Washington, Iowa to Muscatine, Iowa
Distance: 54.6 miles
Ascent: 1,314 feet
Cyclemeter app not used
Cumulative Distance this tour: 442.5 miles
Sure was nice to have hot coffee right beside our campsite this morning, courtesy of the Washington Kiwanis Club.
Jack and I hit up Farm Boys one last time this morning for breakfast. They’re real friendly, provide tasty hearty food at a market price, and run an efficient operation that typically churns through long lines. I tend to shun away from the mainstream RAGBRAI vendors, but not these guys. Two thumbs up for Farm Boys.
This morning they were short on staff and were out of one of my favs, V8 juice, both signs that RAGBRAI is ending. Likewise, in the meeting town Columbus Junction, and on the 23 miles leading to it, the vendors were noticeably thinner, so Jack and I mostly passed through.
Actually too bad we didn’t linger longer, because Columbus Junction is known for its authentic Hispanic culture. We did go into one of the Mexican restaurants to inquire about a sandwich, but we got the impression they didn’t prepare for the onslaught of customers and were a little understaffed. They advertised something called a mangonada which sounded fantastic, but the one employee told me we’d have to wait on her father to arrive so he could make one.
On to the next town, Letts. Just before town were signs to a swinging bridge, so Jack and I pulled over to find a small line of cyclists waiting to cross it. The bridge spans 262 feet of a ravine and is made from wooden planks and steel cables – read more about it here if you want: http://columbusjunctioniowa.org/swinging-bridge/
The bridge actually looks sturdy, but I’m not sure it was meant to have 100 intoxicated cyclists on it at once, bouncing and swaying “just for fun.” In its own way, though, it was a charge to walk across, doing frequent 45 degree leans left or right, hanging onto the top cables for dear life. A fun thing to do, but I was a little bit happy to get back to my bike.
In Letts itself was an old-timers band playing Main Street. From the HyVee I scored a bratwurst sandwich plus 2 hard-boiled eggs, and also picked up a piece of tent pie. We stood to watch the band for quite a while.
Onward 6 more miles to the Ardon Creek Winery. The place was packed but Jack and I managed to score a couple glasses of wine. A band was trying to perform but their main PA kept failing, forcing them to stop mid-tune. Jack thus found their name ironic: “3 dB.”
Another 10 easy miles. On the way, Jack and I made a momentary stop for chocolate milk, but the dense Jam Boys had run out again. This time Jack and I both walked out. Across the street, however, a gal was calling out “Three dollar lemonade!” to very few takers. That’s what Jack heard, too, but on closer inspection, she was actually saying, “Free vodka lemonade!” Mmmmmmmm! It was a booth sponsored by Smirnoff, and the drinks were potent. And free. They even had cherries and other fruit soaked in vodka. Thank you very much!
And then, poof, the Mississippi River and the end of RAGBRAI. A handful of RAGBRAI volunteers stood at the river bank clapping for riders as they finished. Otherwise, as Jack and I have noted before, the vendors and RAGBRAI organizers pretty much desert you at the finish line.
Notably better this year was the location of the RAGBRAI baggage trucks, only a few blocks down the street from the finish line. Jack and I retrieved our bag, extracted our panniers, and went about the task of repositioning gear for self-containment. The one extra item we both now had was a duffel, which ended up crammed on top of everything.
A few Muscatine bars were in full swing, notably the Missipi Brewing Company on the riverfront. A call to Phil found him already planted at a table there, and we soon joined him. What –they have Guinness on tap? Want! Wow did that taste good.
Discussion turned to our destination for tonight. Wildcat Den State Park was 5 miles out of town. The Fairport Recreation area was a little closer but also east of us on the river. Jack called one of them but got no answer. Also, earlier in the week, Roger had mentioned there was a place designated by RAGBRAI organizers for tent camping somewhere in Muscatine, but we didn’t know where. Mike joined us and was wondering too.
I spun back down to the waterfront to ask, but all support had already left. In the meantime, Jack pulled up the RAGBRAI website and found it: Muscatine High School, about 3 miles away. We immediately liked this option because it was north, not east, less of a detour toward our continued ride next week, and so decided to head there. We let Mike know about it, too.
Stopped first at Avenue Subs for more dinner than I could eat, and so took half of a sub with me to camp. We soon found the high school and spied a handful of tents already set up on the practice football field. There beneath a tree sat Roger. Suddenly it almost felt like 2011, tenting with Roger again. Some 15 or 20 other campers slowly joined us, most of them either cross-country or other independent touring cyclists.
Spent a few hours on phone calls, games of catch and kick with a small blue ball we found, and otherwise conversing with Roger and other cyclists. Phil had purchased a bottle of Iowan red wine a couple days ago, and shared it around. We all met Chris, a cross country cyclist from Minnesota who had ridden 4 or 5 RAGBRAI days with our friend Frank back in 2011.
Finally into the tent. Hard to believe another RAGBRAI is finished. In discussing it, I think Jack and I agree that, while RAGBRAI is a heapload of fun, we will probably elect to do routes other than RAGBRAI in the future. The bike traffic is on the annoying side. The campsites are crowded. Novice riders and novice campers abound. And then you have all those annoying verbals on the route. Safe to say we’re looking forward to next week.
And yet, I will restate my eternal fondness for RAGBRAI. It is a spectacle that should be witnessed. The long ride is a moderate physical test, but more importantly it’s a seven-day carnival of fun, food, drink, music, and camping. And there is that spirit of bicycle kinship among all riders.
What would return me to another RAGBRAI is to ride it with someone who’s never done it, like, say, my sister. You readin’ this, sis?