The Road to RAGBRAI
May 4, 2011 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions for a RAGBRAI newbie? Mid-forties male, experienced bicycle rider, working on getting into shape for the ride.

I've been on centuries and MS 150 rides in the past, but this will be the longest ride that I've ever been on by about a factor of 3. I'm taking this on as a personal challenge to become more fit and get out from behind a computer/gaming console for a while. I know about the ride forums and the training schedule, but I thought I'd query the hive mind about some other things. Specifically:

1) What do you do for food on the ride--pack your own, depend on vendors in stop over towns, or what? Do they have any sort of hydration/carb options along the way? Extra points if you or someone you know who has done it is diabetic (I'm med-controlled) and can give some specific tips there.

2) I haven't hooked up with a group so, for the time being, I'm planning on going solo the entire way. Is it hard out there for a solo rider? Is it a big hassle finding a place to pitch a tent? What's the general culture of the RAGBRAI camp like? ("Traveling carnival" is one way I've heard it described.)

Any other tips, hints, observations &c. appreciated.
posted by Halloween Jack to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1. There are tons of food & drink options all along the route on RAGBRAI. In fact you'll see the same big vendors every day at around the same spots. The first year I rode I packed the usual energy stuff most riders bring (clif bars, gu), but the second year all I brought was cash (ATMs are available in all the towns). My personal favorites are the vegetarian friendly vendors like Garden of Eden (fantastic smoothies & pasta). The other part is that most days the route will go through small Iowa towns where you can easily buy food & drinks. RAGBRAI is famous for being one of the few big multi-day rides where most people gain weight

2. Traveling carnival is pretty accurate. The campgrounds are huge and there are a ton of people. Besides all the tents, there are lots of RV, vans & converted school buses. It is really easy to find where people are partying and everyone is very welcoming. Conversely, it is also really easy to find where the more chilled out people are camping. Find a solo camping spot should be a snap. Just don't end up near the bathrooms.

- Pace yourself. The first couple of days are when you're getting your legs & you don't want to burn yourself out. Besides getting to the campground before everyone means you are hanging out in an Iowa field even longer. Wooo!

- Get used to camping. Honestly, the biking is super easy the hard part is camping for so many days can wear on you

- Bring earplugs. If you don't like staying up late, the people who do will drive you nuts. If you like waking up late, then you'll want to murder the groups who wake up at dawn.

Have a good time. RAGBRAI is awesome!
posted by cuando at 11:43 AM on May 4, 2011

6-time RAGBRAI veteran here. I think cuando is mostly on the spot, so I'll just add a few thoughts:

First, I think you should find a team to hook up with, your experience will be MUCH better.

You should find a team that provides transportation to the start and/or end. Consider that you will need to get back to your car/airport/whatever after the ride is done; it's much better to have a bus ride arranged then to just wing it. I always got in with groups from Central Iowa, which made the trip to the start and the trip to the end about the same duration (it didn't hurt that at the time I lived in Central Iowa, but this is not a requirement).

Big advantages of going with a team: they will have their own camp, they will provide a shuttle to the start/from the end, you will have better opportunity to socialize, as the same folks will be coming to the same camp each night. And finally, the big one: the team carries your bags, not the Register trucks. This will save you TONS of time. Also, your team will probably have some kind of awesome T-shirt, because apparently this is a requirement. :)

Second, if you can find one or two of these towns with an open hotel room, splurge and do it. Having a night in a bed in the middle of RAGBRAI will seem like absurd luxury. DO THIS.

You'll have a lot of fun. It's one of the more amazing pieces of traveling Americana around in today's U S of A. Traveling carnival is pretty accurate.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:03 PM on May 4, 2011

Wanted to give a follow-up/thanks, following the ride itself.

First, I did hook up with a group through a relative that lives in the Quad Cities and has done the ride in the past. It did make it much easier than soloing would have been, not least of which because I ended up skipping a couple of days, and also because the group members not only offered support and encouragement (which I needed badly at the beginning of the ride, which was very hot and hilly), but also because they were able to make arrangements through personal contacts for us to camp at private homes for a few days, away from the hullaballoo of the main campgrounds, which helped a lot--one night, we even got to sleep inside a house with A/C, it was heaven.

Second, even though I knew that Iowa could be hilly (particularly in the western, Missouri River Valley part of the ride), I hadn't adequately prepared for that--a lot of my training took place on a rail-conversion trail. Paying closer attention to the elevation gain information that was posted on the RAGBRAI site would have helped a lot, either in preparing for the hills or adjusting my expectations in terms of what I could realistically do.

Third, I overpacked for the camping part. I brought coffee, a French press-type camping mug, cooking equipment, and many packets of oatmeal, none of which I used even once--I ended up just snacking on Clif bars and bananas for most of the day, with longer stops for lunch and of course dinner at the end of each day's ride, and got my caffeine by using these in my Camelbak. (The participants' manual suggests budgeting $35 per diem for food, which is about right.) Also, I packed regular cotton T-shirts, underwear, and shorts for after-ride "street" clothes, which was a mistake because they quickly became saturated with sweat and subsequently miserable to wear in the heat; I would have been much better off with swim trunks and a few micro-fiber T-shirts that I could have washed out in the shower along with my cycling jerseys and shorts. (Speaking of cycling shorts, even if you've never used Chamois Butt'r or something similar, do it on something this long.)

Even with the mis-steps and problems, it was very, very much worth it, and I'm already thinking of how to plan and train for next year's ride, which is the 40th anniversary ride and therefore probably a big deal. Lots of good memories and I got to ride my bike all day!
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:56 AM on August 2, 2011

You found out your first ride what many never do. Hope you make it back next year!

To add to some of what's been said already . . .

I wear Lands End swim trunks. They're shorts/trunks combined. Easy to wash, dry quickly. I also bring my old t-shirts along and just toss 'em at the end of the day. Lightens my load considerably as the week progresses.

Other than that, I think you have everything covered.

/s/ A 14-Ride veteran
posted by Man with Lantern at 9:44 AM on August 4, 2011

« Older Final Cut or Premiere? Need advice..   |   non-Apple iPad 2 case? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.