The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to Last-Minute @RAGBRAI_IOWA Prep #cycling

This happened on the 12th. By day 1 of Ragbrai, I won’t have ridden my bike for 10 days. This is not a disaster, it’s just a recipe for needing Butt Butt’r and ibuprofen.

I have to travel a pretty long distance to reach Iowa, so I’m leaving tomorrow. My packing includes books and gear for MALCon in Denver, where I’ll be August 4-6. Your packing, on the other hand, should not stuff your car full to the brim. Unless you’re moving your own vehicle from town to town somehow, you’re limited to two duffels while on the ride.

Herein is a list of things I’ve found helpful while on Ragbrai, but are not obvious.

  1. A flashlight. You’ll want this in case you ever need to do anything at night. Which you will. I promise. It’s best to have one with a clip of some sort so you don’t have to turn it off in the dark inside a kybo.
  2. Clothespins or similar clips, possibly 2-4 small carabiners. I use these to hang wet cycling clothes after rinsing them out. You may also want a 6-10 foot length of rope. I don’t bother, as I can always drape everything over my tent. The clothespins hold things in case of a breeze or awkward placement needs.
  3. Walking shoes. Probably with regular socks. If your flipflops are super-comfy for walking around, more power to ya. I’ve never had a pair of sandals in which I was happy to walk more than a half mile or so, plus regular shoes means no sunburns on my feet. In most overnight towns, you’ll have to walk a fair distance to get to the expo, the entertainment and/or the food vendors. Even when you use the shuttles, you’ll still end up walking around quite a bit.
  4. Hand sanitizer. All kybos should have either a hand washing station or a hand sanitizer dispenser. Should.
  5. Emergency food substance. Maybe you, like me, have trouble forcing yourself to eat first thing in the morning. Maybe you’re a grazer. Maybe you just want to save a little money. Whatever you might come up with for a reason, it’s in your best interest to have a little something along with you. Anytime you feel yourself powering down between towns, stuff your EFS into your food hole, give it a few minutes to settle, and get back in the saddle. Protein-heavy bars work well for this.

Other than those things, don’t forget your sunscreen, toothbrush and toothpaste, and as much cycling gear as you feel comfortable bringing. I always get a new water bottle at the expo on Saturday for the week. Also, bring a sweater or light jacket, and expect to sleep in a sleeping bag, because it can get cold. You never know. I got mild hypothermia on Ragbrai once. Try not to do that.

I’ll be riding with Pork Belly Ventures, as I usually do, so I don’t have to worry about some toiletries and other things. You should consider how much of that kind of stuff you want to bring. If you aren’t riding with a charter, you’ll wind up showering in a wide variety of interesting locales. Be prepared for cold showers, not warm.

A few other tips:

  1. Keep a list handy with the names of the places you expect to camp every night. This way, if you feel lost, you can ask a local for directions.
  2. Bring cash for food. Gear dealers will generally accept credit cards, but food vendors don’t always, especially in the pass-through towns. Plan a budget and bring a little bit of a cushion if you can, in case you’re way off for how much you’re going to eat.
  3. Follow the basic riding rules and suggestions in the official Ragbrai booklet. Really. They’re designed to prevent problems like injury and heatstroke.
  4. Do not expect the SAG wagon to find you out on the road. This is my fifth time, and I’ve seen one on the route once. Once. They often fill up in the early towns and take the vehicle route to the overnight town. In the event you get hurt, your bike gets trashed, or you absolutely can’t go any further, try 911 on your phone. Flip your bike upside down if you can. People will stop to help you. I promise. If you *can* make it to the next town, do that and seek help there.
  5. The only reason you need two water bottles is if you want two different drinks in them. There will be opportunities in every single pass-through town to refill. Do not panic about water, just remember to drink it.
  6. For day 1-3, take the painkiller before you get on the bike. There’s no point to waiting until you feel pain. Trust that you will and prepare accordingly. By day 4, you should be okay to go without.

Internet and phone service are spotty and questionable all week long, especially since we won’t be going through any large towns this year, so plan to be disconnected the whole time. Don’t expect to hear much from me on Twitter or FB until it’s all over, because I don’t have either app on my phone (on purpose!).

Good luck, and see you on the road!

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