RAGBRAI: Day 3

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.

11 comments

  1. Tom

    I’m 47 and certainly aging. I’m fighting it some but, it’s a fight I’m destined to lose. I’m deciding if I want to lose gracefully. When you determine the scope of this ‘elegant method’ you mention, please share it. I’m looking for an alternative.

    That said, I’m considering doing my first race. What the hell. Do I really want to turn 50 and have to say, “I’ve never raced!” Or maybe I’ll wait until I’m 50 and then say, THIS is the perfect time!

  2. mobetterbike

    I bought my first road bike for my 50th birthday, and while I do have some regret that I didn’t get into cycling sooner, so far it has accommodated my age (now 52) quite well. Getting into cycling has been one of the best things I’ve managed to do, on all sorts of levels.

    I just finished the 200 mile Seattle to Portland ride out here in the Northwest with a friend, also in his fifties. I definitely am not the cyclist I was 10 years ago – because I wasn’t one!

  3. Joe Ruskenbro

    The problem with you Paidrag is your cycling experience has been one continuous function graphed on a 2 dimensional graph, with speed-power as a function of age.

    The benefit of discontinuity of the cycling function is that it doesn’t give you a frame of reference for what you used to be. You cycled in your 20′s? Yea, but you were so undisciplined that you never even got close to reaching your potential. You then have a huge, non-cycling discontinuity which takes you to your 50′s. All you know is that you’re much more disciplined than you were in your 20′s, and so because you’ve been training hard, you’re getting the sensations of being strong when you’re in those rolling hills. You want to know what your power is relative to what it was the short time you rode in your 20′s, but you won’t ever know.

    Still, because you’ve felt strong in the rolling hills, feeling like Gilbert must feel when winning on a slight uphill finish, you wonder what it would feel like with an extra 15% oxygen in your blood. You’re content not knowing for the same reason you can accept getting beat in a local ride, whether by young guys or old guys.

    Some old dudes, though, want to ride like an oxygen-fueled machine as much as some young guys. So they find their local EPO energy gel dealer, and feed their addiction to the sensations of power as long as they can get away with it, which varies from cyclist to cyclist, and from race to race.

    http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/12503/Anthony-handed-two-year-ban-after-EPO-positive-at-Gran-Fondo-New-York.aspx

    “Anthony and another rider were snagged as a result, with the Italian competitor Gabriele Guarini, who finished fourth overall and best in the 50-54 category, also testing positive for the substance.”

  4. Jon

    It’s all a matter of definition. I have been riding for almost 25 years and at 38 I am not as fast as I was at 22 and have more aches and pains than I once did … but I am as much of a cyclist as I was then. Keep riding to push back the inevitable march of time. That’s graceful. Or, to call on a great Rush album, that’s Grace Under Pressure.

  5. Bart

    I’m 37 and starting to feel the affects of time catching up on me in a way I didn’t even 3-4 years ago. I look at professional athletes and the ones that were lucky enough to avoid major injuries and good enough to last a long time seem to notice the same thing around this age. Somewhere between 34-40 is the end of the body’s ability to keep cranking at the top level. Voigt, Hincapie, etc, all hanging it up this year in that age range.

    I wonder what I’m going to feel like at 47. I know I no longer feel 27. Anyone want to elaborate on what they found going from mid/late 30s to mid/late 40s? At 47 do you feel more like you did at 37? Or is it another equal or greater step on the decline?

    One thing I will note is that I can still produce power and exhibit endurance close to 10 years ago. I just can’t do it as often and it usually results in more pain and discomfort after.

  6. mwmike

    I’m 58 and been a car-less commuter (16+ miles/day) in Phoenix for 12+ years. I don’t like the pain but I love the ride more than ever. Slow down and smell the flowers. It’s painless and fun!

  7. Hoshie

    Well, I think your comments about LA are spot on. I moved here from the Bay Area 7 years ago as a diehard Northern California enthusiast. LA is a conundrum; some of the best suburbs and nicest people you could imagine with urban sprawl, traffic and social issues that could be deemed 3rd world.

    Cycling here was a complete surprise. Whether in the eastern San Gabriels or the coastal Santa Monicas, I have enjoyed the riding opportunities much more than I suspected. It’s been a real gift and I had suspected I’d have given that up when we moved.

    In terms of your comment on aging, I ride with 60 year old state masters champs so my perspective is you do the riding that seems right to you given your life stage and enjoy it. Whether that is endurance oriented, racing, or more social. I wouldn’t accept any artifical or self imposed limitations. You won’t be as fast as you were in your 20s and let’s face the facts: many of us weren’t as fast as we might believe.

    I find cycling in my 40s to be great. I can still occasionally mix it up when I am fit, but also am less concerned or anxious about what the outcomes are. I also appreciate my time on the bike more because that’s what the gift really is.

  8. Mack

    After last weeks local time trial, I was complaining that my times are over a minute slower than last year. Must be the post 50th birthday decline. Then I hear Mary celebrating. She just set a new personal record. She is now 50 and beat her time from when she was in her 30s. When she was 30 she was ripping the legs off the fast Arklatex racers. How does she do it? She rides a lot and is willing to hurt with the fast guys. I ride less and spend more time looking around and stopping for pictures.

  9. Jeremy

    I definitely understand the aging thing myself. Once a fairly adept climber with a good motor, I’m now an overweight father of 2 who climbs like a homesick rock. A highway overpass is now a painful ‘climb’ to me and the mere sight of one makes my heartrate jump. While part of this is inevitible, how I handle this truth is not. I like your wording of handling this with grace and a ‘more elegant’ method.

  10. Shugg McGraw

    Aging stuff interesting but more interesting is how you can ride 500 miles in 7 days in insufferable heat and “have a bunch of lazy days with bits of riding a bike”.

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