RAGBRAI (130 miles on a bike seat)


I recently rode more than 130 miles on my bicycle over two days.  It was glorious.

If you are biker in the U.S. Midwest, you may have heard of RAGBRAI. For those of you who haven’t, it is an acronym for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. One July week every year, thousands of bicyclers start on a town on the Missouri River and ride ranging 60-100 miles daily until they reach the Mississippi River. There is a different route every year and host towns vie for the privilege to have an influx of bikers – and their dollars – grace their town limits either for a ride through, or an overnight stay.

Riders camp, sleep on couches (of any acquaintance they can talk into), or hotels. The route is announced at a January release party and hotels are immediately booked up. The tradition is to dip your tire in the Missouri at the beginning and again dip in the Mississippi at the end.

The ride started in 1973 by John Karras and Don Kaul – two newspaper writers at The Des Moines Register. It was little more than a challenge in the beginning by two guys that liked to bike. After 45 years, the official total to week long riders is ~8,500, but there are many more riders that join for a day or two and the throng can swell to an estimated 36,000. (Lance Armstrong has ridden days for several years.)

It’s this last group of riders in which I fall.  I’ve ridden days here and there four different years, but never two in a row.

I held my own both days. I passed a lot of people; I was passed by a lot of people; and I didn’t crash despite all the bikes. I’m proud of myself.

I have a couple of favorite moments. The first was when we were riding up this long-ass, steep hill — long, as in over two miles and a tough grade. By the time I got up that hill, a fellow rider had gotten off her bike, pulled out her small trumpet like horn and was playing the theme from the movie Rocky.  #perfect

Another favorite was on the second day, late afternoon in the hot, relentless sun going up hill after hill and I stop at the first place I see shade. The shadow of a big red barn at the top of a hill.  Three 30 something males had the same idea and were already sprawled out in the grass.  I plop down while we discuss the relentlessness of the sun — did I mention the relentless sun? — and we exchange first names.

Paul has a quart bottle of clear alcohol in one hand and of bottle of pop in the other and he is taking a drink from each before he swallows. One of their friends rides off the road and de-bikes while laying down on his stomach in one motion. He swears he isn’t going to make it unless he naps forever right there.  They have stories to tell from the entire week, partying, sleeping in a cemetery under the stars, losing people, etc. Good connecting in the middle of nowhere America.

It was glorious. The more than 130 miles on my bicycle I rode over two days.  Next year, I might need to do a week.

— Namaste

One is the Loneliest Number

I love that song.  Three Dog Night had it right. One is the Loneliest Number. If you are on your own out there.  I mean — on. your. own. — not living a block from your parents who still help you landscape, not in a marriage, long-term relationship, or living with family, and not a member of an extended community, then you know what I’m talking about.

Media has written about the affects of social media, and how many of us are feeling isolated even though we may be reaching out daily to others online.  I definitely have felt loneliness in the last 10 years.  Me. The person who loves to be by myself — content to traipse around outside alone, sit alone, travel alone, go to the movies alone has many times of loneliness.

Take yesterday for instance, I went on a biking party ride. It’s an annual event in February and I’ve always wanted to do it. Only 24 miles but it is the time of the year when the weather can be -20 degrees while snowing, or 70 and sunny. Yesterday it was 40 degrees, windy and raining.

I certainly wasn’t the only person riding alone. Most of the solitary riders were men who have no problem doing things by themselves. Right? I told myself, the couples or groups of riders probably simply think I’m new to the area and haven’t gotten to know many people. Ha! Native.

What my problem is, is I like to do things on my own terms. So the ride starts at 10am, but I want to sleep in and get there when it fits into my schedule. Buddy went with and we took side trips to parks to let him run, chase squirrels and piddle here or there. I see people drinking and having fun in groups but I don’t want to feel the effects of alcohol tonight. I want to knock out some work I didn’t get done on Friday. So I’m to blame for my “alone” lifestyle.

I enjoyed the day riding and being part of something.  It was fun maneuvering the day the way that made me the happiest. I’m glad I do this. But I admit, feelings of loneliness floated over me/ around me like dust around Pig-Pen.

I’m not sure what to do with those feelings. Maybe you can’t have it all and sometimes, I’m just going to feel lonely.  I guess I can live with that.  Now que that song again. . .

— Namaste