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RAGBRAI -- Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa

By: Louie Winslow

Journal of Ron's, Don's, and Louie's first RAGBRAI (Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa)

 

I left Stillwater for RAGBRAI early on Friday morning the 21st of July. I planned to stop off in Dubuque to see Gary my son-in-law, Kate my daughter and my grandson Jonathan on the way down to Burlington where RAGBRAI was going to end. Katie had promised to make lemon meringue pudding for us. I enjoyed playing with Jonathan and eating with the three of them. Burlington is 158 miles south of Dubuque so after having our meal I left. I planned to take a shuttle offered by Bicycle Charters from Burlington across to Council Bluffs, our starting point. I planned to meet Don Klassen and Ron Mielke, a boyhood friend of Don's there. We are all 58 years old, Ron being the oldest by a month. Ron is a retired schoolteacher from Chaska, Don lives in Lake Elmo and works at 3M, and I live in Stillwater and also work at 3M. We had decided to do RAGBRAI to celebrate the 9th anniversary of our 1991 bike trip in Germany. We also wanted to get enthused about doing more bike rides in the future. On this tour Ron rode a cross bike, Don rode a folding mountain bike with road tires, and I rode a mountain bike with road tires and fenders. We were all first time RAGBRAIERS.

When I registered at Notre Dame high school in Burlington Janet Procter, the head of Bicycle Charters, really pulled my leg, she indicated that we were going to take the school buses parked behind the school and would be putting our luggage under the seats. She said the buses were 45 passengers and all the seats were occupied except for two or three. I dropped my bike off by two trucks parked behind the school. The trucks would be carrying our bikes across Iowa. I was directed to park my car on the far side of the field and put my tent up on the athletic field. When setting up my tent I noticed a guy next to me struggling to set his up. I went over to help. He turned out to be a retired math teacher from a small town near Cleveland, Ohio. We got to talking about the ride over to Council Bluffs and I told him that we were going to be shuttled over in school buses and pointed to the buses parked behind the school. This was his second RAGBRAI and he told me the previous year Bicycle Charters had provided air-conditioned motor coaches. I guess Janet Procter could easily spot a RAGBRAI "First Timer" because the next morning we all boarded motor coaches complete with air conditioning, movies, and a luggage compartment under the side of the bus. I was rather tired that first morning. They turned on the field lights just after sundown and didn't turn them off until after midnight. I guess they wanted to provide light for late arrivers. I never thought that I would have to try and sleep while being flooded with bright lights.

We traveled across Iowa in luxury; they played "Breaking Away"an appropriate movie for people who would shortly be starting out on their own
bicycle adventure. I planned to meet Don and Ron in the NW corner of the main campground after arriving in Council Bluffs. When we got to Council Bluffs, we dropped off the people who had signed up to have their luggage shuttled across the state by Bicycle Charter for the week at a local high school and then headed over to the main campground. They dropped us off at about 2:30 on the south side of the camp. I got off the bus, grabbed my gear, and headed for the NW corner. Our bikes were coming by separate truck and we were to pick them up at 4:30 at the intersection of 24th street and highways 295/52. I was approaching the NW corner and was happy when Ron and Don, who had been at the main camp for about an hour and one half, hailed me. They had taken a charter from Mason City, Iowa and had teamed up with the North Iowa bike club some of whose members were making a Trans America trip and were riding RAGBRAI as part of it. It turned out that they were the group in which one of their members, a 71-year-old man, had had a heart attack and had died only four miles outside of Council Bluffs. Most of the members making the Trans America trip were planning to attend his funeral on Monday.

After setting up my tent and joining the O2O (Ocean to Ocean) riders by paying $35 dollars to have my luggage shuttled across the state (a bargain), I set out to retrieve my bike. The truck was an hour late but all our bikes arrived in good shape. One guy, a veteran RAGBRAIER, counseled me that when riding RAGBRAI patience was to be embraced. After getting back to camp the three of us set off to eat. I'll mention some of the things that we saw that first night. We were camped on a large field and small one, two, and three man tents were scattered all over it like large multicolored mushrooms. When walking over to eat the three of us were people watching and we saw some interesting sights. There were people with dyed green, blue, and bright red hair. There were people with corn, watermelons, fish,


stuffed animals, bones, and wineglasses, all stuck to their helmets. One guy had a complete flamingo on his helmet and another crazy guy had a roll of toilet paper complete with dispenser on his. As far as eating there were hamburger stands offering beef as well as buffalo burgers, popcorn, spaghetti, ice cream, and sloppy joe stands. There was a postal stand handing out free passports that you could carry along with you and have stamped in each town that we were going to be passing through. There was a beer garden and a couple of bands playing. Going over to the eating area we saw almost every kind of pedal bike there is. We saw three wheelers, tandems both upright and recumbent, an old time bike with a huge front wheel and small second one, bikes with windshields, folding bikes that could be fitted into a regular suitcase, a bike with a hand crank, and bikes with small trailer bikes that could be ridden by a child. My initial impression of RAGBRAI was that it was going to be a moving festival that would flow like a wave across the state of Iowa. The Iowans try to provide a good time and appeared to really enjoy hosting this annual event. After having spaghetti we returned to our tents and crawled in about 9:00. The RAGBRAI people had recommended ear plugs and after the first night I can see why. You could hear the bands playing in the background and there was a hot air balloonist adjacent to our camping spot who fired his burner off about every five minutes.

It is now the third night and we are in Ankeny, Iowa just north of Des Moines. To regress back to the first morning, we got up at 5:30 and could hear rain drumming on the tent fly. Getting up early was to be the daily routine since we had to have our luggage on the truck by 6: 45. That was the rule and if we didn't meet the time schedule our luggage would be left. The rain quit just as we were ready to pack up the tents. We started out the first morning and rode for about ten miles before eating breakfast. The roads we traveled that first day were essentially flat, had new pavement, with only a few moderate hills. We also had the wind at our backs. We ate breakfast at Mr. Pancake. There are two pancake concessions that travel with RAGBRAI, Mr. Pancake and Chris's. They have an automatic dispenser that lays down six rows of cakes putting four pancakes on the grill at one time. Some people wait behind the counter (mostly hot shot young guys) who catch their cakes on their plates as they are flipped to them from the guys operating the grills. Everyone cheers as each pancake is caught. They had long tables set up with no chairs. Everyone proceeds to wolf down his or her cakes, juice, coffee, and sausages. We had a very easy ride that first day. One memorable event was to see a biker go down. The rider was apparently seriously injured because the ambulance had been called and they were gingerly loading him onto a stretcher.

The BRAI is quite an event, at almost every intersection there were farm families who had water, bananas, Gatorade, cookies, and sometimes pie for sale. Another big item, of course, was corn usually sold for a buck an ear. A lot of the farm kids were small and cute and offered a lot of country farm appeal.

That first day we ate lunch in Shelby. On the outskirts of town there was a tavern owner who was giving out free beer. He had a canopy set up which extended out from the end of his building and underneath had tables and chairs set up. There was also a three-piece band that was playing country swing. We sat under the canopy soaking up the suds and talking with a dentist and his wife. The dentist gave each one of us a small traveling toothbrush. After finishing our beer we headed into town. Shelby had built an arch over the road with multicolored bikes and had decorated each street light with a bike. When traveling through the small towns the town's people try to offer an on going party, which shifts from town to town as the bikers pass through.

When we arrived in Neola there was a small park where an old man was playing a small tuba and shaking a tambourine for rhythm. Don said that the old man was pretty good. On a side street there was an Elvis impersonator who was dressed in a white sequined suit and was strutting his stuff and singing on a temporary stage set up on the end of a blocked off street. There were also three ultra light airplanes circling overhead. All in all it was a very festive mood.

We got a beer and drank it in the small park sitting on a picnic table. It was interesting when we came into each town. People were milling around gawking, eating, drinking, and people watching. It was impossible to ride through the towns because of the mob of people in the road, so it was necessary to walk our bikes through the throng. After about 45 minutes we left Neola heading for Harlan our first overnight stop. The first night we were lucky since the North Iowa club was camped in front of the high school. The main camp was located in the fair grounds and there were long lines for the showers, food, or porta potties. We had access to free showers in the high school. The only complaint was that the showers were cold. However, after showering in the first shower room, we learned that the second room had warm water.

After a restful nights sleep we got up at 5:30, packed up, and headed out again at 6:30. We were anticipating a hard 72-mile day. Our destination was Greenfield and we would be traveling through the rolling hill country of southwest Iowa. Most people wrongly assume that Iowa is mostly a flat state. We had picked up a circular the night before in Harlan describing a breakfast buffet in Elkhorn. The three of us agreed that we would have breakfast there. About ten miles outside of Harlan I had to take a pee so stopped along the road and headed for the ever-present cornfield. Don yelled at me that Ron and he would go ahead and that I could catch up with them. That was the last time that I saw Ron and Don until the campground in Greenfield. After getting out of the corn I headed out. It is very easy to miss someone in the mass of bikers. Don was wearing a yellow shirt for identification, however, so were about 20 % of the other men. I got to Elkhorn and waited for them for about 45 minutes before going over to the buffet and eating breakfast. I hoped that I would see them at the buffet but had no such luck.

I started talking with three young guys in the line for food (a very long line that extended across a very wide parking lot) and told them I was looking for a couple of other guys. They asked me to describe Don and Ron. I said that Don was wearing a yellow shirt and had a black helmet and Ron was wearing a white shirt and had a white helmet. They jokingly told me that if they spotted them they would send them over.

I started out of town after having a large portion of scrambled eggs and five sausage links. Iowans are big on the heavy foods with emphasis on pork. It is interesting to see that they recommend using margarine rather than butter since margarine is made from corn oil, there are hardly any dairy farms left in the state. The day was getting hotter and the hills were becoming steeper. The wind was also coming up and blowing from the south, the direction we were traveling.

I should describe the traffic flow of the bikers, particularly in the hilly sections. The flow pattern is somewhat akin to the way traffic flows on a freeway. On the down hills the bikers would spread out, on the up hills as one proceeded up the hill the bikers bunched up and spread out over the two lanes of the road. It was also somewhat akin to a flowing river where the water flows slowest closest to the banks and speeds up as it gets toward the middle. The bikers on the extreme right moved the slowest and the bikers became faster as you proceeded to the left. Also there is the clicking of gears and people passing and calling out on your left. Everyone is breathing hard and is red in the face. The young Turks on the multicolored bikes dressed in team jerseys travel exclusively in the left lane and whiz by the other bikers. On some hills one would suddenly hear "Car up" and this would be repeated down the line of bikers. This meant that a car was approaching from up in front and it was necessary for everyone to shift back onto the right lane of the road. Occasionally one hears "Car back" or "Biker up" which meant that a car was approaching from the rear or a bike or bikers were coming from the opposite direction. On the top of every hill there are people selling water, Gatorade, or ice-cold lemonade. Also one can hear "Bike on" or "Bike off" as people move in or out of the wavering line of bikers.

The country we were traveling through was picturesque with vivid blue and white wild flowers in the road ditches. Also, there was an occasional CRP field, which would be covered with wild flowers.

I ate lunch in the town of Anita at a church that was serving baked potatoes with all the trimmings, homemade pie, and iced tea for $4.00. In rural Iowa the portions tend to be very generous. I waited for Don and Ron on a bank in front of the church under the shade of a big maple tree. I waited and rested for about an hour but didn't see the boys. I left Anita and headed out. South of Anita the hills were very steep, long, and spaced close together. One biker counted a total of 95 hills for the day with a vertical climb of 4900 feet. Some said that it was the most hills for a RAGBRAI ride. When we got close to Greenfield I got my second wind and motored on in at a good clip. I arrived about 4:00 and set up the tent and headed for the showers. The shower cost $3.00 and was cold with a long wait. While waiting in line I couldn't quit sweating, the sweat kept dripping off me the entire time I stood in line. All day long I had poured down water and Gatorade but never had to pee once after leaving Elkhorn. While waiting in line I started a conversation with a guy who was a member of the team with loons on their helmets (naturally this team was from Minnesota). When turning into the fair grounds he had his loon shot off his head by a kid wielding a water gun. He thought it was funny and actually was amazed at the accuracy of the shot.

Don and Ron arrived about 6:30 and I waited until they showered to eat. I had a pork chop on a stick. It came from the official pork chop concession; they even had a pork queen helping serve the pork chops as they came off the grill. It was about an inch thick, big as my hand, and was succulent and juicy. Because of the wait in the pork chop line Ron and Don decided to eat a sheep sandwich with a pasta salad. This concession was right next to the pork place but there was no line. While sitting and eating our meal we talked with two guys who were gay, or who the three of us thought were gay. There was a band with much beer drinking and partying going on in town. The three of us went back to camp and crawled in the sack. We all slept soundly and I can't remember dreaming.

The next morning we again arose to a rain shower, which fortunately quit just, as we were getting out of our tents. It only rained long enough to get all our gear wet.

This day proved to be sweet. The wind was on our backs, it was cool in the morning, and we had mostly smooth pavement to ride on. The first long down hill we came to curved around gradually coming out into a river valley. The pavement was brand new and I got up to 36.1 mph. Ron said that he heard one guy say he had gotten up to over 40 mph. The tandem riders probably approached 45 mph or higher, they really roll down the hills and are the semis of the cycling world. We ate breakfast in a McDonalds in Dexter. I went across the street to put in my contacts at a Texaco filling station and an attendant was saying that Bonnie and Clyde had robbed the bank in 1934. The bank was in the movie but he was disappointed that Dexter didn't receive any recognition. He said that the infamous couple netted $1500 and were killed a month latter in Louisiana in a federal ambush.

The weather this day was warm and sunny and we motored along easily. The sun really brings out the skin in the young ladies. Many wore shorts that came down low on their hips and had spaghetti straps on their sport? bras. Don caught a draft with a gal on a green Bianchi and rode behind her for a short period. He pointed her out to me. She was a serious biker and was a very consistent rider. Her attire was biking jersey, biking shorts, and dark sunglasses. I drafted behind her for a few miles. She never acknowledged my presence and when I peeled off she never even looked back. This day was our longest ride, a total of 84 miles. We were staying at the house of Jerry Mossey, one of the riders on the O2O tour. When we got to Ankeny we rode to his house and set up our tents on his lawn and his neighbor's lawn across the street. Jerry allowed everyone to take a shower in his house so it was a hot shower, clean sinks, and privacy. A nice break from the usual long lines waiting for a cold shower.

The next morning we heard thunder and saw lightning in the west when we awoke shortly after 5:00. We got up at 5:20 and hoped that we could get our tents down and packed away before the rain struck. All three of us managed to pack up in record time just beating the rain, which started pelting down. We all gathered in Jerry's garage and had breakfast in the house.

The sky cleared in the west after about twenty minutes of waiting and Don and I started out. Because Ron had gotten very tired he decided to sag this day. For most of the morning it either rained or threatened to rain so everyone was constantly putting on or taking off their rain gear. East of Bondurant it really started raining and we even had a couple of minutes of hail. Someone reported hearing on his radio (many bikers carried radios on their bikes) that there were tornadoes fairly close to where we were. After waiting in a farmer's yard for the rain to stop we again headed out after it quit. This was the last of the day's rain showers but the day became partly cloudy and muggy. Some of the roads we rode on this day were in poor shape. Many sections of a concrete road had large holes and a wide crack between the two lanes. Most people were riding road bikes with skinny tires. I heard later that one biker had hit a hole on the way down one of the hills and landed on his head after somersaulting over his handlebars.

Don and I ate lunch in Reasoner. The food being offered by the concessions sounded good so we headed for a stand that offered either a smoked turkey leg or smoked chicken legs. Don opted for the turkey and I had the chicken. I chose the chicken because it was lower priced and a kid working in the stand told me that they were delicious. I ordered three chicken legs on the kid's recommendation. Don ate only two bites out of his turkey leg and promptly said he didn't know why he had ordered it. He threw most of it away. If it tasted anything like the chicken it was bad. The chicken was very greasy and only had a very faint smoky flavor. After sitting around awhile and eating pie (me) and watermelon (Don) we headed out. We had parked our bikes along a residential street and I had leaned my bike up against the largest soft maple tree I have ever seen. The diameter of the trunk was at least eight feet and when you looked up into the crown there were multiple branches as large as a lot of individual trees.

There was a long climb out of the town and I regretted eating all that greasy chicken. We were headed for Pella that was due south of Reasoner. The wind really started blowing from the south and we had many long gradual climbs. Some people thought that this day was worst than day 2 from the standpoint of difficult biking. The scenery from the top of the hills was spectacular and many people were stopping and taking pictures.

I waited for Don at the top of one of the long hills. While I was waiting, a group of bikers in a pace line came up to the curve on the top of the hill. As they approached the crest the last rider in the line suddenly went down. He actually had a graceful fall; he sort of somersaulted over the handlebars and landed on his feet. However, the impact of the fall forced him to his knees. One of the lead riders in the pace line looked back and yelled out " Tony is down". Tony very quickly got up, jumped on his bike, and I heard him say "Not even any road rash". He quickly disappeared around the corner.

Somehow I missed spotting Don and rode into Pella without seeing him. We had earlier agreed that if someone was ahead that he would wait for the other rider(s) at the entrance to the next town. After waiting for an hour and not seeing Don I went on ahead. Between Pella and Knoxville the road became flat so I really motored. We crossed over a dam on the Des Moines River just outside of Knoxville. It was a very pretty sight when one looked to the right. The banks had white sand and from a distance one could imagine that they were white cliffs. From what I've seen of the Hudson in New York one could have been looking up the Hudson River. When I arrived in camp Ron had both tents set up which was great. Don arrived only a few minutes after I did, we had missed seeing each other in Pella even though we had been there at the same time. Don and I decided to take a shower before eating. We weren't sure where the showers were but the camp hosts were running shuttles through the campground to the showers. Don said let's jump on a shuttle so we ran to catch one, which had just stopped to take on some passengers. We got on the shuttle and sat down anticipating that we were going to be taken into town for a warm shower. After traveling for about 15 minutes and picking up a lot of people who were forced to stand, the bus driver stopped and told everyone to get out. I looked up and to my surprise we were at the entrance to the camp! We were only about 200 hundred yards from where we had started. We also had to pay 50 cents apiece for the ride. The showers turned out to be in the high school that was across the street from our campground. Don and I got out and started walking over to the school. The showers were reasonably good, there were no lines, the water was warm, and it only cost $2.00.

The next morning it was foggy but it wasn't raining. Some people were exclaiming how beautiful and mystical the landscape appeared with tendrils of fog coming up out of the surrounding fields. Don said that you could look directly at the sun because it looked like the moon through the mist. This day's ride was moderately hard. We had some hills and traveled down one section of very rough concrete road with many potholes.

We ate lunch in the town of Albia that apparently is the county seat of Monroe County. There was a large courthouse surrounded on all sides by a wide expanse of lawn. I told Don and Ron that I wanted to write in this journal and would meet them in an hour. I went over to the street vendor area and ordered pasta from a stand. A number of people had told me that this pasta was excellent. Like Chris's and Mr. Pancake the pasta concession followed RAGBRAI everyday. When I got back to where I had left my bike parked under a tree on the court house lawn I saw a striking looking woman eating fruit. The fruit looked fresh and delicious and I asked her where she had purchased it. She told me on the other side of the courthouse. We started a conversation and she proved to be a very interesting person so instead of writing in this journal I had a lengthy conversation with her. She introduced herself and told me her name was Sonja. We shook hands and I told her my name was Louie. She lived in Des Moines and was a one-day RAGBRAI tripper. She was in her late thirties and already had had a successful career as an architectural designer and had just returned from Spain where she had studied the foods of the northern coastal areas. She was a graduate of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and was undecided as to what career she wanted to pursue next. Options she was considering were to be a chef in a restaurant, open her own restaurant, or be a food importer from Spain with an emphasis on sea food. Her parents were from Madrid, but they had moved to America before Sonja was born and she had grown up in Chicago. Ron and Don returned from their lunch and short naps and she introduced herself to them. Sonja seemed like a strange name for a Hispanic woman. She shook hands with each of us when she left and wished us a safe trip.

In the afternoon we went through Blakesburg. There was a platform set up in the middle of town with a band and attractive young girls out front greeting bikers as they came through. Of course Don went up to a blond and since she appeared to be very friendly and was cute Don asked her if she would give him a hug. I looked back just in time to see Don being embraced. When he came up to Ron and I he was grinning from ear to ear and proceeded to tell us all about his hug.

Later that afternoon we arrived in Ottumwa where we would be camping for the night. There were two large tents set up for showering. A white and pink striped one for the ladies and a blue and white striped one for the men. There were no shower lines because of the large number of showerheads and the water was warm. We took a shuttle to the First Lutheran Church, which was offering a potato bar. We had a potato, iced tea or coffee, and homemade pie. They had reduced their price from $5.00 to $4.00 since they were not getting many takers. Because of the lack of patrons they offered a second piece of pie for $1.00. Most of the pie was cut in large pieces that were quite thick with ample filling. After the meal Ron and I were looking at a small chapel that was attached to the fellowship building where we had eaten. The fellowship building was attached to the main church by a walkway. A woman saw Ron and I looking at the chapel and asked us if we wanted to see the main sanctuary. She took the three of us on a tour. The church proved to be beautiful. It was over 100 years old and was about as wide as it was deep. There were beautiful large stain glass windows on the back and sides of the church that depicted various biblical scenes. A balcony ran the entire length of the back of the church and there were doors with leaded glass windows leading out to the narthex. There was an old pipe organ on the right hand side of the altar. On the back of the altar there was a large wooden carving of the Last Supper modeled after Michelangelo's painting. The church had a very warm feeling.

After we left the church we took the shuttle down to the beer garden. Ron told me that Ottumwa was MASH'S Radar O'Reilly's hometown. It was rumored that Tom Arnold was going to make an appearance but we didn't stay long enough to find out if he did. Ron and Don had a couple of lemonade/beer blends and I drank a couple of Buds. That night was very hot and muggy. We lay on top of our sleeping bags and sweated. The next morning we arose to a partly cloudy sky. We had only a light dew so the tents weren't too wet. The ground was like cement and when setting up the tents we could only drive the tent stakes in a little way. Apparently, the Ottumwa area hadn't received that much rain.

We ate breakfast at the high school that was having an all you could eat breakfast buffet. After eating we headed out of town. Unfortunately, eating before leaving town was a bad choice since we had to climb two long, steep hills. It brought back bad memories of the climb out of Reasoner. Other than the beginning this day was short and easy. It was only 56 miles from Ottumwa to Washington. We did, however, encounter three stretches of gravel, the worst being just out side of Richland. We ate lunch in Richland that according to the MC for the music groups had previously been known as frog town. Apparently the town had been initially settled on a site of a pond full of frogs. In Richland they had excellent food. While waiting for Don and Ron to catch up I dined on a pork tenderloin sandwich, freshly made lemonade, capped off with an ice cream drumstick. When Ron and Don arrived they didn't eat much, but did fill up their water bottles.

In the afternoon we were stopped on a crest of a hill because of a biking accident. During the wait to clear the road I started talking with a knowledgeable Iowa woman. I asked her what the blue and white flowers were called that we were seeing in all the road ditches. She said the blue flowers were called Blue Chicory and the white flowers were called Queen Anne Lace. I had previously asked numerous people the names of the flowers but none had been able to tell me. One woman had known that the white ones were Queen Anne Lace but didn't know the name for the blue flowers. The two flowers form a very pleasing color combination. After clearing the accident, which was severe enough to call the ambulance, they let us go on our way.

Later in the afternoon we stopped on a farmer's front lawn. Many times we would pass by rural homes and the people would be sitting out watching and waving at the riders as they passed through. On the lawn sitting in the shade of a large tree there was an old guy with three younger men. I arrived first and asked the old man what kind of tree he was sitting under. It looked similar to an American elm but it had smaller and more slender leaves. The old man looked up and with a twinkle in his eye told me that the tree was a Piss elm. Later Ron told me that they had Piss elms all over southwestern Minn. and that the wood was impossible to split. Just when the old man told me the name of the tree Don arrived. He told the old man to watch out for me since I liked to argue. In fact, just that morning Don and I had an argument over how tall the corn plants were where he and I had taken a leak.
I said that they were at least 10 feet tall but Don insisted that they were only 8 feet. He had played basketball all his life and knew what 10 feet was. Ron agreed with me because the corn was over 10 feet tall. Anyway, Don started arguing about politics and in a loud voice announced that he was a Republican and supported George W. Two of the young guys were sons of the old man and the other was his son-in-law. When Don announced that he was a Republican one of the sons said good since he was one too and walked over and got Don a beer. The old man and the other two young men were Democrats. A spirited argument commenced between the old man and Don with the young guys joining in by laughing and nodding as the argument progressed.

We arrived early in Washington getting there at about 3:30. We found out our group was camped near a Mennonite church. Don and Ron went off to shower and I wrote in this journal. I sat writing behind the church on a picnic table in the shade of some trees. There were two other people there who also were apparently writing in their journals. A woman came up and said that she was envious since she had always intended to keep a journal but hadn't. It was very pleasant sitting and writing since a cool front had gone through during the day.

After I showered we ate supper in the church and afterwards took a shuttle downtown. We strolled around looking at the bike vendors and Don bought a pair of gloves to replace the pair he had lost. We watched a juggler for awhile who was very good. At one point he juggled a bowling ball, a green grape, and a ball the size of a tennis ball. Of course when he finished juggling these three he caught the grape in his mouth and ate it.

We retired even earlier than usual (before 8:30) because Don and Ron had to be in Burlington by 1:00 to catch their shuttle back to Mason City. We got up at 4:30 and intended to bust butt as Don said. It was still rather dark but there were quite a few riders already on the road. Most riders had a blinking red taillight, which appeared like a long line of flickering red fire flies ahead of us. This day was the best day as far as biking. The land became quite flat as we approached the river, the road was new and very smooth, and we had the wind at our backs. I couldn't resist speeding along at times, waiting for Don and Ron to catch up. In one section I averaged well over 20 mph. We stopped in Mediapolis to eat a quick lunch. This proved to be a good choice since they had the best lemonade and pork tenderloin sandwiches of the whole trip. Little old ladies were individually preparing the glasses of lemonade using half a lemon per glass. We arrived in Burlington in plenty of time arriving shortly after noon. When we arrived in Burlington we had to climb the steepest hill of the trip. When asked what the name of the hill was a Burlingtonite answered that it was called the widow maker. I rode over to the YMCA with Don and Ron, got my bag, put it in the office of the YMCA, and had a last picture of the three of us taken with Ron's camera. Don exclaimed, " Well another adventure completed, Louie". I jumped on my bike and rode down to the river to dip my front wheel. Kate and Gary had driven down from Dubuque to watch me come in. They spotted me right away. I went down to the river, dipped my wheel, and concluded my first RAGBRAI.

I should mention a couple of additional things. One of these is the man in the leather loincloth. This is the only thing he wore during the entire week except for biking shoes. He would get jeered or cheered everywhere he went. He wasn't a young guy and I would judge him to be about 40 with the beginnings of a potbelly. The other thing is the only injury suffered by the three of us. Don got a sore butt so I talked him into buying a Specialized saddle to replace his old seat. However, even with the new seat, I noticed that he was standing up a lot that last day and it wasn't to pump up any hills. All and all as anyone knows who does RAGBRAI that it is a special, rewarding, exciting adventure.

What does RAGBRAI mean to me stated in a few words?

These are pedaling, panting, hilly, car up, car back, bike on, bike off, on your left, eating, drinking, corn on the cob, pork, lemonade, lite beer, Gatorade, homemade pies and ice cream, greeting, meeting, talking, camping, camaraderie, music, festive, small towns, high fives, heartland, rural, Iowa, America, a special event.


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