Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Team Uffda at the Mississippi River
The last day of RAGBRAI XL started early in the morning as Team Uffda got ready to leave the funeral home we stayed in over night.  Four other teams totaling in about 30 people stayed there too, so we tried to be as quiet as we could so not to wake those still sleeping as we got ready. 

When we got on our bikes for the final day, we couldn't help but notice what a beautiful day it would be.  The sky was perfectly blue with cotton candy-like clouds hanging high; the fields of corn and beans rolled on hills and bluffs that those not familiar with Iowa might be surprised to see that not all fields are flat.  Best of all though was the silky smooth roads.  Parts of the route had been a little more bumpy in some areas than what is ideal to ride on, so to be on a road with not ripple, no cracks, no bumps was a huge blessing and a dream to ride on.  Even going up the last bit of hills on this year's route seemed to be easier to glide up and it made for a very pleasant experience. 

Overlooking the landscape of Iowa from our elevation on the route was also very enjoyable.  The three of us riding tried to make the most of it during the final miles as we slowed and pedaled a little more easily taking in the views.  It was in those moments that I think we all felt the presence of Grandpa.  He always loved the last day of riding as it was usually one of the prettiest, and often could be seen gazing around at everything, reflecting on the week.  And so we did too.  We laughed and rode together as a family.

On one turn nearing the last 15 miles or so, we came across a RAGBRAI favorite that not all of us had stopped at this year: Beakman's Homemade Ice Cream!  The lines had been so long earlier in the week that we had chose to pass it up and continue on, not wanting to stand around in the heat any longer that what we needed to.  It was a shame passing it by, as Beakman's is pretty much the best ice cream ever, so you can imagine our shock and happiness when we saw absolutely no line for their tasty frozen delights.  Raspberry and chocolate homemade ice cream were our chosen flavors and every bite of it was absolutely delicious. 

Always being silly
After finishing out ice cream we rode on.  Nearing the end of the ride, we stopped alongside the road to fill our jersey pockets with candy.  Jon had carried a 6lb bag of candy in Grandpa's bike the entire day, just so we could have it at this point.  For several years now, it has been a Team Uffda tradition to throw candy to the kids that line the route to cheer on the riders who come into the ending town of RAGBRAI, this year being Clintion, Iowa.  Grandpa always loved kids and making them smile.  In his earlier years he had worked with children with disabilities in making things with their hands, at the Red Barn (now Genesis Development) and was also on the Board.  After moving to Spirit Lake, Iowa, Grandpa helped build a new jungle gym area at the park for the kids who were visiting family in the campground too.  As a final tribute to him, continuing our candy throwing tradition was just what he would have wanted.  Rolling down the long decline past houses, we tossed handfuls of Jolly Ranchers, Skittles, and Starbursts to kids near the street.  All of them yelling "thank you!" as they scurried to collect their sugary morsels.  It put a smile on all our faces watching them.

Team Uffda having lemon slices on the first day of riding

At last, we were at the Mississippi!  And our beloved sag wagon driver, Belinda, was there to meet us.  It was an emotional moment as the four of us walked down the boat ramp to dip our front wheels in the water, marking the end of our journey.  Even more emotional was to see Grandpa's wheel touching this water.  His bike had made it across Iowa for its One Last Ride.  Most of the riding had been done by Jon, a true warrior in his own right, as he pushed a bike that was both very heavy and a parachute to the strong headwinds.  He deserves a medal for his efforts.

After a few pictures, Team Uffda had one last mission to fulfill.  Grandpa always started RAGBRAI with a lemon in the big bag on the back of his bike.  Each day he would slice a bit of lemon off and suck on it as he was convinced that the vitamins in the lemon would help him along the way.  While that sounds innocent enough, Grandpa rarely removed or refrigerated the lemon during RAGBRAI, which means it was a pretty gross piece of fruit by the end of the ride.  Grandpa also always had Fig Newtons in his bag.  These cookie squares were better than power bars in his opinion and he often snacked on them when we stopped in towns.  In honor of Grandpa, we tossed the remaining gross lemon and one Fig Newton from each of us into the Mississippi River.  I'm sure he would have laughed at the gesture as we watched the our cookies and lemon sink into the muddy deep.

Our support driver & boss, Aunt Belinda!
Back at the top of the boat ramp we all shared some hugs and tears.  RAGBRAI certainly wasn't the same without Grandpa being there with us and I think it hit us all a little bit more now that we were done.  Personally, I am very proud of my Dad (Jon) and my Uncle Steve for riding the whole week and it was a great experience being out on the road with them as we remembered Grandpa.  My Aunt Belinda was wonderful too, and has always been such a breath of fresh air to be around.  My Grandpa adored her, as I do too, and we couldn't have made it without her. 

Team Uffda would like to thank YOU for reading this blog, for supporting us, and for helping to spread the word about our fundraising for the Alzheimer's Association.  As of the time of this posting we have raised nearly $1,300!  We would like this number to grow, so please click here if you would like to donate to this cause.  We would also like to thank those of you who we met on RAGBRAI this year who came up to us after reading about our mission on the RAGBRAI site, who shared memories of conversations they remembered having with Grandpa on the ride, and who encouraged us as we rode.  Words cannot express what it meant to talk with you, and in several cases, even get a hug or a hand squeeze.  It is so touching to know that there are people in this world who truly care about others and YOU definitely made us feel cared for- so THANK YOU!

With RAGBRAI XL behind us, this is not the end of Team Uffda. We will be back next year and many years to follow as our family grows and acquired new members. We are a team that is all about family and supporting each other, and RAGBRAI brings us closer and makes us stronger.

See you all soon!