I miss all the people, the fun, the excitement, and the local color of Iowa.
I was fine the first three days of this week, perhaps because I bike commuted to work and didn’t drive my car at all. I also spent some time organizing pictures and posting/tagging them on social media.
Today I had to drive to work because I have a couple of errands to run this afternoon. I don’t really mind driving now that I live in Madison and I am a lot closer to work. But it was a reminder of car culture and my general disdain for it. Of course, someone in a big black SUV had to add insult to injury by racing up to within inches of my bumper and tailgating me on an exit ramp. I did what I always do to douche nuggets of this nature, I slowed down to exactly the speed limit. Naturally, the first chance they had to swerve around me and race off, they took. Goodbye and good riddance.
RAGBRAI is a different kind of vacation, because it is much more intensely a vacation from life as you have come to know it the other 51 weeks of the year. There are far fewer creature comforts (although when you find them, like lodging in someone’s air conditioned basement or finding high speed Internet, they are highly desirable and compelling). You are more exposed to weather and the elements. There is a degree of risk riding a bike on open rural highways, although your sense of security is increased by the presence of thousands of other like-minded bicyclists all around you. The presence of said cyclists also makes access to communication media far less reliable, so even though you can often find sources of power for smart phones, handheld devices, and even tablets (if you can afford to transport such luxuries on the ride), the competition for bandwidth on the information superhighway available in rural Iowa is so intense that these devices become functionally useless for more than rudimentary communication (even texting is delayed, and in a tight situation, you are better served resorting to a good old fashioned phone call, if you can get through). Because you are camping out at night and mostly riding a bike all day, there is very little exposure to depressing and sensationalistic mainstream media. When you stop at various establishments to rest, there might be sports or news on a TV, but unless it is visual media, like weather, the cacophony created by a room full of rowdy bikers makes paying attention to media a futile task. There are far more entertaining things to pay attention to. The daily mileages of the bike ride and the stamina required puts most of your focus on supporting your group or team and seeking ample hydration and nutrition, so the impact of the world’s external happenings, as filtered through a selective mass media bias, become almost trivial. Local news and weather become a higher priority, and most of the relevant news for a RAGBRAI rider comes via word of mouth from other riders (and should thus be assessed very skeptically). In general, on RAGBRAI there is no need for mainstream media news or entertainment. There is plenty of live entertainment to see on RAGBRAI anywhere you look, music, costumes, local flavors and colors, food. News has a negligible impact on your life during RAGBRAI, unless the news is happening to you directly, in which case you don’t need radio or TV because you will already have first-hand knowledge. Generally speaking, this can be said of news and mainstream media in everyday life as well, but when you are in your comfort zone and lacking the onslaught of stimuli provided by a Mardi Gras-like event such as RAGBRAI, your mind seeks stimulation through the media, which in turn establishes the social cues on which you view the world, often as a very depressing and violent place. RAGBRAI allows you to purge your mind of all that negativity and come closer to seeing the world as it really is, pretty safe and generally fun. There were kittens and puppies too.
We did have a guy on our team break his foot (not biking, but getting out of a pool). Also, we heard about a couple of people dying on the ride from natural causes and some bikers being hit by a drunk driver (no deaths there though, thank goodness). But there were no mass shootings. No terrorist plots. As far as I know, all the airplanes that transported people to and from RAGBRAI took off and landed safely, none of them mysteriously vanishing. We did encounter a bridge that had mysteriously vanished, by way of either flooding or the Langoliers, as we tried to shortcut our way back to the bike route after finding some of the aforementioned desirably air conditioned basement lodging in a town a few miles off the actual RAGBRAI route. Our bike team had only one flat tire that I know of during the week, fixed in a matter of minutes. I am pretty sure there was gay as well as heterosexual loving happening in the privacy of tents at night, and I would not be surprised if some of this DID jeopardize the sanctity of marriage for some people (what happens on RAGBRAI…) and possibly raise the rate of abortions post-RAGBRAI slightly. No one was asked for their Green Card. Even the State Troopers turned somewhat of a blind eye to the open carrying of alcoholic beverages outside of designated areas. I saw the troopers carting a woman off in cuffs the first night, but I believe she was one of the local townsfolk and not a RAGBRAIers. Everyone pretty much lived and let live. A couple times, I did feel like the Iowa locals were a bit put off by the RAGBRAIers, but 99% of the time, I felt like they embraced us and were glad for the large influx of cold hard cash. RAGBRAI certainly was not cheap and if I were to have a complaint, it would be that there are too many charlatan vendors charging exorbitant prices for food and drink, because they know they can. This may be RAGBRAI’s fault for charging the vendors exorbitant fees to vend, which the latter have to recoup in order to generate a profit.
Anyway, I just needed to ramble on a bit about RAGBRAI to try to suppress my withdrawal symptoms. They will pass. RAGBRAI’s insights have suggested some positive changes I can implement in my life, like minimizing my exposure to poisonous mainstream media and not getting too bent out of shape about it when I am exposed. I also want to keep biking and stay fit, maybe even go for a run now and then. I also need to eat healthier, if only to purify from the not so healthy foods I consumed on RAGBRAI. I ate at McDonalds twice during RAGBRAI, which is two times more than I eat there the rest of the year (although I do own their stock, because I am no fool and I realize a lot of people are addicted to fast food). It was fast, cheap, and convenient - all the things that make it a blight on society most of the time were a plus on RAGBRAI. Plus, they have decent and strong-ish coffee and that is hard to come by on RAGBRAI too.
On Tuesday of RAGBRAI, we biked some extra miles along the RAGBRAI route to make it to Clear Lake IA, where we had some pretty sweet and cushy digs. Because of that we experienced "future RAGBRAI" before thousands of bikers violated the route with their excessiveness.
Do you remember that Stephen King story, "The Langoliers?" At the end, they arrive in the future and have to wait for the present to catch up. That is kind of what it was like. But earlier in the story, they are transported into the past, where the Langoliers eat everything.
This morning, we spent some time in "past RAGBRAI," because we overnighted off the route and had to catch up with the ride. So we saw a bit of the route a day later after it was "dead," and there were no more bikers.
Adding to the effect is that we tried to shortcut and catch up with the ride, but were prevented because a bridge was out...no doubt consumed by the Langoliers.
Eventually we caught up to the ride and all was well.