20080727

A Sunday in Heaven

I'm back from RAGBRAI XXXVI. It was an amazing time. I learned a lot over the course of the week, and I'd like to share some insights with you:
  • It's harder than you'd think to get drunk when you're pedaling 70-80 miles a day. On Day One, I started drinking at the first pass-through town. I continued to drink at the second town. At the third town, after inhaling a vodka-lemonade, I started to wonder why I wasn't even buzzed. You burn a lot of energy--and apparently, alchohol--while riding.
  • A 24 ounce can of beer fits perfectly in a bottle cage. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. The moment I figured this one out was one of those sublime lightbulb-over-the-head moments. I mean, how perfect: Gatorade in one cage, Speedweiser in the other. This helped mitigate the problem of between-town sobering. Drink at the towns. Drink on the road. I think next year I'll switch to vodka-Gatorade.
  • With all this drinking, it's important to stop for safety checks. As you roll past local cemeteries, you will see a group of people gathered in a loose circle under a nice shade tree. Make friends with these people. Do as they do. Puff as they puff. Pass as they pass.
  • Eat more. Do you know how much food you have to consume in order to not feel like complete shit around mile 50? I didn't. My two-meals-a-day routine fell flat on its face (as did I). Every booster club, scout troop, and firehouse in town spends a lot of time preparing a lot of food. Buy some of it.
  • RAGBRAI is not for vegetarians. I do not often question my vegetarianism; it comes as naturally as sleeping or sex. Holy shit was I tested this week, though. Pork chops. Pork loins. Pulled pork. Brats. Grilled chicken. Gyros. Hamburgers. Sausage breakfast burritos. Every direction I turned, someone wanted to sell me the best-smelling meat I'd ever experienced. Instead, I had to politely tell them No Thanks and spend the next 15 minutes trying to find the local Casey's to buy a slice of cheese pizza. Gnarly. God bless those Seventh Day Adventists selling vegetarian sloppy joes in North Liberty.
  • RAGBRAI is not the sex-fest that I was led to believe. After hearing stories of people shagging on pool tables in the middle of a crowded bar, I'd developed a certain mental image of RAGBRAI sexuality. I don't know if it was being at least ten years younger than the majority of the crowd, but I did not encounter any opportunities for billiard-table banging. The raciest thing I experienced was hearing the dude in the tent next to me climaxing. Neat.
  • Showering at the local swimming pool is a mixed bag. After 80 miles in cornfield humidity, $5 for a shower is not too much to pay. And gosh is soaking in the pool refreshing after a long ride. You will, however, be confronted, quite suddenly, by a room full of naked men. I haven't seen that much bush since the locker room post high school wrestling practice. I mean, it was bad. You've been warned.
  • Set your tent up on the west side of the nearest large object. Bus, van, tree--whatever. This will buy you at least three more hours of quality sleep before the sun turns your tent into a greenhouse. This is assuming that you're not one of those roll-out-at-6:00 tools.
  • Roll out before 11:00. While I see no need to leave at the ass-crack of dawn, it does pay to get out somewhere in the vicinity of 10:00. Otherwise you'll have problems getting food and (mucho importante) beer at the stops. You see, the state patrol dicks start coming in and shutting down the bars at a certain time, in an effort to broom the drunken stragglers through to the next town. Stay ahead of the man.
  • The paceline is your friend. Sure, you might get called a Wheel Suck, but you just got pulled halfway across the day's route, so fuck it. And there really is nothing greater than a being in a peloton of thirty some riders hammering down the left lane of an Iowa highway. You know you're going fast when you don't have to use your brakes to slow down--you just sit up a little straighter and let the wind do the work. I was fortunate to get behind the fastest team on RAGBRAI a couple times. Sure, I blew up my right knee big-ringing it, but I actually got into town before 6:00 on those days.
  • Iowa is hillier than you remember. Like, seriously. There are some monster hills in this state. On the worst day we had something like 5200 feet of climb. For those of you keeping score, that's damned near a mile. Train accordingly. Or make sure you've got a good granny gear.
  • Forget the garbage bag poncho. You're going to get wet regardless. At least you can not look like a douche bag while doing it.
  • Aluminum conducts electricity too. This may be a bit of an oddball, but I dedicate it to the lady who yelled at me for riding too close to her baby trailer in a thunderstorm. Concerned that my steel frame was somehow increasing the odds of a local lightning strike, Professor Mom somehow overlooked the fact that her baby was riding around in a metal cage. And that she was dragging her baby around in a fucking thunderstorm.
  • Ride RAGBRAI. This is the most important thing I could possibly say. Ride RAGBRAI. It's one of the most beautiful, rewarding things you could do with a week in July. I'll see you next year.

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