'Bike on!': A microcosm of RAGBRAI along C63

East of US Highway 59, at the top of yet another hill, I stopped at a roadside vendor set up in a short dirt lane. Even though I stopped five miles before in Quimby, I needed another break, needed to cool down and rest. It had been a long, hot, and hilly day. And it was far from over — even after nine hours and 50-some miles since dipping my back tire in the Missouri River. I still had 20 or 30 miles — probably three hours — more to ride before reaching Storm Lake, RAGBRAI XLIII’s first overnight city.

I laid my bike in the grass, took a leak out of sight by rows of circular hay bails, and fished a cold Powerade from my pannier. I sat in a lawn chair underneath a low-hung tarp that was propped up with poles in the front and the vendor’s truck in the back. It felt good to be out of the sun. Without a cloud in the sky, it had been unrelenting all day. It baked me from above. The heat radiating off the concrete highways baked me from below. I held the Powerade bottle to one wrist and then the other, something my uncle had told me to do to cool down. My head was pounding and had been since the day before. I was well hydrated, but probably had not eaten enough. And there was something in my left eye. I assumed it was sunscreen, but wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, I could not ease the burning sensation no matter how much I tried wiping it clean with my shirt.

Two women walked down the lane toward the trees and tall grass near the fence line. When they dropped their pants and peed they were not completely out of sight. At that point in the day, though, nobody seemed to have the energy to care.

What the hell have I gotten myself into? I thought. Why am I doing this to myself?

Ambulances had passed me multiple times throughout the day, sirens blaring.

I might die today, I thought. I might die riding my bike. Am I dying? Am I overheating? Is this what dying feels like?

A middle-aged man and his son entered the makeshift tent and sat in the two chairs next to me. After a minute the older man said, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” He called his wife. “I’m done,” he said again. He arranged for her to pick him up down the hill along US 59.

I looked at my bike laying on its side in the grass next to others. Getting picked up sounded like a very good idea. I thought of the SAG wagon, which had passed me as much as the ambulances, hauling exhausted and injured riders and their bikes to the next town or overnight city. Before leaving the campground in Sioux City that morning, Doug, our support guy, told me, “It’s okay to sag. There’s no shame in sagging.”

Should I do it? Should I turn my bike over on the left side of the road, like the RAGBRAI manual instructed, and wait for the next SAG wagon to pick me up, rescue me from this self-inflicted torture on two-wheels?

It was tempting — oh so tempting. I let the thought turn over in my mind as I sat, holding the Powerade bottle to one wrist and then the other, taking sips after each rotation. After a few minutes, the middle-aged man’s son got up and told his dad, “I’m gonna keep going.”

“You sure?”


Keep going. I took a deep breath. That’s what I’m going to do. Keep going.

No shame in sagging? Yes there was — to me, at least. I couldn’t sag. I didn’t do all that training to let the first day beat me. Sure, it was kicking my ass, but I wasn’t going to quit, wasn’t going to give up.

Having sat for 20 minutes in the shade, I no longer felt like I was baking. I stood, finished the Powerade, and put the empty bottle in my pannier. I lifted my bike off the grass, turned it around, and guided it past the vendor to the highway. I watched for a break in the bikes before climbing onto the saddle. “Bike on!” I yelled, then started pedaling down the road once again.

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