Wednesday, July 26, 2017


About two weeks ago, I was lying on the couch after the kids were in bed, watching old Office reruns and trying to read the book that I haven't been quite able to get into.  In an effort to be productive without have to try to keep reading, I sent a random text to a high school friend about the possibility of us getting our families together.  We texted back and forth, but with little success in figuring out logistics...and somehow RAGBRAI came up.  As in, "Are you doing any days of ragbrai?"  And when the answer was "no"....we ended up deciding that riding a day of RAGBRAI might just be the perfect way to catch up--- without the kids.

We knew the route was traveling from Spencer to Algona-- roughly 60 miles and while it would be hard, we could ride 10 miles an hour and still get there before suppertime. Mason thought I was crazy, and I admit that I did too....but I knew I could do it even if it would be a little painful.  So Bess and I decided that we would do day 2 of the ride-- assuming that we could both coordinate childcare and mentally train (because it was really too late to physically train). Over the course of the next week, Bess and I texted back and forth-- mostly reciting our new mantra: "We'll be fine! What could possibly go wrong?!"  (Also, RAGBRAI is known for a lot of pie on the route---and I have been known to like pie.)

By Sunday it was go-time.  We dropped our vehicles off in Algona and then headed to Spencer with my parents.  We drove right to the bike store to get Bess' tires checked and look into a bike rack for me.  While she took her bike in to the store, we left mine on the rack out on my dad's truck.  Meanwhile, I looked at racks and luggage bags and decided it would be easier to have my bike inside so I'd know what would fit.  Dad went out to grab my bike and almost immediately came back in.  His stride was quick and he had a look on his face that I couldn't quite read.
      "Karah.  We have a problem.  You're missing a tire.  We must have lost it on the road on the way here."  I let his words sink in but I couldn't quite comprehend them.  What did that mean? What had happened?  It was lost? Gone? Fell off??  So the four of us scrambled out of the store to check out my bike and sure enough, the wheel was gone.  But we quickly decided that it had been stolen, not just dropped.  After all, rear tires don't just fall off.  My mind raced as I thought about the implications of this....was I done? Not riding? S-O-L?  I was instantly sad, then mad... and Dad was really mad.

Then, something shifted like bike gears in my brain and I accepted the fact that I needed a new wheel.  The only problem was that they don't make the same wheel anymore and the owner of the bike shop wasn't sure the new model would fit my bike.  Ugh.  But long story short: They had a wheel that fit and set me up with a new wheel, a new tire, new tube, and components.  Sweet expensive story!  But here are my positive thoughts about this whole crappy situation:

1.  The whole bike didn't get stolen.  That would have really grinded my gears.  (Get it!?)
2.  A perfectly great replacement wheel fit my bike frame.
3.  If this was the worst thing that we were to experience, then I'd take it!
4.  This made us remember that anything can happen and while trust is great, we might want to not trust too much on this ride.
5.   Someday, we'll look back on this and chuckle.  I'll wonder what happened to that wheel, but I'll still chuckle.
6.   Also, we made a funny IG story about this but I forgot to save it in time.  Just picture my mom giving her best "Mad face" at the camera.  That alone should make you smile.

On Monday morning we woke up and Mom made us a breakfast for champions--even though we were too nervous to eat much.  My parents decided to ride us out of town so we grabbed our bikes and were off!

But not without taking photos first!!

Stopping to let cars pass on Hwy 18 near Dickens. 

Our first stop: About 13.1 miles in and just before the turn to head down the Gillet Grove hill!  Stopped to pour powdered Gatorade in our water and use the porta-pots.

Next stop: Photo opportunity with the "Sorry about Steve King" people.  Near Silver Lake, IA.

First Town: Ayrshire Iowa!!  24 miles in and feeling awesome! Stopped for bathroom break, light yoga in the park, and an egg on a stick which was pretty good.

....oh, and a photo in front of a big ol' tractor!

We didn't have any plans on stopping until we saw a sign that said, "See a Baby Llama!!".  Bess was in front of me as we passed the sign and I yelled, "I kinda want to see the llama!!"  She glanced back and hollered, "Let's stop!"  so we pulled over, saw the baby llama with his mama and bought a monster cookie while we were at it.

Next stop: Curlew, IA.  Never heard of the town before but it was rocking'!  A line three blocks long wound around the park for "Mr. Porkchop" meat.

Bikers dismounting and walking their bikes through Curlew.

Next Stop: Mallard, IA (home of the friendly ducks). Stopped for lunch (soft shell tacos and strawberry smoothies) and a little rest.  Never knew it would feel so good to take off my helmet and bike shoes!

Bess finally found a hose with free water-- thanks to the Mallard Fire Station. :)

Next Stop: West Bend, IA
We loved these people, shouting "Welcome to West Bend!' at the tops of their lungs.  The guy was the best but he was wearing a president Reagan shirt and we didn't know how we felt about that.

We walked around the Grotto for a few minutes, amazed by this place that took 42 years to build--entirely by hand.  We found souvenir rocks for the kids and jumped back on our bikes.  We had 10 miles to Whittemore and then another 10 to Algona.  We were almost there!!

By this time, we were 50 miles into our journey and we had only seen one sign advertising pie-- and by the time we came along, it had been sold out.  I was bummed and discouraged until I saw a tent with a banner reading, "The Pie Lady"!  The kids manning the money set me up with some delicious apple pie that maybe tasted even better because I had to wait for it.   (As it turns out, "The Pie Lady" is actually from Gladbrook and had just been in Grundy at our town festival a few weeks earlier.)

(A note on the pies: After seeing the Pie Lady at mile 50, we saw pie after pie after pie stand for the next 20 miles.  So first 50 miles---no pie.  Last 20 miles--- lots of pie.  But by mile 50 I was starting to only think about sitting barefoot in a camp chair with a cold beer that has an alcohol content of 8.5%.... pie was starting to pale in comparison.

Final town: Whittemore, IA.  We bought cold water and ate shot bloks before beginning our final leg-- straight into the wind on our way to Algona.

About five miles out we saw a slice of watermelon placed on the side of the road.  About a block farther, another watermelon slice.  We kept pedaling and saw another... then another and another and by the time we had reached the tent selling watermelon, we were halfway off our bikes with $2 ready to had over for some of the delicious fruit we never knew we loved so much!

Final town: Algona, IA
The last leg was definitely the hardest-- especially as it ended on a long hill running into town.  Speaking only for myself, this was one of the hardest parts of the trek.  But we had made it-- we were there!!  (And only about two miles away from our destination where we could really sit and relax for the rest of the night.)

Our celebration landed us at Train Wreck Winery where we enjoyed sangria and conversations with random people.  Bess was wearing a KC t-shirt which sparked several conversations-- note to self: Wear something recognizable like S&R or UNI or Loras to get the conversations rolling.

How the day unfolded in an Instragam Story: 

If you've every kinda-wanted to do this ride, I encourage you to do it.  I'm not the hugest bike riding fan but I realized that part of the reason is because I always ride alone.  Riding with a huge group of people, all connected by a common goal, was really magical.  The people we met were amazing.  Iowa nice is a real thing.  So is drafting.  (And that is nerve-wracking but freaking awesome)

This ride was magical in so many ways.
1. It came about from a random text.  The universe knew we needed some time with each other.

2. Bess and I haven't spent this much time together in over 20 years.  Yet we picked up right where we left off and never once were at a loss for words.

3.  Re-connecting with people who know your past is just magical.  There is something so special about the people who were in your life during such formative years--like high school and college-- that they'll never be forgotten.

4.  The physical ride was challenging but achievable.  And now that it's over, it has definitely reignited something inside of me that's been missing for a long time.

5.  We had the perfect weather trifecta: Sunny and 70-80 degrees, no wind, flat terrain.

If I had it to do over again, I would make sure to:
1. Take my bike with me wherever I go and definitely not leave it unattended in a back alley.

2.  Buy an actual legit cargo bag for the back rack.  Untangling bungee cords and rifling through a nylon bag every time I needed chapstick or sunscreen or money was a total drag.

3. Get matching tanks or jerseys with my ride partner(s) because looking cute is important.  But also, I loved seeing the groups or teams of people and knowing they all belonged together.

4. Train more than a few days and probably ride more than 10 miles.  My legs never once hurt (still haven't) but my knees, wrists, and neck are different stories.

5. Have candy or stickers or something fun to toss to the kids along the side of the road who come out to cheer us on.  I have to think about the perfect thing for this....

6. Print a map of the route beforehand.  We had a general idea of the towns and distances between but it would have been nice to have something concrete to refer to.

7. Check ahead for ride highlights.  For instance, we missed the "Swine Cuddles" and "Dunk Tank" in Whittemore and those are two things I would have definitely participate in had I known they were there.

8. Make a music playlist.  People didn't appreciate the Hamilton soundtrack like I had hoped.

9.  Get a kick-stand or figure out how people lean two bikes up against each other without them falling....

10. Lead Yoga for Bikers at one of the towns.  I think I need a banner.....

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