“You’re riding in that wind? Good luck!”: Lamoni to Clarinda
Friday April 26, 2013, 69 miles (110 km) – Total so far: 514 miles (827 km)
The hills roll forth like fossilized ripples of mud. Take away the vegetation and it’s as if I’m riding upstream in the remains of a state-sized, gently-flowing, muddy-bottomed river. Up a ridge, down a valley. Up a ridge, down a valley.
In reality, I’m riding across a whole bunch of gently-flowing rivers and creeks, all of the drainages flowing north-south while I ride generally east-west. But I like to think about what the landscape would look like from high above – and all I can think is that these hills would look like ripples.
These sorts of thoughts are how I pass the time when I ride. One positive thing about the lack of leaves is that it allows you to see far across the landscape when you crest a hill. You often can see where you’re heading for quite some ways in the distance.
For approximately the first 30 miles of the day, I’m riding county roads that drive straight across the hills. Each hill and undulation build my flabby leg muscles. Iowa is a great state for building some fitness.
However, the hills are not the major obstacle today. And for the first time, neither is the cold nor the rain. While I will get sprinkled on a few times, and it’s not exactly warm, it will stay overcast and in the 50s for much of the day. The real problem today is the wind.
Already blowing at 10mph when I left at dawn, it is forecast to be “20-25 mph with gusts to 30 mph” from the south. By 10 am, it’s blowing hard and I fight with it pushing me from the side as I try to pedal forward. At least at this point the wind is just strong, not too gusty. It will save that for this afternoon.
Just east of Blockton, while the wind is driving sprinkles of rain against the left side of my body, a farmer pulls up next to me on the crest of the hill, throws his vehicle in park and gets out to say hello. He’s a very friendly sort who has never ridden a RAGBRAI but loves the idea of it. Any time it’s in southern Iowa, he volunteers. When it came through here some years ago, he was part of the crew that built the humorous sign for Blockton. He tells me about every possible facility I might need in Blockton and wishes me well. As an afterthought, he says, “And be careful with that wind out on Hwy 2. Don’t want to hear that you went under a truck.”
My tactic out on Hwy 2, where there is no shoulder, is to keep an eye on my mirror. If two trucks are going to pass near me, I just get off the road. When I encounter east-bound trucks, I ride into the middle of my lane when I can, because their wake and the strong south wind are going to cause turbulence and a shove toward the road-edge. When a west-bound truck comes, I move out a little into the lane and hang on, because the truck is going to suck me in, stop the wind for a second, pull me along and then spit me back out into the wind.
And so I proceed. The tactic works pretty well. Crosswinds this strong tend to impede forward progress as well. I decide today that I should add a column to my daily stats. Not only do I need miles ridden (forward), I also need a column for ‘hundreds of lateral feet ridden’ when I get blown a foot or two horizontally with the wind. I just keep telling myself this is good training for Wyoming.
In Bedford, I stop at the gas station for a drink and to rest my arms. I’m getting sore from holding on so tightly to the bike. There’s a guy who pulls up to fill up the tank on the lawn mower he’s towing on a trailer. He looks at me. Looks at the bike. Looks at me again. He then says, “you’re riding that bike today, in that wind”? I smile and nod. He laughs a high and thin chuckle and then says, “Whoo-boy! Good luck with that”!
You know, I’m actually having a good time today. It’s challenging, but I love challenge. I don’t feel unsafe because I’m staying alert, concentrating on the traffic, using my mirror to see what’s coming from behind. When I have to, I just get off the road. It’s working for me. The fact that I’m not freezing, I’m not soaking wet, and my fingers work mean I’m not uncomfortable. I’m tired of the rush of the wind in my ears, but it’s a good day.
Traffic gets heavier as I get closer to Clarinda, and the wind becomes more gusty in the afternoon, so I have to get off the road a bit more frequently. But I’m playing it safe, and I actually get a bit of a rush negotiating the turbulent eddies when the trucks pass by from either direction. I get several encouragement honks and waves from cars, too.
The only bad part of the day is right outside Clarinda where Fed Hwy 71 joins Hwy 2. The wind is pretty crazy at this point, and the traffic is nearly constant from one direction or another. I finally give up trying to stay on the road – I’m just impeding the (patient, thank goodness) traffic trying to get in or out of town. So I just ride the last mile into town on the wide dirt shoulder. It’s probably the polite thing to do, and Iowa drivers have generally done the polite thing by me, so I’m returning the favour.
I stay at the little independent motel across the street from Pizza Hut. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, and they are currently replacing the roof (read: nice-looking construction guys and a bit of noise), but for $35 cash it is a steal. The room I’m in has been completely renovated. It’s one of the nicest I stay in the entire trip. There is a discount grocery store next door where I get soup and gross amounts of fruit and vegetables. The motel room has a rocker-recliner where I veg all evening eating enormous quantities of veg. What a great ending to a tough but good day!