A Bike Life

Four decades of touring, racing, commuting and recovery … a bike life indeed!

Category: RAGBRAI

The High Trestle Trail

This week The Bike Wife and I went to Des Moines to ride a bit of RAGBRAI (a week long ride across Iowa). I have ridden several RAGBRAI’s starting 37 years ago with RAGBRAI IV. Originally, we had hoped to ride at least a full day but she tore her ACL and meniscus. She is recovering nicely but it will be some time before she returns to normal. She has been riding her bike on a trainer and riding some trails with me. She really is not ready for hills so we decided not to ride the full 50 miles.

We got to Des Moines on a Monday night and before we checked into our hotel we decided to go ride the High Trestle Trail from Woodward to Madrid. The High Trestle Trail is one of the gems of the Central Iowa trail system. The route from Woodward to Madrid is about an 11.5 mile round trip. The highlight of the trail is the trestle bridge, 13 stories high and almost half a mile long. the bridge spans a river valley and is lit up at night. The bridge is made up to look like a mine tunnel and it is lit up at night. We had hoped to catch the lights on this trip.

We were riding near dusk. As we rode, a storm front began to develop and we could see the thunder clouds forming. As time passed we began to see lightning on the horizon. We decided to hurry back to our car. Good thing, because shortly after we got to the car the Des Moines area was hit with straight line winds of 50-60 mph and heavy rains. One of these days, we’ll see the bridge at night. Even so, it was a great evening to be  on the bike with my wife.

The Death of ‘Twinkie the Kid’

Twinkie the Kid, RIP

Hostess, maker of Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Hos and Wonder Bread declared today that because of a failure to reach an agreement with the baker’s union they would cease production and begin liquidating assets. Boxes of Hostess Twinkies are going for $100 on Ebay. It is indeed the end of an era.

You may be wondering why I am posting about Twinkies on a bike blog. Twinkie the Kid my have died today, but I almost killed him in 1978. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. I was 17 years old and riding my 4th RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI is a week-long group bike ride across Iowa, in those days there were about 7-8,000 riders.

It was the middle of the week, Wednesday. This was the century day, 100 miles. I was riding with my friends and just a few mile into the day, my derailleur broke. Rather than quit, I simply shortened my chain put the bike in a medium gear and carried on. In this configuration, I could only ride in one gear. For the next 45 miles I rode in one gear, uphill, downhill or flat no shifting. It was painful but I didn’t want the guys to think I was a wimp so I rode on. When it came to hills, I tried to charge down each one so as to make it easier to climb the next. My single gear was really too high for climbing so I wanted to take advantage of momentum.

I had arranged for my dad to meet me at the 60 mile mark. He was supposed to go to my local bike shop, Europa Cycles, and get me a new derailleur and chain. In praise of local bike shops, the guys didn’t know (and neither did my dad) what kind of derailleur I would need so they just gave him a whole box of new derailleurs and said, I could pay them after the ride. When I eventually met up with my dad he had a box full of Huret, Shimano and Campagnolo derailleurs and Regina and Sedis Sport chains.

Before I met my dad, I had to run (ride) a gauntlet. At about the 50 mile marker, I’d been riding my single speed for over 40 miles, at the low spot between two hills most riders had come to a stop. So as I came over the top, I sped up to charge down the hill. And then I saw him, bigger than life — Twinkie the Kid. It was a guy in a Twinkie suit passing out Twinkies to riders. Things might have been different but I hate Twinkies, had it been Hostess Cupcakes, I might have stopped.

I was not going to stop I pedaled as fast as I could down that hill, head down over the handlebars and while I don’t remember what I said, I think I was screaming. All I knew was that if I stopped I was going to have to stand up on the pedals and climb the next hill in my high gear. People heard me and started moving out of the way, until finally there was no one in the road but me and Twinkie the Kid. I had visions of me and my bike strewn across the road smeared with cake and cream filling.

At the end of the day, Twinkie the Kid saw the look in my eyes. He knew that this town wasn’t big enough for the both of us. Twinkie the Kid wisely stepped aside as I streaked by. So Twinkie the Kid, lived to fight another day. I must say that I was saddened to hear of my old nemesis’ demise. He survived our showdown outside of Hudson, only to be done in by a baker’s union strike.

Over the years, as I’ve gotten older, Twinkie the Kid hasn’t seemed to age at all. I though that he would live forever (at the very least Twinkies last for years and years without refrigeration).

Goodbye old friend …

RAGBRAI – the next Generation

On RAGBRAI with Jaylee (I’m the one on the left)

I am a first generation RAGBRAI-er. I started riding as a 14-year-old on RAGBRAI IV in 1976. Over the years as my children have grown I have taken them on RAGBRAI. Jaylee is the  seventh of my eight children and over the years all of her older siblings have ridden on RAGBRAI with me.

This year I took my 13-year-old daughter Jaylee with me. We chose Wednesday, the shortest flattest day from Boone to Altoona. Jaylee was nervous about riding the whole 56 miles so we picked up the ride in the middle at Alleman. We got together with my friend Jared, a triathlete on his first RAGBRAI, and drove to Alleman. We unloaded the bikes and got on the road at about 8:00 am. Since Alleman was about 32 miles into the ride, our start time put us pretty early in the pack.

Weather was a big concern, there was a chance of thunderstorms and temperatures in the 90’s with high humidity. As it turned out since we got off the road early we avoided the heat and the storms never happened. It was a beautiful day for a ride. At first the ride was flat or even a bit downhill. Jared and I tried to encourage Jaylee to set the pace because we did not know if we were riding too fast or too slow for her. I think she was worried about keeping up with me.

As it turned out she need not worry. At 13 Jaylee is a competitive swimmer and in excellent shape. I am 50 and clearly out of shape. When we hit the few moderate hills on the ride the difference in fitness levels became apparent. Like all old men I get to reminisce a bit, in my younger days, the guys I rode with and I would charge full speed up the biggest hill of the day singing Monty Python songs. Once we reached the top, we would ride back down just to repeat the performance and climb it again. On days with especially big hills we would often pass the same people once going up, twice going down and a third time climbing up again. Well that was then and this is now. As soon as we hit a big hill I slowed to a crawl and Jaylee and Jared rode on ahead. At the top of the hill there was a stand selling fruit slushes so when I got there I stopped and enjoyed a smoothie in the shade. Jared and Jaylee waited so long in the next town they were almost ready to come back and look for me 🙂

In the end, we had a great ride. Jaylee had a blast and she is convinced that she can ride a whole day or more next year. The smile on her face says it all — mission accomplished. Now I have to get my wife to try it.

I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!

My first RAGBRAI patch

RAGBRAI! The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa is a weeklong bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. But to call RAGBRAI a bike ride is a misnomer. RAGBRAI is the grandaddy of all cross state rides in the country. It is not the oldest, longest or largest ride but at seven days, over 10,000 riders and an average distance of over 450 miles it is certainly the biggest long ride in the country. The ride is not a race, it is sort of a rolling community of riders unlike any other.

My first ride was RAGBRAI IV in 1976. I was 15 years old and had just finished my freshman year of high school. After a summer of de-tassling I  had saved enough money to buy my first serious bike — a Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2. I mail ordered a pair of (genuine Italian!) Detto Pietro cycling shoes and had a local cobbler nail on the cleats. I am pretty sure that I rode with a leather hairnet helmet.  I rode with my friend John, he had a Raleigh Gran Prix and had only ridden ten miles before RAGBRAI. The thing I remember most about the first day was not the ride itself but the sandburs that got stuck in everyone’s tires and caused numerous blowouts. I think I had at least three flats that first day.

I was 15 and John was 14 so his dad agreed to drive from overnight town to overnight town in their Volkswagen with our camping gear. I am pretty sure that he didn’t believe we could really do the whole ride 🙂 That first ride was a blast. John and I had a great time and would go on to ride other RAGBRAIs together. It was an incredible adventure, for me it allowed me to do something that none of my classmates even dreamed of doing. I was not a typical high school athlete but I knew that on the bike I could compete with any of my friends.

Riding RAGBRAI with my son

Since that time I have ridden numerous RAGBRAIs. I think I have ridden about 12 complete rides and a day or two of several others. Over the years I have also enjoyed riding with my children. RAGBRAI is coming in a few weeks and I am hoping to ride at least a day with my daughter or a partial day with my wife.

When people ask me how many RAGBRAIs I have ridden, I usually tell them that I cannot precisely recall. In recent years I have also been able to say to many of them, “I was riding RAGBRAI before you were born!”

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