollar each, and took a seat behind their stand for a snack break.
After my first bite, I realized I was tasting something special – an example of something perfectly baked - from simple ingredients – from a culture where everything is manual a process.
I savored each bite. So many actual real blueberries! Soft and flakey but not dry and crumbly. So much good flavor.
If you want a hint of Amish life, try some of their homemade baked goods.
Behind every bite is the time, effort, scratch ingredients, and love of hard work.
I was amazed at how good a muffin could be. Incredible!
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The Church Dinner is a thing during the ride. Every town has one, or sometimes two.
Not heavily advertised, not overly popular, you have to seek them out through the word-of-mouth network. Or look closely for small postings along the route once you're inside the city limits.
I found two during the ride. The first one I attended was with Jeff. You can read all about it on this previous article.
Not only do they provide a hearty homemade meal for a bargain price, but it’s an opportunity to brush up with real local Iowan’s, doing good and taking pride in their town.
Of course, the initial experience is woofing down a meal that tastes great and your body needs so badly.
But afterward on your way out of the dining hall, there are many Thank-You's exchanged.
There are the kind-faces of the church ladies wishing you good luck on the rest of your ride and “Oh, would you like another piece of pie?”
There are many fond memories of this event that don’t involve riding.
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Behold the simple pickle.
Often mocked or overlooked, pickles and their briny juice harbor much nutritional magic that works wonders. Especially when you’re in a dehydrated state and lacking electrolytes.
Of course, at Ragbrai, the Pickle Lady is everywhere, and her pickles are not ordinary.
They are fermented in an extra savory spicey brine, and the size of the pickle is impressive.
Here, I hold such a pickle and I will say that it saved the day for me.
There were nearly 10 or 12 miles to go before ending the day’s ride. I was so tired and done with guzzling more and more water.
The spices and salty snappy pickle tasted soooo goooood! It made me quite thirsty, and I was able to down more water with ease.
Thank you, Pickle Lady.
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If you've made it this far, thanks for hanging in to the end.
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