RAGBRAI Withdrawal Ramblings

I am having a delayed RAGBRAI withdrawal today.

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.


RAGBRAI DAY 8 - Post RAGBRAI Revelations

Sherry and I set our alarms for 7 AM this morning...except that I somehow set mine for 5:01 AM next Saturday, which benefitted no one. Luckily, I have a pretty good internal clock and actually woke myself up at 6:58, which allowed me to whiz before everyone else got up and usurped the bathroom at Jason Hosch's parents' house in Aplington IA, where we lodged on Saturday night after successfully completing RAGBRAI 2014.

We hit the road in my car, loaded up with our spent RAGBRAI gear, about 8:30 and made our way back to Wisconsin, stopping in Madison to unload at my house before continuing on to Oshkosh to retrieve our dogs from Todd, who was pet sitting for us while we rode our bikes across the state of Iowa for a week. We got a late lunch at the New Moon Cafe in Oshkosh and then collected our dogs and left. Sherry went to Waukesha and I went back to Madison, picking Buddy up at the kennel en route.

I was home by 6 PM and spent some time unpacking and balancing my checkbook before heading to the open jam at Funk's Pub in Fitchburg WI, seeming to have achieved a second wind. The only thing I could think about driving back from Oshkosh was a power nap, in between bouts of dozing off at the wheel. But that feeling had passed once I completed some tasks and realized that RAGBRAI had not drained my bank account, notwithstanding the numerous charlatans on the bike ride poised to fully do so.

RAGBRAI is expensive and increasingly so this year. The charlatan vendors have no scruples in exploiting thirsty hungry cyclists who have no other option than to pay their exorbitant fees. If you are keen, you can find the good samaritan vendors, but it is not easy. Sometimes if you bike into a town late in the day, as we did on Friday due to waiting out morning rain, you can find deals as vendors seek to reduce inventory at cost. $5 pb&j's are unacceptable, yet fully sanctioned by the RAGBRAI organizers, who should all be sacked in my opinion.

None the less, RAGBRAI is always somewhat revelatory and life changing for me. It inspires a very positive outlook on life that compels participation in the event annually. However, the charlatans preclude me from attending more than semi-annualy (which I think means every two years).

One revelation comes from not driving a car for a week and realizing how far you can get on a bike in a week if you are of a mind to. I had to drive the support vehicle a couple times on RAGBRAI due to a lack of a dedicated support driver (something I would like to remedy next RAGBRAI). And I also sagged a few miles in the minivan (courtesy of Team Crazy Bird leader Jason Hosch's dad) too, but not many. Even so, driving on peaceful and virtually empty rural Iowa roads is not much of a challenge. It was when I returned to city driving in Madison that I realized what a wretched thing it is to drive a car. I fully plan to maximize my biking going forward, and minimize my automobile use. That is revelation number one.

Now that I have moved to Madison, it should be considerably easier. I will still need my car for band gigs and road trips to cool places. But there are a lot of things I do not need it for anymore.

Another revelation is the importance of not taking life too seriously. This ties in with another revelation, that mainstream news media is depressing and soul-sucking. When you are biking across a state and camping out at night with minimal technology, you don't waste what access to media you have on useless mainstream news. It is hard enough to find power for charging a smart phone at night, and wasting juice on news media is foolhardy. Your smart phone becomes your medium. You take pictures and videos of all the cool things you see on a big circus-like event like RAGBRAI, but surfing extraneous goings on in the world that don't impact you at all just uses up your technological resources.

But when you carry that to its logical conclusion, you realize there is no reason to access mainstream media in every day life either. Think of your mind as having finite bandwidth and limited power, like a smart phone. If you expend your mind on useless nonsense, like bickering about pointless sh!t on Facebook, that is brain power you can't expend on useful things like creativity and having fun and self-actualizing. In my lifestyle coaching classes, I often make participants do an exercise where they try to abolish all mainstream media from their lives for a fortnight. No TV or radio. Internet for entertainment media only, not news and information. Very few can achieve it, even though some of these same individuals can sustain a 21-day dietary purification program where they avoid all processed foods and eat only natural whole foods from the produce section of the grocery store. Mainstream media is the equivalent of dietary junk food, and once people grasp that, it is a real life changer for them.

The fact is, most news has zero impact on your life. Unless you are directly involved in events happening in the news, they are external to you. And if you are involved in newsworthy events, you already know what they are and don't need the media to explain it to you. Some useful information might be the weather if you are planning to be outside (and you should) and traffic if you are planning to drive somewhere (and you should not). But the rest of the topics covered in the news media are basically fear mongering and downright depressing.

A personal revelation I had is to focus on being more active, and especially athletic and outdoorsy. I am that way already, but not in a focused way. I want to be more actively active, rather than passively so, although passive activity is still beneficial and I won't stop that kind of activity. Perhaps a bit more time with weights in the gym though, to help burn more calories.

I also had a revelation that I want to rock RAGBRAI, literally. I want to organize a band road trip out to Iowa in late July next year and perform at some of the RAGBRAI pass through towns, maybe set up on the top of some team busses and perform for cyclists going by, especially in places where there is a dearth of live music. It would be guerilla rocking in the sense that it would not be sanctioned (or funded) by RAGBRAI's charlatans. But it would provide a much needed resource, rock-n-roll, for free.

It would not be the first time I have participated in the provision of rock-n-roll to RAGBRAI audiences. in 2002 and 2006, my bike team, TEAM CRAZY BIRD, had a full band on board and we brought the gear with us to rock several impromptu venues along the route. The first of these was a VFW in Cherokee IA in 2002. We rolled up and asked the proprietor if he would like to have some totally free rock-n-roll in his venue. He agreed, and ended up giving us $50 because we rocked it so hard and kept so many people in the bar. TEAM CRAZY BIRD ROCKS (our hastily derived band name) also played on top of the TEAM DLO bus. That bike team had a platform mounted on the top of the bus that was perfect for rocking. We ran an extension cord to a nearby house for power and rocked all the bikers going past on the route. We actually rode through that very same town on RAGBRAI this year, as well as another town, Westgate, that was an "off the route" party stop on RAGBRAI 2002, where we also performed. This year, we had a little reunion rock show in Westgate, on the very corner of the block that we rocked in 2002, while competing with a jealous DJ (our support driver had to unplug him twice for violating the truce we had established with him...alternating 3 songs each).

TEAM CRAZY BIRD typically rides RAGBRAI at most every other year, so I thought, "In the off years, maybe I can just go out and rock the event." I have a buddy in Ames IA that is a rocker. He might be interested, and he could also provide a base camp for when the RAGBRAI route passed through areas near Ames. We could basically get up early, haul ass to the preselected town (or farmhouse on the route) we wanted to rock, play for a few hours, and then return to Ames (or even camp out). It would not be a money maker, but we would gain immense exposure with over 20,000 official and unofficial RAGBRAI participants. In addition, we would not need a huge setlist of songs due to the rapid turnover in cyclists going by on the route. We could basically just have a 2 hour set and repeat it two or three times each day, depending on demand and attendance. We could also ask for tips and sell some merch for funding along the way. When you are wearing a wet, sweaty, smelly bike jersey, a clean dry band t-shirt to change into later is just the ticket.

I don't know, maybe it is a pipe dream, but I think if it were well organized and planned in advance, we could totally unleash. I need to find some musicians willing to do it in exchange for extreme fun, rather than money. The VALUE would be priceless, even if it was a net financial loss. Let's face it, RAGBRAI is a net financial loss vacation for everyone (thanks charlatans!). It would be far cheaper to rock it than to ride it, and equally as fun, if not more so. Who is with me here?

I probably had some more revelations, but they escape me now. The main ones were:

1. Don't worry, be happy.
2. Live a good and wholesome life to the fullest.
3. Avoid downers.
4. Bike more.
5. Rock at all times.


RAGBRAI DAY 6 - The Langoliers

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.