Archive for category Biking

Back to the Midwest

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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!

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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!

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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!

RAGBRAI

The second reason we found ourselves in the Midwest was Jeff and I had committed to RAGBRAI.

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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.

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Don’t blink or you will lose your party

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Geoff and Donna under the Bicycle Arch 

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.

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Mr. Hassman going for 1000 selfie kisses

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Mr. Hassman mission statement…AMEN!

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.

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The Lutheran Church wins “Best Pie” award from our group

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Jeff testing the lick-ability of Beekman’s Ice Cream

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.

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Fairground camping in Waukon IA

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.

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After setting up Sam be like…chill!

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.

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Everyday was like rolling through Mayberry. Donna “sit’n a spell” with Aunt Bea.

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A lot of kissing going on at this event!

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.

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The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2015

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Beautiful start to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The internationally known Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has wrapped up and what a spectacular event it was!

The Balloon Fiesta is a bucket list item for a lot of folks. It’s  one of the most “hands on” events there is as you can be right on the field with Darth Vader, The Bumble Bees and the crowd favorite, Spider Pig.
Have questions about ballooning? Just walk up and ask the crew how things work while they are airing up. Or better yet, volunteer on a balloon crew and get free entrance for the week and possibly get a balloon ride as a thanks. Stand in one place too long and your liable to be bumped in the behind by a rapidly expanding balloon preparing to launch. Hear the Zebra’s whistle as the balloons take flight right over your head…by the hundreds! (550 of them to be exact)
Our camp site was in the General campground just south of the launch field. It was dry camping so no hookups for $30/night. What you lack in amenities is made up by the close proximity to Balloon Fiesta Park.
While thousands of others sat in traffic for hours we walked to the field in 15 minutes flat, 5 minutes if you catch a shuttle right from the campground.
However, the biggest bonus was being woken up to the whoosh of balloons firing right about the RV…for two hours straight. RIGHT OVER OUR HEADS! If we didn’t feel like going to the field in the morning we just waited for our whoosh alarm clock, made tea and headed to the lawn chairs right from our campsite.
Landings in the campground happened pretty much every day, so be prepared to set your coffee down and jump up to help.
Though we went to the Dawn Patrol a couple of mornings our very favorite event was the Glowdeo where the Special Shapes balloons were ignited after dark. Nothing is more magical than walking around the field being surrounded by glowing balloons. It’s enough to make grown adults feel like kids again. There is so much laughter and smiles at this event…it’s the happiest place on earth (Sorry Disney World).
Want more info on the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? Check out RV buddy WheelingIt who did an amazing 4 part recap of the event, including some gorgeous pictures!
While we were at the Balloon Fiesta we were a part of the newly formed Xscapers RV club.
RV club, Escapees, was originally created to provide encouragement and resources for full time RV’ers. But as the Escapees population has aged and retired a resource for a younger crowd was needed. Thus, Xscapers has been created in order to appeal to a bit younger crowd who are still working on the road.
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A small group of Xscapers sharing dinner our last night in town

Xscapers came into being just this year and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was our very first “Convergence”. A convergence is a rally of sorts, but without all the fan-fair and stringent structure. Since most people in the group are still working, Xscapers intentionally do not schedule seminars/workshops during working hours. There were a few activities and happy hours scheduled through the week but not until late afternoons after working hours.
Other activities and socials organically formed, creating plenty of opportunity to get to know our group better. Drive Dive Devour hosted an impromptu, “How to make pizza on your grill”, The Roaming Pint set up a teekee bar complete with gas fire pit. We invited others for a hike in the Sandia Mountains and there was a bike ride to a bike-up coffee bar.
We made lots of new like-minded friends that we hope we run in to on our travels down the road.
Well, that’s it from Albuquerque.
Next stop…Flagstaff!
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Heading down the road to Flag!

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Doggie reunion, missing eyebrows and The Katy Trail

Wisdom curtesy of Jimmy Johns

Wisdom curtesy of Jimmy Johns

We flew from Phoenix to St. Louis is order to pick up our fur baby, Sam. He has been staying with Grandma for 5 weeks while we were attending our RV rallies out west. We missed our little guy so much. But there was something amiss when we arrived. Evidently while we were gone someone stole his eyebrows. That’s right. My mom took him to Petco for some grooming and while he was there someone swiped his curls and his eyebrows right from above his terrier nose.

Of course Petco is not quite sure what happened. But nothing could be done. The incident has already happened and Sam will have to endure the embarrassment of an expressionless head until they grow back. It’s nothing that a treat can’t help improve his mood, but he may need some therapy to regain his terrier mojo. Poor guy.

While in St. Louis we tried to lighten Sam’s mood with a run, so we headed to Old St. Charles MO to jump on The Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is considered the most successful rails-to-trails projects in the US. A portion of the Missouri KT Railroad experienced a flood in 1986. Since the railroad was in decline and the cost to repair the tracks were excessive, the railroad disbanded and ceased to exist. In 1989 it was decided to convert the old railroad tracks to a trail system and the first segment of the Katy Trail was officially opened in 1990. It is considered the nations longest rails-to-trails system that spans 237 miles from Machens, MO to Clinton, MO.

This was our first time running on The Katy Trail, and after experiencing a small section we are determined to add biking this trail to our bucket list. There are companies that can help make this happen by hauling your gear from stop to stop over the course of 5 days and make your overnight accommodations for you.  Or you can ride or hike the trail unsupported. Obviously we would like to use the RV for our stop overs, but that requires finding someone who is comfortable pull/parking a camper and can take the time off to do so. All logistics that can be worked out in due time I suppose.

The Eastern most terminus, Machens MO.

The Eastern most terminus, Machens MO.

Sam and I ran/walked an out and back for 6 miles while Jeff ran the entire 12 mile section from St. Charles to Machens. I then drove to pick up Jeff at the trailhead. It was certainly a beautiful day with temps in the low 70s. Shades-on-sunroof-open kind of day. The frogs were croaking and the birds where in full song. Sure signs of spring on the horizon (hopefully).

After being in the dry desert for so long it is definitely a world of change coming back to moist air (code for humidity) and dark brown soil. The contrast is striking. It’s a contrast that I am at odds with. I miss the dry air, amazing sunsets and abundance sunshine of the Southwest. But there is something comforting about the familiarity of the Midwest. It will be nice to be home to experience spring, but my mind is still out on the road.

We had a nice dinner with my Mom and my Grandmom. I have my big 5-0 birthday coming up and it still astounds me that I have a Grandmother still alive. She will be 98 this July. She was living alone, driving and mowing her 1.5 acres until 92 when she finally moved in with my Mom. We got her situated in her own apartment about a year ago at an assisted living facility where she is safe and well cared for. No more going down a flight of stairs to the basement to do laundry when no one is home. Her short-term memory is a challenge now, but she is always willing to talk about the old days.

Jeff put on some Big Band music and asked her to dance. She loves listening to music and it brought back memories of her and my Grandpa going out dancing every Saturday night while my Mom and her brother were free to play with the other kids outside the VFW hall. It was a sweet visit and we never know if this will be our last with Grandma. She hopes she gets to see us again and we do too. She is a feisty gall who loves sweets and ribs…and a few beers in her day. Now her favorite drink is a chocolate shake. Jeff asked her what she attributes her long life to. “Hard work and eating anything she wants”. That sums it up folks…eat more ice-cream!

We will be driving back to Arkansas soon, memories and eyebrow-less dog in tow.

Old St. Charles MO

Old St. Charles MO

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