Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thanks to these folks, I'm off and riding

A friend once observed that bikers are among the friendliest folks she's met, and so far I'd agree with her assessment.

To underscore that point, on the day I head off for RAGBRAI, I wanted to thank a few people who have been huge helps while I trained and packed for my culinary tour.

David, a now-former co-worker, surprised me last Thursday with the offer to lend me a few cycling jerseys. They're size small, so they do actually fit me reasonably well. Looks like I might finally defeat my farmers tan!

Jeniece — a friend, bike companion and co-worker at each of my post-college jobs — rustled up a cheap water bottle to put in my extra water-bottle cage (as did Ken, another friend and two-time co-worker).

She also saved my backpack-losing butt by lending me a bag that could hold my goods AND still fit on my back.

Cory, my bike doctor, provided the extra bike pouch and water-bottle cage, a bike tune-up (for the price of baked goods, even), road beers, and past and future sunscreen use.

He also instructed me on how to fix a flat and was among those assuring us bike n00bs that he could fix us up if we have mishaps on the road.

Oh, and he also coordinated a huge email chain to figure out transportation among a group of probably 10 people living in several different cities and doing varying portions of RAGBRAI. Which leads me to ...

Joe, Michelle and Mike became my carpool buddies. In exchange for me getting Joe and Michelle to Perry, Mike is getting me (and the others) from Fort Madison to Des Moines. I'd only previously met Joe, and then it was only once, which makes the help from the group that much more awesome.

Ashlee, my fellow Bulldog, volunteered to drive me to Water Works Park early Wednesday, the day after she herself got up early to kick off the carpool to Perry so she and another friend could do Tuesday's ride.

Bonus points for doing it when she'd taken the morning off work specifically to recover from RAGBRAI. I feel guilty about this, but not so guilty that I will refuse the offer.

Ken's taking care of my cat while I'm gone. That's a short sentence, but if you know me at all, you know that's a HUGE load off my mind. He and a friend also were willing to fetch my car if I drove myself to the start and bring it back to safety.

He's not even a biker, though he does support vacations that offer fine dining and parties.

Emily and Regina, besides being relative n00bs like me (comforting, given the number of veterans I'm going with, are willing to share some of the amenities they're getting for covering RAGBRAI for the Register.

Zach talked so favorably about his 2012 experience and so enthusiastically about this year that I drank the Kool-Aid. He also shared a great deal of his crew from last year, fun and knowledgeable folks like Cory, Derek, Chris and Matt.

Perhaps most importantly, he advised me on what tools/gear to buy, and that advice was: not very much. Sure thing, bike veteran!

And finally, I just want to say that if my family members think this is a very foolish idea, they've done an excellent job of disguising it under excitement for me. God knows I don't need more fodder for worrying.

I'll report back on my sunburns, my favorite foods and potentially my weight gain in a few days!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Packing and posting makes it feel real

The fact that I'm actually doing RAGBRAI started to sink in as my weeklong-rider friends left Des Moines on Saturday and promptly began tweeting/Facebooking from Council Bluffs.

It became even more real while I packed today. I'm really going to spend four days in a row with no transportation other than my bike and no clothing items that don't wick sweat away?

The tricked-out bike sitting in my living room — thanks to some trusting and generous friends, it has doubled its sunscreen/water-carrying capacity — and the single backpack for four full days away says yes, yes I am.
See that little blue band? That means I'm RAGBRAI-approved. 
I'd of course been thinking of my packing list on and off for the prior week, and the realization that I wouldn't need pants that clasp for this entire trip had me delighted (almost as happy as I was when it dawned on me that I had a free pass to be sweaty and sunscreen-slick, without judgment, for four full days).

The perk of this became even more apparent as I packed nearly 48 hours before my departure: Every other vacation I've taken in recent memory has required clothing that I might wear before leaving.

For example, when I pack a few days for a wedding, if I put a certain pair of shoes in early, I have to make sure I won't need those for work. Or, though I've doubled up on many toiletries like hair product and face powder, there are still a few things that I have to leave myself notes about.

But not for RAGBRAI. Bike-and-beer gear has no place in the office. Stylish, delicate clothes and scented body products aren't necessary while riding across Iowa.

In the meantime, to make the event seem even more official, I've got five people to get to Perry over two trips. If that doesn't drive it home, I don't know what will.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ignoring conventional wisdom

If there's one thing I know about preparing for major athletic events, it is this: Don't make big changes before the big day.

So literally a week before I begin RAGBRAI (I'm jumping in at the middle, remember), I went out and bought bike shorts and a sweat-absorbing headband.

I didn't become so much of a n00b that I failed to test these items out before the kickoff, though. That counts for something, right?

Thoughts from a 25-mile ride that began when it was 88 degrees (heat index in the 90s):

* My favorite part of the bike shorts may be how high-waisted they are, at least on this child-sized adult. I like my odds of preventing further tramp-stamp burns.

* My least favorite part of the bike shorts is wearing them when I'm not on a bike. I don't recall what wearing a diaper felt like, but I'm willing to bet that this is a very similar feeling.

* The shorts are an appropriate length, but wow, there is a LOT of incredibly pale skin seeing some direct sunlight. Will there be a vat of sunscreen into which I can be lowered before putting on my clothes?

* The Halo sweatband purchase will probably pay more dividends for me than the padded shorts. What sold me on it in the first place was the little ridge that diverts sweat toward your jawline instead of directly into your eyeballs; this is just about as good as advertised. (The corners of my eyes did catch a few sunscreeny sweat droplets.)

It's also a good thing I've resigned myself to tan lines instead of exposing maximum skin in hopes of an even skin tone, because with the Halo band and my sunglasses shielding the upper third of my face, I'm going to be a walking gradient for a while after RAGBRAI.

But put all this together, combine it with my hand-pump-bearing road bike and throw on some bike gloves, and I look like I belong on RAGBRAI. How far I've come from old college T-shirts and a hybrid!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Almost famous

I was plowing through a well-deserved lunch recently — I'd biked 40 miles, about a third of that at the mercy of wind — and listening to WGN Radio online when the conversation on steroid use turned to Lance Armstrong.

Next would come my adopted state and my big summer event. My ears perked up.

"Isn't he doing some race?" host Mike McConnell asked his producer, Kristin Decker.

RAGBRAI! I mind-shouted at the laptop. HE'S DOING RAGBRAI!

"Yeah," Kristen replied, "something in Iowa. But he's not competing."


"Oh, so he's just doing it for fun?"


"I don't even think it's a race," Kristen said finally. "I think it's just a bike event."


It's been years since I called a radio station — as in, I probably wasn't even a teenager — and I haven't bothered to break the text barrier, either.

But on Thursday, I came darn close: What rock were they living under? Hadn't at least one late-night comedian mocked Lance, thus providing Mike and Kristen with some background on RAGBRAI or, at the very least, with something to Google?

I will admit that I didn't know what RAGBRAI was until a few years ago, but unlike Mike and Kristen, when I first heard of it back in 2011, I was impressed. I made a mental note of it, not necessarily as a bucket-list item, but more as a truly interesting and unique event.

If you couldn't tell, I'm a little indignant on behalf of my adopted state. This isn't the first oblique insult of Iowa or its beautiful capital city I've heard on WGN; I sure hope it's the last!

Contrast this with a conversation I had with an Iowa native co-worker that evening. She was departing for a week-plus of vacation — international travel, no less — and I mentioned that as soon as she returned, I would be off work.

"Oh, where are you going?" she asked.

"I'm doing half of RAGBRAI."

Her jaw dropped farther than mine had when I'd heard she was headed to Europe. "YOU'RE DOING RAGBRAI? That is AWESOME."

Take note, Chicago folks.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

You know nothing, Little Runner!

Last Wednesday, I congratulated myself for what seemed to be a RAGBRAI trial run: a ride with a lunch stop in the middle and a little bit of heat/wind at the end. I've totally got this.

Um, not quite. The 65-miler lacked humidity, 90-degree weather, more than a few hills, more than a few stops, fried food, frozen treats and beer.

But don't worry. I got all of that in Sunday, and I can handle it. Mostly.

I rode with several of my RAGBRAI companions from the Principal Riverwalk up to Big Creek and back that day, which was everything I've come to expect from July in Iowa. Throw in the hills on the Neal Smith Trail, plus some residual fatigue from the previous day's run, and I was a little uncertain about how well a 50-plus-miler would go.

The first prolonged one came at Latitude 41, and the idea of lunch had me positively giddy. I ordered a Summer Shandy and a catfish strip basket and tucked right into both.

It was so delicious ... and so greasy. Did we really have to get back up and keep riding north and then turn back around? We couldn't just nap? No? UGH.

The next seven or so miles were not the easiest miles I've ever done. My first all-fried-food meal in months sloshed around, and the beer's carbonation didn't bring me any relief until well into our next stop (at Big Creek).

Almost as good as the relief from the grease? The 25-cent Fla-Vor-Ice I got at the air-conditioned concession stand. So much welcome coolness.

When we trusted that the rain on the radar had passed, we hopped back on and flew. The hills were mostly down; the wind, mostly at our backs. I felt strong, cheerful and grateful for second-half momentum — and then we stopped again. Latitude 41 was still there and still open.

At the time, I would've rather kept going. But that's not what we're going to be doing in a few weeks. In a few weeks, we'll be riding only long enough to build up a thirst and a hunger. So it was good that we stopped for another beer and another few glasses of ice-cold water.

And really, come to think of it, our stop-and-go riding was done during the sunniest part of the day. After that beer, we stopped only for a bathroom break on the 16 miles back to the starting apartment, under a sky only just bright enough for my sunglasses to still help, not hinder.

So how did I feel upon our return? Surprisingly, just sweaty and of average fatigue/hunger. Not dehydrated, sunburned or queasy. And most of all, content with how my stomach handled a true RAGBRAI simulation.

Still to be determined: how my legs and seat will handle RAGBRAI.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The final farmers tan frontier ... for training

I'd been wondering whether and when this would happen: a tan line on my fingers from wearing bike gloves.

Late last week, it did. At first, I thought it was a trick of the light, but reinspection has shown me that I indeed have two-toned index fingers (and that the left one is darker than the right one).
It's not my imagination. It's there. However, if you can't see it, blame my poor photography skills.
But as fellow RAGBRAIer Regina pointed out, we've still got event wristband tans coming for us. The best, or worst, is yet to come, depending on how you view farmers tans. (In my case, with amused resignation, and gratitude that it's not a farmers burn.)

Where else can I acquire new tan lines?

I may never undo what will happen to my forearms and lower upper arms, because I fear for how scorched my back will become if I wear my tank tops -- they're racerbacks.

Sunglasses-inspired raccoon eyes are almost a given, if I'll be out in the sun more than half a day.

I might be lucky enough to see white stripes down my jaw line from where my helmet hid the skin, but I doubt I'll see any hue on my legs between beige and lobster.

Check back at the end of July to find out what a tie-dyed mess my skin has become!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

RAGBRAI simulation was successful

When I decided to tackle a 65-mile ride in two separate outings, I did so to avoid carrying a lunch and to venturing so geographically far that surprise storms/mechanical issues could turn me into a cautionary tale.

But, duh, it dawned on me much later that I'd also accidentally planned a mock-RAGBRAI day for myself.

My route took me from my apartment to the Cumming Tap and back (no, I did not stop for a drink), good for 40 miles, and then from my apartment to the Raccoon River Valley/Walnut Creek/Clive Greenbelt trails, for the remaining 25.

Overall, I'd give this adventure a B+ — mostly successful, with a few spots for improvement.

Unsurprisingly, my spirits stayed higher when I had fewer miles to contemplate doing at once. Hooray for manageable chunks!

Surprisingly, my legs rebounded fairly well from the hour-plus stop. I did a few stretches, but nothing out of the ordinary, and not even my complete post-workout routine.

The second ride did end up being noticeably slower, though. I blame a third of that on increased wind/warmth; another third on stops to figure out where I was and where I needed to go; and the last third on minor fatigue.

On the plus side, I was walking just fine that evening. I'd forgotten the magical powers of lying on the floor with legs propped up against the wall. Hopefully now that I've exercised them (ha!) again, I won't make that mistake again.

My sweaty clothing mostly dried off. I'll just leave it at that. The hair definitely did. Hooray for pixie cuts!

The midday reapplication of sunscreen seems to have prevented me from burning. I'm cautiously optimistic, because the majority of my riding came before the fiercest hours.

And now for the biggest mistake I made: heading out too fast after lunch, out of fear that my legs would just lock up. I probably let my food digest for about 30 minutes tops, and I felt it slosh around for about that same length of time during the ride. I tasted it even later than that (thanks to heartburn, not vomiting).

Now that I know my legs won't petrify if I stop for a while, I'll give my stomach more time to settle. But I'll also have far more time on RAGBRAI than on a day when I had early-evening plans. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Recon missions

Bikewise, Monday turned out to be completely different than what I'd hoped for, but it still turned out to be a success.

Regina and I set out on the Great Western Trail with the intention of reaching Cumming and evaluating our physical state there (she was only a few days removed from a century ride). Instead, we made it about three miles from Waterworks Park before my back tire went flat.

At least we had nice weather for the walk of shame back ... and that gave us plenty of time to brew a plan to salvage our afternoon: investigate the horrific-sounding hill on the Des Moines-to-Knoxville day of RAGBRAI.

We're leisure riders, not competitive; we like our trails flat and our winds mild. But what scared us — and probably many other people — was that Des Moines planned to put ambulances at the bottom of this hill in clear anticipation of wipeouts.

From a few intersections away, we could see the incline, and the sign that warned of a blind curve and demanded that we reduce our speed. We crept up to the top, sailed down to the bottom and came to a unanimous verdict there: We will survive.

No doubt it's a steep hill, and neither of us looked forward to climbing it. Fortunately, it did look like the descent would be worth it, rather than the cruel joke of a death spiral after all the effort it took to scale this mountain.

Sometimes knowing makes things worse (vaccinations), but this time, knowing might make it a little bit better.

With that mission accomplished, the next stop was to the bike doctor: our friend Cory. It was the second time I'd sat up close to watch the tire-changing process, but the first time I'd begun thinking "maybe I can do this myself."

Cory and other bike-savvy friends assure us bike n00bs that they'll take care of our mechanical issues ... but still, next time I haven't spent all afternoon learning lessons and don't have time constraints, I ought to take him up on the offer to walk me through doing it myself.