Something is Calling Me

fullsizeoutput_91e.jpegSomething is calling to me from the corners of fields, where the leftover fence wire suns its loosen coils, and stones thrown out of the furrow sleep in the warm litters  

from Ted Kooser, In the Corners of the Fields

Ted Kooser, Iowa native and poet, takes me to the fields of the Midwest and calls to me. That happens to those with an adventuresome spirit. The spirit that cannot contain the mind with practical matters – like saving for retirement – when adventure raises its beckoning voice. It happened last month when we undertook the challenge of RAGBRAI and rode our way – on a tandem no less – from Onawa on the bank of the Missouri River to Davenport, Iowa, on the edge of the Mississippi – the only spot on the mighty Mississippi that flows east to west. (Put that nugget in your trivia vault.)   Continue reading

RAGBRAI: It’s more than corn

IMG_7910I simply cannot do an adventure without a food issue. RAGBRAI is about the cycling across Iowa — the challenge of the miles, the wind, camping, and much more — but it is also about the food. The Midwest has not traditionally been known for the cuisine it provides, but I am here to report from the road, that Iowa shucks more than corn.

That said, corn has its place. First and foremost, it has its place on most every expanse of land across this beautiful state. However, very few of the stalks that we rode past were for human enjoyment. 99.9% — or so we were told by the hobby farmer on the carbon fiber bike next to us — is feed corn. One third for fuel, one third for export, and one third for img_8024-2.jpg
livestock. But when you find the sweet corn, which is easy enough, it is sweet and juicy and melts in your mouth along with the butter it’s been bathed in.

img_7797.jpgWe heard most about the pork, as in pork chops, pork on a stick, and pork ribs. You can smell the smokers from a mile away. Since I’m not a pig consumer, I can only appreciate the various comical pig characters which are rather creative.

IMG_8038Like most any trip I have taken, I came on this one in search of the pie. I know Iowa to grow two of the best vegetables: corn and rhubarb. Yes, rhubarb is a vegetable. Mixed with sugar or tossed with strawberries and most people tend to forget this. But in Iowa it does not matter if you call it a fruit or vegetable, because it grows like a weed.

We consumed pie every day. That pretty much sums up a successful trip! But it was all done in the vein of research. There was the rhubarb strawberry from the Lutheran Women’s Group in Manning and that was good and if you have a decent dental plan to replace your sugared teeth that is even better. Bless their hearts. There were other ‘good looking’ pies from the pass through towns and the various home bakers, but once we discovered the Amish Pies (yep, that P gets a capital) it was hands down a favorite. Of course, you cannot judge on one slice alone, so the research was a part of each day’s route.

IMG_8037There was the raspberry with seeds dotting the oozing red river of fruit. The straight up rhubarb was tart and complimented by the oat crust. The gooseberry was a new one for me — super tart with the plump golden berries pushing up the well-trimmed flour crust. There was also the dutch apple which just melted in your mouth like a sun laden fourth of July afternoon. However, it was the strawberry rhubarb that was my blue ribbon favorite. Maybe a measure of nostalgia goes into my decision. Regardless, it was the best. And, the Amish are the best at it in this part of the country.

Each day, they set up their mobil oven and the matriarch gets busy rolling out the dough, filling the pies, and extracting them to be placed in the handcrafted, cherry wood pie IMG_7869safe. There the pies cool and then cut into lovely slices of heavenly goodness for the mass of cyclists to consume. IMG_7985

The only way to top this slice is by adding a scoop of Amish vanilla CREAM ice cream. It is churned on site by the one cylinder tractor engine.

Of course, it has not been all about sweet pie. There has been other pie: Pizza Pie. We discovered Dang Brothers Fire Roasted Pizza at the expo in Onawa. That’s where it all began for us. From there we enjoyed our daily intake of pie x 2: One sweet and one savory. The savory creation from Dang Brothers comes Kevin and his wonderful crew out of San Diego, CA. Kevin has Iowa ties and has come to RAGBRAI for several years and has ridden it a few years. After a career in the Marines, he went to architecture school. When he saw an old fire truck for sale, he bought it. To justify the rather curious purchase of a retired fire truck to his wife, he designed and built a wood fire oven in the back of the fire truck. Ingenious really! IMG_7941

Our daily routine became coffee by camp stove with a dish of yogurt and fruit. That reignited our ever-growing tired cycling legs to pedal strong to our first pie. A breakfast of a delicious margarita pizza with fire roasted tomatoes was complimented by a cup of java which refueled us just right. After that satiation, we pedaled on until we caught sight of the Amish Pie folks. A sit, a chat with fellow cyclists, and then a sweet smile.IMG_8027

That is some kind of living!

And, living on the Iowa cyclist’s diet of pies, pies, pies with a few ears of corns, a couple of light beers is as good a way to spend a summer week as I can think.


RAGBRAI: Communicating Our Way Through

IMG_8058Yesterday finished Day Five of RAGBRAI and we found ourselves in the small (2,000 population small) town of Sigourney, Iowa. One grocer, one diner, and two bars but no communication signal. It was rather refreshing to be off line and out of touch for a bit. Yet, at RAGBRAI you are never truly out of touch since there are around 20,000 other latex clad two wheeling folks around you most of the time. That said, it has only felt too crowded when we have gone to the main gathering spots late in the day.

While most riders are on single bikes there are several tandems out there and we are one of them. The tandem is a loner from friends Frank and Sue in California and the only way I knew I’d make it through 428 miles with John aka RC (Real Cyclist). He could not leave me behind. To ride a tandem takes practice but even more, it takes communication.

Communication. Hmmm. There is something we might all consider practicing. Continue reading

RAGBRAI: Beginners Welcome

fullsizeoutput_85aDay Four on the bike and 62 miles done with a total of 260 miles completed. By now, I feel a bit more comfortable on the back end of the tandem, but remain on the front end of feeling like a true beginner cyclist. And, that I believe is a good thing.

At RAGBRAI there are many traditions — like dipping your tires into the Missouri River at the western boarder of Iowa and then in the Mississippi River at the eastern boarder. If you are a first time rider, you write VIRGIN on the back of your leg. Folks do not tease you for that. They welcome you and give you advice and a heads up about where to get the best pie and which ice cream purveyor to pursue.

If a beginner is wise, she will not compare RAGBRAI to other rides or challenges but rather listen, appreciate, and stay open to that which she cannot possibly know. That’s part of the magic of RAGBRAI and it is a part of the necessary way to fully live this life.

Be a beginner whenever you can.  Continue reading

RAGBRAI: I Could Live Here

IMG_7809Day Three of RAGBRAI and we made our way from Jefferson to Ames — winding through the American main street towns of Grand Junction, Dana, Ogden and Boone. Boone was our first stop, yet again deciding to bypass the beer garden at 8:30am, but opting for pizza pie breakfast around 10am. Boone, Iowa is a town looking to grow and has jobs to offer and space for businesses to expand. Unemployment is low but the friendliness, cleanliness, and open space is high. The town goes down as home of the highest and longest double track railroad bridge. Unfortunately, it is no longer in use but still available to check out. Additionally, the head of the chamber of commerce in Boone told us the town is expanding their bike trails so that a future RAGBRAI route can include this several mile trail through an arboretum and state park. IMG_7863

The kindness and livability in each town causes us to repeat: I could live here.  Continue reading

RAGBRAI: Pie and Rye Day

IMG_7806.JPGWhen I read about the individual days of RAGBRAI, the second day stood out because of distance. For many cyclists 72 miles does not cause a bat of an eye. For me both eyes bat for several minutes. I actually have never been on a bike for that many miles. I’ve come close, so it did not seem impossible, but it also did not seem like anything to take for granted. Since we’re on a tandem, I’m not sure I can claim to have now ridden that far. How does that work? I’m on the bike for the miles, but hardly offering up the same effort as the single rider. Regardless, the miles are behind us (75 in total today!) and I can now smile and relax with my showered self and take in the returning riders, of which there are many. But while on the bike, we took in more than the miles, we took in the offerings of the host towns along the route. For those uninitiated, RAGBRAI has often been denoted as the traveling Woodstock. There are campgrounds filled with a multitude of folks, plenty-o-plenty of liquid refreshments, and music all day long.

However, the stops along the route make RAGBRAI a true experience. Continue reading

RAGBRAI: Claiming our Adventure

Every town has a claim. A unique feature that allows them to stand out, take pride, or simply have something to put on a t-shirt. Iowa towns are no different and yet unique. (Wait, is that an oxymoron? I claim to be famous for them). While Iowa towns offer a few curious claims, I claim they are hands down some of the friendliest folks in the entire country.

Yesterday was the kick off to RAGBRAI – Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa – in the town on Onawa. Know what its claim is? Onawa has the widest Main Street in all of America. Oh wait, you didn’t know that was up for claiming? Well, apparently it is. That’s not all Onawa offers. Continue reading


img_7579.jpgWhose idea was this, anyway? The question bounces around like bike tires on a pothole ridden street. We volley back and forth with who should take responsibility. Responsibility for what? For RAGBRAI! Your next question: What’s that? The long and the short of it: a bike ride which involves a crowd, cornfields, and the expanse of Iowa. Continue reading