Friday, May 28, 2010

My favorite bicycle memory

Today was a really exciting day at my house!  I won a $300 gift certificate to Bickel's (a bike shop nearby in Burlington) by winning a radio contest on 107.3 The New Mix!  Several weeks ago I heard about a  contest they were hosting asking for participants to send in their favorite biking memory to celebrate May as "National Bicycle Month".  I have tons of fond memories of bike rides, mostly on the back of my parents' old Schwinn racing tandem.  So, I decided to write in and try my luck!  I never expected I would actually win!  I'm so excited for my shopping spree ... although all you cycling enthusiasts out there know that three hundred bucks doesn't go very far in a biking specialty shop!  Either way, I'm not complaining!

Below is the story I sent in that won me the loot!!  Tim has already come up with a half a dozen ways he can spend the money.  Boy, is he gonna be disappointed! Just kidding, hon ... kinda ...

Some of my earliest, and certainly some of the fondest, memories of summers growing up in northeast Iowa center around RAGBRAI, the back seat of a 1964 Schwinn criterium-racing tandem, and time spent on the open road with my dad.
The tandem was canary yellow with bright blue handlebars, a 10 speed, and weighed in at more than 50 pounds.  And it was my favorite place to be on a humid July afternoon.  After many summers of begging to go along, my dad gave in and agreed to let me ride with him on RAGBRAI XVII.  I don’t remember a summer that he didn’t ride and I’ll never forget the first time he took me along.  I was nine years old and he had to rig blocks of wood on the pedals so my feet would reach. 
We left from our house in Waterloo early in the morning and set out for Dyersville – a mere 75 miles away.  But, it didn’t matter to me far we rode, I was happy just to be going along.  Turns out it was a good thing I didn’t have any concept of how far we went, because the ride ended up being 86 miles that day!
 I learned a lot of new things my first day on RAGBRAI.  Things, I never imagined I’d remember now 21 years later.  Like … if a hill has a name, its gonna hurt going up!  (But at the top of Iron Hill there was the best cherry pie I’d ever eaten … and a bathroom! I hadn’t yet mastered – or even attempted – going in a cornfield.)  I learned that everyone who sees a little kid on the back of a tandem will yell “She’s not pedaling”, and think they were the first person to come up with such a great line!  (I was pedaling … most of the time).  I learned that those Lutheran church-ladies can whip up a mean plate of spaghetti in their church basement, and that you have to eat more than you think so you don’t bonk.  (My dad already knew this, and would tease me by telling me not to eat my banana down to the bad spot and then hand it to him.  Knowing all the while I couldn’t resist such a trick!)  He dubbed it “the banana-pass” and to this day we both know what the other means when we say those words. 
We finally made it to Dyersville and I saw the basilica for the first time, where legend has it that my great-grandfather helped put the spire on the top … only he did so slightly inebriated … and left it a little bit cock-eyed as a result.  I wanted to go swimming when we got in, with the energy only a 9 year old can have after an 86-mile day.  And I was appalled that my dad was too tired to take me!   We slept in a full sized pick up truck that night and awoke to rain for day 2 – Dyersville to Bellvue.  I couldn’t wait to dip my tire in the mighty Mississippi.  That day I learned that a garbage bag makes a great poncho, and that I really could use a cornfield for a quick bathroom break if I really had to.  I giggled all day about a sign one farmer hung from his corn, “Please don’t pee on my corn, its wet enough already!”  I learned, much to my dad’s amusement, and much to my chagrin, that a buffalo burger is not just a big hamburger, but, in fact, made of buffalo meat!   We traced our hands on a quilt being made of all the riders’ handprints while passing through Andrew, IA.  He drew his big hand around the outside, and my little one just inside his.  That pretty much summed up how I felt about riding with my dad … part of a great adventure, but secure just being along for the ride with him.  We made up a little song as we rode, to the tune of “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters.  “Under the sunshine, down by the trees, on a bicycle with my daddy is where I’ll be.” 
Well, that was it … I was officially bit by the RAGBRAI bug, and my dad and I would ride parts of several other RAGBRAIs together in the coming years  … but nothing would ever quite compare to that first RAGBRAI together! 


  1. Nice post....we run a feature at the top of each month called "look who's loving the bike.....would you be okay with us using your story? Please let me know.



  2. Totally sweet story, makes me think of many bike rides I enjoyed right along with you and your family :) And of the course, the nostalgia of riding across Iowa, nothing like that experience I'm sure!! No wonder it won! Enjoy your gift certificate!!

  3. What a great story Amber. I can see why you won!!! Although I've never been on a RAGBRAI, I now have a little taste. I can see history repeating itself with your girl's and Tim someday.