RAGBRAI L, Day One, July 23, 2023

Sioux City to Storm Lake, and a mechanical breakdown. 80 total miles, 3,500 feet of climb

Got off to an inauspicious start Sunday in Sioux City. First, the charter ran out of coffee. I can’t remember any time I didn’t have a cup of coffee before a ride. Not having morning coffee tears a hole in the fabric of my universe. First opportunity for a cup of Joe will be Kingsley Iowa, 29 miles away.

After topping off my tires with air, I turn on my Garmin and loaded the Day One route and followed the crowd out of the campsite. I glanced at the navigation on my Garmin and kept getting notifications that I was off route. Then I was prompted to make U-turn after U-turn. After awhile I simply disregarded the navigation. It’s hard to get lost when you’re riding with thousands of other cyclists.

I had listened to the Just Go Bike podcast the week before heading to Iowa and knew that the Day One route to Storm Lake would be hilly. Having set that as the expectation, I wasn’t surprised by the climbs. I had trained in my local area specifically for hills, but mine are steeper and shorter. In Iowa, less steep but much longer. However, I couldn’t train for the heat or the wind, which was gusting out of the southeast on this mostly eastbound route.

Anticipating my first coffee of the day in Kingsley, I was greeted by long lines at every vendor popup, setting another precedent – a day without coffee. Can’t remember the last time that happened. I replenished my water and headed on to the next pass-through town, Washta.

I had pledged for my second RAGBRAI that I would spend more time in the pass-through towns, and for the most part, I did. Washta had good live music going, a quartet of old guys playing favorites, including one of mine, “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees. I got a bite to eat and headed on to Quimby.

Just outside of Quimby I noticed my right pedal was wobbling. I glanced down and could see that it was starting to unthread. I pulled to the side of the road, got out my multi-tool and retightened. A few more miles and I had to repeat the process. Then again. On the fourth attempt to fix this problem, a group of Air Force riders pulled over to assist.

The United States Air Force has a bike club that rides every RAGBRAI and acts as trail angels, assisting cyclists with flat tires and other assorted mechanical issues. I even observed one Air Force rider administering an IV to a heat-exhausted rider. My thoughts every time I passed riders on the roadside getting assistance from the Air Force team how cool that was. Now I’m on the side of the road, wondering if they can help me.

No. They discovered, and I had deduced by now, that I had cross-threaded the pedals when I installed them the night before in Sioux City. Here were my options: ride by stroking on my left pedal only. Or Quimby was a mile and a half away and I could walk there. I tried unsuccessfully to pedal with my left foot only, and abandoned that idea after a few miles. I walked my bike the rest of the way, praying I could get a replacement crankset.

One of the first vendors in Quimby was a bike repair popup. I waited while the mechanic resolved another cyclist’s problem, and then I explained to him my situation. He popped into the trailer behind the popup and came back with a new crankset and bottom bracket. Fortunately there was no damage to the pedal threads, and in 30 minutes and $110 later, I’m back on my bike.

Certainly this could have been a major setback for me, especially considering it was only the first day of RAGBRAI L! Had Quimby been five miles away, I might have had to get a SAG ride. And I had no idea how to summon SAG. As I humbly walked my bike to Quimby, cursing myself for making the huge mistake of cross-threading my pedals, I couldn’t help but wonder how the rest of the week would go.

But I drew confidence from the mechanic who seemed non-plussed by my mechanical quandary. While he replaced my crankset, I bought a beer and walked around the town. My confidence began to return. I now had a 44-tooth large chainring versus the 48-tooth on my old crankset, and a much smaller middle chainring that would come in handy on Days 5 and 6.

Storm Lake was another 25 miles from Quimby, plus another two miles to my campsite on the north side of the lake. I had paid for tent and luggage service, and discovered that my tent was already set up right on the edge of the lake, with a gorgeous view. Before arriving at the campsite, I spotted a Casey’s on the left, and pulled in to buy something stronger than beer. Casey’s was selling mini’s of Iowa Hawkeye vodka, so I bought a handful and stuck them in my top bar bag. I sipped vodka and Sprite as I watched the sun go down over Storm Lake, recounting the day’s events.

  • Route map that I downloaded to my Garmin didn’t work, but it didn’t matter
  • When my bike broke down, I was within walking distance of the next town
  • The bike mechanic swapped out the damaged crankshaft like it was no big deal
  • The rest of the ride was uneventful

I was relieved but I really felt good. It was like I had dodged all the bullets on the first day, and nothing could stop me now.

Author: brianbartleyberlin

Adventure cyclist. No spandex, carbon fiber or cleats. My ride is a 2009 Surly Long Haul Trucker, made of steel, built to last.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: