by Roger S Nelson
In 1993 there was a lot of flooding in Iowa and along the Mississippi, but it turned out to be a good year to ride across Iowa.
The Des Moines Register, a newspaper, put on the 21st "Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa at the end of July. It should not really be confused with a bike ride. Rather the term "Rolling Party" comes to mind. My son Ben (14) and my nephew Kevin (14) and I (older than dirt) rode this 529 tour from Sioux City in north west Iowa to Dubuque in north east Iowa. We dipped our wheels in the Missouri river to start and finished by dipping them in the Mississippi. We had planned on doing this months before and had no idea Iowa would be flooded this year. I was thinking before I got there, "of all places for a vacation this year, why Iowa?" Well we went anyway, expecting to take up a new sport called aqua-cycling and coming home covered with rust and barnacles.
I was loaded down with panniers and a 35 pound cross bike. Current theory has it that all bikes weight 35 pounds. If you have a 20 pound bike you carry a 15 pound lock. I didn't need a lock. While I'm used to putting on mega-miles on a road bike, it was a new experience putzing around on a clunker. Needless to say, I was tired at the end of each day.
I never felt that I was in front or in the back of the tour. With over 7,000 riders on the road I could always see bikers ahead as far as I could see and bikers behind as far as I could see. Bikers practically owned the road! Cars drove at our speed. In every town there were live bands, food stands galore and souvenir stands. When we camped at night there was barely enough space to pitch a tent, and there were tents all over town, in church yards, parks, peoples yards. I met people from Iowa, from all over the United States and even Europe. Many of the Iowans were from flooded areas. We joked about Iowa becoming one of the Great Lake states with Lake Des Moines.
I saw bikers there with snorkles and face masks. No kidding. I guess they were expecting the worst. I only brought a rain coat.
As it turned out, we did see some floods, but since we were riding across the northern part of Iowa we missed most of the flooding. It was the south that was getting pounded with rain, we were being baked and burned in the sun. It was hot! Tuesday it rained a little in the morning. In the afternoon I was soaking under one of the many sprinklers townspeople had set up for the bikers so they could cool off. Someone asked me if I didn't get enough rain in the morning. I said, "Yes, I just didn't get enough this afternoon." Standing under the sprinklers were some of my most memorable moments. Bikers had water guns attached to their bikes and were wearing super-soakers on their back. Kids stood along the side of the road to blast you with water. The really good ones had hoses.
Some bikers like to be "watered", some don't. I liked it. Twice I saw someone with a hose ahead so I yelled at them "let me have it" and I rode right by them without getting so much as a drop on me. How could they completely miss? When they did hit, it felt so good! Once at a stop there was a hose so bikers could cool themselves. I told Ben to spray me a little on the back. When I turned around he let me have it full blast. AHHHHHHH!!! I felt like I'd been shot. But it felt good.
Standing in line to use the telephone was the norm. If fact, with so many bikers, standing in line to use anything was the norm. One morning I went to use the port-a-john there was a long row of them, each with about 15 people standing in line. I hopped on my bike and rode out of town a mile to inspect the corn.
I guess I should mention the hills. While most of Iowa was flat like Michigan, we did have to cross several small mountain chains of "bluffs" as they call them. Most of the time you would ride either in the valley between two bluffs or along the crest of one. Those were just rolling hills. But when the road crossed a valley or crest - whew! There is nothing like them in Michigan that I'm aware of, nothing so big. They were two or three miles of steep climb. They were "get off and walk up" climbs, "Use your lowest gear" climbs, and "Aren't there any lower gears on this bike" climbs. When Ben got back he told me that now he knows he can ride any road in Michigan.
At one souvenir stand I saw a shirt with the Iowa state bird on it. The expression "when pigs fly" comes to mind. Iowa is as much a hog state as it is a corn state.
On the last day we got a light rain. My sunburns were so bad I was glad. We even stopped at Dyersville and visited the "Field of Dreams" a baseball field in the middle of nowhere in case you didn't see the movie.
Needless to say, the boys and I had a good time and would do it again.