We rode our first and likely last RAGBRAI in July 2019. An acronym for the “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa,” the grueling ride across one of America’s hillier heartland states has been a summer tradition for thousands of cyclists since 1973. For us, it fell into those “one and done” life experiences. There are plenty of other experiences I’d like to check off. For example, this summer, Dr. K. and I will be exploring the wilds of Weld County, Colorado on our bikes. We’ll be doing it alone, and it’s not likely a breakfast stop for eggs over easy with crispy bacon is on the itinerary.
Even so, I appreciate that 2020’s RAGBRAI will be virtual. Because cyclists can log the miles social distancing style, I figured I’d train for the best parts of it. While putting time in the saddle is important in order to see the best of Weld County, the first essential is breakfast. You gotta have a goal to ride for, right?
You can see why there’s no chance RAGBRAI will ride for real during COVID19’s summer. Above is just one example of hundreds. Sweaty bikers socializing elbow-to-elbow at Howell’s Greenhouse near Cummings, Iowa is just one snapshot of what happens during the week of RAGBRAI.
Anticipation for Breakfast Delight’s Breakfast Bowl #7 pulled me through my RAGBRAI week.
That first morning, we crawled out from beneath our soggy tent, one tent of thousands staking claim to a few square feet of trampled, muddy field ringing an industrial park in Council Bluffs.
The night’s drenching rain had been interspersed with assertive lightening bolts branching from one end of the sky to the other. Maybe the opening of the heavens above Council Bluffs was intended to be part of the fireworks presented by the ride organizers. But they overdid it when ordering the lightening. It was so excessive that I clamped down on my middle of the night need to visit a KYBO — Iowa-speak for port-a-potty. Given nature’s pyrotechnics, the trade-off between bladder discomfort and coffin shopping made that decision easy. I figured it was best to hold it until morning.
As it turned out, it didn’t matter. I could just as easily have gotten up for the 2 AM pee. When our alarm went off at 5:30 the next morning, the rain was still deluging and the lightening hadn’t abated. We dressed quickly (including a lightening-fast KYBO visit), and set off on our bicycles. Wrapped in our rain dampened blanket, we would have preferred to roll over and snuggle down into the deflated air mattress until the storm blew through.
But we had already made Smart Decision #1: get on the damned bike.
On that first day, while the official purpose was to outride the storm, the real goal was a breakfast bowl.
When you’re riding RAGBRAI, each morning’s highlight is arriving at the breakfast host town. To get there is a pedal of about 17 miles, give or take a few. With a first-day mileage count of 59.9 miles and 2825 feet of climbing, we had to get moving. Note: see Smart Deduction #5, below.
We learned after Day 1 that RAGBRAI mileage statements are estimates. By the third day, we had reached Smart Deduction #5: always add 10 more miles to the daily grind. Groan of pain is optional, except in my case, where it’s expected.
As we cycled in a surge of other biking enthusiasts up and out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, I pointed out a number of quaint-looking breakfast cafes dotting the streets. Dr. K. shook his head, motioning me onward and upward. A cozy coffee shop with eggs, bacon, and hash browns was not in my future for the next seven days.
Seventeen miles later, chilled to the bone and wondering what in the hell we’d gotten ourselves into, we regrouped with our speedier cycling friends.
They were so speedy they were already in line near the vendor Breakfast Delights. Mind you, when I say near, I mean we were easily one block from a black canvas tent dotted with neon pink signage, the advertisements for Breakfast Delight’s delights.
Under that oh-so-far-away tent, rows of servers dished up bowlfuls of eggs scrambled with onions, potatoes, peppers, and Iowa pork sausage. They spritzed whipped cream over berry-strewn French toast, directed inquiries about where to find hot coffee, all the while engaged in idle chatter and making fast change.
Our friends were seemingly miles ahead of us in line. Somewhat cynical, we mused aloud as to whether there might be a faster, dryer, breakfast option. Stupid Mistake #2. Turning to look at the pair of idiots behind them, the couple in front of us swore there was nothing better to be found in the town of Neola, (pop. 869). In fact, they could swear on the frame of their last bicycle that it was the best breakfast to be had in the STATE of Iowa that morning.
Behind us, a cyclist dressed in a U.S. Air Force kit grunted his agreement. During the week, as we watched the USAF team fly past everyone else on Iowa’s perilously patched and pitted roads, we soon learned he was the real deal, and therefore worth listening to.
So we waited in the endless line. It turned out to be the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten.
There is something truly magical about finding a sliver of concrete to park your sodden bike shorts, while, still shivering, you dig into a warm styrofoam bowl brimming with an egg scramble, doused with plenty of salsa. Hands shaking, you can’t prevent an audible sigh of relief from escaping your lips after that first bite.
Hunger might have had something to do with it. There was also relief: We’d completed the first 17 miles of 462 that week, had outridden the lightening (but not the rain), and were that much closer to food.
Food is such a simple solution when you’re drenched, freezing cold, and pretty damned sure you’ve signed up for something you had no clue about what you’d gotten yourself in for.
Living in lockdown for months can engender similar dispiritedness.
In honor of last year’s RAGBRAI, and the RAGBRAI that won’t happen (in real time) during this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I concocted this breakfast bowl to cheer us up on Mother’s Day morning a few weeks ago. Even though we’re not peeing in KYBO’s, we’re still immersed in hand sanitizer up to our elbows. Whether it worked to keep us clean biking through the wilds of Iowa is equally the question these days as we lather up for 20 seconds of hand washing to keep the virus at bay.
But whether it’s breakfast while biking, or breakfast to keep up the quarantine spirits, food that dredges up good memories is always a good idea.