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Ragbrai – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly {Part II}

August 3, 2010

Last week, I presented you with some of my pictures from Ragbrai and gushed about how wonderful this 70 mile bike ride was. Yes, I did say wonderful in conjunction with riding 70 miles. But while the majority of the experience was great, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention some of the less pleasant aspects for those interested in getting the whole picture.

Today’s installment – The Bad:

First, there was the grueling heat. The heat index was at 105 F and there was barely a shade-providing tree in sight. Only open roads and corn. And it got hot. It’s easy to underestimate the heat but the consequences of doing so are dire. We met one cyclist who became dehydrated to the extent that he had fallen off his bike and curled up in the fetal position only feet away from an aid station at the entrance of town. He was carried across the street on a stretcher and hooked up to four IVs. By the time we met him, he was chipper, back on his feet, and looking for his friends. But although he was fine at the point of our meeting, it reminded us just how important it was to keep taking breaks to refill our water bottles and to drink plenty of fluids. Curled up in the fetal position next to one’s bike is not the recommended riding position of most cyclists.

Early morning start

The other ‘Bad’ was that the route had been announced online as being 51 miles long. We chose that day because it offered the shortest distance for the week and we hadn’t really prepared much for this type of bike event. But the distance was changed without a corresponding internet update. So by mile 40, we were celebrating our near finish only to get on our bikes and face a grueling 27 more miles. We did alright, took one more pit stop to drink and eat a snack, and crossed the finish line feeling pretty exhausted. It took all our energy to stumble into the first coffee shop we found to order some serious iced coffees to go with our jumbo waters. We were so exhausted that we didn’t even mind the huge Bible sitting on the coffee table in front of us nor the nice young couple who asked us what church we went to.

My thoughts on this are that long distance events always come with surprises. The ride/event is too long for something not to go wrong. It’s like weddings; too many variables and too much pressure for everything to go as planned. So naturally it won’t. I would suggest the same as I would to any friend getting married – take things as they come, look at the big picture, and drink plenty of fluids. (Preferably of the alcoholic variety if you’re getting married, but maybe less so if you’re out cycling for 70 miles).

And if you think this sounded rough, just wait until the next installment when I will offer you my last impressions on Ragbrai – The Ugly.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 14:31

    I had no idea you meant to do 50 and ended up doing 70! That’s amazing. I am also looking forward to the ugly. This is all great stuff to read before my century!

  2. Katharine permalink
    August 5, 2010 11:49

    At what time did you start in the morning? In my experience, I’ve found that getting on the road by 6:15 am is key to making 50+ mile rides enjoyable. Getting miles in before the sun starts beating down on one helps a lot! I’ve wanted to do RAGBRAI or TOSRV (the big, famous ones =) for a few years, as well as BRAG, since I go to graduate school in Atlanta and want to explore the state more on bike, but it’s just too hot for those rides! I’ve stuck with week-long rides in Michigan, Ohio, and New York–slightly “cooler” states. I can’t recommend Cycle America’s tours enough as well ( they have awesome ride support and include delicious and healthy snacks and meals in the cost of the trip.

  3. August 14, 2010 09:04

    S, I’ve been following you for ages on academichic, where I’ve always loved your style and beauty. But this blog is REALLY letting your personality shine through and I feel I know so much more about what you are like. You are delightful!

  4. September 1, 2010 14:52

    S, great posts. It reminds me of our European bicycling adventures. I was always intrigued with how much mental work went into long distance cycling as well as the physical, especially touring. One day we were riding the Pragel Pass in Switzerland. We climbed for hours and reached a plateau. There was a building there with a flag flying and we assumed we had reached the top. We took pictures and had celebratory snacks and swigs of water. We soon realized that it was only the beginning. Hours later and much more altitude we arrived at the real top. Needless to say, it was a quick ride down. Like you say, take it as it comes…

    • September 1, 2010 16:21

      Tpmtech – Ahhh! what a story! I can just imagine how you felt :) Hopefully you still enjoyed the rest of the climb even after the celebratory break in your ride. I’m sure the scenery there was beautiful.


  1. Ragbrai: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly {Part III} « Simply Bike

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