RAGBRAI kicked my butt this year. Five straight days of triple-digit heat took its toll, and when combined with a worsening, persistent and exhausting cough, led to me ending the ride early, after 4 days of riding and 300 miles in the saddle. The high temperature the day I left, in Marshalltown, our overnight town, was 108 degrees. I do not think I have ever felt blast furnace heat like that in my life and I have relatives who live in both Phoenix and Palm Springs. I felt like I could not breath, and there was simply no place to go to get out of the heat. The day before, we had ridden 87 miles in 105 degree heat, but adding to our misery was the fact that for half the ride, over 40 miles, we were riding into a strong (24-36 mph) headwind. What that means in practical terms is that if your normal riding pace is, say, 17mph, as mine is, your new pace is maybe 7 mph. And you are working much harder to keep the bicycle moving into the wind, all of this in high heat.
We drank tons of hot water, as well as anything else we could get our hands on, and despite that ended up not urinating, a sign of dehydration. None of us could really eat anything, and when we got to overnight towns, we did not want to go into the towns since it was so hot. At our first overnight town, there was a lake, but officials were telling people not to go into it due to a high fish kill, low water levels and high E. Coli counts; we went in anyway, and it was like bathwater hot. One town had no pool at all. Sleep never came, due to low temps at night that were maybe 86 degrees. Most of us were up before 4am and riding by 430am just to get miles in before the sun was up and heated the roads; road temps are typically 4-6 degrees hotter than air temps, meaning there were time the road temps were well over 112 degrees.
Ambulances were running night and day, and fortunately no one died. I did see one older man with heat stroke in one cooling room; he was truly pretty far out of it, had his hands clawed up on his chest and was unresponsive to the EMTs, who took him away in their ambulance. One of our riders, an older lady, spent 14 hours on the road one day and when she finally arrived (and after we had sent riders back down the course in the heat to look for her) was delusional, wondering where we had put her house. One man sent his wife home, a younger rider called his dad and was picked up, and we lost another rider to a fractured clavicle after she swerved to avoid walkers who were on the route 3-abreast. She got thrown from her bike as a result.
To add to the misery, severe storms hit on Wednesday night, though by then I was on the way home. Thursday was hot and humid, but the last two days were, from what I am told, delightful. By then, I was on medication for my cough and homebound.
Is there a lesson in this? Yes. Sometimes, despite our best planning and practice, things don't go the way we want them to, even in the classroom or clinic. But we don't quit; we just get up and try again.
I am planning my comeback now… it will take more than broken bones and high heat and cough to keep me from going again. Call me crazy…