Four fluffy pillows and a bed that's not one-half inch thick with tree roots protruding in precarious places. A warm shower that's not a garden hose or doesn't involve wearing flip-flops. A porcelain toilet seat that's not surrounded by four square feet of heat magnifying plastic.
I would trade all of this for the opportunity to ride another four days of RAGBRAI.
Baked spaghetti, hand-tossed salad with homemade strawberry vinegarette dressing and apple pie. Penne pasta with pesto, grilled zucchini and squash topped with a hunk of rosemary-crusted, grilled salmon. Rhubarb pie. A one-inch thick, one-pound porkchop as tender as a juicy t-bone. Strawberry pie. Turkey and noodles over mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and strawberry rhubarb pie. Steak sandwich and cherry pie.
I would willingly accept a year-long banishment from every chain restaurant in America for the opportunity to ride another four days of RAGBRAI.
Strawberry smoothies. Strawberry and peach swirled smoothies. Strawberry, banana, and pineapple smoothies. Sliced watermelon. Dill pickles on a stick. Pickle juice.
As one of the two men responsible for the Louisiana Purchase famously said, "an army marches on its stomach". If his army could have invaded Europe by bike, he most likely would have said "an army pedals on its stomach".
The pass-through towns of RAGBRAI have all been forewarned about the approaching cavalry. The troops are not armed with cold, hard steel - they pounce with cold, hard cash. The citizenry is called to break out every barbeque grill, crockpot, chafing dish, and cooler they can muster. Stock the arsenal with beef, pork, poultry, water, Gatorade, and beer. Bake! Bake! Bake!
RAGBRAI is a continual church potluck interrupted only by the occasional corn field. In every hamlet the ride rolls through there must be enough food to feed an army. Restaurants, bars, convenience stores, churches, and civic groups roll out the red carpet and do their best to appease each ensuing wave of invaders. Sometimes there is enough food and drink. Sometimes, they run out of dill pickles on a stick.
To prevent whole cities from falling, a band of mercenaries take up strategic positions between villages. They erect tents on hilltops and warn the invaders in advance that they mean business. Burma Shave signs announce their locations. Eighteen miles to Pastafari. Eleven miles to Tender Tom's Turkey. Six miles to Mr. Porkchop. Three miles to Smoothie Guy.
When you burn an average of 800 calories and sweat out eight pints of water per hour of riding, you need to top off your tank frequently. While you will never be able to replenish all the calories you expend or the gallons you sweat, few will roll through without making the attempt. Save for running out of money, no rider will ever have an excuse for going hungry.
As RAGBRAI rolls on without me in the stifling heat of an Iowa July, I can't help thinking about my brothers in arms and their struggle to ride, drink, and eat their way across Iowa. It will be awhile before I can eat at a chain restaurant, sleep in a hotel bed, and use my own bathroom without feeling guilty that I am not sacrificing my comfort to support the cause.
Every time I eat a dill pickle to replenish my electrolytes, I will remember RAGBRAI. Roll on my compatriots!