Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Is Freedom?

I was watching the news earlier this week with my sons (Marshall and Mitchell) and a thought struck me as they were showing footage from Libya. I know they're fighting to remove Ga-Daffy Duck from power and gain their freedom, but think about how much freedom they have that you and I don't. Could you take a clapped out old truck and mount an anti aircraft gun in the bed? Go driving at whatever speed you and your friends want and shoot at whatever you see? Cut the roof off of a Taurus and mount a bazooka on it? Don't like some guy?, shoot him. Some guy doesn't like you?, shoot him first. Out of ammo?, steal some from the government. Don't like the government?, steal more than you need. Gun metal AK47 not blingin' enough? Steal a gold plated one from the boss. When do these people find time to ride?! I thought MY schedule was full...
They showed a CNN reporter hunkered down beside a compound wall, gunfire and rockets everywhere. She looked scared witless, while Libyans were calmly strolling down the plaza, not a care in the world! How would you like to ride gravel over there? Not so much! I would, however, enjoy the challenge of mounting an RPG launcher on my top tube ;) Incoming!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day Three

My third day of this year's ride was a real switch up for me. I rode the entire paved route! As I lay in my impromptu "tent" on Monday night, listening to the previously mentioned Hair Metal/Oldies band killing some good old music (think Skid Row covering China Grove and you're getting an idea) I crumbled to the sense that I really did need to get home in one piece, and had nothing to prove to anyone else by riding off-route again. Mix up a hot cup of troublesome bottom bracket, a dead cell phone, heat index of 110 plus, (for any British readers, the plus here is humidity in the range of tropical areas, which adds to the misery of the heat) and an original plan to ride only gravel all the way back to Boone, and I had to reach the conclusion of riding the route to home. How, and who, would I call if I heat bonked or had a mechanical?
"911, what is your emergency?"
"I'm too hot...."
"I'm too hot?"
"OK, so is everyone else in half of America. What is your location?"
"I'm riding my bike on a gravel road somewhere East of Carroll."
"Good luck with that sir. Have a nice day." Click/death/decay.
So I just rode along with the herd and took advantage of the food and beverage accommodations that come every 5 miles or so on RAGBRAI. I kid you not, I have never felt like I needed to drink water as much as I did on this last day. I drained my 3 litre Camelback, a 1 litre bottle, and several Gatorades. As I approached the infamous Twister Hill on the edge of Boone (so named because it was used in the filming of the movie Twister, and infamous because it is unrelentingly steep and long!) I thought it was going to be easy to get home. I resigned my pride and decided to walk the hill since my bottom bracket was crunching even on flat sections. I sat down at the top and had a couple of bottles of ice water from the family that was selling them in their yard. When I was done and thought I would be home in 15 minutes or so, I noticed that I had stopped sweating. Strange, I should be pouring out sweat today, hmm. Body shutting down perhaps? Pushing the envelope? NAHHH, I'm invincible, right? 45 is the new 20 man!
So it was back on the bike, take it slow, and just get home! And to my absolute delight, my wife and sons were waiting on the edge of town for me to come in. They had been sitting since mid-morning watching the droves of people come in, shouting out encouragement, and even helping with traffic control! There were some ice cubes in a cooler, which I held to my scorched melon and blissfully realized that I was home again. Ahhh, Boone Iowa. Home. Family. And as it so often goes, I said to myself, "I don't want to ever do that again!" only to realize 20 minutes later that I can't wait for next year. Keep your knees in the breeze! Later!

Monday, August 8, 2011


Day two of my journey started out late by RAGBRAI standards. I got up at about 7:45 and made my way down the hill to the Wal-Mart Super Center that I had camped near. I saw this bike in front of the entrance. Must be a veteran rider with all of those wrist bands wrapped around the brake line!

Knowing the way out of town made getting going easy. I took the same sections of gravel and B road from Sunday. Passed this cool octagonal house again, so I took a picture this time.

B roads are plentiful down here, that's for sure. Flat sections, sections with corners, even up/downhill sections. And all dry and rideable. Smooth and quiet. Lucky dogs down there have it made. I often wonder if I am the first to track a road, B or otherwise, on a bike. Ever think about that?
This section was 3 miles long!Upon returning to gravel I began to see tire tracks. I could tell that many other people had chosen to get on the T Bone Trail and ride a little "off route" for the day. This was a great choice as the trail goes through many small towns as it tracks up to Audubon.I had a couple of other sight seeing targets to hit, and they were interesting in their own unique ways. The first was Plow In The Oak Park. The back story? A farm hand had been plowing a field, Civil War era mind you, and upon learning he had to go to war leaned his plow against a shed. A volunteer tree sprouted up and grew around the plow, eventually consuming it and continuing to grow. The shed collapsed and left the tree/plow for posterity. You would have to know your way around a horse drawn plow to recognize it today, but luckily some folks do, and made a park to go along with it.A little further up the road was Audubon. Home of Albert The Bull! He was freshly painted for the possibility of riders coming through, and I guess the tradition of signing your name on his balls must have been lost on the RAGBRAI crew. They were unmarked as far as I could tell. I just turned my head, coughed, and rolled on.I did stop at Casey's for some grub and a pop, and asked a guy if he was "from here" so I could make sure I was going to find my gravel connector out of town. So he says he's from Audubon, and I ask him if this road would take me to the county road blah blah, and then to Jay Avenue. "Oh I don't know the roads" he says. What the... what, you just know the way to Casey's and back home? Thanks for acknowledging that you were from Audubon moron! Anyways, I made it to Jay Avenue, and road a lot of rollers along the way. I went through 2 very small, let me repeat, VERY SMALL towns along the way. One looked like it might have had 30 people if everyone was home, and the other was about 50 or so. The second of these was Roselle. A small town with gravel roads leading in, and gravel roads leading out. Small. Yet despite its small stature, there was a gigantic Catholic church there. I could see it for miles.
The signage in the front of the church told of how the materials were taken to Halbur by rail, then transported by wagon to the site. It was very cool. Also, there was a tavern, Roselle Tavern, attached to a guy's house. Like he built an addition and called it Roselle Tavern. The OPEN sign was on, but I wasn't ready to slow down too long, so I boogied out of there.
My next three miles were very interesting, as a county crew was in the process of turning B road into gravel road, so I had to talk to the crew foreman about getting through their work area. Another occasion arose of someone suggesting that I was lost, and that RAGBRAI was way over there! Don't they realize that I choose to ride alone? Silly people! RAGBRAI is way too mundane for an adventurer! Another few miles and I landed in the town of Templeton. Home of Templeton Rye Whiskey! I was looking forward to this stop, as a tasting party had been arranged for this special day, and you never pass up a taste of the good stuff! Unless there are 300+ people waiting in line, in the sun, to get a taste of the good stuff! No Way! Eat, drink, leave in short order. Back on the chunk and I knew it was only a few miles to Swan Lake, where I planned to set up camp, swim in the lake for a while, then crash. Well, "$10.00 No Exceptions" just to tent camp didn't feel like a welcoming mood, so I took a dip in the lake in my riding gear and headed for Carroll. You know, scamming the overnight towns on the route so that I can ride gravel all day is a great deal, but charging $10.00 to put up my own quarters was a bust. I found a nice place on the grounds of a grade school and set everything up, dried out my kit, and went in search of more food! Greasy pizza was just the thing. Get a belly full of dough and cheese and you'll sleep like a baby. Now, a sense of normalcy overtook me, and realizing that I hadn't talked to wifey in two days I decided to call home. Pull out the cell, no service. Must be a dead spot, I thought, so I walked to the downtown area and tried again. "No Signal, Emergency Calls Only" in big bold letters. Nice. Come to find out there is NO AT&T service on the Highway 30 corridor. Great. Now what? Ahh yes, I'll find a payphone and call. So I got $3.00 worth of quarters and walked around trying to find a payphone. For 2 hours! Did you know that there is no such thing as a payphone anymore? Now you do. Alas, I was hanging out at the Walgreen's, and I saw a customer from work coming out the door. I begged the use of her phone, explaining the situation, and quickly called home. Turns out Kelli wasn't worried about me at all. Thanks Honey! What a day. About 65 miles of gravel/B road. As I lay there drifting off to sleep to the strange sounds of classic rock songs, sung in an 80s Hair Metal sound (strange is a mild term) I re-planned my final day for this year, and wisely so. But that will have to wait until next time! Later!

Friday, August 5, 2011


Long time since I posted any of my exploits. I just fell off the wagon for blogging I guess. Still been riding some good stuff lately though. I actually did two days of RAGBRAI, and a day of awesome gravel sight seeing. This year I traveled lighter than my last attempt. Ride smarter, not harder kind of thing. Still had a lot of stuff to tote around, but not a whole Burley full! 6 X 8 tarp, 12 feet of paracord, clips, shelter!

I was able to get a ride to the first overnight town, Atlantic, but had a wasted day on Sunday, since the "real" riders were coming into town that day. So I decided to ride free and aimlessly, yet fit in some landmarks. A little research and map study yielded two must- see destinations.

The first would be the legendary "Tree in the Road" just north of the interstate , South and East of Brayton. A few sketchy notes, a general idea of where it was, and I was off. Tons of real hills, not your central Iowa generics, but "real" hills down there! I stopped to chat with an old farmer and his wife, to be sure I was in the right area. They were boiling corn for canning, and told me that I must be lost if I was looking for RAGBRAI. They would be the first, but not the last, to suggest this. The man assured me that if I "went down to Mark Johnsons, turned right until I got to his hay field road, and just looked for it," I would find it! Oh, yeah, I know Mark Johnson of Nowhere, Iowa. Know right where he lives...
So the story on this tree goes like this. A surveyor was marking a spot between plots and stuck a Cottonwood twig in the ground to keep his place. He left it there and time took over. The roads grew around the tree, the tree grew around the roads, a couple of World Wars came and went, and now we have a very cool landmark. Even has a couple miles of smooth B road on the West approach.

From there I rode East by South to the site of the first train robbery in the West. On my journey I saw a crop duster flying over a corn field. Too bad the field was along the road I was riding, and I have no mites, chiggers,(or chegroes, as my dad always called them) weavels, gnats, root worms, grubs, or other undesirable hitch hikers on my person. I put my arms up in an X and motioned like a tomahawk chop that I would like to pass without having 2-4-D drift over me. He gave me a wing tilt to confirm, and took a dry pass as I booked down the road. That was cool. Silent communication. Upon reaching the paved road I needed to ride to get to my next stop, I stopped for a drink. A car pulled up to the stop sign and the driver told me that I was lost. If I recall his exact words, it went like "Shit Hoss, you're damn lost!" I assured him that I was in the right place, and he proceeded to tell me exactly how to get to where I already was, and called me Hoss about 10 more times. Nice guy though;)

So this was the spot where none other than Jesse James and his boys derailed a train, hoping to score $75000 in gold. They didn't know that the shipment was a day late, and stole $2000 cash from the people on the train instead. The engineer and stoker died of their injuries, and the guys went on gain infamy.
Got in about 60 miles of light touring, all gravel but about 4 miles of pavement and 3 of T Bone Trail, and tons of hills. I thought I had some rollers around home, but these are some rollers now! You know when you crest a nasty hill, and look down the other side, and the top of the next hill is higher than where you're sitting, you're on some rollers. Also, there are many subtle changes in gravel composition along the way. One county has chunky tan gravel, the next has nice pea gravel makeup, and another might have the hated white rock! "Never packed, always hungry for flesh, white rock. You're what's for breakfast."
Home after 9 hours of fun in the sun, showered and crashed. Saw this headstone along the way and had to have a picture. How about having that hanging over your head for eternity, mocking you with what you should have had more of! Kharma is indeed a bi#@%! Later!