How I Spent My Summer Vacation… Biking 454 Miles Across Iowa!

I’m back from RAGBRAI!  What an AWESOME week!  I have to admit, I didn’t know what to expect this week and I was pretty nervous as we headed to Glenwood on Saturday to start the ride across Iowa.  I hadn’t put many miles on my bike this spring and summer, I didn’t really know how to utilize gears, and I didn’t know if I could sit on my bike that far!  So, I went into it knowing I could always catch the “ SAG Wagaon” if I couldn’t finish a day and took off!  Here’s a day-to-day recap of the ride- I’ll try my best to be brief. 🙂

Saturday- we left Des Moines in the rain Saturday morning with the Bike World Charter (which, I have to put a plug-in here- the Charter is AMAZING- I highly recommend!!).  We got to Glenwood in mid afternoon and checked out the Expo and then headed to the town square for food and beverages.  It was so so hot, we went into a little bar for AC and plopped ourselves down at the bar.  The Bartender- Rex- quickly became Matt and my friend and stopped charging us for drinks after the first one- dangerous!  And fun 🙂  Tornado sirens started going off after an hour or so, so we just sat it out and ordered some dinner from our new friend.  Once the weather cleared, we headed outside to the entertainment area and enjoyed the cover band for a few hours.  Glenwood was one of my favorite overnight towns because of the small town atmosphere and the cool town square. (despite the fact our camp was set up next to train tracks… and the trains ran every hour!!!  Not a lot of sleep that night!)

Sunday- Day 1 of the ride from Glenwood to Atlantic.  We rode 59.5 miles and climbed 4,298 feet.  Oh my goodness!  I did not know what I was getting myself into with these hills!!  Matt had given me some pointers to make the ride easier on my legs, so somehow I survived.  The heat index was over 100 too- I am pretty sure I drank my weight in Gatorade! We got into Atlantic and the town was just as hilly as the we had encountered all day during our ride.  When I found out how far our camp was from all the entertainment sites- I seriously started tearing up and told Matt there was NO way I could get back on my bike and ride there- my legs were done done done.  He kinda (ok, not kinda, full-fledged) laughed at me and informed me each town has shuttle buses to transport riders around- HALELUJAH! 🙂  I found a potato bar at a local church and ate well that night.  I pooped out early and headed back to camp for some much-needed sleep. 

Monday- Day 2 we rode from Atlantic to Carroll- 65.4 miles- and climbed 4,719 feet.  And another day with the heat index over 100.  I started getting a pretty bad heat rash- it didn’t hurt- but I definitely didn’t have the sexiest looking legs at this point! After realizing how un-trained I was to bike these massive hills, I started strategizing my day early after we started.  I planned to bike to the halfway point in Manning and then get on the SAG Wagon to Carroll.  I was SURE my legs wouldn’t be able to take another day of hills.  But, as I kept riding, my legs kept up!  We were to Manning before I knew it and I felt great!  So, I decided not to be a wimp and press on!  Unfortunately, I had gotten a big lunch at Carbo Hut and about 3 miles out of Manning I was trying my best not to barf on my bike.  Gross- I know- just be thankful you weren’t the one swallowing it back!  I didn’t know what to do- I definitely didn’t want barf on my bike!  So, I pressed on and met up with Matt in Templeton where we sat in the shade and let my tummy settle before taking off again.  My legs must have gone numb because the only thing bothering me the rest of the ride was severe indigestion and heartburn. 🙂  1 great things about the overnight in Carroll:  Matt’s friends who live there let us shower at their house -PRIVATE and CLEAN!!

Tuesday- Carroll to Boone -70.9 miles and 1,787 feet climb- it was a FLAT and FANTASTIC ride!   However, I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the flat ride because my bum felt like it was on FIRE!  Someone told me before I started the ride that by day 3 your bum just goes numb- that was NOT true to for me.  It truly put a new meaning to “feel the burn” for me- Ouch!  We rode pretty hard and fast and got into Boone early.  We took advantage of our time and scouted out a coffee shop with AC before we even found our camp.  I have to say- it was a little piece of heaven.  I got a mint mocha smoothie with whipped cream and loved every drop.  🙂  Matt and I were both in the best moods we had been in all week leaving the coffee shop.  We found our camp, showered, and headed back to town for food and fun.  We ate at a little local BBQ restaurant where I scarfed down 12 wings (I deserved it!) and we headed to the entertainment area for Hairball- an 80’s cover band that is absolutely fantastic! 

Wednesday- Boone to Altoona- 56.1 miles and only 1,147 feet of climb.  Numbness settled in at last and I could no longer feel my bum burn!  The ride was flat and fast.  Matt was staying at his sister’s house and my parents were picking me up to stay at a hotel in Altoona so we booked it!  A night in AC, beds, and private, clean showers were motivation enough to push it hard!  We got to camp by noon and my dad picked us both up (thanks dad- coordinating that pickup was trickier than I anticipated 🙂 ) I was able to go home in WDM for  a short while, throw my shorts in the laundry and refresh before check in time at the hotel.  🙂  Ahhh… I cannot explain how fabulous that felt!  At the hotel, the first order of business was the pool.  Matt, his sister, and nephew met us there to cool off and relax.  The pool had a swim up bar so I indulged in a couple margaritas myself after the grueling ride.  My mom had also gone to a pharmacy and picked up hydro-cortisone to help both my heat rash and the chaffing- goodness in a tube is all I have to say.  It cleared everything up!

 Thursday- Altoona to Grinnel- 74.9 miles and 3,202 feet of climb, so another fairly hilly day.  My alarm didn’t go off so the day got off to a frantic start since Matt and I had to drop our luggage off at camp by 7am.  We made it in plenty of time- thank goodness.  🙂  We had made plans to meet up with my friends Tiffany and Ryan who were starting that day with Team Stop A Lot- our first “party” ride of the week.  I was also by now experiencing complete numbness of the bum and my legs were keeping up with my just great!  We met up with Team Stop A Lot just outside the first town at the Farm Boys Vendor stand.  We stopped at the first town and spent some time at the beer garden where I enjoyed a mimosa- I met some interesting peeps including 2 guys riding dressed as Elvis.  It was definitely a fun ride.  The team lived up to its name and we stopped A LOT!  One of the most memorable was stopping to sing and dance to the Team Song “Love Train” to a man turning 80 years old- there was a huge sign outside his house as we rode by saying to wish him a Happy 80th Birthday- so we did!  I even managed to keep up with the Team on my Hybrid bike!  Although, this is the day I fell- TWICE!  The first one, the team was pulling into a gas station parking lot and I just wasn’t thinking and leaned the opposite way of the foot I had clipped out of my pedal and sorta toppled over.  The second time, I was going uphill, changed gears and my chain fell off.  Luckily no one was around me because I fell over right in the middle of the road.  I didn’t know what to do and by the time I thought to clip out, I was already tipping over.  It felt like slow motion- I did get a choice 4 letter word out on the down though.  I have to admit and be extremely thankful- all I got from that fall was a scraped knee.  I also experienced my first “communal” shower and the experience was not pleasant.  I was actually yelled at by an old naked lady to hurry up!  Good grief!  I paid for the shower and NO one was going to rush me!  Even after that, I have to say Grinnel was my favorite overnight town of the week.  The entertainment was set up on the town square, it was organized well, and we had a blast!

 Friday- Grinnel to Coralville- 74.9 miles and 2,681 feet of climb.  This was the longest ride of the week.  We met up with Team Stop A Lot just right before the first town at Farm Boys for another party ride.  We stopped at the first town in Brooklyn for a screwdriver and watched the bikers roll by.   We stopped again in the second town, Victor and played “butt darts” in the beer garden- this team came up with the wildest and funniest games to play!  It was a blast!!  We left before the rest of the team did to get a head start so we leisurely make our way to the middle town.  My legs were extremely tired this day and we had strong headwinds that were making it an unpleasantly hard ride for me.  Matt “pulled” me for the second part of the day to block the headwinds and pick up my speed.  We had to get back to camp by 6pm for a charter meeting for departure on Saturday so we finished up the day solo and said goodbye to Team Stop A Lot.  We did get free root beer floats from at the meeting though, which was fantastic after the long, brutal ride.  The shower experience was even more unpleasant than the previous day.  Another communal and the water was FREEZING COLD!!!  Both Matt and I were crabby and in need of a beverage and food.  We took the shuttle to Iowa City and found a local restaurant on the Ped Mall.  I was so exhausted, I fell asleep on the shuttle ride back to camp!

 Saturday- Coralville to Davenport- 65.6 miles and 2,363 feet of climb and our last day!  We woke up early and got started- we planned to push it through on this day, so that we could catch one of the earlier charter busses back to Des Moines.  I have to say- this was the worst day of riding.  There were no vendors along the route and the towns weren’t that exciting.  There really wasn’t anything that screamed “stop here!” so we pushed it through almost the entire way, stopping in Wilton to refuel and rehydrate.  The last stretch into Davenport my legs started giving out.  They had enough!  I was pretty slow going into town and was ready for the finish.  🙂 We got to our camp just outside of town and checked in.  Then we got back on our bikes and rode the rest of the way to the Mississippi to the finish.  The river was covered with green slime and smelled bad.  😦 Yuck!  I did not dip my tires in (besides, there was a long line!)  The bus ride back to Des Moines was air-conditioned and had comfortable seats- win win!  Tawnie and my parents picked up Matt and I at Bike World and they had gotten me a balloon and the house was decorated with welcome homes signs from Tawnie.  🙂 I had already planned what my meal would be so after showering and getting settled back in at home, I picked my gluten free pizza from Felix & Oscars and scarfed the entire pie down!  Accompanied by a well deserved bottle of wine (Ok, I didn’t drink the entire bottle- but pretty well close!) AND I was still hungry…  so before bed I enjoyed 2 bowls of ice cream (the first one didn’t fill me up 🙂 ) 

 Total we rode about 454 miles across Iowa and I have to say, it was one of the BEST vacations I’ve ever taken yet!!  I will definitely be going on RAGBRAI again… although with a road bike next time- I think it is time to retire my Hybrid 🙂

Here are a few pics from the week:

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