My RAGBRAI 2013, vol I

January 28, 2013

A couple aspects of my first RAGBRAI experience are coming into focus now.

I’ll most likely be driving there & back afterward with a friend of mine, LB, and her husband TB.  LB is a real hero of mine in addition to being a friend; her own weight-loss journey and successful transformation into an active, athletic person has been a real inspiration to me.  Also, it’s fitting to be enjoying so much of the excitement of RAGBRAI with her as it was from her that I first became aware of RAGBRAI.

A funny kind of story, that – in the closing weeks of 2011 I’d sent out an email to several coworkers (including LB) that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to ride the full Katy Trail sometime in late 2012.  LB, always supportive and encouraging, replied something to the effect that “Bill, I know you’ll do great, and after riding the Katy you’ll be doing RAGBRAI!”  Well, I’m bemused now to concede that I didn’t know what the hell RAGBRAI was  🙂  Fortunately Google & Wikipedia are your friend, and after some quick research I immediately realized it was something I wanted to partake “some day”.

Fast forward to a few months ago – I’d successfully ridden the Katy Trail with my buddy Mr. V – and LB informed me she was doing RAGBRAI in 2013!  I was immediately onboard.  It’ll be the first time out for both of us, and we are geeked up to put it mildly.  LB was born & grew up in Iowa (in fact Council Bluffs if I am not mistaken – the starting town of this year’s ride!) and so RAGBRAI held a special fascination for her since she was young.

I’ve decided to go with a charter service for my first year.  For my non-RAGBRAI readers (and, hell, *I*  didn’t even know about this till a couple weeks ago!), charters are groups that host and support RAGBRAI riders (for a fee) in a variety of capacities.  Exact services vary from charter to charter but typically they’ll include reserved space on the campgrounds, some number of meals, charter-group-only showering areas, bag transportation and delivery, etc etc.  Many hundreds of people at RAGBRAI go with charters year in and year out; but especially for the RAGBRAI newbie, it’s a great way to “break in” to the RAGBRAI experience.  With a charter comes a certain level of hand-holding, of support, of assurance of facilities and accommodations along the route, etc.

After doing some research online I’ve decided to go with what seems to be the overwhelming favorite charter service of RAGBRAIers year in and year out, “Pork Belly Ventures” [website here].  I’ve registered with them now and anticipate being a part of their group this year. As a first-time, wide-eyed rider, I find their wide range of support and amenities comforting.  I also kinda like the idea of a specific group of folks that you’re going to be spending a lot of the time with in the evenings, versus catch-as-catch-can camping.  RAGBRAI is known for forming friendships that cross state lines and last for years – even if, frequently, you only actually see one another once annually in the last week in July – and being part of a collegial arrangement such as a charter seems conducive to that.

The overnight towns for 2013 are obviously known now (post here); as to the exact route, RAGBRAI.com has posted saying “The complete route including roads and pass-through towns will be announced in mid-March.”  Needless to say, I’ll be looking forward to that!

It IS winter…right?!

January 27, 2013

Being the weather hawk of a cyclist that I am, I’m constantly having a look at the extended 5- and 10-day forecasts.

We’ve had a few really solid bike riding days here in eastern Kansas the last week or two, and the next 10 days look the same (if a little bit windy – which is ok too – strengthen up the legs & spirit).

A “I see it but still don’t believe it” published high in the mid-70s for Monday, a decent Tuesday, somewhat decent Wednesday, colder Thursday with some chance of flurries, and then – as we go to press – beautiful bicycling days (given the time of year!) for the next 5 consecutive days. Highs mostly in the mid 50s, lows barely dipping below freezing, mostly sunny – sensational string of weather for the height of winter in Kansas.

See you out there!

ragbrai_route

Last night was the big announcement.  The route for this year’s RAGBRAI.

The following article on RAGBRAI.com (link to the original article here) does as decent a job summarizing the route as I’ll be able to do at the present time.  My 25-words-or-less summary is: “First time through Des Moines in sixteen years; interesting overnight towns; second-shortest route ever; great for the first-time RAGBRAI rider”.

The good people organizing RAGBRAI characterize this year’s ride as being the 7th-easiest (factoring distance, climbing, etc) since the event began in 1973.  There are four consecutive days of 52 miles or less (leaving me plenty of time to explore the towns!  and enjoy some of the inimitable RAGBRAI atmosphere as well).  The only super long day is day two, with 83 miles and 4200+ feet of climbing – plus, as I understand, the Karras Loop.  The final day is 63 miles.

Part of the fun, for me anyway, will be doing some research on the towns we’ll go through and the towns we’ll overnight in; and getting a feel for online reaction to the route.  I’m starting that today!

Next critical RAGBRAI date – the only major one remaining prior to the ride itself – is May 1st.  This is when the lottery winners are announced.  If I’m among the winners, then I am in.  If I’m not, then I am likely still in but with a little more effort – I’ll need to acquire a ticket from someone who bought theirs & won’t be riding.

Following is the article linked to above, from RAGBRAI.com.  More to come from me!

174 days and counting till RAGBRAI!!!

RAGBRAI is trading villages for some big cities in its 41st year, including a stop midway through Iowa that will have more than 10,000 bicyclists rolling into the state capital.

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — the world’s oldest, largest and longest two-wheeled recreational tour — kicks off July 21 in Council Bluffs and ends 406.6 miles later in Fort Madison.

Along the way, riders will overnight in Harlan, Perry, Des Moines, Knoxville, Oskaloosa and Fairfield. The Des Moines stop is the first there in 16 years.

The ride is July 21 to 27.

RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz described this year’s river-to-river ride as a chance to experience an eclectic sampling of Iowa that proves mutually beneficial to riders and hosts. “There are some great little spots — good-size towns, large communities and diverse towns that RAGBRAIers enjoy,” he said. “Plus, they like showing off what’s there to do. This is the biggest event they’ll host this year, and in some cases, in their history.”

Juskiewicz estimated the ride brings an average of $3 million in spending to each town, with more for bigger cities that can meet hotel demand.

The stop in Des Moines is significant because the city has transformed so much since RAGBRAI last visited in 1997, with major development in the East Village, Court Avenue District and along the riverfront. (Juskiewicz said camping will be “close to downtown.”) With 70 percent of participants coming from out of state, Des Moines could be a brand-new city to many riders. “When they see how far Des Moines has come, and how much has changed, they’re going to be pleasantly surprised,” Juskiewicz said.

After a sun-baked RAGBRAI in 2012 that had riders sweating across Iowa on some of the hottest days of the year, organizers are going easy on participants with the second-shortest route in history, at 406.6 miles, including four consecutive days with 52 miles or less. The route is also the 15th-flattest in RAGBRAI history. Only six RAGBRAIs since the ride began in 1973 were easier.

“Last year it was so difficult with the heat, even though on paper it was an easy route,” Juskiewicz said. “I think after last year, anyone that rode RAGBRAI deserves a break.”

But the ride won’t be all downhill. The stretch from Harlan to Perry is the hilliest with 4,239 feet of total climb. At 83 miles, it is also the longest.

Here’s a day-to-day breakdown of this year’s route:

Council Bluffs, July 20

The border city of 62,230 shares a pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River with Omaha at the base of which is the soon-to-open River’s Edge Park. RAGBRAI has come to the seat of Pottawattamie County five times before, most recently in 2009. The starting point of the historic Mormon Trail, Council Bluffs saw many settlers and explorers pass through its limits, including members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The county’s pie-shaped revolving “squirrel cage” jail, located here, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harlan, July 21

Just 5,106 residents will welcome riders to their first overnight stop in the least populous of this year’s RAGBRAI towns. Located along the West Nishnabotna River, Harlan is home to the Shelby County Speedway, where the Tiny Lund memorial races held each fall honor the town’s own Daytona 500 winner of 1963. And Harlan has more sports claims to fame: its high school has won 12 state championships in football. This is Harlan’s sixth RAGBRAI, and the first in five years.

Perry, July 22

At just 4.17 square miles, this bike-friendly town is the smallest on the route. A host of the annual BRR — Bike Ride to Rippey (coming up Feb. 2) — for die-hard winter cyclists, Perry pays tribute to another legendary ride at the historic Hotel Pattee. Themed rooms are devoted to topics as diverse as Central America, cream and eggs — and, of course, RAGBRAI. It’s the town’s first time hosting riders since 2001.

Des Moines, July 23

With some 70 percent of riders coming from out-of-state, Iowa’s capital will be new to many of this year’s participants; it’s the first time RAGBRAI is rolling through Des Moines in 16 years. With the Iowa Cubs in residence at Principal Park, cyclists can check out a home baseball game against the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Knoxville, July 24

This town of just 7,313 residents knows a thing or two about speed; the “dirt racin’ capital of the world” is home to the Knoxville Raceway and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. Side-trippers looking to get away from wheeled recreation can head six miles north to Lake Red Rock, the largest lake in Iowa. Though it was a pass-through town in 1988 and 1992, Knoxville has hosted RAGBRAI just twice before — last in 2000.

Oskaloosa, July 25

The home of William Penn University invites cyclists to unwind for the first time in 10 years, and its fourth time overall. The town was known for its coal-mining operations until an explosion in 1902 killed 20 workers. Today, it’s known for its summertime Sweet Corn Serenade, an acclaimed Christmas parade, and the Oskaloosa Municipal Band, which plays Thursdays in downtown’s city park.

Fairfield, July 26

Foodies can look forward to a night in this southeastern Iowa town, which claims to have more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. (Granted, Fairfield is just over six square miles.) And art lovers will find something to gaze at in more than 25 galleries.  Home to the Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield also features a sub-city devoted to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, teacher of transcendental meditation, where weary riders can “restore balance” at the Raj Maharishi Ayurveda Health Spa. Fairfield last welcomed RAGBRAI in 1997.

Fort Madison, July 27

It’s been 10 years since Fort Madison’s 10,980 residents welcomed RAGBRAI to their banks of the Mississippi, in the southeastern corner of Iowa. Fort Madison is known for its historic downtown, the oldest prison west of the Mississippi (although a new prison is being built), and the world’s longest double-deck swing-span bridge — the last remaining of its kind. But as much as it looks to the past, Fort Madison is also nodding to the future as the home of Siemens’ wind turbine blade manufacturing. The town previously wrapped up RAGBRAI in 1975, 1988, 1997 and 2003.

Three short days till the eagerly-awaited route announcement for RAGBRAI 2013, which will run from Sunday, July 21st to Saturday the 27th.

Each year the RAGBRAI route (and therefore the distance and things like amount of climbing) change. It’s a tradition accompanied by much fanfare to speculate each year as to the exact route – will it be a northern route or a southern route for example – and the 8 “host communities” – the 6 overnight towns the route visits plus the starting and ending town.  I’m not well enough versed in RAGBRAI history or the intricacies of Iowa to play along this year & cast an educated guess; but as someone who’s planning to ride this year in his very first RAGBRAI, I’ve been super excited to see the official route announcement and start researching and planning.

I made up my mind several months ago that I was going to ride in RAGBRAI 2013; and since then there have been three key dates to watch for besides the event itself:

  • Opening of registration
  • Announcement of route / host communities
  • Announcement of lottery results i.e. who can ride

With this Saturday’s forthcoming big announcement party, we’ll be one giant step closer to the adventure!

Re-entering society

January 20, 2013

re-entryLosing weight and returning from a place of dramatic obesity (284 pounds on my 5’6″ frame as chronicled in this site’s charter page) toward a healthy lifestyle and physique obviously brings several changes, many of which were unforeseen.

One thing I’ve become cognizant of lately is the phenomenon almost of “re-entering society”.  Like a career criminal whose reality for the past several years has been “life on the inside”, and for whom the normal world is an alien landscape he/she re-integrates into, the person returning from excessive obesity is returning to normal societal ranges in all sorts of ways.

Take clothes.  The excessively obese dread shopping for clothes, because very little if anything at normal stores fits them.   The size range of clothes the obese person can even start to consider will typically start at or beyond the top end of what most stores will carry.  The few items that can be had are invariably quintessential “fat-person” looking clothes, which doesn’t help the morale any.   The profusion of “big and tall” stores is mute testimony to this vexing situation.  So the former “extra plus size” person who is now returning to normal sizes suddenly begins to have available to him/her the same (if, initially, still the higher end) clothing size ranges as “other people”, and at the same stores.

Probably not unlike the dilemma of the left-handed person in a right-handed society, the excessively obese person is an “outsider” in so many ways.  Flying on an airplane can be challenging, depending upon exact dimensions, as the possibility of being unable to fasten one’s seatbelt is omnipresent – and what about lowering that food tray within having it ride atop the ample gut!  Here too the formerly obese person suddenly starts experiencing “normal life”, much to his/her satisfaction.

Taking a page from my personal routine, I obviously ride the bike a lot, and I take “engineered nutrition” with me to fuel the long rides – for example, primarily Hammer products such as Hammer gel and Perpetuem.  Here, too, the overweight rider is unavoidably reminded of how he occupies “the other side”, as portioning schedules based upon rider’s body weight rarely reach as high as his weight.  For example, Perpetuem lists suggested portion sizes for fueling for riders starting at around 120 pounds and reaching up to “190+”.  Well, that’s one thing if you weigh 192 pounds; it’s another if you weigh 256 pounds.

Searching online for calculators relating to how many calories one burns riding the bike is similarly subject to more of a guessing game than for “normal people”, as many of the estimates don’t take into account excessively heavy riders and may top out at 190 or perhaps 210 pounds.

This phenomenon of “re-entering society” in terms of being able to experience the same range of choices and daily realities that “other people” take for granted was something I totally didn’t foresee when I started losing weight, and which I became aware of only quite recently.  Needless to say, it’s a gratifying and welcome development!  And one which I will continue to work to make available to me.

I’m not a randonneur…yet

January 20, 2013

Post’s title says it all.  I’ve given an official RUSA ride (populaire permanent length – 62 miles – the “entry level” RUSA ride length) a shot twice now, and twice have been unable to complete it within the required time.  It’s a deceptively difficult thing – I’ve ridden 62+ miles perhaps ten times, including this very route – but a combination of needing to do it within prescribed time limits and, more challenging, to do it essentially “on demand” in whatever set of conditions is present, is where the real challenge of randonneuring lies.  It’s hard enough to be able to ride 62 miles at a stretch, but to do it under these conditions is pretty tough.

To explore a bit further – I’ve proven capable of doing 62+ mile rides, including this same route.  But, what my 0-for-2 start to the RUSA career has taught me is that it’s a different beast when you need to set a date in advance, then ride at the scheduled time, regardless wind, rain, terrain conditions, personal circumstances, etc.

Three things are for sure.  One is that my attempts have only strengthened the already-high esteem in which I hold established rando’s.  It’s a small subset of the cycling community, but in my book they are truly heroes – and I now have a better firsthand understanding of just how impressive is their accomplishments within their chosen pursuit.

Two, I am not giving up.  I’m continuing to lose weight and continuing to add strength, with my recent return to weight training at the gym – so the all-important power-to-weight ratio is improving, plus my fitness.  I’ve acknowledged to myself that becoming a rando is just a subset of what I enjoy about the bike, and therefore I’ve made the conscious effort not to put much thought into or attempt any additional RUSA rides until at least March or quite possibly April.

Which leads us to three – I will be successful at my rando efforts.  It’s a deceptively difficult thing to do, especially to do consistently as is my intention – long-term, I want to gun for several of RUSA’s consistency-centric awards – but I will work hard and achieve hard-earned eventual success there, and that success will be all the sweeter when contrasted with this disappointing start.

So for the next several weeks – little rando talk from me.  I still love the bike as much as ever – more than ever actually – and I still am determined to join the ranks of the randonneurs – but I will allow myself several more weeks before I allow that to once again crystallize into a definitive attempt.

weight_209Took me a little over 7 months to lose the 17 pounds referenced in this post (weight loss milestone #2), but I have done it; and with it, I have FINALLY HIT my initial major weight-loss goal, set when I started losing in Summer 2009!!!

As I explained in my about page, I began losing all the way up at 284 pounds, with an initial goal of 209 and a final goal of 184.  It’s been anything but smooth or easy, but I’ve been mostly moving forward – and especially since rededicating to it in August 2011 I’ve been moving slowly forward while minimizing lost progress – but I’ve FINALLY reached 209 pounds.

This is the first time my weight has had a “0” for the second number in at least 7 years and most likely longer than that.  I’ve lost 75 pounds from my all time heaviest point.

I’ve been working really hard the last few weeks, eating right, staying more active, riding the bike, taking up (very modestly at first) jogging, returning to the gym to lift weights – and it is paying off.

Now, the final weight loss goal for me is 25 more pounds.  This will put me at 184 pounds, lighter than I’ve been since at least high school, and will represent a total of 100 pounds sheered off my top weight.

Experience has informed me it’ll be anything but easy, so I don’t have a real target date to accomplish this.  Unofficially I’d love to get there by RAGBRAI (late July: 6+ months away).  It seems reasonable, but I know it’ll be tough.

For now though, I am so, so gratified to have reached my primary goal, finally. Onward and downward!

No update to the blog in the past couple weeks, but I am still here and fighting the good fight.

Spent several days over the Christmas break with my folks in Florida (see this earlier post from a visit earlier this year).  I received a couple cool cycling-related gifts from the fam (thanks guys!) and arrived at a couple important conclusions regarding my bike configuration here at home.  Will detail these in a later post.

Today I returned to jogging for the first time in a looong time.  It’s been many months since I jogged a step – and at that time I never attempted to go more than once or twice, total.  But with the “athletic season” approaching, I am motivated to run or run/walk a few 5k’s this year.  More details later on specific events.

I won’t even share how far or fast I went tonight…suffice it to say that, as I reminded myself, when I began cycling I started super modestly (I was also dozens of pounds heavier than I am now) and in this sport/pursuit I am starting from a similarly humble place.  When I started on the bike, I rode only a few miles at a time for the longest time, and I never exceeded 15 miles for a long time.  But I’ve progressed, and so I will in running.  Dedication and consistent effort is the key, and I will give that.

I’m also returning to the gym to lift weights for the first time in ages.  I’m determined to make my athletic-related 2013 goals and to set even more audacious ones for future years, and I am willing to put in the work & sacrifice to enable it.

My motto for the new year

January 2, 2013

“Lean and Mean in 2013”

This is my motto for the new year 🙂

Slimmer, fitter, healthier, freer. Or, as my buddy Mr. O once said, “Diet and exercise, man. There’s no mystery.”

I have several exciting plans in store for 2013 (most of the major ones of which are chronicled here). Maximal fitness is a must in order to most fully participate in and enjoy them.

Sad to report that my planned first ever RUSA ride, which I attempted on December 15th, was cut short due to illness.  A day or two prior, I’d developed the same cold/flu thing which had been going around the office, and that Saturday the 15th was basically the nadir of it.  I did manage to get in 30 miles of the planned 62-mile permanent populaire distance, but whatever illness I was battling had sufficiently weakened me that I simply hit the wall with nothing to give.

An inglorious start to my RUSA career, to which I’ve been looking forward for months.  For a few days following, I was very down on myself, but I made peace with it when I allowed myself to realize that being sick was the primary issue – after all, I’d successfully done a training ride on this same route a week prior.

I informed the route owner, with my apologies.  Ron if you’re reading this, I assure you I’ll redeem myself in the RUSA ranks in time 🙂

I’m going to undertake – and successfully complete – this ride again in the next couple weeks.  I am deadly serious about going after a RUSA 1000-kilometer award this year, and potentially trying for a P-12 award (see this post).