I haven’t had a good internet connection for a couple of days, so I’m catching up on the ride now. The day four weather forecast Wednesday morning was not promising. It called for thunderstorms – possibly severe. Looking at the Radar Express app on my smartphone, I could see a line of heavy thunderstorms just west of us and it was moving east. Donna and Jeff Spencer decided to take a day off and not chance riding in what could turn out to be dangerous conditions. Geoff Harrison and Tom decided to go for it. They took off before 6am and hammered eastward to try and outrun the storm. So, team RV There Yet? was split up on Wednesday.
We headed out from Clear Lake before 7am and made a 46-mile drive to Charles City. The bike route for the day was 57.5 miles. We went to a high school that was identified as the main campground. When we arrived there it was chaotic as RVs were trying to exit and enter at the same time while other RVs stopped in the parking area. It turned out the organizers wanted to only have tent campers there. We were told we should go to the KMart parking lot.
Up to this point, the RV camping had been organized pretty well. Trying to accommodate the number of riders and support vehicles of this event in small towns is a logistical nightmare. The crew at KMart wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of RVs. It was every man for himself. We found a level spot that would allow us to exit without too much hassle and had our three rigs lined up.
A fifth-wheel trailer parked next to me and the woman driving it said she was worried about being able to get out in the morning. I told her we planned to leave before 7am and she should have plenty of room to maneuver once we were out. Then she told me one of the crew directing the parking said he might have to put someone lengthwise across our respective bows. This would block us all in. When she told him we needed to able to leave in the morning he said, “Yeah, everyone will leave in the morning.”
What he didn’t seem to understand was not everyone leaves at the same time. That’s why he was still trying to find space for people two hours after we arrived. We put our chairs out in the area in front of our rigs to keep the area clear.
Geoff and Tom rode hard and they made it to Charles City ahead of the storm. I think Donna made the right choice to take the day off though, I don’t think she could safely ride the pace they rode and would have ended up exhausted and possibly caught by high winds, lightning and heavy rain. The number of riders out was way down from the previous days. Where we were parked we only caught the edge of the storm cells. I could see the severe weather around us on the weather radar.
Charles City is called the “Hump Before the Hills.” It was hump day and eastern Iowa gets hilly from there to the Mississippi River. Fred had flank steak marinating in his special sauce and Jeff grilled it – we had corn on the cob to go along with it and enjoyed another great meal together.
Deb Spencer and I looked at the route laid out for vehicles to get from Charles City to Cresco on Thursday. The route looked fine if you were leaving from the high school, but we were across town at KMart. It would require us to go through the center of town with heavy traffic and cross the bike route which can be difficult as a line of bikes are streaming down the road. We mapped an alternate route which worked out great. We looped around town on US218 and found IA9 that took us all the way to Cresco.
We went to the county fairgrounds. When we pulled up at the entrance, the girl directing traffic in the street asked me if I had a reservation. Uh-oh. When I told her “No,” she said I would have to go to the dry camping area. Whew! That’s what we were planning to do anyway.
We’ve figured out that if we leave in the vehicles before 7am, we can reach the day’s destination early enough to be ahead of most of the support vehicles and snag choice camping spots. This worked out great at the fairgrounds as we found a nice level grassy area and parked together. Vehicles kept arriving after us and within 45 minutes, the place was packed and people were pulling in then turning around to find another place for the night.
I got my mountain bike out of the trailer and then pulled out my Orbea road bike. Our plan was to ride to the Iowa Craft Beer tent later and meet up with the rest of the team. I haven’t had my road bike out in a while and I had to change the tube in the front tire – the presta valve was leaking. Deb was going to ride my mountain bike and I would ride my road bike. Then we found out the beer tent was a lot farther away than we thought. We bagged the plan.
When I saw a text from Jeff saying they were about seven miles from town, I rode my mountain bike downtown. I saw Geoff and Tom come by and shortly after that I found Jeff and Donna. I led them to our site – the fairgrounds are fairly large and by then RVs were scattered all over the place. The volunteers were directing riders to the south end of the fairgrounds – we were on the north end.
One of Thursday’s highlights was Lance Armstrong riding the course. A couple of NASCAR racers were on the ride as well – Jimmie Johnson and another that I can’t remember now. I saw a Featherlite Coach built on a Prevost XLII chassis in the fairgrounds. It was decorated with University of Iowa Hawkeye logos and the license plate was Coach1. I thought it was maybe an Iowa Hawkeyes football coach, so I introduced myself and inquired. It turns out he was a fan, not a coach. His license plate was a reference to his number one coach.
When I mentioned his XLII double slide chassis, he asked if I was a Prevost owner – he said only a Prevost guy would recognize the difference between an XL and an XLII. I told him I was an RV geek – I knew the XLII didn’t have the visible rivets of an XL.
There are more school buses converted to bicycle support vehicles than I ever imagined. We seem to have gotten into a rhythm with other RV support vehicles that make an early start and arrive at the next destination around the same time as us. But I still see a schoolie here and there that I haven’t seen before.
The temperature was cooler on Thursday and everyone enjoyed a great ride. Well, almost everyone. Jeff and Donna witnessed a crash involving three riders just ahead of them. The riders were down and police on site called for an an ambulance. We’ve seen a few crashes – it can happen in a heartbeat when riders are in a pack and someone gets distracted.
This morning we were up and ready to roll at the usual time.
We’ve been driving on two-lane highways through rural farmland all week and today was no different. We encountered some rolling hills, but when we arrived at the fairgrounds in Waukon our elevation was about the same as when were in Cresco and Charles City before that – about 1,300 feet above sea level. Once again we snagged primo parking with an easy exit plan for tomorrow.
We were able to track the progress of the riders through instant messaging. When Donna and Jeff left Postville – the last town before Waukon – Deb, Fred and I headed out on our bicycles. Our plan was to meet them at the craft beer tent – we figured it was about 5-7 miles away and we should arrive around the same time a Jeff and Donna. Tom and Geoff were ahead of them.
I rode my Orbea road bike, Deb took my Specialized mountain bike and Fred rode his Trek hybrid. Our route shortcutted the final leg of the riders course and had rolling hills. It was also longer than we expected – about eight miles. We made it there and managed to meet up with everyone.
It was warm out and everyone wanted a spot in the shade.
I had a cup of Des Moines IPA,Donna had a hefeweizen – she also had a bacon and blue cheese bratwurst. The ride back was a little harder – it had more uphill sections than downhill and we were riding into a headwind.
Tomorrow is the final day of RAGBRAI XLV – it’s also has the most hills on this year’s course. I have a couple more pictures to upload, but my internet connection is so poor I’m giving up and hoping I can get this post published. After Donna completes the course tomorrow we’ll be on the road – so I won’t post again until Sunday at the earliest.