August 2, 2012 § 5 Comments

My friends know I’m into biking, masochistically and passionately. Hopping on my bike this spring and summer, excessively hungover multiple times, to train for this goddang bike ride. 10, 20, 30, and 50 mile rides, to Hinsdale from River Forest, to Bridgeport from Logan Square, and all around McHenry county. Each one I geeked to my dad, “Oh man I can’t wait for RAGBRAI” I’ve found my calling, and it involves a bicycle.

I was inspired by a great high school friend after she went on RAGBRAI (the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) almost immediately ending her chemotherapy in 2009. Her and my dad were yapping away about it one day, and I was going ?!#$ in my head wondering why dad never told me about this shindig before. [I’m not focusing this post on my first year of RAGBRAI, I’d been on it once before, but I won’t talk about how Iowa kicked my butt and my hybrid bike’s rear tire. 4.5/7 days, Still great however. Everyone wins on RAGBRAI.]

If you don’t know already, RAGBRAI is a 7 day bike ride (not race!) that started 40 years ago, from 300 people growing to 13,000+. from all over the country joining together for this. Whether you are an aspiring Lance Armstrong, trying to lose a few pounds, or just enjoy a joy ride through life, you will see people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. I was passed by 80 year old women and 8-11 year olds. FYI, I already decided last year was my year to pout about being passed by everyone, but this year was about having my head up, enjoying the corn stalks, and disconnecting for a week to channel my thoughts into my pedals and 10 speed gears.

Dad and I used a charter service called Pork Belly Ventures, technically an ‘all inclusive’ venture if you think about it. Wake up, bike all day, come back for some free beer or lemonade to fill up in your plastic green mug, food catering pork pork and more pork, air conditioned showers in an 18 wheeler semi, porcelain toilets in a smaller uhaul trailer to choose from vs the ever so popular kybos (port-o-johns), a spigot to brush your teeth and wash your face, and your tent is all set up for you to pass out in and start the day all over again tomorrow.

That was what i realized was funny about my nights. my 7-8 p.m. bed time. Makes sense though, you’d wake up at 4:45 a.m., shake the morning dew off of you, throw a fleece on because it was still freezing out. You’ll want to grab a flashlight and try not to trip over or scrape your toes on the tent stakes in tent city.That happened to me. a lot. With the flash light on. Every morning though I would think, “yeah! 4:45 no one’s gonna be at the bathrooms! mwa ha ha ha ha ha” and I would get to a line of 50 people for 6 kybos and sulk, blaming everyone in my head for saving their sh*ts for the morning. Come on people. can’t you go in a bush or something?

There was a beauty minus the kybo lines to the 4:45 dawn, watching the sky gradually get color, the stars would fade, you’d see bikers in the distance already on their bikes trying to race the day to the next town to avoid the scorching heat that would appear in the next couple hours. We’d usually down a yogurt, some last minute water bottle, I avoided the coffee at all costs, but would inhale some kind of donut or banana, egg cassarole, muffin, whatever would fuel me to the next town. You need it, you need anything to get you through the day. if I ate at the rate that I ate last week at this moment my fingers would be so fat the whole post would look like a;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

But it’s okay, because it doesn’t because you burn everything you eat and drink, plus some. According to myfitnesspal, 2 hours on your bike burns 1500 calories. and that’s on flat Chicago land, in mild temperatures, no hills and no heat. Imagine what you burn on a day where it gets to 90 degrees by 8 a.m. and the elevation climb is 3,500 feet in 47 miles. the head wind gets up to 20 mph. If you travel east or south (sometimes north on the one day we traveled 15 miles north, straight.) Expect to sweat, expect to invent new swear words in your head, and expect to find some big guy to draft behind on those windy hills. My road bike did NOT have enough gears, which is why I’m never getting on it again and selling it if anyone wants to buy it. I’m telling you, Kanye West’s POWER song is what kept me alive on some of those hills. So many times I’d yell, “YOU’RE EITHER GOING TO DIE, OR GET UP THIS HILL, BECCA. AND YOU’RE NOT GOING TO DIE. OH MY GOD IT BURNS.” Going up the hills, you go (okay, go) an average of 5-8 MPH. now, the reason why I do ragbrai has to do with that whole ‘being passionate about biking’ moment. Every up has a down. So of course big hills you go up, the big hills you go down. Enjoy the scenery and the corn stalks, there will be more in a mile or so.

When you find a flat stretch of land, and the wind is behind you, you. just. book it. Crouch down – strengthen your core – and pedal like a bat out of hell. The corn stalks whip past you, and people wonder if that was a bird or a plane that just went past them. Lance Armstrong would probably be choking on your dust if he were on RAGBRAI, because moments like those you take advantage of. 18, 19, 20 mph. 30-40 on those big downhills I go. Get the mileage under your belt while you can, because when you’re climbing up a mile long hill and sweat is dripping in your eye, you’ll need those moments to get you through rather than throwing your bike down in the ditch wondering who signed you up for this sh*t. I know this because that almost happened to me too.

As I stated above, it’s not. a. race. I had the pleasure of doing the ride with my father the majority of the week this year. We bike 5-10 miles, we stop at the local town. He treats me to a water bottle, or a gatorade, watermelon, a burger, a sausage egg and cheese muffin sandwich, pulled pork sammich, cookies, more water. Okay yeah not all at once, but you get me. Plop under a tree, in the shade, and I’m telling you, you’ll never really understand the value of shade until you’re under the hot scorching sun for 8 hours and your legs start three-dimensionally explode into a heat rash. (that really happened) Each town has live music of some sort, those people of all shapes and ages next to you in line, talking about the last stretch, and has a really juicy piece of something in their hand you just NEED to get in line for. Some stretches are harder than others, so let’s hope the next town provides a giant tree for you to study the leaves above you for 10 minutes. I studied lots of trees. but at other times you want to keep going, however the large mob of clicking bike shoes and slow herding crowd of biker cattle going through the hoods gets you to take a breather and stop at the sweet corn on the cob stand for a little niblet.

Town after town and pedal turn after wheel turn, you find yourself half way through Iowa, 3/4 of your way through Iowa. Local’s have shirts on with a little star saying where you are. ‘Look at that dad, we’re more than halfway!’ It’s the progress that makes you understand you can get through it. As long as your priorities are right and you know your limits, you can stay out of the ambulances. Drink water. Your pee must be white, and while you bike, your arm must have a slick film of moisture to keep your body cool at all times. Consider it an air conditioner. The constant breeze over your sweaty, wet arms makes you a bit cooler on those 107 day afternoons. Do not do 30 miles without eating, because you just might fall over. You might not lose any weight, but you will gain muscle. A lot. More than you might have signed up for. Remember the swearing? Yeah, that turns into muscle too.

Bringing you back to the few nights in the beginning where i passed out around 6:30, eventually it got later. Well maybe not because the last night, it was about 7 again when my dad found me passed out on my sleeping bag drooling. At least my stuff was all set up and ready for the next day! To all my friends that make fun of me for my 10-10:30 bed time, i give you full permission. make fun. but not until you come with me on RAGBRAI next year and you’ll get it.

Anyway, it’s a rough mentality. but you can do it. I did it, my friend did it, my dad and uncle did it. 13,000 other people did it. Just know your limits. Put on some music if you need it, drink your water, eat your food, and get on your bike. I’m telling you. What I just described above happens every day, for 7 days in a row. You may think ‘okay that’d get boring after like, hour 2, Becca’ but it doesn’t. Every day was an adventure. And I’d do it again, and again. For 40 years in a row. Because although the agenda of biking and eating and sleeping sounds the same… it will never, ever be the same.



  • dee lengyel says:

    Fantastic Becca. I’ve been watching the Olympics and they have nothing on you. The euphoria of the winners and their teams sounds like they are on the Ragbrai ride. Enjoyed reading your every word. After this, you must feel like you can do anything. – And you can. Carry on!

    Aunt Dee

  • Peter Waterloo says:


    Your father and I did that ride 34 years ago. It was small with only 1300 people instead of 13,000. Besides it’s growth, nothing much has changed. It has always been about the journey and not the destination.

    Uncle Peter

  • Tom says:

    Very well told. I went on this ride once with Uncle Paul in 1988.
    Us old folks do like to see capitalized letters at the beginning of sentences.

    Uncle Tom

    • oolretaw says:

      Thanks uncle tom! Sorry bout the grammar! I was typing away and my writing style combined just kept me from editing it at the moment. Maybe I’ll get around to it soon :)

  • Shirley Waterloo says:


    Loved reading Bragrights. It was a vicarious trip for me. Now I know I NEVER have to take the actual trip. You made it sound like so much fun, the same story I have been hearing for years since your Aunt Claudia originally made the trip in the early ’80’s and wrote about it for the Wall Street Journal. I still don’t want to ride the trails myself, but reading about them is a delight.

    By the way, yesterday I turned in at 7:30 p.m., and I didn’t even ride my bike. What’s so unusual about that? If I had ridden my bike yesterday, I probably would have had lights out at 6:30 p.m. like you did.

    Keep movin’–

    Grandmother and Grandpa

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