Monday, July 30, 2012

Bike America Days 36-38: Milestones

Thursday-Saturday, July 19-21, 2012

Thursday's distance: 52.77 miles
Overall distance: 1,877 miles
Friday-Saturday: R&R

Please accept my apologies for leaving my readers hanging for so many days. I have been caught up in the excitement of Ragbrai and never found any time to plug in my computer, let alone compose a decent blog post. Now, life on the road is back to "normal" and I'm ready to catch you up. I'll start by telling you about the few days leading up to the great ride across Iowa.

Milestone #1: Entering my mom's home state

We left Centerville, SD early Thursday morning and it felt like we could already be in the hawkeye state. There were nothing but farms and cornfields all around. My mom drove ahead while my dad and I biked and discovered that there was no "Welcome to Iowa" sign on our planned route. The state signs had been a fun part of the trip and the one in Iowa was especially important to my mom since it is her home state. 

We altered our route and she and my dad switched a few miles from the Missouri River so she could ride her bike across the state line. We stopped to take pictures and failed many times at getting a decent shot of the three of us under the sign. 

Upon crossing the river, we recognized the familiar terrain of Iowa's country roads. IMHO, the state has the best kind of rolling hills that are steeper and often shorter than they'd been any time on the trip. I was very excited by this. Another fifteen miles and we were in Sioux Center, IA where Ragbrai would start three days later. We were the second people to set up camp and had nothing to do but await the arrival of the other 19,997 riders. We swam in the local pool, went to a mexican restaurant for dinner and then tucked into our sleeping bags under a beautiful sunset.

At dinner, a woman approached our table and said "I can see you are riding Ragbrai [based on our wristbands], do you have a place to stay?" She was a complete stranger but could not have been more welcoming. We told her we had already set up tents and she gave us her address and told us to come over if we wanted to spend the next two nights in beds. She had 25 people staying over on Saturday night in preparation for the ride but we were welcome to make ourselves at home on Thursday and Friday. We were very grateful but opted to stay at camp. It was a perfect example, though, of what is so unique and awesome about Ragbrai and the mid-west in general. I don't think that kind of thing happens much in DC or anywhere on the east coast.

Milestone #2: Ragbrai already?

Friday was the first official night of camping on Ragbrai. All day, we watched food and vendor tents get set up, porta-potties get placed, and other riders arrive. Though we spent most of the day attending to errands, I had an overwhelming sense of excitement and sadness at the fact that Ragbrai was really about to begin. As far as milestones on this trip go, it felt like third to beginning the trek in Anacortes and riding home into Georgetown. I can't explain why exactly but I can say that a lot of planning had gone into Ragbrai alone. From helping coordinate Josh, Nathaniel and Ben's trip there from DC to making sure that my wardrobe was full of bright and fun clothing for the week. It was more than halfway through the ride and I knew that once it was over, the remaining three weeks of Bike America would fly by.

But still, I was incredibly excited for the week and I planned to do nothing but enjoy it. First, though, I'd enjoy my two rest days in Sioux Center. I began Friday with my first run in six weeks. Three miles at an average pace of 8:47 were harder than they've been in a long time and a tendon in my knee hurt a lot by the end. But I was glad to have done it. I know that I'm in great shape from all this biking but it was interesting to see how different running felt on my body.

I spent the remainder of the day doing laundry, writing postcards in the laundromat, cleaning my bike, eating lunch at Casey's Cafe and blogging at the library. 

I had leftovers for dinner and chatted with a 72 year old Arizona man about the Grand Canyon and a Salt Lake City woman who has made a lifestyle out of bicycle touring. Finally, after nearly 25 hours of driving, the boys arrived from DC and we sat in our grassy "living room" drinking beer. This was Josh and Nathaniel's first Ragbrai and Ben's second. Josh would be splitting riding and driving with my mom so he'd be riding half of each day. It felt very surreal to have them all there. We were having much more fun than the guys in the picture below would have you believe.

Milestone #3: 25 Years Young

On Saturday morning, I woke up in the happiest way.

I couldn't sleep in because I'd be driving Josh and Nathaniel an hour south to the Sioux Center Airport to drop off their rental car but I'm always excited to wake up and start celebrating early on my birthday. I have a horrible tendency to be disappointed at least once on my birthday because I expect the world and can get temporarily sad if everything isn't perfect every second. In general I have very happy birthdays but that is a bad habit that I've always been ashamed of. One would think that three hours of seemingly pointless driving, and a chill day of non-celebrating might lead to some disappointment but it turned out to be a very happy and humble birthday without even a minute of wanting more. Maybe it's a sign of getting older but, for the first time, I could have cared less, and often forgot that it was even a day worth celebrating.

I spent the afternoon walking around the Ragbrai expo, eating pizza and a smoothie on the go, and playing frisbee and pool basketball.

I have a very sweaty man.

For dinner we went to the craft beer garden at the local Fruited Planes Cafe. They were serving a spaghetti dinner which provided the perfect carbo-load for seven days of biking. With it, Josh and I shared an agave wheat beer and a pale ale. Then we shared a carrot cake (my fave) which my mom specially ordered from Casey's Cafe in town. It was smeared with icing that read "H.B. Carrie 25". The six of us shared about half of it and I nearly finished the rest by myself. I may have been more humble than normal about my birthday but I can eat a hell of a lot of cake and some things never change.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bike America Day 35: Rain Rain, Don't Go Away

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Day's distance: 59.23 miles
Overall distance: 1,824 miles

My dad and I rolled out of our city park campground in Tyndall, SD at 6:30 pm to a subtly rising sun. We rode north into the wind and it was hard work but we were in good spirits. To the west, the sky was dark and cloudy. To the east, the sky was orange and gray, with a nearby pocket of rain. The view of the sunrise over the cornfield was perfect and I had to stop only a few miles in for some photos.

At mile 6, we turned east onto Highway 46 and sped along with the wind at our backs. Rain started to fall and we knew that the dark, cloudy skies to the west were moving in our direction. At dinner the night before, we'd talked about the drought and how it was bittersweet because at least it meant we'd barely been rained on. I said that I'd rather be showered with rain any day if it was an alternative to riding under the beating sun in 100+ degrees. Mother earth had listed to me because here was the rain! 

We turned on our flashing lights to stay visible and stopped for a taste of the blueberry scone and apple fritter that my mom had picked up in Tyndall's bakery. At mile 12, we were re-routed by detour signs on Hwy 46. We turned left, wondering how many miles this was going to add to our day. The rain started to feel sharp and forceful and I wondered if it would, or had, turned to hail. My dad said this wasn't quite hail but we should be mindful to stop if it got much worse.

While it seems like a crappy situation to be in, stuck on a bike in the foggy rain, I could not have been happier. I am a little embarrassed to admit that the song in my brain at the moment was the country song "it's a great day to be alive". I declared that this was the best day of riding since Custer State Park and it was completely true.

I actually started to feel a little cold and, when it got the slightest bit uncomfortable, I tried to remind myself how much I'd hated the heat. I am very much a "grass is greener" type of person when it comes to weather which I need to work on. I did my best to appreciate the chill.

Around mile 25, my parents switched and I made my mom take pictures of my dad and I soaked in water and speckled with dirt. The rain had mostly ceased but we were still drenched. The pictures don't do it much justice though. 

My mom rode the remaining miles and my dad did some extra riding by driving ahead, parking the car, riding back to meet us, and then riding with us to the car to do it all over again.  We stopped in Irene, SD to eat a picnic lunch and bought lemonade from two local entrepreneurs.

In Centerville, we were staying with a man named Harry Smith. He is a city councilman and the town's web designer so he received my mom's e-mail a few months ago inquiring about camping in the town. He offered us his yard and, when we got there, he offered us his basement. After swimming in the public pool and checking out the library, we returned to his house for burgers and corn.

He is a New Jersey native who moved to California and Florida before settling, five years ago, in Centerville, SD. He is a computer engineer turned murder mystery novel writer and, in true mid-western fashion, he was as nice as can be and opened his air-conditioned home to us for the night.

Bike America Day 34: Tomato Beer

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day's distance: 44.89 miles
Overall distance: 1,765 miles

The details of Tuesday's ride have escaped me. It was our shortest day, at under 45 miles. We left early and my parents split the riding. It was uneventful and we were finished by noon so I'm going to focus this blog post on the non-biking events of the day. Because it's not all about biking. It's also about the food and drink, the towns, and the people you meet in them.

When we rolled into Tyndall, South Dakota at noon, my mom and I were starving for lunch. Since we've gotten used to starting our rides between 6 and 7am, noon is a pretty late lunch hour. My dad ducked into the local barber shop to get his hair cut for the first time since May. We didn't really think he could pull of the Doc Brown look from back to the future. 

While he was in there, a scary siren sounded throughout the town. My mom poked her head in to ask the barber what was going on. He called the siren "the noon whistle" and explained that it was a signal to all shopkeepers to head home for lunch. Everything shut down for an hour and they'd be back to open up shop at 1pm. My mom called it a throwback because she remembered the same tradition from her grandparent's town of Minona, Iowa. Her grandpa worked at a bank in town and he'd drive the six blocks home to lunch each day to eat the plentiful "supper" her grandma had cooked for him, complete with a freshly baked pie every single day. That's small town America for you.

After his haircut, my dad met my mom and I in the Corner Bar where we were eating lunch. Luckily the bar didn't close down at lunch time. A local suggested the place to us and was puzzled when my mom asked him where it was. His response was, "It's on the corner!" DUH! I ordered a pizza burger which cost all of $3.50 and my parents ordered fish sandwiches which cost about the same. I drank a lemon shandy while my dad drank a landshark. The woman serving us was a cute old lady who was petite and very with it. We learned from the other woman working that our server was over 90 and came in to work at the bar every single day. We talked about our bike ride and the festivities in town. She told us about local favorites like danish pastries and tomato beer. We were unfamiliar with the tomato beer phenomenon so she offered us one on the house. It was a draft light beer, with a splash (size of splash completely varies depending on personal preference) of tomato juice. We passed it around and were quickly refreshed by the thing. She threw some olives in and it was reminiscent of a bloody mary, which I love. Later, when I told Josh about it, he suggested that I count this as my South Dakota beer since I haven't been able to find one actually brewed in the state. Since this was a tradition in the southeast region of South Dakota, it sounded like a marvelous idea!

After lunch, we headed to the city park where we'd be spending the night. It was conveniently located next to the municipal pool so we went for a quick swim which was incredibly refreshing. Next stop was the city library where my dad used the sole public computer, my mom used the laptop to read up on Ragbrai and I blogged from my phone.

We debated whether to picnic by our tent or stop into another local food place for dinner. Given the 104 degree temperature at 5pm when the library closed, we opted for a dinner in air conditioning. Around the corner, there was an old bank building converted into a restaurant. The owner, also our server, was from Arizona and had named her restaurant Sedona.

My mom and I split the steak wrap and fajita wrap and we consumed many beverages. Some wine and very much water. Back at camp, I got in my tent early and spent another night soaking my air mattress with sweat. I talked to Nathan, my brother, for a while about his bike trip that day. It was an 8 mile ride inspired by my blog and he called it "#nathanbikescentralpark". Having just gotten internet set up in his new apartment, he is a little behind on my blog and said that he's most envious of the people we're meeting but doesn't envy the bike riding at all. He said he's jealous that we saw snow and, in saying goodbye, he told me "to be careful of the bears". I assured him that 1. the snow is long gone and 2. we're out of bear country and surrounded by cornfields so I think we're in the clear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bike America Day 33: Nebraska? Check.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Day's distance: 63,01 miles
Overall distance: 1,594 miles

According to my rule book, you have to set foot on the ground in a state to consider yourself as having been there. Even though I've been in the Dallas airport on layover, I have not actually been to Texas. Eating a meal in the state, which I've done in all those on my list, just seals the deal. And I plan to set foot in all fifty states someday, sooner rather than later.

So when I realized a few weeks ago how close we'd be to Nebraska on our ride, my parents and I started working on a plan to ride out of the way and cross the state line. We looked closer and saw that we'd be riding a nine mile stretch in South Dakota that was literally hugging the border with Nebraska. At the end of the stretch, we could turn right on Highway 281 and ride across the state line. This would happen on Monday.

We rode away from our motel after 6 with another great view of the sunrise. The winds were bad enough at the beginning that an alternate title for this post could have been "It Blows Part II". Unlike Sunday, though, they were rarely head on and didn't push you to the side as much as those the day before. My butt hurt more than it normally does on a bike seat. It was less surface than most saddle sores and seemed deeper in my bones and nerves. I tried to adjust often and stay as comfortable as possible.

My parents switched at mile 31 and, at mile 42, my dad and I turned south onto 281. We had a mile straight into the wind and yelled about how Nebraska really makes you work for it. We took a picture with the state sign and ate a 10:30am lunch just over the border so I've now set foot on the earth and eaten a meal in the state. I have officially been there.

For some reason entering NE was more exciting than any other state so far. I didn't get engaged there, I didn't ride over my first mountain pass there and I didn't see buffalo and bighorn sheep there. I barely even rode my bike there. It doesn't hold a special place in my heart like Montana, Washington and the others. But the fact that it was an added bonus, a state I can check off my list that I may not have had much reason to go to otherwise, made it super cool. Check!

For the final 12 miles to the Missouri River, the wind had shifted to SSW so they were mostly over our right shoulder and helped us cruise along. Gravity started to pull us downhill and we knew we were close to the water. Then it came into view and the water was beautiful. We were far enough north that crossing it didn't put us in Iowa but we were getting very close with every passing mile.

Camp was just a few miles beyond the River at Randall Dam North Point Recreation Area, our second state park this week. When we rolled into our site, my first words were "this is my heaven". I might have thought otherwise had I known it would be up to 108 degrees later in the afternoon, and still 98 at 9 pm, but it was the most perfect thing I could have imagined. Plenty of shade and right on a swimming area in the cool Missouri River.

We swam, showered and went into town for ice cream. I fell asleep on the table in the ice cream shop and then made my way to the bare bones grocery for dinner provisions. I made myself a giant taco salad with a bag of lettuce, crushed hint of lime chips, tomatoes, cheese, refried beans and salsa. Still no SD beer to be found so we had Shiner Bock which are mildly appropriate given the Big Horn Sheep on their logo.

My dad went for another swim while I foam rolled. I taught my mom and she tried it for a few seconds before rolling over onto my mattress for a nap!

A little frisbee with my dad and then I spent the night sweating bullets in as little clothing as was appropriate with my tent windows open. It had been so windy earlier in the night that my parents tent had collapsed and needed remodeling but I didn't seem to get much ventilation through the night.

Here are some other photos I took on an evening walk by the river.

Also, I have finally updated my path on Jumbl so you can see you can get a sense of the territory we've covered so far. Click on the link below to see for yourself.