Somewhere in Middle America: A Coast-to-Coast Bicycle Trek

Treynor, IA to Peru, IN - featuring RAGBRAI

Caroline here.

Sunday, July 19: Leaving the Lewis’ was sad because they were so nice, but we were excited to get back on the road with 15,000 other cyclists who were out for a good time. We were in heaven hoping onto a closed road, particularly after our experience with Iowa highways Friday. Not ten miles in to the ride, we came upon a beer garden with a DJ. We stopped and grabbed some beer and met some folks from Portland, ME who had done RAGBRAI the previous year and loved it. We quickly realized that this week was going to be like spring break on a bike – excellent!!

Along the way to the second beer stop we met Nick, who pretty much became our best friend for the week. Wills chatted with Nick while I proceeded to react to mass alcohol consumption and dance on the stage at the beer garden while Wills acted traumatized at his sister’s drunken behavior. After being cut off, we met the rest of Nick’s team – Russellmania. Kenneth invited us to crash at his Dad’s house that night where the rest of the team was staying. We happily accepted not knowing how lucky we were to have met such fabulous, fun, and crazy new friends!

Once we had showered and had some burgers and brats, we loaded up in the team Short Bus and Rex (the driver and captain of the team), took us back into town for the concert. Though Miller was the sponser and we could only get MillerLites (yuck!) we still managed to have a blast at the concert.

A bit of background on RAGBRAI – it stands for Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Oldest (37 years), longest (442 miles +), and largest (15,000) in the world. It’s a party on a bicycle complete with beer stops every ten miles with bands or DJs. The towns we go through bring out the red carpet and have bake sales, hot dog stands, and LOTS of sweet corn. Every town is a giant party that the cops generally have to shut down and stop beer sales in order to keep the crowd moving. Also, towns frequently run out of beer, which I think pretty much says how rowdy this bicycle crowd is. In addition to skillet throws and other random activities that amuse drunk people, there are waterslides galore. I don’t think I’ve been down a waterslide in ten years and I must admit that after drinking, or drinking while sliding, is even more fun than when I was a kid.

Groups of folks get together and have a team bus (or sag wagon) that carries bag and sometimes riders and bikes from town to town. We joined team Russellmania. A group of friends from all across Iowa that was started by the Russell family 15 years ago as a family reunion. We got to ride with a few of the Russells the first few days, but the majority of the team was made up of guys who were fraternity brothers from NW Missouri State. And they were awesome. They took our laissez-faire approach to riding, prioritizing drinking and having a  good time over sitting in the saddle.


Monday, July 20

We joined the race again this morning and continued to party across Iowa. We left our bags in the short bus today, which was wonderful to be able to finally go fast and keep up – and pass – people! I found out that my tire was pretty much shredded when I stopped at a beer stop only to have someone make a rather crass comments about my back tire. Needless to say that my ignorance about bicycle maintenance prevented me from even thinking to check my tire’s condition. Luckily, there are bike maintenance shops all around in the towns we went through and Dad was nice enough to buy me a new tire!! (thanks man)

While we were there, we had our first taste of Iowa sweet corn. Wills had his second and third tastes as well. We couldn’t get enough – corn dipped in butter, loaded with salt and pepper. We were falling in love with Iowa!

We hung out with the team drinking PBR at a local race track and got on the road rather later in the day. Eric, our new friend, found some beer at a convenience store and we were able to party in the pavilion before it started pouring down rain. We got caught in some rain before finally getting in to Greenfield, IA. We camped in the lawn of a mansion that night and enjoyed a warm shower before passing out sans dinner. We were just too tired.

Tuesday, July 21                 

Waking up, we were pretty much the LAST people to leave the overnight town. We stopped at the first breakfast stop around 11am. There was a $7 all you can eat breakfast buffet. Wills and I had been dreaming about such a fabulous thing, but seeing as it was already 11, we were greeted to cold biscuits, hard eggs, and cold coffee. We still ate it though, don’t worry.

We went on to find ourselves in the first beer town of the day where they had sadly run out of beer. There was a skillet toss where you threw a frying pan and tried to knock a basketball off a straw man.  It was a good day of riding overall.

Stopped at Jason’s school for lunch and then rode a little bit to a field party. The field party was a lot of fun with live music and a pink Cadillac hot tub. Rode on and into camp, after stopping at Jason’s for a couple beers and to watch the Tour de France. We took a little bit of a short cut and got into camp at a good time.

That night, we headed into Downtown ----- (can’t remember the name right now). We went to the Zoo (a bar) and grabbed a couple of drinks. We hung out with our new friends until around Midnight until we were just exhausted. We got some late night food (corndogs and sweet corn). Then we hopped on a caravan pulled by a John Deere tractor for a ride home and some rest.

Wednesday, July 22

AH, the short day. This was perhaps the best day of the entire trip and one of the best days of my life. This day was the shortest day of RAGRBAI – a 44 mile ride.

It was a party day at its finest. We stopped about ten miles in for a few beers. The day flew by with frequent stops and drinks. Before we knew it, we were 10 miles from camp. Watched the Tour de France and met a Greg from Arkansas.  We bought a 6 pack and met up with everyone for our first trip to a water slide. We headed up to the slide, a tarp in some one’s back yard stretching down a hill. There was a strong showing for Team Russelmania and lots of fun.

Afterwards we got some more beer and headed for camp. Wills got lost with Nick and Greg and they got to ride an additional  10+ mile. Eventually, everyone rolled into camp and everyone went to a Pizza Hut buffet that was great. A bad stormed rolled through that night with lots of thunder, lightning, and some hail.

Thursday, July 23

We woke up a bit “dehydrated” for a 77 mile day.  I don’t remember much about this day because I didn’t drink and there wasn’t a beer slide.

I do remember arriving at Kenneth’s friend’s house after thinking we were lost with Mehrhoff. We found the campsite only to learn that we were in fact camping in the lot next door to the house. At one point, the former occupant showed up to get fire wood, it was a bit awkward. We sat around laughing and drinking beer for a while until we decided we needed to get moving in order to take advantage of the discounted Chinese buffet.

We told Kevin that we were leaving and those of us who had not yet showered would shower up after dinner. He refused to go to dinner dirty so said we could go on as long as we brought him back some General Tso’s Chicken. He left, and so the rest of thought he was serious and loaded into the short bus to go and stuff our faces.

Once at the restaurant, we quickly learned that he had not been serious. Ooops. While we were there, we also ran into our friend Daniel whom we had ridden with in Oregon two months ago!!! He was the one going to Portland as well, but has since changed his mind about spending his summer on a bike and was headed back to Nebraska.

Friday, July 24

We left Kenneth’s friend’s house and started riding after the Mexican girls from next door brought us breakfast. Once we had all started eating, they informed us that each plate was $5. Fun times. We finally found a beer stop at a house that belonged to someone on Team Lizard. We had a few beers before Kenneth convinced that team to do the Beer Slide and participate in the Volleyball Tournament. We finally left the party around 3 and rode on into the Half-way town right as they were closing. The rest of the team decided to SAG into the overnight town. We said our goodbyes and right after the short bus drove by, honking and waving, Mom and Lynn (Mom’s best friend and pretty much our aunt) drove up with cold drinks!

We were so happy to see them – and give them our bags. We rode on into Washington and met them at the Hotel. The group headed out for Mexican to celebrate Mom’s official birthday (if you don’t know the story about Mom’s two birthdays, ask her!!) After that, we crashed.

Saturday, July 25

We woke up in a nice, soft bed. After a week of camping, we were happy for some R&R. We got a lift across the border into Illinois. (Iowa roads suck when you aren’t on RAGBRAI.)

Sunday, July 26

Wills and I got on the road early this morning and rode nearly 100 miles to Pontiac, IL. The ride was so lovely. We rode through county roads with seas of cornfields and soybeans. Mom and Lynn sagged for us and drove along playing music and taking some pictures. We finally made it to Pontiac where they had already gotten a hotel room and brought our stuff into the room. After showers, we headed to Baby Bull restaurant, which had been recommended to Mom and Lynn by a boy at the service station earlier in the day. I don’t know what he was smoking because this place was disgusting. They had a seven page menu with nothing on it that any of us wanted to order. Mom had ordered a vodka tonic and Wills a beer on tap. Luckily, the bar was out of limes and tonic water as well as the first beer Wills ordered. The waitress brought Wills back a beer. He slammed it, Mom paid for it, and we all ran out the restaurant.

We found a lovely Italian restaurant in the cute downtown area. Vicky, our waitress, was so nice to us and the lasagna was excellent.

Monday, July 27

Got a slow start this morning and ultimately decided that we have 1300 miles and 15 days left to ride. With two rest days that means we’d need to average 100 miles a day. Given the condition of our bikes – Wills can’t get into first gear and my cleats on the bottom of my shoes no longer let me safely clip in, we decided we needed to get to a bike shop. The closest  bike shop along our route was in Peru, Indiana. We got a lift to the bike shop and our bikes are currently undergoing therapy. Wills had to get new pedals and clips because his pedals are close to falling off.

Mom and Lynn are headed back to Memphis tomorrow. We have 2 more weeks on the road before we’ll be back there as well. We are going to be hauling in the next two weeks. Please keep us in your prayers!