30 Jan

The new route for RAGBRAI has been determined for the year 2012. I am SO jealous of all the people that will be there this year. I know that, one day, my family and I will ride RAGBRAI again. We rode it in 2008 with my husband’s Uncle Greg. We called him G-reg. After he passed away in 2009 I wrote a story about our trip. The following is an edited version that focuses on the trip itself. If you don’t already know what RAGBRAI is, the story will give you an idea, but you can also google it up. If you ever experience it for yourself, I promise, it’s something you’ll never forget.






Written in May of 2010

Greg is gone. But who am I to be the one who can’t take much more of this?  Visitations. Memorial Services. Funerals. Celebrations of life. No matter what, when you keep losing people this way, you realize that ribbons couldn’t save them. I’m tired of raising money, tired of using those causes to soothe my own soul. I was always doing that, wasn’t I? Leaning on a purpose, trying to find a connection with the deceased. Validating my attachment to people.

Two years ago, Greg was the pesty uncle who had to tell us about RAGBRAI. He was an instigator by nature. When my husband turned to me and said, “You should come along,” Greg shittily agreed. So I was in. But not because they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. It was just to prove a 7-day bike ride across the state of Iowa with a 0.8 and a 5-year-old could not be done and, “Y’all better recognize, I’m not there to be your servant.” A mother of two could not handle support driver. She would be too preoccupied to successfully travel from one town to the next, find an acceptable campsite, pitch tents, locate food and do it over and over again for five more days. They would be let down.  One year ago, Greg was my friend and my memory, the pain-in-my-ass uncle who proved RAGBRA would be impossible to return to without him. And Greg always called it RAGBRA. I was jealous of that joke only because it was an easy laugh. “RAGBRA, RAGBRA, Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”

Greg’s steed of choice for RAGBRAI: Hybrid Cannondale. Canary Yellow and cute.

My pony: Kia Sedona. More of a Clydsdale. It was not a clever bus with loyal hardcores leading rookies. (How can I get me one-a those?) 

My husband’s purebred mistress: Specialized Tarmac Pro, cherry red, no spoiler.

We would do this again. I kept notes.

Day One – evaluate the day ahead. Collect newspapers, maps, free souveniers (i.e. little ziploc of dirt from current camp).  

Day Two – stay away from stables containing manure and horse flies. Always stake down tents and always expect 2am tornado/thunderstorm warning.

Day three was my hump day. I caught on quick.

Day Three – Find schools or gyms. When team leaves, you leave, don’t dilly, just leave. Document, take pictures, park anywhere and look like it’s your business. Park such as no one can block you in and be prepared to maneuver in reverse from the route. If you’ve done it right you have time to hand out snacks, pull out cowbells and get ready to shout like all hell. Wave, wave, snapsnapsnap. Get back in the freaking Clydesdale and mooove. Drive, drive, drive. Set up camp. Find spot central to pool, town square and next day’s route. This spot exists in every town but everyone knows it. Make sure phone is charged. Locate food.

By this day, the arrangement in the back of the Sedona was unfamiliar, yet still organized. It smelled of tarp and cold, cold mud. The kind packed up with morning dew.

It was all a cluster and the first half is still a blur. But, I was thriving. You could get lost here but the Iowan’s wouldn’t let that happen during this amazing week. By day three you wait for your riders, Clydesdale leaning over in a cornfield ditch. While you wait, you cheer for the unicyclist and woot-woot the traveling mini bar team. They are all your unofficial friends this week. Don’t forget the dives you ate at, the neighbors who invite you to their fire pit. Record the weather. Buy an umbrella. It’s all significant.

Day Four – Rest towns offer every food imaginable on a stick. Meet riders. Socialize with gear grinders dressed like bananas. Hosting towns and traveling vendors provide music, turkey legs, homemade ice cream, port-o-potty’s.

  • Fly swatter
  • Bug Spray

We can’t ride that route again without Greg. Why would we? It won’t bring him back. Besides, it’s sacred.

Day Five – Consider booking hotel ahead of time for day five. Four days of humidity + rain = crabby kids = crabby men.

Day Six – The Finish Line.

On day six at RAGBRAI, the riders were my mission and the kids were under my spell. But I became overly confident as I left the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel to meet my riders at the end. Somewhere in-between carbs for lunch and carbs which would come in a can, my grocery getter drove into a T where RAGBRAI would cut me off. The country road transformed into a one-way with waves of riders gushing by. And for vehicles, for me, the only way was R, reverse, back it up, you don’t belong here.

This wasn’t happening. I would miss the finish line if I steered away from the herd. Going around could cost me the moments I worked so hard for. The role of support driver would be a joke if we weren’t there to meet them. The thought was sickening. My sadness suggested to my stomach that it could not take much more of this. What was I even doing here? Why would Greg choose to ride across Iowa with a family of four? He could have had it all to himself. He was perfectly capable. Independent. And now I was involved. So deep in it, I found myself suffocating in my desire to share the glory. Already suffering the loss my riders would soon feel if I couldn’t find a way to grow wings on this bitch and just get there.

My eyes clouded as I lowered my head down in shame. Sulking. Feeling sorry for myself. A tap on my window snapped me back at attention and I leaned away to find a broad shouldered shadow blocking the high sun. My reaction caused the form to take a courteous step back revealing a traffic director sporting a reflective vest. We stared at each other, sharing a brief moment of confusion, and he threw an unexpected shrug at me. “Whichwayyougoin?” said the shrug. Unbelievable. I had a choice? My tummy jumped back snuggly into place and it didn’t take but a second to gather up the guts to release my grip on the steering wheel, lift one finger and point left.

My savior did not question the rotund machinery I was operating. He pounced into action, with a hefty gait over to the route to take advantage of an immediate gap for us to enter. I chugged in carefully, gazing and entranced by the constant waving in of his arm as it welcomed us back. As we puttered away, the white words “RAGBRAI Take Us Home” written on the rear hatch window would be the last he would see of us.

As we floated into line, a climb began. We huffed just under 4 miles an hour uphill with a group of nearly sixty bikes directly in front, most of which were a team blazing identical jerseys. Behind me was an ocean of riders filling in, standing on their pedals, and riding straight into my rear view mirror. Ducking my head and squeezing my shoulders inward, I attempted to blend in and be of as little nuisance as possible. I was surrounded by concentration on the faces of amateurs, professionals, thrill seekers and leisure finders. They found a rhythm and with each pump to the left and then to the right their waves carried me up. I read their thoughts and became nothing less than a large bicycle for over a mile.


And, in the end, relief and sadness came over me as I reached an intersection and was sent away from the pack. I found a parallel path as the kids waved goodbye to the riders. I sat up straight and told myself to breathe again. A smile smeared on my face as I accelerated, determined to reach the river’s edge with time to spare.

Day Six – The Finish Line – Beer. Always have beer ready when your riders come through.



3 responses to “RAGBRAI

  1. Anita Mac

    January 30, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Awesome adventure – love the banana picture.

    • marthaaafish

      February 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Thanks! I really wish I had a picture of the travelling mini bar. What an insanely interesting time. 🙂

  2. kim kramer

    January 30, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    What a befitting tribute to my brother Greg. How excited he was about the trip before and months after. Looking back, I think it was meant for Greg and Dusty to ride together at least once. And you had to be there because he loved Ethan so much. Thank you. Brought tears to my eyes but also a smile to my face.


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