GREENE, Ia. – I had another RAGBRAI epiphany Thursday.
If this 418-mile ride seems tough, I have only my defeatist thinking to blame.
I couldn’t dismiss the advice from Ryan Francois of Des Moines, considering he’s heaving up every hill on his skateboard.
“You just have to convince your mind that your body can do it,” Francois said Thursday as we sat on the sidewalk in downtown Greene.
“Downhills help,” he admitted.
Yes, they do. And I’m just pedaling, not pumping one leg while balanced on the other, all the while keeping a wary eye for nasty cracks in the pavement. I also don’t brake with my foot, which requires three pairs of shoes just to get through RAGBRAI.
“You kind of get in a trance with it,” he said of his Register’s Annual Great Board Ride Across Iowa.
Francois’ rural Zen does get interrupted by the frequent comments lobbed at him by passing bicyclists. The most common:
1. “You’re doing the whole thing on that?” (Yes. He’s poised to become just the second person to skateboard an entire RAGBRAI.) 2. “Ever switch legs?” (Yes, every couple of miles.) Francois, 22, recently graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in civil engineering and architecture. He flew back from Charlotte, N.C., where he now works for a nonprofit.
He began the week rolling alongside his friend Devin Harschnek. Both of them were members of ISU’s long-boarding club.
Harschnek skateboarded all of RAGBRAI last year.
If Francois finishes, he’ll be the first to complete the route including the Karras Loop, Tuesday’s extra mileage that pushes the day’s total mileage past 100.
The duo started at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and didn’t coast into Forest City until 9:30.
“I like pushing things to the max,” Francois said.
He pointed at his yellow wristband, the same band worn by all registered riders.
Notice that it says “rider,” not “bicyclist,” he said.
Good point. But it sounds like Francois plans to rejoin the anonymous spandex flock.
“I’ll probably do (RAGBRAI) on a bike next year,” he said.
Sorry, but I’m not doing it on a skateboard.
Thursday marked another RAGBRAI first for me: I sat with Elizabeth Reetz, the education and outreach program director for the state archaeologist, and played “The Game of Iowa” on a borrowed card table set up in Greene.
If you’ve never heard of the board game, that’s because it was created in 1976 by my former Register colleague, Rand Witke, and fell out of print. The Register sold it during the first wave of RAGBRAI’s wider popularity.
It’s more or less modeled after Monopoly, except that the trip around the board is themed as a bike ride through Iowa cities. Players purchase entire towns rather than properties such as Boardwalk. The winner is the first to spell “HAWKEYE STATE” by collecting letters along the way without going broke.
Months ago, an Iowan discovered a copy of the game at a flea market and gave it to the state archaeologist, John Doershuk. He preserved the original game and manufactured a new replica. Then he and Reetz and their Team Archaeology bikers (four of them in the team’s seventh year) brought the game with them to RAGBRAI in their big new University of Iowa Mobile Museum.
Look for the RV museum in the overnight towns if you’re curious about the game. But be careful if you challenge Reetz: She easily defeated me, even though she’s from Wisconsin.
Standing in downtown Rockford with “Free Bird” blaring I began to compile a list of painfully tired or just grating songs that should be banned from RAGBRAI. As if to prod me on, “Cotton Eye Joe” followed.
Then I reconsidered: To stay with the spirit of RAGBRAI I should be playful, not scold. So my brainstorm is to launch a new team to ride next year: the Rock Snobs. We would add bazooka speakers to our bikes and crank out a critically approved playlist (the entire Clash catalog, etc.). And when we did hear “Free Bird” or a similar song that offended our taste, we wouldn’t get nasty about it. We simply would hit up the rider or local in question to donate a dollar or two to that year’s chosen charity.
The total funds would not only do good work but also begin to set a metric to measure RAGBRAI’s classic-rock and line-dancing crassness. Who’s in?
My rock snobbery wouldn’t include the rider who dug a kazoo out of his back jersey pocket Thursday morning and wheezed a version of Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.”
“I think it’s fun,” he said as he pedaled on ahead, drafting what I took to be a pair of his pals who were less than amused with the familiar kazoo.
“It seems to annoy other people.”
We need the metaphorical kazoos of RAGBRAI to keep us guessing.
Kudos to the pair of bicyclists whom I spied on the swing set in the middle of the park in Nora Springs. RAGBRAI is one of the few times we let ourselves remember the good things about being a kid.
My colleague Michael Morain has been host of a RAGBRAI.com live show daily at noon from the midpoint town. You should have seen him Thursday in full carnival barker mode in downtown Greene, pulling in riders decked out in college jerseys and convincing them to shout out their school fight songs. (Thanks to my fellow, random Central College alumnus who stopped to yell on behalf of the Dutch.) More fun today in Sumner: We’re encouraging all riders who were Register (and/or Tribune) newspaper carriers to gather at noon at City Hall for the live broadcast. Morain promises a test of paper-tossing skills.
Riders on this RAGBRAI have tossed toilets in Burt on Day 3, so this should be a cinch.
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