Des Moines to Knoxville, IA: FREE SKINNY DIPPING! (Day 7)

Today’s fourth day of RAGBRAI took Philip 54 miles from Des Moines to Knoxville, Iowa on what could only be described as a roller-coaster of a ride.  Up a hill at 7 miles an hour, down a hill at 30 miles an hour, up a hill, down a hill … rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.  Whew!  It was extremely crowded today because a lot of Des Moines residents were joining in for today’s ride only, so as the ride began, people were pouring into the group from every side street in Des Moines.

Today was deemed “RAGBRAI Jersey Day” and riders were encouraged to wear this year’s jersey, or any previous year’s jersey.  Of course, it is a badge of honor to have a jersey from past years … the older, the better! … and riders love to brag about how many years they have done this ride.  Unfortunately for spectators, however, it makes it extremely difficult to pick out the blur that is “your guy” when the majority of riders are wearing the exact same blue jersey as they go flying by!

There continue to be quite the variety of participants, including some people on unicycles, a guy doing the route on a skateboard, a guy pulling a cart with his two dogs in it, and hundreds of handicapped people in modified bicycles climbing the same hills using only their arm power … totally inspirational!  And remember the hippie pulling a solar-powered stereo we mentioned in an earlier post?  Philip found him again and took a photo … just for you, dear readers!

Today’s pass through Runnells, Iowa came complete with a roadside sign advertising “Free Skinny Dipping” at a farmer’s pond. The farmer had built the pond 9 years ago and had always hoped that the RAGBRAI route would go past for this express purpose (creepy voyeurism, but whatever).  People dropped their bikes, dropped their pants, and went charging into the pond, laughing all the way.  This joyous celebration of the human body was interrupted when the cops arrived, but not before Philip had snapped a couple pictures of “When Woodstock Meets RAGBRAI” …..

We know you are zooming in right now … yes that guy is really naked … and white
Law enforcement = not amused

The diversions continue.  Mechanical bull riding.  Slip-N-Slides down every big hill.  High school marching band dance lines.  At one point, the route passed through the Iowa State Fairgrounds, right by the carnival barkers out in full force, “Hop off that bike and come win a goldfish!”  In tiny Monroe, Iowa, the entertainment consisted of a Firehose Battle, similar to Tug-of-War, where they would dress bikers in fireman gear and put two at each end of an overhead cable with an empty keg strung upon it. At the whistle, each team would train their water stream onto the barrel and the winning team was that which could drive it to the other end first.  Clearly, RAGBRAI organizers are finding creative uses for the hundreds of kegs left behind in the beer gardens each day.

In one small town, their theme was “Christmas in July” and the entire town was decorated in holiday fare … wreaths on the lampposts, Rudolph and Santa inflatables on the front lawns, an artificial snow machine (below), everything Christmas themed … perfect for Philip … a.k.a. Mr. Christmas!   While Philip was searching in earnest for a cup of eggnog, townspeople suddenly ran out from every booth, alley, sidewalk and front doorstep and “Frosty’s Flashmob” performed a rap rendition of Jingle Bell Rock ……  right before Philip’s very eyes.  Ho ho ho!

Lance Armstrong is doing RAGBRAI this year (how far must one’s star fall from the sky, to go from winning the Tour de France, to Iowa in July, but who am I to judge); however, Philip says that Lance has not yet caught up with him (tee hee) so he hasn’t caught any glimpses of him in person.  Or maybe he is wearing a disguise to avoid detection, and is actually the old hippie pictured above?  Hmmmm.

Philip had to use all 20 of his gears today because of all the hills, and his back derailer had to be fixed in order to continue on the ride.  Thankfully, at the Trails’ End there are mechanics who can solve any biking related problem … for a price, of course.  Don’t kid yourself … fun and fitness do not come cheap!

In each of the ending towns, the local churches host a variety of dinners for the hungry masses.  I have been trying to determine if each of the faiths specialize in a certain meal  … it kind of seems that way!  Catholics … spaghetti.  Methodists … chicken and noodles.  Living Word … hamburgers and hot dogs.  Apostolic … lasagna.  Episcopal … pork tenderloin.  Or maybe having the same churches do the same meals allows them to ship the leftovers on to the next town?  Now that’s economy of scale!

The day ended in Knoxville, which seems to be a bit more affluent of a town that the previous host cities.  Every stop light post had been adorned with a decorated bicycle, and were mounted hiiiiigh in the air!

Tonight, we stayed in the Whitebreast Campground just outside Knoxville, with bicyclists and tents all around us, everyone bonded together in a mutual state of exhaustion, but after a couple Rum-and-Cokes, the enthusiasm returns by bedtime.  Philip is starting to get sore, after day upon day of riding, and is getting definition in muscles he never knew he had!

Tomorrow … on to Oskaloosa …. Philip’s last relatively “short” day of the ride (another 50+ miles).  He has informed me that today he is going to take his time and really enjoy all of the goings-on in each of the towns.  This bodes well for some more interesting stories, don’t you think?  Stay tuned …..

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