Archive for category Iowa

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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Preparing to Launch

RAGBRAI

RAGRAI…The Registers Great Bike Ride Across Iowa

So Jeff and I have been stationary for the most part for about 6 weeks now. We planned on leaving today to head to Elkhart to pick up our newly remodeled/repaired RV from MasterTech RV. But considering she is still without a roof, our plans are on hold.

We’ve been told that our AC’s will be installed later this week, so the roof should be completed by then. Unfortunately, we’ve been told “the new roof will be on by the end of the week”, every week since May. So….

Our first trip was to participate in RAGBRAI, the bike ride across Iowa. This would be the 3rd year for us. It is a 7 day ride, riding 50-100 miles each day. There are destination towns on the course that host approximately 20,000-30,000 cyclists each night, with entertainment and food vendors. These are very small towns with populations under 5,000, so you can imagine the spectacle and economic boost that occurs from that many people. After the infestation of locusts devours the little overnight town, we all move on to the next.

RAGBRAI is on two lane county roads that are closed to the general vehicle traffic. But if a car does manage to make its way onto the course it is quickly swallowed up by thousands of bikes that have just been waiting for an opportunity like this to torment an unsuspecting motorist. It’s a role reversal for us cyclists who get flipped off, run off the road and things thrown at us by a motorist on a regular basis. Now, it’s our turn! Whoaaaaa!

RAGBRAI is a sight to see for sure with riders, teams and families wearing costumes and decorated helmets. I’ve had the experience of riding next to a friend and quickly losing them in the crowd by looking away for a split second. Bright colored bike attire and distinctive helmet gear make it a bit easier to find your party. But I’ve lost my group very easily before only to find them again at our designated campsite.

One of the fan favorites on the routes each day is Mr. Pork Chop. Look for the pink school bus selling inch thick slabs of pork chops cooked over charcoal and dried out corn cobs. You don’t really “see” Mr. Pork Chop as much as you “smell” Mr. Pork Chop. Oh that sweet grilled aroma of charred pig hot off the grill. I’m not going to lie…I was a vegetarian until I met Mr. Pork Chop…seriously…a VEGETARIAN! I fell off the vegetable wagon hard when I met him and I haven’t looked back.

To make my self-inflicted dietary restrictions worse for ware and my RAGBRAI food confessions complete, I also have eaten some of the best homemade ice cream and Amish pie I have ever tasted. It’s the only place you can ride your bike 500 miles over a week and gain weight at the same time.

Beyond food there are also front yard beer gardens for those wanting to try intoxicated cycling amongst friends. Or how about a 200 foot long homemade slip and slide and cow pond skinny dipping to cool you off.

Need a bathroom? Just pull over at a corn stalk relief stations wherever the urge hits you. Road kill? Road kill is shown it’s due respect for it’s disastrous attempt to get from one side of the road to the other by being adorned with Mardi Gras beads…God rest his furry soul.

Campgrounds are plentiful in Iowa, most of them being County or City owned. At $15 a night for water and electric the price can’t be beat for some great sites. But when you throw RAGBRAI into the mix, camping accommodations are a challenge. Most of campgrounds have first come first serve sites available in addition to reservable sites. Since I typically don’t make reservations I leave each overnight town by 7AM in order to snag an available campsite around the next town.

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Jeff catching a lift

This year the route has posed a bit of a challenge, as the overnight towns do not have many camping options nearby. Not to worry though. This is one time a year when overnight parking on random streets, parking lots, front yards and driveways is perfectly acceptable.

RAGBRAI is scheduled to start July 18 and I am cautiously optimistic that we will make the first few days of the ride. Frankly, I’m ok with that since I usually drive the RV while Jeff rides his bike. With a new RV and going from a 21’ travel trailer to a 32’ fifth wheel, there is going to be a learning curve for me to hook, unhook and back up the Domani (while remembering to put the tailgate down…oh boy!). I would like to get supervised practice in before taking her out on my own.

Time will tell if we will make it to Iowa to see some of our countries most beautiful rolling farm land.

Here’s to hoping that I don’t back into a power pole, crush the tailgate or take out a picnic table before we get there!

RAGBRAI

When we pick up the RV…

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