I lost Joyce and Ben 25 or so miles in on Thursday when I stopped on the side of the road to use a portopottie and write postcards. We had a routine of waiting for each other on the side of the road just before entering the next town if we ever separated and they waited for me but we missed each other. I met up with my mom and dad in town for a quick lunch and rode out of town with them. We rode a few miles together but it was really hard to keep from speeding away in my few hours left with the luxury trek. I rode with my dad a ways and then rode on. I was thinking my friends were way ahead of me so I was crushing time, not stopping much in an effort to catch them. I got to the last town with only 10 miles to go when I received texts that Ben and Joyce would be waiting in Dike, a town 13 miles back. So I told them I was ahead and spent a nice hour waiting, eating pie and ice cream, charging my phone outside a church and napping on pavement. It was different riding alone. It made me want to stop a lot less and for less time, I enjoy the eating and stopping much more with company. And I like riding with people too, keeping each other company. But it was also nice to have some long stretches riding alone, especially on lucy 5.0. I thought about the line in "into the wild" a good movie, and even better book, "happiness only when shared". Alone time on the open road is refreshing but overall I am happier and more lively riding with company. It is hard not to have some company on ragbrai, though, as nearly everyone is ready to be your friend.
On a more serious note, there was a ragbrai tragedy on Thursday morning when Stephen Briggs, 68 of Waverly, IA, clipped the tire of the bike in front of him, flying off his bike, and hitting his head. We rode by the scene of the accident just after he was medi-vaced away. We saw a lot of ambulences throughout the week but most for less serious injuries like broken bones, etc. But we knew the helicopter was a bad sign. This was very disturbing, to Ben especially, who was wondering "if we knew coming into this ride that one out of 20,000 people was going to die, would it be worth it?" He compared it to the running of the bulls where people know how dangerous it is but its a culture and people love it so they take the risk. I understand where he's coming from and agree that people know they're taking a risk on ragbrai and are willing to but think it is very different and more safe than the running of the bulls. People play all sports knowing about the concussions they can get or how they could be paralyzed. Erik climbs mountains and treks Alaska knowing the dangers involved. Life is too short not to do the things we love and to take chances as long as we are smart in our decisions and do things carefully. Stephen Briggs was reported dead on Friday afternoon. According to the Ragbrai website, his daughter made comments about how much he loved biking, how he had done 6 full ragbrais and at least 5 partial weeks, and that she was glad that he went doing something he loved so much. This is very tragic but it says a lot that his daughter was at peace with it and didn't condemn her father's bike riding despite the risk involved. It is not uncommon for people to die on ragbrai. It doesn't always happen on bikes, there are drownings and slip and slide accidents. No matter how they happen, these deaths are great tragedies and Ben is smart to wonder whether the ride is worth the risk but I think he is also right that its a culture people love and are willing to take the risk for. Again, all Ragbrai riders, and risk takers, need to be smart and safe but we also need to live our lives and do what makes us happy.
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