Tag Archives: ragbrai

One glorious day of Ragbrai riding…

…was enough for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the 39.9 mile (i.e. 40 mile) ride on Day 3 of RAGBRAI from Winterset to Indianola in central Iowa. Glorious weather, fun biking companions (my docent friend Judy and her friend Carole, from Fort Dodge, and Carole’s daughter.).

The ride wasn’t as hilly as I feared – but hilly enough, which was a challenge for me psychologically (not to mention physically) because after breaking my arm twice, I’ve become even more cautious. I braked a lot on the downhills, which were further complicated by the often rough condition of the roads (a big crack down the middle at times, bumpy patches and other cracks). Sadly, the danger I perceived was real — three riders landed in the hospital, some with what sounds like serious injuries. Part of the issue too is that there were so many riders and I’m partly to blame for that. Like many Des Moines residents, I jumped on the ride for a day because it was coming so close to home.

As we arrived in Indianola, after some hills that felt gratuitous to include on the route. I was surprised to see a big hole in the center of the square where apparently the old courthouse is being replaced with a new “justice center.” Apparently the festivities were actually nearby — on the Simpson U. campus. (News to me.) I did find Outer Scoop on Jefferson, for some great and much-deserved ice cream.

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Ragbrai 2015 – greatest hits….

I rode the last three days (210 miles plus) this year – but my husband and son rode the whole week (500 miles plus)  from Sioux City to Davenport (actually Moline, Illinois, where the Team Skunk bus was parked). Here’s the stuff I (and they) liked the best.

Most charming little overnight town: Eldora – beautiful courthouse and square; Storm Lake close runner up.

Best meal: pulled pork sandwiches at the Masonic Lodge in Wilton, Iowa (Day 7); runner up – Mexican restaurant in Storm Lake (Day 1) and Monica’s for pasta Bolognase in Coralville (Day 6); homemade glazed donuts from Bread Garden in Iowa City; the Skillet where we hunkered down during a rain storm in Mount Vernon (although still miss the Lincoln Cafe there).

Best homemade lemonade: Not the chemical stuff – lemons, sugar, water. outside Moscow, Iowa

Best ice cream: the The Outside Scoop (food truck from Indianola and visits Des Moines weekly!) Best flavor: lemonhead custard.

Best overheard comments:

“I’m kind of leaning towards Walker – he’s the governor of Wisconsin”

“Great shirt – I’m tired of looking at all these bike jerseys” (someone praising my son’s Kafka shirt)

“I used to think this guy I work with from Iowa was such a nice guy. Now I realize after being here he’s not that exceptional.”

Toughest ride/but most gorgeous scenery: Day 5 from Cedar Rapids to Coralville (via Mount Vernon, Lisbon, Coralville Dam.)

Most memorable shower: Cattle wash at the Hardin County Fairgrounds in Eldora.

Awesomely generous overnight hosts: Jim and Myrna in Cedar Rapids (great company, conversation, shower, dinner, bed, tour of revitalized NewBo area and beyond downtown)

Best beer garden: Back Pocket Brewery; runner up: Jackson Street Brewery in Sioux City

Eldora Iowa courthouse

Eldora Iowa courthouse

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Day 2 of Ragbrai – Emmetsburg to Forest City

Riding into Crystal Lake, Iowa on 80-mile Ragbrai day

Riding into Crystal Lake, Iowa on 80-mile Ragbrai day

Oh my, it’s been a week since I rode this grueling 80 miles and my memory is fading. What I remember most is being really hot and really tired – after riding 80 miles in very humid sunny weather, often into strong headwinds (especially when peddling north.)

But hey I did it, and there were some sights worth seeing and memories worth remembering including:

– A very pleasant stay with a welcoming local family in Emmetsburg, in their pretty Victorian house – we had real beds in real rooms (right next to our hosts which was a bit odd since we’d just met); their lawn and garden outside dotted with the tents of other riders (including one family from Iowa that operates an orphanage in Haiti and was using Ragbrai to do some fund and awareness raising.)

– Shower in the high school in Emmetsburg – water was a little hot and brought back memories of awkward middle school locker room encounters but hey, we got what we needed: clean. (Sort of.) The best $6 I’ve spent in awhile.

– A pretty and unexpected little lake in downtown Emmetsburg.

Gruis Recreational Center – a pretty rural oasis and I had a great burger, packing up some calories to burn during my next grueling 15 mile ride.

– Some of the best peaches I’ve ever tasted – sold to me by some little kids at a stand in front of a pretty farm house next to the rural center – I was invited to pick some raspberries (free!) but too tired to do.1762

Crystal Lake, Iowa – never heard of this place. Very pretty little town on a little lake.

– Superb pancakes and sausages eaten in the front yard of someone’s farm, served up by a local church, somewhere near Ringsted, I think And excellent rhubarb pie a few hours later at the American Legion, I believe it was, in Bancroft. Liked the town of  Titonka, Iowa.

– Discovering why people were biking jerseys (my cotton sleeveless shirt loaded up with sweat and left me a hot itchy rash).


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Ragbrai 2014 Day 2 Okoboji to Emmetsburg highlights


Playing catch-up here, after returning to Des Moines from three days of riding RAGBRAI. I had a good excuse for not posting – cellphone didn’t work much of the trip, the system was overwhelmed by the thousands of Ragbrai riders passing through various small towns.

We had a great three days of riding. In Okoboji, we stayed at a beautiful home with friends on West Okoboji Lake (along Lake Shore Drive, which is full of beautiful lakeside cottages and mansions.) They drove us in the evening to Arnold’s Park and insisted we eat at the best restaurant in town, Maxwell’s – which was indeed very good and owned by a Londoner, to boot. who stopped by our table to talk London with my Londoners Francine and Russ. I had excellent salmon, Russ was happy with his halibut and francine with her pasta with beef tips and mushrooms. Place was hoping, as was most of the area. (Lunch at Taco House was okay.)

On Monday morning, our host very kindly drove us the 8 miles to the start of the ride – and we had a good day of riding, 41 miles. The weather was hot and humid and the wind was very intense at times but scenery lovely. We had coffee and a pastry at an overwhelmed coffee shop in Milford – then on for some church pancakes in a field east of Okoboji.

Before we even hopped on a bike, we did some shopping at Three Sons in Milford (photo above), which turned out to be a half a block from our team’s campground. The discounts on the top floor are well worth a visit!

Francine, Russ and Betsy, Arnold's Park, Ragbrai 2014

Francine, Russ and Betsy, Arnold’s Park, Ragbrai 2014

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How to act like an ag expert on Ragbrai! Use handy podcasts from Iowa ag dept.

 Iowa farm, 1875.

I’m often asked agriculture questions by my out-of-town guests here in Iowa and when my husband, the family ag expert, isn’t available, I have to wing it (or bluff it). I’ve gotten better with time but still I am amused to see that Iowa’s ag secretary is providing podcasts to answer Iowa ag questions during Ragbrai. Now this may come in handy – especially with our Ragbrai-riding visitors from England. More below!




DES MOINES –Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced that podcasts showcasing Iowa agriculture along the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa ® (RABGRAI ®) route are available to listen and/or download.


The podcasts are available at www.iowaagcasts.com or through iTunes by searching for the keyword “Iowa Agcasts”.


“The beauty and fertility of Iowa’s land is very evident this time of year and these podcasts will highlight the importance of diversity of Iowa agriculture as riders travel across the state,” Northey said.  “Agriculture is so important to our state and we hope RAGBRAI® participants and others will listen to these podcasts and learn more about all that is happening on the farms across Iowa.”


The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, together with many partners, created one podcast for each leg of the ride.  Each podcast has an interview of one or two local individuals involved in agriculture. This is the second year for the podcasts.


The podcasts are unique in that they show the diversity of Iowa’s agriculture.  Listeners meet a woman leader in agriculture, a dairy farmer in northwest Iowa, Mr. Pork Chop, who got his nickname from 25 years selling Iowa Chops at RAGBRAI®, and more.


“Opportunities through this podcast to be able to hear some of the things that you’ll see on your route. Be able to understand pieces of it, probably raise some questions about what’s going on out there as well.” Northey states in his introductory podcast.


The 42nd year of RAGBRAI® begins July 20th and goes until July 26th.  To see details of the route, go to www.ragbrai.com.





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Dining options during evening bike rides in Des Moines

magnolia kitchen & grocery.jpg

Above is a rendering of what the Magnolia Kitchen & Grocery food truck will look like.(Photo: Special to th

In preparation for Ragbrai, we are trying to ride our bikes at least one weekday evening a week – often Tuesdays so we can eat at Tacopocalypse stand outside the Cumming Tap (in the small town of Cumming, Iowa.) But sometimes we ride on Wednesday or Thursday on the Great Western Trail south from Des Moines when tacos aren’t an option at Cumming Tap (Wednesday, we discovered last week, is steak night there, which is a bit heavy for us.)

So I was pleased to see other options available in Jennifer Miller’s latest excellent food column for the Des Moines Register. See below! They’re not in Cumming but they are along our bike route, which includes Gray’s Lake (where Confluence Brewing is located) and the trail at 63rd and Grand (where Pal Joey’s Lounge is).

Here’s the options:

TUESDAY Magnolia Kitchen & Grocery at Pal Joey’s Lounge; Tacopacalypse at Cumming Tap

WEDNESDAY Magnolia Kitchen & Grocery at Confluence Brewing 

THURSDAY  Magnolia Kitchen & Grocery at 515 Brewing on Friday evenings or The Levee, patio on the east end of Court Avenue. Woody’s Smoke Shack food, and Confluence  beers.  open 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday.

FRIDAY  The Levee, patio on the east end of Court Avenue. Woody’s Smoke Shack food, and Confluence  beers.  open 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday.

SATURDAY   The Levee, patio on the east end of Court Avenue. Woody’s Smoke Shack food, and Confluence  beers.  open 9 p.m. to midnight

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RAGBRAI discovery: b. organic eXchange in Van Meter


the b. organic eXchange

One of the cool things about RAGBRAI is discovering new things in old places – so when I rode last month through Van Meter, a small town outside Des Moines, with thousands of other riders, I wandered into a little shop –  “the b. organic eXchange.” the exchange’s blog It sells some handmade crafts and food but also offers “naturally artful birthday parties” – presumably for kids – that includes studio space, an instructor and materials to complete a variety of projects. (You can pick from project themes such as “Flower Power” or “Nature Lover” or “Pop Art Portraits.”) Reminds me a bit of the paint-your-own-pottery parties I had for my kids – or worse, the make-your-own-gingerbread-house or paint-your-own-ball cap activities I used to try to organize on my own at home for my kids’ parties.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, THE ARTS

Ragbrai withdrawal…

Never saw sunscreen in the gallon size before RAGBRAI.

Never saw sunscreen in the gallon size before RAGBRAI.

Now I understand my long-Ragbrai riding friends who are blue once the big ride is over – and this after I only rode two days. I found myself back in my office at my desk on a pretty summer day, daydreaming about being back on the backroads of Iowa riding my bike. Of course, I also found myself aching more than usual – after riding 100 miles over the course of two days. But not as achy as expected. I am enjoying reading the NPR (No Pie Refused) reporters blog about RAGBRAI http://returntoiowa.tumblr.com/ they did a good job of documenting some of the highlights I saw on Tuesday and Wednesday including the photo above (from today…)/ Particularly enjoyed their “pie” chart documenting what types of pies they’ve eaten, by percentages. (Now I know why I couldn’t find any strawberry-rhubarb pie in Monroe yesterday – I had to settle for plain old rhubarb. Still good.)

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RAGBRAI – Des Moines to Knoxville (about 50 miles)

Classic Ragbrai photo by my friend Gary Fandel (a professional photographer and it shows)

Classic Ragbrai photo by my friend Gary Fandel (a professional photographer and it shows)

Another perfect day of bike riding weather and another great RAGBRAI ride, this time from Des Moines south and west to Knoxville, passing through some lovely countryside and several welcoming small towns including Runnells (where we were greeted by the local high school’s boisterous, enthusiastic and totally endearing Pep Band) and Monroe (where riders could don firefighter gear and shoot water hoses at a bucket or some such dangling from a line – sounds strange but people stood in a long line to give it a go.)

It was exhilarating to ride out of downtown Des Moines today at 7:30 a.m. with the sun still rising and the air almost crisp and the light magical. We quickly got a taste of what we had in store for the day – with a steep uphill by the golden-domed Iowa State Capital building – and it was way cool to have the route go right through the Iowa State Fairgrounds. As we were riding up the midway in a seat of bikes, I heard one person say “What is this place?” So I put on my Iowa tour guide hat and pointed out various highlights of the famed fairgrounds.

The route was very hilly – up and down and up and down the hills we went. I gradually got more comfortable with soaring down the hill but it was often tricky because there were so many riders. I did see one scary accident which appeared to be a collision between two riders and saw one rider down but she was talking to the people helping her. There were ambulances stationed for precautionary reasons along the route – and we heard some with their sirens activated on occasion.

In Runnells, I ended up joining a flash mob that I happened into – locals and riders all doing a funny dance routine in the street. It was so much fun! I also bumped into even more friends and neighbors today along the route, which is always a kick. By the end of the day, I was very weary but wished I could keep riding tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try to do more next year. Such a great experience.

Last night, Des Moines hosted a fantastic party downtown on a perfect clear, not too hot or cold night – with bands, food, thousands of people all gathered along the river. It was Iowa at its very best!

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NPR reporters ride RAGBRAI and my last minute bike repair!

<p>Some Aloha spirit in Iowa.<br />


Some Aloha spirit in Iowa.

Join 3 NPR reporters as they explore the Iowa they didn’t see on the presidential trail.

Don Gonyea, Scott Horsley and Brian Naylor will tour the state by bike this time around, as part of the Des Moines Register’s 41st Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, better known as RAGBRAI.


FUN to see three NPR political reporters from Washington on Ragbrai this week as part of the cleverly-named No Pie Refused team!! http://www.desmoinesregister.com/VideoNetwork/2557490429001/NPR-s-No-Pie-Refused-trio-rides-RAGBRAI-XLI.

They’re blogging about the adventure – of course and posting some classic RAGBRAI photos. see: http://returntoiowa.tumblr.com/?ft=1&f=2,5,1013,1014,1016,1017,1134,1929301

We ended up riding in the rain (there was a boom of thunder as we set off) yesterday so I could get in one pre-RAGBRAI ride after three weeks away from serious bike riding. Unfortunately I had a little mishap that now requires a last minute bike repair job before I ride RAGBRAI tomorrow. This is not the the best time to be taking my bike into the shop – the bike stores here are stressed, to say the least, not only because they have mechanics along the RAGBRAI route but because the whole shebang comes o Des Moines tomorrow. But they promise to have my bike repaired (I need a new rear wheel rim) by the end of today. Here’s hoping – otherwise I’ll use my husband’s bike.

We’re lucky our mishap didn’t lead to serious injuries. My tire got caught in a slick rut along the Great Western Trail (that trail is getting a tad old and the makeshift repairs to the asphalt – black tar poured into cracks – are themselves a danger, especially in wet weather). My bike tipped over  but somehow I managed to right it and not hit the pavement. We didn’t realize until later that the bike got banged up in the process. Poor D, who was riding behind me, wasn’t as lucky. He braked to avoid crashing into me and fell, landing on his chest on the asphalt. He got a few cuts and bruises but professed to be okay. Scary.

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