The last day of RAGBRAI was a failure. In fact the entire week was a bust. As I write this conclusion I am filled with awe at what a failure I am. I had one goal and I did not even come close to achieving it.
My goal for this past week was to give more than I receive. I have been trying to accomplish this goal for the past 4 months. I thought for sure I could do this during a week of riding across Iowa. As I head home I’m ashamed of my failure.
Background – My Mom does a daily radio show called Wisdom of the Wounded. 4 months ago her program challenged her listeners to try to give more than they receive. I’m usually up for a challenge epically when someone says it cannot be done. So for the past 4 months I have tried to give more than I receive. No success but surely a week of debauchery in Iowa would be my opportunity.
Over the course of this week I: Road over 400 miles, climbed over 16,000′, spent 20 hours in a car, ate nothing but junk food 8 days in a row, changed a lady’s tire who instead of thanking me made me listen to 20 minutes of complaints, spent time alone when I wanted to be with others, spent time with others when I wanted to be alone, pulled at an uncomfortably slow pace against the wind and rain for a couple I did not think would not make it to the next town, and skipped a day of riding so others could eat at Mr Pork Chops. I slept on the ground, lost a pint of blood to mosquitoes, and had to constantly talk to strangers.
Despite all this I am leaving Iowa with significantly more energy than I arrived with. I got to: watch a teammate pull others together with skills I have never had, hear the story of a lady who lost her son to cancer this year as she was surviving her own battle (and who is a damn good biker!), I got a little piece of string to remind me of our connectedness and of Kate, watch as a team decided that the “needs of the one out weighed the needs of the many” after a very hard previous day, I got to spend a full week with one of my kids and watch him demonstrate social skills I’ll never have, I got to cry for the brother of our teammate who is running out of time and then get pissed off enough at the unfairness of this to sustain my fight for the rest of the year, and for 8 days I got to be apart of the corn, beans, grass, clouds, rain, wind, and wonderful people of Iowa.
So my Mom’s challenge to me remains unfulfilled. I tried this week but failed to prove her wrong. How about you? Can you prover her wrong? Can you give more than you receive? I bet you cannot!
PS. Many have asked if I will be back again in 2015 for my 4th RAGBRAI. I don’t know yet. It will depend on my family, my goals for 2015, and my “calling” when it comes time to register. I must say though that is is tough to say no to something that gives me more energy than it takes away.
When people asked me this spring if I had any big summer plans I would tell them that I was going to do RAGBRAI again. The look most of them gave me was similar to a dog who turns his head slightly with the expression “What the heck is that!” Telling these people I’m doing the Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa still did not really explain much.
My next tact is to say it is 10-20,000 bicyclists riding 400+ miles from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. They don’t believe me. 1) Iowa is not 400 miles wide. (We zig zag a lot) and 2) Even I feel like I am exaggerating on the number of riders. But I’m not! On the opening day last Sunday the Iowa Highway Patrol said there were 20,840 riders on the road. That is a lot of people on a bike at one time!
Usually the next question is what do you do with all your gear? Due to the fact the I ride with Team Livestrong ($1,500 fundraising requirement) they not only haul all my stuff, they also find us great places to camp at the overnight cities. Today I did something really different. Instead of riding I became one of the support people for the day. Wow these people do a lot of work so us riders can just enjoy the experience. Find the next camp site, unload all the bags, set up the camp, and on the long day, Tuesday, they set up all 85 tents for us. My primary job today was going to the store. 10 20lb bags of ice, 25 cases of pop, and 4 gallons of water later I was back to unloading bags. (That was all used this evening!)
After I have explained all this (and sometimes more) the look I get has only changed a little. The head is tilted a little more and the expression is more like “you are a complete nut case for using up your vacation on riding a bike 400+ miles, sleeping on the ground, eating carnival food for every meal, and sharing all this with 20,000+ people”. I must admit that these people are absolutely correct. AND I will likely do it again next year.
Yesterday we had a team mate on the road for 14 hours. That would be a torturous day if one was sitting on the couch watching TV. This guy was on a bike for most of this time just putting one foot in front of the other. Today it was decided no one gets in before Cisco.
As I road with the main group this morning I marveled at the cool people I was with. Here they were all riding around the LiveSTRONG music trailer. All going generally the same speed and constantly rotating around our teammate. I always feel like an outsider at LiveSTRONG stuff, but I was so proud to be part of this group.
My “I Ride For:” flag this week has Jim’s name on it. Jim is the brother of our Teammate, Bob. Jim is running out of time fast. He was only diagnosed in January and already treatment has been ended. It was going to kill him faster than the cancer.
Then as we approached the first town sadness almost overwhelmed me. (Sunglasses hide a lot of tears!) While I had been caught up in the moment of teamwork and rallying around one person, I forgot about Jim. I don’t know what brought me back but what brought me to tears was the wish that Jim could be in the middle of this group right now. I wish he could be here “bike dancing” to Sweat Caroline. Or maybe doing the wave at a road crossing that had bikes lined up for at least a mile. I don’t even know Jim, but there is no way he would not feel loved and supported if he were here.
As we got into town the team split up to get food, drinks, and use the Kybo (an Iowa term for porta-potty). I found a place in the shade and started to compose this journal. How can we make sure no on ever goes through cancer alone? How can we surround others with love, support, and entertainment when they have had a hard day? I biked alone yesterday because I wanted to, how do I make sure no one bikes alone that wants a companion?
Jim, I do not have the answers to any of these questions. I assure you, however, that a stranger from Michigan riding in Iowa will continue wrestle with them. And for a few moments I mentally pulled you into the LiveSTRONG dance party on the roads of RAGBRAI. Peace!
Who decides this is a Rose and I will plant it and this is a weed which I will pluck? What if whoever made this decision was wrong? I know the answer. It would mean that Jeff Mulder is the normal one and everyone else is weird. What a world that would be.
See yesterday I did the “normal” things people on RAGBRAI are supposed to do. I biked much slower (called out “on your left” almost none). I talked to anyone who had anything interesting about their bike or what they were wearing (almost everyone). I made stops of over 3 hours along the route (only on my bike for 2.5 hours). Result of all this “smelling the roses” – I was crab! My attitude was horrible. The glass was not half empty. There was no glass!
Today, on the other hand, I took off alone at 6:15am (Yes, I have become my Dad!). I was not rude to anyone or push others out of the way, but I did put my head down and ride. I asked and was allowed to join 2 small groups of riders who pulled me along. I talked to both as we road and thanked them when I pulled off. During the toughest part I cheated and put on my headphones and listened to John Denver. I met some teammates in one of the towns for 15 minutes. Then I was off again. I ended up doing the 108 miles today in 6.5 hours and was on the road less than 7.5 hours.
I was the first rider to camp today. The is NOT a good thing during RAGBRAI. It means that you did not spend the time to look around and “see the roses”. That is correct. I never even saw or heard Beekmans! (Homemade ice cream made with single stroke steam engines that can be heard for miles!) BUT I felt better than I have all week. My body felt great! My bike ran well! My attitude was way up. Not only was the glass full but refilled as fast as I drank from it.
As I pondered the results of these past two days I have two camps I could put myself in – psychology disturbed or just plain weird. I choose weird. (It is less expensive and easier on my family.) I know I need to “smell the roses” more often. I know there are times when I need to slow down. I also know that there are some things that are roses to others that are weeds to me. Tomorrow I will continue to try to positively impact others AND look for MY OWN ROSES!
PS. The first group I road with was lead by a couple on a tandem. They bike all over the world – just got back from Spain and in 2 months were headed to Maine. They pulled me along against the wind at 17-20mph. The second group I road with pulled along at 26-28mph. It was Mellow Johnny’s. I’ll tell you what, when Lance rides up behind you and yells “Jeefffrrrreeeeeyyy!” that feels like a pretty big fricken rose. (5 minutes at this speed was all I could take but it was very cool.)