Day One: Council Bluffs to Red Oak - the rolling mardi gras - CycleBlaze

July 19, 2009

Day One: Council Bluffs to Red Oak

I originally heard about RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) thirty years ago when I was living in Houston. In its 37th year, RAGBRAI is the longest, largest and oldest touring bicycle ride in the world. It's huge...more than 12,000 people rolling through the Iowa countryside for a full seven days. There are riders from every state in the country, plus people from two dozen or so foreign countries.

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Because it's so popular, there's a lottery each Spring to see who's going to be able to ride in it.

As one person phrased it, RAGBRAI is "A Rolling Mardi Gras." As another person wrote, "It has a carnival atmosphere, a celebratory exuberance, an anything-goes/all-rules-are-suspended attitude, a zany, almost out-of-control ambiance, with an energy all its own, fueled with equal parts of sweat and alcohol."

I'm looking forward to it.

Day One:  Council Bluffs to Red Oak

The idea of waking waking up at 6:30 on a day when I'm not going to work doesn't sound very appealing. However, the idea of carrying all of our gear 450 miles across the state sounds even less appealing. One of the options for RAGBRAI is getting a charter company to do it for you. We selected Out Of Staters. We drove to Burlington, the endpoint of the trip, where they bused us to Council Bluffs, the beginning point of the trip. That way we'd have a car when we finished. Each day, our charter company packed up everyone's gear (excluding mine) and transported it to the next town for us, picked out a campsite, and had a large circus tent with chairs and a place to relax out of the sun.

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We started out on Sunday morning, the ground wet with dew.  

Heather (wife) and Samantha (niece) before leaving.
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Since RAGBRAI isn't a race, we stopped quite frequently. Breakfast was a cinnamon roll bought from a local 4H Club. There are a lot of groups under roadside tents selling items to eat, drink, or wear. I overheard the 4H lady say they're making enough on this fund raiser to cover the whole year, and that's not uncommon in the pass-through towns we visited.We left the official RAGBRAI route for a while so we could pedal the Wabash Trace, a beautiful Rails-to-Trails route.

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In Henderson (pop 171) we stopped for a chicken sandwich and a drink, and a strawberry banana smoothie.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear for those of you who have never been to Iowa: 

It is NOT flat.

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The sticker and Mardi Gras beads were placed by Team Road Kill. Each morning, they set out early in order to place their stickers and beads on the road kill along the way.

Over the past several months, we asked for advice from people who've done RAGBRAI before, and the two most common responses were:
1) remember that it's not a race and
2) stop in all off the towns to see what kinds of festivities they have. The pass-through towns make a lot of money from the riders. There's live music and all kinds of other festivities, as you'll see if you keep reading throughout the week.

About mid-day, we passed a guy selling "Obama lemonade" on the side of the road. If your income was less than $25,000/year, it was 25 cents. If it was $25,000 to $75,000 a glass costs fifty cents. The scale went up, so that if you earned more than $250,000 a year a glass of lemonade would cost $5.00. He was using a megaphone and sounded pretty unhappy with the current administration. When he asked the guy in front of me if he wanted a glass, the rider responded, "No thanks... sounds too bitter for me."

The size of the picture turned out very small for some reason
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Several of the towns we passed through during the week had an easy way to refill several water bottles at the same time... a water hose attached to a PVC pipe with holes drilled in it.

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Some pictures along the way:

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The Hill's Angels (from Hills, IA) were at our campsite last night. They gave me their sticker before pedaling off.
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The sticker has their motto.
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The shirt says Team White Trash
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A rider from Team Pink Flamingo. After seeing a guy who looks like Big Bird dressed up as a pink flamingo, I was hopeful that I, too, might be able to finish the ride. Or, at least, be ahead of someone, but alas....  The Birdman is a faster, stronger rider than me. 

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We arrived in Red Oak (pop 6,197), our stopping point for the night, at about 3PM after 55 miles or so and found our charter on the south end of town in a city park. We set up our tents and filled up on water. After getting cleaned up we took the shuttle to downtown where some of the festivities were.

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It was ten blocks to our campsite, and had we known what the shuttle was going to be like we would've walked it. We spent 50 minutes traveling to every corner of Red Oak.

At the end of the day, after having pedaled any number of miles, one sleeps well.

Distance 55.62
Average speed 11.9
Maximum speed 35.3
Time 4:40.10
Cumulative 55.6
Climbed 3,684 feet
(When you look at the number of feet climbed each day, consider how it's calculated: if you start at ground level and go up a 100-foot hill and down the other side you've climbed 100 feet, even though you're still at sea level. If you go back and forth over that hill 20 times you're still at sea level but but at the end of the day you've climbed 2,000 feet.)

Today's ride: 56 miles (90 km)
Total: 56 miles (90 km)

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