After nine hours and 70 miles of cycling on Sunday, I'd come to the conclusion that I either underestimated the difficulty of riding RAGBRAI, or I'd overestimated my own awesomeness.
Well, I made it ... barely.
Milford, as I cruised into town after 70 miles of sun and wind, was a sight for sore eyes -- not too mention a sore rear end!
My RAGBRAI ride ran the gamut of possible experiences. It was both thrilling and challenging. I felt a sense of town pride in each community we passed through and a sense of community between the riders. All said, it was an experience I will never forget and one I hope to enjoy again in the future ... but not the near future.
On Sunday morning, Tessa and I got a little bit of a late start, so I didn't have much time to get breakfast. I figured I would grab something on the way, but she insisted that I eat something more substantial.
"Eat some oatmeal, or a banana," she said. "You're going to need something right away and I read somewhere that bananas protect against muscle cramps, reduce swelling and provide a ton of energy for endurance sports."
"I don't need a stinking banana," I scoffed. "It's only a bike ride. It's not like I'm doing a triathlon or something."
So, we met halfway, and I grabbed a donut and a bottle of Gatorade at the gas station on my way out of town.
That was the first of my many mistakes.
We got on the road and I downed my "breakfast of champions" on the way. Not able to actually get into Rock Valley city limits, I joined a handful of other riders and hopped on the route on the outskirts of town at about 8 a.m.
The temperature was cool, so cool that Tessa worried I may need a jacket -- with an expected high of 90 and a heat advisory in effect, I passed.
The first stretch to Hull was a piece of cake -- or pie, to be RAGBRAI appropriate.
There, we were greeted with a free bag of RIPS candy, since Hull is home to the Foreign Candy Company.
A vendor selling bloody marys and beer was enthusiastically greeted by one of the riders, making for one of the funnier moments of the day. Nothing like starting a 70-mile bike ride with a 9 a.m. cocktail. That's my kind of guy!
The next stretch to Boyden was equally enjoyable.
As we wound our way through the beautiful streets of Boyden, we heard shouts of encouragement from locals camped out in lawn chairs on their front yards. The park area and splash pad in town looked to be packed with entertainment as the ride slowed to a walk, but not wanting to stop, I kept right through on my way to Sheldon.
The sun was starting to peak at that point and the cool breeze was now a fiercely hot blast out of the southeast.
As I cruised into Orab country, my stomach was begging for fuel, so I stopped and grabbed a prime rib sandwich and a little respite on a shaded bench in the city park.
This is also where I realized my second error. At the 24-mile mark, I finally took my first drink of water. I'd been so excited to that point, that I had completely forgotten to keep myself hydrated. As I ate, I chugged my entire water bottle dry and stopped in a gas station to refill on my way out of town.
Exiting Sheldon, we finally had our first tailwind of the trip. As I turned to head north, I felt a surge of energy from the food and water, and with the wind to my back I took off like a rocket! My third mistake.
Instead of conserving my energy, I spent it all on that short stretch of highway. I came to this realization as I turned to head east to Melvin and was smacked in the face by the unrelenting wind.
The 20-mile stretch was the longest of the day, and my legs could definitely tell, as every single rider that I passed on my way north now cruised right on by.
A few miles outside of Melvin, I started to cramp up. I battled through the pain, however, and pedaled into city limits before I laid down under a shade tree and finished off every drip of water I had on me.
I sat there for about a half an hour before I felt like I had enough energy to get back on the route. Needing to refill my water bottle, I stopped at three separate vendors -- none of which had a single bottle. So, I grabbed a sports drink instead and hopped back on the road.
This is when my lack of preparation started to sink in.
The nine miles to May City were rough, to say the least.
Every couple of miles or so my left thigh would cramp and I would have to hop off my bike to walk it out. Then, I would hop back on, ride for a bit and then hop off and walk out another cramp. I stopped at a watermelon stand just outside of May City and bought three bottles of water, chugged one and filled up my own bottle.
This was really the act of a desperate man. I was already way behind and there was no hope to catch up. I could either call it quits or tough out the next 17 or so miles.
Luckily, I'm not a wimp like LeBron James.
From there, I basically battled cramps, dizziness and nausea until I finally hit the outskirts of Milford just before 5 p.m. I swear I'd never seen Milford look more beautiful. I hit every sprinkler on my way through town -- big shout out to whomever set those up, by the way -- and met Tessa at the start of the bike path.
"Did you have fun?" she asked with a smile, as I stood crouched over my bike, drenched in sweat, legs wobbling, mouth drier than the Sahara, after nine hours of cycling.
"That was tough," I coughed. "I really didn't think it would be a big deal. My legs are like jello!"
"Do you want a banana?"