Journal entry – 21 July 2015, Tues – RAGBRAI Day #III

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

It got cold last night, down into the mid 50’s – had to use all of my blankets. Didn’t want to get out of bed. Ate a granola bar and a couple bites of peanut butter and were able to hit the road about 6:25.


Didn’t take long to reach Duncombe, 12.8 miles away. Great offerings for breakfast – we got some Chris Cakes. Someone mentioned pancakes yesterday and they’ve been sounding great ever since. Ashley’s got tossed to her – she caught all four of them! Plus, sausage and coffee made a great breakfast. I went back for a second round.


On to Webster City, 8.7 miles later. Beautiful town. Still full, we walked through and refilled our water bottles before heading to Boondocks, 15 more miles.


Stopped at the Flying J for a pit stop, saw a Tardis out in the parking lot (being mundanely transported, I suppose). They had Cinnabon samples – smelled and tasted delicious!


On to Williams, 1.3 miles further. Rode through and stopped for water just outside of town. Ate half a Cliff Bar and ran into a couple from Paducah riding a tandem!


Alden, 11 more miles, was today’s meeting town. We saw signs for a baked potato bar and that sounded great so we checked them out. Delicious and filling, and different from the usual offerings. Lots of food, with chili, beans, ham cubes, cheese, onions, sour cream, nacho cheese, jalapenos and broccoli to top them! We ate and chatted with a woman from Colorado whose son and his family (wife and 2 small kids) are traveling the world on a sail boat named Field Trip.


In Buckeye we sat in the shade of an apple tree, after 6.6 miles and finished the other half of our Cliff Bars. Then on the home stretch for the day.


Ashley wants this jersey

Along the way we stopped at one of the RAGBRAI institutions, Beekman’s ice cream. Home-made with old, old 2-cylinder engines. You can hear them before you see them. We got peach and split a large. Oh, was it good! Sat in the shade and ate it.


17.5 more miles to Eldora for 72.9 total with 1,325 feet of climb for the day. After missing our turn we looped back into camp and grabbed our bags. Set up camp next to a row of pine trees that would shade us in an hour or two. Our tent rain fly was soaked from last night’s dew and we spread it out to dry in the sun. Didn’t take too long.

Ashley grabbed a shower while I charged my phone a bit at the charging station. Next time we definitely need a solar charger to strap on to my luggage rack.


She ran into Scott in the school lobby and we coordinated for supper. St. Mary’s had chicken and cheese pasta which sounded good. Over a mile away so we rode on over. Served over 2 biscuits and green beans on the side. Our plates were over flowing. Carrots and tomatoes on the table and a slice of delicious pie (blueberry for Ashley and pecan for me). We definitely left full!

Scott went in to town for the evening and we came back to camp. Went in to the school to charge our phones

Always Have A Spare

This is the second in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa. You can see them all here.

In 4 days Ashley and I had 3 flats on our bicycles. None of them were conveniently located right next to our RV. If we hadn’t had patch kits and/or spare innertubes with us, we would have had a long walk waiting us.

If you spend any time on a bicycle I recommend you carry a patch kit or a spare tube and any necessary tools. Taking a 30 minute break to fix a flat results in a much more enjoyable day than a multi-hour walk back home would.

Learn At Home

Trust me, learning how to do maintenance on the trail side is not very fun. And some places don’t have cell signal, so you won’t have the option of learning from YouTube like I did (and did you know that you can take tires and tube off of a wheel without tire irons? Me neither, until I realized that I had left mine at home.)

Familiarize yourself with the tools and skills while in the comfort of home, when you don’t need them yet. Future you will be immensely grateful.

An Ounce Of Prevention

There’s something to that old saying. Like cars, bicycles have a recommended maintenance schedule. Every time you go out, for example, you need to check that you have plenty of air pressure in your tires. Not oiling your chain every so often not only shortens the life of your chain and sprockets, but makes it harder to pedal!

There are a lot of bicycle maintenance checklists out there (like this one). Bikes aren’t complicated systems. You can learn to work on them yourself and save lots of headache later by ensuring that your routine maintenance is kept up.

Master Your Ride

Your bicycle is a vehicle. In order to keep it running optimally you need to be familiar with how it works, how to keep it working, and how to fix it when something goes wrong – and know that there are some things that will go wrong. Fortunately, parts and tools are relatively cheap and easily stored. And it’s easy to learn.

Here’s What I Carry (in case you’re curious)

Journal entry – 20 July 2015, Mon – RAGBRAI Day #II

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Woke up to rain on the tent in the middle of the night. Checked on everything and back to sleep. Still raining, harder, when the alarm went off in the morning. By the time it finished, though, we were still in the tent packing. Got our bags on the truck about 6:10, hit the porta Johns and on the road about 6:30.

Didn’t feel like a long trip into to Newell, 11.2 miles down the road. Swung in for an omlette – perfect timing! We were just under the awning collecting our fillings and it started raining. Cooked our omlettes and headed in to the bar next door to sit and eat. Rain came down harder while eating. It slowed a bit as we finished so we headed out, with rain jackets on, in the drizzle.

On the way, while approaching the railroad tracks, we saw a lot of flashing lights and emergency responders. The tracks were at a 45 degree angle to the road and were quite slipery so they were having us walk across them. We heard about a few wrecks that had happened already, so that seemed prudent to us.

Fonda was only 8.6 miles down the road. I was still hungry so I grabbed a pork tenderloin sandwich. Ashley munched on a Cliff Bar. It had stopped raining by now, but we wanted to air dry our jackets a bit more.

Everyone gets out for the festivities

Not too far down the road we were warming up with the sun peeking out so we stopped on the road side and took off our mostly dry jackets.

19.6 miles later we rolled into the day’s meeting town, Manson, the crater impact site from a million years ago. Lunch time, so we scouted out some chicken sandwiches and Thelma’s home-made ice-cream sandwiches. They were delicious and quite filling! After filling our water bottles we headed on our way. Hard to believe we’re 40 miles in already!


Rolled in to Clare, 15.4 miles, and stopped to eat our granola bars and sit for a few minutes in the shade. Listened to the DJ give people a hard time. Poor Greg requested Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girl” and everyone heard about the type of women he likes. Filled our water bottles and headed on out. 


Straight on in to Fort Dodge, 13.6 miles away. We clocked about 73 total today, with 1,308 feet of climb. Everyone was so friendly, cheering us on in. We grabbed our bags and set up camp in the outfield of the highschool. Windy, which helped cool things down.

After resting for a bit we got showers in the school locker rooms and laid in the tent rainfly’s shade. Walked down the road and found a church serving lasagna supper. Met up with Scott from the charter ride in and the first night and ate together. Everything tasted home-made. Delicious! Lasagna, salad, garlic bread and dessert.

A table-mate has ridden 26 RAGBBRAIs! He said that it changed in the early 90s, became more commercialized. It used to be that everyone who lived on the route had food and drinks for sale, and all of the churches had fund-raisers, mostly pie sales. Now they can’t do that – it has to be approved by the Register. And water stations have to be tested and approved – which is nice but also annoying.

Finished eating and we walked down through the vendor area. Scott went in to the mall to find wifi to get some work done and Ashley and I headed back.
Phone seems to have data so we updated Facebook a bit about our trip. Kevin and Jackie came by and we happened to spot them. Chatted a bit before they moseyed along to set up their tent.

Thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the shade with a breeze. Journaled and prepped for tomorrow’s ride before bed.

Journal entry – 19 July 2015, Sun – RAGBRAI Day #I

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Woke up at 5 so we could leave at 6. Able to watch the sun rise while packing up. Dropped our bags off in the truck a few minutes past 6 and hopped on our bikes. Briefly debated dipping our back tires in the Missouri River but ended up missing the turn-in. So before we knew it we were on the road across Iowa!

Hitting the road

Our first stop was 6.4 miles away, Leeds, where we pulled off and bought some breakfast burritos and drinks. Delicious and a great way to start off the morning!


Ashley had a flat tire. Fixed it easily enough but couldn’t get the bead on the tire seated. Stopped and grabbed some free bananas and sent out a couple of free postcards – then managed to get her tire fixed if not completely aired up. A few miles down the road we stopped at someones house and got air from their compressor. Strangers, opening up their shop, offering shade, water, bathroom
and air. Pretty darn nice!

Next stop is 21.9 miles away, Kingsley. Very crowded going through town, had to get off our bikes and walk. Bought a Scotcheroo, mostly out of curiosity. Cornflake cookies that teasted like butterscotch with hard milk chocolate on top.


Washta was 14.9 miles futher. It was the meeting town for the day. We went to the library in the elementary school for water and bathroom break. Bought lunch from the fire department. Brats for me and a burger for Ashley – plus a split rhubarb pie slice.

Along the way we have seen a unicycle, numerous styles of recumbent bikes, and were serenaded by a woman in a kilt playing bagpipes – accompanied by a man playing a traditional-looking drum.

Next is Quimby, 5.9 more miles. The boy scouts were giving watermelon slices away. Cold, juicy melon really hit the spot as the heat was picking up.


At the top of a big hill a woman stopped on the side, pulled out a trumpet and played 2 renditions of some marching song. Really fun to hear as we pedaled up the hill!

We passed right by Hanover. As we passed a woman waved and yelled that “this is Hanover!” It looked like just another booth set up on the roadside.


Then we headed into Storm Lake, our stop for the night, a total of 27.4 miles from Quimby. 76.5 total for the day, with 3941 feet of climb. Fortunately, only a few of those hills were really long and steep – we definitely trained on worse! This is both the longest and most incline for a single day all week. Made it in about 3:40.


Picked up our bags and set up camp close to the drop-off trucks. Scouted out water sources and bathrooms, then headed over for showers. Felt delicious!

Meandered over to St. Mary’s school for a spaghetti supper. Pasta, salad, garlic bread, and pie. Ashley got apple and more rhubarb for me. Delightful conversation with a couple of guys on the Air Force riding team.

Wandered around, past the swimming area, the band for tonight’s concert, and the vendors. Saw some cool wooden statues, a couple of hot air balloons, and an ultra-light flying over the lake.


We were a little surprised at the accidents. Saw one tandem bike at the beginning of the day with a bent front wheel – looked like it hit or was hit by a car. Another man’s front wheel got stuck in a crack on the road and he flipped over the handle bars. Plus a couple of ambulances passed us along the way. Out of 20,000+ riders, accidents are bound to happen, I suppose.


It is amazing how many people that is! You can sit for 30 minutes and have a steady stream of bikes pass you, stretching out of sight for both ways. These little towns (some 300 or less in population) are flooded. And the others swell to their limits.

Pedal Smart, Not Hard

This is the first in a series of posts sharing lessons learned while bicycling more than 1,170 miles in preparation for the RAGBRAI bicycle ride across Iowa.

This piece of advice distills what might be the most importance information that I have learned along the road. It is what made it possible for Ashley and I to ride 75 miles in a day and feel confident that we could do more (and, indeed, we plan on doing a “century ride” a week or two after the RAGBRAI – riding 100 miles in a single day).

If you look into bicycling you will notice that there are frequent mentions of pedaling cadence. Basically, the rate in which you are pedaling, measured in revolutions per minute (RPM) of the pedal. Generally speaking, 90 RPM is recommended as an average optimum speed to maximize speed while minimizing leg fatigue, and some racers aim for closer to 110 RPM. A beginner biker is commonly guessed to pedal at 70 RPM.


The way to learn your bicycling cadence is by using a cadence monitor (which is yet another piece of equipment that I have yet to feel the need for) so I have no idea what my pedaling speed is.

Pedal with your lungs

The theory is that when you use higher gears (harder to pedal) and pedal slower you are primarily using your leg muscles. While that might help you go faster or power up a hill quickly it also tires your muscles and, in the long term, slows you down.


By using lower gears (making it easier to pedal) your leg muscles don’t have to work as hard. In fact, your heart and lungs will be the limiting factor, so long as you have energy to pedal.

Pedal Fast, Not Hard

Keeping this concept in mind I experimented with different gears and discovered that, though I have no idea how fast I am pedaling, I am able to keep up my speed yet finish my ride with energy reserves by pedaling fast, not hard. 

Without a cadence monitor, my guideline is to stay in the lowest gear (easiest to pedal) that allows me to pedal without my body bouncing with each revolution.

This keeps me pedaling quickly without exhausting my legs, allowing me to maintain speed while reserving energy. This works uphill, downhill, and on flat ground. It can mean shifting more than I would like to as I stay in my ideal range, especially on slightly rolling hills.

Matthew tested, Matthew approved

This is by no means scientificly researched. Prior to learning about pedaling cadence I primarily used 3 gears of the 21 availble on my bicycle. I could ride 10 miles on my lunch break but was exhausted with wobbly legs afterward. Learning to use the entire range of gears on my bicycle allowed me to ride 10 miles on my lunch break but be energetic and ready for more at the end.

Pedal fast and use your gears, even if it means shifting more frequently than you might prefer. Your legs will thank you!

7 Lessons Learned While Riding 1,171 Miles

Since March 16, Ashley and I have ridden at least 1,170.96 miles in training for the RAGBRAI, a 7-day cross-state touring ride across Iowa that starts this Sunday (July 19th). A year and a half ago we weren’t really bike riders. I enjoyed riding casually, for fun and Ashley didn’t care for it at all.

A little more than a year ago she borrowed a mountain bike from my mom and realized she greatly enjoyed it. While planning our round-the-country RV trip we realized that there was neither a National Park nor a National Forest in Iowa and remembered a link that Mom had sent about a cross-state bicycle ride. After researching further, Ashley decided that she wanted to do it.

So we began riding with a purpose and purchased road bikes. I tracked mileage ridden on my new-to-me bicycle. Along the way, we learned a few things. Some from others, some from reading, and some the hard way.

In honor of our ride across Iowa, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned, which will be posted one per day during our ride:

  • Pedal Smart, Not Hard
  • Always Have A Spare
  • Proper Equipment Is Important
  • Eat Today, Ride Tomorrow
  • Hills Are In Your Head
  • Enjoy the Ride
  • Just Keep Pedaling

Journal entry – 18 July 2015, Sat

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Phone was turned down too low, so we slept through the alarm. Awoke to the sounds of our neighbors stirring in their van. Home-made power bars for breakfast and repacked our bags. Prepped the RV for the week (turned everything off) and went over to the bus loading area.

Long bus ride across the state, but seats are as comfy as a charter could be. Watching “Field of Dreams” along the road.

Finished up the charter about 2 miles away from the campground we wanted. (There are 3 options and we want as close to the starting point/bag truck as possible.) Coordinated with a handful of others to shuttle our bags over and ride our bikes behind the luggage van.

Tucked into a big enough campsite for everyone to fit into and set up camp. Headed over to the Expo with Jackie and Kevin, a couple we met on the shuttle. Grabbed food – beans and sausage over rice for me and a gyro for Ashley. Tasty! We checked out a few of the vendors that caught our attention, picked up our RAGBRAI patches for the ride and listened to a local band then Huey Lewis and the News. Good music and we got there early enough to snag a good spot but we have no lights on our bikes and it was nearly sunset so we headed back. Plus, it’s going to be an early day tomorrow.


Packed snacks for tomorrow and headed to bed, alarm set.

Journal entry – 17 July 2015, Fri

Journal entries are just that – the digital copy of my hand-written entries in my journal. If you aren’t interested in the daily details of our adventure, feel free to skip on to the next “regular” post.

Woke up early and started packing to head out. Finishing off the rest of the breakfast foods, topped off the fresh water and oiled the bicycles.

Headed out for WalMart to pick up a few last supplies and then on in to Davenport. Ended up arriving early and pulled into our parking lot as the kids manning it arrived. Hot and miserable!
We ate a piecemeal lunch and tried troubleshooting the fridge which isn’t turning on. No luck. Fortunately, we were already planning on eating everything we can and are basically down to condiments. So we’ll mess with it when we get back.

Walked around campus to find our bike drop-off area, then went and hid in the campus library until time to load our bicycles. Found the student center, just across from our parking lot and decided to walk downtown and explore.

Found the park where everyone was camping and then headed in to the art museum. They have free admission and air conditioning. Nice show, if not huge.

Saw some Frank Lloyd Wright pieces. Didn’t make it up to the top floor, so maybe we will head back next weekend.

Inside an art installation

I expect traffic leaving will be pretty rough – so we may just hang out until some of it clears.

Back on campus we hang out in the student center, reading. Hungry, we finally head back to the RV. There’s no air flow so it’s sweltering. We got quick, cold showers and read a bit before heading to bed. I slept on the window seat while Ashley got the bed, to help spread out body heat.

Taking Advantage of Planned Lazy Days

I woke up to the sound of rain on my roof. Which was a delightful sound this particular morning. This was our break – a day to do nothing but laze around the RV. And we’ve been waiting for it to start raining for a few weeks now.


For at least the last couple of months it feels like my wife and I have been running full blast, with after burners on. Between planning our trip, remodeling the RV, gathering supplies, winding down jobs, narrowing down personal items to fit in the RV, and selling the extras – it’s been non-stop! I kept joking that I’d finally get a break about 3 days into our trip. Apparently I was wrong – it took 5.


Three states in, two National Forests, and two National Recreation Areas later, and it was finally scheduled to rain. We settled in to our campsite and looked forward to a day of rest.


But just doing nothing is hard! The rain let up in the mid-afternoon and both of us mentioned that we could get in today’s training bike ride, or run to the grocery store on the motorcycle, or maybe go for a hike. But we adamantly said no, we have been planning a sit-at-home day for some time now, and we are going to take full advantage of it.


So we have. After sleeping in we ate breakfast while watching most of our neighbors pack up and head out, back to their every-day lives (it was a rainy Sunday at a state campground). Then we enjoyed our coffee and tea and soaked in the scenes out our windows. Eventually we looked through some paperwork that we had been collecting during our travels and took care of a couple easy chores inside the RV.


As the sun peeked out we strolled down the trail and checked out a historic cabin and meandered down the shore of Lake Michigan briefly before heading back to our cozy home. Then it was time to put together some chili for supper, eat, and later have some popcorn as an early evening snack.


Throughout the day, we both had to remind the other that it was our day off. We have definitely gotten into the habit of always doing something. Fortunately we have been planning for a break for a few weeks now and helped each other stick to that plan.


We definitely needed a break. The Good Lord knew what he was doing when he appointed a day of rest each week. After our day of rest, we are both exited about tomorrow. Which is good, because we have a 30-mile bike ride, a 250′ dune to climb, and more!