Category Archives: Ragbrai

Goodbye, @Ragbrai_Iowa. Hello, @Gen_con

The Ragbrai chapter of my life has ended. Probably. We’ll see. I’d like to go back again someday, maybe when my publishing schedule is better arranged to slide in training. Here are some pictures in case you missed them on Twitter (I’m @AuthorLeeFrench).

First pie of Ragbrai, actually had at Shari’s in Moses Lake, WA.

My home away from home for the week of Ragbrai. This year, I splurged and got the tent rental from Pork Belly Ventures. Worth it.

A nice, welcoming touch in Orange City, IA.

I think I got snookered with store-bought pie this time.

The best pie of Ragbrai 2017. Blueberry with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

A town called Mallard where they make duck jokes. I’m so surprised. There was a rubber ducky race in town, and a lady holding a sign that said “Release the Quackin'”. The picture didn’t turn out. Alas.

Breakfast on Day 7. By then, it’s just like, to heck with yogurt, let’s skip to the pie. The banana made it healthy, of course.

Me at the end. Look how relieved I am to only have about one mile left to go. It’s like Ragbrai is hard work or something.

If I ever go back, I’m going to angle for a really difficult year, like the least flat ever, or the longest, or something.

Next up is a trip to Indianapolis, IN for Gencon. I like the show a lot, and this is Gencon’s 50th year. If you’re going, take a moment to wander the Author’s Avenue aisles. I’ll be the one in the hat with the dragon on top. Say hi and ask for a demo of Dwago.

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!

Summer Is Coming #amwriting

The start of June means I’m busting my butt to finish whatever I can in time for GenCon. Here’s my con schedule through September:

July 1-2: GEARCon in Portland, OR

July 6-9: NASFiC in San Juan, PR

August 1-3: MALCon in Denver, CO

August 20-24: GenCon in Indianapolis, IN

September 9: Readerfest in Renton, WA

September 30-Oct : GeekGirlCon in Seattle, WA

And that’s it. Looks like not much. Lies. All of it. I’m driving to all those places, except Puerto Rico. Turns out PR is an island. Who knew, right? July 23-29, I’ll be in Iowa, riding Ragbrai, which I’m also driving to. I also have other personal matters to tend to, which will result in me traveling all but a week or so from the last week of June through the end of August. For a value-added bonus, I’m having long-overdue dental work done in there somewhere.

And that leaves…not much time for writing. As usual.

This Ragbrai will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future. As I’m discovering this spring, training takes too much time away from writing. My parts aren’t very happy about the amount of riding I’ve been doing, either. At this point, I’m concerned about my knees and their ability to handle the whole ride.

At this time, I’m expecting to have two new books in time for GenCon. One is the fifth book of The Greatest Sin, title to be revealed with the cover in the near future. The other is Darkside Seattle: Fixer. More to come soon about both!

7 Life Lessons Learned from @Ragbrai_Iowa #Cycling

Oh, barf. An inspirational post. Quick, kill it with fire before it causes any harm!

Seriously, though, you can get life lessons from anything. I’m just another idiot who noticed there are things that equate between x and life, and I’ve written them down because they seem brilliant to me.

1. Hills are daunting at the bottom.

I know what you’re thinking: Duh. Standing at the bottom, looking up at the hard thing, is the kind of thing that makes people want to either climb or give up. If you want the thing enough, you’ll climb. If you’re not invested in it, you’ll give up and go play video games or something.

2. Hills are exhausting in the middle.

So, you started climbing. It’s a long hill. Kinda steep. Not super-fun. The view from the top of the hill is allegedly cool, but you’re getting skeptical because this hill never ends. Of those who decide to climb, a whole lot give up in the middle because it’s hard.

To be clear, I consider getting off my bike to walk equal to giving up.

3. That bit where you’re near the top but not there yet is…well, it’s something.

You can taste the victory. It’s just ahead. But you’re not there yet. Most people who get this far keep going because it becomes a matter of having invested enough time and energy into the climb that giving up is a much worse failure than if you’d given up sooner. You’re in it for the long haul.

At the same time, it’s really frustrating to be so close and yet so far. When you’re in granny gear, you can barely breathe, and your muscles are screaming, keeping going is one of the hardest things imaginable.

4. There’s always another hill.

Seriously, there is. No matter how awesome the view from the top of this hill, there’s always another one that might be better for whatever reason. Anyone who tells you it’s the last hill is probably either lying or trying to sell you something.

So you know, if you ever come alongside me and suggest that hill ahead is the last one, you’ll be told something like, “Lies! Perfidy! There’s always one more hill. Always.”

5. Determination will only get you so far.

No matter what your hill is, you need more than one skill to reach the top. You have to know how to do the thing and then practice it until you’re good at it. You have to work on five other skills too. Maybe it’s learning how to talk to people about your thing, how to do the paperwork to keep your taxes manageable, how to find some sort of thing, or whatever. You gotta learn the skills, plural, and figure out how to deal with your weaknesses.

In cycling, it takes strength, endurance, determination, motivation, and a particular sort of “callouses” in a rather sensitive portion of your anatomy. Seriously, that seat is rough on your tender parts. If you’re not used to the seat, it’ll murder you with pain and blood flow issues. I have the value-added bonus of chronic tendonitis in one knee (and also one elbow and both wrists, which don’t impact cycling much, but certainly don’t help), which I have to train to overcome for a distance ride like Ragbrai.

6. Never pass up the unexpected awesome thing if you can help it.

One time on Ragbrai, I ran across a vendor selling frozen, chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. I was full from lunch and didn’t get one. I’ve never seen any such thing again. This makes me sad. Do I need to explain further?

7. Everything is better with a good team.

Yes, everything. Even when your project is highly solitary, there are other people doing other parts to smoosh your part together with. In writing, which seems like a solitary activity, there are bunch of other people involved. Even the most self-reliant indie still needs a beta reader or five. Those of us with better things to do hire editors, cover designers, formatters, and more. A team.

I ride Ragbrai alone because I have no cycling friends interested in coming along with me, but I always manage to get adopted by some group at the campsite. Pork Belly Ventures, an excellent charter service that I highly recommend, has a lovely bunch of folks who ride with them year after year, and I’ve met several, as well as a whole bunch I’ll probably never see again. If I want to, I can plop down beside any of them and share my dinnertime.

The Casual Cyclist’s Guide to @RAGBRAI_IOWA Training Terms

Are you training for Ragbrai? I am! Taking time out from writing every day is something of a hardship for my publication schedule, but I’m doing it anyway. And hey, we all need a little more exercise in the spring. Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, these are some important terms relating to cycling that you may not have heard before in this context.

Rain (n.): The thing that happens every time I get on my bike between September and July; What causes copious spots on my glasses, thus making cycling more exciting.

Gear Denial (n.): That moment when you could shift to a lower gear, but really just don’t wanna; laziness.

Iowa Flat (adj.): Any cycling route that’s 20-25% flat. Compare to Texas Flat (90-95%) or Cascadia Flat (0.5%).

Hill (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to shift to an easier gear; uphill.

Mountain (n.): Any segment of road that requires you to step off your bike and walk; A section of road for which your training goal is total domination and/or subjugation.

Downhill rest (n.): The precious few moments for breathing you hope will come after the hill.

Water bottle (n.): The thing you forgot to slip into the cage on your bike frame, thus necessitating you cut your ride short to avoid dehydration; the thing you dropped in the middle of the hill which turns said hill into a mountain.

Helmet (n.): The thing you damned well better turn around and go put on as soon as you notice you forgot it, dumbass.

Car (n.): Artillery round; The enemy.

Tired (adj.): How you feel when you could go five more miles, but you’d rather stop and check your email on your phone until you stop panting and/or sweating so much.

Exhausted (adj.): How you feel when five more miles will probably kill you, but you do it anyway because that’s how far you are from home; A sign you’re not ready for Ragbrai yet.

Happy cycling!

Missing @RAGBRAI_IOWA

Today, I should be in Iowa. Instead, I’m in Puyallup, waiting for our house to clear after some work was done on our floors and getting ready to work Oregon Trail Days in Tenino this weekend. Monday, Jeffrey Cook and I leave for our leisurely drive to Indianapolis for GenCon.

But I should be in Iowa. I knew I would miss not doing Ragbrai this year, but I didn’t realize until this week that I would miss it this much. It feels like I’m letting my bicycle down. Since I knew I wasn’t going, I haven’t been riding. I’ve been working instead.

(See: Backyard Dragons, Ethereal Entanglements, Illusive Echoes, Merely This and Nothing More, and Unnatural Dragons, all released this year already. )

Corn isn’t the same without Iowa. Neither is bacon. I’m not saying bacon tastes like sawdust or anything, it’s just not the same as when it’s mixed into the chicken gyro for no reason other than Iowa, which you’re eating because you just biked 75 miles in 100 degree heat and brutal humidity after not really sleeping in 80 degree heat and even more brutal humidity plus a thunderstorm at midnight that almost destroyed your tent.

Muscle aches, saddle sores, grit, grime, sunburn, poor phone service, food poisoning, heat stroke, hypothermia, exhaustion, hail, thunderstorms, fatigue, store-made pie…these are only some of the myriad hardships we all willingly inflict on ourselves for one week. And I’m really quite upset to miss out on it this year.

Because I’ve made dozens of new friends, even if most of them were fleeting. I’ve had the best pie in the known universe. I’ve hit the groove on day 4 and reached the point where I could just ride and camp forever. I’ve laughed with strangers and gotten pictures of myself with people in bacon and cow suits. I’ve picked up souvenirs I could never get anywhere else. I’ve seen chocolate covered frozen cheesecake on a stick (didn’t get to eat it, but I saw it, which is a lot like seeing Bigfoot).

Most of all, it’s so damned uplifting to be surrounded by thousands of people united by one unimpeachably positive thing: a love of bicycling and/or bicycles.

The Adaptive Sports folks are awesome. So are the Air Force folks. The costumes make you smile even in the darkest, deepest pit of despair that comes at the bottom of the umpteenth hill to climb when it’s too hot and you’re too tired, and &^%* that hill, I want ice cream.

Stay cool, Ragbrai. I hope to see you next year.

Sweet home Ala-@Ragbrai_Iowa

I’m not doing Ragbrai this year. Now that the weather is finally perfect here in the PNW for cycling, it’s really hitting me hard. I’m going to miss everything about it, including the frantic need to train. Because of my demanding publishing schedule this spring, it’s for the best I’m not going anyway, because I just don’t have time to ride my bike for 2-5 hours on any given day. I will continue to not have time for that until next December.

I’m feeling another Top Ten list coming on. It’s like a recurring rash.

Top Ten Things I’ll Miss About Ragbrai This Year

  1. Disassembling my bike and wedging it into its box.
  2. So much corn. Everywhere and in everything, prepared every way imaginable.
  3. So much bacon. Everywhere and in everything, prepared every way imaginable.
  4. Pitching my tent in 50mph winds.
  5. Riding my bike against the wind. In sleet. In July.
  6. Riding my bike in 105 degree heat. Plus humidity. The next day.
  7. The pure joy of discovering a genuine toilet during a week where kybos (porta-potties) are the norm.
  8. Holding my tent up through a midnight thunderstorm, complete with a tornado warning.
  9. The random coincidence of chatting with someone I have an unexpected connection to after meeting by virtue of riding at the same pace for a minute or so.
  10. Packing up my bike, saying goodbye, and getting that first good night’s sleep after the madness.

Hopefully, I’ll see you in 2017, Ragbrai. Until then, I may mysteriously pop up in Iowa around that time on my way to points farther east as I tour the midwest, doing conventions. Here’s also hoping I can still lose some of my hibernation weight despite not cycling much this spring.