Memories of RAGBRAI

January 31, 2014

Bike Friday Service Ace Michael Macemon dips his rear wheel in the MIssouri River during the 2013 RAGBRAI. Photo Courtesy of Roger Hakeman.

Bike Friday Service Ace Michael Macemon dips his rear wheel in the MIssouri River during the 2013 RAGBRAI. Photo Courtesy of Roger Hakeman.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Bike Friday Service ace Michael Macemon checked RAGBRAI off his bucket list this past summer, enjoying a week of riding his Bike Friday across Iowa. Here are his memories:]

By Michael Macemon

Why is riding a Bike Friday across Iowa with 10,000-plus other bicyclists so much fun?

Just imagine the video evidence to answer that question:

Helmet-cam shots of the road stretching ahead, a rainbow-studded ribbon of bicycles and riders.

Slow camera pans revealing the same view on the road behind, filling the pavement to the horizon in either direction with a mass of smiling humanity.

Video of Amish families operating old-fashioned ice-cream makers at roadside stands filled with homemade pies served up to hungry cyclists, who will surely burn off those calories before reaching their destination.

Action shots of front flips off docks into cool farm ponds. Scenes of a team of bicyclists riding hard while wearing tutus. Evidence of exhausted, but satisfied, friends napping after riding 118 miles on the hardest day of the week.

And possibly best of all? Scintillating footage of a ride down the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide.

My friend Scott had just dropped $300 on his new waterproof high-definition video camera specifically for RAGBRAI 2013.

The footage he gathered on that camera over more than 430 miles of riding could demonstrate why Iowa is such a fun place to be each July. Including the fantastic story of the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide, which I’ll share with you now:

It’s in the upper 90s  (F), and sweat is dripping.  Actually, sweat isn’t dripping so much as congealing into a salt-laden deposit on the skin while I ride along with a steady flow of bicyclists.

Ahead the road rises gently up a broad hill, and I can see hundreds of people have stopped to take a break near the top. A wash of music permeates the air. It’s surreal, actually; I’ve been hearing music all day as a collage of snippets from various riders’ on-board sound systems, ranging from tinny renditions of Queen’s Bicycle Race to serious PA systems pumping the latest pop hits out of custom trailers pulled along for the ride.

What I’m hearing now, though, is something more. As I ride over the gentle crest of the hill and approach the place where everyone is stopping, the sound swells to the roar of a live rock concert.

The scene expands as I pull off the road and see that in addition to the crowd fist-pumping along with the band’s dialed-in covers of Back in Black and Stairway to Heaven, there is the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide.

The World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide stretches down a long hill that slopes away from this entrepreneuring farmer’s house where the band is playing in the driveway.  A huge green four-wheel drive John Deere tractor pumps gallons of water each second up from a farm pond to the top of the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide, itself a 100-foot-long chute formed from hay bales lined with the tarps smooth black plastic. The torrent of pond water rushes invitingly as a line of folks queue up  for a turn at cooling off.

Scott and I waited in line watching people take their runs with speeds proportional to either their abandon or trepidation.

When my turn came up, I tried to resurrect my sprint start from high school track days.  I backed up as far as possible, sprinted hard, jumped into a superman dive and let gravity do the rest.

The water was refreshing. When I surfaced, Scott was right behind me shouting, “We’ve got to go again!”

So a few minutes later, just before my next run, Scott put his beloved new camera into my hands and said, “You’re the fastest person on this thing — the camera is running, go for it!”

The first thought in my mind was “OK, hold onto the camera no matter what else happens.”

I crouched into my starting position and then leaped into movement with my bare feet peeling out on the mud and wet grass. Apparently someone in the tractor had turned up the gas since my first run, because now the water on the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide was a raging torrent.

Diving into the standing wave at the top of the slide, I repeated the mantra in my head: “Hold onto the camera no matter what!”

The bumpy slide down the World’s Greatest Slip-n-Slide went by in just a few disorienting seconds this time, and I  imagined the awesomeness of the video footage I was capturing. As I reached the end of the slide and splashed into the hydraulics where the slide met the pond, however, the mantra had cleared out of my mind.

When my head came up and I started treading water, it was a great relief to realize that the camera was still in my hand! My next thought was “OK, swim back to the edge and hand this thing to Scott right now.” Except Scott had hopped in the pond to swim out to the middle where a group of people had formed a barge of inflatable tubes.

“All right, I’ll swim over there,” I thought, making sure my grip was still tight. As I reached the edge of the first tube, I kicked hard and reached to pull myself up. That was the moment that the camera left my hand. For some reason I expected it to float back up to the surface. That thought dissipated in a fraction of a second as logic set in.

I quickly dove underwater, straining to see anything through the brown silt. Resurfacing, I had to tell Scott, “I just dropped your camera.”

Not believing me, he laughed.  “No, really,” I said, “I don’t know how deep this pond is, but I’ll try to find it.”

We dove at least 15 times between the two of us, and found that at about 12 feet down, the water quickly turned to icy pitch-black darkness, with soft mud at the bottom. Almost needless to say, there was no luck finding the camera.

Months later, after multiple calls to potential scuba-diving salvage crews, the farm pond was drained for maintenance.  The owner looked for the camera containing our memories from the amazing time we had at RAGBRAI.  Countless beer cans were recovered, but unfortunately no camera.

I replaced the camera, but of course could not replace the footage. Hopefully this story at least paints in words a few of the images that were lost.  There were many more great scenes, and for now they live on in my imagination as I look forward to the next time I can take my Bike Friday to Iowa and join in the fun rolling party that is RAGBRAI!

Michael’s Bike Friday

MODEL: Pocket Rocket Pro

BARS: Salsa Cowbell 2

HEADSET: Cane Creek Solo

BRAKES: Avid BB7 Road

CRANKS: SRAM Force

SHIFTERS: SRAM Rival

REAR HUB: BF Xlite with 9-32 10-speed Custom Capreo Cassette

REAR DERAILLEUR: SRAM Rival

TIRES: Schwalbe Durano 20×1 1/8 [451]

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