Day Three of RAGBRAI: after today, we are halfway done! Today’s route goes to the “big city” of Des Moines, whose marketing department has decreed itself “Des Moines: Even Better In Spandex.” A little obvious; everything is better in spandex, right? (Maybe not Chris Christie.)
Today, riders were encouraged to wear a biking jersey from the college or university they attended. Of course, the variety of jerseys was amazing and was a terrific source of camaraderie. Philip was wearing his University of South Carolina jersey, which seems innocent enough, except that they are the USC “Gamecocks” (you see where I am headed with this) and that is boldly proclaimed down both sides of the jersey. Every other rider: “Go ‘cocks!” “Are the ‘cocks going to go hard this year?” “Alright, the big ‘cocks are here!” Everyone’s a comedian.
The array of towns and activities continues to be memorable. You really can’t even begin to imagine the crush of bicycles. Joining the flow, or leaving the flow, is like trying to yield onto a six-lane California freeway and the LAWS OF TRAFFIC must be obeyed! You have to actually yell “biker coming off” and let people move to the side to let you get out or “biker coming on” and hope to God that somebody gives you a six-inch window to squeeze yourself into the group … and you better be going the same rate of speed as they are, as you merge! Then, riders are flying along at 18-20 miles per hour, and suddenly everybody, EVERYBODY, is slamming on their brakes because a small town has been reached!
At one such stop today, every single resident was wearing the exact same pink shirt and all along the route through their town, they were having a contest, because every other house had an outline map of the United States and wanted the riders to yell what state they were from, whereupon a darling little milk-fed cherub of a child would color in that state on the map. In another small town, there was an enormous cow and they were giving away thousands of cartons of chocolate milk and nobody can resist “free” OR “chocolate milk.” The only problem was, then you were dodging discarded milk cartons in the street for the next 3 miles, and burping chocolate milk for the next 30 miles.
Every RAGBRAI’er has a yellow card on the back of their bike with their name and where they are from. This is presumably an ice-breaker and a way to get to “know your neighbors” on the ride, but also possibly so they know where to ship your body if you don’t survive the week. Philip has seen cards from Alaska, Montreal Canada, London England, Puerto Rico, and of course everything in between. He has met two girls from Scottsdale, and another whose entire family lives in Scottsdale, but truthfully Arizona seems to be light in attendance. Time for all you AZ residents to start training and step up for the 42nd RAGBRAI next year! (Ryan Weed … Keith and Nancy Keil …. Steve Deming … Nancy Britt …. Philip is gunnin’ for you …. get ready!)
Every Town Square is virtually unpassable, as every vendor is there heckling you to buy their homemade cinnamon rolls, or family-recipe jam, or whatever; throw a ball for the dunk tank which makes a toilet mounted on top “pee” onto the person in the tank below; or watch two crazies in a wrestling ring throw each other around like Nacho Libre on a bad day. Keep in mind that these people are doing this just for fun. Because they can. Because they have an audience. A really big, big, big audience.
Although many of the offerings were made quite unappealing by the length of the lines, Philip couldn’t resist a stand with homemade individual apple pies which were being made fresh on the farmhouse up the hill and being brought down by the family’s charming daughters. (It was unclear in his telling of the story if was the pies, or the daughters, that were irresistible.) One town had LITERALLY three miles of 8-foot-tall American flags erected on both sides of the street just a few feet apart leading into town, and when you actually arrived at the town square, “Proud to Be An American” was playing on the loudspeakers. It was all Philip (and the other riders) could do, not to break into tears. Can’t you just picture it?
Downtown Des Moines was beautiful and the town had set up the “Totally Tubular Tuesday” (get it?) Trails’ End celebration on a majestic bridge, with all of the vendors and entertainment over the water. In each host city, they have ongoing music with headliners for the night’s party, and in Des Moines it was the Summerland Live Tour featuring Everclear and other popular rock bands. The concerts are free and open to the public, so they were bracing for probably 15,000 people to jam downtown that evening. We spent time at the festival during the day, but would instead be happily tucked into our cozy campground for the evening.
Tomorrow’s ride will go from Des Moines to Knoxville, approximately 50 miles. Believe it or not, the sweatshirts have come out as the evenings are cool and the nights have actually become cold! Philip is enjoying every minute of this experience and already starting to plan his cross-country ride at his retirement in 2017!