We dipped our tires in the Mississippi River and that was it.
The end of a year long journey.
I remember my husband sitting by a campfire at the lake, talking to our friend Chris. We had dabbled in bicycle riding for some time, but we hadn’t taken the complete dive.
Then Chris asked a simple question, “Why don’t you go on RAGBRAI?”
And that was it.
We trained, riding our bikes over 1,000 miles before the trip began.
We were physically prepared for this monster. But there are some things you just can’t – and don’t – know how to prepare when you’re headed on this kind of journey.
So what did I learn?
The list could go on…and on…and on…
But here are just a few of the lessons that have been spinning around in my brain since we returned from our adventure in Iowa.
Sometimes you have to just keep pedaling.
There were days it felt like the hills would never, ever, end. I would be sailing down one hill, looking ahead – and there would be another monstrosity, taunting me with its steepness and ridiculousness.
One of my favorite things to say to strangers (yes, I talked to a lot of strangers) was, “I sure hope there are more hills today. Don’t you love hills?” And then see the incredulous look on their faces. Brady just shook his head in disbelief. But to stop in the middle of those hills only made it worse. So, no matter HOW VERY SLOW I was turning those wheels, I just had to keep going.
Isn’t that a great lesson for life? Sometimes, no matter how slow, how frustrating the climb might be, you just have to keep going, keep pushing. Because the top of that hill is coming – and then, folks, there’s a beautiful hill to coast down. And the breeze sure feels good.
Stay two inches from Brady’s wheel.
On the last day we rode together, Brady and I reached this beautiful stride. Having ridden so long side by side, our legs eventually began to pedal in sync. Our cadence was identical, our gear shifts simultaneous.
We were riding fast on the last day. We had a deadline to reach our charter bus and head home, so there was no stopping for pork chops (Pork chops in a paper towel! Breakfast cuisine of champions!) or shopping for fun bike paraphernalia. We were on a mission.
Have you ever seen bicyclists in a pace line? They ride just behind one another and “draft”, using the force of the bicycles in front of them to pull them along. They take turns heading up the pack, pushing through the headwind. It’s actually a gorgeous metaphor for life, “taking the brunt” of the difficulty for your friends and family.
On that last day, we were riding side by side, busting out 18-20 mile stints, flying fast with a tailwind behind us.
Until we turned.
Only bicyclists can truly understand the headache of a headwind, the horror of a hill. And when we turned, we went headfirst into a strong wind that certainly slowed us down.
And we had a deadline to meet.
So Brady motioned for me to get behind him, and I hugged his wheel (he told me he really didn’t want to know just HOW close I was on his wheel since I tend to be kind of accident prone). He pushed into the headwind, allowing me to draft behind him.
My legs matched his cadence. We mirrored one another in every way. And it reminded me:
“Follow me as I follow Christ.”
I rode in tandem, trusting Brady’s ability to forge his way into the unknown. But I trusted him, his knowledge, his training, his strength.
It’s important who we follow. And everyone we follow should be someone who is following Christ, modeling His way, His footsteps.
Enjoy the ride.
What I loved a WHOLE LOT about RAGBRAI is that it wasn’t a race. My students all asked me if I was going to “win” RAGBRAI, and I laughed. Because RAGBRAI is really about the journey.
It is almost impossible to explain those 6-8 hour days on the bicycle, but I will try.
Every few miles there is a vendor on the road – either official RAGBRAI vendors, or someone who owns the land you’re passing. There are people to talk with, tasty treats to sample, and thousands of bikes and bicyclists to learn from, talk to, and laugh with.
Every 10 miles or so there is a little town, depending on the economic commerce of RAGBRAI to boost their little businesses, raise funds for a special kid, or just raise the spirits of town people who needed that extra “oomph” to get them going again. Those towns were BUZZING with excitement. We would literally have to get off our bicycles and walk them through the little downtown areas because there was no room or space to ride (In fact, the one and only crash I had consisted of falling while trying to walk my bike in a large crowd, which ended in “CYCLIST DOWN” being yelled loudly by multiple cyclists. Video to come.)!!
The culture of RAGBRAI is one of festivity, celebration, and slow appreciation of life. Of course, there are those who want to speed through and finish quickly – and that’s okay for them. Everyone has their preferences.
I rode with 89 year old men who were slow and steady – but they were still riding. In fact, I told one sweet elderly man that I hoped I would be riding at his age. His response?
I watched as men and women who were overweight were pushing to reach their goals, struggling to make themselves stronger.
I watched as a woman with a prosthetic leg pedaled up the same horrible hills I did – with a determination I do not have.
I watched as a 9 year old girl rode the Karras Loop – an optional ride to complete a 100 mile extension. She was NINE.
There was so much to breathe in, be inspired by, learn from, and grow into. And in order to do that, I needed to enjoy the ride.
Don’t cry over burnt lips.
Mine was Burt’s Bees, which under normal circumstances keeps my lips replenished and shiny. Under THESE circumstances, eight hours in the sun for seven days in a row? Well, my Burt’s Bees had pomegranate oil. Which ENHANCED the burn.
I woke up ride day two with lips three times their size, full of blisters and just, well, a lot of pain.
So I had to buy diaper cream (literally called Boudreaux Baby Butt Paste) and wear it on my lips (Pharmacist approved), and wear a handkerchief over my face. I was called The Lone Ranger on many occasions, and it only made my face feel hotter.
But suffering, on whatever level, makes us stronger. Forces us to push past the pain. Makes us better. My burnt body peeled and crisped.
But let’s be honest.
That was NOTHING. What about the lady with the prosthetic leg? Or the 89 year old man? Or the 9 year old girl?
And what a beautiful ride I was on. The lips didn’t matter. The ride did.
There is so much more to life than the bumps in the road, the burnt lips, the horrible hills. And we get to choose. Will we give up? Or will we keep riding?
Because the moment I saw the sign for Davenport, Iowa, the tears flowed down my face in sweet relief. All the bumps, the burns, the hills, the headwind – it all was worth it in that moment.
When I dipped my wheels in the Mississippi, I understood why I endured the pain – because the destination could only be reached if I walked the difficult path, biked the road less traveled.
And to make my own change to one of my favorite Robert Frost lines…
And I, I biked the road less traveled by, and THAT has made ALL the difference.
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