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by Andy Walsh

I have been an avid cyclist since I was a kid. I remember back to the day I heard some unknown hero had built a BMX track in a park in my small town of Carroll. That summer each day my friends and I would ride to the track. Hills, banked curves, jumps? More than we flat landers could possibly dream of. It was heaven. What could possibly be better? Freestyle, that’s what. We would watch the movie “Rad” over and over and try to teach ourselves how to spin handle bars, bunny hop, pogos, and endos. Freestyle bikes weren’t cheap at the time so my friends and I shared the 2 that were available to us. Safe to say that is where I also taught myself how to repair many bike issues. Self-taught kids trying to do tricks on a bike? Expect damage and road rash.

Later when Gary Fisher started producing the mountain bikes we clamored and saved from our paychecks for and Hans Rey was selling videos of himself hopping onto anything hoppable we thought of ourselves as young Hans Rey Prodigies. We would ride up, on, over, and down any surface in our home town we could find that wouldn’t mean certain death. No park bench, loading dock, or set of stairs was safe. To say we got a lot of pinch flats would be a colossal understatement. Most aggressive riding was done at night, sans lights. Ahh to be young, dumb, and invincible again. That summer was also the first time I was exposed to RAGBRAI. It came through Carroll and I knew I wanted to be a part of this magic. I made a promise to myself someday I would not just party with or work a buffet on RAGBRAI I would be pedaling alongside those spandex clad out of towners.

Fast forward about 20 years of working my ass off all summer in the kitchens of Country Clubs with zero time for summer cycling and always putting my culinary career first. I am not sure if I came back to cycling or if it came back to me. We bought Mickey’s Irish Pub a block off the Raccoon River Valley Trail. All summer long we would see bikers coming in on sleek road bikes with super skinny tires. While it looked fun, I was skeptical that a 280 lb man could ride one of these bikes and have any level of fun. My wife and I finally took the plunge 3 years ago a bought a pair of Giant road bikes. The bug had bitten again. It wasn’t long before I was planning and hosting fundraiser charity rides to raise money for the trail and other biking causes and riding on every day off. I even started a group of employees and customers that bike together and was so impressed at how many went and bought bikes to get involved! Addiction does have a way of being contagious doesn’t it?

One afternoon this summer we had to drop some flyers off to TJ Juskiewicz, the Director of RAGBRAI, for the Bacoon Ride packet pickup. Amy and I were off so we asked TJ if he wanted to join us for a beer on the patio of El Bait Shop. We ended up chatting about how he ended up here from Florida, Our careers, Biking, and of course RAGBRAI. I finally fessed up to my decades of Iowan shame. I said “You know TJ I must admit I’ve never done RAGBRAI. It’s like getting a tattoo, I’ve thought about it for 20 years but just never pulled the trigger. The logistical unknowns scare me off.” It was a relief to say it. I’d felt like a poser for years among road cyclists as a RAGBRAI Virgin. He immediately invited me to some curious event the very next week called the RAGBRAI Pre-Ride Route Inspection. I’d never heard of this before. A ride before the ride? Less than 50 people? Staying in Hotels? Amy and I looked at each other and without saying a word I knew we were in agreement. We have to go. No more stalling.

We rode Eldora to Cedar Falls and had an absolute blast! We met great people, were welcomed into towns we had never been to, and finally got to dip our feet into the RAGBRAI experience. We left after those two days knowing there was no way we were missing RAGBRAI this year.

Losing My Virginity

We decided to hook up with elements of Team Silverstreak to carry our gear in a box truck. We couldn’t beat the deal. $75 for the week and we weren’t under the thumb of a large team, their bus, and their rules. Which allowed us to explore all the ride had to offer. Most of us rode under the flag of Team Bad Decision Pants with jerseys complete with a butt crack on the back. This combined with VIRGIN 2015 written down my calves in black magic marker was a great way to start conversation with any and every one we met on the ride. I must admit I expected more hazing as a virgin rider. I kept my wits about me, watched my back, and was prepared for the worst but the group we rode with was super cool and welcoming. We camped three days and rode two. The second day was more than my back could handle thanks to forgetting to take my daily muscle relaxer the night before. That said I still had a blast.

I learned a few things about RAGBRAI that I will never forget. Stay in your line. Hydrate. Eat. Bring ear plugs to drown out tent city sex noises. Sometimes you just need to shower with a cold garden hose. As a virgin keep your eyes down and don’t make waves. A bottle of Jameson in your bottle cage is definitely a great idea (Also whiskey is fantastic in a smoothie). Watch the time, it’s very easy to blow 2 hours in a town. It’s much easier to rest, eat, and drink in the country than in town due to no lines. The Highway patrol shows up to close the town down earlier than you think. Don’t bring a trunk bag packed full of junk that isn’t necessary. Sunscreen sunscreen sunscreen! Next year, more hill training! Most important thing I learned was “Go with the flow.” As a business owner I am not a control freak but I do however have to spend time planning for the what-ifs of the pub. I need to be prepared for anything and everything to happen and it was nice to be able to spend a few days just going with the flow. My destiny was in RAGBRAI’s hands and I would be happily pushed out of my comfort zone. For 20 years I had worked day in and day out to make my career run smoothly. Everything perfectly planned. I had talked myself out of RAGBRAI because it left to much to chance. It was just to unpredictable. Where would I sleep? Shower? Poop? Turns out going with the flow and releasing control was the best part.

Before we left for the ride I read an article about riders having difficulty getting power and cell reception. When we arrived we saw this to be absolutely true. I must say, putting my phone into airplane mode while not on an airplane was also very liberating. Just letting battery die and being ok with it was actually a treat. I was able to unplug and just enjoy the energy and scenery around me. Who cares what’s happening on Facebook when I am surrounded by 17,000 party people? Why would I care? Detaching from mainstream society was good for my soul. Things have been stressful at the pub lately. I needed RAGBRAI as a reminder to take life for what it is: a journey. A simple bike ride was truly good for my soul.

It’s safe to say the addiction of cycling and RAGBRAI isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I hear people say they have 20+ rides under their belts. I spent 20 years talking myself out of going, and I plan to spend the next 20 making up for lost time.


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