We load up the car, and Ann and I set off for home, with her having changed out of her cycling clothes, and me, not.
Ann: Aren’t you dying to get out of your bike shorts?
Me: No, I think at this point I’ve become one with my shorts. It’s all very zen. Plus, I’m too damn tired to bother. And I’m just so glad to be not on a bike, that what I’m wearing doesn’t even matter. Ah, bliss.
That night, I unpack my stuff at my mom’s, as I contemplate calling in a hazmat team for my dirty clothes, which have been added to a plastic garbage bag all week. In the heat and sun. To the point that now, I think they’re composting.
The next morning
The Kone has clearly become unaccustomed to our usual routine, which dictates that HRH sleeps in as long as Momma sleeps, so I get up early to take him out. Amazingly enough, I step outside and yes, my immediate thought is this: hey, it’s a perfect day for a bike ride! Really. Not hot yet, not at all windy, some cloud cover. Of course, I can only muster up the energy for Kona’s walkie, so I tuck this thought away and go back to bed.
I don't think I could bike another mile if my life depended on it.
I deliberately cut up my bagel with cream cheese and lox into small pieces so that I can eat it with a fork, careful to not have it touch my puffy and burnt lower lip, and then after finishing this exhausting feat, I slump my head over to rest it wearily on my arms. So. Tired. And. Exhausted.
Mom: So would you ever do this ride again?
My head pops up in surprise. “Well of course, why wouldn’t I?”
My head goes thunking back down to the table, as I mumble “of course next time I’ll train by putting my bike in a sauna, and camping out in the backyard in a sweltering tent with someone blowing an airhorn into my ear at regular intervals. Oh, and nothing but slushies as fuel. Yep, I’ll be so ready. And pie. Lots of pie……”
* * * * * * * * * *
To speak of RAGBRAI as if we were hot on the trail of world peace out there, well, maybe that’s not quite so. And yet. There was something heartwarming and amazing to see, about this incredible sea of tens of thousands of people doing what they love, riding their bikes, through these small Iowa towns that went all out to greet us, putting an incredible amount of effort into this. Everyone got involved, from the church ladies baking their pies and cinnamon rolls, to the fire stations cooking up pancakes and burgers, to the American Legion and other groups, being so sweet and tolerant about all these sweaty, stinky cyclists in their midst.
Then there were all the people who sat out there with their sprinklers going for us to ride through, the kids handing out Freezer-pops as we rode by, the massive flags put up in every town to soar above us, and even the Iowa State Patrol manning the intersections, who all had music blasting from their cars. Rock on, Iowa State Police!
I filled out my survey form for RAGBRAI, and when they asked if there was anything I’d improve or anything I thought wasn’t great, I couldn’t think of a thing. I know, me! The mind reels. The only annoyance was in the cyclists who refused to ride right and created dangerous situations at times – but I’m not sure what else the ride organizers could do about that other than reminding people oh, say, constantly, as they did. You just can’t fix stupid.
I’m not quite sure what I’ll remember most about the week, because it was such a blur of insane heat and humidity and yet total awesomeness. But one memory that does stand out is this – after I had stopped in one of our pass-through towns and was pressing on, I was doing my usual routine, of looking at the houses to see if there was anyone sitting out front that I could wave to, as there often was. Then I saw an elderly woman looking through the curtains at the spectacle outside her house, and so I waved to her. As soon as she saw me, she waved back, as excitedly as if the Pope himself were riding past. That is, if the Pope were a complete idiot, which apparently he’s not because I didn’t see him riding across Iowa the last week of July.
I’ll also think about how amazing it is that something like this can bring in much-needed cash to these small towns, as so many of these groups were raising money for things like a new roof for the church, equipment for the firefighters, a trip for the band. All great things that I was happy to support, just as I always tried to buy things from local sellers rather than some of the places that set up at every festival or country fair. This led me to trying smoked grilled peaches in Colfax, and a most excellent sno-kone in Elkhart, and buying more water and popsicles than a person should be allowed in a lifetime.
And yes, it was insanely hot and humid. Crazily so. This was in fact the 2nd hottest RAGBRAI week in the 39 years that this ride has been going on. But really, that just made it more epic - plus, I'd rather have insane heat any day over rain. Not only is rain sucky and dangerous for the cyclists, but it would have been horrible for all the townspeople to have all their efforts rained out. So heat? Yeah, bring it.
Something like this can’t really compare to the majesty of cycling in the Alps, or in the lush countryside of Mallorca – but then, it isn’t a fair comparison. RAGBRAI is indeed unique, and it stands on its own merits. If you love cycling and country roads and, well, all kinds of Americana in the unlikeliest of places, then this is the ride for you. And if it restores your faith in humanity a little tiny bit along the way, so be it.
And in the end, what’s the only way I can sum it all up? Yep, you guessed it.
Best. Week. Ever.