Harlan to Des Moines, IA: DON’T FORGET YOUR INFLATABLE DOLL! (Day 5)

The longest ride day began with the same enthusiasm and get-‘er-done attitude as the day before … but the tides would be turning before the day was done!  (More on that later.)  As Day Two of the ride began, RAGBRAI’ers were sharing stories of the fun they had in the “Tent Cities” in Harlan the night before.  Of course sleeping in a tent by yourself after a long day’s ride is lonely, and many people carried their sleeping companions on the back of their bikes.  Large stuffed teddy bears.  A plush pink flamingo.  A fully inflated female doll.  When you are among 20,000 of your closest friends for days on end, apparently all privacy rules are suspended.

Most riders are staying in tents spread all over town on every available patch of real estate.

But I digress. Today’s ride was 80 miles, unless you chose to add on a loop which would make your ride 105 miles.  Those who added the “Karras Loop” received a special patch for their jersey, and of course, Mr. Competitive was NOT leaving Iowa without that patch.  80-105 miles is 7-9 hours of riding at a fairly fast pace, and “Butt Butter” (a soothing cream that eases the pain of having a 2″ wide seat up your crack) is a must-have item.   The riders were talkative and in good spirits as they set out.  The never-ending parade of costumes continued …. a couple on a tandem bike wearing old-timey wedding gear; a group of drag queens; an old hippie pulling a homemade wagon, with a stereo powered by a solar panel, playing Eric Clapton and The Doors; balloons and feathers and wigs, oh my!

The first 2/3 of the ride were the hilliest by far … don’t ever let anyone tell you that Iowa is flat! There were several 5-mile long, 5% grade hills and only one way up!  PEDAL POWER! One hill was called “Big Bertha” and was a 12% grade for 1.5 miles.  On most hills, there was a single-file line of bikers walking their chariots slowly to the top.  The moaning, the bitching, the eye rolls, the deep sighs … let’s just say the optimism was fading fast.  “Inner Motivation” was key!

There were longer distances between the small towns than the day before, and as lunchtime approached, Philip was debating eating a Clif Bar or a banana, when he suddenly came over the top of a hill and saw 600+ bikers spread out all around a farmhouse, with a big school bus painted pink and made to look like a pig.  Smoke was billowing out and they were grilling and serving very large, thick pork chops in paper napkins for $7 each.  With the delicious smell and potential for some time “out of the saddle,” he would have paid $70!  The beer garden was right next door (how convenient!) and of course, people were partying and carrying on.  Philip continues to marvel at how people can drink so much and still have the wherewithall to get back on their bikes, but I pointed out that most of those people are in their 20’s, and he is 59, and surely when he was in his 20’s he did a ton of crazy things while under the influence!

During the last 30 miles to the finish line in Perry, Iowa, the mood was in deep contrast to the beginning, and nobody was talking or joking anymore. Philip likened it to a death march, and as you passed any shade tree, any front yard, any patch of grass, you would see the carcasses of wounded warriors passed out underneath and bicycles laying wherever they were dropped.  Today was hot, hot, hot, and as the day wore on, and temperatures approached 92 degrees and 96% humidity, the SAG Wagon (SAG stands for Support And Gear and it is the van that goes around helping people) was making multiple full runs, picking people up from the route and ferrying them to the end.

Once again, Midwestern graciousness was in full display.  The dogs and I stood under a tree in somebody’s yard, waiting for Philip to cross the finish line.  Suddenly, the front door flew open and I braced myself for the angry homeowner to tell me to get off their lawn.  “HEY!” she said.  “I have a fully fenced back yard; why don’t you let the dogs off their leashes and they can run around back there while you wait!  Would you like some iced tea?”  Turns out she was waiting for some riders too, because she was putting a few of them, total strangers, up for the night in her house, just like the majority of the town’s residents were doing.

Waiting on daddy to arrive!

The sound of the high school marching band in Perry, Iowa was the cue that the riders had finally made it back from the edge.  By the time Philip made it home, he could barely whisper … “Water … air conditioning … soft place to sit …”  He had gone 107 miles and burned 8,020 calories.  Thankfully, this would be the hardest day of the ride, and the weather was supposed to break overnight.

And did it EVER break!  That evening, we were tucked into the RV, eating dinner and watching a DVD movie, when KA-BOOOOOM, the thunder and lightning and rain and hail started up.  It is really cool to be inside an RV during inclement weather, because you feel like you are right inside the belly of the storm, but Bella is scared of thunder and having a 75-pound dog scramble into your lap is not pleasant.  It lasted almost an hour and the temperature dropped 30 degrees.  We saw on the news that night that the thousands of riders staying in tents were taking cover in local businesses … or maybe that was just an excuse to go back into the bars.

Tomorrow will be “happy times are here again” for two reasons … the ride will be half the distance, and the temperatures will be at least 20 degrees cooler.  Also, when it is cooler, you can leave later in the day, avoiding those nasty 6 AM wake-ups that are otherwise necessary to beat the heat.  There is no official start time each day, so everyone just heads out “whenever,” which also keeps the riders more spread out throughout the route.  Philip is looking forward to an “easy day” of “ONLY” 50 miles!

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