My RAGBRAI Adventure- Part I
I’m 35,000 feet above the ground as I type this post, heading from Boston to Chicago, and then on to Des Moines. This, in and of itself, is not very interesting. However, it has been a fast-paced, adventure-filled past two weeks, culminating in this 6AM flight home. Let me begin by saying that waking up at 1AM to drive two and a half hours to Boston to catch an early morning flight is not my preferred manner of transportation. I am not a morning person by nature, and this experience lands somewhere between an all-night bender (with none of the enjoyable or regrettable memories) and an early morning wake-up call from a dead sleep. However, I’m excited to begin chronicling my adventures, so you get to experience my sleep-deprived ramblings 🙂
My time in Maine is fresh on my mind, but before I jump ahead to island adventures and scenic ocean views, I need to rewind, as promised, to last Tuesday, and my two-legged cycling imitation. As I indicated in my “Out of Office” post, I did indeed tackle my RAGBRAI run last Tuesday, and finished successfully. Along the way, I experienced one of the more unique running accomplishments of my life.
Until the day before, I was uncertain of my travel plans to Perry, IA for the start of this 50 mile adventure. At the last-minute, a friend offered me a seat in his car for an early morning trip down to Perry. I wanted to begin running as early as possible so this offer was quite welcome. I woke up at 4AM, shook off the sleep hangover, ate a light breakfast, and checked my new Salomon pack to make sure I had everything I needed for the day. He picked me up around 5AM, and we drove the 45 minutes down to Perry, and found the park in the center of town where a majority of folks had camped the night before. There had been a rather significant thunderstorm early in the evening, so many of the entertainment plans the town had organized were rained out, and the mood around the city park was quiet and subdued.
I found the official RAGBRAI trailer and purchased a day pass. Riders need these in order to be able to utilize the sag wagon, and call more quickly for medical support. I had emailed the RAGBRAI organizers earlier in the summer to see if I needed a pass to run, but heard nothing and figured I’d rather be safe than sorry. They were a bit uncertain of which pass to give me at first, but landed on a regular rider day pass. With that logistical step complete, I followed the early cyclists heading out-of-town, and began my run.
As I headed through Perry and out-of-town, it didn’t seem all that different from any other run. I was early enough that there weren’t too many cyclists starting the day yet, but running down the middle of the street set it apart from other weekday runs. I was pleased that my pack fit so well, despite being loaded to the brim with nutrition and emergency supplies, in addition to a full bladder. By the time I reached the outskirts of town and felt the journey really beginning, I had been quietly consumed by waves of cyclists.
This particular leg of RAGBRAI, because it was ending in Des Moines, was one of the more heavily populated days, combining official riders with bandits who simply jumped on the course for the experience. Thus, it made sense for me to make my way to the right side of the road so that riders could pass easily. It felt a bit strange to be running “with traffic” but definitely made the most sense as I made my way down the road.
Within the first few miles, the well-wishes and words of support and encouragement began. People were curious, excited, intrigued, and a bit surprised to see me running along side them, and they weren’t afraid to share their thoughts. One of the best parts about RAGBRAI is always the friendliness of the people. Cyclists come from all over the world to ride across the state of Iowa, and have been for the last 41 years. Somehow, despite the mix of personalities, ages, and maturity, everyone seems to magically assume a “midwestern nice” persona as soon as they hop on their bike and begin the rambling trek across the state. From the get-go, this warmth emanated from the waves of riders passing me. People began asking my name and where I was from, and throughout the day, I heard folks calling me by name as they passed. It was as if folks were playing a giant game of telephone and I was the subject of their evolving statement.
The route was very nicely broken up with small towns, which made it much easier to look at the run as a series of smaller runs, with breaks in between. I had planned on making these stops from the beginning, and experiencing what each town had to offer in order to have an authentic RAGBRAI experience despite my lack of wheels. Communities across Iowa go all out when they are selected as a part of the course, and it’s amazing to see each community showcase all that they have to offer.
The first official stop along the route was in Washington Township, and I paused to get a bottle of water and take in some honey stinger chomps, but I kept going with the intention of breaking for breakfast in the next town.
Stop 1- Minburn, IA: At this point, I had knocked out the first 12 miles or so, and was averaging about a 9:30 pace, which was a bit faster than I had planned, but I knew I’d slow down later on so I wasn’t too worried. A good friend passed me coming into town, and she waited for me at the outskirts of town, so we walked into town together (you don’t have any choice but to walk when thousands of bikes are squeezing into a small street), and found some pancakes and coffee for breakfast and fuel. While we were sitting and eating, I struck up a conversation with a guy, who after asking me if I was running the route, shared that he had volunteered at the Wasatch 100 and many other ultra-marathons for many years. We talked for quite a while about altitude training, volunteering and pacing at races, and working up to tackling some of these beasts. It was the perfect break in the morning, and amazingly motivational as I said goodbye to my friend and headed out for the next leg of my journey.
At a little under a third of the way there, I’ll pause here and give you time to soak in the ambiance that is RAGBRAI. Stay tuned for Part II of my report to hear more about some of the amazing conversations I had, the delicious food I ate, and the motivation I found along the way!