LOGOProof10So, the RAGBRAI 2014 route is revealed. And, while I’ll confess to being initially disappointed with the shortness of the ride, I’ve found myself quickly getting over it and getting enthusiastic about the event ūüôā

Top-level stats: The 2013 route was the 2nd-shortest route in history and with 17410 feet of climb, the 15th flattest, for overall the 7th easiest in the 41 year history of the event. I thought for certain, therefore, that this year’s had to be tougher; but instead, at 418 miles and 11316 feet of climb, this year’s is the 3rd-shortest and 2nd-flattest ever, for overall the 2nd easiest route. TRUE, it is about a dozen miles longer, actually, than last year, but it has roughly 1/3 less climbing.

Here’s the daily mileage and overnight towns:
Day 1: 69 miles, starting in Rock Valley. Overnight in Okoboji.
Day 2: 41 miles. Overnight in Emmetsburg.
Day 3: 73 miles (plus optional Karras Loop). Overnight in Forest City.
Day 4: 36 miles. Overnight in Mason City.
Day 5: 63 miles. Overnight in Waverly.
Day 6: 68 miles. Overnight in Independence.
Day 7: 68 miles. Arrive Guttenberg to end ride.

All in all, those daily distances are pretty darn respectable – other than the short 41-mile day two and VERY short 36-mile day four. However, it’s forgivable as they are sandwiched around the longest day – 73 miles on day three, which also features the optional Karras Loop century ride, so a potentially 100 miler on day 3.

The hardest day seems unanimous – day 7. 68 miles but 3073 feet of climb, which is well more than any other day on the ride and is a full 1/4 of all the climbing on the event. Even so, though, at about 45 feet/mile climb, it’s only slightly more than the average of the 2013 event.

A couple of cool things on this year’s ride:

  • The night one is in Okoboji. Being not an Iowan myself, this meant nothing to me, but the online reaction, as well as that of friends of mine who grew up there, are very enthusiastic – seems like a very cool area to check out.
  • Lots of nice small towns this year. In 2013, four of the eight overnight towns had populations greater than 10k (including of course the giant Des Moines); this year, only ONE (Mason City) does, and four of the eight have populations of less than 5000. The final town, Guttenberg, is tiny at ~1900.
  • Two of the 8 towns have never been overnight stops on RAGBRAI. Starting town Rock Valley has never been an overnight RAGBRAI town; it was a pass-through town once, in 1985 – 29 years ago. Okoboji has never been an overnight town. Additionally, Mason City was an overnight town once, in 1985.

In some ways, this year’s route is SLIGHTLY more “evenly distributed” in mileage than last year; leaving aside the two small days which bookend the longest (and optional century) day, all other days, including the final three, are ~68ish miles.

As with last year, I’m looking forward to learning more about the overnights and of course, once they are announced, the passthrough towns. For now, while I was initially disappointed in the shortness of the route (I wanted a 500-mile scorcher), this still sounds like a very fun time, and I’m getting quite excited already, 6 months out.

From the very moment my 2013 RAGBRAI – my first – ended, I was COMPLETELY hooked (along with probably 95% of other folks that’ve ridden in the event), and already couldn’t WAIT to learn more about this year’s route. Longer, or shorter? Northerly, or southerly? How long is the Karras Loop day? What’s the daily mileage distribution like? Etc.

RAGBRAI keeps the faithful on the hook for 6 months from the final overnight town one year, to the announcement of the overnight towns for the next year; during which time, enthusiasm and speculation build to a crescendo. The magic time is close at hand: tomorrow night the Register (the “owner”/administrator of RAGBRAI) has its annual route announcement party! It’s an evening-long bicycling gala, starting around 8 PM, but culminating in the revealing of a lot of info for the next ride: overnight towns, rough idea of distance, etc.

Needless to say, I am, as the kids say, stoked ūüôā

LOGOProof10

I registered for RAGBRAI 2014.  As with every year, the attendees are chosen not first-come-first-served but rather via lottery Рwith your odds of getting in extremely high.

Now just over four months removed from this year’s RAGBRAI – my first – I find myself really, REALLY starting to get excited about the next installment. ¬†That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I cannot wait to experience that again.

Next several key dates for RAGBRAI 2014 are:

  • January 25: Route Announcement Party
  • May 1: Lottery results posted
  • July 20-26: RAGBRAI!!!

RAGBRAI 2014 logo revealed!

October 25, 2013

Yesterday the good folks that run the annual RAGBRAI ride revealed the logo for the 2014 ride:

LOGOProof10

I think it’s pretty sweet.¬† Simple, elegant, and clever.¬† I like it better than I did last year’s.¬† It’ll look fantastic on a jersey.

Registration for the 2014 ride starts in three weeks!  November 15th to be exact.  The route announcement is just over two months after that РJanuary 25th.

Sure am looking forward to RAGBRAI 2014!

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! ūüôā

THE BACK STORY

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.

THE WAITING / THE PREP

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 Рall 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…

Haven’t posted in a little while, as I’ve been in Iowa for the past week participating in my first-ever RAGBRAI.

This isn’t meant to serve as the full ride/event report, which will take a while for me to organize in my own head.¬† But initially I’ll just say, wow.¬† I had an unreal time. RAGBRAI is a festival for the mind, body, soul and senses.¬† I loved (almost) every minute of it, and it got into my blood from the first moments.

Good news / bad news:¬† good news is that, work considerations and family / health considerations permitting, I’ll definitely be back at RAGBRAI next year; bad news is that I have to wait 356 days for that ūüôā

Had an awesome time and got some relatively decent pictures. My buddy Linda B went with me and I’ll plan to integrate her pictures with mine for what’ll hopefully do a moderately decent job of capturing some of the flavor.

There was some glitchy stuff happening today with the posting of the RAGBRAI lottery results, but after that little bump in the road, I got my wristband # and confirmation that I’m in! ¬†My riding buddy (Linda B) from KC, in fact the person who was the first to ever mention RAGBRAI to me, got in also!

Down 6 pounds in today’s weigh-in…got confirmation I’m going to RAGBRAI…registered for what will be (book it) my first successful RUSA populaire and the start of a long & beneficial RUSA career…today was a solid day!

99 Days to RAGBRAI!

April 12, 2013

We’re down to double-digits days until RAGBRAI!!

And roughly 3 weeks away from the publishing of the lottery results to determine who may ride this year.  Again, it is, functionally speaking, a formality since an active market arises post-lottery-announcement for buying & selling of entrance wristbands; plus chartering with a group (as I am for this first year, in my case PBV) also enhances your likelihood of getting in.

Still, always simplest just to dunk the ball or in the case of RAGBRAI, make the lottery.

Cannot wait to roll across Iowa in July with thousands of other sweaty enthusiastic fools!!

Were I in your shoes, dear reader, I would be cynically asking “how does this bloke see fit to prattle on about ‘what RAGBRAI is’ when he’s never been?”.¬† My answer would be that this is exactly the reason for the writeup.¬†¬† You see, with a little luck, 6 months from now I’ll never again be able to say I’m a RAGBRAI virgin.¬†¬†In my experience,¬†endeavors like this affect you on many levels, and are often very much what you expected and yet nothing like what you expected, all at once.¬† Being the overly-analytical person I am, I’m quite sure I will have a lot to say about my take on RAGBRAI following the event; so, I thought I’d take a moment to put out there, for posterity and my own later reference as much as anything, some of the lenses through which¬†I currently view RAGBRAI.¬† It’ll be interesting to see in what ways it’s similar and in what ways dissimilar.

RAGBRAI is an adventure.¬† The fact of riding 400-500 miles across an entire state in a 7 day span, on a route that never repeats a prior route in the ride’s 40-year history, overnighting in a different town each day and rolling through something on the order of 40-60 towns during the week, camping under the stars with more than 10,000 of your closest friends, definitely deserves the label “adventure”.¬†

RAGBRAI is social.¬† Again – 10,000-plus people.¬† Friendships are formed that cross state lines, folks that have met up online finally meet in person, fellow hometown riders are found via RAGBRAI that weren’t found when you were back home, etc.¬† Most people who have done RAGBRAI a few or more times say that the social aspect is one of the biggest draws for them. It’s typical to settle, without a specific effort to do so, into a group of riders that rides about the same pace as you and sets out about the same time as you, such that you share big stretches of the journey together.¬† A different approach some folks take is to make a point to leave at different times each day and vary break timing, so as to deliberately seek out different groups to ride with.

RAGBRAI is a pilgrimage.¬† If I close my eyes and imagine I’m someone who HAS done a few RAGBRAIs and looks forward to returning each year, this is how I think I’d characterize it.¬† Wikipedia defines pilgrimage as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”¬† There’s unarguably, inherently, something of spiritual significance to training oneself to be in the shape to ride RAGBRAI and then going and doing it.¬† One learns a lot about oneself, one’s limitations (and hopefully ability to transcend them), about others, etc.¬† The way I view/imagine it, RAGBRAI is almost a sort of reverse pilgrimage in a way – where the destination is the start of RAGBRAI itself and then much of the journey is undertaken.

RAGBRAI is a challenge.¬† This will (as, I guess, will all the other characteristics here) vary by person.¬† Some very strong riders will find an event like RAGBRAI, where you ride “only” around 60-70 miles per day for a week, as not very difficult.¬† In a group of 10,000+ people there will be some who either underprepared, underestimated, joined for fun, or otherwise and find the ride extremely difficult.¬† And there will be plenty of people occupying the hazy middle of this continuum.¬† For MOST riders, I infer from what I’ve picked up, RAGBRAI is at a minimum not a piece of cake and is challenging.¬† For me personally, while I expect to be in good shape in July (and arguably could do RAGBRAI if it were a few weeks away), I anticipate a challenge, even given that this year’s route is in the top 10 easiest there has been.

RAGBRAI is visually amazing.¬† This is possibly the aspect that I’m looking forward to the most.¬† I’ve ridden with friends or small groups, and I’ve seen relatively small “pelotons” of riders out and about – but we are talking a couple dozen riders, tops.¬† With many thousands of riders RAGBRAI dwarfs that.¬† The videos one can find on YouTube remind me of nothing so much as a migration, for example of butterflies or birds.¬† I think about it in this way – with the pack stretched like pearls on a string¬†into multiple “pelotons” based upon riding speed and strength, hour of departure, amount of time spent in through-towns or breaks – there are likely to be maybe as many as 20 different main “pelotons”; but each of these groups would contain HUNDREDS of riders, men and women of all descriptions riding all manner of bikes, rolling across the Iowa countryside like an enthusiastic little hungry army.¬† The videos & pictures I’ve seen are incredible and I have a feeling this is a situation where seeing it with one’s own eyes is pretty incomparable.

RAGBRAI is a vacation.¬† People go to RAGBRAI for all sorts of reasons – some of them listed above.¬† But one thing the vast majority have in common is that they are there on a vacation from work or at a minimum, from “real life”.¬† One thing Mr. V and I enjoyed about our Katy Trail journey is that your only “job” for the entire day was to cover the 50-70 miles that you’d mapped out on your itinerary.¬† How and when you got there was up to you.¬† You could bang out 60 miles before lunch; you could start pedaling at 10 AM and take your time; you could stop only twice but spend 2-3 hours at each place.¬† Your “job” for the day – simple although not exactly “easy” – was to get from A to B.¬† RAGBRAI, being a touring event, is the same.¬† You get to escape your workaday life, your normal stresses and joys, your normal challenges and achievements, to participate in this crazy rolling pilgrimage by bicycle from one border of Iowa to the other.

As if it weren’t obvious by now – I can’t wait.

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¬† ūüôā¬† 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!