Oskaloosa to Fairfield, IA: HE DID IT! HE REALLY, REALLY DID IT! (Day 9)

Today would be Philip’s final day of the RAGBRAI ride, and we awoke with mixed emotions.  Yay … it’s almost over!  Boo … it’s almost over!

Today’s planned ride was from Oskaloosa to Fairfield, but Philip would ALSO be doing tomorrow’s planned ride from Fairfield to Fort Madison … a total of 118 miles!  Phoenix to Tucson is 116 miles, and you know how long and boring that ride can be (even at 75 MPH, instead of 15!)

So, you can imagine Philip’s trepidation at doing not only his longest daily ride EVER, but especially when tacked onto on the tail end of five previous daily back-to-back rides of 50 to 107 miles each.  He wasn’t sure he was going to make it!

Saying a quick prayer for strength!

As Philip’s support crew, Bella and Sprinkles and I have really enjoyed following him from town to town, trying to provide inspiration and celebration with each milestone!  Today, our support would be especially important for the second half of the day, because all of the other RAGBRAI riders would be staying in Fairfield, while we were just taking a lunch break (pork tenderloin sandwiches! yes, again!) and then going on for another five hours (!!!) by ourselves.

Bella gave him a little pep talk and a high-five in the Fairfield town square during halftime ….

 and then, Philip bought me a t-shirt just to make sure there was no confusion about my role in the shebang.

Today’s cities and celebrations took a backseat to one thing, and one thing only …. SURVIVAL.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and Philip’s heart wanted to finish this damn ride!  As support crew, we would drive ahead 10 miles, wait for him to catch up, offer cold water/words of encouragement/cocktails, then do the whole thing over again every 10 miles, until we reached the end!

A glimpse of our guy out the front windshield of the support-mobile!

There was one city, however, that really captured our hearts and that we actually spent some time hanging out in.  It is called Bonaparte, has a population of 468 people, and was founded in 1837 on the banks of the Des Moines River.  It has been named the smallest “Main Street Community” in the U.S., and their Riverfront District is part of the National Register of Historic Places.  It was totally enchanting!

But then, you don’t really want to hear about charming historical places … you want to hear about the GRAND FINALE of the ride, right??

If you recall, RAGBRAI began at the Missouri River and would end at the Mississippi River, spanning the entire width of the State of Iowa.  The ending point was Fort Madison, and the terrific thing about wrapping this up an entire day earlier than the rest of the crowd, is that THERE WAS NO REST OF THE CROWD!  We had the finishing line all to ourselves!  He was literally the first person to finish the race!  🙂

Philip’s Fan Club was at the finish line about 10 minutes before he arrived, allowing us to get “in position” for him to roll through the finish line.  This also allowed us to meet the one old guy who single-handedly designed and constructed this awesome finish line marker (those are real bikes!), and who was just leaving for the night as we pulled up:

Both Philip and I were literally crying as he rolled through the finish (and not just because we also cry when somebody wins at the big wheel on The Price Is Right).

And then the REAL celebrations began!  Jumping for joy ….

Mounting the podium ….

Spraying the champagne ….

And of course, the important moment, the final ceremonial dip of the front wheel in the Mississippi River!

We couldn’t help but reminisce about the start of this biking obsession, I mean hobby, for Philip.  In 2010, he weighed 290 pounds and due to a long-standing knee injury, could barely walk across the street because of excruciating pain.  He wanted to have knee surgery, but the doctor told him the surgery would not be successful unless Philip lost 25 pounds before the surgery and 25 pounds after.  “How can I lose weight when I can’t exercise on this knee?” Philip asked.  “You can ride a bike,” said Dr. Russo.

And so it began.  He proceeded to lose 65 pounds and over the past three years has ridden in organized bike rides and races in Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale, Mesa, Flagstaff, Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Solvang (CA), and now across Iowa.  He started on a heavy, clunky mountain bike and gradually moved his way up to his current love, “Ariel.”  (“Grace” has been put out to pasture but is still remembered fondly.)

Most importantly, he has had the time of his life and enjoyed every single minute, and I could simply burst from pride at all that he has accomplished.  It was barely 45 minutes after finishing RAGBRAI that he said, “I think I am going to do the ride from Oregon to Mexico down the coast of California next!”  And so, I think we can call this experience a success!  Thanks for the good times and memories, RAGBRAI!

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