RAGBRAI has a completely different feeling when you are bringing up the rear... no crowds, very few food vendors still open and a wide open road. But it was nice. We took a fairly leisurely pace with our friends Gary and Gwen, stopping at our Dawghouses and hearing at each one what a hit the Bloody Marys were.
We ran into the guys from our favorite bike shop, which was a lucky meeting for us... we lingered a bit longer than we should have at the later stops and found ourselves pressed to make it in by sunset, with no lights. Geoff's tucked us into their peloton, and we flew into Manchester just as night was falling.
We were scolded by the Sag Queens but were quickly forgiven and headed downtown Manchester to listen to the Nadas before tucking in for the final day.
Day 7 is defined by mixed feelings. Ready to get off the saddle and out of spandex but not ever wanting it to end, torn between lingering to take it all in and hurrying in to pack it up and get home to your own shower and bed. But if you linger too long, you will be hard-pressed to find a bite to eat along the road, so we opted to hurry along to Dubuque. As we passed through each town the lump in my throat grew larger, and by the time we were descending the long hills through the scenic Mississippi River valley I couldn't keep back a few tears.
As we descended into Graf the lump in my throat crashed down into the knot of fear in my stomach, knowing what was ahead. The dreaded Potter Hill. A few weeks ago we were in Dubuque on business and went on a reconnaissance tour of this legendary killer. Over a mile of climb averaging 6% grade, but ramping up to a vicious 19% in the middle. I have literally lost sleep thinking about how to tackle this monster.
I gave myself a little pep talk as I started up the hill, and did my best to save my lower gears for the steepest part. Unfortunately, I had gotten through all of them by the time I got there. I toughed out another 20 yards or so before crying Uncle. For those of you who don't bike, the danger on a grade like that is if you reach a point where you can't pedal one more stroke, it's too late to unclip from your pedal, so you just fall over. Trudging up the side of the hill, I marveled at the brave souls charging ahead on their bikes. But the most impressive of all was Team 6 on 1. Dad, Mom, and a young child on a tandem, pulling an even younger child on a Trailgator, and 2 more little ones in a Burley. Two other walkers, pushing their bikes, got behind with one hand each on the Burley to help the family up the hill. And they made it. I'm still in awe.
Adding insult to injury, there were still a number of challenging hills the last 10 miles into Dubuque. The closer we got to the river, though, the more people appeared curbside with cowbells, banners, whistles and words of encouragement, and darned if that lump didn't reappear. For anyone who has never experienced it, you may never understand the mix of exhaustion, pride, pain, camaraderie and love for the state and people of Iowa that makes this such an unforgettable week. Hopefully in the next few days I will get a RAGBRAI swan song put together to try to help you understand. Now, only 357 days until the next annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. I better start training for the next Potter Hill.