When I went to bed Thursday night. There was not a cloud in the sky. I found an outlet to charge my phone and all was well with the world. Concerns of possible thunderstorms had vanished. I settled into my tiny tent for a restful night’s sleep. That was cut short somewhere between 3:00 am and the ass-crack of dawn. I was awoken by rain landing on my tent. If you camp in the Pacific Northwest, you are familiar with that sound. It is not pleasant and it is not quiet. It certainly was a rude awakening, but far better than an alarm clock signaling it is time to go to work. Eventually I stumbled out of my tent, retrieved my phone, which was luckily undercover and examined the prospects of the day.
I was in no hurry to ride forth into the rain, but my luggage had to be in the truck by 8:00, so like it or not, I was going to have to pack up and face the rain. Luckily it was pretty warm. I chose to wear a Tyvek jacket, a set of legs and my finger-less gloves. I did not think my arms would be necessary on such a warm morning with very light rain and I forgot my shoe covers. I regretted leaving both behind.
I reluctantly left somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00. There was a break in the weather and I was hoping things would improve. The first few miles were quite pleasant even though it was damp. I felt very warm. I considered shedding layers, but knew that may not be the best idea since the sky was still looking ominous. Looks were not deceiving. A few miles from Tripoli, the heavens opened. A damp morning turned into a deluge. Yuk! I rolled into Tripoli hungry and wet. The line for the pancake breakfast was a long and wet. I was not about to eat soggy pancakes, so I sought shelter in the grade school. Luckily there was room and there was a vendor selling pie! BREAKFAST!!! My Stupid T-Scrotal cell phone does not work in Iowa, so I had no accurate picture of the weather forecast or radar images. I did overhear people talk about waiting it out. In the Pacific Northwest, I have learned to expect bad weather to last all day. I figured I could wait two hours and it will still be rainy. I figured I should get on the road. BIG MISTAKE!!!
I left the grade school, hopped on my bike and was on the road. When I saw a flash of lightning, followed immediately by a clap of thunder… I rethought my strategy. The mom and pop pizza joint made my decision to stop even easier. I stuck out my arm to signal my direction change, yelled pizza and started to head left. As I did, I was chastised for changing my line. People yelled, ‘What are you doing? Are you stupid? What the hell are you doing? Watch where you’re going idiot.’ Well I signaled where I was going, then I went there. It is wet, but if you can’t maneuver a bike in wet conditions, slow the hell down! I barked back! I am sure most of the language was appropriate! It was official. I had gone from friendly Iowa cyclist to grumpy, wet, pissed off cynical northwest roadie asshole. I was not stopping! Screw the weather! Screw the other riders! It is time to get down the road. Grrrr!
For the first time on RAGBRAI I was in a foul mood. For most of the ride from Tripoli to Sumner, we were heading East. The rain, driven my 25-35 mph winds was coming from the south. The rain stung as it hit my face. The Tyvek jacket I was wearing was vented on the side. The wind was driving the water into and through my jacket. It did not matter. I was angry, cynical northwest cyclist. I live to suffer. I was miserable. I was in my element. Eventually I rolled into Sumner, but I was still in grumpy mode. The rain was biblical the wind was gusting at several thousand miles an hour. I was not keen to stop. Heading out of town, a man ran up to me and stuck a cell phone in my face. The phone showed a radar image of the storm. He explained that our location was the blue dot. I am heading in the same direction as the storm. If I continue I will follow the storm and rain and be we all damn day. Well the ‘Iowa Friendly’ attitude cracked the Northwest cynical attitude. However, if I would have waited it out in Tripoli, I would have missed most of the storm 🙁
It was time to stop. I purchased a Gatorade from the people who stopped me. It was hydrating, but cold. I thanked them and was on my way. I then sought shelter in a bar, where I had a beer and snacks. Then I warmed up in a firehouse. It was still warm I heard it was in the low 60’s, but I was not feeling well. I had a headache. I was shivering and upset to my stomach. I worried I was going to be sick. Warming up under the heaters in the firehouse was doing me no good. I saw the sun crack through the clouds. It was time to get out of there.
I hit the road and within minutes, it was warm, sunny and I began to remove layers to dry out further. My handlebar became a makeshift clothes drying rack as I pedaled. As the temperature got wamer, so did my disposition. I started to feel normal again. Even though it was warm, hypothermia is still a real concern in conditions like that. I am glad the weather broke. However, I faced a new challenge for the rest of the day… Wind. It was a steady headwind between 25 mph and 35 mph, but at least I wasn’t cold anymore.
In Westgate, parked my bike, removed my shoes and socks to dry out and wandered around barefoot. I bought a ribeye sandwich and applied sunscreen. Sunscreen! Today’s Iowa Craft Beer tent location broke up a long pull into a headwind nicely a few miles before Oelwein. By the time I reached Oelwein, it was actually quite warm. A Seattleite would say it was hot. Olewein, IA had been an overnight town in the past. Turns out that they would love to have ‘Slept with us.’ Olewein was remarkably well organized for a pass through town. They had bars open, the world’s largest BEER pong, which I won! And other life sized board games. They also had plenty of food. I had a pumpkin cobbler. MMMM Tasty! Olewein is also home of the Hub City Railroad Corporation Railroad Museum which I had to tour! I left Olewein wishing I could linger, but it was back to the headwind.
I rolled into Independence, IA between 6:30 and 7:00. It was super late! I had lost a lot of time waiting out the storm. Looking at the stack of luggage, it was clear that I was not the only one. I seemed to be an early arrival. In Waverly, I left damp luggage in the care of the RAGBRAI luggage attendants. When I picked my bag up in Independence, it was drenched. It was clear that my bag was set in a puddle. Sigh. Oh well. Independence is a charming town. I wish I had more time to explore. I ate my food, toured a antique store and then headed for the evening’s festivities. The main stage area had the typical flavorless beer and micro brew provided by Back Pocket Brewing. Their Indee dark was quite enjoyable. The theme for the evening’s festivities was Glowing on the River everyone seemed to have glow sticks. The band was Boogie Wonderland, a 70’s cover band. They were actually a pretty good cover band, but what really made the evening was the energy of the crowd. At one point there was a conga line of at least 200 people. There was crowd surfing. It is the type of energy that makes RAGBRAI so unique and interesting.
I left the show early. Unfortunately I had to be at my charter bus at 2:00 for my ride back home. That really leaves me no time to do anything fun the last day 🙁 However, the last day’s ride more than made up for a lack of party.