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Looking back on a great ride

Shortly before leaving for Iowa last week, I read a study. Well, part of a study actually. The whole thing was just way to long. It said that swearing, when not part of your everyday vocabulary, can help you withstand pain, longer. Normally not a swearer, I thought I would be a good candidate to test the theory, and did so pretty thoroughly.

There is something to be said for a good string of expletives when grinding through all 21 gears, while trying to crank up a half-mile hill (let me say again, Iowa is not flat). It was kind of like “The Little Engine that Could,” only my tag line did not end at, “I think I can.” You can use your imagination on how it continued. I sure did!

I’ve been asked a couple of times what is taking me so long to write my final blog entry. It should be easy, right? Just talk about what happened. The thing is, so much happened that I don’t know where to start and some things I’m pretty sure I can’t even share. If I did, someone would end up in witness protection, and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway!

Before I left, I thought I knew what it was about. You get on your bike and ride for days on end, eat fantastic food and party like crazy. And that’s true. I did all those things, but there is a whole lot more to it. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to do RAGBRAI and the way I did it may not be the way you would do it, or anyone else for that matter. For example, if you were smart you would not choose to do it with a mountain bike. Trust me on this!

My phone had little to no service and I think it rang once all week. I didn’t even recognize the sound! It was hard being away from my kids that long. In fact, it’s the longest I’ve ever been away from them. I knew they were in good hands though and for just one week, my life was narrowly focused. I thought about staying cool, getting to the next town, setting up my tent, deciding what to eat, and determining my proper water to beer ratio. That was it.

The last few years have been filled with a multitude of changes in my life: I've gotten divorced, gone back to work, and returned to the town where I grew up... It's nothing I hide, in fact I am usually guilty of sharing too much (this is a perfect example). My children and I have adapted, though I cannot say it was easy.

For me, this ride was about the new person I have become and the perfect way to start the next chapter in my life. It's like each mile left the old me further behind and the new me is the one that ended up in Clinton. Of course, there was always the chance that it would be the same me, just with tired legs and a sore bum.

I was asked at least 100 times last week why I was doing RAGBRAI and probably more importantly how I ended up on Team Cockroach. People were shocked that I would travel to Iowa, join a team where I knew no one and ride my bike hundreds of miles. In fact, at one point I was asked why I thought I, a woman alone who knew no one and nothing about biking, could tackle RAGBRAI, with a mountain bike, and succeed. After being mildly offended by the “woman alone” comment, I answered that it never really occurred to me that there was any other option.

Sure, I joked about my only goal being to survive and that I had no idea what I was doing. Well, actually that wasn’t so much a joke as true… but, I never really doubted that I would be able to do it. Maybe it’s one of those things were naivety was my savior. Had I known how hard it really could have been, I’m not sure I would have been so confident.

Let me be very clear. Team Cockroach and everyone on it saved me from having what could have been a pretty miserable week. They knew all the things I didn’t know, and made the difference between having a fun-filled, boundary pushing, fantastic week that I want to repeat, and having a week that sent me home in tears. They adopted me (Thank you Kurt and Matt!) and looked out for me (Thank you Margaret and Teresa!), cheered me on, gave me a nickname (That I don’t plan to share - Thank you very much Foot!) and made me part of the group (I wish I could name everyone!).

I’m a firm believer in things happening for a reason; sometimes we just don’t know what those reasons are. The hard part for me is being patient enough to wait and see why things work out a certain way. I practiced patience last week and gave myself over to whole experience.

Sometimes, when you are patient things have a way of working themselves out. There are so many examples of that during this whole adventure. Among them? My brother winning the bike I used, getting a flat tire in the perfect place, running into my cousin on a random farm, an experienced rider appearing out of nowhere to help me find my way and talk me through as we navigated a busy street, and getting hooked up with Team Cockroach totally last minute. I can only call these examples of Divine Intervention!

I can report that I did finally make it into town in time for pie one day. I figure I had either gotten much faster, or the church ladies had made extra. Not sure which, but it was delicious, so I’m not too concerned.

Some of the craziest things I saw? Kilts. Lots of kilts. They were very popular and some men wore them very well. I saw a guy in a loincloth… and no, he had nothing on underneath. I followed two guys in speedos for about seven miles. Not as interesting as you might think. There was the guy dressed as a banana and the traveling Elvis’s, complete with wigs, white jump suits, blue suede shoes and music. Two guys did the route on skateboards, one guy ran the whole thing…in sandals. I saw two guys on unicycles and heard rumors of a group that rode nude. I saw people pulling carts loaded with speakers, stereos, and automatic drink makers. I was written on, tattooed (not real), stickered and spent more time discussing butt balm with complete strangers than I thought possible. In fact, I NEVER thought I would be discussing that with complete strangers.

One of my proudest moments was passing someone who was neither twice my age nor pulling small children. I was very happy with small victories and simple pleasures. There is nothing like a real shower or flushing toilets.

I will whine for just one moment. It was HOT! It was so hot, the rumored temperature off the asphalt was 140. The headwinds for two of those days were so brutal that if I stopped pedaling, I went backwards… while going downhill. We were burning 5,000 calories a day – and eating as much, though the trick is not to continue eating that much now that I’m home!

Things I learned for next year? I will pack half as much. Have I mentioned I will use a road bike? I will add hills, real hills, to my pre-ride training. I will get a waterproof tent (don’t ask, but I can tell you the bus was very comfortable). Finally, I will remember there is no time clock that needs to be punched.

As I came into Clinton on Saturday, after riding that day’s 75 miles, I was overwhelmed. The streets were lined with folks holding up signs welcoming us to town, kids with hands extended for high-fives and cheers of “great job.” In that moment, I realized what it was that I had accomplished and I knew that I had arrived in town with way more than tired legs and a sore bum. From the first mile… to the very last, I had done RAGBRAI.

I didn't get here alone. I know there are a lot of people who have made sacrifices so I could make this week successful.

To My Mom - I simply could not have done this ride without saying a big THANK YOU to my Mom. Without her help and support I wouldn’t have been able to train or take the week off as she watched my kiddos.  My Mom is an incredibly brave and adventurous woman who is traveling the world one continent at a time. Though my travel destinations often make her cringe, I get it all from her.

To my boys, Ethan and Jacob - my (not so little anymore) bundles of energy whom I love dearly and protect fiercely. Who always asked, “how far today Mom?” My hopes for them? That they see if they work hard, they can accomplish anything.

For my brother, Ryan, his wife Karen and daughter Kayla - I would not have finished without their help. No, really. I used his bike. Without him, I’d have been walking. Their constant words of encouragement helped keep me going. They think I’m crazy, but that’s ok.

To Sarah – my biking buddy who trained with me and laughed with me as we tried to figure out all the lingo and who ended up not being able to make it on our big adventure. I missed you! Get out that hand sanitizer girl – you’re doing it with me next year!t

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