By Senior Master Sgt. Larry Gallo
Air Force Cycling Team
I just went back and re-read my daily post from a year ago when we were on the road to the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Life seems to come full circle as I’ve done the same things at the same time for the last 10 years like attending RAGBRAI. The only things that change are the faces of the people sitting behind me in the van. This year, we have 17 people who are riding with us in a convoy, and only three of us have returned as riders. These people will plug into the larger group totaling 125 riders.
You can see the excitement and some anxiety on the faces of the newbies as they ponder how they will hold up during a week of riding.
Each year, I look in the rearview mirror of the van we are traveling in, and focus on the faces of the riders coming out of Texas. I feared for some of them may not being able to the finish the 500+ miles on their bicycles.
So far all of them have succeeded. This year’s group has some of the same anxieties, but I believe they will divide and conquer. Mainly because I have watched them take care of each other on training rides, and I saw how they have gotten stronger and more confident.
The first three days of RAGBRAI is the test. The first day has its challenges of climbs and the third day is the mandatory century (100 miles) day for the Air Force riders since the distance gives us more opportunities to assist other riders with maintenance and first-aid issues.
Making it through the mental dealings of forcing your body to obey you with three consecutive days of riding is a challenge.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the highlights from our trip to RAGBRAI last week.
Today, members of the Air Force Cycling Team started their quest to finish a seven-day ride across Iowa from the Missouri River on the west side of Iowa to the Mississippi River on the east side of Iowa. We were greeted and applauded by the crowds as 125 AFCT cyclists took to the streets in a two-by-two formation for the first two miles before dispersing into the crowd of about 15,000 cyclists.
I rode upon many of my team members assisting riders with mechanical issues, and two team doctors helped a young lady who fell and had a contusion above her eye. Because of all the climbing, the day was advertised as being the hardest day of the week; even harder than the 100-mile day coming on Tuesday. Everyone finished the 80-mile ride with no issues.
I’m still amazed how well our team was treated. I was even asked to sign a t-shirt and take a picture with a spectator, which was really strange, but I was glad to do it.
Tomorrow’s route will have less climbing, so our team’s average speeds should increase.
The second day started with lots of rain and soggy uniforms. It was truly miserable starting the ride in these conditions.
During the first 11 miles, I saw my AFCT brethren pull over to the side of the road to repair other riders’ bikes in the torrential rain. They were soaked and cold, but they did my heart proud. About 85 percent of our team are new riders this year, and I have to say, this group is really service oriented.
The four riders I rode with stopped for breakfast in the first town to get out of the rain and to warm up. After 1.5 hours, the sun started breaking through, and we dried up a bit and continued on our trek. One of our team’s doctors is a neurologist who just happened to ride up on a couple riders who suffered head injuries and waited for the emergency medical services.
Today was an easier ride compared to yesterday’s 80 miler. We ended up with a total of 76 miles, but it was mostly flat riding until we reached Fort Dodge. Tomorrow is our 100-mile day, and we are strategically eating and hydrating to complete the proposed distance.
Day three of RAGBRAI started out with pretty cool temperatures as most of the riders tried to keep warm during the night and at the beginning of the 100-mile ride. The sun quickly came out allowing all to remove our arm and leg warmers too.
Everyone took the thought of doing 100 miles on their bikes as serious as can be. It’s an optional loop that is thrown in to turn your 78 miles into 100 miles. This 100-mile ride was the easiest century I have done and the most fun.
I look at the day as my baby kissing public relation tour since I took pictures with the American Legion management, a World War II veteran and a local pastor who shares a love for history as I do.
Today, one AFCT member named Devon accidentally missed the turnoff for the 18-mile loop that would have given him 100 miles, which is mandatory for all AFCT riders. He returned to camp and as it was explained to him by a teammate, he rolled out back on the road to do the loop and get the patch that RAGBRAI gives out to those who completes it as proof. He returned much later having completed 130 miles for the day. I’m really overwhelmed by the integrity of his actions, but not really surprised.
Being a part of a team means accountability. His actions solidified his role on the team and has raised him up in the eyes of his fellow cyclists. No speech from me could have delivered such a powerful message.
Day four of RAGBRAI for the AFCT was considered a short day as we had 60 miles to complete after our 100-mile day yesterday. Most of the team slept late in their tents this morning to get extra rest from the long day they endured on Wednesday.
Everyone seemed relaxed and weren’t in a hurry to rush out for the 56 miles that was planned for the day. One of our team member’s fathers drove his recreational vehicle to our campsite at a local resident’s property and cooked for us Dutch-oven style. This was a great gesture that enabled everyone to get something to eat before getting on the road.
Sore muscles from four consecutive days of riding kept the pace down and allowed some of our team members to ride with others they hadn’t ridden with before. We helped many people on this short day. In one case, a rider went down and emergency services were called. We held the traffic back while EMS members worked on the injured rider.
Everyone made it in at the end of the day, and a local church put the team up in their air conditioned gym. We had our team dinner, team picture and team awards at the same location.
Two team scholarships were given to two support people for their hard work this week. This scholarship covers free registration, a team cycling uniform and a free ticket to ride RAGBRAI in 2016. The recipients were totally surprised, which made it a nice to honor them. The church representative was also honored for putting us up in their facility. He came to tears as we presented him with a team coin.
Morning of day 5 was the only morning we woke up with no dew on the ground or in our tents. The team was ready to go because of the easy day we had yesterday of only 60 miles. As we hit the road, for some reason, we saw less people with mechanical failures. Perhaps it was because of all the flats we fixed with new tubes.
We had 8.2 miles to cover before entering the first town on the route. After picking up the pace and eating an energy bar, we decided to try and make it to the next town which was 20 miles away with the nutrients from the bar we had just eaten, thinking we could eat breakfast in the following town.
Little did we know, we ran into an old friend with her nephew who experienced a flat and had a theft protection device on his front wheel that prevented us from removing the wheel. We did not have the necessary tool to remove until this former B-1 navigator on a cross-country touring bike with bags galore attached to his bike frame pulled up on side of us and pulled out some needle nose pliers and saved the day.
Once the wheel came off we were able to get them going. During the repair, we talked to the 17-year-old nephew to consider a career in the Air Force. He smiled through the whole process and then his aunt told us he was from Houston. He admitted he did not know what he wanted to do but did want to go to College and our response was that the Air Force could cover his college. We gave him some Air Force swag that included a pouch and dog tags from the Air Force Recruiting Service. He thanked us profusely and shook our hands while Tech Sgt. Andrew Patterson of the 433rd Air Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, took my picture with him.
We struggled to the next town for the breakfast we were denied and learned a valuable lesson on nutrition, and to eat ahead of time because you never know what will come up and ruin your plans to make the proposed 71 miles.
After brunch, the ride was pretty uneventful and we spent the time talking with people along the route and in the towns passing beautiful landscapes.
The final day of RAGBRAI is in the books! Today we completed 65.5 very pretty and scenic miles. There were less repairs needed today, however another AFCT member and I were able to help a rider after they fell off their bike. We jumped on the scene and tried to get the rider to stay still because he was flailing like a fish out of water.
Emergency services were immediately called as we asked the rider if he knew what happened to him to see if he was cognizant. I got a laugh out of him after telling him I went through his pockets to ease my pain.
Rain caught up with us as we had lunch in one of the rides and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees. We tried riding in the rain, but we were too cold so we waited it out and talked with the public at a nearby cafe.
We took to the road and experienced multiple climbs and switch backs to get to the overnight camp. My riding partner got sick on the road and I had to call a doctor to our campsite for an over-the-counter remedy since we were near a pharmacy in one of the small towns. By this time, the winds were between 20 and 25 MPH, so I tried is to shield him from the wind over the last 35 miles.
He somehow started to feel better out of desperation to get to the campsite and started performing really well on the extreme climbing. The team seems psyched about finishing the ride tomorrow. We’ll be riding 68 miles, and the last two miles in parade formation to Mississippi.
On the seventh day, we finished the trek across Iowa. RAGBRAI 2015 is officially done! The AFCT was on the road early this morning trying to finish the 68-mile ride so the whole team could rendezvous and roll in into town in formation. We still fixed flats and mechanical items, but did them a little quicker to make our scheduled time.
The look all the riders had on their faces was pure determination as they knew they were almost there. Many surprised themselves by what they accomplished this week. Not everyone can will their bodies into riding every day.
Each day the confidence of the newbies grew as they tacked on the miles. Today, everyone found solace and joy in seeing their teammates on the road.
The last 10 days away from the comforts of home at RAGBRAI was like a deployment, where you depended on the person in your camp to help you through it. Yes, there were times personalities and tensions were stretched due to hunger, homesickness or other things. But, we kept coming back to accomplish the task. They seem to get the, “big picture,” of our purpose. It was proven today as we found that we were stranded in the end town of Davenport, Iowa, because our bus charter company thought our reservations were for Sunday instead of Saturday.
Because of the transportation delay, we are all scattered in the grass of a little military base called Rock Island Arsenal looking like were attending a Woodstock concert. The heat and humidity was crazy today, but I haven’t heard one complaint from the 106 people waiting to depart.
We ordered 35 pizzas and four packages of cookies, and ate them in a grassy field to celebrate our victory of completing RAGBRAI.