As a relative newbie to bicycle riding (actively riding 14 months now), I’m looking back at my year of pretty intense riding for a relative newcomer.  And I’m smiling!  My bike computer says I have done 2574 miles since a year ago, Aug 23, 2009, which is when I started tracking my mileage.  It’s probably closer to 3,000 as there were some days I did not bring the bike computer or it ran out of juice.

I do not at all want this to sound like bragging, but am pretty darn proud of myself for the accomplishment of that many miles in one year, including the bike ride across Nebraska (BRAN) and the ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI).  I was in need of an fitness regime that would provide a good and regular cardiac program and when I discovered bicycling again, I knew this was it.  But having failed at forcing myself to go to the fitness center weekly, just for my heart fitness, I knew I needed some kind of goal to keep me motivated.  In July of 2009 I watched the riders on the first day of RAGBRAI and I knew that was it. I made up my mind then to ride across Iowa.  My typical riding back then was 10-15 miles a day and I knew I was crazy to even think it, but in the short time I had been riding I had discovered that by getting out there every week, more days than not, and adding just 5% more to each weeks ride, I was slowly building up strength and distance.  As I progressed I found my butt hurt and my wrists went numb and stayed slightly numb for days after my rides.  The change to a recumbent bike solved all that.  It has also become a great source of conversation at rest stops on my rides.  Everyone is curious about recumbents and I’m always happy to chat about them.

But I get off subject here, I see.  Nothing short of going on a ride for several days prepares you for BRAN or RAGBRAI.  Why would anyone subject their poor bodies, especially an out of shape 53 year old, to hours of riding day after day in heat, cold, wind and rain?  And what gives you the willpower to get up each day and do it again when your body and instincts tell you that you have lost all sense of reality.  You could be home in the Lazy Boy sipping a cold one, remote control in hand.  Why, why, why did you think you could do this???

I’m not a quitter.  And I love meeting new people, seeing new sites.  I like the adventure of experiencing new things.  So I prepared myself mentally, telling myself it was just one more pedal after another, one hill after another.  I did not try to think of the 82 miles ahead on the long days or the 400 more ahead of me.  I spent the year telling everyone that I was going to do this and did not want to tell anyone I had failed because I gave up or just thought I could not do it.

In comparison, RAGBRAI was a much more enjoyable ride.  It’s a rolling social event, a rolling party as many say. Because I went on a charter I quickly made friends with people too.  Snacks and food was more plentiful and there was so much to entertain the mind as you rode because of the steady stream of riders (hundreds in either direction).  All walks of life, all shapes and sizes, many different bike styles, some really entertaining outfits…it was just fun and the fun made you think less of the discomfort of the ride.

But I’m not really being fair to BRAN, especially since these are the only two rides I have gone on.  BRAN was less enjoyable, but it had much fewer people (675 vs. 15,000) less community involvement and frankly, the killer, was it was simply a hard ride this year for everyone.  Even the seasoned veterans said so.  Lots of hills, headwinds, rain at night, rain two days, and I was recovering from a sprained ankle.  I was simply exhausted and sleep deprived by the last day. And although I enjoyed the experience overall, I was not eager to get on a bike again any time soon.

On RAGBRAI you are never alone and can find someone to chat with every minutes (there is always a rider in front, back and beside you whether you want it or not.   Might as well strike up a conversation.  On BRAN I would sometimes ride for an hour without another rider in site and unless you went with someone, your only evening conversation would be with whomever was in the food line or sitting around you at dinner.  I did know a handful of people though and never felt totally alone that week.

Where BRAN seemed more of a test of fitness, RAGBRAI is a celebration of life.  But one really needs to do both to appreciate the wonders of each.  I can’t wait to do them again and am eager to find new adventures and new friends.

This has been the most wonderful summer in a couple of decades for me.  Although it was strenuous, it was not stressful.  I felt like I really got a lot of bang for my buck given the 3,000 miles and probably 400 hours of experiences and entertainment.  I highly recommend participating in one of these organized rides as the organizers have all the worries of getting you there, getting your gear there, finding the campsites, making sure there is food, etc.  BRAN folks even got us up a couple of nights and into safe buildings when high winds and storms were approaching.

With biking trips, your vacation time slows way, way down and you have the time to really appreciate the scenery.  Up close and personal!  You hear all the birds, the cows, the horses.  You feel the wind, sun and rain and enjoy the many wonderful smells.  You are ready for bed at sunset and up at 4:00 eager to see what unfolds that day.  Food never tasted so good and what a thrill to eat 8,000 calories a day for a week and not have to adjust your belt when you get back home!

I recommend these rides to anyone.  Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have regarding bike trips, recumbents, or anything related.