Friday, July 28, 2006

And a whole lot of biking going on!

Friday, July 28

I am thrilled when I’m in the right place at just the right time – such as Sugarite State Park during Butterfly Weekend, Forest City during Puckerbrush Days, and now I’m in Iowa City/Coralville on Friday, the day the huge RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) pedals into town on its last overnight stop. And my Albuquerque friend Larry is in town with a car to take me to the event.

But first, some background. This is the 34th year of RAGBRAI. It was started by a couple of newspaper reporters from the Des Moines Register, and it started as just a few friends riding and partying west to east across the state. It grew from those few hardy folks into a ride that officially has about 10,000 riders and unofficially close to 15,000. The “unofficial” riders are those who just do a portion of the year’s 444-mile ride. The ride starts with a front-tire dip in the Missouri River and ends with a tire dip in the Mississippi.

Ride organizers change the route of travel on state and county roads from year to year; it was five years ago the last time it came through the Iowa City area. When the route is announced, the small towns along the way are alerted and given advice to prepare for the onslaught of bikers. The Thursday night stop was in Marengo, a town of 2,500 people that suddenly swelled to an additional 14,000 or so bikers and their entourage. Amazingly, about 400 locals volunteered to help.

The event is always a big deal, but this year it became an even bigger deal because seven-time Tour de France champ and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong rode a portion of it and also came here to promote “Winning the Race Against Cancer.”

Logistically, an overnight stop can be daunting. Places must be located for the bikers to shower, put up overnight tents, eat, be entertained and for all the team and other support vans, buses and RVs to park.

Thursday’s ride was 77-miles long. The Friday ride from Marengo to Coralville (the last overnight stop) was 47.9 miles. On Saturday the final leg is approximately 55 miles, ending in Muscatine.

Larry and I walked around the official gathering place, S.T. Morrison Park. Sunburned, weary and tired bicyclists of both sexes and all ages swarmed the area along with locals and tourists. There were entertainment areas, vendors, and rows of porta-potties. Vehicle traffic congested the nearby roads – even though the city offered free bus service. What an event!

When we had enough, we took a bus back to the mall where Larry had parked. The cool mall was a nice change from the heat and humidity. Next stop was a Dairy Queen and then we went to Bill’s apartment where I got to meet Larry’s son. (Note to Larry’s friends in Albuquerque/Rio Rancho: ask him about Bill’s tangle with a skunk.)

Oh, poor me! While enjoying the porch swing at Bill’s, I got “bit/stung” by some unseen insect. Two tiny red dots on my right arm were itching/hurting. I tried to ignore them. By the time the three of us went to dinner, one of those tiny red dots grew into a fiery-red silver-dollar sized raised lump and the other into a smaller lump! I got ice from the waitress for them. After dinner we made a Walgreens stop and the pharmacist recommended Benedryl along with hydrocortisone ointment.

Back at Kent Park, Larry and I took a walk around the lake and recuperated with a cold beer before Larry went back to town.

What a great day we had. (Thanks again, Larry.)