Archive for October, 2017
It’s been 2 ½ years since we’ve had the RV in the Midwest. We have visited plenty of times, just by air. But this time we needed the RV. In the humid Midwest. In the middle of summer. Insert whining.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy the Midwest. I grew up there for goodness sake. But after spending the last 2 years out west, beautifully dry and bug free, we were not looking forward to submerging ourselves in the sweat and mosquito, tick, gnat, fly (insert your most hated bug here) buffet.
We have grown accustomed to the dessert lifestyle. And when you can choose where you WANT to be in the summer it seemed odd to me that we were heading to the most avoided summer destination for RV’ers.
It takes something special to get us to leave the west and we had two events that were worthy of turning the truck east. My Grandma’s 100th Birthday and RAGBRAI.
Growing up in Belleville, IL I had the fortune of living next to my Grandparents. Grandma Tess was the built in babysitter and cook extraordinaire that filled our days with homemade pies, jellies and the most delicious cinnamon rolls you ever tasted. The only thing that rivaled Grandma’s roll was her cream puffs!
Grandma was a worker bee her entire life and didn’t see much reason to sit down.
Sometime in grade school she moved an hour away and I begged my mom to spend the night at Grandma’s. I spent 4 days washing and waxing the car, learning how to do laundry and iron shirts and cleaning windows. If it weren’t for Grandpa taking me fishing I’m sure there would have been nothing left of my fingers, being worked all the way down to the bone.
I never did ask to stay overnight there again!
Today I can see the fruits of her influence, tenacity and drive in me and I would not have wanted to grow up any other way!
Grandma had been living in a very nice Assisted Living facility just 1 mile from my Mom in St. Louis. She had had some recent falls and was fading quickly. I’m sad to say that she passed away while we were in route to St. Louis, seven days shy of her 100th birthday!
We had a 100th birthday party for her anyway and I’m thankful that we were able to attend. Family and friends celebrated her life, had food, sang Happy Birthday and ate cake and ice cream. How can you be sad about 100 years!?!
I Love you Grandma Tess!
The second reason we found ourselves in the Midwest was Jeff and I had committed to RAGBRAI.
RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, is an Iowa cycling institution held the third week of July every year. I’m not sure what is bigger in Iowa. The State Fair or RAGBRAI.
From the RAGBRAI website…
“RAGBRAI is a bicycle ride, not a race. It started in 1973 as a six-day ride across the state of Iowa by two Des Moines Register columnists who invited a few friends along. It is held the last full week in July. RAGBRAI is planned and coordinated by The Des Moines Register, and riders who participate in RAGBRAI understand that they do so at their own risk.
The RAGBRAI route averages 468 miles and is not necessarily flat. It begins somewhere along Iowa’s western border on the Missouri River and ends along the eastern border on the Mississippi River. We change the route each year and announce the overnight towns in late January at the RAGBRAI Route Announcement Party, in The Des Moines Register and on our website.
Eight Iowa communities along the RAGBRAI route serve as “host” communities for overnight stays. RAGBRAI is a guest in these communities and we ask our riders to behave as such.”
20,000-30,000 people show up from around the world to ride this event. This would be our third time to do the ride, but this time we had some friends along for their first time.
Mike and Donna of Flying the Koop and Tom and his Father-in-love Fred from Elkhart, Indiana and Geoff from Austin, Texas. Team “RV there yet”!
We had such a great time. Iowans are a super friendly bunch and you get a feel for small town America at this event.
The RAGRAI route is changed every year and towns bid much like the Olympics to have the event roll through their city. It’s a huge economic boost for RAGBRAI communities lucky enough to be chosen.
Towns are usually very small with populations around 1,500-6,000 that swells with the masses of hungry cyclists ready to purchase as much pie, homemade ice cream, burritos, turkey legs, pork chops, draft beer and brats they can make.
The weather was perfect this year! As team “RV There Yet?” head out each morning by 6:30-7:00 AM my job was to get our RV caravan to the next host city before the crowds of other RV’s got there.
Each host town has designated RV campgrounds that are usually located on fairground or school parking lots. The key to getting an easy in, easy out spot is to arrive early and stake your claim and let everyone else figure out how to fit a square peg into a round hole around you.
Our 7am strategy worked perfectly and all three of us were able to park together each day.
As our cyclists ate pedaled their way across the state Mike, Fred and I set up camp and relaxed a bit before the team rolled in anywhere from 1-3pm. After showers and naps we would all gather together for adult beverages and dinner.
The winning food for the week? Mike’s smoked ribs…YUM!!!
About day 6 we noticed that the The Craft Beer tent was about 6 miles from the destination town. So Mike, Fred and I hopped on bikes and back tracked the course to meet up with our team for a cold one. The ride ended up being a bit further than anticipated on a hot day. By the time we reached to tent we were thirsty and hungry.
It was fun pedaling back to the campsite with our team and getting to experience a small part of the cycling event. The energy of this group is off-the-chart and we got to hear all about our groups day.
The last day of RAGBRAI is always a bit crazy. Tiny towns, tight streets and thousands of people trying to pick up their cyclists before heading back to distant corners of the world.
I look back on the pictures from RAGBRAI 2017 and remember what a special event this was, the interesting people we met along the way and all the calories consumed. We were with an amazing group of friends who will now have a story to tell about that time we all went to RAGBRAI.
I had researched boondocking sites near the Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove down a couple of dirt roads and through the Red Canyon Campground but none of them had any connectivity. After passing through the two arches on Hwy 12 with a 13’6” height restriction, we found an incredible boondocking area on Toms Best Spring Rd, just across the street from the start of the Bryce 100 at Coyote Hollow.
And with excellent connectivity it was the winning location.
Our only apprehension was the height restriction through the arches. Our girl is tall like Jeff and I, so squeezing her through 13’6” was about 6” short of her Amazonian stature. Jeff devised a plan on how we could measure the height. With his 8’ overhead arm reach while holding our 5’ truck bed bike rack we could tell that the arch still had 5-6’ of clearance. As long as we stuck to the center of the lane we were golden!
A couple days later we packed up camp at the North Rim and made the two-hour trek to Bryce.
We left early in the morning and dumped our tanks at a gas station in Kanab. We wanted to get an early start so that we could avoid too much traffic while trying to fit our square peg of an RV through a round hole of the arches. All went smoothly with plenty of clearance and we picked an awesome boondocking spot to spend the next two weeks.
We used these two weeks to scout out trailheads and aid station checkpoints for the Bryce 100. Our campsite happened to be in the perfect location for hitting two different checkpoints on opposite sides of the course. This would allow me to swing by the RV to catch a quick nap and make Jeff a couple of smoothies during the 36-hour race.
We took the opportunity to do a couple of training runs in Bryce National Park. Our first sunrise hike was on the Rim Trail that connected to the Navajo Loop Trail. The trip down the canyon was steep with switchback after switchback to make the grade more manageable. What was dynamic about this hike is that the initial trail takes you up close and personal with tall hoodoos and slots that appear to be held up by the smallest of pebbles of crumbling dirt. Just one flick of a finger would appear to bring it all tumbling down.
Another favorite is the Fairyland Loop. Eight miles of dusty dirt to kick up while taking in the sites!
As the sun came up it set the rocks on fire, heating up the canyon with a warm radiant heat. Every turn gives a fresh vantage point of endless hoodoos that speak straight to my soul. “Come and explore so that I may show you a whole other world”.
God’s creation moves me. It speaks to me. And I am whole again.
After such a moving experience we went to breakfast and did laundry at the Bryce Canyon Inn. Hey, that’s the reality of life on the road. One minute you are basking in the glory of nature, the next you are buying propane and dumping your poop at the local gas station.
As the race quickly approached we met up with two friends from our Arkansas running group who also had entered Bryce 100. Janet and Chris are the ones who encouraged Jeff to run this race with them. Strategies were talked about, meals were eaten and all checked in for the race. The pain fest was about to begin!
On June 16 the gun went off and the crowd of 250 shuffled off with high hopes for the next 24-36 hours of 18,565’ of vertical climb.
I stopped at the RV for a quick nap and made Jeff a smoothie before heading off to the first check point about 19 miles out. The tough part of being a spectator at these types of events is that it can be challenging to spectate. Check points can be spread out over 100’s of driving miles down poorly maintained roads.
Proctor Canyon aid station was no exception.
Support crews had to park miles away and wait in long lines to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck who then made the 40 minute rock crawl to our destination. Thinking I had left a couple of hours gap before seeing the “Arkansas Travelers” (AT-team) they showed up 30 minutes after my arrival. They were making great time!
All systems were a go and Jeff, Janet and Chris quickly moved on. I made the rock crawl back to my vehicle and drove back to the RV to reload for the next aid station at Straight Canyon, mile 41.
Another interesting thing that happens during these races is that you start questioning your timing. You do the math over and over again to insure you arrive at the aid stations when you “think” your athlete will be there. But then they show up early to the first location and throw off all your projected times for the day.
So when I made it to Straight Canyon the AT-team was already heading down the road to the next location. I managed to see Jeff for a few minutes, and then we were all off to the next spectator aid station at the turn around…mile 51.
Crawford Pass was 10 miles away for the runners, but only 3 miles for the crew. So I settled in for a bit of a wait. The sun was going down by this time and the temps were beginning to drop. I tried to nap in the truck but I wasn’t able to sleep. So I put on warmer clothes and decided to help the athletes coming in by picking out their needs bags and getting them food.
By mile 51, everyone is getting pretty tired and I saw quite of few people decide to call it quits. Jeff and I had a strategy in place, that if he came into an aid station and wanted to quit I would encourage him to wait to make the decision at the next aid station. These races are as much mental as physical and if you can delay a decision until the next stop, sometimes that’s enough time to get the athletes out of their own head and back on the trail.
Jeff came into Crawford pass about 10pm and the rest of AT about 40 min later. Jeff used this aid station to take a 30 min nap while I took his shoes and socks off, washed his feet and put on new, fresh socks. Jeff didn’t have a single blister in sight and was feeling pretty good after his nap.
Jeff has always been a VERY optimistic guy and to see him with his happy-go-lucky attitude at this stage amazed me to say the least. There was no hint of not making it to the finish and I knew then that he would accomplish this race!
Our other teammates were not having the same experience. Chris had such an upset stomach that he wanted to drop out. While the rest of us tried to encourage him to delay his decision he walked into the woods to throw up, then announced that he was out!
By this time Jeff had already left the aid station.
Janet wanted to continue on but did not want to run in the dark by herself. She was going to drop out as well until a pacer for another runner (that had dropped out) offered to run with Janet through the night. This wonderful gal ran with Janet until the finish of the race…50 miles away. What a super hero!!!
Since this race was an out-and-back, Chris and I drove back to Straight Canyon, now mile 62. We fell asleep in the truck and woke up just as Jeff was leaving the aid station. He made awesome time again and was still feeling good. Janet followed a bit later and Chris and I headed back to the RV where his car was parked.
I’m not going to lie. By now it was 3am and I was exhausted. The 45-minute drive was pure torture in sleep depravation. Chris went back to his hotel and I slept for a couple hours at the RV before making one more smoothie for Jeff. Our last spectator aid station was back at Proctor Canyon, mile 84. This time Chris and I drove my truck to the aid station and offered up rides to others waiting in the long line again.
Jeff was able to get a text message every once in a while to let me know what time/mile he was at. I knew that he was within 4 miles of Proctor, so I set out back tracking the course to pace him into the aid station. I ran into him with two miles to Proctor and he filled me in on the perils of night running and things that go bump in the night. With sleep depravation, exhaustion and a bit of hallucinations there is quite a story to tell!
By now it was getting very hot and the rest of the course was in full sun.
At Proctor we did one last foot cleaning and clean socks and Jeff made a quick exit. His cut off times were starting to get tight and he didn’t want to run the risk of not finishing under 36 hours.
I watched as other runners came into the aid station. Some looking fresh. Some looking terrible. It is scary when an athlete stumbles into an aid station not knowing who they are or babbling something incoherent. It was sad to see one runner who was pulled off the course by the medical team with just 16 miles to go. It was definitely warranted, but sad just the same.
By this mileage there are plenty of runners crying due to pain, skinned knees from falls, blisters on top of blisters and those who just want to stop. I admire all these runners for the perseverance it takes to finish a 100-mile race. My respect goes to each and every one of them…those who start and those who finish! Who does such a thing????
With 16 miles left Jeff pushed his legs further than he ever has and had a kick to the finish with an hour to spare.
Jeff completed his first 100!!!!
I cant tell you how proud I am to see Jeff cross that finish line. All the long training runs, all the mounds of food consumed to fuel that training, all the head games to convince himself it can be done, all the research and conversations from those who have gone before. It all came together for a perfect race!
Janet showed up with her pacer about 20 minutes after the cutoff. Anyone that finishes a 100 mile race is a “finisher” in my book.
Jeff and Janet received their belt buckles!
48% of the field dropped out of the race that weekend…48%! There were ambulances at the finish to escort some weary runners to the hospital. Jeff got some food at the finisher’s tent, and then we made the short drive back to the RV.
We had a quick travel turn around to make it to Denver. With a flight scheduled to Elkhart IN for meetings within a couple days my plan was to load up Jeff and the RV right after his finish and head down the road. But we were both too exhausted. It wasn’t going to be safe for me to drive so we decided to wait until the next morning to leave Bryce.
After a VERY long day of driving to Frisco, CO we stopped at a campground before making the last push to Colorado Springs where we parked the RV in a friends driveway for our Indiana trip.
Since Jeff’s race 4 months ago (I know…I am waaay behind on this blog) we have been stationary for the most part in the mid-west. We have been hit with some life events back home so I will fill you in on the excitement next time!
Goodbye for now Utah!