I recently finished my first Ragbrai (Ride Across Iowa) and here are some of the best moments. I was fortunate enough to ride with Lance Armstrong on 5 different occasions during his 6 days of Ragbrai. By the end of the week, I began to think I might be a LanceAlcoholic or even a stalker, but more about that later…

Day 0, Dubuque to Rock Rapids, 375 miles

Most of Team Conundrum gathered in Dubuque Friday evening, July 20th. On Saturday am, we loaded a van with 10 people, 8 single bikes, 2 tandems and a ton of luggage for the drive to Rock Rapids. Halfway across the state, we picked up Peggy K who became our support driver. Sam and Marilyn joined the team in Rock Rapids.

Day 1 Rock Rapids to Spencer 75.7 miles

The ride began Sunday, July 22 with the entire team rolling out at at just after 8 am. Food and drink stops were made in George, Ashton and Melvin. Just before 1pm, I decided to ride on alone and take in the spectacle of 10,000 cyclists on the road.

At about the 53 mile mark, I spotted Lance Armstrong riding towards Hartley with several “handlers”. As we slowed to ride through town, I removed my camera from my trunk bag and tied it to my wrist in case I could stay with their speed and get a few shots.

Brian H of Team Conundrum joined me in the pace line and encouraged me to stay with the pace. We ended up riding 26 miles at a pace well over 20 mph, staying with Lance all the way to his evening stop in Spencer.

A great evening of playing with the kids, food and story telling, ended the day. We savored the moment, because I knew lightning doesn’t strike twice.

 

Day 2 Spencer to Humboldt, 77.4 miles

Monday morning, we said our goodbyes to Sam and Levi and began day 2 towards Humboldt.

In one town, I considered purchasing a 1929 Studebaker to take home. Another highlight of the day was a restful lunch enjoying pasta and Reggae music at Pasta Fari, a road side vendor that travels with Ragbrai for the week.

I decided to skip the 23 mile century loop option and rode with the “Tall Dogs” for much of the afternoon. Several of my friends from Kansas City ride with the ‘Dogs’ and this gave me my first glimpse of the bar hopping part of Ragbrai. 18 miles is a long way after 4 beers in the afternoon sun.

Our host family (Glen & ??) fixed us an amazing dinner and breakfast, washed our clothes and we caught up with a Tour fix on a big screen TV.

Day 3 Humboldt to Hampton, 71.1 miles

The hot winds were still pounding out of the south when we turned north after Eagle Grove. I transfixed onto Bob and Dessa’s tandem wheel and reached speeds between 24 and 28 mph for almost 5 miles. The blood was pumping, the adrenaline was flowing and the endorphins were oozing when we reached Clarion. Instead of following the team into a bar for a beer, Andy and I decided we needed a slice of pizza and began walking through town in search of food. I met Steve Stricker, an old friend from KC, and was talking about the ride when we saw Lance and a small entourage walking into the beer garden. The mob scene of 50+ camera phones prompted me to high-tail it back to my bike and catch up with the Lance train on the road instead.

Outside of town, I found Lance riding incognito in a white sleeveless shirt and riding a cross bike with disc brakes. I was pleased to find both Brian H and Andy conveniently seated on the Lance train and we enjoyed one of the rare tail winds of the week.

At one point, Justin Lyle, age 10, from Morgan Hill, Calif. rode next to Armstrong for several miles reaching speeds of 20+ mph. He also rode with Lance the next day for over a mile asking him ‘How you go pee on the Tour de France?’ Justin said later. ‘He said it’s pretty hard, sometimes you have to hold it.’

Brian and I rode for about 16 miles before stopping for a water break and to let our adrenalin slow down. lightning had struck twice and we were grinning.

After arriving in camp, I went to town for photo prints and to submit a photo of Justin and Lance to the Des Moines Register. The evening was topped off with a gourmet meal prepared by Marc Meyer of Team Conundrum.

The paper on Tuesday evening mentioned that Lance would be riding with John Edwards for part of the day, so I decided to stay away from the media circus and enjoy a day with Team Conundrum. We rode the early miles as a group enjoying each others company and several of the roadside stops. In Aredale (mile 17) however, I met several staff photographers with big lenses walking around town and decided to ask them where the Edwards photo shoot would be held. They informed me that a farm near Dumont was being staged for photographers and Edwards would be riding with Lance from there to Kesley (about 10 miles).

After spotting the Livestrong bus, I still had no intention of getting anywhere near the campaign media hype that was rolling behind me. I did wonder however, if the Livestrong train would be moving considerably faster after dropping off Edwards in Kesley as Lance had engagements in Cedar Falls that evening.

Around 1:00 pm, the Lance Express showed itself in my rearview mirror. I tried in vain to hold onto the speed and was dropped after 4 miles at 24+ mph.

The evening was spent at the Blues Traveler’s concert with a guest appearance by Lance.

Pat and her husband were not only hosting Team Conundrum in Cedar Falls, but they were also providing support for their own family riding across Iowa for the week. In the midst of the chaos, Pat was informed that her 49 year old son had been diagnosed with lung and brain cancer and may only have a few weeks to live. Rather than abandon her support roles, she continued on to the finish line.

Soybeans to the horizon. Team Conundrum enjoying a beautiful relaxing lunch. I then rode several miles alone at a 16-18 mph pace. A beautiful, relaxing, no obsession day.

Something happened around 1:00 pm, when I realized that all riders including the Lance Express needed to cross the bridge in Fairbank, IA. I found a spot in the shade, near the bridge…bought a drink, readied my camera and waited for a “curb shot” of Lance if he happened to ride by.

By this point, Lance may have suspected that he has a stalker because he had seen this guy before. But he didn’t seem worried, because this guy was not on a bike and looked fairly harmless except for not having shaved. Lance had 25 Team Livestrong riders behind him in matching Ragbrai jerseys. But like throwing a bone to a hungry dog, I jumped on my bike and pedaled after the train.

Several Team Livestrong members mentioned that “they were riding with Lance” and that I might want to move to the back of the bus, but I remember thinking that this was probably my last opportunity to get “just a few photos”.

As I circled left, a young female rider behind me was reminding someone to hold their line. She couldn’t possibly be talking to me.

I move up into 3rd position, steadying my camera on the brake hood.

I arrived at the alter, the coveted rear wheel position behind Lance.

Then just like a 7th grade boy at his first dance, I watched Lance dance on his pedals…

Who is he looking at?? Maybe it’s time to back off a bit. It was at this point that I realized my obsession for “just a few good photos” was endangering other riders in the group. The voices to “hold your line” were being directed at me and this had become a bit of an obsession.

After 7 miles of riding bliss, this 53-year-old kid decided to back off and enjoy the ride into Independence. It took three quick beers at the “largest deck in Iowa” to get the adrenaline and endorphins under control. I then found our host family on 5th St and set up camp.

At dinner, I admitted to my team that my obsession with “just a few good photos” had almost gotten me in hot water with Team Livestrong and I promised to do better. I wouldn’t be chasing Lance anymore and besides, he was off to France in a few hours, possibly to escape a stalker.

Team_Conundrum

Team_Conundrum

Day 6 Independence to Dyersville, 64.7 miles

After a late evening rain, the weather had cooled, the wind had switched to the north and I was going to straighten my ways. No more chasing down Pro athletes for a picture, no more buzzing in and out of pace lines, no more cameras dangling from the handlebars…..just a nice ride with a group of new friends.

Three blocks from our host home as we turned onto the official Ragbrai route, I began to see yellow and black Livestrong jerseys everywhere.

Even my team members and friends saw them…

…so they became part of the experience.

15 miles of riding bliss, surrounded by Yellow and Black

I said a final goodbye to the Live Strong train as Lance had a plane to catch and I rode off to finish Ragbrai.

We stopped for lunch at “The Pork Chop” guy as we heard he was retiring and it was his last day.

I even happened to catch the last pork chop being sold.

To celebrate the week, we rode into Manchester with directions to the Stroker Bar for beers and entertainment. The beer was cold and the dancing was hot

It was a bit hard to catch the Tour stage through all of the dancing though.

We finished the day at a Fish Fry in Dyersville.

Day 7, Dyersville to Bellevue, 56.6 miles

After a long restful sleep, we broke camp for the last time and prepared for our last 50 miles. Brian and I decided to keep the pace high and try to get in by noon, even with a long coffee stop and a bite to eat in Bernard. We arrived in Bellevue around 1 pm and after maneuvering through horrendous traffic, we said our goodbyes and began the drive home.

I want to thank Team Conundrum for allowing me to be a part of their great team. Good, strong, competent cyclists are a joy to ride with. I want to thank Lance Armstrong first for inspiring a generation of cyclists and 2nd for helping me be a better cyclist. Our host families were excellent, the food was exceptional and the roads were mostly flat. Except for the wind, I can’t think of anything to bitch about during the entire week.

See you all for RAGBRAI XXXVI.

Ben Wilson