It was midnight and the band was still playing two blocks away.  In my tent, I longed for my college days when I could stay out til 3 and still make my 8 AM class.  But five years later, here I was thinking, “When are they going to stop?  Don’t they know we’re all getting up before sunrise to bike sixty miles?!”

As I laid there trying to think of something else to get my mind off the band, tears slipped from my eyes.  I’d have a hard time making it through tomorrow with a good night’s sleep – how on earth was I going to do it if I didn’t get any sleep at all?

I looked over at my boyfriend, soundly sleeping beside me, and my tears poured out.  How could he sleep through this?  I had to do something.  So I nudged him until he woke up. He turned over and as soon as he saw my tears asked what was wrong.  Like most men, his immediate reaction to a woman’s tears is, “I must make this stop.”

“I can hear the band,” I cried.  “When do you think they’ll stop?” I asked wondering if there was some schedule he had read that had the answer to my question.  He didn’t know, but wanted to help.  My mother had warned him, like all men I’ve brought home before and since, that his primary goals were to keep me fed and well rested.  Like a gremlin, she told him to fear what I was like if I was tired or hungry.

He looked at me and said, “Did you try the earplugs?”  Each member of our six person group was tasked with bringing different supplies for the rest of us: Tylenol, band-aids, earlplugs, etc.

“Yeah, but they didn’t work,” I said.

“Didn’t work?” he asked.

“They hardly did anything,” I said.

“Are you sure you put them in right?” he asked.

“You just stuff them in your ears, right?” I asked as I took the bright pink foam plug I had been given earlier and stuffed it in.  It stuck out of my ear like the bolt out of Frankenstein’s neck.

T. laughed gently.  “Here, let me show you,” he said.  As he rolled the foam between his fingers he warned me, “It’s gonna feel weird when I put it in, then you’ll hear a crackling sound, but it will go away.”  He pushed the narrow end into my ear canal and I felt like a bug had crawled in and made himself at home.

“Oh my God!  You stick them in that far?!”  I said.

“Yeah,” he laughed.  “Otherwise, they don’t work.”  His words started to fade as the crackling started.  Once the foam stopped expanding, the crackling ended and the band miraculously got quieter.

“Wow – it works!” I said.  I rolled the other one between my fingers, then quickly pushed it far into my left ear.  I couldn’t believe it.  The band stopped playing.  Or so I thought.  I pulled it out.  They were still playing – I just couldn’t hear them when I had both in.  Once again, T. came off as the best boyfriend a girl could ask for.

The relationship didn’t last, but his lesson about proper insertion of earplugs did.  To this day, they are a required item in my travel bag.  And, thanks to him, many people have been spared seeing the gremlin I become if sleep-deprived.

Tomorrow night I’m staying with a family friend I’ve known since childhood.  I met his girlfriend for the first time last year.  She was quiet at first, but came through for me when I realized I was out of earplugs.  She had a whole box.  I immediately liked her.  She was the first person I’d met in the six years since the aforementioned incident that carried earplugs.  My outpouring of thanks might have scared her at first, but eventually she warmed up.  And I’m looking forward to seeing both her and her boyfriend again tomorrow.

A bike ride (part 2)

Whoever said there are no hills in Iowa has never attempted to ride a bike across that state.  On the first day of our 490 mile trek, I spent just as much time walking my bike as I did riding it.  T. and I realized that we had been practicing on a Rail Trail in Boston – a FLAT paved surface.  I honestly don’t think I had ridden my bike up a single hill until I got to Iowa.

After 40 miles, I called it quits for the day.  The friend we brought with us to drive our gear from town to town met us at one of the stopover towns, threw my bike in the back of the truck, and drove me to our first overnight destination.  I thought 40 miles was such an accomplishment that I decided to take the second day off.  Besides the fact that it was too painful for me to sit on my bike the second day.

By the third day I was back in the saddle again.  I did about 40 miles and then hopped in the truck once again.  The fourth day it rained, and since I had enough trouble biking 40 miles in good weather, I wasn’t going to even attempt biking in the rain.  My boyfriend rejoiced.  He was doing his best to not take off ahead of me each day and this was his reward.

All in all, I biked about 150 miles over seven days and had a blast.  There was indeed food every few miles.  And not just any food – really good food!  Breakfast burritos, Mr. Pork Chop, church dinners.  Every Boy Scout troop and local charity from Onawa to Clinton was out on the route selling us something delicious – for a reasonable price, no less.  The people in Iowa were incredibly friendly, every rider was fascinating to talk to.  Every time I stopped, there were tons of riders coming in behind me.  I was never the last one, never alone.

It was an adventure I’d highly recommend to anyone with a remote interest.  Go with a group – there were six of us plus our volunteer driver.  You can go without a driver and pay to have your stuff carted from town to town if you want. Other states have similar rides, but Iowa was the first to do it, and in my opinion they do such a good job I wouldn’t look anywhere else.  Of course, I haven’t ridden any other states, so I’m a little biased.  In fact, I haven’t really ridden my $80 craigslist bike since RAGBRAI.  But that’s a Renaissance Soul for you.  We do something until we’re satisfied, then we move on.

For some great pics of RAGBRAI 2004, click here.

A bike ride

Renaissance Souls find something nearly every day they want to pursue.  Just today I saw a poster at my local coffee shop for a rain bucket building workshop.  I have no idea why I’d need a rain bucket, but I definitely thought I’d like to learn more about what a rain bucket is, why I might want one, and maybe take the class.

Us Renaissance Souls find ideas everywhere – in conversations with other people, on TV programs, on posters in the coffee shop.  Some we say “oh, that sounds interesting,” and it ends there.  Others we jump at as soon as possible.  And still others percolate and maybe only get pursued much later, should the right conditions arise.  Such is the story of how I came to find myself riding a bike across Iowa in the summer of 2004.

Four years ealier I met a woman who had ridden her bike across the country.  I can’t recall what the cause was, but I do remember thinking, “Wow, I wouldn’t want to ride across the country…but a big bike ride might be fun.”  I didn’t think about again until early 2004 when my native Iowan boyfriend told me about RAGBRAI.  It’s a seven day bike ride across the state of Iowa with 8500 of your dearest friends.

Let me interject here that I am not at all into physical fitness.  Whereas he was at the gym every day, I was bored to tears thinking about walking on some machine each day that got me nowhere.  So when T. asked if I’d like to do RAGBRAI, I don’t think he ever thought I’d say yes.  But I’m a Renaissance Soul (though I didn’t know it then), and so the idea struck me as enough of a challenge and something that I’d like to try once.  We signed up.  I didn’t even own a bike.

Within a week, I  joined a gym and bought a hybrid bike on craigslist for $80.  (Renaissance Souls are practical people.  I knew I’d probably get this bike across Iowa and never ride it again, so I wasn’t spending hundreds of dollars on a new bike.)  I took spinning classes a few times a week, and biked the local Rail Trail with T or on my own a few times a week.  Four months later, I could comfortably bike 10 miles at a stretch.  As good as this sounds, RAGBRAI would require me to bike 60-80 miles per day over seven days.  But my research said that there were food stops at least every 10 miles, so if you could do 10 miles, you were golden.  I was going to test that theory….

To Be Continued….