My RAGBRAI 2013 Chronicles – Part I

August 4, 2013

So, one week removed from the coolness that was my very first RAGBRAI, I’ve finally sat down to do the writeup.

It was an epic event for me, and much could be said, but I’ll try to keep it SOMEWHAT brief.

First, it was in fact my first RAGBRAI.  My buddy Linda B and I went together, with her husband Tim driving us to the start in Council Bluffs and also picking us up at the end in Fort Madison.

Participating in this event with Linda was a cool sort of “full circle” kind of thing, as it was from Linda that I first heard of RAGBRAI in the first place.  In late 2011, still quite a bit heavier than I am now and in less good of shape, I emailed several friends and coworkers with my New Year’s Eve resolution for 2012:  complete a two-day “tour” of the 51-mile Prairie Spirit Trail (which I did in May 2012) and then later in the year, ride the full 240-mile Katy Trail (which I did in October 2012).  To this email, the always-supportive Linda replied to the effect that she knew I’d be able to accomplish both goals and that in no time I’d be riding in RAGBRAI.  Not knowing what the hell RAGBRAI was when I got that email, I Googled it and concluded that yes, this was something I wanted to do! 🙂


Fast forward roughly 9-10 months, to late-ish 2012. This is when Linda told me she was definitely doing RAGBRAI in 2013.  I made the commitment then to also do it.  It was a big undertaking to commit to – somewhere between 400 and 500 miles (ended up being 407 when the route was announced) in 7 days, which would be by FAR the furthest I’d ridden in 7 days – keep in mind that at that point, there had been only a few full MONTHS in which I’d exceeded 410 miles.  But, I was certainly excited to work up to and ultimately ride in RAGBRAI.

January 26, 2013 was the date of the big announcement party, a VERY eagerly-awaited annual event among those considering or committed to riding.  The reaction was mixed when the route was revealed: at “only” 406 miles, this year’s was the second-shortest RAGBRAI ever, and the 15th flattest; the Register (the owner/host of RAGBRAI) officially ranked this year’s ride as the 7th-easiest overall of the 41 years in the history of the event.  Lots of hardcore riders and/or those who took the opportunity to advertise their prowess expressed disappointment in the “ease” of this route.  For myself, I was quite content that my first-ever year of the event was, relatively speaking, an easier one; I knew that the mileage and the hills would be tough enough on me as it was.

Fairly early, Linda and I decided to go with Pork Belly Ventures (hereafter, PBV) for a charter.  Not everyone who rides in RAGBRAI goes with a charter, although a large number do.  Exact services / benefits vary from charter to charter, but in general these include hauling of your bags; a dedicated section of the campground each night; some number of provided meals; possibly shower accommodations; route and/or mechanical support, etc.  PBV is broadly considered the best RAGBRAI charter; now writing with the benefit of hindsight I have to agree that they were excellent.  I’m going with them next year for certain.  Much more about PBV later.


Following that route announcement, the next – and really last – major date in the timeline was May 1st. That’s when the Register officially notified those who’d applied, whether they were chosen in the lottery or not.  It’s largely a formality, as virtually everyone who applies gets in, but you don’t know for certain till then.  I was happy and relieved to have gotten the confirmation then, and I registered with PBV.  Now all that was left was waiting for July.

There still was a little more prep to do prior to the event, besides bike-related prep i.e. getting training miles into your legs, training with hills, wind or whatever you needed to do.  Specifically, you needed to buy (if you didn’t own one already) a tent, get a couple large duffel bags to haul all your stuff, and plan what all you were going to bring & ensure it can be packed and hauled within the 2 bags PBV allows.  Being the world-class procrastinator that I am, I put off much of this until the last moment, and I want to publicly thank Linda B for being so helpful and supportive of me in my semi-panicked final few days before the event, in helping get me organized & prepared.

For those interested in a future RAGBRAI, sample suggested pack lists can easily enough be found; for me personally, here’s what I brought:

Duffel 1 contained my tent and related stuff; plus a tub of Hammer Perpetuem, which I used on the ride.  So under “tent and related stuff” was my tent; the poles and stakes for it; the tarp for underneath the tent; and two blankets.  One blanket would be used on the tent floor, and I’d be sleeping on that; the other would be used as a blanket.  My “pillow” each night would be the second duffel.

Duffel 2  contained all my clothes for the week plus a hard plastic Sterilite tub in which I hauled virtually everything else.  Clotheswise, I brought 4 pairs of cycling shorts, something like 9-10 pairs of socks, 5 shirts to be worn on ride days plus another couple for evenings in camp; a few pairs of boxers for evenings in camp and nights in tent; and a couple shirts for nights in the tent.  In the Sterilite tub I fit a surprisingly large amount of stuff, which I became better at organizing as the ride week progressed: a battery-operated “O2 Cool” fan for use in the tent; a lock for the PBV charging station (about which, more later); some toiletries such as toothbrush/toothpaste, mouthwash, baby wipes; iPod & headphones; some zip ties, some ziploc bags & black garbage bags for random assorted uses; a couple of snacks; chain degreaser and lube; and printouts of each of the 7 daily routes and overnight towns; plus a large amount of Gu gel.  I overdid it with both Gu gel and Perpetuem; I brought along a LOT more than I needed to use, and will scale back next year.

Obviously I brought also my bike, bike lock (rarely used this week), and normal “bike stuff” – water bottles, shades, helmet, underseat bag, and my “belt bag” that I’ve been wearing (see this writeup).

One preparatory note that PBV wanted its folks to be aware of was the need to make your bags stand out.  They host something like 1,000 folks (!) on RAGBRAI week, and in each overnight town, they unload your bags and set them out for you to find and schlep over to set up your tent.  Many of these bags look similar, creating the need to separate yours in some way.  Some folks chose garish strings, or spray paint; for myself, I tied small lengths of yellow/white polka-dot ribbon all over both of my bags – all handles, all straps, etc.  This did in fact make them pretty easy to spot in camp.

With all this stuff test-packed prior to leaving; with the tent waterproofed and knowing how to set it up and take it back down; with all necessary documentation and stuff printed out and ready to bring, it was time for the big day to arrive – the drive to Iowa to check in and get ready to ride.

To be continued…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: