I once wrote that there is no one great truth to the city of Los Angeles. By that I meant that you can’t hold up any idea, any location, any product, any star, any “thing” as exemplifying the fundamental nature of one of the world’s least-understood cities. My point: That LA’s great truth is that it hasn’t one. LA is a city in which anything can be found. From great art, music and theater (both live and filmed) to incredible dining and nightlife, Los Angeles can go toe-to-toe with the rest of the world’s great cities. LA is also the poster child for many of the world’s ills. Drug abuse, murder, white collar crime, traffic, pollution, ostentatious greed, narcissism and disconnected living, LA has it all, and by the bushel. But what most folks don’t understand is that LA nestles pockets of absolute normality, places where families carry on quiet lives issuing young adults into the world, places that could be mistaken for the Midwest.
In trying to explain RAGBRAI to one of the Transitions staffers who was new to the event, I had to use my characterization of LA to convey what I believe RAGBRAI to be. It is the world’s most plastic, malleable, self-reflecting ride. If you’re looking for seven days of big, hard rides, you can do it that way. If you want to drink a beer in as many different towns in Iowa as possible, that’s available. If you want to show your kids the state from the saddle of a bike, show them that there’s a way to see the world other than through the windows of an SUV, this ride is perfect. If you want to get away from it all and just have a bunch of lazy days with bits of riding a bike, this is the ideal spot for it.
RAGBRAI is what you make of it.
It’s true that you see lots of corn and beans. It’s true that you see most of the same vendors day after day and that if by Wednesday if you haven’t had a pork chop or smoothie, it’s not for lack of opportunity—you must not want one. It’s also true that in each town you’ll see something you haven’t seen in any other town. Despite so predictable a format, each day is as different from the last as your mother is from your father.
But dear God it has been hot this year. When I was here before it wasn’t this hot, save for part of just one afternoon. The heat has sapped some of my interest for exploring, for taking in the diverse and sometimes odd foods available. I began to wonder yesterday if I just lacked the interest, the curiosity. This morning, before meeting a few readers, I spent a bit of time riding through town just looking around. It was only 80 degrees.
The heat has had another unintended consequence: a beer must be near absolute zero for me to be interested in drinking it in this weather. Not everyone has suffered with this issue.
In my time riding alone I’ve looked back over the 15 years that have elapsed since I last did this event and the turns my life has taken. It’s made me think about what I want my riding life to be, that not only has my riding shaped me, I wish to shape my riding. And this last thought comes to me out of the realization that I am not the cyclist I was 10 years ago, that I can’t continue to be the cyclist I am now, that I will age and in aging I have a choice—whether to go with grace or by some less elegant method.