JEFFERSON — Riders hunkered down Monday for a quintessential day of RAGBRAI with lots of miles, hills, heat and an evening downpour to round out the day.
The day opened with panoramic views of Western Iowa’s rolling hills and long valleys that provided a distraction on the slow climbs that were all too familiar. At the most challenging times, I and others remind ourselves, “all I have to do today is bike.”
It’s that simplicity that keeps me coming back year after year — that and running into people I see only at the end of July. And it’s also a family tradition that enters conversations around the table on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I pushed off around 9 a.m. Monday and pedaled for about 10 miles before finding breakfast at a roadside stand outside a farmhouse a few miles from Manilla. I like starting a little later to avoid the heaviest part of the crowd. It feels safer to me.
When I asked whether I should get one or two sandwiches, the man running the stand told me he had one of the sausage, egg and American cheese sandwiches at 5 a.m. and was still going strong at 10 a.m. And, for me, it carried me through the morning.
He and his family took advantage of all the drivers passing by, provided music, shade, managed the hoards with precision and made a few dollars.
Riders departed Denison on Monday morning and stopped in Aspinwall, Manning, Templeton, Dedham, Coon Rapids and Scranton before ending in Jefferson.
The total was 71.7 miles with 2,537 feet of climb.
The route dipped south as it continued an eastward march across the state. The ride continues through Saturday, culminating on the Mississippi River in Davenport, but not before a stop on Friday afternoon and evening in Iowa City.
Monday started on a somber note with news of Donald Kaul’s passing.
Kaul was a columnist who worked for The Gazette and Des Moines Register. As a Register journalist, he and John Karras started the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa on a whim in 1973.
It was fitting that Monday included a mile of silence to remember those who have died in cycling accidents. I was in a draft line at the time. As we passed a sign noting the start of the mile, all the speakers were shut off and conversation stopped, other than to warn other cyclists of cracks in the road or cars approaching.
Aside from the hills and heat, my challenge is remembering to eat enough. It’s easy to get into the groove of pedaling and forget about everything else, until it’s too late.
In Templeton, an older couple who raise pigs walked down the street with a cardboard box full of pork chops wrapped in aluminum foil, and a cashier’s till. They popped their head into the bars, offering food to very appreciative cyclists.
“It’s $6, just pay over there,” the man said.
He said they sold at least 1,000 chops. When someone unprompted brings prepared delicious food to you, you accept gratefully.
Later in the day, Beekman’s Ice Cream stand was my saving grace as my legs turned to Jell-O. As I made it into Jefferson — my longest ride of the year — the skies opened up for a blinding shower that thankfully lasted only about 30 minutes.
Still plenty of time to drench my tent. But it wouldn’t be RAGBRAI without a little rain.