Tips For The 2010 Ragbrai Ride - The Mike Jones Contrarian Viewpoint
I will start you out in the morning and take you through my typical day. You, of course, can alter it any way you wish. This is simply what I do. This is my 29th consecutive RAGBRAI, so I do have some experience. I've always ridden a recumbent, a tandem, or a road bike. All of these have narrow, high-pressure, skinny tires with low rolling resistance. That means they are fast and cover the distance easily. Do not ride a big fat tire bicycle, unless you like to torture yourself with the excessive energy output that those bicycles require.
After a good night sleep you get ready to go. Some use ear plugs. I use at least a 4 man tent that I can stand up in, if I get a cramp. But I’m probably older than you. I do like to keep my bicycle in my tent with me. Bicycles are stolen on RAGBRAI. The dew is usually heavy in the morning. Some use a plastic bag over their bike saddles left outside overnight. You need "dew proof" shoes. I usually use waterproof sandals. If you use tennis shoes and socks, they will get wet, and ferment in the heat of the day in your bag. In fact most things that are wet in the morning (including your tent) will be fermenting in their containers when you open them at the end of your day's ride.
Most people hit the portable toilets or KYBOS (KYBO stands for Keep Your Bowels Open) around six o'clock in the morning. Since a lot of people leave in the early morning, their noise, flashlights and clicking of the tent poles usually wake me up around five o'clock or so. That is the time to go to KYBO, while they are taking down their tent. There is usually a short or no line at that time. Otherwise you would need to wait till after 7:30 AM or so, unless you want to wait in line. There is also a chance they may run out of toilet paper. Always take a packet of wet ones and a roll of toilet paper with you to the KYBO. Actually, if you find a KYBO out of paper, that is good; because you have your own and no one will be using an out of paper KYBO. The Register has been very good generally with KYBOS, emptying them frequently and supplying the needed materials. But you just never know. For males, an empty wide mouth Gatorade bottle can be kept in your tent all night. I needn't tell you what it is for. And, many times I will use the shadows of the night rather than walk all the way to a KYBO.
Choose your riding clothes for each morning. If you don't wear a good pair of bicycle shorts, you are just plain stupid. There are various ways to pack your clothes in your bags. One that I especially like is a Ziploc bag for each day. The sox, the shorts, the jersey are in each individual bag. All you have to do is open up one and take the clothes out. The same thing can be done for night wear. Put your old riding clothes in the Ziploc bag with a dryer sheet. It will make them smell better when you get home, unless you're one of those who want to reuse his clothing during RAGBRAI by laundering.
All manner of things can be put on your bottom. I think I've tried them all. The best combination I have found is Equate triple antibiotic ointment and clotrimazole antifungal cream, all from Wal-Mart. Just make sure to slather up your soft parts and contact parts between you, your shorts, and the bicycle seat. Then get your bike ready to go and pack all the things that you think you are going to use for the day. Then I pack my bags. Then I take down my tent. I always wear my bicycle gloves to do this. After the tent is packed, and the bags are put in the truck, I take off my dew proof shoes, use my sunscreen (I like bullfrog factor 35 gel), put my jersey on, and stow my dew proof shoes (usually in the tent bag, so I can take my bicycle shoes off when I am putting up my tent). Make sure your tire pressure is good, and that you have your sunglasses and rear view mirror and helmet.
On my road bike I take little with me. For money you can always buy something you need on RAGBRAI. I have a stripped-down billfold with an old driver's license, insurance card, and money in my right jersey pocket (I always wear bicycle jerseys). Sometimes I will carry it in a Ziploc bag for rain or sweat, and some people simply use only a Ziploc bag as their billfold. I also always carry a Ziploc bag with a small half used packet of baby wipes and a paper towel. In my left pocket I'll carry a tube of Chapstick, and occasionally a travel sized bottle of sanitizer. The bike bag only has the minimal amount of tools needed to change a tire, or minimally service the bicycle. Keep it light. I do carry an extra tube and a patch kit. Many times I will carry an ultralight jacket, because the mornings can be cool. If it is not actually raining, I carry a folded up garbage bag. If you are caught in the rain, wear the garbage bag against your skin of your torso. Put your jersey on over the garbage bag. You're going to be wet, no matter what, and the garbage bag keeps you warm. Modulate how warm it is by how much of it you tear off; usually in the back. If you don't carry one, any store or eating establishment will give you one. Fill your water bottles as you need them. Usually I only carry one water bottle full, as the towns are 7 to 10 miles apart, and you can always get something to drink in that distance (why carry extra weight if you aren’t going to use it?). If it is really hot, pour the bottle over your head instead of drinking it.
I leave as late as they will let me. The main pack is always ahead of you leaving around six o'clock or so. I don't like heavy traffic, because of crashes, and long lines. Besides your helmet, always ride with gloves and a rearview mirror on your sunglasses or helmet. If you have the mirror on your bicycle, it will only get broken.
We always rode through the towns. Over the last five years or so, everyone gets off their bikes at the start of the town, and walks their bike all the way through the town. I don't like this, but there really is no way around it. However, it does necessitate having a pair of shoes that you can walk a mile or so in. I used to use standard road shoes with cleats. These are hard to walk in, and now I wear mountain bike shoes with recessed cleats.
With a contrarian view you do not want to stand in line for anything. Therefore, I eat my breakfast rolls and V-8 juice or whatever in my tent in the morning. Then I ride 10 to 15 miles before stopping for brunch, which is typically at the pork chop man. I take caffeine pills in the morning instead of coffee, but you do your thing if you like lines. Some towns will have breakfast right there at your camp before you leave. If you're lucky enough to have this, then you won't have a line because you're leaving around eight. I find the pork chops work well if the temperature is not much over 90°. If hotter, the fat can slow you up. To clean your hands, strip the condensation off the cold drink that you have; wash your hands in it and wipe it on your paper towel. Most concessions have paper towels for a fresh one. Paper towels are tougher than paper napkins, which usually fall apart with use.
The ride is yours. I don't know why people want to talk on cell phones or walkie-talkies all the time. I usually talk to people I'm next to, or just ride. Never ride right behind someone. They may fall and take you down. A fall can happen in an instant, and the rider usually doesn't know it is going to happen until they are down. Never run parallel to cracks. Cracks are the most common cause of falls. Any crack with green vegetation in it is especially dangerous because it is deep. Also, always try to cross railroad tracks at a right angle (it's called squaring them up). Tracks can easily drop you, especially if they are wet. Wet pavement, especially the first few minutes of the rain, is also particularly slick. Always ride as far to the right of the road as possible, and use your rearview mirror constantly. Blend and act like traffic, just like you are driving a car. Running steep downs, you are usually coasting. Always have your hands deep into the drops of the bars, and do not ride with your hands up on the brake hoods, like when you were just cruising. If you lose control, you will not be able to get your hands in the down position and on the brakes properly to lower your center of gravity, and will probably fall. Again, stay as much to the right as possible, but be aware of passing or overtaking riders. Tandems especially will whiz by you. Never think you are the fastest person on the down, there is always someone faster coming up behind you. If the hills are close together, try to maintain your bottom speed up the other side, getting out of the saddle and powering over the next hill. That's called cruising the rollers.
Graze during the ride. Don't eat some big meal and ride off. You probably won't ride well, and if it is a hot day you may get sick. If your body is spending too much energy digesting your food, you won't have energy to run your muscles. Muscle activity takes precedence over digestion, so if you eat too much you will probably get sick. You need to eat something with a little substance, but during the ride I stay bigger on carbohydrate. You can load up again later at night on other things when you're off the bike. You should also be drinking about every 15 minutes, and I don't mean beer. If it is over 90°, I never go by a snow cone stand without having one. Or else something cold like a Smoothie. Heat exhaustion can sneak up on you, and you won't realize it. Eating something with ice helps reverse this.
You may have to eliminate waste on the ride. Yes, cornfields are good for this, but only if there has not been rain. It is very comical to see riders come out of a cornfield after a rain. You may get mud up to your knees. Being a male, if the fields are wet, I find old buildings in towns or bushes are the best places for a number one. But remember, if caught, you could be a sentenced as a registered sex offender for your exposition. You carry the baby wipes for things that happen out on the road. You want that bottom clean when you pull the bike shorts back up. Portable toilets can be good if you see one out of the way of the general group of riders. They also tend to be very hot in the sun. I try to use flush toilets as possible. Some of the best ones: Banks, feed stores, mortuaries, libraries, government buildings (always go up at least one floor, there is no line up there), parks, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, and fast food. You always want to go where someone would either not think of going, or would be embarrassed to go there.
I watch the signs along the road as I'm coming into the host town, to see what meals the churches have. I like to eat at churches. They always run out of food, Don't believe them when they say they have enough. The rule is: You have to be in line by 5 PM and eating by 6 PM, or you won't get a church meal. I always ride my bicycle, I do not take the shuttle; and I always eat before I take a shower. If you take the shuttle, you can get in an endless loop as the food runs out. I will stop at a grocery store and get something for breakfast, before coming to either my tent or dinner. I carry a rudimentary knapsack for this, which folds up smaller than the palm of my hand. I have ridden into camp with plastic bags, but it's tricky, and probably dangerous.
After dinner it is later in the day and usually cooler for setting up your tent. If you shower right away, you only sweat again. The churches are usually air-conditioned. If they aren't or the air conditioning can't keep up, you are already hot and sweaty from your ride. After putting up your tent, and probably having a cool one, you can go to dinner, if you came in early; way before five o'clock. Anyway, after dinner and putting up your tent, it is time for your shower.
The solar showers are fine. If you can't use those, the host showers need to be used either early or late, otherwise you will have a long line and a cold shower. In the old days we used to just to go to people's houses. If you do this, always go as a couple, like a husband and wife. It is harder for them to turn you down, than if it is a group of guys. And if you come in hot and it is over 90°, really what you want is their garden hose anyway. So when they reject you for the shower, ask for the garden hose. Because they rejected you for the shower, they always feel guilty and let you have the hose, which is what you wanted in the first place. A hose shower is a tradition on RAGBRAI, and feels really good if it's over 90° and you're hot and sweaty. The idea is to finish all of the sweat activity before your shower. Typically, the main crowd will come into town, shower, put up their tent, and then go eat; riding the shuttle. That's why you, the contrarian, do not want to follow this regimen.
If you have enough energy for the host town festivities, either hitch a ride uptown or take the shuttle (which is usually so hot that you sweat again); which usually cost money. Conversely, you can ride your bike, but then you better be able to lock it up. Also remove anything that can be stolen from it. I usually graze at night in the host town, but not being a big beer drinker, I will be in bed by 10:30 PM or so.
In your tent it is nice to have a battery-powered portable fan. I use several when it is hot, but the night can also be cold, into the upper 40s. Typically I will start out hot, and wake up cold around 2:30 AM or so, and pull my bag over me then. I sleep on a low cot, but I see blowup mattresses are in fashion. Unless you have a completely leak proof tent, it is nice to be up off of the tent floor where the water is. I also keep an "absorber" towel to sop up the water. I also use one as my towel, as a regular towel will usually never dry completely on RAGBRAI, and will ferment. The same for your tennis shoes and socks. That's why you need sandals or "dew proof" shoes. Dew or rain, your feet will always be wet in the morning.
I always tell people that if they have done 300 good miles on their bicycle before RAGBRAI they will be able to do the whole ride. Now knowing the above, I'm sure you'll have a good time, too.