Friday, July 18, 2008

A Little About a Lot...RAGBRAI Is Upon Us

Well, well, alas Ragbrai is upon us.

I spent the last few days nursing my legs in sunny Southern California; riding up and down the Pacific Coast on a white walled tired beach cruiser. Yes, life is grand. I flew my tanned ass home last night and low and behold ran into the BikingViking at the Minneapolis Airport. Words cannot begin to describe how great it was to see his smiling face fresh from Bellingham, WA. It was also great to hear that there will after all, be a bit of Evil on the road this year for the ride. It sure wouldn't be the same without these crazy bastards given I sort of had my coming of age on a bike with them...and it especially wouldn't be the same without Carter's rig, Nana, Gordo, and the plastic Jesus, all of which I plan to visit with frequency.

It sounds as though the Viking been spending a sick amount of time on the mountain breaking frames. Alas, he is looking svelte and well and of course will be riding the 'brai on his Kona singlespeed. Hills? Haha, he says. Six or seven hours a day on Galbraith and a glimpse of those legs of his...and you wouldn't doubt him either.

He and a couple buddies have been hosting these AlleyCats and it was good to hear a first hand account of their progress. He told me about some other new cats in the 'Ham cycling world, Traitor Cycles . They have some really sweet looking rides. Apparently they are lending great support to the AlleyCats and appear to have figured out early where to get their PBR buttered.

I was also pleased to learn this a.m. that the boys from Team NAD will be bringing along on this year's ride the highly coveted and much sought after Drink Machine . Loomis really needs something to slow his ass down and hauling this thing ought to do the trick, especially if Boomer is true to his word and fills the trailer tires with cement. My buddy Jay is the mastermind behind this thing, and you can get yourself one here. It sure is nice to run into these guys on the road, bypass all the bar lines and get a ice cold vodka lemonade, or whatever your pleasure may be. Sheer genius.

I am embarking on a new Ragbrai journey this year and will be riding with Team Bad Monkey. I'll admit that I am a teensy bit nervous about their stellar organizational skills and penchant for getting up early. Okay, they do not get up that early, but it also does not appear that they sleep until 10 a.m., like I am akin to as I have yet to see them, or any other teams besides the Marleys for that matter, at 10 a.m.
I will cope. Thus far, I have found their program to be insanely dialed in and I am really looking forward to not only some great/new company but also the thought of rolling in to an overnight town and actually knowing where I am going. Hell, I might even make it in before 10 p.m. once this year just to see what how the other half lives!
My friend Keara also surfaced this a.m. all the way from the right coast (Connecticut) and she's making her way this direction as I type to ride with the GoldBond folks again. There was never a sight so sweet as her last year off route at 8 p.m. in some very, very random bar in the middle of nowhere. We lived at the time nearly 4,000 miles apart, have known one another since seventh grade, and of course, there we met, each of us eating sliders in the middle of Iowa someplace. Such is Ragbrai.

The adventure awaits....

Monday, July 14, 2008

Misery Loves Company: We Pedal Into Two a Days

Feeling a bit panicked at the impending onslaught of hills promised on this years' Ragbrai, we decided last week it was perhaps time to kick up the mileage/saddle time a bit and do a few two a days.

Except we forgot to take into consideration our penchant for having beers and talking for hours on end at the end of our evening ride. We also neglected to recall really needing to clean Scooter's house for the fifty or so people he will host Tuesday night.

Nonetheless, we peeled our butts out of bed last week at 5 a.m., were on the road by 5:30, and met a few minutes later each day at our little meeting place a couple miles from our respective houses. We also got the house cleaned, rode at night, and spent the bulk of our days at our collective workplaces bitching about how tired we were as we tried to figure out just who's idiodic idea this was in the first place. And so the week went.

Misery loves company--and while most mornings we had little to talk about and I was too busy coughing up my lungs to think of anything, it was sure nice to bookend my day with someone pedaling away by my side. I am most certainly not a morning person, never will be. Scooter is.

While you'd think that a partner in training crime should sride with the same habits, I would offer the opposite to be true. He takes off in the a.m. and I hurt....and I think most days in the afternoon, the opposite is true. But we are collectively stubborn enough to never speak of this, and so we pedal on.

There are some pretty magnificent sunrises around these parts too...if you're awake enough to notice them.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Independence Day By Bike....

My Bellingham boyfriend taught me this trick about never leaving town on a major holiday weekend. It seemed a crazy proposition to me at first, but nonetheless it always fared well for us; some of our best weekends came from these stay at home adventures. It was also somewhat of a necessary evil around those parts; the tourists are always out in force in the summer regardless, plane ticket prices high, and July 4 and Labor Day are among the worst. So while this weekend in Iowa our original intent began elsewhere, and with our sights set on some adventure; we stole a chapter from the BikingViking's book and used our collective houses as base for our two wheeled Independence adventures.

The route from Ames to Polk City is fast, lovely and on this particular night, just the perfect combination of about everything: conversation, nonconversation, rollers, laughs. The bar on the corner's name escapes me at the moment, but it's been around forever, is full of characters, and the bartender/owner of the place has about the best looking Hawaiian shirt I've ever seen and the personality to perfectly match. It turns out the guy is a former professional hockey player and he was full of great stories from back in the day. So we sat in lovely Polk City for the start of our weekend and compared geography notes about the great Northwest, learned a thing or two about the Saylorville Lake area, and had a cold one.

And just when the stories were getting good, some of my Team Nad buddies rolled in on their bikes to boot. We had a beer with them and shortly thereafter, sped home to meet up with the remainder of the crew; cooked steaks, sat on the porch, listened to some tunes and chalked up another perfect night and around 45 miles.

The following morning after steak and eggs, our little crew grew by 4 and the six of us ventured south through the Des Moines river valley to Woodward. The day was picturesque, and the ride just as lovely. My legs were pretty well smoked on the way home and it was nice for the first time all year to enjoy the luxury of being able slide in the back of a line and be pulled along by some fairly exceptional riders. There might not be a sweeter sound than the hum of air whipping though a bunch of tires at a cool 28 mph while you do next to nothing.

While we were all quite disappointed to find Mr. C's was closed; we found a nice spot for an impromptu picnic in the shade, turned around and headed back to Ames. 55 miles later and we were on the mad hunt for some food, libations and tunes. We found all three fairly easily. The remainder of this day went from hilarious, to bad, to worse, to even more hilarious; I will spare details and the guilty shall remain as such.

We packed up and headed south the following day, riding the Great Western Trail again, although a slightly different section this time. While it was a great disappointment to find Bambinos closed (no pizza!), we did venture off the beaten path and find a new establishment to try. I enjoyed my first BLT of the year and while the tomatoes were not fresh, the bacon was...a true testament to this living in Iowa thing gone perfectly right.
While I prefer riding the road the bulk of the time, it was a nice way to escape the bulk of the wind and a bit of monotony; and we also found it an exceptional way to trick oneself into riding more miles than it might initially appear possible. We wound up riding by trail in to Des Moines to check out the 80/35 festival and got there in time to see an amazing set by The Envy Corps and to listen to some of The Roots. My new light was suddenly necessary and it did not disappoint as we snaked through Water Works Park and back to the trails after.

We wrapped up our weekend adventure in Indianola; which was exactly my second trip to this little gem of a town in about oh, 20 years. There are number of things that stick out about Indianola, namely that everyone there orients themselves and everything else with "The Square." If you do not know what/where "The Square" is, when you arrive in town and ask for directions, you'll be fairly screwed. And to my great delight, in Indianola they do not have speed bumps, they have speed HUMPS.

Unfortunately, we seemed to have hit ourselves a bike riding wall yesterday as the wind was blowing like crazy, the weather warnings were blaring and frankly, no matter what little story we told ourselves, there were not a lot of miles happening on the bikes. That said, we did stop watching baseball and tennis and the constant revolving door of entertainment for long enough to take a few naps AND pound out a few miles racing around the impromptu hot laps track. And as if we needed a perfect topper, we also had ourselves one of those fat, fresh from the garden Iowa meals that send you into a satisfied food coma from atop one of the loveliest views I've seen in years. My next Indianola trip will likely initiate me into one of the favorite stops for a fair portion of our crew; the Summerset Winery. We drove by there last night and if the wine is as nice as the view, it will not disappoint. That is, if the hill leading there doesn't kill me first.

And Then We Were Movin'

The following week marked a couple more grueling, wind whipping solo rides and then there was the move. With my life tucked in storage for the better part of a year, it became a lovely prospect to finally put the finishing touches on my Northwest adventure and drive in a permanent looking midwestern stake...or is it steak? :) I rallied my people, promised them cold beer, rented a very large truck, and opened up the storage facilities for the first time since last fall. Of course it started raining sideways and lightening almost immediately.

Then there was one flat moving truck tire.
One moving truck stuck in the mud.
One friend (with muscles) who was...mistakenly absent.
And low and behold when we opened up the storage....all my shit was covered in mold.
And rat poop. Oh well.

There is a great deal to be said about living off of two shelves for 10 months--you don't need much. There is also a lot to be said for my friends who showed up to help me. It sucked and they did not complain once. They did not even complain the following day when the wind was blowing 500 miles per hour and we were so sore we couldn't muster the strength to ride bikes. These types of folks are quite simply the reason I am here and what I sorely missed the past three years.

"Of course we wouldn't miss it," they said. "We'll get back on the bikes next week."

And we did.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

HyVee Triathlon Inspires

The weekend of June 22 marked the second HyVee Triathlon. What began as a tri, in the middle was a duathalon (due to high fecal levels in the water from the floods) and in the end was a tri, did not disappoint. This is the first triathlon I've watched; the clan I roll with is typically a bit harsh when it comes to the "tri geek," and I will admit to casting my own judgments at those who roll in a paceline on Ragbrai dangerously clutching their tri bars.

Nonetheless, Keri did her first one last year and kicked some ass, and I recall Scooter telling me when I was still in Washington that watching the thing was one of the most inspiring things he'd seen.

So there we all were on a picturesque 80 degree day, cheering Keri a second time. Given that we have a difficult enough time coordinating ourselves in the middle of a normal afternoon, there was to be no coordination for a 6 a.m. start. It took me forever to get my car through the maze of road blocks, and soon after parking I saw Keri zip by looking strong on her bike. I was then ushered on to some bus, and dropped at a different portion of the race, where I sat in the middle of a long climb and awaited her on the next lap.

I was amazed at the number of athletes participating I knew; as they shouted my name all disguised in their spandex and helmets while climbing that hill. But Keri never came. Being a rookie to this spectator thing, I surely felt I'd missed something, screwed up. I asked around. I saw other athletes blazing by who I knew she'd smoked last year. No Keri.

I made my way to the grandstands for the finish. I saw the winner and stood there for what seemed like hours, sweat dripping everywhere, waiting for her finish. My tribe literally stumbled into me as I stood there. They hadn't seen her either, in fact, I was the only one who had all day. Jokes quickly turned to mild panic and eventually someone called and reported a blowout. She was off on the side of the road with her fancy bike and a totally blown tube near a town somewhere, finished. Ah the shit of it all, training for a thing for months, only to blow a tube on the first lap. But maybe she wasn't finished. After sitting on the side of the road cheering on others, resigned to her fate, a kind man who was competing actually stopped and fixed her tire. In doing so he added 20 some minutes to his time, but he also allowed Keri to finish what she started. People like this guy are what makes competing worthwhile.

I was never without the goosebumps when the duo in the picture above rode/ran by either. I don't know what the story was here, but apparently this relay team drug this guy in a canoe for the near mile swim, pulled him in a Burley for the bike leg, and pushed him for the run.

Scooter also scored some VIP passes for the Olympic Qualifer portion so we were up there with the fancy people eating shrimp and armed with little cowbells watching the Olympic hopefuls bike and run through the grandstands. It was an amazing, inspiring display of athleticism that quickly makes you think that perhaps you ought to just quit trying to pretend you're a real athlete while you're ahead, have another beer and maybe a couple more shrimp.